Ed Morrissey has blogged at Captain's Quarters since 2003, and has a daily radio show at BlogTalkRadio, where he serves as Political Director. Called "Captain Ed" by his readers, Ed is a father and grandfather living in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, a native Californian who moved to the North Star State because of the weather.
Blogs Should Be What?
The International Olympic Committee has deigned to allow athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to blog. However, the IOC wants to make sure that athletes know the rules beforehand. They cannot post pictures, audio, or video of the events because the IOC does not recognize blogs as a form of journalism:
The IOC has set out guidelines for blogging at the Beijing Games to ensure copyright agreements are not infringed. They include bans on posting any audio or visual material of action from the games themselves. ...
"The IOC considers blogging... as a legitimate form of personal expression and not a form of journalism," the Olympic authority said.
"Blogs should be dignified and in good taste."
Dignified and in good taste? The IOC obviously hasn't spent much time reading blogs. Or, maybe they have.
Since this Olympiad takes place in China, where oppression on free speech and Internet access has been a major issue, who becomes the arbiter of dignity and good taste? Will the athletes have to pass their posts through an IOC censor before the text can hit the web? Or will that fall to China's authoritarian regime, as it does for more than a billion Chinese? Once pre-publication standards get put in place, enforcement always follows.
The real concern isn't about dignity and taste. It's the fear that the athletes will use blogs to make political statements about the oppression of the Chinese government. The Olympics have a long and inglorious history of being manipulated for political purposes, by both its athletes and its host nations. The IOC wants to cut off the athletes while looking relaxed, but has no problem staging games in countries known for their dour attitude towards liberty, free speech, and free access to information.
In effect, the IOC has become a mini-me to Beijing in an attempt to straddle that line. Only the East German judges would have given them high marks for courage with this statement -- if freedom hadn't eliminated the ersatz nation of East Germany almost two decades ago.
Beijing's Gold Medal Firewall Coming Down?
China knows that the Olympic Games will bring great scrutiny this summer, and no more so than when the athletes of the world arrive. Thousands of Westerners will expect to have the same level of communications available to them, and the Beijing government will have to decide whether to suspend its tight control over Internet access. Unlike their citizens, these Western athletes, reporters, and tourists will leave China and tell their stories:
China is debating whether to relax control of the Internet during the Olympics, allowing access to banned websites such as the BBC, a spokeswoman for the organising committee said Tuesday.
Plans to tear down the so-called Great Firewall of China were being debated and a decision was expected soon, said Wang Hui, head of media relations for the organising committee.
"We are studying this now based on suggestions of some journalists and a study of the experiences of other countries, so during the Olympics there may be some changes," she said. "This is one of the ways the Olympics may promote progress in China."
China tightly polices cyberspace and Chinese web surfers see a stripped-down version of the Internet minus some news sites such as the BBC and those belonging to human rights groups or any other sites judged subversive by the country's communist rulers.
The firewall does more than just block the BBC. China uses it to track down subversives who believe in freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, some Western companies assist China in this regard -- the same Western companies that helped build the Great Firewall. Google created a separate version of its database for China, only without all of those nasty websites that promote dangerous ideas like democracy and freedom of speech -- you know, the ideas that helped create Google in the first place. Yahoo has collaborated with Chinese authorities to prosecute journalists who have bravely tried to promote freedom.
Now, China wants to present itself as a happy nation of people who simply choose to live in ignorance of liberty. It can't allow Westerners visiting for the next few weeks get 404s when attempting to hit the BBC website and other dangerous sources of real information about the world. They may -- may -- have to lower the shields and allow access to the entire Internet for the first time in order to pull off that little masquerade. That will allow them to win a propaganda coup, with Olympics participants and tourists going back to their home countries and telling everyone how remarkably open China has become.
It might give a window for Chinese activists to report other aspects of China's rule to the world as well. Of course, with a little more Western help, Beijing will be able to track them down again -- and maybe the kind and helpful Western companies that helped build the Great Firewall can help create the Tiny Firewall Portal that will keep the rest of the nation locked down during the Games.
Because They Listened To Al Gore
China has had its hardest winter in decades, with even the southern provinces blanketed in snow, sleet, ice, and fog for the last several weeks. The lengthy winter storms and unusually cold temperatures have brought China to a standstill, as the central government got caught unprepared for it:
Chinese weather experts have admitted that they were not properly prepared for the snow storms that have left hundreds of thousands stranded.
