March 2013 Archives

March 22, 2013

The Guardian’s Matthew Weaver profiles Eliot Higgins, also known as Brown Moses, a blogger who tracks weapons used in global conflicts from his home in Leicester-England. It’s a great look at how he does.

In a March 21, 2013, post, Mr. Weaver reveals that, Mr. Higgins’ “work on analysing Syrian weapons, which began as a hobby, is now frequently cited by human rights groups and has led to questions in parliament. Higgins' latest discovery of a new batch of Croatian weapons in the hands of Syrian rebels appears to have blown the lid on a covert international operation to arm the opposition,” he writes, adding:

“And he's done it all, largely unpaid, from a laptop more than 3,000 miles away from Damascus, in his front room in a Leicester suburb.”

To read more, please see “How Brown Moses exposed Syrian arms trafficking from his front room.” If you want to follow Mr. Higgins’ work, link to his Brown Moses Blog.

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March 18, 2013

An Associated Press (AP) report in the March 18, 2013, edition of the Guardian of London claims that, “Afghan political parties united against the president, Hamid Karzai, are in talks with the Taliban and Islamist groups, hoping to broker peace before next year's exit of international combat troops and a presidential race that will determine Karzai's successor, leaders of the factions have said.”

“This is the first confirmation that the opposition has opened its own, new channel of discussions to try to find a political resolution to the war, now in its 12th year,” the AP Flag_of_Afghanistan.svgreport noted, adding: “And the Taliban too seem to want to move things forward, even contemplating replacing their top negotiator, two senior Taliban officials told the Associated Press.”

They should be holding talks with each other to resolve the conflict rather than negotiating with outsiders whose presence in the name of fighting terrorism has resulted in thousands of Afghan deaths and widespread destruction since 2001. After all, the various groups are Afghans who obviously see the need to solve their differences before the U.S. and European nations install another leader in Afghanistan in the manner that Mr. Karzai was imposed.

For more perspective on the negotiations, please see “Afghanistan opposition parties in talks with Taliban, claim leaders.

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March 15, 2013

Sir Sherard Louis Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador to Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009, writes in a March 16, 2013, post in The Spectator: “History doesn’t show us only mistakes to avoid. It also gives us examples of success to be emulated. We would do well to study the way in which the Soviet Union left Afghanistan.”

The author of “Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin said, “Like Barack Obama in 2009, in 1985 the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev was faced with the challenge of how most elegantly to extract his country from Afghanistan. He notes:

Unlike Obama, Gorbachev was being told by his military advisers — who had mostly been doubtful about the whole campaign from the start — that the war was unwinnable.

Mr. Cowper-Coles said "Unlike Obama, he decided that the right course was to follow the playbook for countering insurgencies. The first task was to ensure that an essentially tactical military campaign was enfolded in a coherent political strategy." 

I found his analysis quite informative and highly recommend it. To read more, please see, “Afghanistan Withdrawal: Sherard Cowper-Coles on what the Soviets did right

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March 13, 2013

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman, writing in the March 12, 2013, edition of the The Times, argues that, the “most important thing” U.S. president  Barack Obama (pictured below) could do on his upcoming trip to Israel “is to publicly and privately ask every Israeli official he meets these questions:

Please tell me how your relentless settlement drive in the West Bank does not end up with Israel embedded there — forever ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians with a President_Barack_Obamacolonial-like administration that can only undermine Israel as a Jewish democracy and delegitimize Israel in the world community? I understand why Palestinian dysfunction and the Arab awakening make you wary, but still. Shouldn’t you be constantly testing and testing whether there is a Palestinian partner for a secure peace? After all, you have a huge interest in trying to midwife a decent West Bank Palestinian state that is modern, multireligious and pro-Western — a totally different model from the Muslim Brotherhood variants around you. Everyone is focused on me and what will I do. But, as a friend, I just want to know one thing: What is your long-term strategy? Do you even have one?”

Mr. Friedman said, “The most destabilizing conflict in the region is the civil war between Shiites and Sunnis that is rocking Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen,” not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He said, “While it would be a good thing to erect a Palestinian state at peace with Israel, the issue today is will there be anymore a Syrian state, a Libyan state and an Egyptian state.”

If you want to read the entire article, please see “Mr. Obama Goes to Israel.”

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March 12, 2013

Should African Nations View China As a Competitor?

Lamido Sanusi, Nigeria's central bank governor, writing in the Financial Times, contends that Africa is "opening itself up to a new form of imperialism," with China emerging as a modern-day imperialist.

