Archive for November 2009
The “Lede” of the New York Times has a blog post about the recent massacre on Mindanao Island, Philippines. According to latest reports, the death toll has reached 57 and the President has called for a state of emergency.
The Lede alludes to the possibility that the massacre is linked to former provincial governor, and head of the powerful Ampatuan clan, Andal Ampatuan. Many consider the Ampatuan clan a government backed militia used to suppress Islamist rebels, like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Those massacred were from the rival Mangudadatu clan. They were killed while en route to file gubernatorial candidacy papers for the clan’s leader Esmael Mangudadatu. Amongst the dead were Mr. Mangudadatu’s wife and daughter. Mr. Mangudadatu is a Vice Mayor of a district in Maguindanao province. He was unharmed in the attack.
Filipino broadcaster Marites Vitug, called the clan violence a “monster” created by the government. Vitug further stated “[President] Arroyo not only faces a political problem here but the possibility that there may be massive retaliation or rido. When it comes to rido, women, children and old people are never touched. But Monday’s atrocity has changed all that.”
Clan retaliation (or “rido”) has prompted worries form President Arroyo and the central government. According to a USAID research project, there were 218 cases of rido in Maguindanao province (where the massacre occurred) from the 1930s to 2005.
Not that we didn’t know this already but Afghanistan’s government is incredibly corrupt. So corrupt that there is only one country in the world more corrupt: Somalia. And some might not even call that a country.
How much does corruption hurt American efforts in Afghanistan? Well, considering incorruptibility is a main reason behind the Taliban’s popularity, I would say it hurts a great deal.
For the quick rundown, here is Transparency International’s 5 most corrupt regimes in the world (2009).
No doubt American profligate spending in these countries has fueled corruption. It is about time that the U.S. rethink its gun in one hand, dollar in the other, approach to intervention.
Speaking in front of a town hall meeting in Shanghai yesterday, President Obama called for more internet freedom in China and took on the issue of the country’s “great firewall” blocking internet traffic. While many event attendees seemed to be members of the China Communist Youth League, one lone Twitterer was able to slip in a question about China’s ongoing internet censorship. In response to the question, President Obama said:
I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I’m a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.
Reports were that this Q & A was not aired by China’s state owned new agency, Xinhua. Additionally, Obama’s statements on internet freedom and open communications were being glossed over by more trivial inquiries into his Facebook account.
In my opinion, President Obama should maintain his calls for open communication to “draw the world together,” as he said. Maybe even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama can echo ex-President Reagan and say: Mr. Jintao, tear down this firewall!
75 U.S. military personnel died in Afghanistan last month during Operation Enduring Freedom. More than 900 have lost their lives since that war began over 8 years ago. Of the dead, almost 350 occurred in the last 6 months. A potential decision by President Obama to increase troop levels will result in yet more unnecessary American, NATO, and Afghan civilian deaths.
Increasing America’s troop presence in Afghanistan will be the most irresponsible decision Obama has made as president. It is time to re-focus our mission there and re-direct attention to where it belongs, the homeland. Already top military leaders – to include General Petraeus and General McChrystal – have said that al Qaeda cannot stage attacks against the U.S. from Afghanistan. Maintaining this level of security only requires an operational capacity to do counter-terrorism in Afghanistan. Supplying a counter-terrorism mission will require far fewer resources in terms of both troops and dollars spent.
For relatively cheap, the U.S. can conduct drone attacks, special operations, and train Afghanistan’s own security forces. Each of these has been done since the war’s beginning. In 2002 and 2003, these missions were done with less than 20,000 troops in theater – at a cost of less than $20 billion a year. Roughly Operation Enduring Freedom costs American taxpayers $1 billion a year to sustain each 1,000th American military service member in Afghanistan. Obama’s plan to add an additional troops will likely push the costs of Operation Enduring Freedom over $100 billion a year.
How long can the U.S. spend so much? Most estimates are that “victory” is still years ahead. Yet, it has already been 8 years of “nation-building” and, at best, we can say the Karzai-led government is a weak and corrupt ally. To paraphrase the old proverb: with allies like these, who needs enemies? Obama must re-think his definitions of success, unless the U.S. is to get bogged down in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.
Al Qaeda has not re-established Afghanistan as a stronghold since October 2001. That was some sort of victory; maybe it’s the only sort of “victory” needed. Operation Enduring Freedom needs to be concentrated, not expanded.
Instead of trying to build a government in Afghanistan, Obama should focus on what’s a priority to every American. Namely, America.
The Department of Homeland Security’s 2010 budget tops in at just around $50 billion. That’s half of what we’re likely to spend in Afghanistan. Tax revenues for Afghanistan’s own government barely surpass $700 million a year; still Washington chooses to devote American debt to a cause that has no clear end-point. With a record budget deficit of nearly $1.6 trillion, Afghanistan does not deserve the resources.
The argument that a troop increase in Afghanistan will help us meet some sort of strategic victory is tenuous when placed against what we are defending ourselves from. A large troop presence in Afghanistan destabilizes Pakistan by pushing militants into the tribal areas and providing ample propaganda for Muslim separatists. Aside from the Taliban and al Qaeda, a destabilized Pakistan is the last thing anyone in the world wants.
Meanwhile, trying to garrison Afghanistan when we cannot do the same to Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, or Yemen will be fruitless against a terrorist enemy not bound by territory. An honest assessment would show that protecting the homeland should start at home, and not 8,000 miles away. Knowing this, it is time to re-direct many of our finite resources back to the U.S.
The Obama administration should strengthen efforts to protect against cyber-warfare and espionage. Resources should be devoted to border enforcement and towards forming a better immigration process that increases the U.S. government’s ability to keep track of who exactly is inside the country. The Coast Guard should be enlarged. And lastly, all efforts to increase security at airports, seaports, and other points of entry must be taken. If we cannot afford any of these measures, then partial blame must go to an obtuse Afghan war strategy with no end in sight.
Ice skating bears are a big attraction in Russia. Unfortunately, it is also a dangerous combination. As seen two weeks ago when an ice skating bear killed a Russian circus hand.
For an idea about what an ice skating bear would look like, please refer to this video.
Separately, in India’s Kashmir valley a bear attacked and killed two Kashmiri separatists who were using the bear’s cave to rest and regroup.
And in less violent news, bear experts are baffled by the shear baldness of three bears in an east German zoo.