The cold weather seen in recent weeks has been the worst to hit central and southern provinces in decades.
Officials have blamed freak conditions, but on Monday the head of the China's meteorological office said "we did not make enough preparation".
The Chinese have facilities for weather-related storm abatement in the north, where they traditionally have hard winters and have built infrastructure to handle it. It's similar to how the US prepares for winter. In Minnesota, three inches of snow has little effect on traffic and commerce, but in Atlanta it could bring both to a standstill.
China will host the Beijing Olympics this year, and it has spent a fortune building the venues and the infrastructure for the games. It has left them little to spend on major emergencies such as the winter storms have brought. Just when China expected to press for completion on their Olympic public works, they will have to shift funds and attention to clearing roads and re-running power lines to a widespread area of their country.
And once again, we're left wondering about the entire scenario of global warming. The upper Midwest is having our coldest winter in ten years at the same time as the Chinese have gotten buried in snow and ice. Maybe Beijing didn't have the necessary preparations because they spent too much time listening to Chicken Littles.
Are Women About To Drive In Saudi Arabia?
The Saudis have prohibited women from driving in the kingdom since -- well, since the kingdom existed. However, the London Telegraph and the New York Sun report that civil disobedience in the country has forced the Sauds to reverse their policy and stop being the only country that bars licensing on the basis of gender:
Saudi Arabia is to lift its ban on women drivers in an attempt to stem a rising suffragette-style movement in the deeply conservative state.
Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.
The move is designed to forestall campaigns for greater freedom by women, which have recently included protesters driving cars through the Islamic state in defiance of a threat of detention and loss of livelihoods.
The royal family has previously balked at granting women driving permits, claiming the step did not have full public support. The driving ban dates back to the establishment of the state in 1932, although recently the government line has weakened.
In fact, the official line from the Sauds will cause some snickering. They now claim that educating women -- something that only started 40 years ago -- allows them to be responsible enough to drive. Some in Saudi Arabia would still use this to argue against educating women, not allowing them to drive.
Others see the move as brilliant incrementalism. One member of the Shura Council, a "reformist", says that the idea infuriated extremists when first proposed, but now it just makes them mad. Perhaps in another generation, they'll just be annoyed, and then the Sauds can start working on permitting a headdress that will allow them to see the road properly.
As Gene Wilder told Cleavon Little in the shockingly funny Blazing Saddles, "Another twenty-five years and you'll be able to shake their hands in broad daylight." It might actually take longer than that. At least this is a start, if the Sauds are serious. The women need to keep up their protests for further acknowledgment of their rights. Maybe this will help dial down the extremism, especially given the central role of the Sauds to its impetus.
UPDATE: Another hint at a change: the Arab News site, an English-language mouthpiece for the royals, scolds Saudis for criticizing a woman for driving after having an accident in Egypt:
The fact that this girl — and many before her — drove without her male guardian’s permission of course draws plenty of comments from readers. They invariably point out the need to control those reckless women, but maybe if those readers spare a moment and actually think about the reasons why these incidents happen, and how women actually are deprived of a right and that it is not a male privilege to sit behind the wheel.
Just because we are the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive does not make us right.
China's Family Values: The More Valuables, The More Family
China's infamous one-child policy has women undergoing forced abortions and the proletariat paying heavy fines for their supposedly excessive procreation. The rich, meanwhile, have a completely different experience in China. Their fines go mostly uncollected, and they have other means to increase their multitudes:
A growing number of rich and powerful people in central China are brazenly flouting the country's one-child policy, a newspaper said Wednesday.
The violations in Hubei province are leaving local family planning officials powerless, the Beijing Morning Post reported. Even when fined by authorities, many rich that have openly ignored the rules are slow to provide the money, the newspaper said.
In one case, a person was fined $106,000 for having a second child, the highest amount ever in Hubei, but has only paid $14,000, the paper said.
The report said 1,678 people, including government officials, were punished in 2007 for not adhering to the policy, which has been in place for almost 30 years. There were no details about the punishments.
Polygamy has become popular as a dodge for the rules. Rich men will keep two wives in order to get around the rules, sometimes faking divorces in order to make that work. The wealthy also attempt to pass off children as handicapped, as the state allows an exception to the rule when the first child has some sort of incapacitation.
