Thursday, March 30, 2006

No Sympathy.

Hamas has officially taken power. The Western and Israeli response has been, or will be, a sort of economic warfare. Hamas will be deprived of most of its foreign aid, unless Arab countries can pick up the slack. For some time now, Israel has already been engaged in this sort of activity. Canada has officially ceased funding the PA. No doubt, America and many other Western nations will soon follow suit. Former president Jimmy Carter warned against such economic strategies. He fears that they ultimately will be seen as punishing the Palestinian people, which might make them turn even more against the West and Israel (I'm not sure thats even possible; they did vote in Hamas, after all). Carter had more to say:

"My belief is now Hamas wants stable, domestically-oriented policies in the government to deal with the problems of the Palestinian people... My belief is if they are treated fairly, they might very well be less likely to resort to violence...Eventually, they are going to have to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and resolve their problems with Israel in a peaceful way. No doubt about that. They cannot escape that international mandate which they have to fulfill."

It would be great to think that the weight of reality would eventually pressure Hamas to change, as Carter suggests. History however might suggest otherwise; this problem is 60 years old, and still Israel's right to exist hasn't been acknowledged. Even Hamas itself disagrees with Carter's evaluation:

Officials from Hamas have said they will not compromise their principles for aid, and that alternative funding could come from Arab and Islamic countries.

It is so absurd to hear people complaining about how bad the West and Israel are being towards the Palestinians right now. Who are we to deprive a legitimately elected Palestinian government of financial aid? Ask yourself this: who is being more rediculous here? Hamas is demanding that the West and Israel continue to supply it with money, even though it is a terrorist organization that remains dedicated to the destruction if its neighbor through violent means. All that Israel and the West are demanding that Hamas change the wording in its charter, to renounce violence and recognize Israel. If Hamas just changes the text on a piece of paper, the aid money will flow once again.

A controversial thing Israel has done is to withhold Palestinian tax money that Israel collects on the Palestinians' behalf. This is money that is, arguably, Palestinian money that Israel really has no right to hold. At first glance, this seems to be a legitimate Palestinian gripe. On closer inspection, it is nothing of the sort. Israel agreed to collect taxes on Palestinian behalf as part of an agreement reached in 1995 between the two sides. Hamas has refused to accept this particular agreement. Therefore, it is rediculous to expect Israel to continue to provide the money, considering the Palestinians no longer legally recognize the deal. Incidentally, Hamas has refused to acknowledge all past peace agreements made with Israel. That is why Fatah (the other Palestinian party that was beaten in the elections) has refused to form a coalition government with Hamas.

The peace process is going nowhere with Hamas at the reins. Ideally, the West and Israel would want to see the Fatah party regain power in the next Palestinian election. How can we expect to see Fatah regain power if we make it easy for Hamas to rule? Besides, as Hamas remains dedicated to the destruction of Israel, then a de facto state of war exists between the two parties right now. It is true that there currently is a ceasefire. However, as Hamas remains committed to its original charter, should I therefore conclude that Hamas really wants peace? Or should I conclude that Hamas is observing a ceasefire because they currently do not have the power to harm Israel in a meaningful way? If Hamas had the power, do you think they'd observe the ceasefire? Doubtful. Therefore, I see no reason why Israel should be expected to aid its enemy, or allow it to become powerful.

Incidentally, Egypt has proposed that the Israelis give Hamas six months to prove that it is committed to peace. If Hamas is still being stubborn in six months, then Israel would be "free to act as it saw fit". I personally don't think the Israelis owe Hamas anything at this point. However, should the Israelis follow this route, I believe ultimately people will give them more credit for at least trying.

Then, in six months, when Hamas refuses to change, nobody will blame the Israelis for doing what has to be done.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Kiss of Death

The American Government sent a message to the Iraqi Shiite Ayatolla Sistani. In it, they ask Sistani to intervene to break the political deadlock in Iraq. Sistani, the ultimate leader of 60% of the Iraqis, is probably the most powerful person in the country.