"China is no longer a 'fellow underdeveloped economy'," he writes, according to quotes in the article, which was posted at CNN International. "China is the second biggest economy in the world, an economic giant capable of the same forms of exploitation as the west. China is a major contributor to the de-industrialisation of Africa and thus African underdevelopment."

Mr. Lanusi said "China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism."

The article raises many important questions and hopefully will heighten debate as the African continent is being eyed by some as a potential source of great revenue in the technology and other sectors. I highly recommend it. For more, please see "Africa told to view China as competitor."

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March 10, 2013

“Seventeen countries of the Caribbean face a heightened period of economic uncertainty now that Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has died,” contends former Caribbean diplomat Sir Ronald Walters in a March 10, 2013, article published at Kaieteur News Online.  See “The Caribbean after Chavez.”

The highly regarded commentator noted:

Twelve of the 17 Caribbean countries are members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). They have become highly reliant on their oil supplies from Venezuela on a part payment-part loan scheme, called Petro Caribe, without which their difficult economic circumstances would be decidedly worse. Of the $14 billion worth of oil that Venezuela provided under Petro Caribe to the 17 dependent countries up to last year, $5.8 billion constituted long-term financing. Cuba is the principal beneficiary but, in per capita terms, so too are a number of CARICOM countries – Jamaica particularly.

I highly recommend Mr. Walter’s sober analysis, which is in stark contrast to much of the sarcastic and hostile commentary I read about Mr. Chavez and his economic policies in the days following his death. The analysis is substantive and shows a deep understanding of Mr. Chavez’s policies and the impact they had on the leaders and populations of Caribbean and other nations in the region. See “The Caribbean’s Debt to Hugo Chavez.”

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Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who ran for president of Kenya and lost under the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) banner,“has seven days in which to make an appeal to the country's highest court” to hear his claim of election irregularities, according to Al-Jazeera's James Brownsell. Uhuru Kenyatta, a son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first pFlag_of_Kenya.svg (1)ost-colonial president following independence from Britain, was declared the winner on March 9, 2013.

While Mr. Odinga has seven day’s to seek redress, “analysts say it is likely that the case will be presented on Tuesday (March 12, 2013) or Wednesday (March 13, 2013).The Supreme Court then has two weeks in which to reach a decision,” according to Al-Jazeera.

Mr. Odinga was quoted as saying:

"It is clear the constitutionally sanctioned process of electing a new set of leaders to take us to the next level has been thwarted by another tainted election.

"Let the Supreme Court determine whether the result announced by the IEBC [Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission] is a lawful one. We are confident the court will restore the faith of Kenyans in the democratic rule of law.

Mr. Kenyatta would rather not have a court challenge. "The election is over,” he told Kenyans on March 9, 2013.

To understand what the Kenyan Supreme Court has the authority to do, if it declares there were substantial irregularities during voting, please see “Kenya's Odinga: From the polls to the courts.” The court has 20-days to make a decision.

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March 9, 2013

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta To Be Sworn in March 26

The Sunday Nation of Kenya reports in its March 10, 2013, online edition that, “Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta (pictured below) became Kenya’s fourth President on Saturday afternoon (March 9, 2013), sweeping away a series of steep barriers to take the reins of power in the 50th year of the nation’s independence.” Mr. Kenyatta’s running mate was William Kipchirchir Samoei arap Ruto.

According to the Sunday Nation:

The official announcement of his victory at 2.42 pm on a mildly cold afternoon in Nairobi was greeted by rapturous celebration among his supporters.
Mr. Kenyatta succeeds Mwai Kibaki and is scheduled to be sworn in on March 26, 2013.

Uhuru KenyattaThe Sunday Nation also noted that, “Mr. Kenyatta, 51, becomes the nation’s youngest leader and the first son of a President to take power in a competitive election in East and Central Africa.” He is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first elected leader after independence from Britain.

The younger Kenyatta defeated Raila Odinga reportedly by a total of 8,419. Mr. Odinga has announce that he will challenge the results in court.

As The New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman reported March 9, 2013, from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital,

“Mr. Kenyatta, who has been accused by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague of bankrolling death squads during Kenya’s last election crisis…” See “Kenyatta Is Declared the Victor in Kenya, but Opponent Plans to Appeal.”

According to The Times, “Mr. Kenyatta’s trial is set for July, which means that Kenya, one of the United States’ closest allies in Africa, could soon have a president commuting back and forth from The Hague, simultaneously trying to run a country and keep himself out of jail. He goes on trial in July 2013.

