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Foreign Affairs

And Now, The Diplomatic Pirate Solution

One of the things that seems peculiar to the left is the belief that diplomacy is the solution to everything. While I prefer that problems that are conducive to being solved by diplomacy receive the full diplomatic treatment, there are some problems, at least as they are defined, which don’t have a diplomatic solution.

That category would most likely include pirates in a failed state. That, however, is apparently not going to deter our new Secretary of State. Fresh from presenting a red “overcharge” “reset” button to the Russians and assuring the Chinese not to worry about us stressing those pesky human rights violations, Hillary Clinton has decided she’ll solve the Somali pirate problem – diplomatically.

Says Clinton:

“We need to bring 21st-century solutions to bear,” she said.

Her 21st solutions include:

Clinton said it may be possible to stop boat-building companies from doing business with the pirates.

Hmmm. Now I may be mistaken here but I was under the impression pirates were pretty well known for hijacking boats, not paying for them.

One element of her initiative, she said, is to “explore ways to track and freeze pirate assets.”

Again, I may be way off base here, but I was under the impression pirate ransom was paid in big, old, whopping bags of cash dropped on the deck of the ship from helicopters. I’m not sure how she plans on tracking, much less freezing that cash as I’m pretty sure the pirates most likely don’t seek out or use banks.

And her third 21st century solution? The good old 19th century meeting, talking and coordinating event:

The other element of the initiative include calling for immediate meetings of an international counterpiracy task force to expand naval coordination against pirates. She said federal agencies would meet Friday to review the problem and consider potential responses.

Yessiree, I feel all 21st century about these initiatives, if you define 21st century solutions as those which address problems they don’t seem to understand with “solutions” which don’t address them at all.

Oh wait, one more sure fire 21st century solution:

The administration plans to send an envoy to a Somali donors conference scheduled for next week in Brussels and will attempt to organize meetings with officials of Somalia’s transitional government as well as regional leaders in its semiautonomous Puntland.

Because that government and those regional leaders have been so successful in keeping piracy under control to this point.

So, let’s review – keep boat companies from doing business with pirates, track and freeze the pirate cash assets, talk amongst themselves and talk to powerless Somali leaders/government.

Impressive. [/sarc]

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]

Pirates: Facts, Fiction and Opinion

If you look at the big picture, you realize that the pirates off the Somali coast are more of a nuisance than a problem.   Estimates are that 25,000 to 30,000 ships per year transit the Gulf of Aden (headed for the Suez Canal) or the east coast of Somalia.  The bulk, of course, go through Suez.  The successful hijackings over a multi-year period have been very low in comparison.  In 2007, for instance, there were 12 successful hijackings.

The area of ocean in which these events take place cover approximately a million square miles. Here’s a great map (pdf) which shows the areas and the incidents through 2007.  Obviously the pirates can pick and choose where to strike while the navies of the world can only react and hope they are close enough to prevent the hijacking.  That was demonstrated quite clearly in the latest hijacking of the US ship in which Capt. Phillips was taken hostage.  It took hours for the USS Bainbridge to arrive on scene and the rescue was only effected because the skiffs the pirates had used had been destroyed and they were forced to use a lifeboat.

20 countries are now concentrating naval assets within the area, most concentrated in the Gulf of Aden.  A coalition of nations commanded by a US admiral constitute Task Force 151 which is strictly an anti-piracy task force.  TF 151 operates in the Gulf.  China and Russia have also committed naval assets to the task but do so outside TF 151.  They coordinate with the TF but only escort their country’s flagged ships.

With the amount of traffic which transits the area, it is obvious that no navy has the assets to escort all of the ships.

But there is a tool through which the TF can coordinate its efforts and ensure those ships which are most likely to be attacked have a safe passage.  One of those tools is a website.  There vessels transiting the area can register their vessel and alert the TF of their time of arrival in the area in which hijacking is most likely.  There are also tips for the masters of vessels transiting the area, maritime intelligence reports and alerts.

