Remind me why we’re in Afghanistan again

From the September 10 resignation letter of Matthew Hoh, the US State Department’s Senior Civilian Representative for Zabul Province in Afghanistan:

I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc.

Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries.

Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate and increase our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.

With friends like these

If you’ve opened a British newspaper over the past few days, then you’ll already know that despite the warm signals from capitals around Europe towards the idea of David Miliband becoming, in effect, Europe’s foreign minister, Miliband himself has rebuffed the idea forcefully – insisting instead that it’s his old boss, Tony Blair, who should be heading off to a new job in Brussels. As Miliband put it on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday,

“I think it’s very important for Europe that it has a strong figure in that role [of President]. I think it would be very good for Britain, as well as very good for Europe … We need someone who can do more than simply run through the agenda. We need someone who, when he or she lands in Beijing or Washington or Moscow, the traffic does need to stop, the talks do need to begin at a very, very high level.”

How comforting to know that even if William Hague is proclaiming his strident opposition to the idea of a Brit as President of Europe (rather to the bemusement of other member states), and even if the media suspect that Gordon Brown’s support for TB is only lukewarm, well, at least the old loyalties persist among the Blairite tribe.

Or do they? George Parker and Jean Eaglesham offer a delicious conspiracy theory in the FT this morning  – namely, that while TB’s low profile in the race for the top job is the result of “his experience that frontrunners seldom win the Brussels prize”, David Miliband’s vocal support is deliberately designed to undermine Blair’s strategy: in other words, that

Mr Miliband has raised Mr Blair’s profile in the hope it will dash his chances, clearing the way for the foreign secretary to ease himself into a new role as EU foreign policy chief.

Parker and Eaglesham go on to admit that both Miliband’s and Blair’s teams say this notion is “preposterous”, which it probably is. But we can still delight in the terms in which Blair’s team chose to laugh the idea off:

“It’s just David’s judgment that the time is right to push Blair as the right person for a big job,” said one ally of Mr Blair.

“He may have been a bit excitable.”

Osborne to wise up? The city should sod off.

The top headline on Ft.com this morning was: “City tells Osborne to ‘wise up’ on bonuses – backlash after call for emergency controls on pay-outs.”

Wise up? Or what? Do they think they can simply slap the Chancellor-elect around and he’ll obediently come to heel? Unfortunately, they probably do. After all, it worked with Boris Johnson. He commissioned a report (read it here – it’s thin) from management consultants, Booz and Co, on how to insulate London’s financial sector from “UK national government and EU policy.”

Key conclusion: the Mayor should set up a lobbying team, funded by the taxpayer, to “understand the needs of business, develop a prioritised lobbying agenda to address these needs and leverage existing work and resources on these issues to act on this.” In other words – ensure the Mayor doesn’t make a move without getting permission from the City first.

The Conservative Party is, I think , approaching a defining moment. Is it going to govern as a pro-market or a pro-business party? Obviously, incumbent economic interests would prefer the former latter. Voters, I suspect, will take a different view…

Piracy is good for fish

Last December I wrote about a Somali pirate’s justification for his choice of career. A former fisherman, like many of his countrymen, his main gripe was with foreign fishing vessels which overfished Somali waters and bulldozed local boats out of their way.

Well it turns out that now, thanks to the pirates,  fish stocks off the Somali coast have recovered. The greedy foreign piscatorial plunderers have been scared off, leaving locals to haul in bumper catches. Now that his justification for piracy has been removed, I wonder if our pirate friend will go back to his fishing rod.

Update: On the other side of Africa, Guinea-Bissau is clamping down on foreign fishing vessels too, but so far in a less swashbuckling way than the Somalis. The tiny West African country’s government has had a trawlerful of Spanish fishermen in custody for the last two weeks (which given the flimsy state of Guinea-Bissau’s navy and its complete absence of prisons is no mean feat). Apparently, the Spaniards are “losing patience.” Should have kept to your quotas then, shouldn’t you?