For more of the Sunday Nation article on the election results, please see “History is made as IEBC declares Kenyatta’s son President-elect.”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping’s First Diplomatic Steps

The South China Morning Post, China Daily and other publications report that new Chinese President Xi Jinping (in photo) will visit Russia, Tanzania, South Africa and the Republic of Congo on his first trip abroad as China’s new leader. China’s major and increasing presence in Africa was recently was recently the subject of hearings in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations sub-committee on Africa.

Xi_Jinping_Sept._19,_2012Chinese Foreign minister Yang Jiechi, in announcing the trip, said  “China and African countries are good brothers, good friends and good partners,”according the Morning Post

On March 26 to 27, 2013, Mr. Xi is scheduled to attend the fifth leaders' summit of BRICS -Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - in Durban, South Africa.

As for the visit to Russia, Mr. Yang said  “China and Russia are each other’s biggest neighbors and see each other as a significant opportunity for development and a priority partner for cooperation,” according to China Daily.

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March 8, 2013

The Final Report on Iraq Reconstruction Issued

If you want to know how much money the United States spent and wasted on reconstruction projects in Iraq following the widespread destruction of that country during its 2003 invasion and nine-year war and occupation of Iraq, please see Learning From Iraq: A Final Report From the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction” issued on March 6, 2013.

The report reveals “in detail the enormous U.S. reconstruction effort, which
completed thousands of projects and programs” in Iraq “since 2003.” According to Flag_of_Iraq.svgInspector General Stewart Bowen, “It serves as a follow-up to our previous
comprehensive review of the rebuilding effort, “Hard Lessons:The Iraq Reconstruction Experience.

Several well-connected U.S. firms earned billions of dollars from the U.S. war in Iraq, which was launched when the George W. Bush Administration invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, under false pretenses following Al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S. The pretext: Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The conclusion: The Iraq Survey Group found no such weapons.

Other interesting reading on the subject:

Applying Iraq’s Hard Lessons to the Reform of Stabilization and Reconstruction Operation (February 2, 2009)

Review of Major U.S. Government Infrastructure Projects in Iraq: Nassiriya and Ifraz Water Treatment Plants

Reconstruction Leaders’ Perceptions of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program

in Iraq (April 2012)

The Human Toll of Reconstruction or Stabilization during Operation Iraqi Freedom (July 2012)

Interagency Rebuilding Efforts in Iraq: A Case Study of the Rusafa Political District (February 2013)

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Embracing Sub-Saharan Africa’s Economic Potential

Follow up: As noted in a March 6. 2013, post at The Diplomatic Times Review,  U.S. Senator Christopher Coons, a Delaware democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, issued a report on March 7, 2013,entitled “Embracing Africa’s Economic Potential: Recommendations for Strengthening Trade Relationships between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The report is based on conclusions from two hearings the Subcommittee on African Affairs held in the 112th Congress “to explore the economic potential of sub-Saharan Africa and identify concrete, substantive steps forward to increase U.S.-Africa investment and trade.”

Mr. Coons asserted in letter accompany the report:

Dear Friends,

The United States faces dramatic challenges in Africa... and enormous opportunities. Although press coverage and popular conceptions of Africa in the U.S. often focus on humanitarian and security crises, equally, if not more, important is the steady revolution of economic growth that has swept across the continent over the past decade. Improvements in education, health care, governance and infrastructure in dozens of countries are giving rise to a new middle class, ready to engage with the global economy.

The United States must respond effectively to very real challenges in Africa, including terrorism, corruption and poor governance, food insecurity and health crises, while also promoting democracy, security and economic growth. By working with our African partners, we can strengthen our investments in the promising opportunities of development and trade across a continent of nearly one billion people. Now is the time to invest in economic engagement with Africa, and this report provides clear recommendations for steps the U.S. government can take that will lead to economic growth that is both sustainable and mutually beneficial.

The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs convened two hearings in the 112th Congress to explore the economic potential of sub-Saharan Africa and identify concrete, substantive steps forward to increase U.S.-Africa investment and trade.  This report analyzes the findings of these hearings and provides a roadmap for developing a more cohesive, effective strategy for U.S. economic engagement with Africa in both the public and private sectors.

America is losing ground and ceding economic opportunities in Africa to competitors. China, which has made dramatic inroads across the continent in recent years, may undermine or even counter value-driven U.S. goals in the region, and should serve as a wake-up call for enhanced American trade and investment. This is truly a critical moment, as our Chinese competitors are securing long-term contracts that could lock American companies and interests out of fast-growing African markets for decades to come.

Engagement with Africa is critical to America’s economic interests in the years ahead. Meeting Africa’s growing demand with American goods and services will strengthen our economy, help U.S. businesses grow and create jobs here at home.

