Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kuwait and Iraq

There's a hint of the complexity of identity in the Arab and Islamic world with the seemingly incidental detail that 8 of the 27 victims of the bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City were flown to Najaf, Iraq, for burial. These identities move across national boundaries, especially at times of crisis. It's part of what makes analyzing the region in terms of the role of states so difficult.

Eurogroup asterisk

Statement from former French Minister of Finance (including during the botched 2010 Greece bailout) and current Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde  --

I welcome the statements of the Eurogroup and the European Central Bank to make full use of all available instruments to preserve the integrity and stability of the euro area.

She presumably refers to this statement --

Euro area Member States intend to make full use of all the instruments available to preserve the integrity and stability of the euro area.

But: that's not a Eurogroup statement. It's a statement issued by ministers of finance from the 18 EU countries that use the Euro, excluding Greece. Indeed, the statement is titled as a "ministerial" statement, in tacit recognition of the irregular status of that meeting.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Don't forget their home base

There's understandable focus in the news today on what look like ISIS-inspired attacks in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait.

But the death toll from those combined attacks is swamped by the toll from a single ISIS attack on the previously "liberated" Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani (145 dead). The scale of the assault appears partly due to the Kurdish militias having become overstretched during a successful southward assault towards Raqqa.

Among the bizarre things about the current "debate" over what to do about ISIS is that direct ground intervention against them, or their symbiotic Assad regime counterparts, is off the table. Meanwhile, communities and countries that already have a lot on their plates are left to grieve and cope with the consequences.

Photo: a grieving Kurdish family on the Turkish side of the border. REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

800 years and counting

In the same-sex marriage dissenting decision today of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, one paragraph opens as follows --

Both of the Constitution’s Due Process Clauses reach back to Magna Carta.

What then follows is the preposterous logic of "strict constructionism" on full display: constitutional articles have to be interpreted in their intended meaning at the time, and at the time what they really meant was based on what somebody in England wrote, in 1215.

Also, it will be commented on by everyone, but the most laughable of points in Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent is --

Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.

He's oblivious to the role that he, and four other judges, played in selecting George W. Bush as US president in 2000, and the enormous consequences for Americans -- and Iraqis! -- that flowed from that.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Not like that bold boy, Mr Varoufakis

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde with several key Eurozone finance ministers but especially Ireland's Michael Noonan.

Photo: European Council photo service.

New meaning of in the red

Mr Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Minister for Finance, seemingly proudly holding up what looks to be an entirely red font and mostly strikethrough version of whatever economic plan Greece is proposing to the Eurozone finance ministers.

Photo: European Council photo service.

UPDATE: The document appears to be an evolved version of an earlier leak and it's worth reading the overall take of former IMF staffer Peter Doyle.

States' wrongs

From US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting (albeit entertaining) rant in the court's decision today upholding the tax credits in "Obamacare / SCOTUScare" --

The Court predicts that making tax credits unavailable in States that do not set up their own Exchanges would cause disastrous economic consequences there. If that is so, however, wouldn’t one expect States to react by setting up their own Exchanges?

Because of course American history is full of example of the states taking quick action to rectify problems affecting people, especially low income people, in their territory!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

US hostage policy meets Parkinson's Law

The White House has looked at current US policy regarding hostages and has seen what everyone else sees, which is dead hostages.

So there's a new policy. That policy involves the creation of:

Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell 
Hostage Response Group 
Intelligence Community Issue Manager for Hostage Affairs
Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs 
Family Engagement Coordinator

And there'll also be grant program to fund NGO support to hostage families.

With a real push, all that could be in place at about the time the training of Syrian rebels actually happens!

It's as realistic that Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills has a real-life solution to hostage situations as this new plan.

The real victims

Speaking just now in the US House of Representatives, Louie Gohmert, Republican from Texas, has compared the injustice of the murders in Charleston South Carolina to the way Israel is treated in a UN report.

Update with exact text:

Of course, then there is the judge side of me. Having sentenced people both to prison and to death, the judge side of me says, from what we know, it sure cries out for the death penalty, but we will let the justice system in South Carolina take care of that. In the meantime, as we think about injustice, it is also hard not to think of our friends and our allies in Israel who have trouble finding any friends. They are persecuted on every side. We got this report from the U.N., an article talking about it from Marissa Newman of The Times of Israel: ‘‘Israel slams ‘politically motivated and morally flawed’ U.N. Gaza report.’’

Source: Congressional Record, House, 23 June, H4588.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Heighten the Contradictions

George Will, for one, welcomes the impending Greek chaos (Washington Post) --

This protracted dispute will result in desirable carnage if Greece defaults, thereby becoming a constructively frightening example to all democracies doling out unsustainable, growth-suppressing entitlements.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Another terrorism vs hate crime word game

White guy who kills lots of people motivated by Internet messaging and operating through self-start = Loner

Muslim guy who kills lots of people motivated by Internet messaging and operating through self-start = Lone Wolf

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Most insincere handshake ever

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, inexplicably invited to a Eurozone finance ministers meeting about Greece despite the IMF having walked out of the talks with Greece, shakes hands with the Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis.

