Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The bad guys have rules of engagement too

An emerging theory on the Mogadishu bombing via Garowe Online (Puntland) --

MOGADISHU, Somalia - The man who killed more than 300 people with a truck bomb in the center of Mogadishu on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose hometown was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, officials in Somalia have said. The death toll from the bombing now stands at more than 300, making it one of the most devastating terrorist attacks anywhere in the world for many years. On Tuesday remains of victims were still being brought out of rubble spread over hundreds of square meters. Investigators believe the attack on Saturday may in part have been motivated by a desire for revenge for the botched US-led operation in August. Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack but a member of the cell detained by security forces has told interrogators the group was responsible, one security official told the Guardian. Following the raid, in which three children aged between six and 10 died, local tribal elders called for revenge against the Somali government and its allies.

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way

Do the Telegraph's Brexit true-believers (and its enthusiastic #Irexit retweeters) have any idea that the leading edge of Brexit panic has clearly arrived at the paper? The webpage currently up for Wednesday readers features a map of northwest Europe that is somehow trying to make a point about Britain's reverse Operation Sea Lion of jobs but does so by leaving out Ireland, and then an adjacent story which admits that despite all the bluster about imaginative technical solutions and an invisible border with Northern Ireland that only the EU wants to impose -- now they learn that the plan is to militarize the border in a no-deal scenario!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Drones not helpful

Reuters report on the Somalia bombing:

Some of those seriously injured in Saturday's bombing were moved by ambulance to the airport on Monday morning to be flown to Turkey for further treatment, Nur added. Workers unloaded boxes of medicine and other medical supplies from a Turkish military plane parked on the tarmac, while Turkish medical teams attended to the cases of injuries moved from the hospital for evacuation.

Why is it left to Turkey to give help when the USA has scaled up military involvement in Somalia?

Sunday, October 15, 2017


New York Times in June --

The United States military said on Sunday that it had carried out a drone strike in southern Somalia against the Shabab, the Qaeda-linked insurgent group — apparently the first such strike since President Trump relaxed targeting rules for counterterrorism operations in that country in March. The strike, which the military said targeted a command and logistics portion of a Shabab camp, came two and a half months after Mr. Trump cleared the way for offensive strikes in Somalia, a chaotic nation in the Horn of Africa, without a specific self-defense rationale.

Reuters  --

More than 200 people were killed by twin bomb blasts that struck busy junctions in the heart of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, officials said on Sunday, marking the deadliest attacks since an Islamist insurgency began in 2007.

[The Puntland news outlet Garowe Online is especially worth reading on the atrocity]

The point is that the bomb attack is an indictment of the strategy of raising the level of force against these entrenched insurgencies taking on weak, externally half-backed governments. Trump thinks he's getting tough against al-Shabaab, so they import Baghdad tactics in response. 

Phone a friend

Saudi Press Agency reports on King Salman -- Trump phone call:

The king praised the leadership role of the new US administration, which recognizes the magnitude of these challenges and threats, stressing the need for concerted efforts and taking firm positions on terrorism and extremism and its first sponsor, Iran. President Trump expressed his appreciation for the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and his support and stressed the keenness of the United States of America to work with its allies to achieve world security and peace.

Pedant's Corner

By the time Hurricane Ophelia hits Ireland, it won't be Hurricane Ophelia. It will be a hurricane-force post-tropical cyclone. Note also that the arrival of Ophelia will pose another conundrum for the idiocy of named winter storms in Britain and Ireland, as Ophelia now races to land with a potential Brian coming in across the north Atlantic. 

Myanmar and South Sudan

New York Times on the more-than-usual degree of diplomatic hypocrisy about the Rohingya --

“Western donors and the U.N. have not always been helpful,” said Charles Petrie, a former United Nations resident coordinator in Myanmar, noting “the refusal for a long time to let go of the fairy-tale view of Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi coming to power and the corresponding refusal to push back on some of her dogmatic positions.” Mr. Petrie drew comparisons with South Sudan, where the world was “so taken by the narrative of a new country emerging from northern enslavement that the signs of the emerging violence were ignored.”