As I noted in May, the top-down governmental action of the one-child policy has turned children into status symbols. At that time, Beijing had announced a "shaming" policy to bring violators in line, but people don't give up their reproductive imperative quite that easily. Those who have it tend to flaunt it, and as a result, there are now two Chinas: one free to have children, and the other not.
This will erode confidence in the government. As the history of Communism shows, a population will endure privations for a greater mission, but only when they perceive that everyone makes the same sacrifices. If a ruling class of elites can run roughshod over such an intrusive ban as the one on procreation, the hoi polloi -- whose long-term financial stability rests on having children -- will soon produce a backlash the likes Beijing has not seen in decades.
Another Reason Not To Do Business With China
The Chinese Army has targeted British companies that do business in China for Internet espionage. MI-5 has sent warning letters to over 300 firms, advising them that they run the risk of losing vital proprietary secrets through Chinese hacking. The warning casts a pall over Sino-British trade -- and perhaps trade with other nations as well:
The Government has accused China of carrying out an internet spying campaign against vital parts of the economy, it has been reported.
The head of the MI5 sent a letter to more than 300 senior executives at banks, accountants and legal firms earlier this week warning them of a web-based attack from Chinese state organisations.
The letter warns that British firms doing business in China are being targeted by the Chinese army, which is using the internet to steal confidential information to benefit Chinese companies.
It is believed to be the first time the Government has directly accused China of involvement in such tactics and could cast a shadow on Gordon Brown's visit to the country in the new year.
The British believe that the Chinese Army has created software specifically designed to breach security protocols and to retrieve sensitive information. They apparently focus on those firms doing business in or with China as they have to network with their home offices, giving the Chinese the opening they can exploit. They have spent considerable time and effort on this espionage, and MI-5 warns that it can defeat even the best practices of corporate network security.
Does anyone want to assume that the Chinese only have interest in the proprietary information of British firms? Somehow, that seems very unlikely. If MI-5 has taken the extraordinary step of sending hundreds of warning letters to British firms, their suspicions are probably well-founded -- and the Chinese would not hesitate to employ the same tactics against other Western trading partners, including the US.
This year has given Americans plenty of reasons not to buy Chinese products. The Chinese Army now has given Western businesses a good reason to avoid trade with China altogether. If the Chinese government wants to maintain its export business, it needs to shut down its spy ring.
Economic Juggernaut Of China Just A Mirage?
For the last few years, analysts have warned that China's growing economic power would threaten America's leadership position on trade and and the global economy. Two days ago, in a mostly overlooked Financial Times report, an American economist threw a healthy dose of cold water on such speculation. The tea leaves, Albert Keidel insists, show an economy barely over half of what most analysts assumed in China:
China's economy is 40 percent smaller than most recent estimates, a US economist said Wednesday, citing data from the Asian Development Bank and guidelines from the World Bank.
Albert Keidel, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former US Treasury official and World Bank economist, made the comments in a report published by the US think tank and in a commentary in the Financial Times.
Keidel told AFP he made the calculations based on a recent ADB report that made its first analysis of China's economy based on so-called purchasing power parity (PPP), which strips out the impact of exchange rates.
"The results tell us that when the World Bank announces its expected PPP data revisions later this year, China's economy will turn out to be 40 percent smaller than previously stated," Keidel wrote.
"This more accurate picture of China clarifies why Beijing concentrates so heavily on domestic priorities such as growth, public investment, pollution control and poverty reduction."
Poverty has been sharply underestimated, hidden by the vagaries of the exchange rates in play. Instead of 100 million Chinese living below the dollar-a-day poverty line, that number moves to 300 million -- the rough equivalent of the entire US population. And while China's economy has begun to move past Japan's as the largest in the Pacific Rim, it will take two decades longer than expected for them to challenge the US for global economic leadership.
Keidel notes that the efforts to move people out of poverty in China and India -- which Keidel also re-evaluates in this report -- was much larger than first thought, and the progress made has not been as impressive as assumed. China has moved perhaps 40% of the poor as defined by the World Bank to a better standard of living over the last twenty years, but not the two-thirds most economists had assumed. Because of this, the Chinese priorities for economic development make more sense, as does its monetary policy, to which the US regularly objects.
