Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Q and A, about the Middle East, on Foreign Affairs

A very intersting session with Ehud Yaari, journalist and Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The air as a battlespace: a manual

I had recently the occasion to follow a very interesting webinar on the newly released Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare. The proceedings and theoretical discussions - a purely academic exercise - lasted for almost six years, and the outcome, the manual, is not intending to be legally binding, but to offer a source of inspiration for those involved in the issue.

The approach itself is very interesting, as being purely the result of a peer-reviewed work of experts - who are addressing very complicate and problematic practical issues. One of them is, for example, the issue of voluntary human shields and the question how much and when those should be considered direct participants in hostilities. Shortly, the air warfare is implying very practical and direct actions, often took on a case by case basis, not always directly inspired by the academic debate.

A reproach made by some of the participants to the webinar was that the equilibrum of the manual is doubtful, as long as you do not have authors from the "bombed" countries. Nobody asked, the limits of politically corectness respected, what is the stage of the specific theoretical discussion on these issues in these "bombed" countries.

The issue of air security is very actual, but focus mostly of the aspects related to the terrorist threats and the direct impact on the life of civilians. Countering the current vulnerabilities cannot be avoided, independently of the political campaigns rhetorics. Cases in which, the limits between public and private, imposing or limiting the state intervention are very unclear and lacking a theoretical strong and universally available argumentation.

The discussion is open. Despite the relative high frequency of discussions on this issue, the solution is far of being clear. And, in fact, our world is too complicate and complex to be solved through one solution.

We and our states

The legal, moral and political problems following September 11 terrorist attacks represented the inspiration of various political and artistic standpoints. Music, literature, arts, pros cons, debates from various perspectives. In the center: how much our freedom is/will be threaten by the legislation allowing the state to enter and access our privacy.

Most part of these statements, in my opinion, are lacking exactly the wider perspective assumed from the very beginning, by not stressing the problem of what is, in fact, the essence and content of this freedom? And, even less, the ways in order to stop or at least diminish the causes provoking this reaction from the part of the states.

The German journalist Heribert Prantl is outlining the German example, but in a very rhetorical way. Page after page, he is gathering more arguments for a public requisitorium of a more intrusive state. With roots back in the past of the German experience in facing the Rote Armee Fraktion and other terrorist threats in the 70s. Ironically enough, but not so logically unexpectedly as Prantl let us believe, one of the promoters of the strict German legislation was the social-democrat Otto Schilly, former Federal Minister of the Interior between 1998 and 2005, during Gerhard Schröder. In the 70s, the same Schilly was defending the Rot Armee Faktion members and, late in the 80s, was one of the founding member of the Green Party.

The rhetoric is continuing, but without a single line of arguments devoted to understanding the whole landscape: the causes of this situation, the alternatives and the options - how, in fact, the state ought to defend its citizens of terrorism, of being innocent victims of fanatics, the possibilities to counter such situations and to play a game with win/win outcome.

It is very easy to outline all these issues and to complain and accuse an invisible and (assumed) mighty power of the state(s), the temptation to control our privacy - doubtful, given the eagerness we, all of us, we are sharing our information and privacies online, via social networking sites, without being requested - the tighter limits to our freedom. As in the case of the Middle East, it is very easy to express an opinion, as a proof of our freedom to think, accuse, evaluate. But, in order to provide a wiser outline of the landscape, more than rhetorics are needed. For example, a critical anaylsis, going beyond the public acclaimed statements. Otherwise, we are getting trapped in the common places of the self-delivered ideas.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Obama in Afghanistan: Keep the troops on the run

An (expected) surprise visit of Barack Obama in Afghanistan with expected encouraging messages to the Americans fighting for the security of Afghanistan.

Messages of continuing the support for fighting Al Qaeda and finishing to deliver the answer of post-9/11 America. The new American story still to be written.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

US visa security

The lack of communication between various federal agencies in cases related to counter-terrorism, long before, before and after 11/9 was often criticized, scrutinized and analysed, without any positive results.
The security concerns increased, the number of agencies increased, the bureaucracy as well. But not at all the level of information sharing. In many situations, the terrorists entering to or intending to enter the territory of the USA were having valid passports and valid visas. Maybe, in some cases, according to the consular services, there were not qualified as immigrants so got freely the visa. They do not even try to access the visa waiver service, but follow the very bureaucratical and for many, unsuccessful way.
Too many challenges, too many agencies, too much bureaucracy, too much insecurity.