Both cases show that the tendency to analyze human rights catastrophes in terms of places that the USA has invaded only gets you so far. South Sudan and Myanmar were pet causes of celebrities, pundits, and governments for 10-15 years before their current, entirely foreseeable disasters. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Embracing sectarianism

The single worst portion of Donald Trump's atrocious Iran strategy --

Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy. • In doing so, the United States has neglected Iran’s steady expansion of proxy forces and terrorist networks aimed at keeping its neighbors weak and unstable in hopes of dominating the greater Middle East. Recently, the Iranian regime has accelerated the seeding of these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria. • The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes.

That's 3 decades of harsh lessons being reset to zero, from the emergence of extremist groups in Afghanistan in the 1980s to the widening scope of related groups in the 1990s, to 9/11, Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS, and whatever else is now brewing in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pence flies to Dublin to be outraged by Che stamp

The Wall Street Journal weighs on the Irish Che Guevara stamp --

The struggle for Irish independence was about equality under the law, property rights and political self-determination. Guevara represents none of that. He hailed from an upper-middle-class family and became a Marxist revolutionary who murdered an unknown number of political opponents during and after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Note that their concern about Che seems to be not with the murders (since it would require a very sanitized view of the Irish struggle to make that a distinction) but that he was a class traitor and not primarily a nationalist. There might be a little anxiety there that for all the apparent extinction of conventional socialist political parties, something might be rumbling underneath.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Bad Salutes

There are about 10 different things wrong with Mike Pence's idiotic and expensive stunt of flying across the country and back with the express purpose of taking offence, but number 10 on that list would be the hand-on-heart pose during the playing of the National Anthem.

Yes, there's a specification in the US code to do this, but it's unenforceable and it was only formalized in 1942. Which brings us to the quenelle, the arm gesture associated with French comedian and provocateur Dieudonné (seen here also being illustrated by Tony Parker).

Now, the quenelle is controversial because Dieudonné has not gone to much effort to hide the fact that it's an arm being prevented from doing a Nazi salute (which is why the other arm is sometimes placed over the arm with outstretched hand).

And that hand-on-heart thing: it was formalized because the previous alternative was a salute that looked too fascist from the perspective of 1942, but they wanted something like it: the Sieg Heil position, retracted. So the pose descended from a fascist salute is respectful, but kneeling during the anthem is not. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Hipster Nukes

A Reuters report makes a strong bid for most ridiculous use ever of generational social typology:

Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was made an alternate member of the politburo - the top decision-making body over which Kim Jong Un presides. Alongside Kim Jong Un himself, the promotion makes Kim Yo Jong the only other millennial member of the influential body.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Quote of the Day

Holman Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal --

Mass shootings typically involve a substantial measure of planning and preparation. Stephen Paddock walked into a luxury hotel—correction, he walked into a hotel-casino, where it’s part of the business model to know and watch customers carefully—with 23 weapons, ammo and related equipment.

The column makes the above part of an argument against gun control as the lead option in response to the Las Vegas atrocity, but independently of position on that issue, it makes good points along the way. The casino knew a lot about the finances of the person with a lot of mysterious cases in his room.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

From the Azores to Catalonia

Something on which the world seems to need an occasional reminder: While George Bush and Tony Blair (rightly) attract most of the opprobrium over the Iraq war, the final sign-off decision on that war was endorsed by 4 people at the March 2003 Azores summit: Bush, Blair, Jose Maria Aznar (then Prime Minister of Spain) and Jose Manuel Barroso (then PM of Portugal). Aznar and Barroso continued with gilded careers in government and then the private sector -- recently, with controversy for Barroso's stint at Goldman Sachs.

Anyway, Aznar was PM as leader of the Partido Popular. In 2004, the PP lost the general election in the wake of the Madrid train bombing atrocities and the clumsy attempt of the government to blame them on ETA. Subsequent Socialist rule was ended by discontent over the debt crisis in 2011, and the PP has been in power since led by Mariano Rajoy -- who was in Washington DC last week and got Donald Trump's statement against the referendum. It's that PP government that is directing the crackdown on the referendum in Catalonia today.

The point is that the cartoonish nature of American conservatism (and the caricature of Blair as a one-off poodle to it) seems to have obscured what was happening in European conservatism: it was becoming more self-serving, opportunistic, and reactionary. And that's the Europe of Brexit, Poland, Orban, and rubber bullets being used on voters today.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

News dump of the day

Reuters --

A Russian general killed in Syria had been seconded to the Syrian government as a military commander, Russia’s military chief of staff said on Wednesday.

