Sunday, August 31, 2008

Take A Break

Want a few minutes relief from political pondering? Why not take a tour of the Swiss Alps seen through the cockpit of a Swiss, Hawker Hunter jet fighter. If you've not seen it before, it is breathtaking.

The Battle of the Black Sea

Yes, it is about oil.

Westerners have been left pretty much in the dark about what really lurks behind the recent Russia-Georgian war. In particular, we've heard almost nothing about Washington's diplomatic campaign to effective oust Russia from the oil riches of the region, even from the Middle East itself.

The goal has been to get Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO. Once under the protection of the Alliance the idea was then to have both countries close their ports to the Russian navy, eliminating the Russian's access to the Meditteranean and the Middle East. It looks like that has backfired.

The Ukraine may yet give the Russian navy the boot but, with access to Abkhaz ports, especially Poti, which are now firmly under Russian protection, it won't matter much.

Russia's moves in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are expected to be endorsed at the September 5 meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a mutual defence alliance along the lines of NATO comprising Russia, Belarus, Khazakstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. They may sound like small potatoes but they hold large reserves of oil and natural gas which the White House, Cheney in particular, has been attempting to secure and wrest out of Russian control.

Worse yet is the prospect of a new member to the CSTO - Iran. If Iran is admitted it would effectively acquire Soviet military protection. This would present a huge complication to the Americans and the Israelis. If the Russians deployed their latest, S-400 SAM batteries to Iran, it could make an American or Israeli air strike a very bloody affair. It could also bring Russia and America into a shooting war.

I've always felt that the biggest risk from NATO's seemingly pointless march to Russia's borders would be the prospect of strengthening the Russian-Chinese alliance through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That appears to be just what is happening.

Russia is pushing back - hard. This may result in a speed up of Russian negotiations to establish a naval base in Syria. This would create a Russian military presence just north of Lebanon and little more than a heartbeat away from Israel.

There's great truth in the old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. The West had a grand opportunity to engage and embrace Russia in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead that genius in Washington responded with a relentless campaign to contain, isolate and threaten Russia. Like everything else that Bush and his diseased, bald sidekick have done, there was no apparent awareness of or preparations for the ramifications of their actions, even consequences that should have been obvious.

Look at it this way, Russia really didn't create most of these opportunities it's now exploiting. We did that for them. Unfortunately the Kremlin remains (and may well stay) two steps ahead of us. Thanks George, you clot!

McCain's Ordeal

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain's Veep's Scandal

Sarah Palin, McCain's choice for veep and 2-year governor of Alaska, may be very grateful indeed that she was picked. Sarah may welcome the chance to put some serious distance between herself and the Alaska legislature.

Palin is caught up in a nasty scandal. She's alleged to have pressured the commissioner of Alaska's Public Safety Department to fire a cop, trooper Mike Wooten. Why? Hard to say but it could have had something to do with the ugly custody battle Wooten was then engaged in with Palin's sister.

For a while Governor Sarah denied there was anything to the story. Then the Alaska legislature unanimously approved the hiring of an investigator. Suddenly Governor Sarah had an epiphany - why yes, someone in her office did press the Public Safety Department to fire trooper Wooten - but, of course, it has nothing to do with her. She knew nothing about the whole nasty business.

From McClatchey Newspapers:

Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday [August 13th] revealed an audio recording that shows an aide pressuring the Public Safety Department to fire a state trooper embroiled in a custody battle with her sister.

Palin, who has previously said her administration didn't exert pressure to get rid of trooper Mike Wooten, also disclosed that members of her staff had made about two dozen contacts with public safety officials about the trooper.

"I do now have to tell Alaskans that such pressure could have been perceived to exist although I have only now become aware of it," Palin said.

The majority of the calls came from Palin's chief of staff at the time, Mike Tibbles, according to an information gathered by the state attorney general's office. Attorney General Talis Colberg and Palin's husband, Todd, also contacted Monegan about the trooper.

Palin said she'd only known about some of the contacts and never asked anyone on her staff to get in touch with state public safety officials about Wooten.

"Many of these inquiries were completely appropriate. However, the serial nature of the contacts could be perceived as some kind of pressure, presumably at my direction," she said.

Governor Sarah apparently overlooked something back when she was denying the whole thing - the Public Safety Department tapes all these calls.

Yes, Governor Sarah, two dozen calls from your aides and your husband to the Public Safety Department demanding trooper Mike Wooten's badge, "could be perceived as some kind of pressure, presumably at [your] direction." If you would like people to perceive it otherwise, kindly come up with some explanation of why you wanted Wooten sacked other than the custody battle with your sister.

And I thought Cheney was the grand dissembler. That Dick has nothing on Sarah.

h/t Scott Tribe

Global Warming, Military Style

Those Looney Lefties also known as Pentagon analysts are again warning of global wars driven by climate change. From the Environmental News Network:

"...governments in the US and UK are already being briefed by their own military strategists about how to prepare for a world of mass famine, floods of refugees and even nuclear conflicts over resources.

Gwynne Dyer is a military analyst and author who served in three navies and has held academic posts at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and at Oxford.

"[There will be] huge falls in the amount of crops that you can grow because there isn't the rain and it's too hot," he said. "That will apply particularly to the Mediterranean... and so not just the north African countries, but also the ones on the northern side of the Mediterranean. "The ones in the European Union like Spain and Italy and Greece and the Balkans and Turkey are going to be suffering huge losses in their ability to support their populations.

Climate refugees.

He says a fall in crops and food production means there will be refugees, people who are desperate. "It may mean the collapse in the global trade of food because while some countries still have enough, there is still a global food shortage," he said. "If you can't buy food internationally and you can't raise enough at home, what do you do? You move.
So refugee pressures - huge ones - are one of the things that drives these security considerations."

In Climate Wars, even the most hopeful scenarios about the impact of climate change have hundreds of millions of people dying of starvation, mass displacement of people and conflict between countries competing for basic resources like water. "India and Pakistan are both nuclear-armed countries. All of the agriculture in Pakistan and all of the agriculture in northern India depend on glacier-fed rivers that come off the Himalayas from the Tibetan plateau. Those glaciers are melting," Dr Dyer said.

"They're melting according to Chinese scientists to 7 per cent a year, which means they're half gone in 10 years. "India has a problem with this. Pakistan faces an absolutely lethal emergency because Pakistan is basically a desert with a braid of rivers running through it.

"Those rivers all start with one exception in Indian-controlled territory and there's a complex series of deals between the two countries about who gets to take so much water out of the river. Those deals break down when there's not that much water in the rivers." And then you have got the prospect of a nuclear confrontation, Dr Dyer says.

"It's unthinkable but yet it's entirely possible. So these are the prices you start to pay if you get this wrong," he said. "Some of them, actually, I'm afraid we've already got them wrong in the sense that there is going to be some major climate change." Dr Dyer explains the least alarmist scenario for the next couple of decades still involves enormous pressures on the US border. "That border's going to be militarised. I think there's almost no question about it because the alternative is an inundation of the United States by what will be, effectively, climate refugees," he said. "
If you're interested in global warming as a source for global conflict you might also check out the speech given by Gareth Evans (president of International Crisis Group) on this subject:

Harper "Authoritarian"? Who Knew?

Furious Steve says that whether he's an authoritarian thug is completely irrelevant to his defamation suit against the Libs. From the Toronto Star:

Harper's lawyers will argue in Ontario Superior Court on Friday that the opinion of political scientist Peter Russell is irrelevant to the prime minister's $3.5-million defamation suit against the Liberals.

Russell, a professor at the University of Toronto, argued the give and take of the Commons, and related arenas, is part of the cut and thrust of free political debate.

"This use of legal action to silence the opposition is characteristic of authoritarian governments," he said.

A spokesperson for the Conservative party has already dismissed Russell's affidavit as simply an opinion from an academic.

Relevant or not, I think any Canadian court can take judicial notice of the fact that our Furious Leader is decidedly authoritarian.

West Playing Into Putin's Hands

Unlike all of our leaders, Vlad Putin is not a nice man. Unlike most of our leaders, Vlad Putin is a shrewd character adept at pulling the levers of power.

When Russia goaded that idiot Saakashvili into bombarding South Ossetia and then retaliated by invading Georgia and, later, recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, our leaders turned bright red and damn near blew up. Russia wasn't going to get away with that, no sir. Why, Russia would feel the sting of our sanctions and, better yet, we were going to boot it right out of the G8 too! That'd set Moscow a reeling.

