Wikileaks, Iran, and the Middle East

December 10, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Arms Control, Human Rights, International Relations, Nuclear Non-Proliferation, World Politics | Leave a comment
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Wikileaks–the largest unauthorized dump of diplomatic cables in history–has cast light into the shady world of diplomacy and in the Middle East revealed the deep animosity the rulers of Saudi Arabia have for the Iranian government. This is of course not news as the al-Ahram weekly noted but it did confirm to the Arab street how complicit their rulers are with the United States. It is not surprising that Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states that had supported Saddam Hussein;s war against Iraq urged the US to strike against the Islamic Republic: “cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi king Abdullah reportedly urged the Americans. And, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain said that the United States should take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities “by whatever necessary.”

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If the Obama Administration cite these and other remarks to justify a broad-based Arab opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, as Sharif Abdul Kouddous notes, none of these are democratic regimes and are propped up by American military, diplomatic, and financial support. The opposition to Iran expressed by these regimes was not reflected in the Arab Street. A Brookings Institute poll indicates a vast majority of the Arab population believe that the United States and israel are a greater threat to regional peace and political stability than Iran and they clearly recognize the double standards applied to Israel and Iran. Israel has over 200 nuclear warheads and faces no sanctions while Iran has not a single warhead, has said that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program, is facing increasingly stringent sanctions. The Wikileaks expose autocratic Arab rulers to be what they are: stooges dependent on the United States for their survival.

Moreover, as the media was focused on the information divulged by Wikileaks and the arrest of Julian Assange, the Obama Administration gave up trying to persuade the Israeli government to freeze settlement activity for 90 days so that the ‘peace talks’ with the Palestinian Authority could be resumed. They had concluded that even with a bribe of $3 billion dollars, the Israeli government was unwilling to cease constructing settlements in the Occupied Territories for a mere three months. As Andrew Bacevich notes, though the Israeli military power is unparalleled in the region, the continued offer of advanced US weaponry–as the offer of 20 F-35 aircraft for a nonrenewable 90-day freeze on settlement activity–continues to give credence to Israeli politicians’ claim that the security of the Jewish state is in jeopardy.

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Bizarrely, as Palestinians dispatched firefighters to fight the Mount Carmel fire–the largest fire in Israel’s history–in early December 2010, Israeli soldiers were deployed near the Palestinian villages of Bil’in, Nil’in and Nabi Saleh, where Israelis, Palestinians, and international activists organize weekly non-violent protests against Israel’s 480-mile separation wall and its policy of settlements in the Occupied Territories. And the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren while acknowledging the contributions of the Palestinian fire-fighters chose to castigate the Palestinian leadership for not returning to the talks without mentioning the reasons for their refusal–the continued and unlawful expropriation of their land!

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Indeed, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in such an untenable situation with the Obama Administration urging him to continue to talk to the Israelis while the latter continue to gobble up Palestine and work to render any potential Palestinian state unviable, that he has threatened to extinguish “Palestinian self-rule” in the West Bank. This would imply that the Israelis will have to resume responsibility for the 2.2 million Palestinians as the military occupying power, a responsibility they had relinquished after the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. If this would cause chaos in the short-run as the Palestinian Authority employs some 150,000 people, it will put an end to a farcical situation and will undercut any legitimacy to these meaningless “peace process.” It would end too, all prospects of a two-state solution which of course was no solution at all.

Israel and the US: Tail wagging the dog

November 20, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Posted in Human Rights, International Relations, World Politics | Leave a comment
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One of the many paradoxes of the recent mid-term elections in the United States is that foreign policy did not intrude into the campaign rhetoric even though the country is engaged in two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, even as Republicans continued to question whether President Obama was even an American citizen, the second-ranking Republican Congressman and Majority Leader-elect, Eric Cantor promised the visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would defend Israel against his own government–a promise that as Glenn Greenwald wrote in salon.com moved even the Jewish Telegraph Agency‘s Ron Kampeas to note:

I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president.  Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another — building in Jerusalem, or somesuch — lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations.  But to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House — that sounds to me extraordinary.

