Mumbai

Some bloggers’ thoughts and impressions concerning the horrible events in Mumbai that have me both horrified and puzzled. From Death Ends Fun:

Everyone around me is talking of the terrorism, but there’s an air of bonhomie about. Plenty of backslapping as friends catch sight of each other, good cheer and chuckling. Are we used to terror now, and is that a good thing or a bad thing?

From India Uncut:

Suddenly, what is familiar seems macabre.

From Known Turf:

This isn’t about the spirit of the people. It isn’t about people feeling secure either. I see all this terror and am just exhausted. I am not feeling spirited, not at all. Yet, the only desire I have right now is to be able to get all dressed up, step out of my house, catch a train, walk into a café, chat with friends, make plans, talk about books, watch a good play. And I will. We all will. Like we did after the last blast, and the blast before that one, and the one before.

If the frequency of the blasts is going up, and if there are annoying security checks even at hotels and cinemas and shopping complexes, well, we’ll go through the checks and go on living. There will be music and travel and art and blasphemy and new religions and old philosophies. There will also be territorial wars and faith-based conflict and bias and sycophancy and illegal immigration.

What kind of brainless twit cannot see that people do not change so easily? That no number of blasts can cure people of the desire for normalcy and fun. For beauty and passion and laughter. For money. And also for justice and truth.

From Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind:

In this light, the taking of American Jewish hostages may be of great importance. It may represent the changing alignment in the Pakistani terror movement as its leadership passes from a more South-Asia-focused leadership to a more Arab-focused one. This could be the unfortunate concomitant of the failed US war in Afghanistan as the old Al-Qaeda leadership, driven away from Afghanistan but made more powerful, has now taken over operations in Pakistan. Hence the attacks of November 26 are extremely similar to attacks on foreigners in Cairo and in Beirut, with the focus being to attack the US and Israel while humiliating India.

So when the Lashkar e Toiba say they are innocent, perhaps they are right. While their old cadre may be involved in the project operationally and the ISI may still be a major mobilizing and training force, the old brain-trusts of the LET are perhaps no longer in control of the Pakistani Jihadi movement. In other words, the actual Jihadis may be South-Asian but the ones pulling the strings thousands of miles away may be Arabs. Which is why they go out of their way to take a Jewish American hostage and that too a Rabbi.

The train and bus bombings were the “old” way of doing things. These endeavors meet their objectives in the following manner: 1) cause panic 2) make the Indian government make heavy-handed arrests 3) portray those arrested as innocents by “friends” in the media and 4) antagonize minorities who are fed the message that they are being targeted. This I expect will continue.

But November 26 has shown that there is a new kind of terrorism which has emerged—-the kind that does not make much attempt to hide its foreign bonafides, which seeks to effect a more direct toll by breaking international confidence in a country’s economic and political institutions, and which has multiple strategic objectives one of which is to promote and provoke sectarian violence.

Twitter feeds can be followed here.

Tramp the Dirt Down

Somebody is worried that Slobodan Milosevic might escape from death. And so, they dug up his corpse and drove a stake through his heart.

Seriously. They really did it.

One might also want to read this.

From the Metro Section of the Washington Post

Sometimes it pays to read beyond the front page:

Federal and local law enforcement authorities are investigating a shooting in Prince George’s County that critically injured a prominent intelligence expert who specializes in the former Soviet Union.

Paul Joyal, 53, was shot Thursday, four days after he alleged in a television broadcast that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin was involved in the fatal poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.

Law enforcement sources and sources close to Joyal, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the motive for the shooting was unclear. But several sources confirmed that FBI investigators are looking into the incident because of Joyal’s background as an intelligence expert and his comments about the Alexander Litvinenko case.

Joyal was shot by two men in the driveway of his house in the 2300 block of Lackawanna Street in Adelphi about 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The shooting was reported yesterday by Channel 4. …

In the “Dateline [NBC, a long-running news magazine program]” interview, Joyal accused the Russian government of being part of a conspiracy to silence its critics.

“A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: ‘If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you, and we will silence you — in the most horrible way possible,’ ” Joyal said. …

He is well-known for his expertise on intelligence and terrorism and for his network of friends in the former Soviet Union, and he published a daily intelligence newsletter for 10 years that offered information on the former Soviet Union. In 1998, he was a lobbyist for the Georgian government in Washington.

Holy shit.

(Thanks to Laura Rozen for bringing this to my attention.)

Support Iraqi democrats – get them out of Iraq

Sorry for crossposting, but this needs wider visibility. This time, Blair seems to mean it about British troops beginning to draw-down their presence in southern Iraq. All the usual provisos still apply – so far, it’s just part of the extra force that is going, and the last squaddie is scheduled to leave in three Friedman units’ time, like he has been since 2003. But this time we have a timetable within one Friedman and a number.