Or not.

Putin, it seems, has the measure of Russia's vulnerability to Western retaliation - right down to the last kopek. He knows that the consequences, if they materialize at all, will be insignificant compared to the popularity he'll enjoy at home - where it matters.

This isn't just about Georgia or the autonomy of these two, small states. No, it's much bigger than that. It's about Western solidarity and how far that can be stretched.

Europe doesn't want to get caught in the middle of a BushChehney pissing match with the Kremlin. Winter isn't far off and the Euros know that their supply of Russian oil and gas could be the first casualty of American adventurism.

The European Union made the requisite threats of sanctions against Russia but The Guardian reports the EU is now backing away from any action.

Russia's foreign ministry spokesman, Andrey Nesterenko, ...lambasted Nato for "putting pressure" on Russia and said that there could be "irreversible consequences" for stability in Europe. Nato had no "moral right to lecture Russia," he added.

The Kremlin's defiant and unapologetic tone comes ahead of a special EU summit in Brussels on Monday, called by France, to discuss the EU's future relations with Russia. On Thursday, France's foreign minister, Bernard Coucher, intimated that sanctions against Moscow would be discussed.

Yesterday, though, the EU appeared to be rapidly retreating from this position.

Moscow has made clear it will respond to any punitive measures from Brussels, which could include the suspension of a new EU-Russia partnership agreement. "The time to pass sanctions has certainly not come," said a senior diplomat from France, which holds the EU presidency.

Analysts in Moscow today said that Russia's leadership was relatively relaxed about the threat of EU sanctions. "I don't think the contemporary west has any means to punish a state that is not quite a rogue state," Yulia Latynina, a commentator with the independent Echo of Moscow radio station told the Guardian.

She went on: "The Kremlin didn't take Tbilisi and didn't shoot (Mikheil) Saakashvili. What the west can really do — expelling Russia from the G8 or the World Trade Organisation — isn't important.'

Like it or not, the East-West game is only getting started. Yesterday Russia successfully test-fired its new, long-range "stealth" missile, the Topol RS-12M specifically designed to defeat the anti-missile batteries Bush intends to deploy in Poland.

China also stands to get dragged into this standoff via the SCO or Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Putin is seeking SCO support for his gambit on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Iran is also looking to take advantage of the tensions to strengthen its ties with Moscow and seek entry into the SCO. Iran would also like to get its hands on Russia's latest-generation S-400 surface to air missile batteries. The mere rumour of that has already given Washington and Israel fits.

There's a lot at stake in this brinksmanship including the fate of NATO. Without unity the Alliance makes little sense and yet the interests of Western and Central Europe are not in harmony with those of Eastern Europe. In a mutual-defence alliance you should never admit nations you really aren't willing to fight to defend if it comes right down to it.

I think NATO is hopelessly overextended and I think Vlad Putin thinks that too. If I'm right, this problem is bound to get worse before it gets any better.

And Now, Wrap Up the Disgruntled Women's Vote

John McCain is all about experience. He says so every chance he gets to anyone who'll listen.

So, who did John pick as his veep candidate - the person who will have to take over the reins in the Oval Office when his already wobbly mind packs in?

It's Alaska's rookie governor Sarah Palin! Sarah has all the credentials one would expect in someone second to the throne. She was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska until just two years ago and has held the governorship of that state since, gasp, 2006.

Mayor of a town of 6,000 to vice president in two easy steps. Just add water and stir!

Why did McCain pass over far more "experienced" prospects? Hmmm, I don't know, can you figure it out?

Before the announcement, McCain's communications director, Jill Hazelbaker, said,
"He's going to choose someone who can be a partner in governing. He's going to choose someone who brings character and principle to the table and who shares his priorities. And I'm confident that he's going to make a great pick."

Oh great, we're going to have the mayor of Wasilla as McCain's "partner in governing."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama Puts the Boots to McCain, Next Up - Gustav

How jittery are the Republicans? Ask Gustav. As the latest tropical storm/hurricane tracks steadily toward New Orleans, GOP leaders are seriously considering whether to postpone their presidential nomination convention.

With a nominee who'd like nothing better than to try on Bush's skivvies, a Gustav/Katrina confluence has senior Repugs soiling their own. Damn but it looks good on them.

New Orleans was three years ago - and remains - a disgrace for the Republican Party. They dodged many a bullet but the flooded districts of the Big Easy stuck, and they know it.

Meanwhile, I listened to a speech tonight that was pure Roosevelt, straight Kennedy. Barack Obama's acceptance speech was seismic. It really was. It was, at once calm and energizing, full of promise, not fear. I'm not sure that John McCain might have preferred a Category 5 hit on Bourbon Street to the hurricane lashing he got from Obama.

For those who weren't sure if Obama could actually battle McCain, tonight showed the gloves are very much off and that Obama isn't just willing, he's perfectly ready and willing to do just that.

McCain's biggest problem isn't Barack Obama. It's John McCain, closely followed in second place by George w. Bush. I remember a drill instructor who turned to a somewhat awkward squadron mate and threatened to "rip your arm off and beat you to death with it." That arm, of course, is everything, every lofty principle, that McCain made people believe he stood for in 2000. McCain's video legacy is like Kryptonite to Superman, except that it's entirely of his own making.

Obama also stuck a harpoon in McCain's side tonight when he announced that temperment is as important as experience in a Commander in Chief. There's another 20-lashes with a briney Cat for the Old Cold Warrior.

Yeah, from what I watched, I do believe that McCain would rather see New Orelans washed out to sea than take the thrashing he got tonight.

Election Time - Bring On the Degenerates

The far-right, for all its supposed puritanical Christianity, doesn't hesitate to embrace degenerates. In fact, it's the natural home of deviants, offering them a banquet of their favourite foods - fear, bigotry, hatred and greed.

John McCain was attacked by these types in his presidential bid in 2000. George w. Bush sat by and allowed it to happen. Now this same bunch is attacking Barack Obama and, this time, it's the man of self-proclaimed lofty principles, McCain himself, who is sitting by and allowing it to happen.

McClatchey news service has an article today describing how Obama's campaign is spending a bundle on radio and television ads in Kentucky stressing that the Democratic nominee is a Christian. Why? Because the deviants, perverts and degenerates of the far right have been effectively spinning the story that Obama is a Muslim and, as such, a threat to America.

John McCain won't say it but these supporters seek nothing less than to undermine democracy to skew the vote by using blatant lies to exploit the fears and bigotry of vulnerable voters. It's completely anti-democratic. This is the stuff of tyrants and dictators. Perhaps that's more than sheer coincidence.

We have our share of these vermin in Canada also. I'm not saying we have anything like the American situation but still we have more than enough of these types. And it's certainly nothing new.

I can remember Pierre Trudeau's first election as prime minister. It was the first time I was eligible to vote. Back then there was no internet as a vehicle for spreading lies but they made up for it with leaflets that were quietly circulated claiming Trudeau was a draft-dodging, french-speaking, Catholic, communist sympathizing, homosexual. If you were bigoted about anything, they hit on it. I was surprised at the time to see intelligent, well-off people circulating this trash - and they did.

It was no fluke that Preston Manning's Reform Party turned into the destination of choice for bigots of all varieties. When they exposed themselves by making racist remarks, Manning had to punt them to a safe distance. Stephen Harper, aided by the collusion of Peter MacKay, brought that segment of the far-right into the Conservative Party.

How will they manifest their powers in the next federal election? I don't know but, given Harper's giddy delight in Rovian tactics, I'm sure we won't have long to wait to see them in action. Sad, really.

Tired of Wet Weekend Weather?

Have you ever wondered why the weather so often turns lousy just in time for the weekend? It's a great annoyance to the Monday to Friday crowd who see blue skies while they're on the job and rain clouds when they're not.

Here in the south coastal area of British Columbia, last summer seemed to be a steady pattern of rainy weekends. It was more than just noticeable.

Spanish researchers claim to have found evidence that, in some parts of Europe at least, the weather really does follow a weekly pattern which they claim may be man-made. The team studied Spanish data from 1961 to 2004. Their analysis suggests that weekday work activity generates far more air pollution that drops sharply on weekends. This, in turn, causes changes in air circulation that result in rainier weekends. Or at least that's the theory.
Out here we know a thing or three about rain. We get to study it steadily from November to May, year in and year out. We know there are a lot of sources of rain. El Nino, La Nina, and the Pineapple Express come to mind. Still, an urban link to weekly precipitation patters would be pretty interesting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Arctic Ice Melt Nears Record

With several weeks remaining in the summer melt season, Arctic Ocean ice has already reached the second-lowest known level. Scientists find the degree of melt surprising given that we've had a relatively cold summer. The record melt happened last summer.