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And of course, the Obama Administration was not unduly pressuring the Israelis! A year ago, President Obama had demanded a freeze on Israeli settlements which extended even to what was blithely called “natural growth” of existing settlements. But on the very same day that Representative Cantor met Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton promised the Israeli leader $3 billion worth of fighter bombers in return for a 90-day moratorium in building settlements on the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem–that is to say a bribe of $3 billion to halt illegal activity and stealing other people’s land for 3 months! An act of appeasement if there ever was one, as Robert Fisk scathingly noted and an appeasement all the more egregious when the US economy is in the worst shape it has been since the 1930s and Americans everywhere are urged to tighten their belts. In the same week, as the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recommended a wide-ranging plan to cut the federal deficit affecting virtually every sector of US society, there were no recommendations to cut aid to Israel. Cantor had, in fact, proposed last month that aid to Israel not be classified as ‘foreign aid’ to shield it from cuts even as Americans suffer cuts in welfare, farm subsidies, jobs, etc.

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It is clear that the newly-energized Republicans will be even more pro-Israel than the current administration (much as that might boggle the mind) even though Israeli repression of Palestinians is a direct threat to the national security of the United States as admitted by the top US general in Afghanistan, General David Petreus. When the Obama Administration has lacked the spine for a fight even when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Republican gains in the mid-term elections is likely to ensure a continuing stalemate in the ‘peace process’ and effectively ruling out a two-state solution as illegal Israeli settlements make it impossible to construct a viable Palestinian state.

If ever a super-power is hobbled, it is here in the US relations with Israel. Unable to defend its own national interests, it has become a vassal of a smaller state!

Of course, as the history of peace negotiations have long illustrated, a two-state solution was never a viable option as the Israelis always demanded that the Palestinian state be non-militarized and Israel demanded control of acquifers. But as the Palestinian population continues to grow and they cannot be shunted out–Israel’s existence as a Jewish state becomes increasingly untenable.

Competition, Trade, Currencies, and Economic Summits

November 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Posted in International Relations, Outsourcing, Political Economy, Production, World Politics | Leave a comment
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Far more fundamental that the charges and counter-charges of currency manipulation and trade imbalances traded at the November 2010 G-20 summit in Seoul to a shift in the terms of global economic competition was an announcement that the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac, plans the introduction of a 156-seat single-aisle passenger jetliner. The entry of China into the commercial passenger aircraft industry is noteworthy for two reasons.

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First, most of the technology for the Chinese C919 plane will be provided by Western companies. The plane’s computer system, brakes, wheels, and power units by Honeywell; its navigation systems by Rockwell Collins; avionics by GE Aviation; fuel and hydraulics by Eaton Corporation; and flight controls by Parker Aerospace. These companies have agreed to a Chinese stipulation that they set up joint ventures with Chinese companies. Though the companies claim that they will safeguard their intellectual property, David Pierson suggests that the example of high-spreed rail proves otherwise. After European and Japanese firms shared their technology with their Chinese joint venture partners, they are now in direct competition with their former Chinese partners both in and out of China.

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Yet, projections of China’s rapid rise compels there Western aviation companies to bid aggressively for the Chinese market. In the next twenty years, Chinese air traffic is expected to grow at an annual average rate of 8 per cent a year and to meet this demand the country’s domestic airlines are estimated to purchase some 4,330 planes worth $480 billion over the same period. No supplier of aviation parts wants to miss out on this lucrative market.

If the sheer size of its market confers a competitive advantage on China in technology transfer, it is also the case that 55% of Chinas exports are accounted by foreign-owned companies. Moreover, China’s large current account surpluses with the United States and the European Union is matched by large deficits with other countries as shown by a recent article in the Financial Times. In many cases, transnational production and procurement networks span across national  borders to take advantage of wage and cost differentials and a substantial part of China’s exports are only assembled and packaged there from components made elsewhere. This means that these foreign-owned companies are not particularly receptive to calls for China to revalue its currency–or indeed, the attempt by the US Federal Reserve to force down the value of the greenback by releasing $600 billion to buy US Treasury bonds: what a former Chairman of the Fed, Alan Greenspan termed “a policy of currency weakening.”

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Devaluing the dollar by releasing more greenbacks is “clueless” as the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called it because it would raise the cost of living in the United States when the unemployment rate is hovering at double digits and is unlikely to create a spurt in job growth in the United States. In fact, though President Obama trumpeted that his visit to India would create 54,000 jobs in the US, that is merely a third of the jobs created in the country in just the last month as Alan Beattie noted in the Financial Times.