Under the leadership both of Republican and Democratic presidents, the United States has made a decade of highly successful investments in public health in Africa, saving millions of lives from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Unlike our Chinese competitors, the U.S. has invested in the people of Africa, and now we must help them build the foundation for a future that enforces mutually beneficial economic growth and lessens dependence on foreign aid. In order to be as successful in economic policy as we have been in the area of global health, the U.S. must develop an effective and mutually beneficial strategy for engaging African nations that embraces the critical link between diplomacy, development, defense, and economics.

The opportunities and mutual benefits are vast, and now is the time to ensure that America’s economic engagement policy toward sub-Saharan Africa is coordinated, comprehensive and effective.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons
Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs

I highly recommend the report and hope it is widely disseminated in Africa, so people on the continent know what is about to hit them as the United States and China wage battle for the hearts and minds of Africans, and for the continent’s resources.

Hopefully, this battle won’t be as devastating as the proxy wars waged in Africa during the last century between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

For a glimpse of China’s economic interest in Africa, see “Africa–China economic relations.”

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March 7, 2013

The African continent offers “one of the single-greatest economic Senator Chris Coons Portraitopportunities in the world, and our competitors are seeing it and seizing it before we are,” Senator Christopher Coons, (in photo) a Delaware democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, told Gannett Washington Bureau reporter Nicole Gaudian in a March 6. 2013, interview. See “Senator pushes to expand trade with sub-Saharan Africa.”Mr. Coons was quoted as saying:

The Chinese are pouring so much in terms of investment into the continent, particularly with infrastructure, I don't think we have 10 years to gradually wake up to the competitive situation we face.
During a February 20, 2013, speech at the University of Virginia, Secretary of State John Kerry noted:
Seven of the ten fastest growing countries are on the African continent. And China, understanding that, is already investing more than we do there. Four of the five biggest oil and natural gas discoveries happened off the coast of Mozambique last year alone.
Mr. Kerry said, “Developing economies are the epicenters of growth, and they are open for business, and the United States needs to be at that table.

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March 3, 2013

AIPAC’s Israel Agenda For President Obama

Nathan Guttman contends in a March 3, 2013, article in The Jewish Daily Forward  that, “As President Obama prepares for his upcoming Mideast trip, [he] can get a good sense of Israeli expectations by listening in to speeches and conversations at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference.” See “AIPAC Offers Clues to Barack Obama as He Heads to Israel.” Mr. Guttman added:

The message is crystal clear: topping the agenda are the nuclear threat posed by Iran and turmoil in Syria and in other neighboring countries. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is not even part of the lobby’s legislative agenda this year and in speeches the emphasis was placed on the relatively narrow issue of demanding the Palestinian return to negotiations without preconditions.
Regardless, it should be on Mr. Obama’s agenda. Every political upheaval occurring in Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East is a daily reminder of what can happen in situations that appear hopeless. For one Palestinian perspective, see “Hamas chief evokes Arab Spring in push to lead all Palestinians”.
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March 2, 2013

Turkey, U.S. Not On Same Diplomatic Page: Why?

On March 1, 2013, the day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Turkey as part of his listening tour of Europe and the Middle East, Yigal Schleifer, writing at EurAsia.org, noted:

Newly installed Secretary of State John Kerry's current visit to Turkey offers a good indication of the current delicate state of affairs between Ankara and Washington. The fact that Turkey is one of the first countries Kerry is visiting on his maiden voyage abroad as Secretary of State confirms that Ankara remains a crucial ally to the US. But, as Murat Yetkin points out in a column in today's Hurriyet Daily News, Kerry arrives in Turkey bearing a "heavy agenda," with critical and potentially volatile issues relating to Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey-Israel relations where Ankara and Washington are not on the same page.
Mr. Schleifer said, “As noted in a recent previous post on this blog, despite their interests converging with regards to several significant issues, Turkey and the United States might not quite be in the "golden age" of relations that some folks -- in Ankara, in particular -- have claimed the two allies to be in.”

For more, please see “Turkey: Mr. Kerry Goes to Ankara.”

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Gul Gives Kerry A Photo of Three Powerful Men

“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ended a visit to Turkey on March 1 [2013] with a meeting with President Abdullah Gül, during which Washington’s top diplomat was presented with a photo of the “three most important men” in the United States by the Turkish head of state,” according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.

Mr. Gül, according to the English language publication, showed Mr. Kerry a photograph taken on February 22, 2008, in the same room of the Presidential Palace where the March 1, 2013, meeting occurred. The picture was “with current U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Kerry. All three officials were senators at the time,” the newspaper told its readers..”

If you want to read more, please see “Gül gives Kerry old photograph with ‘three most important men’ in US.”

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