Arctic sea ice melting typically slows by now but this year the decline has remained steady. From The Star:

"It's an unfortunate sign that climate change is coming rapidly to the Arctic and that we really need to address the issue of global warming on a national level," said Christopher Krenz, Arctic project manager for Oceana.

"This is not surprising but it is alarming," said Deborah Williams, a former Interior Department special assistant for Alaska. ``This was a relatively cool summer, and to have ice decrease to the second lowest minimum on record demonstrates that global warming's ongoing impact is profound."

A Troubling Look Inside Kandahar

The Taliban are gradually retaking Kandahar City, the capital of Kandahar province, Canada's remit under the NATO-led, International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.

The map above shows you the districts of Kandahar province, a couple of which you may find familiar - Panjwai and Spin Boldak. That's where Canada's combat troops seem to do the lion's share of their fighting. The other districts you might never heard of before but, then again, there are some pretty big areas of Kandahar province where we don't maintain a presence because we're so grossly understrength.

In June the Taliban launched a stunning attack on Kandahar's prison, killing the guards and freeing about 900-prisoners including about 350-Taliban. The impact of that hit and run raid is still being felt among the people of Kandahar City.

>The New York Times reports that, since June, confidence in the Karazi government has cratered:

"The prison break, on June 13, was a spectacular propaganda coup for the Taliban not only in freeing their comrades and flaunting their strength, but also in exposing the catastrophic weakness of the Afghan government, its army and the police, as well as the international forces trying to secure Kandahar.

In the weeks since the prison break, security has further deteriorated in this southern Afghan city, once the de facto capital of the Taliban, that has become a renewed front line in the battle against the radical Islamist movement. The failure of the American-backed Afghan government to protect Kandahar has rippled across the rest of the country and complicated the task of NATO forces, which have suffered more deaths here this year than at any time since the 2001 invasion.

A rising chorus of complaints equally scathing about the failings of the government can be heard around the country. The collapsing confidence in the government of President Hamid Karzai is so serious that if the Taliban had wanted to, they could have seized control of the city of Kandahar on the night of the prison break, one Western diplomat in Kabul said.

The only reason they did not was they did not expect the government and the NATO reaction to be so weak, he said.

In fact, interviews with local officials and other people here who witnessed the bold prison break and its aftermath show that the level of government organization and security was woefully inadequate around what was clearly a high-priority target for the Taliban.

There were only 10 guards at the prison that night and about 1,400 inmates, said Col. Abdullah Bawar, the new head of the prison. In the immediate aftermath of the prison break, terrified local residents closed their shops and the town was silent for days as people braced themselves for more violence, including a possible attack on the city.

“We don’t know exactly if the Taliban is powerful, we have heard that,” said Gul Muhammad, 35, a shopkeeper who witnessed the assault on the prison and was even thrown off his feet by the blast. “But when we see this kind of attack, it seems they are very powerful."

Haji Muhammad Musa Hotak, a member of Parliament from Wardak Province, near the capital, Kabul, warned that the gap between the people and the government had grown dire.

So wide is it, in fact, the situation reminds him of the end of the Communist era, when support for the government of the Soviet-backed president, Najibullah, began collapsing under the onslaught of the mujahedeen, who had waged a 13-year resistance in the name of Islam against successive Communist rulers.

The Taliban attack has also shaken local confidence in the international forces here and exposed the difficult situation of the understaffed Canadian troops in Kandahar
, who have lost 90 soldiers in the last two and a half years in the province trying to contain an increasingly virulent Taliban insurgency.

On the night of the prison break, Canadian troops based in the town as part of the NATO-led international Security Assistance Force were busy dealing with a number of roadside bombs planted, apparently in a coordinated plan to divert the attention of security forces from the attack.

The failings make people wonder what the foreign troops are really doing in Afghanistan, said Mr. Daoud, the shopkeeper. “The Canadians are here, but things are getting worse and worse.”

The core threat in this is in the loss of popular support for the central government. That lies at the heart of any insurgent's strategy. Undermine confidence in the government and its forces and you can cause popular support for the government to collapse. Once the government loses the support of its people, the counterinsurgency forces defending the government come to be seen, not as protectors, but as oppressors unnecessarily dragging out their war and inflicting suffering on the people.

Incidents like the weekend's American air bombardment said, by the Karzai government, UN observers, the provincial governor and the locals to have killed some 90-civilians, 60 of them children, acquire the significance of the Boston Massacre. Like the mythical Boston Massacre, it's a great propaganda tool for the insurgency, one that has legs and traction.

Our military support is crucial to the Kabul government but more important is the support of the Afghan people. Once popular support is lost our troops become not the defenders of the people but the bodyguards of the Karzai government.

And this reveals where trying to fight a military war in response to the insurgents' political war is all but doomed to failure. The Taliban can't engage us in a military showdown. They don't have the numbers. They don't have the weaponry. They can, however, undermine their rival political force, the central government, by inflicting a thousand small cuts that the military force is powerless to prevent. An ineffective government coupled with government corruption, the drug barons, the warlords - all of these things work in favour of the insurgency. Helicopter gunships and Leopard tanks are irrelevant to this.

Kandahar City isn't an isolated case. Many reports over the past few months reveal that the Taliban are closing in on Kabul. They won't try to capture Kabul but they don't have to. They merely need to cut the vulnerable ring road, surround the city and choke off its communications, transportation and trade routes.

What about the time factor? That, too, is on the insurgents' side. They know that Westerners expect to see tangible victories and that their patience for results is limited. When their forces spend years fighting an unwinnable war and steadily lose ground, people at home want an end to it. Algeria, French IndoChina, Vietnam, and Afghanistan under the Soviets stand as examples of what tends to happen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Points of No Return

Polls show that the great majority of Canadians today get the idea of global warming.

Those that do, want something done about it even if they can't really grasp what that something is.

Those who want something done to arrest global warming want that something done in time even if they're unsure how much time we have to get that something done.

Read about global warming and associated climate change and you're bound to hear of "tipping points," which are points at which global warming and its spillover effects will be unstoppable.

Now, as I see it, it comes down to a question of which tipping point arrives first; the human tipping point or the climatic tipping point. We'd better hope it's the human tipping point and hope that we reach it in time.

What's the "human tipping point?" Consider it the point at which enough consensus exists to make effective global warming solutions not only possible but imperative. The point at which a sufficient majority of our species demands action that they cannot be ignored by our leaders or overwhelmed in nonsense by the denialists.

We'll likely reach that human tipping point when enough of us understand that we can change our world and that if we don't change, our world will change us all on its own.

If we don't reach our tipping point before the earth reaches one or more of its climatic tipping points we may find ourselves playing catch up ball for the survival of our species.

It has gradually become apparent that meeting this challenge may be in the hands of mankind, not our governments. I'm not sure there are enough governments capable of acknowledging and taking independent action if only to persuade and cajole holdouts into coming on side. Some nations have to start this and, so far, it's been a pretty piecemeal, muddled effort. That's in part because there are inevitable economic side effects of action. There are downsides. The trade off is limited downsides voluntarily sustained now or far greater downsides involuntarily sustained later.

Governments gave up posterity as a quaint and obsolete notion a long time ago and, in doing that, they deprived us of the mindset we require to tackle global warming. You see, respecting posterity entails leadership. It means persuading the electorate to do without something for the benefit of their country in the future. Our leaders aren't much into that any longer. They choose not to lead but to follow. Leadership has given way to manipulation. Appealing to fears, prejudices and greed is much easier, faster and more effective. It requires little by way of integrity, courage or vision. And yes, we've been conditioned to accept just that.

Many ask why do these things now when the really bad effects won't be felt during our lifetimes? It makes some perverse sense. Why do without for someone else? The answer is because what lies in store for that "someone else" will be the consequences of our actions. We've already set in motion processes what will afflict future generations. What gives us the right to continue that, to make life that much worse for them? What gives us the right to enjoy luxuries today that will cost the lives of women and children in less fortunate places?

Do you have that right? Do you think that's right? Don't go sidestepping for the exits, arguing that the science isn't in or that there's nothing we can do about it anyway. You're already doing something about it and what you're doing is already being felt around the world and will create even more suffering in decades and centuries to come if it's not stopped. What we've done in two or three generations is going to be paid for in scores, possibly hundreds of generations to come.