In part, trade imbalances have taken center-stage because during the financial meltdown in 2008 and 2009, trade contracted sharply and thereby reduced trade imbalances as Floyd Norris noted in the New York Times. A modest recovery however highlighted the imbalances and governments began to accuse each other of undervaluing currencies.

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Such charges and counter-charges ignore the changes in competitive pressures. With the greater deployment of automated technologies and numerically-controlled machines, and the Taylorization of even skilled work, wage charts increasing resemble a time-glass: fewer and fewer extraordinarily well-paying jobs, and more and more sub-subsistence jobs as indicated in several prior posts. These underlying conditions can be addressed only in the long-run through well developed plans that do not respect two-year electoral cycles which is the focus  not only of Washington politicians but also of the US punditocracy!

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The one remaining competitive advantage the United States has is that its currency is the only reserve currency but if the Fed devalues the dollar–and already uncertainties in currency markets has led to the price of gold soaring to $1,400 a troy ounce–as Robert Zoellich, the President of the World Bank, has suggested it is likely to lead to multiple reserve currencies. And that will seal the end of the United States as an economic superpower.

A Defining Partnership or a Post-dated Check?

November 9, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Posted in Human Rights, International Relations, Political Economy, World Politics | Leave a comment
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President Barack Obama’s declaration that relations between the United States and india will be a ‘defining partnership‘ of the 21st century and that the United States will support India’s quest for permanent membership in the UN Security Council may have been exactly what the Indian political elite wanted to hear but it eerily resembles the Cripps Mission sent by the Churchill government to enlist the support of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League as belligerents in the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany and its allies.

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Just as Sir Stafford Cripps came with the offer of full Dominion status to India if it joined the Allied war effort, President Obama said that he saw India being a permanent member of the UN Security Council sometime in the future. Not only was Obama not specific about when this would happen–and since it depended at the very least on the agreement of the four other veto-bearing members of the Security Council, he was in no position to offer a timetable unlike Cripps–but what it would entail. Indeed, the current members of the Security Council jealously guard their veto privileges and would not easily surrender it nor admit other veto-bearing powers to their ranks.

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At the same time, with breath-taking arrogance President Obama declared that India must play a ‘responsible’ role in world affairs–chiding India for not speaking up against Burma’s military rulers. This was echoed by an editorial in the Los Angeles Times: “India’s government has seldom acted in the interest of the world, and humanity, when doing so might clash with its own economic interests. Nowhere is this more apparent than on India’s border, where New Delhi is coddling a repressive military junta in Myanmar. India’s trade ties with this brutal regime, and its silence on human rights abuses there and elsewhere around the world, don’t recommend it for greater influence in the United Nations.”

And yet, US abuses of human rights are legion: Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, still defends water-boarding as not being torture. The last few US administrations have wantonly killed hapless civilians: Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s Secretary of State, said that the death of half a million Iraqi children as a result of sanctions imposed after the end of the first Gulf War was worth it in a 1996 60 Minutes interview, George W. Bush’s murderous assault on Iraq and Afghanistan killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis, and Obama has escalated the use of drones to indiscriminately kill Pakistani villagers on the Afghan border. When has the United States spoken about Israeli abuses against the Palestinians…and the list goes on.

While Obama was calling the US-India partnership as a ‘defining relationship, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was defining the US-Australia alliance as a “core partnership” and explicitly calling for Australia to relegate its relationship to China–a country that accounts for 23 percent of its exports–to a secondary partnership because of the shared ideals between the two countries.

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She said, “And it is important to recognise that just because you increase your trade with China or your diplomatic exchanges with China, China has a long way to go in demonstrating its interest in being – and its ability to become – a responsible stakeholder.” Once again, the US sets itself as the arbiter.

Yet, what has the US got to offer India? Much as the Indian political elite wishes for a permanent seat with veto powers in the UN Security Council, that is not in the power of a US President to bestow–and even if it were, how ‘great’ can a country be if its ‘greatness’ is bestowed by some other power as a favor?

If Obama plays up to the aspirations of the Indian elite, it is to enlist them in an alliance to check the rise of China–and in tandem, Hillary Clinton was given the easier chance of recruiting Australia, one of the more slavish allies of the US.

It is a pity that Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders did not tell Obama, as Gandhi told Cripps, that his offer is ‘a post-dated check on a failing bank!’

 

Circle of Democracy?