It also means that the fears of explosive growth in Chinese military investment are probably unfounded. Their economy isn't strong enough to fund that kind of growth, Keidel says, and it won't be for many years. Beijing still has too much on its plate in attempting to breathe economic life into too many domestic regions to worry much about projecting military power, or to have the realistic resources to do so.
As Jon Henke notes, if Keidel's analysis gets proven correct when the World Bank numbers come out later this year, many Western economists will have a lot of explaining to do to both governments and investors. The Asian stock market could take a beating when that happens, which will make at least a few of these into ex-analysts. It may also have some impact on long-term military planning here in the US, taking us from a near-panic mode to something more rational, allowing us to plan wisely for growth in our Pacific assets without provoking an arms race that neither country can afford.
Monks Died For ... Oil?
The Guardian reports on dropping oil production over the last two years and argues that the declines will accelerate from this point forward. That seems debatable, but the hysterical approach taken by the newspaper doesn't lend it a lot of credibility. As a consequence of production declines, the Guardian warns of terrible unrest, but uses a strange example:
Global oil production is currently about 81m barrels a day - EWG expects that to fall to 39m by 2030. It also predicts significant falls in gas, coal and uranium production as those energy sources are used up.
Britain's oil production peaked in 1999 and has already dropped by half to about 1.6 million barrels a day.
The report presents a bleak view of the future unless a radically different approach is adopted. It quotes the British energy economist David Fleming as saying: "Anticipated supply shortages could lead easily to disturbing scenes of mass unrest as witnessed in Burma this month. For government, industry and the wider public, just muddling through is not an option any more as this situation could spin out of control and turn into a complete meltdown of society."
Mr Schindler comes to a similar conclusion. "The world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system. This change will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily life."
The monks died by the hundreds because of a lack of oil production? Of course not. They oppose a tyrannical regime and died because they chose to peacefully protest the oppression of the military junta. The protests had nothing to do with oil production, and the Guardian and Fleming know it. It's nothing more than scaremongering, something at which the Peak Oil advocates excel.
Many different issues can cause production declines other than a reduction in the resource. War can impact production, as can political instability. One major producer, Iran, has significant economic sanctions against it that impacts their production capacity. Another producer, Venezuela, has conducted a nationalization policy that has also reduced its overall production. Producers that form cartels such as OPEC artificially set production levels for economic purposes, which renders these declines as analytically unreliable for purposes of determining resource availability.
It also doesn't account for the willful lack of production where known resources exist. That primarily applies to the US, where reserves exist on both coasts and in Alaska that we refuse to touch. We could deflate global oil prices and get more energy independence in the near- and mid-term simply by pumping our own crude. The US refuses to do so, however, for reasons of politics and not of potential supply.
Perhaps we need to adopt the same scaremongering as the Guardian. "No More Monks For Oil" makes a great slogan for opening up ANWR, doesn't it? How about "Give Offshore-Oil Peace A Chance?" We could always fall back to "Domestic Power To The People!"
India Nuclear Deal Collapsing
India may pull back from the nuclear deal negotiated two years ago with the Bush administration, a result of party politics. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, informed President Bush directly of the "difficulties" that have arisen internally, focusing on sovereignty but also an effort by Indian Communists to keep the nation from becoming too close to the US:
A controversial nuclear deal between the United States and India appears close to collapse after the Indian prime minister told President Bush yesterday that "certain difficulties" will prevent India from moving forward on the pact for the foreseeable future.
The main obstacle does not involve the specific terms of the agreement but rather India's internal politics, including fears from leftist parties that India is moving too close to the United States, according to officials and experts familiar with the deal. Besieged over the past two months by growing opposition to nuclear energy cooperation with the United States, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicated over the weekend that he would rather save his coalition government than the nuclear pact.
"What we have done with the U.S., it is an honorable deal, it is good for India, and it is good for the world," Singh said Saturday. "But we are in the realm of politics, and within our coalition, there are differing perceptions."
Neither government appeared eager to announce the setback to what had been billed as one of the Bush administration's biggest foreign policy achievements. India's only official pronouncement was tucked at the bottom of a seven-paragraph news release on the Indian Embassy Web site outlining a telephone conversation Monday between Singh and Bush.
The pact had been considered one of the Bush administration's clear victories in foreign policy. For decades, India had not just clung to non-alignment but had exercised a policy of diffidence to the United States. People on both sides of the divide wondered why the world's first democratic republic and its largest could not find common ground for better relations.