Do you think it's all right to walk down a local street, pick out a stranger and gut-shoot them so they die a slow and painful death? No, of course not. Do you think it's okay to go to the Third World and do that same thing? I'm sure you don't. Why then do you think it's okay to do that environmentally? Is it because you don't construe it as an act of violence? Is it simple "out of sight, out of mind?" Is it because you've taught yourself to look away and not think about it?

Change is coming and it's inevitable. Look at it like a tsunami. You're sitting at your beachside resort when the warning comes in of a possible earthquake-generated tsunami. So, do you remain in your deck chair savouring that Corona moment or do you pack up and head for high ground? You're just a layman. You don't know for certain that a tsunami is on the way. The experts don't know positively either but they believe there's a very real risk of a killer wave and we don't second guess them, we react.

The devastation that will be created by unchecked anthropogenic global warming will make the worst tsunami look insignificant in contrast. On every point of the planet, every square metre, our lives will change. There'll be no spot unaffected, nothing. A few places will actually improve in some ways but the number of them will be dwarfed by the lands and regions rendered uninhabitable. And once you render vast areas uninhabitable it brings change, often unwelcome consequences, to every other place.

There won't be any new Edens created by global warming. That's just silly. Adam and Eve had Eden all to themselves. There might have been the odd, troublesome snake but there was no horde at the garden's gate pushing its way in.

Taking effective action to fight global warming on both fronts - remediation and adaptation - doesn't mean reducing ourselves to penury. That's the fear you've been conditioned to respond to talking.

Think about this. As you read this, and I mean this very instant, the sacrifice required to fight global warming is as minimal as it's every going to get. Right now. Next month, next year, a decade from now that sacrifice is going to be much greater and, here's the thing, the longer you wait the less choice you're going to have on dealing with the problem. Time is not on your side, it's not on our side. The problem is steadily getting bigger and nastier while our options are just as steadily getting smaller and nastier.

The human tipping point we need to reach won't be found in any world capitols. It's in your mind and in the mind of every other member of our species. That's where the tipping point, our tipping point, has to be grown. That's where the decisive impetus for action will emerge.

Global warming. It's a problem that's all in your mind.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dear George

Dear George:

Your friends called today and asked me to speak to you, sort of a one man intervention if you like.

The trouble, George, is that you're a dummy, a moron. You just can't resist your compulsion to screw with things until they break, can you?

You screwed around with Iraq - broke it. You screwed around with Afghanistan - broke it. You screwed around with your army. Broke that too. You screwed around with your economy and, guess what? You broke it. You screwed around with Social Security but you were stopped in time although you almost broke it too.

You screwed around with NATO and, if it's not already broken, it's damned close. You idiot.

NATO, it's an "alliance" George, not your goddamned Foreign Legion. An alliance depends on mutual commitments, George. Mutual covenants forged from mutual interests.

You screwed with NATO until it became bloated and almost meaningless. It's got 26-members now. Can you name all of them, George? Of course you can't. And you want to shove Ukraine and Georgia into the bag before you're done.

Here's an idea, dummy. A mutual defence alliance has to be made up of nations that are actually willing to defend each other. That little prerequisite defines the territorial limits of NATO. That limit ended somewhere in Central Europe, say Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Beyond that, who cares? Here are a few pointers from today's Guardian you should think about:

"The new Nato states in the Baltics and central Europe are not, unlike the US or Britain, preoccupied with terrorism, Afghanistan, or Iran's nuclear potential. Their bugbear is the Kremlin. The Czechs and the Poles have agreed to host the Pentagon's missile defence system not because they worry about Iranian missiles, but because they feel more secure by having US troops permanently on their soil for the first time.

...The Nato-led coalition's lack of success in Afghanistan has exposed divisions caused recriminations, with Germany bearing the brunt of the criticism for its reluctance to put its forces on the frontlines.

Germany has also been central to the Georgia crisis, highlighting the limits of Nato's policies towards Russia and its post-cold war policy of expanding into the countries around Russia's rim.

In a report on the Georgia crisis to be released on Monday, the European Council on Foreign Relations says: "Moscow is well aware that few Nato members want to extend a mutual security guarantee to a country at war with Europe's biggest neighbour."

This cuts to Nato's policy flaw. "The main question is, are you willing to go to war for Tbilisi? I think the answer is no," said the EU official."

Let's be honest, George. This expansion into the Balkans and Caucasus is all about expanding your nation's sphere of influence into these regions. This is the expansion of America's sphere of influence right up to Russia's doorstep. This isn't about NATO, the Alliance is only America's beard on this one. You're just using NATO to legitimize your neo-conservative policy agenda.

"Are you willing to go to war for Tbilisi?" The question answers itself and in that answer lies the stupidity of expanding a supposed, mutual defence Alliance to Russia's borders. You want to put American forces in Tbilisi, George? Who's stopping you? Go ahead, just don't try to cloak it as a NATO initiative when it's yours, all yours.

I remember another George Bush, the one who led a legitimate coalition to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. I remember how, after the guns fell silent, that other George Bush stood up and proclaimed the advent of a "new world order." That guy must be in tears by now. You screwed with that new world order, George - and you broke it. Idiot.

George, you've only got a few months left to go, so why don't you just back off. Send Condi home, give her the rest of the term off. Ditto for Dick. Hell he's going to need the few months that are left just to burn records and documents, maybe go "hunting" with a few people who know too much. But whatever you do, just leave NATO alone, George. There's a chance, slim though it may be, that NATO might survive once you're gone.

2011 And Out - Will America Really Leave Iraq?

Has George w. Bush really folded his hand? Might John McCain have to oversee the withdrawal/expulsion of American troops from Iraq? The mind boggles at the possibilities.

Iraq's foreign minister says negotiators have hammered out a deal calling for the withdrawal of all American combat forces by the end of 2011.

There are two potential snags. The American committment to depart is "condition based" which seems to leave plenty of wiggle room for claims that conditions aren't quite right yet. The second issue is just what the tens of thousands of troops that remain after the withdrawal of combat troops will actually be doing. They'll supposedly be delegated to training and support duties. Perhaps.

Will conditions be right by 2011 for the withdrawal of American combat forces? Maybe, but don't count on it. The Kurds and the Arab Iraqis are still hanging around the OK Corral where they'll settle the Kirkuk question. The Kurdish Autonomous Region (where flying the Iraqi flag is prohibited) is fiercely determined to establish its claim to Kirkuk and the neighbouring oil fields.

Tensions have been simmering as the Kurd's secret police have been doing a little ethnic cleansing of their own, driving out Arabs and increasing the Kurdish population in advance of a referendum that has already been postponed to avoid an outright clash. Now the Arab and Turkmen population are pushing back.

Kirkuk has always been the 800 pound gorilla of Iraqi unification. It speaks volumes that, five years after the overthrow of Saddam, this critical issue remains unresolved.

Also unresolved are Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia and the freshly armed Sunni militias of the Awakening movement that have allied with American forces to drive out al Qaeda terrorists. Sadr, who is currently laying low, remains a political threat to the Maliki government and its Badr militia. That one is going to have to be sorted out.

And Iraq's Shiite government has now moved on the Sunni militias' leadership. The Baghdad government has issued orders to arrest 650-top Awakening Council leaders. The move is giving American generals fits. They fear the Iraqi move could drive the former Sunni guerrillas back into the arms of the insurgency and undo many of the gains that have resulted in a significant reduction of American casualties.

Many American military leaders admit it was the Awakening movement, not the surge, that has been truly responsible for the decline in American fatalities.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Three More Canadian Soldiers Lost in Afghanistan

Three more gone. Same sad story. Foot patrol encounters hidden improvised explosive device - booby trap. The three dead were combat engineers attached to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the PPCLI. A fourth member of the patrol was severely injured.

One of the dead, Sergeant Shawn Eades, was on his third tour of Afghanistan.

If You Only Read One Post on Afghanistan This Month, This Should Be It

And no, I didn't write it. Instead, it's a brilliant piece by Seumas Milne explaining why the Afghan fire is bound to spread and what we're doing to fan the flames:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Canada's Troubles in Afghanistan Start at the Top

Here are a few home truths to keep in the back of your mind while weighing our progress in this maniacal war without end on terror:

1. An otherwise winnable war can be lost by bad military leadership.

2. An otherwise winnable war can be lost by bad political leadership.

3. Wars are rarely lost at the 11th hour. The groundwork for failure is often laid early in the game.

4. Wars are usually lost long before the losing side realizes it has failed. The outcome of a war may be conclusively decided long before the losing side has sustained enough damage to acknowledge the fact.