So it's not just Russian support to the Assad regime; Russian officers are commanding Syrian military divisions. Which means that, among other things, if the Syrian military is carrying out war crimes ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Another German election map

There's a lot of trite German election analysis noting the role that the former east Germany played in driving the AfD vote. Other than fuzzy invoking of the Communist legacy and the point that this is a region of low in-migration, there's not much explanation as to why.

But the migration point gets us part of the way there. It's presented as an ostensible paradox: why does the region with low immigration vote for the anti-migrant party?

The answer is that migration is a two way process. It's not just that eastern Germany is a region of low immigration. Since 1990 it's been a region of massive out-migration, with major demographic effects on who now lives there. So those election maps are telling you about characteristics as much a region.

For one thing, eastern Germany has a skewed ratio of males, and non-working males at that. Any shade of blue in the chart is where the ratio female: male is less than 95 percent, and it's often far less than that. Migration affects quality of life even when it's people leaving than arriving. And people vote on that basis. So a strange conclusion: yes, the election was partly about Mrs Merkel's decision to let in 1 million Syrian migrants. But it's also about decisions nearly 3 decades ago that gave freedom of movement to eastern Germany.  

Quote of the Day

Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times --

The FDP is probably the only Eurosceptic party in Europe that does not recognise itself as Eurosceptic.

This is one thing that has gotten lost in the election analysis. The AfD nutters are in opposition. The Free Democrats, representing a potent strain of centre-right Euroscepticism, will be in government. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Some things get worse

If the 1988 Saddam chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja had happened in the last few years, we can be assured that there would be a large social-media enabled denial industry at work -- denying that it happened, or denying that Saddam did it. Unfortunately, it's Syrians who have to live with that final insult to the dead. At least the Kurds can say that the cards eventually fell in their favour. 

So much winning we got tired of them winning

With "the Left" (however defined) headed for another extended period out of power in a major European country, the twilight zone which holds two of its former vote-magnets -- Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair -- looks odder by the year. Were they really that bad?

Photo: Hello. By the way, in the same Hello picture batch as this one from 2002, Donald Trump is pictured crowning a Miss Universe. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times, Simon Kuper on lessons from the Brexit experiment:

Negotiations get harder when you lose your counter-party's trust. That's what Greece discovered during its negotiations with the EU, says Greek economic analyst Paris Mantzavras of Pantelakis Securities. Mocking the other side in public — as Greece's Yanis Varoufakis did, and as British politicians now do regularly — is therefore a losing tactic.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Was he listening?

Petra (Jordan News Agency) version of the Trump -- King Abdullah talks at the UN, which is much more expansive than the White House version:

The talks stressed the need to intensify efforts aimed at moving the peace process forward through re-launching serious and effective negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In this context, His Majesty emphasized the importance of the U.S. role in urging the Israelis to seriously consider such efforts. His Majesty warned that the failure to reach a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue based on the two-state solution undermines security and stability in the region and the whole world and fuels violence and extremism in the Middle East.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Migrant ex-Chancellor

Nigel Lawson championing the cause of Boris and Brexit in the Financial Times --

That is just as well, as a trade deal is in the gift of the EU, and there is no way they will offer us anything but a thoroughly bad deal (if that). That is not because they are anti-British. It is because there is widespread dissatisfaction with EU membership throughout Europe, not least in France, where I now live.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

No one is talking about leaving the gold standard

Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph (and yes, it's a really bonkers Sunday Telegraph edition) --

How many times, for example, have you heard it claimed that the Great Depression came to an end because of rearmament and war? It’s simply not true: Snowden and Chamberlain responded to the crash with sharp spending cuts and, in consequence, the 1930s saw some of the strongest growth in British history.

That's a laughable misreading of the UK's experience during the Great Depression, in which 1931 spending cuts made it worse, but the heterodox policies of devaluing the pound and imposing imperial preference tariffs helped. An additional irony is that Hannan presents his interpretation of the Great Depression within a context of claiming that Bastiat's broken-windows fallacy disproves any argument for the stimulus effect of government spending. 