So it’s time to talk seriously about the people who have worked for us in Iraq. The Americans are only accepting risible numbers of refugees. 50 per cent of Iraqi refugees in Europe are in Sweden. It won’t do to claim that the situation is peachy in Iraq. The interpreters, for example, are marked men.

Back in August, 2005 I said that

Unfortunately, the best form of support the British Left can offer secular Iraqis would be to countersign their applications for political asylum. I think someone suggested this recently – perhaps we could get a Pledgebank going?

The government is still trying to force existing refugees onto aeroplanes to Irbil in Kurdistan, this being the only place not so dangerous that the law would forbid it – apparently, if you get killed between Irbil and home that’s OK. It’s high time that we went operational on this.

I’m aware that the Danish government, for example, is also trying to leave its people behind.

What do you need to bomb Iran?

The National Security Archive‘s publication of the original powerpoint slides used in planning for war with Iraq has got a lot of attention, especially the prediction that by now there would only be 5,000 US soldiers in Iraq. But it’s also interesting as an index of tension with Iran.

The briefing includes several scenarios on what to do if a “triggering event” occurred before the completion of the ground forces deployment. These specify a range of options, from minimal, through a week-long Desert Fox-like campaign of air raids, up to a 14-day bombardment. This last one, option Red would have encompassed all suspected WMD targets and a range of military ones, and would have included 3,000 individual weapon aiming points from 2,100 aircraft sorties and a considerable number of Tomahawk cruise missiles. (See document E(pdf doc).)

So what does this tell us?
Continue reading

Chirac has a transient dishonesty malfunction

Everyone’s now blogged about Jacques Chirac’s unexpected remarks about Iranian nuclear weapons.

But I think there may still be some angular momentum to be had. Chirac stated that, should a hypothetically nuclear Iran launch a nuclear weapon, Tehran would be destroyed before it had gone 200 metres. This is a pretty basic statement of nuclear deterrence, with the further point that in a sense, having one or two nuclear bombs makes you weaker than having zero nuclear bombs but the capacity to make them. Once you fire the one bomb, you have no further deterrent, and you’re definitely going to be nuked.

Quite a range of powers have credible deterrence against Iran – there’s the US, obviously, Israel, obviously, but less obviously France, Britain, Russia, India, China, and Pakistan. So, Chirac argued, the real danger wasn’t so much from a North Korean-style couple of bombs, but that this would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and possibly Egypt also rushing to obtain nukes as a counterdeterrent. (In yesterday’s Libération, Francois Heisbourg, the director of the IISS, restates this point adding Jordan to the list of presumed possible proliferators.)

He was of course right. Saudi Arabia has been quietly and consistently making noises about nuclear bombs for years, and it has close military-to-military ties with Pakistan. Some say Saudi money financed the Pakistani bomb project, and alone among nations they are in a position to actually buy the bomb. Egypt would probably see a Saudi bomb as unacceptable, and start using its own considerable scientific-technical establishment to work on going nuclear. (Chirac saw this differently – he suggested rather that the Saudis would finance Egyptian efforts – but I doubt this due to the historic competition for Arab leadership between the two states, and the Pakistani option.) Gah.
Continue reading

Glowing Georgians and Radioactive Russians

No, this is not a Litvinenko post…or at least not primarily. Recently, the Georgian ex-KGB said it had caught a Russian smuggling highly-enriched uranium into Georgia, who was nailed in a sting operation where Georgian agents posed as representatives of an Islamist terrorist group that wanted to buy fissile material. He handed over a sample, claiming to have several kilos back at home in Vladikavkaz, and they put the handcuffs on him. Good work, fellas, you might say, and you’d be right – both the US National Nuclear Security Administration and the Russian Atomic Energy Authority analysed the stuff, and it turned out to be 90 per cent enriched.

On the downside, it turns out that this happened in November, 2005, and he’s been sentenced to eight years in a secret trial. One wonders what kind of a trial, and also why the Georgians took so long to mention it. Being a small state next to Russia with ambitions of NATO and EU membership, and an existing counter-terrorist alliance with the US, you’d think they’d trumpet it from the rooftops. They claim it was in order not to compromise continuing inquiries, which may be true or may not.

Siberian Andy asks, in the light of this, if Russia has lost control of its nuclear weapons. He thinks it’s plausible. I disagree, slightly. Russia is clearly far more stable than it was in the Yeltsin years, what with the restoration of the FSB security state, and nuclear custodianship, command, and control is obviously a priority. Perhaps more importantly, surging oil and commodity prices have made a big difference to the state budget – Putin is in a position to hold a dramatically bigger share of the market for corruption than Yeltsin ever could, and it would make sense to direct it at the academic/industrial nuclear community and the roketchiki who actually look after the things.