When Bush and Singh crafted the agreement, many celebrated it as a channel for much closer relations on a wider range of issues. Unfortunately, political opponents in both countries see that as a problem, for a variety of reasons. In the US, many questioned the precedent of allowing India to coordinate its nuclear efforts with the US outside of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In India, people opposed to our relationship with Pakistan and the policies of the war on terror want little to do with the US, and believe that a cool distance from the US is the better policy -- especially the Communists.
Unfortunately, an attempt to address the concerns of the deal's critics here seems to have undermined the coalition in India. The requirement of engaging with the International Atomic Energy Agency has driven off the Hindu nationalists, which initially supported the deal. They see it as an intrusion on Indian sovereignty and have apparently joined the Communists in threatening to bring down the government if they try it. The only way around that is to hold an election on the issue, but apparently Singh doesn't feel sanguine enough about his national support to try that option, either.
It's too bad, but it looks as though the deal may wind up a dead letter. Not only would it have strengthened ties between the two nations and helped extend our reach in a critical region, it would have allowed India to pursue domestic nuclear power and taken some pressure off of the global petroleum markets. At some point, the US and India will have to try again to make this work.
Tyrannies And Information Access
Earler this week, the Institute for Public Dialogue proposed a new method for diplomacy called Public Talks. Nations in conflict would put "challenge documents" on the Internet for their populaces to read, and access to both sides would create enough public pressure for both nations to mediate their disputes. As I pointed out at Heading Right, it sounds great -- but since open societies never go to war with each other, their electorates already have access to government positions and much more.
Soldiers in Myanmar pounded down on dissent Friday by swiftly breaking up street gatherings of die-hard activists, occupying key Buddhist monasteries and cutting public Internet access. The moves raised concerns that a crackdown on civilians that has killed at least 10 people this week was set to intensify.
Troops fired warning shots in the air and hit protesters with clubs to break up a demonstration by about 2,000 people, witnesses said. Five of the protesters were seen being dragged into a truck and driven away. The clash in an area near the Sule Pagoda was the most serious of the several sporadic — though smaller — protests that were reported in Myanmar's biggest city.
By sealing Buddhist monasteries, the government seemed intent on clearing the streets of monks, who have spearheaded the demonstrations and are revered by most of their Myanmar countrymen. This could embolden troops to crack down harder on remaining civilian protesters.
Efforts to squelch the demonstrations appeared to be working. Daily protests drawing tens of thousands of people had grown into the stiffest challenge to the ruling military junta in two decades, a crisis that began Aug. 19 with rallies against a fuel price hike, then escalated dramatically when monks joined in.
Western diplomats in Burma (Myanmar) now believe the military has killed dozens of protestors. The junta that has run Burma for decades has completely ignored the international community, continuing its brutal crackdown on monks without any concern over global outrage over their methods. The non-violent nature of the protests has not moderated the government response to the demonstrations a whit.
This demonstrates the point I made in earlier posts about the nature of negotiations with tyrannies for real change. It applies to Burma, but also applies to Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, and the entire range of oppressive, top-down dictatorships and kleptocracies. These regimes exist in part by tight control of information. When negative information flows into or out of these nations, the dictators simply ensure that the channels for that information either stop transmitting unapproved communications -- or get shut down entirely.
The end of Internet access will damage the ability of the activists to get images and stories of brutality out to the world. However, that will probably make little difference, because the world hasn't exactly rushed to the aid of the Burmese. Oh, the world has issued their own version of "challenge documents" in condemning the actions of the military junta by condemning them in diplomatic terms for their crackdown on peaceful demonstrations -- but they have done little to put pressure on Burma to end it. The Washington Post's Edward Cody is shocked, shocked! to find Burma's neighbors acting in their own self-interest:
The United States and Europe have fiercely criticized Burma's military rulers for clinging to power during another round of pro-democracy protests, this time led by unarmed monks. But closer to home, the junta's Asian neighbors and trading partners -- China chief among them -- have walked a distinctly more cautious line, expressing distress over the violence and, after long hesitation, renewing calls for reconciliation and eventual transition to democracy.
The discretion by China and Thailand in particular reflects sensitivity over their own political systems. China has been a one-party dictatorship for more than half a century, and its Communist rulers have given no sign they are willing to change anytime soon. In Thailand, a military coup d'etat gave power a year ago to a uniformed junta with different policies but the same origin -- the barracks -- as the one putting down marchers in Rangoon. ...