5. Superior technology and firepower are a poor substitute for competent political and military leadership.

6. Time is a precious and limited commodity in warfare. Fatigue sets in quickly and can be fatal.

7. Rarely are wars fought for the reasons fed to the public.

Pretty much each of these truths comes to bear on the way in which we perceive the war in Afghanistan. Our military leadership has been haphazard - at best. Read General Petraeus' counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24. This eye opener essentially digests the experiences and lessons of asymmetrical warfare since the days of the Romans. The players change, their weapons change, but the core principles survive. Then, having read that enlightening work, apply its recommendations to what we've been doing in Afghanistan. Sorry, I can 't do that for you, there's far too much material involved. Just, please, don't tell me we have the slightest hope of "winning" in Afghanistan until you've at least read the manual (which is, by the way, available, at no charge, in PDF format on the internet).

You don't need to take some measly 4-star American combat general's word for it. Read Caesar, read T.E. Lawrence or so many others. You'll find it all there. But - don't argue Afghanistan with me until you're able to discuss the salient aspects of guerrilla warfare.

By Petraeus' own writings, we're making every mistake in the book (including FM 3-24) in Afghanistan. I so wish the ghost of Colonel Lawrence had been around to whisper a bit of this reality to General Hillier before he cajoled his way through Paul Martin's office and on into Kandahar. Which leads me to bad political leadership.

I fully accept that Paul Martin fell for a song and dance act on Afghanistan. If, as Martin aides claim, he only approved it on Hillier's assurance that the forces could take it on and take on another major mission at the same time, what was Hillier doing giving this assurance? Either Hillier was smart enough to know that wasn't true - or he wasn't smart enough to know whether it was true. No matter which end you approach this from, it was lousy military leadership.

Then, as the enemy grew in strength and the mission took on burdens far beyond the worst-case scenario given Martin - Hillier did nothing to see that the Canadian force was appropriately reinforced.

Look at it this way. Hillier got the PM to sign on - and openly told Canadian TV cameras - that the 2.500-strong force was sufficient because we were going into that large province but only to kill "a few dozen ...scumbags." Given the history of Afghanistan, all its troubles and associated circumstances and perils, how could anyone say that? You don't take on missions - voluntarily, even beggingly - unless you're absolutely certain that the force you take will be able to cope with a worst-case situation. And then, when that worst-case situation emerges and catches you shorthanded, you do nothing to increase your numbers to the size of the force you ought to have taken in there when you first outlined the mission?

Imagine a Canadian general going to the prime minister of the day and coming out with approval for a war that will utterly exhaust our armed forces and leave them much less able to deal with any other threat anywhere, including Canada itself, that may emerge - and for years, possibly generations. Imagine that. Yet, somehow, that's precisely what's staring us in the face right now. If Hillier didn't warn Paul Martin off this godawful predicament, he ought to come out and explain why not? The Canadian people need an answer from The Big Cod on that one.

Sorry, ladies and gents, but winding up where we are right now , given all the clues and indicators, was foreseeable as at least "possible" if not straight out "probable." Why did this seem to come as such an unimagineable surprise by our military leaders?

Our political leadership failed - and continues to fail us. I don't believe you need to have much expertise in military history to see this coming down the line. Somehow Paul Martin accepted some pretty baseless assurances when he and his organization ought to have known better. But if benign gullibility is Martin's crime, his successor's has been far more culpable. Harper wants to be one of the boys, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the other English-speaking democracies, the good old white boys.

Harper's leadership on Afghanistan is entirely politically-driven. That's bad news for the troops because it means their mission is compromised by a political agenda. The best trained, best equipped and most capable and motivated troops cannot overcome weak political and military leadership.

The Afghanistan war, or at least our chapter of it, began in 2001. Now we're in the bottom half of 2008. In the course of those seven years a lot has changed, not much of it for the good.

Afghanistan remains a failed state. Why? One reason is the destabilizing role of the insurgency, a problem compounded by the chaos in neighbouring Pakistan. That, however, is only one reason and there are others. Another key reason is that a strong Afghan state with a powerful central government is not in the interests of some very key players, among them the warlords (to whom we've handed over most of the country) and the drug barons.

It's no accident that Hamid Karzai remains the mayor of Kabul. He exercises only those powers the warlords are willing to give him and we're not doing a damned thing about that. Why? Because that would risk bringing us into conflict not only with a Pashtun insurgency but also with the Hazara, Turkmen, Tajik and Uzbek leadership. We'd be at war with everybody.

Time is a precious commodity in warfare and seven years is an almost unbelievable amount of time for a war and yet, as Milne noted in the previous piece from the Guardian, we've not achieved a single objective we had for invading and occupying Afghanistan.

There's no faulting our troops in this. They're not responsible for the abject failure of their leadership, political and military. The soldiers at the sharp end are doing a terrific job. They're well trained, committed and very capable but they can't overcome their shortage in numbers or the fundamental flaws inherent in "the mission" that will deny their efforts any meaningful victory.

It was stunning to read last week that the National Post itself has clued in to the fact that we're woefully understrength in Afghanistan. Wow, and it only took them seven years to notice! Even the Spot understands that we can't win in Afghanistan with the paltry forces we've deployed to Kandahar. Maybe if the Spot can figure that out there's hope yet that our politicians and generals may also reach that same state of belated enlightenment.

New Fish for Chipewayn - Yippee!

Fort Chipewyan, just downstream from the fabled Athabasca Tar Sands, seems to be raking in a lot of "firsts." For one there's the incidence of cancer among the local natives. But wait, there's more!

Now there's Petrofish, a new type of Goldeye - with two mouths.
A Parks Canada official from the Woods Buffalo National Park had a look at the mutant before handing it back to the Mikesew Cree nation. A report has been sent to Alberta's Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP), a cooperative that includes the Harper Department of Fisheries and Petrobucks, the Tony Clement Department of Dirty Needles, the Alberta environment department and silly walks, oilsands corporations and a few natives thrown in for good measure (those who haven't already contracted cancer).
Local natives are treating the mutant fish with alarm but, then again, they would, wouldn't they?

Rot At The Top - Eight Years of Awful Leadership

Well, we did it again. Washington wanted to play hardball with Moscow and succeeded only in exposing the weakness of the NATO alliance. As a symbol of Western solidarity, NATO has been left bloated, battered and bruised, largely by American bullheadedness since September, 2001.

NATO's Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has been a total dud. He's great at making grandiose pronouncements that are best quickly forgotten if only to avoid embarrassing the Alliance and Scheffer himself. He failed to rally the member states to make a meaningful commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. Those nations that have shouldered the burden - Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, France and Germany - have pretty much acted on their own rather than as a NATO force. That is reflected in the way each fights (or doesn't) by its own rules on its own turf. That's five out of twenty-seven member nations (how many can you name?). Doesn't sound very impressive, does it? Scheffer, a rotten leader.

There was Tony Blair, Washington's lap dog, its poodle. Blair's career can be summed up with the epitaph, "He went along to get along." He not only vouchsafed Washington's outrageous lies on Iraq, he tossed in his own for good measure. A rotten leader but a good judge of when it was time to get out with his hide intact.

Then, of course, there's the Wrecking Crew. No, I didn't lift that reference from the just released book. I coined it for a photo album I posted on this very blog on 21 September, 2007. If you want an amusing stroll down Memory Lane, check it out.

Ah yes, the Wrecking Crew. Leadership at its very worst. Consistently rotten to the point of perversion. They've squandered their nation's strength and its wealth, harming many to abet the already privileged few. Abroad they took their nation's prestige and goodwill and sold it cheap in pursuit of a radical ideology fomented from a viral hubris. It was a twenty-first century adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes played on a global stage. Applied delusion on a mass scale. Like all such folly it wasn't long before it collapsed under its own weight.

Bush, aided by the sycophant Scheffer, treated NATO as a child might treat a balloon - constantly blowing it up and squeezing it. With no effort to rationalize the Alliance or clarify and redefine its role in a post-Cold War era, Bush just kept on trying to toss in one Eastern European nation after another, a protracted campaign of passive-aggression against Moscow.

History has shown that alliances work best when there exist strong bonds, shared interests and common purpose. In Cold War NATO those elements were obvious and strongly-shared. It was actually a very large alliance, as these things go, and, despite that, it functioned quite well. Post Cold-War NATO is a bloated, clumsy thing progressively expanded through Central and Eastern Europe. There is nothing "North Atlantic" about the ex-Warsaw Pact states now relabelled as our own and very little that could pass for strong bonds, shared interests and common purpose, something evident in all the "no shows" in Afghanistan.

