28 November, 2008


The killing is not yet over, but Indian troops are winning. Current casualty estimates: 154 dead, 327 injured.

Behind the scenes, everyone is trying to make sense of this, and to avoid what could turn into a crisis. The operation was well planned and well executed. The terrorists were trained--by someone, somewhere--and while there is evidence the group was homegrown: the Deccan Mujahideen, or something similar--that doesn't explain the levels of professionalism or support. India, as usual, is pointing to "foreign elements," implying Pakistani involvement. To defuse the situation, the head of Pakistan's intelligence service (ISI) is to visit India and assist with the investigation.

A crisis between India and Pakistan--both equipped with nuclear weapons, and with long-standing hostilities--is in the interest of neither government. It may, however, be in the interest of some elements within one or both governments, and/or other political parties.

Domestically, if the government of India does not blame Pakistan--or some other foreign element--it is stuck with the next obvious question: why didn't they see this coming? And if it is linked directly to the Islamic minority within India, how will the government and people of India change how they treat them now?

International barter

Iran has oil. Thailand has rice. Neither has cash or credit. So it's time to do things the old-fashioned way.

Meanwhile, the EU pushes another stimulus package, and China's central bank makes its biggest rate cut in eleven years.

In the good news, it may be time to refinance the mortgage.

Boldy going where no one has gone before

An idea that's been floating around since at least the late 1960s--a program to defend against killer asteroids. Unfortunately, anything that can do that would be great at controlling earth orbit and beyond, with all that implies for the balance of forces on the ground. So the idealists call for a global program, and the nationalists refuse.

If the world is like a village...

...then it makes sense to have global elders.

17 November, 2008

Peace operations by the numbers

From the United Nations (DPKO):

Peacekeeping operations since 1948 = 63
Current peacekeeping operations = 16
Current peace operations directed and supported by the Dept.of Peacekeeping Operations = 19
Uniformed personnel = 88,754 (74,656 troops, 11,529 police and 2,596 military observers)
Countries contributing uniformed personnel = 119
International civilian personnel (31 August 2008) = 5,542
Local civilian personnel (31 August 2008) = 13,106
UN Volunteers = 2,.044
Total number of personnel serving in 16 peacekeeping operations = 109,107
Total number of personnel serving in 19 DPKO-led peace operations = 111,612
Total number of fatalities in peace operations since 1948 = 2,518

Suicide bombing goes global

Foreign Policy (November-
December) charts the spread of a tactic.

16 November, 2008

Status of forces agreement

At long last, a status of forces agreement (SOFA, if you like acronyms) has been reached between the United States and Iraq. It's pending approval by the Iraqi parliament, but that should be straightforward. It is not a case of Iraq rolling over and giving the US whatever it wanted, but it does facilitate the transition to a situation where American troops are rare, relatively invisible, and on their way out.

Terms of the agreement include the following:

  • American forces will vacate Iraqi cities and towns by summer 2009.
  • American forces will vacate Iraq by the end of 2011.
  • U.S. soldiers are guaranteed immunity except in cases of serious felonies committed while off duty outside their bases.
Obama's promises are being overtaken by events on the ground--in a good way. This is a reasonable plan for withdrawal.

15 November, 2008

Defcon One

I have a lot of respect for Fabius Maximus, who has been watching and commenting on the financial collapse for years now. His predictions, while couched in all the necessary social-science qualifications, have a very good track record. An exceptionally good track record. Today, according to FM, the US economy must move to "Defcon One." That, for those who don't know the terminology from the military side, is immedate readiness for full-scale war. Everything needs to be mobilized, or risk losing it all.

Paul Krugman agrees: this is not a typical recession. While he doesn't expect unemployment to rise to levels of the Great Depression, he thinks we are in an era of depression economics, when the usual tools of fical and monetary policy won't work. A former chairman of Goldman Sachs says the "economy faces a slump deeper than the Great Depression and a growing deficit threatens the credit of the United States itself."

I, for one, am glad I have tenure. A lot of people are going to feel a lot of pain before this is over. In 2004, 40 percent of American families were unable to survive on their assets for three months of unemployment. I imagine it's significantly worse now. It's not time to panic (which does no good anyway), but it is time--past time--to prepare.