As a result, neither government can afford to be seen applauding as the Burmese monks cry out for an end to dictatorship. Were they to join the United States and Europe in clearly urging Burma's generals to step aside for democratic elections, the question in Beijing and Bangkok would be obvious: Why is democracy not also the right path for China and Thailand?
Partly out of these concerns, the main regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, had for two weeks reacted to the crisis by citing its doctrine of noninterference in the affairs of member nations, which include Burma. Like China, ASEAN limited itself to deploring the violence and urging some kind of peaceful settlement.
And that explains why "challenge documents" and international debating societies like the UN and ASEAN matter little to tyrannies. Their associates in these organizations join to broaden economic ties and solidify their own political positions. They don't support liberty or democracy, because the members of these organizations aren't liberal democracies or open societies themselves. The only measure of concern from China on Burma has to do with whether the violence will disrupt their economic ties. With China's suppression of the monks of Tibet, they're the last nation who will act in defense of Buddhist monks agitating for freedom anywhere in Asia.
One might think that the overwhelming naiveté that afflicted 1930s Europe on handling dictatorships would have taught these lessons to the West permanently. Unfortunately, we continue to learn the hard way that shame doesn't work with tyrants and kleptocrats.
UPDATE: Tom Shipley asks in the comments, "You say this is not a good idea because tyrannies won't take part. First of all, you don't know that for sure. Second of all, what harm would come from trying?" It's not an unreasonable question, and it deserves an answer. The harm comes from people believing that it will actually result in change -- and the focus it shifts from that change to winning a silly debating contest. The point of diplomacy should be to free people from bondage, not essay contests that will have no impact on thugs and tyrants.
This process enables people to change action for rhetoric. We do that often enough already. In the case of Burma, even the testimony of diplomats attesting to dozens dead in the streets hasn't convinced China, Thailand, or India to cut off Burma and close down trade with them. Are we to believe that a strongly-worded letter from the State Department recapping what everyone already knows about the Burmese military dictatorship will exceed the power of those images?
Reliance on challenge documents just lets everyone off the hook. It seeks to embarrass governments that have no accountability to their people. Shame doesn't work in that setting, and for those who think that is the ultimate in diplomatic offensives, it keeps other solutions off the table. That's the harm.
Do China And India Hold The Key?
Both the US and UK plan on applying tough sanctions against the military junta running Burma (Myanmar), increasing the economic pressure on the regime in support of the protestors filling the streets. However, the West has had sanctions of varying strength against the junta for years, and it has not yet weakened their grip on power. Bronwen Maddox argues in the Times of London that Burma's two neighbors have to take action before any change can occur:
Burma will be a test of whether the heat of world attention can burn through the shield around a country which its leaders have gone to such lengths to isolate.
The call for more sanctions from Gordon Brown and George Bush means little. Britain and the US long ago imposed what they could on arms and trade. The effect of sanctions on a regime that does not care about its people’s wellbeing, let alone their happiness, is very slim.
Yet the symbolic effect is important. It will add to the worldwide clamour provoked by the crackdown, which must give the generals pause for thought. It is to be hoped, for a start, that it will put them off any thought of harming Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the pro-democracy movement. Any attempt to repeat their forceful crushing of the 1988 protest, in which they fired into peaceful crowds, will carry a much greater cost than it did then.
More practically, the outrage may also encourage China and India to put pressure directly on the regime. They are by far in the best place to do so, as neighbours and trading partners. Even if only out of self-interest, they would have good reason to try: they want access to its gas reserves, do not want turmoil, and would greatly prefer Burma’s peaceful economic development.
Without much doubt, pressure from both China and India would undermine the military junta. However, one has to wonder whether China wants to see a burgeoning democracy movement on its southern border. The uprising by the Buddhist monks in Burma has to seem uncomfortably akin to those in and out of Tibet. The last thing they'd want is to provide momentum for Buddhist uprisings.
India may be more fertile ground for action. Their border with Burma is roughly the same length as China's, but more importantly, India and Burma share the Bay of Bengal. They could exert some pressure on shipping in the waters on which Burma relies. However, since China serves as a rival for Burma's energy exports, India may not agree to sanctions in which China does not share.