What are the strong bonds and shared interests between Canadians and Romanians or Slovenians? The question answers itself. Are we really willing to send our young men and women to fight over them? Of course we're not and our adversaries, real or potential, know it.

NATO has come to exist more as an extension of American foreign policy than anything else. This may be the undoing of NATO itself for it conflicts with the whole notion of shared interests and common purpose needed to maintain a healthy alliance. It represents the clash of Washington unilaterialism with a supposedly multilateral coalition.

Afghanistan may have marked the beginning of the end for NATO for it demonstrated the Alliance to be a square peg that couldn't be made to fit the round hole. With NATO members shirking "the mission" on a ratio of four to one, it's hard to depict this as a NATO venture at all.

Throughout the Bush years the West has consistently overplayed its hand. Bush overplayed his hand by going into Iraq unnecessarily with entirely predictable and yet, for the supposed leader of the free world, wilfully unforeseen consequences. American military power was never greater than before the first American tanks rolled across the Iraqi border. The occupation of Iraq showed little states that once dreaded America's military prowess that they had less to fear than they had imagined. By using force needlessly, Bush allowed the rise of Iran and the Shiites as the dominant regional force in the Middle East.

Now we have Georgia. Any guesses why Putin and Medvedev are dragging their feet on withdrawing their forces from Georgia? It's because we, once again, have overplayed our hand. Putin has been given a no-risk opportunity to see just what resolve NATO can truly muster when Condi Rice shows up in Brussels to crack the whip on the Alliance underlings. He has so much to gain and so very little to lose by delay and we've played right into his hand. Summer is almost over and Europe is anticipating an urestricted supply of Russian gas to heat its homes this winter. You do the math.

This game isn't over and we can't wish it away. If NATO is to be salvaged it will have to be rationalized with clearly defined purposes and equally clear commitments from its members. There is already talk of a two-tier Alliance - NATO Classic and NATO Lite if you like - which makes more sense as the days, and failures, go by. Organize the member states by commonality of interests and you will inevitably get back to a North Atlantic group (old NATO) and a Central and Eastern European group (new NATO) acting cooperatively but not in lockstep. That, at least, might restore some credibility to Article 5 of the Charter.
Make no mistake about it, the West needs NATO or some similar alliance, to confront the threats and challenges looming this century. There's plenty of trouble coming, everything from resource wars to climate-driven mass migration - enough that we don't have to provoke needless conflicts. We need to take an inventory of what we're about to face and craft a new understanding of what we'll need in an alliance for this cetury.

Our world is undergoing upheaval - environmentally, economically, and geo-politically - that will call out for new leadership. The ideologues have shown themselves unfit to navigate these shoals. We have an urgent need for new leadership with a clearer vision, steadier hand and a lighter touch.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Harper Woos Tory Youth Vote

One thing Stephen Harper understands is the importance of staying in touch with young Conservatives.

The Temptation of Vlad Putin

Georgia attacks S. Ossetia. Russia repels invaders. Russia storms Georgia. Ceasefire deal is inked. Russia stays put in Georgia. Washington flies into a tizzy, summons NATO underlings to Brussels. NATO members threaten "sanctions" on Russia. Putin yawns.

What is Vlad Putin's game? I think it's just possible that NATO has presented him with a temptation he can't resist. It may have given Putin the opportunity to test NATO's resolve and explore the tensions that pervade the alliance. Putin may even sense a possible opportunity to fracture NATO's already wobbly solidarity.

Look at it from Vlad's perspective.

1. He knows that the major Western European powers are going along with Washington very reluctantly. They need Russia a lot more than they need or want Georgia. Russia is a main source of Europe's natural gas supply and it's become a vital market for Western European exports.

2. He knows that NATO's eastward expansion through the Balkans and Caucasus has been American-driven and that the US has pretty much ignored its traditional allies' reservations which, incidentally, included the very prospect of a Georgia-style conflict.

3. He knows that NATO has shown itself something of an alliance in name only in Afghanistan with some nations ducking the mission altogether and others placing such severe restrictions on the use of their deployed forces as to undermine their benefit to ISAF.

4. He knows that he can afford to test the waters. If the heat gets too much, all he needs to do is order his mechanized forces to drive back a few hundred kilometers and all will be forgiven.

5. He knows that the Europeans will ensure that NATO's response will be mild at worst. The Washington ideologues may have an appetite for reviving the Cold War but the Euros, who dealt with it in their backyard for half a century, want no part of that.

No, when Nick Sarkozy leveled his "or else" ultimatum, he might just have presented Putin an opportunity he can't refuse to test NATO's heart - and its spine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tony Clement Scolds Doctors' Ethics. Maybe He Wishes He Had Some.

Harper Uber-Weasel, HealthMin Tony Clement, has castigated Canadian doctors for supporting safe-injection facilities such as Vancouver's Insite. According to The Globe & Mail, Tony tried a new tack:

"Is it ethical for health-care professionals to support the administration of drugs that are of unknown substance, or purity or potency, drugs that cannot otherwise be legally prescribed?" Mr. Clement said.

Clement's mush-mouthed sophistry is, as always, over the top. No one supports "the administration of drugs." What the medical profession supports is the provision of clean needles and a safe place for addicts to use under supervision, a site that also offers counselling for those wanting to end their drug habits. As Clement knows this isn't about the administration of drugs. Close Insite and those very drugs will still be bought and sold and administered only in back alleys with shared needles that create an enormous health problem for the entire community.

CMA president Dr. Brian Day wasted no time kicking Clement to the curb where his type belongs.

"Dr. Brian Day said sites that allow addicts to inject their own narcotics under the supervision of medical staff have been successful in curbing illegal drug use and slowing the spread of disease.

"We specifically take issue with the minister using that phrase," Dr. Day told reporters after Mr. Clement's speech.

"The minister was off base in calling into question the ethics of physicians involved in harm reduction.

"It's clear that this was being used as a political issue."

Clement, reaching even lower, then criticized Insite as ineffective, because most narcotics are still used in "back alleys and seedy motels." Wait a minute. Insite isn't effective because it isn't big enough to reach more addicts? So let's shut it down? Hey Nimrod, if that's your concern - reaching more addicts - why don't you simply fund more clinics?

The man is a total moral reptile.

Pakistan, Land of Circuitous Problems

What to do, what to do? If we want to achieve some sort of success in Afghanistan (and what that might look like grows smaller as the years pass), there will have to be some breakthrough in Pakistan.

Musharraf is gone. Like most things that happen in Pakistan, that's a mixed blessing, certainly for NATO forces in Afghanistan and probably for the Pakistanis themselves. Mushie might not have been a great ally to the West in the fight against al Qaeda but he was a somewhat effective keel for his country.

Without Musharraf, the two ruling parties will now have to try to govern and, in Pakistan, that's a Herculean chore. The pols are going to have to carve out turf that has been traditionally dominated by Pakistan's army. The military is actually far more than just an armed force. It's also a wealthy and powerful political and economic institution and, as such, tearing the country out of the generals' grasp may not be all that easy. Pakistan's military is more than familiar with seizing power in coups.

The other key segment of the military is Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency or ISI. This secretive outfit is still believed to be harbouring Taliban forces in the tribal lands and is also strongly believed to have played a role in the July 7th bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Some experts believe the ISI remains a free agent utterly beyond the control of the civilian government.

While the attempted orderly transition of power into civilian hands proceeds there's the question of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and Dr. Kahn's nuclear weapons export shop that was never completely dismantled. There are some experts who fear that Kahn & Co. could surreptitiously resume business if the fledgling government gets distracted.

Finally there's al Qaeda and the Taliban operating relatively freely in the tribal lands. Mushie was never able to bring them to heel and he was Washington's boy, something that severely wounded his popularity and political survival. The new bunch seems intent on distancing themselves from America and, when it comes right down to it, there's really only one way to do that.

America keeps raising the notion of crossing into Pakistan to hunt down the terrorists and the insurgents but that's probably just noise. The US and ISAF are woefully understrength in Afghanistan as it is. Where would they get the megaforce it would take to try to tame the tribal homelands and purge them of the insurgents? That's really tough, forbidding territory and any infidel who seeks to take it on will be fighting more than the insurgents. They'll have to fight the tribesmen themselves and they are genuinely tough customers.

