Category Archives: Politics: International

Today’s Bizzaro Polling Experience

This was my strangest polling experience yet. First, the call was to my office rather than to my home. I don’t think I’ve ever been called with a poll at work before.

Then there was how it went (this is a very close paraphrase, probably not verbatim):

- Hello, says the nice voice, I am calling from Harris Interactive and was wondering if you could answer some questions about China and its relation to the US.

- How long will this take? I ask nervously, looking at the pile of exams.

- It could take as long as 15-20 minutes depending on your answers, says the voice.

- Oh, OK, I say, thinking the exams will have to wait. China is important. Too much giving in to scary mercantilism out there.

- To begin, what is your job title?

- Professor

- Let me look that one up … wait a minute… well, that’s all the questions we have for you today, thank you very much.

How about that?

Posted in Politics: International, The Media | 2 Comments

US Military Officially “Out” of Iraq

104,106 - 113,755Today we are told the last US troops pulled of Iraq. This allowed President Obama to announce the end of the Iraq war a week before Christmas. (We promised the Iraqis we’d be out by the 31st, so for all I know there may be a few stragglers.)

Out, of course, is a relative term. Left behind are a giant embassy compound in Baghdad, guarded by some Marines and up to 5,500 armed security contractors. Plus no doubt various secret outfits, of varying degrees of actual secrecy.

It’s clear to me that the entire affair was a major strategic disaster for the US, one entirely self-inflicted by the Bush administration. The war was prefigured when Bush moved half the US army to the Iraqi border. Having done so, he lacked the guts or the imagination to bring them home without attacking, but then the attack had always been his (and Cheney’s) intention. Bush-Cheney achieved their goal of killing Saddam Hussein, but as far as I can see got nothing of value to the US. Indeed, the strategic victor of the conflict was clearly Iran. There is even a plausible account that Iran manipulated the Bush administration into the conflict through its dupe, or even double-agent, Ahmad Chalabi. Regardless, the cost to the US in blood, treasure, and international influence, was and remains enormous.

One topic surprisingly under-reported in my media is whether the Iraqis think, on balance, it was worth it. They paid a much higher cost in blood, and in social upheaval, including what amounted to near-secession (the Kurds) and ethnic cleansing in many urban areas. I guess I’d like to know. Even a favorable verdict would not justify this war, but it might help some.

I am aware that some people want to argue that Arab Spring has roots in the Iraq war. I don’t see it. The causes of those revolutions seem to be to in the main highly indigenous: oppression plus rising expectations.

The case for semi-isolationism (e.g withdrawing to some form of NATO + a few key allies) has never looked so good. Not because it is good strategy or good international diplomacy (it may not be), or even because it might save us some money. The root of the case for semi-isolationism is that the Imperial Presidency cannot be trusted with the lives of our fellow citizens in uniform, nor with the lives of the inhabitants of the countries we aim to ‘save’.

That said, we should not forget that while the US was a leader in this effort, the US government did not act alone in Iraq: it was abetted by a ‘coalition of the willing’. The United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland contributed to the invasion. Thirty-seven other countries provided at least token, and sometimes more than token, troops to support military operations after the invasion was complete.

Posted in National Security, Politics: International | Leave a comment

The Rest of the World is Enjoying the US Downgrade

Whatever the merits of the downgrade, I think there’s some schadenfreude out there, more than may be visible to people in the US. I happen to be abroad this week, and I was struck by how differently web pages are playing the story in and out of the US. Here’s a particularly striking example from the front page of the (US-owned!) Huffington Post’s regional editions:

Canadian Version:

UK Version:

Compare these to the patriotic, we-knew-it-was-coming US version:

FWIW, on the economic fundamentals, I don’t see much justification for the downgrade given the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

Standard & Poors is in any case in a funny position, given its lousy track record, the various politically-motivated threats they have been issuing all week, the company’s strategic need to discourage the US from regulating it in light of the ratings’ agencies failures to foresee in the mortgage-back security crisis, and the possibility of something even more nefarious, and the large number of other countries with AAA ratings. On the other hand, if we were grading countries for the intelligence of their political class.

Posted in Econ & Money, Politics: International | Leave a comment

How’s That War Going?

A few days ago the New York Times was the home of happy headlines about the war in VietnamAfghanistan. But that’s so yesterday.

News (2/21/11): Midlevel Taliban Admit to a Rift With Top Leaders

Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.

Op-ed (2/20/11): The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter

IT is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.

The shift is most obvious on the ground. The additional 30,000 troops promised by President Obama in his speech at West Point 14 months ago are finally in place and changing the trajectory of the fight.

Today (2/25/11), not so much:

U.S. Pulling Back in Afghan Valley It Called Vital.

After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

Time for more psyops aimed at the media

Posted in Politics: International | 1 Comment

Is Hosni Mubarak Still President of Egypt? has the news:

via techPresident.

Posted in Politics: International | Leave a comment

Egypt Is Back on the Internet

Perilocity: Egypt Returns.

Posted in Internet, Politics: International | Leave a comment

China Has its Revolutionaries Too

And they use the internet.

An example is this web video, created in China.  It is framed as a parable, but as you can see from this analysis at China Geeks it is really about recent incidents that have outraged the Chinese public. The video, now on Youtube, was first posted on Tudou, a Chinese video site, but has been taken down.


Here’s the start of China Geeks’ analysis at via “Little Rabbit, Be Good” A Subversive New Years’ Video Card:

This video has been being passed around today on Twitter, Weibo, and other Chinese social networking sites. Most of my Chinese friends have seen it, although they almost all also work in media. Still, it’s fair to say the video is pretty widespread.

Regardless of what the disclaimer says8, it is probably obvious even to those who don’t speak Chinese that this video makes repeated and explicit reference to real life events. The milk powder death, the fire, the illegal demolitions, the beating of protesters, the self-immolation, the “Tiger Gang” car accident, etc. are all references to real-life events that any Chinese viewer would be immediately and intimately familiar with.

Of course, sarcastic animations and other web jokes about these incidents are common. What is not common is the end of the video, which depicts a rabbit rebellion where masses of rabbits storm the castle of the tigers and eat them alive. For viewers who have already gathered that in this picture, rabbits represent ordinary Chinese people and the tigers represent the government/the powerful, this is a revolutionary–literally–statement. The clip ends with what seems almost like a call to arms for the new year, with Kuang Kuang saying it will be a meaningful (有意义, could also be translated as “important”) year and then the end title reading: “The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.”

This isn’t the bullshit so-called “inciting to subvert state power” that Liu Xiaobo was given eleven years for. This video is actually inciting people to subvert state power.

This is, by the way, the year of the Rabbit in the Chinese Zodiac.

Update: boingboing, How China censors Egypt news, and why the story is so sensitive in China sends you to Global Voices Advocacy, China: Bridging news on Egypt. This begins:

On 28 of January, when commenting on the political situation in Egypt, the spoke person from Chinese foreign ministry stated that the Chinese government will continue to support the Egyptian government in maintaining social stability and oppose any foreign intervention in Egypt. Since then, the term “Egypt” has been blocked from search in major social media websites, such as Sina and Sohu micro-blog hosting sites.

Posted in Politics: International | 1 Comment