Maddox also fails to close the sale in another, more basic sense. Sanctions alone have never collapsed a tyranny. Usually it just results in misery for the people who already suffer under the oppressive tyrants, a dynamic which the UN tried to avoid in Iraq by establishing the Oil-for-Food program. That turned into a massive corruption scandal that wound up enriching the tyrant that sanctions supposedly targeted. Even without the corruption, the sanctions lost popularity in just a couple of years, with some nations arguing that they killed 5,000 Iraqi children a month. The world has almost as little tenacity for sanctions as they do for military action.
The notion that worldwide condemnation would change the direction of the military junta seems mostly naive. It could have an affect on India, although they have their hands full with Pakistan and may not appreciate the extra load. Maddox places too much faith in the power of shame on governments who care not a jot about the approbation of their own population, let alone that of others.
Myanmar Military Shoot Protestors
The military junta in Myanmar has begun shooting the monks whose protests have filled the streets for over a week. According to a French diplomat, bodies and blood can be seen on the ground, but it still has not stopped the demonstrations:
The Myanmar military opened fire on crowds of protesters in Yangon, almost certainly causing casualties, a French diplomat in the city said Wednesday.
"Shots were fired by the security forces, first in the air, then at the demonstrators. We cannot know if many people were injured but we can be sure that blood was spilled," Emmanuel Mouriez, number two at the French embassy, told French radio RTL.
"We have several witness accounts describing people lying on the ground," he added.
The counteroffensive started with teargas and cracking heads. When that and a few dozen arrests did nothing, police started firing warning shots above the protestors' heads. That also apparently failed to move the monks off the street, and the police started aiming lower.
This will have one of two results. Either it will act as a Tiananmen Square moment, where the protests shut down from fear of the government, or it will serve as a death blow to the junta. Killing people openly for peaceful protests is the last resort of tyrants, and when it fails to work, the people find their power to overthrow the tyranny.
Early reports have the protests continuing. Let's hope the junta reads the writing on the wall.
UPDATE: Jon Swift is relieved that he doesn't have to care about this, gauging from the blogospheric reaction. Nice tweak, Jon. I don't see why this issue has to take a partisan bent here in the US, and I don't think it will.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unexpectedly resigned today, apparently tired of political battles over diplomacy and economics. The move stunned the political establishment in Tokyo, which had prepared for an Abe defense of a counterterrorism policy that had encountered some resistance:
Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he would resign in hope of making it easier to extend a naval mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, sending shockwaves through Japan.
The hawkish Abe, who took office a year ago promising to boost Japan's global security profile, has suffered low support rates and dwindling clout after his ruling camp suffered an election drubbing in July, but the announcement came as a bolt out of the blue.
"I determined today that I should resign," a weary-looking Abe told a news conference. "We should seek a continued mission to fight terrorism under a new prime minister."
This comes at a delicate moment for the US and Pacific Rim security. Abe has played a strong role in bringing North Korea to account for its nuclear program, and US and UN inspectors just arrived in Pyongyang to start shutting down Kim Jong-Il's nuclear plants. Instability in Japan could encourage intransigence from Kim and perhaps quell the enthusiasm for the denuclearization effort in Beijing -- if either or both believe a more malleable PM will take Abe's place.
Abe wanted to continue the Japanese Navy's support mission for NATO in Afghanistan, a position with only tepid support. His resignation will delay the decision, although it's likely Japan will continue his policies in the interim. Most of his problems came from domestic issues, such as a failure to contain scandals among his ministers and a dispute over pensions that threaten the fragile Japanese economy.
All of these problems will await the next PM. Abe's relatively short period of governance will not have left much resolved, and perhaps left an impression of despair on reaching resolutions at all. The US will have to hope that our enemies don't get the notion that they can stall now and hope for a better deal with the new government in Tokyo down the road.
Abe On The Way Out?
Japan's new prime minister may become the old PM in a short period of time. Shinzo Abe may have to resign after a drubbing at the polls this weekend and the loss of the upper chamber of Parliament:
Japan is set for a political crisis as the ruling coalition of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, looks to have suffered heavy losses in elections for the Upper House of parliament.
Exit polls suggest that the conservative ruling camp has lost its majority, which would leave Mr Abe still in government but with a seriously reduced ability to pass legislation, despite the coalition's two-thirds majority in the more powerful House of Representatives.