There seem to be no good answers on how to deal with Pakistan. Perhaps with infinite patience, and perseverence and solid groundwork, some breakthrough may yet be achieved, eventually. And yet the Bush administration's recent courting of India has created an enormous setback in relations with Pakistan.

What we ultimately achieve in Afghanistan may well depend on Washington's ability to sort out its problems with Islamabad. Don't hold your breath.

Georgia On My Mind

Is NATO overplaying its hand? France's Nick Sarkozy is uttering ominous threats to Russia to get out of Georgia "or else." Condi Rice is convening a meeting of the whole scout troop in Brussels presumably to tell Russia to get out of Georgia "or else."

One ultimatum atop another. Vlad Putin may have a tidy stack of them on his desk before long. I suppose he'll read them. He's pretty shrewd so he'll probably give them some serious thought. After that, however, it's anybody's guess.

The trouble with an ultimatum is that, while they're easy to give, you do risk having to make good the "or else" part. Nick knows that which is why he's completely vague about the consequences France will inflict on Russia if the Kremlin doesn't fold.

The thing with threats is that the person on the receiving end first has to take the measure of the threat and then weigh the sincerity of the threatener. There's an enormous amount of guessing involved which is why these things sometimes go so very wrong.

So, what are we going to threaten Russia with? Is Stephen Harper going to raise an army, or even a division maybe, to send off to fight the Russians? Oh spare me, please. The people of Canada, like the people of Britain and the peoples of Europe have no stomach for clashing with Russia over something as piddling as Saakashvili's Georgia. The last thing America needs is another heavy-lifting job for its already beleaguered, "Stop Loss" hostage army.

What I fear most is that Putin has an accurate measure of the NATO alliance in its current bloated, hapless configuration. Even Afghanistan gives the NATO members the vapours. A shooting war with Russia versus NATO is a joke.

Maybe we'll reinstate the Cold War. We had enough trouble with that during the half century when we were still insanely wealthy and powerful. Actually, in a way, extending NATO to Russia's borders is a continuation of the Cold War the way we like to do things these days - on the cheap. Maybe we'll all go back to chipping in 4% of our GDP to contain Russia like we did in the bad old days. Won't that be fun (buy Lockheed-Martin fast).

The good news is that NATO has Condi Rice to advise them. She's an expert on the Soviet Union and should be on top of all things Russian. Of course her advice to the horde at Brussels won't be based on her academic assessment but in support of the policies devised by Bush and Cheney.

Condi has already had some tough words for Putin telling reporters that, "People are going to begin to wonder if Russia can be trusted." Coming from a key member of a government that no one needs to wonder if it can be trusted, Rice's admonition must be scary indeed to the Kremlin.

Keeping NATO intact was tough enough when we only had to contend with the interests of North Americans and Western Europeans. Tossing the Eastern European nations, with all their problems and baggage, into the mix was just plain dumb. Poland, the Czechs, the Balts and the Hungarians, sure. The rest? Whatever for?

What no one wants to acknowledge is that the extension of NATO to Russia's borders was an act of American neo-conservatism, plain and simple. It was always about poking the bear in the ribs with a sharp stick by extending America's sphere of interest into Russia's own backyard. It was a stupid power grab with predictable consequences.

It's curious that no one is mentioning what may be the greatest risk to our brinksmanship - driving Russia more squarely into a strategic (i.e. anti-West) alliance with China. Does anyone in his right mind think that Georgia is worth that price?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

McCain's Mental Muddle

I used to like the John McCain who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. I don't much care for the guy who calls himself John McCain today. That said I have had moments where I felt really uncomfortable watching the new McCain stumble into brain lock again and again on the campaign trail.

At the outset it was possible to dismiss the occasional lapse as a "senior's moment" but they're coming so fast and furious of late that questions are being raised about whether the Arizona senator is mentally fit to run America.

Check out this interesting discussion at the Talking Points Memo Cafe:

Bush Fiercely Upholding Joe Stalin's Legacy

George w. Bush is demanding that South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain Georgia territories, regardless of the wishes of the Ossetians and Abkhaz. George w. Bush wants to restore the same situation that was imposed on South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin. Yes, that's right, it was the ethnic-Georgian Stalin who pushed the Ossetians and Abkhaz against their will into the arms of Georgia.

From The Independent:

"...Hidden in the lush forest above the coast at Gagra in Abkhazia is a lime-green mansion; one of several dachas built for Joseph Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, along the Abkhaz coastline. He'd come for weeks in the summer, relaxing on the balcony or playing a game of pool with other leading Bolsheviks. It may have been here that Stalin made many of the decisions that scattered and divided nations, and led to many of the conflicts that have flared up since the Soviet Union collapsed. National and ethnic identities were shifted, encouraged or suppressed during different periods. Whole nations were deported to Siberia or the Kazakh steppe, scattered irrevocably like human dust. Borders between the different entities of the union were changed at will, often with the express intention of fomenting ethnic unrest.

In Abkhazia itself, huge numbers of Georgian settlers were moved in; the Abkhaz language was suppressed and the Georgian language was enforced in schools and universities. In fact, many ethnic Abkhaz talk about the Georgian rule over their territory in the same terms that the Georgians themselves talk about Soviet oppression.

While Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin undoubtedly ruthlessly exploit the tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it is a foolish mistake to think they created them. Ossetians and Abkhaz remember all too well the aggressive and unpleasant Georgian nationalism during the early 1990s, and have no desire to be part of a Georgian state. Meanwhile, after the wars in both regions at that time, many ethnic Georgians still live as refugees in grim conditions in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities.

The Abkhaz say that all the West's posturing over "territorial integrity" is meaningless – why on earth should arbitrary lines drawn up by Stalin be the basis for statehood in the 21st century? Now that Saakashvili has been humiliated over the South Ossetian conflict, the Abkhaz are more buoyant than ever, and it's hard to see the territory ever becoming part of Georgia again. The threat of conflict will always loom, though, and when the Georgians rebuild their army and country, we can expect to see renewed conflict."
Now, it seems, Canada and the US have announced they're "withdrawing" from a planned NORAD exercise with the Russians. Wait a second, it's a NORAD exercise. WE are NORAD. Isn't this a bit like refusing to attend your own, backyard birthday party?
Stephen Harper, never one to let facts get in his way, told reporters, ""In my judgment, this is a very worrisome development. It really indicates a Soviet-era mentality. "
The Ossetian and Abkhaz people have endured a century of intermittent fighting with neighbouring Georgia. Read the history and then ask yourself if we're really backing the Good Guys in this one or maybe just honouring the legacy of Joseph Stalin.

McCain Isn't Just More of the Same. He's So Much More.

John McCain knows the Iraq War is extremely unpopular with the American people. That's why he deftly changes the subject, saying there's no undoing the past and, like it or not, it's essential that America emerge victorious.

What the Old Cold Warrior doesn't want to discuss is his own Uber-hawkishness in the wake of 9/11. The New York Times takes a look at just that today and it sheds an important, perhaps even critical, light on John McCain's fitness to command the world's most powerful and, in the wrong hands, most dangerous military in the world:

"...Within hours [of the 9/11 attacks], Mr. McCain, the Vietnam War hero and famed straight talker of the 2000 Republican primary, had taken on a new role: the leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against Al Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan. In a marathon of television and radio appearances, Mr. McCain recited a short list of other countries said to support terrorism, invariably including Iraq, Iran and Syria.

“There is a system out there or network, and that network is going to have to be attacked,” Mr. McCain said the next morning on ABC News. “It isn’t just Afghanistan,” he added, on MSNBC. “I don’t think if you got bin Laden tomorrow that the threat has disappeared,” he said on CBS, pointing toward other countries in the Middle East.

Within a month he made clear his priority. “Very obviously Iraq is the first country,” he declared on CNN. By Jan. 2, Mr. McCain was on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt
in the Arabian Sea, yelling to a crowd of sailors and airmen: “Next up, Baghdad!”

...To his admirers, Mr. McCain’s tough response to Sept. 11 is at the heart of his appeal. They argue that he displayed the same decisiveness again last week in his swift calls to penalize Russia for its incursion into Georgia, in part by sending peacekeepers to police its border.

His critics charge that the emotion of Sept. 11 overwhelmed his former cool-eyed caution about deploying American troops without a clear national interest and a well-defined exit, turning him into a tool of the Bush administration in its push for a war to transform the region.