The Gods for political use

This news do not have too much to do with: politics, geopolitics, intelligence, terrorism or countering terrorism. In some respects, it does with certain international PR, but at a very show-business level.
The story is about the book the son of a founder of Hamas, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, is gonna publish very soon, about his relationship with Shin Beth, the Israeli home security services. For sure he prevented and saved many lives. But, what he is more focusing about is his "religious revelation". A kind of competition in between who is the best "god". Because, during his operational activity in dismantling Hamas he decided to convert to Christianism. And, it is how he arrived in the US, following the networks of Christian missionaries and finally left his "intelligence" interests.
In some respects I am curios what his book will bring new about Hamas and terrorism. In some other respects, I am not so curious, as long as I could bet it is another testimony of religious brainwashing.
In direct connection with this mixture between terrorism and religion, I am wondering sometimes how it is possible to be so blind and do not think that your actions are endangering the people you assume you want to save, represent, defend. I've read recently how, for example,a couple of years ago Hamas intended to assasinate one of the sons of Ariel Sharon. Just because "they" wanted to destroy the family of the former prime minister. Without ever thinking about what consequences such an act could produce. Terrorism do not have nothing to do with people with reason or with pondered decision. Nothing.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The routes of crime

A Stratfor analysis about the routes of narcotics in US.

It is only a slice of a widespread activity, not basically national - Mexican - as the branches are to be found almost everywhere and part of the operation might be politicians, stars, everybody useful in making the machine work. And narcotics are never coming alone - you have arms smuggling, money laundering, corruption, crime and also terrorist activities.

Friday, March 5, 2010

What kind of parliament for Iraq?

A relative calm, in a tensed framework in Iraq, expecting the Sunday vote for the the parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, the partners of the coalition who toppled Saddam Hussein are more concerned lately with the inquiry of the reasons and explanations of the 2003 actions than of offering a substantial support for the democracy and the creation of a normal life.
The overuse of the anti-war arguments are neglecting a common sense reality: as long as you had the war and you have to face a new - post-Saddam situation, in this case - it is not a sign of lack of responsibility to simply ask for the military withdrawal in an institutional and political vacuum?

The situation from Iraq is far from stable and, one of the most dangerous aspects from the point of view of the regional equilibrium is the resurgence of an extremely violent and aggressive Jihadist movement.

And, a long, but not exhaustive list of questions:
- Who is interested in an instable Iraq, whose instability is threatening as well the other Islamic countries?
- Who is providing the ammunition for the almost daily terrorist attacks?
- How could the forces of the coalition intervene in offering a more secure environment? And, given the plans of the Obama administration of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011, how evolution could be expect on the ground?
- How could an Islamic Iraq put an end to the current internal sectarian conflict?
- How the democracy in Iraq should look like, in order to offer a broader representativity for the antagonistic religious factions?
And an observation: Very often, in the Western media, it is over used and abused the idea of "islamophobia". In many parts it is a reality and it deals with the anti-immigration and xenophobic feelings. But, in the same time, you have in Iraq an example of the fratricid conflict between two branches of the same family, who not only hate each other but are killing each other as often as possible. The reality is by far more diverse than various ideological and stereotypical approaches would like to make us think. And, another aspect to be taken into consideration, the low level of unity among the Islamic countries from the Middle East, rooted, in some cases, in old tribal confrontational histories. The black-and-white "evaluations" are not only poor, but inadequate to the situation from the ground.

Low seats

I must recognize that I needed to read at least twice this "story" of the low seats diplomatic incident between Israel and Turkey, from the first half of January.