12 November, 2008

Crisis and opportunity

I can't improve on the summary in my morning brief from Foreign Policy magazine. Trouble is here, and more is coming:

As world leaders prepare to descend on Washington for the upcoming G-20 summit, the grim economic news just keeps coming.

In the United States, consumer spending has fallen off a cliff and the fate of the auto industry hangs in the balance. Shares in General Motors dropped below $3 Tuesday, continuing a downward slide that accelerated after a particularly dire third-quarter earnings report. Bankruptcy looms unless the U.S. Congress can put together an effective rescue deal.

The Bush administration yesterday announced new measures to help homeowners renegotiate their mortgages, but critics -- including the Republican chair of the FDIC -- fear the move won't have a big-enough impact. Meanwhile, new data from Europe, China, and South Africa suggest the long-feared global recession has finally arrived. Oil prices, accordingly, have fallen below $60, a level not seen for 20 months. Former Canadian PM Paul Martin hopes the G-20 summit will lead to greater input from emerging economies such as China and India. "Do what you think is necessary with the Bretton Woods institutions, but for heaven's sake, stop keeping half the world out of them!" he tells FP.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will not attend the meeting, the Guardian reports. Nor will he meet any leaders on the sidelines, according to the New York

Raghuram G. Rajan, former chief economist at the IMF, doesn't expect sweeping changes at the summit, but warns that "if enough of the other countries make their voices heard at this meeting and say 'we are not willing to go along with incremental
change,' it does put a lot of pressure on the Obama administration to respond, because this is a crisis that was made in America."

This can be an opportunity to rethink and reorganize (to recreate the Rule Set, as Tom Barnett might say). Sometimes I feel we're in a race against time. Can we wait long enough for a new American administration? Can we survive what the old one will do over the next two months?

On the other hand, the Obama team seems to be using this time to think--really think--about what needs to be done. That's a luxury few presidents have had: enough time to think about the fundamentals, followed by a clear mandate (domestic and international) for change.

09 November, 2008

Some things you can't make up

From the New York Post:

What's the easiest way to get a 25-foot-long missile into Manhattan?

Apparently, the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

A Long Island man offered up that astonishing answer yesterday to an incredulous judge in Manhattan federal court.

Arye Sachs, 48, is being sued for trademark infringement by Pfizer Inc. for hauling the fake rocket emblazoned with the words "Viva Viagra" through Midtown last month.

"It's been in the back of my mind since you first came in: How do you get the missile on the trailer into Manhattan?" federal Judge William Pauley III asked.

Sachs, from West Babylon, said cops just laughed as he passed through the Queens Midtown Tunnel on his way into the city Sept. 8.

Sachs also claimed he drove his "missile" through the Lincoln Tunnel five times, and was only stopped twice.

"They checked license and registration, but not the missile," he said.

"You're telling me that when you drove up to the Lincoln Tunnel -" Pauley said.

"They saluted," said Sachs, who is representing himself in court.

05 November, 2008

I need to get this report

The title is America's Defense Meltdown, and I may use it in class.
Executive Summary
Introduction and Historic Overview:
The Overburden of America’s Outdated Defenses
Lt. Col. John Sayen (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.)
Shattering Illusions: A National Security Strategy for 2009-2017
Col. Chet Richards (U.S. Air Force, ret.)
Leading the Human Dimension
Out of a Legacy of Failure
Col. G.I. Wilson (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.)andMaj. Donald Vandergriff (U.S. Army, ret.)
Maneuver Forces: The Army and Marine Corps after Iraq
Col. Douglas Macgregor (U.S. Army, ret.)and Col. G.I. Wilson (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.)
A Traveler’s Perspective on Third and Fourth Generation War
Mr. William S. Lind
The Navy
Mr. William S. Lind
Reversing the Decay of American Air Power
Col. Robert Dilger (U.S. Air Force, ret.) and Mr. Pierre M. Sprey
Air Mobility Alternatives for a New Administration
Mr. James P. Stevenson
The Army National
Guard, the Army Reserve, and the Marine Corps Reserve
Mr. Bruce I. Gudmundsson
Long in Coming, the Acquisition Train Wreck Is Here
Mr. Thomas Christie
Understand, Then Contain America’s Out-of-Control Defense Budget
Mr. Winslow T. Wheeler

