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Lets's talk about democracy
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Thursday, 26 January 2006
Hamas, Georgia and the PLA
Topic: Bush Administraiton

Yesterday, the Palestinians held a peaceful democratic election. The polls were secure, there were plenty of ballots, the elections staff were well trained, there were no long lines with frustrated voters storming off because they weren't able to vote and there were no shenanigans. It was pretty much everything our elections in 2004 weren't. The Palestinian people should be extremely proud of themselves; they pulled off a fair and free election in the Middle East, while under occupation! I can't see any way that Israel and the U.S. can get around having to deal with this new Hamas led government, the voter turnout was an astounding 78%, even larger than the Iraqi turnout, they have a huge mandate. The Palestinian people have created their own facts on the ground and Israel and the U.S. have to adjust to the new realities of the situation.

Today W. greeted this great achievement with a cold douche. He said you can't be a "partner for peace" and have an armed wing. Of course, this problem wasn't an impediment to the Northern Ireland peace process; all the sides involved then had their own militias. And, lest we forget, everyone in the new Iraqi government has their own armed wings, so it would be pretty hypocritical to signal Hamas out for special attention. If Muktada al-Sadr can be in the government and hold on to his Medhi Army---which has killed scores of US troops----it's a little difficult to make the case Hamas is any worse and they're certainly a lot more peaceful these day than the Badr brigade is. They've scrupulously adhered to the ceasefire they signed on to last year with Israel and even an IDF report pointed out that Palestinian violence has decreased by 60% in the past year and it wasn't the Israeli "wall of shame" that was responsible, it was the Palestinians themselves.

You could just see in the media were really hoping that Fatah could pull this off, but it seemed pretty clear, even to a novice observer like me, that Hamas was going to win. All I read and heard in the news was that a lot of people were really frustrated with the incompetence and corruption of Fatah and you could just see, if you were looking, that there was this universal desire for a big change. (And it didn't help that Fatah ran a lousy campaign. Splitting their votes by running multiple candidates in some places really wasn't such a hot idea.) Beyond the corruption and everything else, there was also a total stagnation in the "peace process" under Abu Mazen because Sharon decided very early on that he had no partner on the other side. Everything that has been happening over the past year in the "peace process," from the massive settlement building around East Jerusalem, to the "Apartheid wall" to the Gaza pullout, has been entirely Israel acting unilaterally. Maybe, as Ambassador Afif Safieh pointed out on Radio Times this morning, it will take extremists like Hamas to get the ball rolling again with the Israelis. Just like only Nixon could go to China and only the "Butcher of Beirut" could pull out of Gaza, perhaps Hamas will surprise everyone and become the great peace makers.

Or, the Israelis will overreact and elect Likud with Bibi Netanyahu at the head and we'll go back to square one. In any case, despite the media hoping against hope that Abu Mazen will be around to rein in Hamas, I wouldn't bet on it. If he's not gone within a week, I'd be surprised. He blew it for Fatah and he personally is at the end of his rope. A Fatah spokesman told the World back on the 18th that Abbas was tired and extremely depressed and he didn't expect Abbas to last eight months. Even Rafiq Husseini, his chief of staff, conceded that "He thinks this that this one year in office has been the heaviest of his life, which has been very traumatic, very difficult. Three more years will be almost as difficult. Therefore, I don't think any human being---super or not super---would be able to manage anymore." [Inquirer]

Georgia on my mind:

A big story that's being totally ignored today is the power crisis in Georgia. The Georgian president Mikail Saakashvili cut his visit short to the economic conference in Davos to go back to Tbilisi to deal with his country's energy problem caused by two simultaneous bombings of pipelines and power lines on the Russian side of the border. The total lack of power coming from Russia (without love) has sent a modernizing, western leaning democracy back into the middle ages. The NYT today basically buys the Russian line, hook-line-and-sinker, that it was the Chechans or some other group bend on disrupting Russian's energy infrastructure. I don't believe it for a second: there's no doubt in mind that Vlad "the Impaler" Putin is taking advantage of his leverage over the US right now vis the Iran nuke issue, to get a little payback from that young punk Saakashvili.

It's not like the Russians haven't been threatening even Western Europe over the past month with power cut-offs similar to what they did in Ukraine, if they don't play ball with Vlad. This is a very worrying development which seems to be being totally ignored by the American media. Saakashvili himself has no doubt about who is behind this and he went on at length with the BBC this morning about it. The Russians themselves haven't exactly been going out of their way to deny it. Their statements about the Georgians being hysterical and the "bacchanal" comment (i.e. they're a bunch of drunks) is leading me to the conclusion they're actually enjoying having 5 million Georgian's potentially freeze to death. It's not like they care about their own people freezing to death in the streets of Moscow, so why would they care about a country that's turned it back on them. Keep in mind that we have troops in Georgia and W. has touted the Crimson Revolution in Georgia as a great achievement of his administration's commitment to democracy. The silence coming from Washington on this issue is kind of puzzling. Well, I guess it is unless you factor in the fact that we absolutely no policy alternatives to the Iran nuclear crisis without the Russian's help. We'll see how committed W. is to democracy if he decided to leave Georgia to the tender mercies of big bad Vlad, that thug in a business suit.

On to China:

Hell, we're even giving the Chinese a big pass because we've got no clue on how to deal with North Korea unless they help us out. China could invade Taiwan tomorrow and it might take us a while to get around to doing anything about it. I'm digressing somewhat, but my former neo-con roommate, who is a big time Asia policy wonk, came up with a scenario whereby the Chinese military landed a small force of troops inside Taiwan and created a bridgehead by occupying a city and in so doing left us with a major problem in how to deal with it.

The military alternatives to a situation like this would be almost nil; we couldn't exactly send in the 7th fleet to take them out, so what would we do? Blockade Taiwan so they couldn't resupply? Shoot down their transport planes? Let the Taiwanese military deal with it and let it turn into an all out war when the Chinese sent more troops into reinforce them?

Right now, they might actually be able to get away with it because we got nothing. According to a pentagon report released Tuesday, the defense department risks "breaking the force" by sending the army on repeated combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite Rummy's dismissal of the report saying that these conclusions are "either out of date or misdirected," (Who the hell even listens to this guy anymore?) we've got 26,000 Marines bogged down in Anbar province and presumably we'd need them in any confrontation with China over Taiwan, so I don't see where more Marines are going to come from. We don't have any Army to call on either.

The author of the pentagon study, Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, writes "Unless the Army is willing to stress its rotation base further, it effectively has no strategic reserve." I don't know about you, but that's kind of scary. According to the Department of Defense we presently have 76,854 troops in East Asia and the Pacific, but not all of them are combat troops and even if they were that's not a big enough force to deal with the PLA.


I'm not saying we're going to war with China, I'm just throwing stuff out there. Basically, beyond what we've got in Iraq, we've got nada, is all I'm saying. To most people this might be a major problem but not to Rummy, he's got a victory strategy.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:11 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 28 January 2006 12:14 PM EST
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