For me, it sounded as a very soap opera fake of the 1001 Nights from the ante chambers of the Ottoman Empire. It is clear this kind of "creativity" do not have nothing to do with diplomacy and I am still processing the practical reasons for taking such a...non sensical setting. What it is for me very curious as well is that the Turkish ambassador accepted to be the actor of this doubtful taste scenario.
We could suppose that he saw the disposition - and the height, of course - of the chairs in the room. But he not only stayed there, but also accepted to be filmed in the front of the camera. Not a single word said directly. It was not a normal situation so it is ridiculous to think about the need to wait for special instructions from Ankara. But, nothing "creative" from this part, by far. And accepted the further victimization. Strange and unknown diplomatic roads. But not excuse, of course, for the mise-en-scene.

India, China and the global ambitions

India and China represent for both US and Europe the big challenges. Markets with huge potential and unpredictable but enormous influence, Brussels and Washington are doing their best to win the charms of these two giants.
The latest initiative, supported by UK and Sweden is pledging for an increased diplomatic presence of the EU, as a first step to get a better understanding of the particular contexts of these two countries.
But, if in the case of India, the exposure to the Western institutional system is offering the possibility of a common lecture, in the case of China, the basic understandings of the concepts of power and the military and diplomatic doctrines are still unknown and do not offer an easy key of understanding.
A cross lecture of some considerations of Chinese authors writing about the Chinese-Indian relations, published at the end of the last year by the European Council on Foreign Relations are offering a puzzling image of the bilateral relations between the two countries and the intricate and spontaneous directions these relationships could follow in the near future.
The practical alliances - as it was the case during the WTO negotiations or the joint memorandum on climate change - are surpassed by historical conflicts and different orientations generated during the Cold War. Even at the level of both countries it is felt the need of a relaunch of the trade relations, the strategical interests of the two countries are rather competitive than complementary. The imbalance is reflected as well in the structure of the alliances enforced by both countries - India, for a strategic partnership with US, or China, with a close dialogue with Pakistan. These partnerships are derived by practical reasons as well, both parts being able to have a strict observance of the main agenda.

The end of the two-blocks competitive politics was replaced by a very pragmatical reshaping of the international global strategies. In the case of the countries with such a huge economic and strategic potential, as it is the case of India and China, the question is rather how to understand the necessity of the pragmatic alliances and to be able to predict the outcome and the next steps. The home politics considerations are permanently important and do not help as too much in being accurate in our predictions. And, for our limited Western understanding, China is the big riddle. To be solved - hopefully - in a century or two time.

The criminal's smile

After watching a couple of fragments from the latest trial session of Radovan Karadzic I had an extremely unpleasant sensation: I was looking not only at the perfect liar, but the cold blooded criminal. The political motivated criminal. With large gestures, very relaxed, he was trying to explain how in fact, the images of the media crew were the creation of the journalists who enclosed their space with barbed wire. And that the emaciated people from the images were watching the journalists. And how the genocide was a Muslim-Bosnian "creation", a "myth". No regrets, no second thoughts.
Caught while in Belgrade, after a 13-year hunt, he faces 11 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities in the Bosnian war of the 1990s. He do not recognize none of them and refused to be represented legally, considering, as Milosevic, he is strong enough to prove his "innocence". Another important fugitive, Ratko Mladic, is still hiding - or being hidden.
Hidding behind what the former UN Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte called in this book "The Hunt" - muro di gomma/wall of rubber (p.3): "I had encountered, and would encounter, the muro di gomma, during meetings with many powerful people, from mafia financiers to Swiss bankers and politicians, from heads of state like George W. Bush and prime ministers like Silvio Berlusconi to bureaucrats in government offices and the various departments of the UN and, late in my tenure, European foreign ministers who seemed to be prepared to welcome Serbia into the EU's embrace even as Serbia's political leaders, police and army were harboring men responsible for killing thousand of prisoners in cold blood before the eyes of the world". In her account of the time spent investigating Balkan and Rwandan crimes, I always found very interesting the hide-and-seek political game, the diplomatic dance against the blind impulse to deliver justice. In many aspects, the two roads do not meet never.
The ICTY was the first war crimes court created by the UN and the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. It was established by the Security Council in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The difference with the two other war tribunals is that frequently lacked the necessary public and international support in order to deliver justice.