Obviously with that number of ships transiting the area, some are more susceptable to attack than others.  What type of ship are the pirates looking for?  According to Admiral  Terry McKnight, (pdf) the TF 151 commander, they’re looking for ships traveling under 15 knots and with a low freeboard with aids boarding. As Adm. McKnight says, those sorts of ships seem to scream “pirate, me, pirate me”.  If the TF knows ships which fit this template are going to be transiting the region, they can arrange to group them with other ships, track their movement and arrange for that movement at a time when the pirates are less likely to be out hunting.

The pirates have also adapted their tactics, especially off the eastern shore in the Indian Ocean.  As shipping has moved further and further off shore to avoid the skiffs employed to board them, the pirates began using “mother ships”. Those are larger ships which carry a number of skiffs and 10 to 20 pirates.  This enabled the pirates to go further and further off shore to attack shipping.

As you’ll note on the map linked above, there are three major areas on the eastern shore (to include Mogadishu) where the pirates seem to be concentrated, one on the tip of the Horn of Africa and one on the north shore of Somalia on the Gulf of Aden.  Admiral McKnight said that “99.99 percent” of the pirates they’ve run across have been exclusively Somali.

The question, however, is would a land-based military mission which attacked these centers of piracy successfully end the attempted hijackings?

In my opinion, probably not.  To date the risk to reward has been so low that there is a seemingly endless supply of would-be pirates.  And, as long as shipping companies are willing to pay the ransom when one of their ships is hijacked, it will, in relative terms, remain a fairly low-risk way of making huge sums of money. Shipping companies know the numbers and recognize that the real chance of hijacking is very low, relatively speaking, and seem to prefer to pay off the hijackers if their ship ends up hijacked.   And, of course, they’re all insured, so that is also part of the equation.

While we may clean out the nests of pirates for a short time if we mount a military operation, I find it hard to believe that others won’t step in, adapt to the new reality (perhaps by moving their base of operations frequently) and again head out into the Gulf or Indian Ocean in search of easy prey.

Punitive military operations may be satisfying in some way but in reality I would think their effect would be a very short term one.  Just like war against insurgents, war against the pirates will see a constant adaptation by the pirates to any tactics the military might use.  But this isn’t a military problem – it is a failed state problem.  The problems ashore – a failed government, abject poverty, and few choices for gainful and legal employment – are what must be solved if we hope to see piracy in that area defeated.  Until they are solved, there will be plenty of eager replacements for whatever casualties we might inflict on the current pirates, and the attacks on shipping will continue.

Meanwhile, what can be done to make attacks on the high seas less likely?  Well the obvious way is to arm the merchantmen.  But for various and sundry reasons, most shipping companies don’t want to do that.  They range from liability concerns, to concerns about essentially untrained crewman with weapons to concerns about gun laws in the various countries the ships go.  We know there aren’t enough naval ships to escort each merchant ship, so options are limited.  Some merchantmen have armed their ships with high-pressure water cannons which have succesfully thwarted a few pirate attacks.

What I expect to see offered soon, perhaps by Blackwater, now known as Xe, is rent-a-gun teams.  For those that want them, a team is air-lifted to the ship as it enters the pirate zone and taken back off by air as they successfully exit the zone.  I’m sure there are some legal and liability concerns there as well, but it may be one of those times when showing up at the rail and pointing a few automatic weapons at a very vulnerable skiff below you would be enough to disuade the would be pirates from attempting to board.

Food for thought.

~McQ

Quote Of The Day

You want pithy, here’s pithy – from Gerald Warner of the UK Telegraph, speaking of the recent European foreign policy tour by President Obama:

President Barack Obama has recently completed the most successful foreign policy tour since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

And that’s the opening line.  Couldn’t help it – deep belly laugh in reaction to it.  As you’ll discover, Warner is not an Obama fan.  RTWT.