Opaque Foundations

Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons fulminate about "soft Brexit" in the Telegraph --

Why do we have a large deficit on our EU trade, but a sizeable surplus on our trade outside the EU?

While to them, that's an argument to switch towards non-EU trade, there's a problem. Because trade with the EU is allowing the UK to import things that make it more competitive in trade with non-EU countries!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The needs of the few

A boarded up once-busy commercial street in Hebron in the West Bank.

Although in the middle of a large Palestinian city, this street cannot be used by Palestinians. The centre of the city is frozen in what was meant to be a temporary arrangement from the 1990s.

It might be a worth a stop on the itinerary of the next Trump envoy to the Israel-Palestine peace process.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bad timing

Maureen Dowd has a long New York Times profile of Leo Varadkar and picks an unfortunate anecdote --

“I don’t care whether his partner is man, woman or vegetable,” declared George Hook, a radio host, after Varadkar’s visit to Canada.

The fact that Hook went from person to vegetable as the hypothetical partner indicates that maybe he does care. But anyway, this is the weekend that Irish social media is dominated by Hook's latest unfortunate outburst, which as with such characters is merely a story because he went ever so slightly further than he normally does (in this case, supposed personal responsibility of victims for rape).

The magic touch

Reuters on a rapid relapse after what had seemed like a conciliatory phone call between Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman --

Qatar’s state news agency QNA said the phone call was based on coordination of U.S. President Donald Trump who had earlier talked with Sheikh Tamim. Trump on Thursday said he would be willing to step in and mediate the worst dispute in decades among the U.S.-allied Arab states and Qatar, and said he thinks a deal could come quickly. Both Qatar’s Emir and the Saudi Crown Prince “stressed the need to resolve the crisis by sitting down to the dialogue table to ensure the unity and stability of the GCC countries,” QNA reported. Sheikh Tamim welcomed the proposal of Prince Mohammed during the call “to assign two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of the states,” QNA said. Saudi Arabia later issued a second statement citing an unnamed official at the ministry of the foreign affairs denying the QNA report. “What was published on the Qatar News Agency is a continuation of the distortion of the Qatari authority of the facts,” SPA reported citing the Saudi official.

Although the Saudis cited the issue of who requested the phone call as the distortion, the events suggest that instead they saw the Trump initiative as forced, and then looked for a way out. The dispute with Qatar flared up after Trump's attendance at the Riyadh summit, which the Saudis apparently took as a signal that they had the go-ahead from him to isolate Qatar. This is one foreign policy mess that could last a long time. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Starving people can't revolt

Wall Street Journal on North Korea options:

Withholding food aid to bring down a government would normally be unethical, but North Korea is an exceptional case. Past aid proved to be a mistake as it perpetuated one of the most evil regimes in history. The U.N. says some 40% of the population is undernourished, even as the Kims continue to spend huge sums on weapons. Ending the North Korean state as quickly as possible is the most humane course.

Monday, September 04, 2017


The seemingly endless Syrian civil war is sometimes presented as a backhanded tribute to the resilience of the al-Assad regime. But the precedent for regime survival in the wake of the Arab Spring through the use of force was set not by Bashar al-Assad, but by Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Now of course Saleh is not officially in power in Yemen these days, instead in an awkward coalition with the Houthi-led de facto government in Sanaa while the internationally recognized government in Aden relies on external military force for its authority. Yet the fact that Saleh is still a force in Yemen at all is astounding, given that he was seriously injured in a mysterious explosion at his palace in June 2011, and formally (if reluctantly) resigned at the end of that year, with the circumstances of his return from Riyadh to Yemen never fully explained.

Anyway, he has remained a key power broker since then, with the current internal crisis in the governing alliance triggered by concerns that he could be reinstalled as President as a way to break the military stalemate that has been a disaster for the Yemeni people. The photo above shows a large pro-Saleh demonstration held in Sanaa last week.

In terms of timeline, the Al-Assads were barely getting started on their war when Saleh, already dealing with insurrection for years, was nearly killed in that June 2011 attack. And he's done it with no obvious source of external support. The lesson is that for leaders ruthless and calculating enough, it's very very difficult to remove them, even in dire circumstances for their country.

Photo via Al Arabiya.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

It was the same year as Katrina