Georgian-Russian crossing point reopened

The crossing point Verkhny/Upper Larsbetween Russia and Georgia, closed since July 2006, was reopened March 1. The decision was took at the end of the last year, following a request from Armenia and negotiated by Swiss diplomats. Verkhny Lars is the only crossing not going through the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and maintains the only direct route from Russia to Armenia.
After the August 2008 war, the situation between Russia and Georgia remains tensed, and the bilateral relations frozen.

The Turkish-Armenian game, played in Washington D.C.

A new stage in the dispute between Turkey and Armenia, concerning the issue of the genocide, was played this week in Washington D.C., after the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted a nonbinding resolution calling the mass killing of Armenians by the Turkish military, at the beginning of the last century a genocide. Turkey already condemned this move, who is risking to endangered the delicate equilibrium between Ankara and Yerevan, after an aparent opening in the second half of the last year.
The resolution was discussed as well in the Senate, in 2007, but given the need of Turkey's support for the war in Iraq by the then W. Bush administration stopped a further materialization of the decision. Both Barrack Obama and Hillary R. Clinton were supportive of the resolution.
The Turkish-Armenian agreement, signed in Switzerland, October 2009, was not fully supported by Armenian community, benefiting of a powerful and influential profile in Washington D.C..
Today, OSCE's Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh isssued a statement calling the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaidjan to settle the conflict, position welcomed by Turkey.
The reconciliation process between the two countries is still extremely long and impredictable. Serious efforts, in the frame of the so-called Track II Diplomacy were made in the last dozen of years for making a dialogue possible. One of the most important issues established last year was the possibility to let the historians to discuss about such an high identity impact issue as the problem of the genocide. In this way, the politicians and diplomats are able to think about the present and the future. A very hard task, for societies where very often politicans are historians and made history focusing on the past.
The decision of the House do not add nothing to this process and complicate a situation that, in fact, was already volatile. Maybe it is a signal sent to Turkey - as long as, for example, this resolution was permanently on the agenda in the last two years but not voted - who is facing various setbacks in terms of coherent engagement regarding European and international politics.

Journalists by name

An Iranian journalist working for the state public TV channel, Hamoud Masoumi Nejad, based in Italy for 15 years, was recently arrested in the recent case of arms and explosive smuggling.
In totalitarian states, where freedom of the media is non-existent, journalists are usually used as double agents of propaganda. Now Iran, before it was the case for the journalists working for the communist states. Your "luxury" of living and travelling outside the "prison" is paid by renouncing to the basic ethical journalistic standards, mainly to say the truth and to inform correctly the public opinion.

The media situation in Iran is worsening from a day to another, with more media outlets closed following the last year events. The most recent evaluation of the Committe to Protect Journalists outlines the case of almost 47 journalists in jail. Many others are in danger to be arrested any time. The freedom of the media means nothing for the Tehran authorities.

The consequences of this extended media crackdown are to be seen in the next future. If, one day, the media in Iran will be able to learn speaking the truth, and nothing but the truth, many of the journalists will discover how difficult it is. How hard is to be able to discern information, to tell the truth to the power and to learn again that beyond any interests should stay your desire to inform. Not to make-up the reality, according to the wishes of any power. For sure, Hamid Masoumi Nejad is not the only one fake journalist. When you are living in fear, assuming you are free is a risk. Managing your own freedom and refusing any kind of pressures - financial, political, of any other kind - is very difficult. Once you have up your principles, you are like a ship in the middle of the wind. Today, it was the "national interest", tomorrow, your desire to get more money and advantages. Noone is safe. We need simply to believe in our capacity, as journalists, to think with our own minds. But, what it is in our own minds?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Iraq prepares to vote

A visual insight of this coming Sunday elections.

And one question: when will Iraq be prepared to manage its own present and future? Unfortunately, the next polls will not bring this answer yet, as the country still needs institutions and a ruling political elite able to assume full responsibilities.