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]

Obama Administration – Forget That Habeas Thing, It Only Applies To Gitmo

Earlier in the week I pointed out that the Obama administration was defending their assumed right to continue the wiretaps they so roundly condemned when the Bush administration did them.

And, of course, we all remember the consistent condemnation by candidate Obama of Guantanamo Bay and the denial of habeas to prisoners there as a horrible denial of rights.

Of course that was then and this is now, and it appears what was considered a principled stand now appears nothing more than election year rhetoric.

The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.

But that was a mortal sin when BushHitler was in charge, wasn’t it?

Michael W explains the case here. Even Glenn Greenwald realizes there is no difference between the administrations on this question.

As Insty reminds us:

Yeah, it’s as if all that talk about the evil power-grabs of the Bush Administration was just insincere electioneering. What made those power-grabs evil, in Obama’s eyes, wasn’t that they were power-grabs. It was that they were by the Bush Administration.

~McQ

The Great Obama European Concert Tour

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, what, really, was accomplished in what Anne Applebaum likens more to a sold out concert tour than a diplomatic tour-de-force.

Well in the latter category it was more of a diplomatic tour-de-farce.

The Obama administration had two goals in two important meetings on the continent. The first was the G20 and the goal was to talk the Europeans into buying into increasing government spending to unprecedented levels, as the US has done, in order to “stimulate” the world’s economy. Epic “fail” in that department. However, the Euros did manage to talk Obama out of another 100 billion for the IMF.

The second goal was associated with NATO, and it was to talk our NATO allies into a large commitment of combat troops for Afghanistan. Again, an epic “fail”. As predicted by those who understand Europe, and thus NATO, that was a non-starter from the beginning. NATO instead offered up 5,000 troops, 3,000 on a temporary basis to help with the election, the rest as trainers for the ANA and ANP. But where troops are needed most – in combat positions – none, nada, zip, zero.

So, although you wouldn’t know it given the adoring media reports and the dutiful reporting of the administration spin on the trip, Obama ends up 0-2 in his first attempt at global diplomacy.

Applebaum notes one thing that struck her as “strange”:

Still, someone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama’s keynote foreign policy speech in Prague — leaked in advance, billed as a major statement — was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for “a world without nuclear weapons” and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.

Yet, while Obama mentioned nuclear weapons reduction to Russia, he apparently didn’t mention Iran’s nukes or the fact that Russia’s shipment of the S-300 missile system to Iran is likely to destabilize the region by pushing Israel into finally striking Iran before ths system can be installed.

And then there’s North Korea’s decision to launch its ICBM at the very moment Obama was addressing nuclear weapons reduction. A bit of an in-your-face in diplomatic terms, by Kim Jong Il.

In other words, ridding the world of nuclear weapons would be very nice, but on its own it won’t alter the international balance of power, stop al-Qaeda or prevent large authoritarian states from invading their smaller neighbors.

I’ll be interested to see whether anyone gives a more sober assessment of the trip among the talking heads (as Applebaum did) or whether it will continue to be characterized as something it wasn’t.

~McQ

Obama Visits Troops In Iraq

I was wondering if this would happen:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, met Obama shortly after Air Force One landed in Baghdad about 4:42 p.m. local time (9:42 a.m. ET).

Obama chose to visit Iraq rather than Afghanistan because of its proximity to Turkey, which Obama just visited, said Robert Gibbs, the president’s spokesman.

In addition, Obama wanted to discuss Iraq’s political situation with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, Gibbs said.

Mostly, however, the stop is about Obama visiting troops, he said.

Good – a tip of the cap. This is important and I’m glad to see President Obama made time to see the troops. We can get all cynical about a lot of things, but I, for one, appreciate the effort and the gesture.

~McQ

North Korea: “Herro, UN?”

North Korea, ignoring the world as usual, launched it’s long-range missile:

North Korea fired a long-range rocket on Sunday, provoking international outrage and prompting the U.N. Security Council to call an emergency meeting.