Over the last year or so I've become a great admirer of Sistani. If Iraq is able to stabilize, I'm convinced that Sistani will be seen as another Ghandi-like figure. He has been dedicated to non-violence, he has encouraged democracy and the political process. He has been the main force preventing an all-out civil war in Iraq up to this point. However, he believes religious leaders should stay out of politics for the most part. In a time when many extreme religious leaders in the Middle East are so radical, and demand political authority, Sistani is one of a kind.

He is the reason we have had any success in Iraq at all, yet you barely ever hear his name in the MSM. I am thankful for that. You know how anti-Americanism works. If the Americans love someone, then most people in the Middle East probably won't trust them. A too favorable opinion of Sistani in American news could be the kiss of death; his followers may start to think of him as an American pawn.

Back to the issue at hand. America has asked Sistani to intervene to break the political deadlock. What if he was considering that already? Now if he goes through with it, will it appear that he is caving to US pressure? Will it look as if he is at all influenced by America? Sure it will, and it might undermine is authority. Thats the worst thing that could happen right now, a time when Sistani is the only cap that is containing the likes of the militaristic al-Sadr, and preventing a full blown civil war.

The Iraqi political process at this point is theirs, and theirs alone. The US shouldn't be appealing to anyone to break this deadlock. If the Iraqis are committed to democracy, they will get around it. If they fail to do so, then this fledgling democracy would have failed eventually anyways. We really shouldn't be invoking Sistani to do something, when he certainly knows better than some US bureaucrat what is best for the Iraqi political process; especially considering that by doing so we undermine his authority.

Stay out of it, America. The only thing we should be doing over there at this point is providing enough security and money such that the system doesn't collapse altogether.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tear him to pieces.

KABUL, Afghanistan - Senior Muslim clerics demanded Thursday that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity be executed, warning that if the government caves in to Western pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces."

The really sad thing is that one of the clerics calling for this man's death is actually considered to be a moderate. Evidently the Taliban kept jailing him for speaking out against their extreme ways.

Why did we even bother to invade Afghanistan? We sacrificed US blood and treasure for this? Pathetic. Clearly, being concerned about these peoples' oppression was the wrong thing to do. We should have just destroyed the Taliban, and installed a dictator that was friendly to US interests. Democracy and religious fanatics don't mix.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Civil War in Iraq

There is a civil war in Iraq. Charles Krauthammer suggests:

What is the insurgency if not a war supported by one (minority) part of Iraqi society fighting to prevent the birth of the new Iraqi state supported by another (majority) part of Iraqi society?

By definition that is civil war, and there's nothing new about it. As I noted here in November 2004: "People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side" -- the Sunni insurgency -- "is fighting it."

Juan Cole wonders whose criteria defines a civil war. Here is what Cole considers to be the most 'widely accepted social science measure':

"Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain." (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.) '

Sounds like Iraq to me. The important thing, as always has been, is whether or not the situation is at all manageable...whether anything is salvageable. Charles Krauthammer went on to illustrate this point:

"Now all of a sudden everyone is shocked to find Iraqis going after Iraqis. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves? Hence the gradual transfer of war-making responsibility. Hence the decline of American casualties. Hence the rise of Iraqi casualties."

My own definition of a civil war varies slightly from these others'. I personally believe that a civil war might be defined as an attempt to gain control of a nation through the use of force in absence of all other methods. In other words, a civil war is what happens when negotiations fail. We aren't at that point yet.

The important thing is that the Iraqi government is existing and negotiating. As long as political progress is being made, even if slowly, then the situation is still hopeful. Ideally, politics as an alternative to violence will become more appealing with time, and this conflict will die down.

If it ever comes to be that there is no political route to pursue; if the Iraqi government fails or dissolves...then the only thing left is for the Iraqis to fight it out. That is my definition of a civil war.