Intelligent lessons

Using information and the lessons to be learned in terms of intelligence/ and counter-intelligence from the last Dubai case, in a very technical of the whole setting of the operations, in Stratfor. And, on Stratfor again, but from February 17, about the games of hunting and being hunted.
What is the most important aspect, in my opinion, in this case, is in terms of the consequences: for the future of the negotiations in the Middle East, for the terrorist actions, for the relationships between Israel and the countries from the region, as well as with the other Western counter-parts - of course, our intelligence do not allow us to read as such the protests all across the world related to the operations, as the case of the fake passports; publicly, you do not have to say anything else than to condemn, isn't it hypocritical as well? On the other side, the complexity of the operations and the final success show - again, a test for our intelligence - that it was almost impossible to have only one "scape goat" - the operational brain. Local and international help was necessary as well, to whatever main "brain".
For sure, the police-chief from Dubai will have many other flamboyant declarations. Would like to arrest a whole country, maybe. Is his right, including to be ridiculous. The perspectives of the future, for the region, are more important than ever.

La Piovra, Iranian style

A very small part of the Iranian smuggling ring in Europe is apparently seized. Another one, more extended, is currently developed in Gaza.
The connections are complicated and not easy to understand and detect at the first sight.
To be continued.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The always ugly face of dictatorships: Iran

The authorities from Tehran are continuing the abuses against the Iranian citizens. Unharmed.
A couple of updates:
A young student, 20 years old, was condemned to death for "Moharebeh" - "waging war against God". He throw stones against the security forces.
A declaration of an Iranian blogger during a Congress hearing:
"Washington (CNN) -- "If it were not for the Internet, God knows how many more people would have been killed on the streets of Tehran" after the 2009 Iranian elections, an Iranian blogger told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Omid Memarian, who said he was imprisoned and tortured by the Iranian regime for his pro-democracy Internet writings, was the star witness at a hearing in which U.S. technology companies were scolded for not taking a more active role in protecting freedom of expression on the Internet".
"Philip J. Crowley
Assistant SecretaryDaily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 2, 2010
US continues ongoing consultations within the P-5+1
US must have common understanding re. enforcement if there is a sanctions resolution
US has a policy of supporting those who have a legitimate claim to asylum
US continues to look for ways to support the Iranian people
QUESTION: There is a press report in the Israeli press that the U.S. presented kind of a draft of the Iran resolution to the countries of the Security Council.
MR. CROWLEY: I think I would just simply say that we continue our ongoing consultations within the P-5+1 on the nature of sanctions that we might at some point put before the Security Council. We have no particular timetable for that. Obviously, the Secretary has indicated we hope to move as rapidly as possible, but also we want to make sure at the end of this process there is effective sanctions that we think will apply the kind of pressure on the Iranian Government and its components that we want to achieve.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Iranians seeking political asylum in the United States? I hear there’s many of them, thousands perhaps, that have left Iran since the election and might be looking for political asylum in the United States in countries like Iraq and Malaysia and such. And I’m just wondering if you guys have let any of them in.
MR. CROWLEY: On that last question, I think that will be one to ask the Department of Homeland Security. Obviously, we have a policy in the United States of supporting those who have legitimate claims of asylum.
On your broader point, clearly, there is a dynamic that Iran is still trying to cope with. There’s a fracture in the relationship between Iran, the government, and the Iranian people. You’ve seen it even in the last 24 hours in terms of Iran’s attempts to shut down certain media outlets. They’re denying their people the kind of information that we think is a universal right.
So we’ve seen this now coming on nine months, this fundamental split between the regime and the people, and we certainly continue to look for ways to support the Iranian people in their efforts. They seek a different kind of relationship. They seek the ability to influence their leaders. And – but they also seek the fundamental freedoms of expression and association that we think apply universally around the world.
QUESTION: But is giving them political asylum in the United States one of those ways that we could support them?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not – I can’t – I have not heard of an uptick in those seeking asylum, but it wouldn’t surprise me".
In fact, on the ground, the situation is even worse: people scarred by permanent pressures and surveillance, lack of freedom of speech and pressures to make people give up thinking. Can we simply be indifferent and watch?