The world as usual hopped up and down and told North Korea how angry it is:

“North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint and further isolated itself from the community of nations,” President Obama said in Prague, urging Pyongyang to honor the U.N. resolutions and to refrain from further “provocative” actions.

It’s “obligations” obviously, pertain to obeying a unanimous UN Security Council resolution barring North Korea from firing ballistic missiles resolution passed in 2006. Of course North Korea never agreed to or had any say in the resolution. Just as obviously then, they feel no compunction whatsoever to abide by it.

And now, with the UN Security Council emergency meeting looming, what can we expect?

The 15-nation Security Council was due to hold an emergency closed-door meeting from 3 p.m. EDT but China and Russia have made clear they will use their veto power to block any resolution imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang .

For some reason, all of this reminded me of this from Team America: World Police -

Kim Jong Il: Hans Brix? Oh no! Oh, herro. Great to see you again, Hans!

Hans Blix: Mr. Il, I was supposed to be allowed to inspect your palace today, but your guards won’t let me enter certain areas.

Kim Jong Il: Hans, Hans, Hans! We’ve been frew this a dozen times. I don’t have any weapons of mass destwuction, OK Hans?

Hans Blix: Then let me look around, so I can ease the UN’s collective mind. I’m sorry, but the UN must be firm with you. Let me in, or else.

Kim Jong Il: Or else what?

Hans Blix: Or else we will be very angry with you… and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.

~McQ

NATO Says No To Obama’s Afgan Plea

Reality intruded on President Obama’s magical mystery tour in Europe today as NATO ministers turned a deaf ear to his plea for more troops in Afghanistan:

Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. He offered to send several hundred extra British soldiers to provide security during the August election, but even that fell short of the thousands of combat troops that the US was hoping to prise from the Prime Minister.

Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.

Of course this had all been predicted by those who’ve been watching NATO and Europe for years (which would include us here at QandO). Western Europe, which forms the bulk of NATO, for the most part has no stomach for the war in Afghanistan, heck, they barely have a stomach for their own defense. Instead of the thousands troops, Obama was sure he’d be able to charm from them he’ll see 547 to 747 more troops, most from the UK, while the US sends 21,000.

While the school girls and press may be enamored with the charm and glamor of Obama, one of the major reasons for his trip turns out to be an unsurprising failure.

~McQ

Hacking Away At The Last Pillar

The siege against capitalism continues unabated. Yesterday, leaders of the 20 largest national economies reached a consensus that they needed to reel in unfettered free markets, which they all agreed was the cause of the world’s economic crisis. The medicine consists of further funding of the IMF (to the tune of an addition $1 Trillion) and an increased regulatory state.
crumbling-column

Setting aside differences in philosophy and national character, at least for now, the leaders agreed to make available more than $1 trillion in new lending to spur international growth. While leaving it to individual nations to enact, they promised tough new regulations aimed at banks and other financial institutions whose freewheeling activities sparked the crisis. And they vowed renewed support for trade and more help for the globe’s poorest countries.

“The world’s leaders have responded today with an unprecedented set of comprehensive and coordinated actions,” Obama said, in the spotlight on his first overseas trip as president. “Faced with similar global economic challenges in the past, the world was slow to act, and people paid an enormous price. . . . Today, we have learned the lessons of history.”

For some reason, the bulk of the reporting on the G-20 conference outcome is limited to describing how wonderful everyone feels about the loose agreements, and how industrious they all were to come to terms with one another. Very little press has been devoted to the actual agreements. The media seem to be under the collective impression that the most important aspect of these meetings is the conduct of the diplomacy. They could not be more wrong:

FINANCIAL market “cowboys” who wreaked havoc on the world economy will be brought undone by the G20 agreement, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.

Mr Rudd says the $US1 trillion ($A1.4 trillion) deal agreed on at the G20 summit in London, will benefit “tradies”, young people and small business with real commitments against real timelines.