November 3, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Posted in democracy, international relations, Political Economy, world politics | Leave a comment
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President Obama’s 10-day trip to Asia this month comes at a time of increased tensions between China and its neighbors in East Asia over off-shore territories and increased military spending by the Chinese government. This has provided the US government with a wedge to ‘re-engage’ with Asia and promote a ”circle of democracy” between India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. ‘Democracy’ is a warm fuzzy word that is hard to oppose but a closer examination of the nascent alliance is disconcerting

Territorial disputes in the South China were cast in sharp relief in early September when a Chinese fishing trawler fishing along the coasts of Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu in Chinese and claimed by Japa, Taiwan, and China) collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels. The hawkish Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism. Maehara Seiji ordered the Coast Guard to arrest the captain of the Chinese trawler, Zhan Qixiong. Maehara’s actions may have propelled him to the Foreign Ministry within a fortnight of this incident, but his hawkishness prompted a vigorous Chinese response. They cancelled, as Peter Lee notes, scheduled bilateral talks on undersea oil and gas exploration and airline flights. Travel agents were instructed not to accept reservations by Japanese tourists and embargoed exports of rare earth oxides to Japan as well as detaining four employees of a Japanese firm on charges of espionage. Eventually, the Japanese Prime Minister had to step in and order the release of Captain Zhan. However, humiliating this incident may have been to Japan, it provided a windfall to the United States as China’s neighbors were increasingly alarmed by Beijing’s willingness to use its military and economic clout to advance its interests.

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This disquiet among the small East and Southeast Asian states was aggravated by rising Chinese military expenditures–though these are still far smaller than US outlays on the military. Nevertheless, the expansion of the Chinese navy and the fact that China now has an aircraft carrier under construction has raised concerns amongst its neighbors and Vietnam is now seeking closer relationships with its old adversary–the United States. Vietnam is also concerned by Chinese dam constructions that could limit the flow of water downstream to the Mekong River–and the US has exploited the opportunity by creating a Lower Mekong Initiative.

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Meanwhile, after having initially made some overtures to China, the Obama White House change tack and adopted an increasingly antagonistic posture to China: even though the United States refused to commit to greenhouse gas emission limits, it demanded that China give up the favorable terms it had secured in the Kyoto Protocol. It demanded that China sacrifice its energy security and enlist in a Western crusade against Iran. And it is being pressured to appreciate its currency to resolve US current account deficits.

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This set the stage for the United States to forge an alliance in Asia with India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea–and despite protestations to the contrary, all alliances are against another power–and in this case, China. Dubbed the ‘circle of democracy,’ it is attractive to Japan and South Korea–two American client states without a strong military presence–and cautious of China flexing its muscles; to Indonesia which has a large Chinese minority that has been persecuted, most notably in 1950, in 1965-67, and again in 1997-98; and to India seeking a global role. Rhetorically, it is billed as an alliance of democracies ringing an ‘authoritarian’ state.

Democracy is a warm, fuzzy word and one can no more be against democracy than against a teddy bear! And yet, democracy masks a variety of practices–mere electoral democracy does not translate into substantive rule of the people. In the United States, elections have become so expensive that politicians are deep in the hock to moneybags and hence there is little difference between the two parties. In India, it has not translated into power to the people, and more recently even the freedom of the press has come under attack, especially in Maharashtra by the Shiv Sena where they pressured the Vice Chancellor of Bombay University to withdraw Rohinton Mistry’s book, Such a Long Journey, from the prescribed list of books even though neither the protesting Sainiks nor the Vice Chancellor had read it!

For the US, President Obama’s visit to India has a clear objective: to sell advanced fighter planes and other arms to India–along with India’s indigenously developed aerial reconnaissance capabilities (AWACS), it will allow India to project its power regionally in support of US objectives–but not to seriously obstruct the United States. The US economy, despite projected Indian purchases of planes and weaponry remains weak and unable to sustain its imperial role. Its unparalleled nuclear capabilities have been shown to be useless in the wars in actually has to fight–in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Indian Ocean is a crucial trade route–some 70 percent of the world’s oil passes through it and a large and growing part of world trade. And it is a arena where the Chinese are increasingly active–building naval base in Gwadar in Pakistan near the Straits of Hormuz and building alliances with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Mauritius, Here, the US seeks to court India as a subordinate ally–and last year US forces trained more with the Indian military than with the militaries of any other state–to perform ‘low end activities’ for the US: search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief. high-value cargo escort–so that the US can concentrate on the ‘high-end’ activities.