Now we need Sudan's consent

to intervene in Darfur. God forbid that we wouldn't respect the sovereignty of a government that arms genocidal militias. The biggest failure of Iraq, is that our experience there may suggest to decrepit regimes that the international community won't stand up for anything. I hope someone proves them wrong.

But I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

South Park censored???

A certain episode of South Park makes fun of Tom Cruise and his religious cult. Well, Comedy Central's parent company Viacom has caved into pressure from Tom and his buddies to ban the episode. Don't stand for this. Here is more info. Follow the link, read up, and send a few emails out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Iran learns to talk shit; the UN is put to the test.

Iran recently said at the UN that it would inflict "harm and pain" upon the US if we work to impose sanctions via the Security Council. An Iranian diplomat was quoted as saying, "So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll." That really sounds like something you'd hear just before a bar fight breaks out, not something you'd hear a nation say at the UN general assembly.

And at a bar, when a little guy goes and picks a fight with a really really big guy, you find yourself wondering what is worse: that the little guy is starting a fight, or that he is so stupid as to start a fight with someone who will obviously beat the crap out of him. And the Iranians wonder why the world doesn't want them to have nukes.

A great piece on the situation in northern Sudan can be found here. The UN is planning on sending a peacekeeping force of around 20,000 men to Sudan. Basically, those in the north are threatening the UN, telling them not to send those forces, as they will be attacked. These are the same people that have committed (or indirectly sanctioned) the rape, genocide, and other crime that has gone on in Sudan for a couple years now.

A group of poorly armed thugs are moving to thwart the UN peacekeeping effort. The question is, will the UN stand strong and true to its charter? I'm not going to hold my breath. Here is a situation where nation building is absolutely warranted. When a government shows itself to be either supporting of, indifferent to, or incapable of stopping genocidal activity, it no longer has a right to govern. The UN should assemble a coalition, invade Sudan, overthrow the government, and establish order. Obviously, the UN has not the military capacity, nor the political will, to make this happen.

However, private armies under UN sanction would have the military capability of such action. And such action would have no political fallout for UN member nations.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hamas at odds with Al Qaeda?

It is incredible just how unpopular Al Qaeda has become. Even Hamas, another Islamic terror organization, now seems at odds with them. Al Qaeda had recently criticized Hamas for taking part in elections (which are supposedly secular non-Islamic things). Hamas responded:

"We are a movement that neither brands other Muslims as infidels, nor abandons them. We are a movement that lives with the people in a real world and try to attract them to Islam through wisdom and good advice."

"We call for following God's path with an open mind," al-Zahar said. "By adopting this moderate approach, which is initiated by the prophet (Muhammad), Hamas movement has succeeded in attracting voters to its programme of Islam."

Ouch. Not that I'm very fond of Hamas; I'll still consider them to be a gang of thugs until they renounce violence and recognize Israel. But, I like them a bit more than bin Laden's group.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

More double standards

Come on, is Europe really going to jail someone for Holocaust denial?

The guy is an idiot, but he shouldn't be imprisoned for it. With double standards like these, its really hard for Europeans to justify the publishing of the Danish Muhammad cartoons.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Christian double standards.

Nigeria has a population that is roughly split between Christians and Muslims. After the Danish Cartoon fiasco, many Muslims in Nigeria began rioting. Over a dozen churches were burnt down, and about as many Christians were murdered by Muslim mobs.

Well, the Christians have retaliated. They began by burning Mosques, but murder soon followed. Christians have murdered dozens of Muslims in Nigeria so far (and vice versa). As the cycle of violence continues, the leader of the Nigerian Christians had this to say:

"may we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation" and that "C.A.N. [Christian Association of Nigeria] may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue"

This Christian leader is threatening to have his followers form lawless mobs that can vandalize and murder at the drop of a hat. Odd, I don't remember reading about that in the New Testament. Christians throughout the world should be condemning this violence to the utmost. They are so quick to condemn Muslims when they are violent. What kind of message is that sending, if they hold such double standards?