“Today’s agreement begins to crack down on the sort of cowboys in global financial markets that have brought global markets undone with real impacts for jobs everywhere,” Mr Rudd told reporters at the conclusion of the summit overnight.

The summit has agreed to a restructure of the financial regulatory system, reform of and a trebling of funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to $US750 billion ($A1.08 trillion), an extension until the end of next year of a ban on nations introducing trade protection measures, a curb of excessive executive payouts and agreement to co-ordinate further economic stimulus.

Make no mistake. What the G-20 leaders (as stated by PM Rudd above) are saying to world is that none of this would have happened if they had been in charge. “Financial market cowboys” (meaning US and UK bankers), the faces of capitalism, are entirely to blame for the woes of the world. If only there had been more government involvement, according to this theory, then the financial crisis would have been averted or severely curtailed. Accordingly, the G-20 have decided that the way to fix this mass is to assert greater control over the world economy. The immediate targets of this new world order? Tax havens of course:

Switzerland, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, Monaco, Luxembourg and Hong Kong are among 45 territories blacklisted on Thursday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and now threatened with punitive financial retaliation for their banking secrecy.

Among the sanctions being considered by the G20 are the scrapping of tax treaty arrangements, imposing additional taxes on companies that operate in non-compliant countries, and tougher disclosure requirements for individuals and businesses that use shelters.

[...]

Illegal tax evasion through offshore shelters has been a long-standing irritation for Gordon Brown, President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. An estimated $7 trillion of assets are held offshore and, according to pressure group Tax Justice Network, developed countries lose $180bn a year in evaded taxes.

Under the OECD definition, countries will be considered non-compliant if they have less than 12 bi-lateral agreements to exchange tax information with foreign governments on request. “Authorities should have access to the information to effectively crack down on tax evasion,” Andrew Watt, director at law firm Alvarez & Marsal Taxand, said.

Jeffrey Owens, director of the OECD’s centre for tax policy said: “This is the major breakthrough we have been trying to get for 13 years. If you intend to evade tax through offshore bases, you will think hard about it now you know tax authorities can trace you.”

[...]

Mr Sarkozy added: “Sixty percent of hedge funds are registered in tax havens. Putting hedge funds under supervision isn’t going to generate jobs in the textile industry. But we have to put behind us the madness of this time of total deregulation.”

The reactions of Owens and Sarkozy are like being annoyingly puzzled at why the whipping boy continues to move, seeking to avoid the lash.

Clearly the aim here is not at fixing anything other than the ability of wealthy nations to collect taxes. Small countries typically designated as “tax havens” tend to have one thing in common: they have no other means of competing in the world market place other than in the area of business taxation. If the economies of these countries were all dependent upon growing and selling corn, then the G-20 actions would be met with a much different response. Instead, companies that wish to minimize their tax burden, so that they may instead fund R&D, expand (create jobs), or re-invest, are treated as outlaws, unworthy of little more than scorn. And the small countries that have been willing to host these companies as a means of boosting their own economies, are labeled pariahs to be sanctioned by the wealthiest nations in the world. The message: “Don’t muscle in on our territory. That’s our tax money and we’re here to collect.”

In addition to punishing tax havens, the G-20 decided that the favorite whipping boys of statists needed to be better restrained so as to prevent their squirming:

Leaders agreed to craft tighter controls over hedge funds and establish more rigorous regulations to prevent the buildup of toxic assets that poisoned the U.S. financial system in and spread overseas.

[...]

The leaders agreed to set benchmarks for executive pay and make accounting standards more uniform across borders. Most would be drafted by a new Financial Stability Board, where central bankers, regulators and finance ministers from the more than 20 nations represented at the summit will eventually hash out the details.

Credit agencies — whose top-notch ratings of instruments linked to bad U.S. subprime mortgages gave false indications of their relatively safety — would be subjected to new oversight and regulations. But there was no call for a global regulator that could overrule decisions made by individual countries.