Obama’s India Visit

November 1, 2010 at 8:05 am | Posted in Political Economy | Leave a comment
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Projections that the Republicans will make substantial gains in the midterm elections add significance to President Barack Obama’s visit to India during the Diwali weekend. The visit was to focus on two issues: the economy and geopolitics.

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To underline the importance of economics and to tap into India’s growing market, President Obama–unlike the four other US presidents who have visited India–will begin his visit in Mumbai, the country’s business capital and will spend more time there than in New Delhi. He is also bringing with him a bevy of some 250 CEOs of US corporations as the US seeks increased access to Indian markets not only for the large transnational corporations but also for small- and medium-scale enterprises. Reflecting domestic US concerns about outsourcing jobs to India, unlike his immediate two predecessors, President Obama will not travel to the information technology centers of Hyderabad and Bangalore. And, because so many in the US continue to believe that their president is a Muslim, despite all evidence to the contrary, President Obama has also eschewed a visit to the holiest of Sikh gurdwaras–the Golden Temple in Amritsar–as he would have to cover his head and this may be construed by the rabid right-wing in the United States as him being Muslim!

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While Indian capitalists bristle at allegations that they use unfair trade practices to take jobs away from Americans and resent restrictions placed on the employees they can send to the US, they are also more closely linked to the United States than ever before. For one thing–partly to ensure access to high-level contacts–they have been making substantial donations to US universities. Ratan Tata donated $50 million to Cornell University in 2008 and followed it up with a $50 million donation to the Harvard Business School last month–the largest international private donation in the institution’s 102-year history. Several other Indian industrialists–Nandan Nilekani, Anand Mahindra. N. R. Narayana Murthy, among others–have made substantial donations to US universities–and strikingly none to more cash-strapped Indian institutions of higher learning.

Apart from seeking access to US policy makers, these donations reflect close family relationships with US universities–many of the industrialists and their children have studied in the universities that are now the recipients of their largesse. Indeed, most Indian middle- and upper-class families have relatives now living in the US, most of them working in the software, financial, and engineering sectors and fully supportive of US policies. Perhaps the most indicative sign of the growing influence of US “soft” power was the recruitment of Washington Redskins cheerleaders to provide a model for Indian cheer leaders in that most un-American game: cricket (though cricket was once the preferred bat-and-ball game among colonists in what is now the US!). And shamefully, India was only one of three countries–the others being Israel and the United States–where there was popular support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

This congruence of strategic interests gains added significance in the light of likely Republican gains in the US midterm elections. Many Republicans have expressed their opposition to ‘nation-building’ exercises in Afghanistan and yet a resolution to the ongoing problems in Afghanistan continues to be elusive. Just last week, a joint raid on opium producing facilities by NATO, the Russians, and the Afghan Interior Ministry’s Counter-Narcotics Police Sensitive Investigative Unit and National Interdictive Unit was denounced by President Hamid Karzai as “a blatant violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.”

Leaving aside, Karzai’s chutzpah, India is an obvious partner to the US in Afghanistan: it is already the largest regional donor to Afghanistan and is eager to increase its role there to gain “strategic depth” against Pakistan and to emerge as a regional power. Republican opposition to foreign aid also provides an opportunity for India to step up its aid to Africa and show that it is more than a regional power–that its tentacles spread beyond the South Asian region. Of course, it is deeply ironic that the Indian government is stepping in to provide aid to Africa when not only do many Indian states fall below many African states in the Global Hunger Index but many Indian companies are now buying land or leasing land in Africa to export crops back to India. Surely, for sheer immorality, exporting food from an chronically food-deficient continent cannot be beaten. But such ironies are lost on the policy-making establishments!

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For the Indian government, partnership with the United States is essential for India’s emergence as a global power–though what that says about the nature of its ‘global power’ if such status depends on another (the US) is never discussed! For the United States, given its enduring difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a continued economic downturn at home, India provides a counterweight to China. President Obama had come to office seeking a strategic partnership with China and last year, in his first visit to Asia after assuming office, his speech on Asian Security in Tokyo did not even mention India–a factor which probably led to him having Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as guest for his first state dinner at the White House.