I think the lesson here is that the religious leaders on both sides equally suck. Human nature is the same, and being a Muslim or a Christian doesn't change that. Christians have a long storied history of violence (probably moreso than Muslims, actually). The only reason the West isn't as bad anymore is because it is so secular. Blah. I'm just in a bad mood because I'm hungry.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Message to the UN: Stop pretending to have principles.

One of the UN's founding principles is to prevent genocide. Obviously, the UN failed miserably in Rwanda (1994), and its bureaucrats swore "never again". As it turns out, that didn't mean they would intervene to prevent a future genocide. Rather, they simply wouldn't utter the g-word at the UN; if they did they would be legally bound to stop the genocide. This was the UN "solution" to the Sudan crisis a year ago.

Unfortunately, it just got worse. 200,000 civilians have already been killed, and the crisis has spread into neighboring Chad. This time around, the UN has promised to do what it was created to do:

"The United Nations Security Council has agreed to send troops to protect civilians, but they will take months to arrive."

Pending the imminent failure of the delayed UN response to accomplish anything of significance, we might continue wondering how we can really improve life in Africa. Well, I don't believe in being cynical without offering solutions, so here is one that I strongly advocate.

In 1989 there was a private mercenary company that was formed in South Africa called "Executive Outcomes". One example of their accomplishments was their being hired by the government of Sierra Leone to restore order in their country. For 20 million dollars/year, Executive Outcomes sent a force of 300 mercenaries (who had a combined battle experience of 5000 years or so). This force quickly pushed the rebels back into a corner of the country, restoring order. Elections were then able to take place.

The UN threw a fit and pushed Sierra Leone to cancel their contract with Executive Outcomes, and sent in a UN peacekeeping force in its place. The UN force was 18,000 strong, and costed 1 billion/year to maintain "order". According to Wikipedia, here is what the UN peacekeepers accomplished:

In terms of effectiveness, the UN peacekeeping force allowed the RUF to retake the capital twice while committing atrocities in its wake, and also stood helpless while a military coup led by Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma deposed the democratically elected Kabbah.

A private mercenary company, for 2% of the cost, was able to accomplish what the UN could not.

I know there will be concerns about having such powerful private enterprises in existence. It would be unsettling to think that a private company could overthrow small governments. However, legalized mercenary companies could easily be held in check. Mercenary companies such as EO could be required to act only under UN authorization. They could be banned from having weapons of mass destruction, and other powerful weapons of war. Other checks could be in place that would prevent a mercenary company from ever abusing its power.

The bottom line is that the UN needs some teeth. The problem with the UN is that it is inefficient and that it held in check by politics. Even when the UN does send military units, the soldiers from a given country are under that nation's control, and not under UN control. Further, there are political costs to UN intervention. For example, Americans don't want to see the bodies of American soldiers dragged through the streets, as in Somolia.

The only solution that I can see for the serious problems that Africa faces is to allow mercenary companies to operate under UN sanction. These private forces are cheaper and more effective. Further, they would not be constrained by the politics of command and logistics that the UN armed forces face. Finally, the UN would not be concerned with the political strains associated with loss of life for the soldiers. Mercenaries would be hired to restore order and allow elections to take place. If mercenaries are killed, people aren't really going to mind.

The Rwandan genocide was perpetrated by men armed with machetes and small arms. The Darfur genocide is being perpetrated by armed men riding camels. The solution is not to send in neutered UN forces at great cost to try to restore order. The solution is to hire a highly trained private company to go in under UN authority. These forces would make short work of the genocidal maniacs rampaging throughout the land, with none of the costs; monetary or political, associated with a UN force.

The principles of the UN oppose the use of armed mercenaries. Well, the UN is also principally opposed to genocide. Its time for the UN to get its priorities straight.