While I’m glad to see the ratings agencies (whom have inexplicably been absent from public criticism and ire) taking their turn at the post, everyone should be dismayed at what these sorts of agreements portend. The collective effort to rein in “cowboy capitalism” is little more than a barely disguised effort to place the European bit in the mouth of American (and, to a lesser extent, British) mouth. Business decisions are no longer to be made in the interests of the shareholders, but in favor of “public good.” What constitutes the “public good” will be determined by the special interests who exact the most influence upon, and best line the pockets of, the political forces in charge. In short, consumers no longer rule the market place; bureaucrats do.

Fallen pillar

Fallen pillar


As with all movements based on collective will, such as that which the G-20 has furthered, an unfettered free market is featured as the main culprit. America is widely considered to be an economic jungle where the capitalist beast roams freely, devouring the innocent and maiming cautious outsiders. Ironically, Leviathan himself has identified capitalism as an unrestrained beast in need of controlling. Yet, we have nothing like an uncontrolled free market here. It only appears that way because the remainder of the world has cloaked their industries in thick blankets of protectionism and shackled their businesses with an alarming array of bureaucratic chains. Comparatively, America does look like a free market jungle.

But therein lies the problem. As the Washington Post stated it:

Along with declarations of optimism came the recognition of at least a temporary shift in attitude away from two decades of intense reliance on free trade, deregulation and market-knows-best policies that fueled stunning growth across the planet.

Brown — the leader of a country closely associated with that philosophy — declared “the Washington Consensus” over, using a term that recognizes the American roots of an economic system seen by many in the world as unfair and unhealthy.

As far from a pure free market as we are, it is our relative distance from the nanny-statism of Europe and beyond that props up the economies of the world. That stunning growth was made possible precisely because of what the rest of the world refers to as “cowboy capitalism” and they were all happy to join in the ride. But now that woe times betide us, thanks primarily to government meddling (e.g. CRA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Fed policy, etc.), the world is ready to chop down the last pillar of capitalism, and assert government control over everything. With that final support gone, the capitalist beast will be brought to heel, confined to the zoo where it will live its remaining days as little more than a novelty. Unfortunately, it will take its wealth producing powers with it.

Russia’s New Found “Comrade”

A couple of paragraphs from a story about Obama and Russia’s Medvedev which seem pretty telling to me:

Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev hailed Barack Obama as “my new comrade” Thursday after their first face-to-face talks, saying the US president “can listen” — even if little progress was made on substance.

The Russian president contrasted Obama as “totally different” to his predecessor George W. Bush, whom he blamed for the “mistake” of US missile shield plans fiercely opposed by Moscow.

Of course many on the right are making a big, if sarcastic, deal about Medvedev calling Obama “comrade”. To many that seems more than appropriate. However, there’s a lot of diplospeak in this which seems key.

First, although not much of substance was accomplished, note the Medvedev says that unlike Bush, Obama “can listen”. In diplospeak, that means he thinks he can roll Obama, while Bush, not so much.

Note too that it appears that Obama has caved on the missile defense. In his desire to reduce nuclear stockpiles, he’s given up something which our allies such as Poland and the Czech Republic were keen for in order to see warheads dropped from 2,200 to 1,500. That’s a laughably cheap price for Russia to pay to kill the missile defense they opposed so adamantly.

Yup, after a capitulation like that, I’d be clapping Obama on the back and hailing him as my comrade too, if I were Medvedev.

Nothing, apparently was mentioned about Russia’s plan to rearm its military, its pending sale of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran or it’s bluntly worded warning about Georgia:

Russia sent a strong warning to the United States Thursday about supporting Georgia in the U.S. ally’s efforts to rebuild its military following last year’s war.

The Foreign Ministry said helping arm Georgia would be “extremely dangerous” and would amount to “nothing but the encouragement of the aggressor.” 

Nope, apparently Obama just listened. That’s a comrade any Russian could love.

~McQ