Since then, increasing difficulties with China, and China’s assertive stance towards its neighbors and a brief stoppage in the export of rare earths to Japan, the US, and increasing Chinese incursions into the Indian Ocean have shifted US foreign policy perceptions. Hence, it is now willing to sell advanced weaponry to India to cement ties between the two countries and of course to boost the US domestic economy.While the Indian political leadership welcomes these initiatives, what they would most like to see is unambiguous and strong US support for a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. This is unlikely, though President Obama may sponsor India’s membership in the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) formed by an angry US administration in 1974 after India’s first ‘peaceful’ nuclear explosion to deny India dual-use nuclear technology.

 

Shifting Geopolitical Sands

October 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Posted in Political Economy | Leave a comment
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Two events this week–Chinese overtures to a Turkey that had angrily reacted to Beijing’s suppression of Uyghur protests in Xinjiang last year and NATO’s invitation to Iran to attend security briefings on Afghanistan–are indicative of major ongoing geopolitical shifts. After the Second World War, as the United States rose to a position of world hegemony and European colonial empires were dissolved, new geopolitical regions were created–Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, etc–while older geopolitical regions–Central Asia, Central Europe, etc–were erased by the fissures of the Cold War. The new post-Second World War regionalizations often violated long historical connections–as between South Asia and the Middle East on the one hand, and between South Asia and Southeast Asia on the other. Again, the Middle East was cordoned off from Central Asia (then under Soviet rule) while China was walled off from US client states in East Asia and from Southeast Asia. In East and Southeast Asia, by the early 21st century, these Cold war divides have been replaced by greater regional integration that more closely resemble the pre-capitalist Sino-centered tributary trade system as Mark Selden has recently argued.

On the Western frontiers of Asia, the increasing prominence of Turkey, India, and Iran suggest a similar realignment of forces that resemble earlier alliances between the Ottomans and the Mughals, though in a vastly changed geopolitical ecology.

Since it came to power in the elections of 2002, the Justice and Development Party (or AKP–its acronym in Turkish) has broken partly with the Kemalist republic’s orientation to the West to leverage its multiple regional identities–as a Balkan, Black Sea, Caspian, Central Asian, European, and Mediterranean state–to become a regional and global power. Rather than brusquely disavow its pro-Western stance, Ahmet Davutoglu, the party’s chief foreign policy expert and now the Foreign Affairs Minister, advocated a “zero problems with neighbors” policy.

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Defly exploiting the street cred it acquired by refusing US troops permission to pass through its territory for the invasion of Iraq, Ankara began to mediate between Syria and Israel till the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead caused Turkey to break off the talks. Turkey’s steadfast support to the Palestinians has won it the support of Arabs, especially since President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is 82 and less active and the veteran Saudi foreign minister Saud al Feusal allegedly has Parkinson’s disease. Relations with its neighboring states has also been strengthened since the financial crisis beginning in 2008 which led to falls in Turkish exports to the EU and to a rise in its exports to its eastern neighbors.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Davutoglu engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Tiblisi and Moscow as Russian troops intervened on behalf of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 during a brief war. Ankara has also promoted a series of meetings between Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia.

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More crucially, along with President Lula of Brazil, Erdogan has intervened in the dispute between the US and its allies and Iran over the latter’s nuclear energy program. Equally importantly, in November 2008, Davutoglu became in November 2009, the first high-level Turkish official to visit to the Kurdish Regjonal Government in northern Iraq which is akin to an Indian foreign minister visiting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Meanwhile, India has emerged as the largest regional donor of reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, Relations between India and Afghanistan had been close till the Taliban captured power in 1996. Now, the US occupation forces and India share a common goal in eliminating Islamic extremists and it is telling that Pakistan was not invited to the high-level NATO security briefing that was attended by Iran. In large part, this is the result of the US promoting India as a regional counter-weight to China but also in part due to the relationship between the Pakistani military and intelligence services with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The US is also courting India to provide a counter-weight to Iran.

Despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s vocal opposition to Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinians and to US policies more generally, Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and Afghanistan where US forces are bogged down in a war they cannot win implies that the US can only extricate their forces with Iranian cooperation or an entire region with much of the world’s proven oil reserves will endure decades of political instability.