The prime minister's allies have said that he would not need to step down in the event of a loss of majority, but many commentators think it would make his resignation inevitable after only 10 months in office.
That could prove uncomfortable for the US. Abe has been a strong ally in several ways. He has remained firm against Kim Jong-Il even after South Korea had gone a little squishy at times. He also has given logistical support to the war in Afghanistan, with the Japanese navy assisting us in the Indian Ocean.
Interestingly, these policies do not appear to have caused his unpopularity. The Telegraph reports that widespread dissatisfaction on economic issues undermined his party at the polls. Japan has just turned around its economy, and now voters seem more concerned over issues of pension equality and consistent regional investment -- the kinds of issues that usually trip up leaders after a much longer period of time.
Abe insists he'll stay on, but he may find himself hobbled in the legislature to the point where he can no longer be effective. Who will take his place -- and will it complicate our efforts in North Korea and the Middle East?
Turkey Faces The Polls
Turkey faces a critical test today in its national elections, and the results could have wide implications for the entire region. The government has remained unsettled since the attempt to elect Abdullah Gul president and the threatened military coup that scotched Gul's rise. Now the Turks will recast its parliament, and the West waits to see whether Islamists can grab enough power to change the relentlessly secular government (via Michelle Malkin):
Turks voted for a new Parliament on Sunday in a contest viewed as pivotal in determining the balance between Islam and secularism in this nation of more than 70 million.
Many people cut short vacations to head home to cast their ballots, and lines at some polling stations were long as people voted early to avoid the summer midday heat. In Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city, traffic jammed some main roads and police officers stood guard outside the gates of schools serving as polling stations. ...
The new Parliament will face a host of challenges, including a presidential election, violence by Kurdish rebels and a growing divide over the role of Islam in society.
The election was called early to defuse a political crisis over the Islamic-oriented ruling party's choice of presidential candidate, and the three-month campaign was peaceful. Turkey has made big strides after the economic and political chaos of past decades, but some feared the vote could deepen divisions in the mostly Muslim nation.
The current government has provided a rather stable economic and political environment, although the latter began to erode after the attempt to put Gul in the presidency. Gul is a committed Islamist, who was seen as a threat to push religious dictates into law. His party also espouses Islamist values, but until Gul's candidacy, had been careful to make those more or less guiding principles rather than legislative goals.
Turkey has been a singular success in the region as a Muslim democracy. (In the South Pacific, Indonesia would be the other.) That success comes from the constant threat of a military coup; the army has taken control of the government on several occasions when it felt that the secular nature of modern Turkey was threatened. That threat keeps Islamists like Tayyip Erdogan from attempting to create an Iran-like state at the juncture of Europe and Asia.
Erdogan's party will likely win the elections today. The question will be how large their share of Parliament will be, and therefore how emboldened they may feel to push for deeper changes. The nomination of Gul suggests that they may feel strong enough to push the military, and these elections could provide some substantiation for their confidence.
The outcome could have tremendous repercussions for the region, especially Iraq. The PKK has created a lot of tension near the Iraqi border, and the Erdogan government has threatened to send the military into Iraq to target the PKK bases from which the Turks claim the attacks originate. That kind of military incursion could pit the US against Turkey and certainly would enrage the Kurds on both sides of the border, leading to an eruption of fighting in the region. We can't afford to have Turkey turn against us, not when we have our hands full with Iraq, Iran, and Syria. We can hardly afford to lose our best success in the Kurdish north, either.
The count should be completed shortly. We shall see what direction Turkey has chosen.
UPDATE: Erdogan has won an impressive victory today:
Turkey's Islamic-rooted ruling party won parliamentary elections Sunday, taking at least 331 of 550 seats despite warnings from the secular opposition that the government was a threat to secular traditions.
The state-run Anatolia news agency said the ruling Justice and Development Party had won with 85 percent of the votes counted. Two secular parties, the Republican People's Party and the Nationalist Action Party, won 124 seats and 76 seats respectively, Anatolia said. Independents won 19 seats.
The Justice and Development Party now can form a single-party government, with a clear mandate for continuing its current policies. That may not be very good news for the US, Iraq, or Europe, but it isn't all that bad, either. At least so far, Erdogan and his party has resisted the urge to impose Islamist policies on Turkey, out of fear of the military response. These elections, while a clear victory, do not eliminate that boundary.
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