...While pushing to take on Saddam Hussein, Mr. McCain also made arguments and statements that he may no longer wish to recall. He lauded the war planners he would later criticize, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. (Mr. McCain even volunteered that he would have given the same job to Mr. Cheney.) He urged support for the later-discredited Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi's opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, and echoed some of its suspect accusations in the national media. And he advanced misleading assertions not only about Mr. Hussein’s supposed weapons programs but also about his possible ties to international terrorists, Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks.

...The Sept. 11 attacks “demonstrated the grave threat posed by a hostile regime, possessing weapons of mass destruction, and with reported ties to terrorists,” Mr. McCain wrote in an e-mail message on Friday. Given Mr. Hussein’s history of pursuing illegal weapons and his avowed hostility to the United States, “his regime posed a threat we had to take seriously.” The attacks were still a reminder, Mr. McCain added, of the importance of international action “to prevent outlaw states — like Iran today — from developing weapons of mass destruction.”

...Soon Mr. McCain and his aides were consulting regularly with the circle of hawkish foreign policy thinkers sometimes referred to as neoconservatives — including Mr. Kristol, Robert Kagan and Randy Scheunemann, a former aide to Mr. Dole who became a McCain campaign adviser — to develop the senator’s foreign policy ideas and instincts into the broad themes of a presidential campaign. (In his e-mail message, Mr. McCain noted that he had also consulted with friends like Henry Kissinger, known for a narrower view of American interests.)

One result was a series of speeches in which Mr. McCain called for “rogue state rollback.” He argued that disparate regional troublemakers, including Iraq, North Korea and Serbia, bore a common stamp: they were all autocracies. And as such, he contended, they were more likely to export terrorism, spread dangerous weapons, or start ethnic conflicts. In an early outline of what would become his initial response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. McCain argued that “swift and sure” retribution against any one of the rogue states was an essential deterrent to any of the others.

...Although he had campaigned for President Bush during the 2000 general election, he was still largely frozen out of the White House because of animosities left over from the Republican primary. But after Mr. Bush declared he would hold responsible any country condoning terrorism, Mr. McCain called his leadership “magnificent” and his national security team the strongest “that has ever been assembled.” A few weeks later, Larry King of CNN asked whether he would have named Mr. Rumsfeld and Colin Powell to a McCain cabinet. “Oh, yes, and Cheney,” Mr. McCain answered, saying he, too, would have offered Mr. Cheney the vice presidency.

...At a European security conference in February 2002, when the Bush administration still publicly maintained that it had made no decision about moving against Iraq, Mr. McCain described an invasion as all but certain. “A terrorist resides in Baghdad,” he said, adding, “A day of reckoning is approaching.

Regime change in Iraq in addition to Afghanistan, he argued, would compel other sponsors of terrorism to mend their ways, “accomplishing by example what we would otherwise have to pursue through force of arms.”

It may be no coincidence that the neo-cons have gone to ground in this campaign. Even their imperialist/dominate the world website,, has been shut down, apparently for non-payment. They must, however, be beside themselves in anticipation of an even more neo-conservative regime replacing BuCheney. And what a candidate. All the impulsiveness of George w. Bush and all the murderous bloodthirst of Dick Cheney rolled into one.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arms Race Update - Welcome to the Bad Old Days

Too young to remember the Cold War? Don't worry, it may be back before you know it.

The Times reports that Russia is considering re-arming its Baltic fleet of subs, cruisers and bombers with nuclear weapons.

"Under the Russian plans, nuclear warheads could be supplied to submarines, cruisers and fighter bombers of the Baltic fleet based in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between the European Union countries of Poland and Lithuania.
A senior military source in Moscow said the fleet had suffered from underfunding since the collapse of communism. “That will change now,” said the source.
“In view of America’s determination to set up a missile defence shield in Europe, the military is reviewing all its plans to give Washington an adequate response."

The Russian military also said it would ignore attempts to restrict the movement of its Black Sea fleet in and out of Sebastopol, in Ukraine. The Crimean port was emerging as a potential flashpoint in Russia’s efforts to prevent former Soviet countries on its borders from joining Nato.

This weekend Ukraine further angered Russian officials by offering to create a joint missile defence network with western countries.

The Russians have already indicated that they may point nuclear missiles at western Europe from bases in Kaliningrad and Belarus. They are also said to be thinking of reviving a military presence in Cuba. "

The Americans are predictably outraged even though the Bush regime itself is pressing ahead with development of a new generation of nuclear weapons for America's military. Once again it's "do as I say, not as I do" smothered in a layer of fetid hypocrisy.

Added to the other known arms races already well underway - China and India for example - this is just the sort of thing we can expect when rational diplomacy is trumped by red-meat ideology. We've gone down this road before. Then we were called back from the edge by sensible leaders. Today we've got Putin and the prospect of McCain. Oh dear.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Taliban's Brutal Tactics are Working

This week's murder of three international aid workers by the Taliban outside Kabul may make some wonder why the insurgents would resort to such grisly tactics? Surely killing innocents will alienate the Afghan public, right? This should all be a fatal error in the guerrilla's struggle for the "hearts and minds" of Afghanis.

Would that were so but it's not. These murderous attacks actually accomplish a lot for the insurgents. They make the locals fearful - and hence, respectful even complaint - of the Taliban. But that's not the real objective. The main prize is to break down public confidence and respect for the government side, the side that's pledged to protect the people.

In the Toronto Star, a Canadian advisor to Afghan president Hamid Karzai, retired Colonel Mike Capstick, says the Taliban tactics are succeeding:

The switch by Taliban insurgents to spectacular attacks, including the daylight murders of international aid workers that left two Canadians among the dead, has shattered Afghans' confidence in the international community and the Afghan government's ability to provide basic security, says a top Canadian adviser to President Hamid Karzai.

"It's a pretty bad year – not only for aid workers – it's a bad year for Afghan national police, international military forces, Afghan national army and tragically, Afghan civilians," said Capstick.

Capstick, who led the first Canadian strategic advisory team to Karzai's government in 2005-06, said "strategically, in the rest of the country" the picture is troubling as insurgents move "towards a tactic of doing the spectacular attacks."

Citing an attempted assassination of Karzai in April at a military parade, the Kandahar prison break in June, the July bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed more than 50 people, and a rash of "attacks on internationals like this," Capstick said the Taliban tactics are "working."

Assaults on unarmed humanitarian workers, on food aid convoys, and bombings that slaughter Afghan civilians have not triggered a backlash against the insurgents as might be expected.

Instead, he said, "it's causing people to become more fearful and for them to lose confidence."
"The Afghan people have lost any confidence that they had in the international community's and the Afghan government's ability to provide basic security."

Almas Bawar Zakhilwal, director in Canada for the Senlis Council think-tank, also sees conditions worsening. "The insurgency was confined to the south before, now we see it in the east and all around Kabul ... It looks like they're closing their circle on Kabul."
The only thing surprising in any of this is that anyone should find this even slightly surprising. This is Guerrilla Warfare 101. These are tactics that have been proven over centuries from Africa to Asia, Central and South America to Europe.
The only way to win the hearts and minds of the public is to give them 24/7 security from the insurgents and that takes huge numbers of troops. Time is not on our side. Time is entirely on the side of the bad guys. We've already had seven years of wasted, screwing around, and we've been steadily losing ground year by year.
America's General Petraeus himself has said the cardinal rule of counter-insurgency is "Go big or go home." Well we certainly haven't gone big, have we? In fact, we're wallowing so far behind the power curve that the other side is steadily nearing a critical mass where they'll become unstoppable. Can't believe that can happen? Suit yourself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hey Condi - Shut the Hell Up!

No amount of hypocrisy will stop Bush's main White House shill, Condoleeza Rice from throwing out one ridiculous statement after another.

This is the woman who, after all, gave us the "mushroom cloud" gimmick about Iraq and, like the rest of these mutts, she's shown herself a compulsive liar time and again. Yes, that's right, Condoleeza Rice is an inveterate liar, a wilful prevaricator, unrepentant fabricator, shady dissembler, an unscrupulous tale bearer, rapacious charlatan, cheap hustler, low swindler, devious rapscallion and tawdry, sideshow mountebank. What she says is so unreliable, so wilfully and hopelessly tainted, as to be meaningless, farcical even.

Today Condysleaza laid into Russia for the Georgia fiasco. With a straight face, 'Sleaza warned that the time is past when one nation can invade another, occupy it and overthrow a government. Apparently the deadline for that neat trick lapsed in Baghdad in 2003.

Hey Condi, shut the hell up!