When much attention has been focussed on regional integration in east and southeast Asia, the developments sketched here suggest that there is a parallel re-emergence of regional linkages between west and south Asia. This suggests that the geopolitical regions of the world are being reshaped with much of East and Southeast Asia being reoriented towards China, while Turkey, India, and Iran are emerging as important regional powers in a re-contoured ‘geographical pivot of history,’

 

 

From the Indispensable Nation to a Very Dispensable One

October 18, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Posted in Political Economy | 9 Comments
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How has it come to this–US-led NATO forces promising safe conduct to the Taliban to negotiate a pact with the puppet government in Kabul to put a face-saving gloss over the inevitable US defeat? Less than two decades ago, the United States had seemed to be the pivot of world politics, the only superpower in the tectonic shifts that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union. No state could challenge its power–and when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq dared to invade Kuwait, for the first time since the Korean War, the United States was able to send its forces to battle under the UN flag.

After the swift and brutal victory over Iraq, the Clinton Administration set about setting the rules of world trade, free trade reigned triumphant over the air waves, and when Serbia tried to prevent the secession of Kosovo, US-led NATO forces quickly enabled the rebel province to break free of Belgrade without suffering a single US military casualty. US supremacy over the air was so dominant that the Iraqi and Serbian combat planes did not even attempt to take to the air. The normal calculus of war, Perry Anderson announced, had been suspended.

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After the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, the United States quickly mobilized its forces for an assault on Afghanistan. No other military force could have so quickly attacked a country that it did not border. Though the US did not invoke the collective defense clause of the NATO treaty, member states offered their assistance–an offer the US accepted only after the Taliban government had been run out of power, preferring troops only from its Anglophone allies for the invasion itself.

The quick dispersal of the Taliban government emboldened the Bush Administration to train its guns on Iraq once again. This time, key members of the Security Council–Russia, China, France, and Germany–were unwilling to confer legitimacy to a clearly illegal invasion. Massive street marches across the world signaled popular opposition to an invasion of Iraq. Yet once the invasion began, President Chirac allowed US warplanes to fly freely across French airspace and Germany’s Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer hoped for a speedy collapse of the Iraqi ‘resistance.’

As US forces occupied Iraq, Gregg Easterbrook declared the arms race over. “The extent of American military superiority,” he crowed, “has become almost impossible to overstate. The United States sent five of its nine supercarrier battle groups to the region for the Iraq assault. A tenth Nimitz-class supercarrier is under construction. No other nation possesses so much as one supercarrier, let alone nine battle groups ringed by cruisers and guarded by nuclear submarines.”

“Any attempt to build a fleet that threatens the Pentagon’s would be pointless,” he claimed, “because if another nation fielded a threatening vessel, American attack submarines would simply sink it in the first five minutes of any conflict. (The new Seawolf-class nuclear-powered submarine is essentially the futuristic supersub of ”The Hunt for Red October” made real.) Knowing this, all other nations have conceded the seas to the United States, a reason American forces can sail anywhere without interference. The naval arms race — a principal aspect of great-power politics for centuries — is over.”

With such military assets, the United States could act arbitrarily, violating international law with impunity but this time the tables were quickly turned against the mightiest power in history. Massive resistance on the ground with improvised explosives clearly established the vulnerable underbelly of US power. Small organized resistance groups and suicide bombers were able to inflict unacceptable casualties on the US led forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, US General David Petreus sought eventually to cut their losses by incorporating some 100,000 members of the resistance from the Sunni minority into a revamped Iraqi army. However, once the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki invited the Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to join the government, the Sunni fighters began to desert with the weapons to the al-Qaeda.

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Just as the situation in Iraq is unravelling, so is the situation in Afghanistan, prompting the invitation to the Taliban for talks with the Kabul government. What is particularly striking about the defeat staring the United States in the face in Afghanistan and Iraq is that these are very different from Vietnam. In Vietnam, the national liberation movement was supported by the USSR and China, and enjoyed the support from majority of the world’s governments. The resistance movements in Afghanistan and Iraq have no support, Afghanistan has been in a state of constant war practically since the Soviet invasion of the country in 1978. No sooner that Iraq concluded its disastrous 10-year war with Iran, its attempts to conquer Kuwait led to defeat in the First Gulf War. Between the end of the First Gulf War and the US invasion in 2003, American and British airplanes dropped more bombs on Iraq than had been dropped in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. And yet, these insurgencies have triumphed over the mightiest military force in history–nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers simply cannot stack up against unconventional forces.

Rather than confronting these serious and potentially fatal problems, the commentariat in the United States contends itself with meaningless debates on the advisability of burning the Koran or building a mosque in Manhattan.

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