But there’s obviously a problem.
Continue reading

Thomas Barnett joins Shrillaholics Anonymous

Thomas P.M. Barnett, Pentagon thinker and tech entrepreneur, stands up in the centre of the circle and says…I am Thomas Barnett….and I…am shrill! You’ll feel better now you’ve said it, Tom. See his latest column, here, in which he says that:

That’s how we’ll master this allegedly chaotic world: recalling that we’re history’s first and most wildly successful multinational economic and political union. Our greatest source of stability is our vast web of horizontally connecting networks.

Does that sound like a union of states not far from you, anyone? That has been the subject of much criticism, nay, contempt from Tom’s employers recently?

Meanwhile, back at his blog, he asks: Can Israel and Iran grow up, making the good point that everyone else has had to get used to nuclear deterrence. Our octopus-like tentacles of technocratic integration, economic interdependence and international law inch closer to his occiput. Soon he’ll be one with the Borg.. After all, what better example of his “SysAdmin shrinking the Gap” is there but EU enlargement?

Sometimes the stereotypes are right

It’s usually a charmingly naive belief that wars are the fault of leaders, and if the Ordinary People could choose we’d all live in peace. It doesn’t take long, considering some parts of the blogosphere, your local bar, the historical record and such, to realise this is absurdly simplistic. For one thing, there are always plenty of people who, whether they knew it or not beforehand, burst into a dark bloom of hatred at the hat of a drop. For another thing, the structural forces, the permanently-operating factors in Soviet military jargon, that make leaders do these things would work just as well whoever the individuals are.

Call me a determinist and spank me if you like, but I doubt that’s seriously contestable. But the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to defy this, or at least it has done in the last two years or so. Consider the detailed draft agreement on the Golan Heights, but not just that – the Prisoners’ Document agreed between Hamas and Fatah, Khalid Meshaal’s recent statement that Hamas would accept Israel within the 1967 green line as a “reality”, and more, going back to the ceasefire offer set up by MI6 station chief Alistair Crooke back in 2002, and it’s hard not to conclude that some people aren’t trying.

As Simon Hoggard said about Northern Ireland, they’ll do anything for peace but vote for it. More accurately, they would vote for it if it was on offer – majorities of both parties to the conflict express this view in polls. There are probably lessons to be learned about the long-term management of national interests in a small space from Europe – Gordon Brown’s chief economist and now MP, Ed Balls, has apparently been commissioned to study the economic aspects of the question, and he’d be a fool not to look back at the Monnet/Schuman plans. I doubt he’d like it very much – what did happen to the suggested French-Italian-Spanish initiative after all, then?

In conclusion, though, it’s tempting to think that the continuance of the conflict has a lot to do with hierarchy itself, and the vastly enhanced power and status that war gies leaders. If it wasn’t for the frozen war, Belfast politicians would be of similar status to those of Bradford. No US presidential gladhanding there.

Update: You doubt my method? The Globe and Mail reports that Dick Cheney rejected an offer of Iranian help in Iraq and Lebanon in 2003…oh, and another offer: Jalal Talabani says the Iranians offered him and the US talks “from Afghanistan to Lebanon”..

An alternative exit strategy for Jacques Chirac

Who knew Chirac was so personally popular in the Lebanon? More popular than he is in France?

Marc Lynch carries the results of a poll of Lebanese public opinion with some fascinating results. Apparently, a majority of Lebanese admire El Presidente, although not a majority of Shia. They rather like Hugo Chavez! In fact, they admire Chavez more than Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, although they would rather have Ahmedinejad in charge than him.

Nobody has confidence in the United States. Neither does anyone believe in “spreading democracy”. The biggest level of support for an Islamic state, among the Sunnis, didn’t break 5 per cent. (Is that the famous Jihad Chill?) Everyone said they were Lebanese first. Only the Christians put their religion second. (Everyone else put Arabness second.) 71 per cent overall said an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 green line would improve their opinion of the US. Over 50 per cent of Shia (i.e. Hezbollah’s base) supported a two state solution.

When asked which nation should be a superpower for preference, France came out marginally ahead overall, with Russia in second place, then China, then the US. Germany drew 10 per cent of the Shia vote but no votes from anyone else. Britain wasn’t an option. Interestingly, the Shia were the only group not to pick France, with Russia no.1, then China, then Germany. Everyone except the Druze picked France as a candidate for emigration by a large majority. The Druze were the only group to go for the US, but only by a bare plurality. Asked where they would rather send a family member to study, France was the first choice of all groups but the Druze, who plumped for Germany. (Curiously, no two groups agreed whether Germany or Britain was more democratic, but everyone thought France was more democratic than the US, Germany, or Britain.)
Continue reading