Monday, July 20, 2009

A few items of interest from over the weekend

  • Juan Cole says that the al-Maliki government and the new Iraqi military were able to successfully shepherd large numbers of Shiite pilgrims through a pilgrimage over the weekend without a major terrorist bombing to disrupt it. That may suggest that Obama's plan to withdraw American troops from Iraq soon can work - if the relations of the Kurds to the north with the rest of Iraq don't blow up in the meantime.

  • Juan Cole also reports that the political battle between the Iranian hardliners and the more moderate groups who have opposed the recent (stolen?) reelection of Ahmadinejad continues as the hardliners slam Rafsanjani. This followed Rafsanjani's Friday sermon which encouraged continued resistance against the hardliners.
  • From Ben Katcher at the Washington Note we learn of the potential competition between Iran and Russia to provide natural gas to Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Austria and Hungary. This highlights the rather complicated relationship between Russia and Iran. The proposed 2,050 mile natural gas pipeline that aims to diversify Europe's gas supplies away from Russia has interesting political as well as economic ramifications for the entire middle east and eastern Europe. Here is Katcher's view of how it looks from Russia's point of view:
    Russia perceives Iran as both a tactical ally against the United States and as a strategic competitor as an energy supplier to Europe. Russia fears that a rapprochement between the United States and Iran would open Iran's energy markets and threaten Russia's dominant position as Europe's primary natural gas supplier.

  • Faith Smith writes an interesting article in the Washington Note on the conflict between the Chinese Communist Government and the Uighur population in Xinjiang province. Here is a key insight in her article
    "Fundamentally, the Chinese Communist Party, which was founded on materialist principles and encourages atheism among its members, doesn't understand religion. Its leaders see every non-state-supervised religious gathering, or attempt to impart values to children, as a potential threat to their political authority."

    This immense lack of understanding has led the Chinese government to create a threat where one previously did not exist and an enemy out of a traditionally peaceful people.
    That same insight would seem to also apply to Tibet. Could it be generalized to apply to any ideology or religious doctrine attempting to run a government over a culturally non-homogeneous population? Enforcing a doctrine or ideology seems to cause a government to abandon the most important basic function of any government. That function is to provide peace and stability to the population it governs.

    Any government which does not provide peace and stability will inevitably face threats to its existence. The normal government reaction to those threats will be authoritarian actions unless it abandons its efforts to enforce the doctrine or ideology. If it does not abandon those efforts the threats will continue and grow until that government is replaced by another. The biggest advantage of democracy is that it provides non-violent methods for replacing such a failed government.

  • Sunday the Washington Post published an interesting article on the early stages of the development of torture techniques used by the CIA during the Bush administration. The article highlights the role of contractors, particularly James E. Mitchell, a retired clinical psychologist for the Air Force and John "Bruce" Jessen,another former CIA contractor. The two of them were important in developing the interrogation policies the CIA used. But at least equally important if not more so was the constant pressure from Langley saying in essence "You aren't getting enough Intelligence. If there is another terrorist attack you will be responsible. Get tougher and get more Intelligence."

    This isn't stated in the article, but it is certainly implied. The reported pressure from Langley almost certainly originated in Cheney's Vice Presidential office and was transmitted through the political appointees that Cheney had placed in the CIA when he was running the staffing function at the time of the transition from the Clinton White House to the Bush White House.

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