From the preface:

The vast majority, perhaps even all, of Congress, the general officer corps of the armedforces, top management of American defense manufacturers, prominent members ofWashington’s think-tank community and nationally recognized “defense journalists”will hate this book. They will likely also urge that it be ignored by both parties in Congressand especially by the new president and his incoming national security team. It is not just that following the recommendations of this book will mean the cancellation of numerous failing, unaffordable and ineffective defense programs, as well as the jobs, and more importantly careers, those programs enable. The acceptance of data and analysis presented in this book, and the conclusions and recommendations that flow from them, would require the elite of Washington’s national security community to acknowledge the many flaws in their analysis of weapons, Pentagon management and leadership of the nation in a tumultuous world. In too many cases, it would also require those elites to admit their own role in the virtual meltdown of America’s defenses.

I need a complete copy! I hear it should be out November 19th. The sections that are available can be found here.

The American economy in context

Here's where you can find an excellent graphic showing many of the changes in the gross figures for the U.S. economy since 1920.

Thanks to Tom Barnett for the find.

04 November, 2008

Reality strikes back

According to an "unnamed administration official" - often assumed to be Karl Rove - in conversation with journalist Ron Suskind, October 2004:

"[He] said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,'
which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors.... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

Reality is what happens even after you deny it. Karl Rove, meet President Obama.

Quote of the day

From the opinion page of the Daily Trust newspaper of Nigeria, a few choice words:
Whenever the cliche "world opinion" is used by western powers we can expect economic sanctions, military intervention or some form of meddling in the affairs of weaker nations.


A global village is truly emerging.

If in George W. Bush we got the first global village idiot, everyone (or almost everyone) is praying that in Obama we would have the first global tribal chief. Our understanding and expectations differ, we have no illusions about that. After all the expectations of Isreal's Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and the Ayatoolahs in Iran are very different. Yet they all would prefer Obama.


If the son of a Kenyan, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, attended a Muslim-majority school, could raise the cosciousness and hopes of people all over the world, could rise to become a credible contender to the most powerful office in the world, we have truly come far, thanks to the American dream, and the decency and common sense of its' average folks. Most of all, thanks to all those who fought to make ipossible for an Obama to emerge at all; from Martin Luther King Jr. to Spike Lee, from Rosa Park to Oprah

This, to me, captures the best and the worst of America's relationship with the world.

03 November, 2008

Declining oil production

Not good news. From the Financial Times:

World will struggle to meet oil demand

By Carola Hoyos and Javier Blas in London

Published: October 28 2008 23:32 Last updated: October 28 2008 23:32

Output from the world’s oilfields is declining faster than previously thought, the first authoritative public study of the biggest fields shows.

Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent, the International Energy Agency says in its annual report, the World Energy Outlook, a draft of which has been obtained by the Financial Times.

The findings suggest the world will struggle to produce enough oil to make up for steep declines in existing fields, such as those in the North Sea, Russia and Alaska, and meet long-term de­mand. The effort will become even more acute as prices fall and investment decisions are delayed.

The IEA, the oil watchdog, forecasts that China, India and other developing countries’ demand will require investments of $360bn each year until 2030.

The agency says even with investment, the annual rate of output decline is 6.4 per cent.

The decline will not necessarily be felt in the next few years because demand is slowing down, but with the expected slowdown in investment the eventual effect will be magnified, oil executives say.

The complete article is here.

Bretton Woods II

French President Sarkozy and British PM Brown are seeking a "new Bretton Woods" to replace the world's teetering financial system. Unfortunately, I suspect things will have to get a whole lot worse before they get better. France and Britain are important, but not the key players, and for differnt reasons neither the US or China is ready to take on that challenge.

Sounds to me like democracy in action

South Africa's ruling party, the Africa National Congress, is splitting in two, and the ANC leader says the rebels are "snakes." Maybe this will push the ANC to clean up its act.