On the web: 1989 anniversary, climate predictions, and India’s relations…

- With the upcoming anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Timothy Garton Ash surveys the current debate about the causes behind those dramatic events twenty years ago. Commenting on the role of the superpowers, he suggests: “They made history by what they did not do… both giants stood back partly because they underestimated the significance of things being done by little people in little countries.” Adam Roberts, meanwhile, explores how civil resistance has fared around the world since 1989. When confronted with the reality of power politics, he suggests, choosing the right time for action from the bottom-up is critical.

– Looking to Copenhagen, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita propounds the predictive capacity of game theory and rational choice theory to explore what the climate negotiations might hold. Der Spiegel, meanwhile, has a report about the Danish island of Samso – at the forefront of the country’s green revolution.

– Elsewhere, Robert Skidelsky assesses the current debate raging between New Keynesian and New Classical economists over the financial crisis. Fully grasping the “implications of irreducible uncertainty for economic theory”, he suggests, would lead to a better understanding.

– Finally, Mihir Bose explores the contemporary state of Anglo-Indian relations, suggesting that fragility, rooted in history, is still very apparent. And with Indian and Chinese officials set to meet, Kapil Komireddi argues that rivalry between the two rising superpowers will come increasingly to define the 21st century.

The Russo-Georgian War…once more, with feeling

Here in Tbilisi, where I’ve come to attend a friend’s wedding, the city is filled with nervousness and excitement. A few days ago, the police sealed off Freedom Square and Rustavali Avenue, in the heart of the city, then an official government calvacade arrived, and president Saakashvili hurried to a podium and told the gathered crowds that the country was being occupied by enemy forces. “The forces of occupation are at our gates!” he cried.

Bemused tourists were sent scurrying back to their hotels to find out what the hell was going on, and if they should get the next plane out of there. Eventually, they discovered it wasn’t actually president Saakashvili, it was the Hollywood actor Andy Garcia, playing him in new film. And the cheering crowd at Liberty Square turned up, not to cheer Saakashvili, but simply to see a famous Hollywood actor.

Watch the scene here – I love the way the crowd cheer wildly when he says ‘the forces of occupation are at our gates’. Woo hoo! Andy Garcia!
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Yes, barely has the dust settled on the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, barely has the EU released its official report into the war (which said that Georgia started it), than Hollywood has seen fit to produce its own version of events. The director is Remmy Harlin, whose previous work includes Die Hard 2.

He says: “I’ve waited a long time to find something with substance and reality. Even if only a few people see this and feel its impact and its anti-war message, then I will have done something important be proud of it.”

The film has financing from the Georgian National Film Board, and has the solid support of real president Misha Saakashvili, who has lent the crew his presidential palace to shoot key scenes, as well as some Georgian military equipment. Alas, though, the crew has had to turn to outside help – Russians – for their expertise in pyrotechnics. “So here we go again”, as one crew member put it. “Just like during the real war, the Russians are again the ones who are doing the explosions part.”

The Georgians I’ve spoken to are fairly bemused by the situation – Saakashvili is very unpopular here, and most people think, quite rightly, that the war was a disaster for Georgia. The country is now smaller, poorer, less attractive for foreign investors and far less likely to join NATO or the EU. Misha took a gamble by invading South Ossetia, and lost badly.

And you might think, if ever there was a poor choice for an anti-war hero, it is Saakashvili, who according to the EU kicked the war off in the first place, only to retreat into a position of craven victimhood when his army showed itself incapable of resisting the Red Army for more than a day. He’s not anti-war, he’s just very bad at it.

But what’s that to Hollywood? Some Georgians suspect there is US government money behind the project (there is US government money behind everything in Georgia), but I can’t find proof of that. But it would be a delicious irony if so: when Saakashvili most needed help, the US failed to send troops. Now, a few months later, they send…Andy Garcia. In Hollywood, there is always a happy ending.

I should add, by the way, that the Russians are just as dumb in their cinematic propaganda. The state-owned Channel One produced its own TV film of the war last year, just a few weeks after the war, and the Kremlin has since tried to sign up Emir Kusturica, the Serbian film-maker, to make an international film of the war. He refused, sensible fellow.

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