Technically, Mme Lagarde was there to brief the ministers on the vacuous findings of their Eurozone assessment, which blithely assures that Greece is not a problem, with enough CYA language in case it is.

She then told the post-meeting news conference that "the key emergency in my view is to restore the dialogue with adults in the room" -- a classic exposition of the SuperTechnocrat view of the world that has gotten us to this point.

Photo: Media Service of the EU Council

You Hashemites all look the same

US House Republican hawk Dana Rohrabacher writes in the Wall Street Journal, in what's mostly a love-letter to General/President Sisi of Egypt --

Better to look to the embattled region itself—to Jordan’s King Hussein, to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the leaders of formative Kurdistan, to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. 

Elsewhere in the article, he refers to Ronald Reagan. He's stuck in those years in his knowledge of Jordan too. King Hussein died in 1999. His son, Abdullah, is the current King of Jordan. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Middle East outrage alert

Statement from Iraqi government --

Legal Department in the Ministry of Planning announced the conditions of contract for civic, electric and mechanic engineering, written pledge has to be signed by the contracted side with, that it don’t deal with Zionist entity [Israel], institution and companies. It will not deal with them in the present and future, and consider them as an integral condition for the contract. Contract will be terminated in case of violation with paying the appropriate compensation to the side of contract, as well as it will be subjected to the legal consequences.

Greece Countdown

Statement from Central Bank in Athens --

Equally important will be the reaffirmation and articulation in more specific terms of our partners’ willingness to provide debt relief, as initially stated at the Eurogroup meeting of 27 November 2012.

It's worth reading that statement in full, since it has been frequently misinterpreted. In particular, certain econo-pundits have focused on the 4.5% primary budget surplus target as proof of austerity madness, when the same statement clearly indicated there would be massive debt relief in the medium-term. It's the failure to achieve consensus on that latter part of the plan which has aggravated the situation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Damascus no-hit zone

Former Israeli Ambassador the US Michael Oren has an op-ed in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal; it's mostly about the poor state of Obama-Netanyahu relations and mostly about how that's Obama fault, but along the way he drops in this interesting claim --

But parallel to the talks [Israel-US discussions about Iran] came administration statements and leaks—for example, each time Israeli warplanes reportedly struck Hezbollah-bound arms convoys in Syria—intended to deter Israel from striking Iran pre-emptively. 

So part of Israel's calculation in its strikes against Bashar al-Assad had to be whether the White House might disclose them in order to put a little heat on Israel about its ability to strike across borders.

It's almost as if the White House wasn't that keen on any military action against Assad!

UPDATE: It turns out that Oren's article draws from his forthcoming book in which the above is not the only scoop. Another being that the idea of offering Assad a joint Russia-USA chemical weapons disarmament plan came from an Israeli minister.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Keeping the engine running in Johannesburg

The focus of the legal imbroglio at the African Union summit in South Africa is on Sudan President Omar al-Bashir. But Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, with at least one violence-tainted stolen election in his past, is there too, as Chairman of the African Union.

In fairness to Mugabe, who knows what buttons to push, he has pointed out the role of Iraq 2003 in undermining the legitimacy of the ICC indictment of Omar al-Bashir. That doesn't make Darfur any less of a war crime.

Photo: African Union.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wrong end of the Black Sea

IMF statement via open letter from Christine Lagarde:

Rapid completion of the debt operation with high participation is vital for the success of the program, since Ukraine lacks the resources under the program to fully service its debts on the original terms. The IMF, in general, encourages voluntary pre-emptive agreements in debt restructurings, but in the event that a negotiated settlement with private creditors is not reached and the country determines that it cannot service its debt, the Fund can lend to Ukraine consistent with its Lending-into-Arrears Policy. 

Two observations.

1. It's revealing to note how the IMF behaves in insisting on debt restructuring when it's not saddled to the European Union institutions as in Eurozone programs.

2. Are there other entities, such as those around the table on Greece, who need to take note that the IMF might find ways to lend to a country that owes them money? 

Neologism of the Day

With due deference to David Brooks --


Globalized Bourgeois Bohemian

Sample usage: A trade deal with a mainly Globobo support base has a very narrow political base.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Best endless war rationale ever

US Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey --

If successful, the [Anbar] base could be a model for further efforts in the country, the general said, likening it to a lily pad in a pond, with the base at the center and the lily pad being the range of security extending out. “Our campaign is built on establishing these ‘lily pads’ that allow us to encourage the Iraqi security forces forward,” the chairman said. “As they go forward, they may exceed the reach of the particular lily pad. We’re looking all the time to see if additional sites might be necessary.”

Just so long as that frog doesn't hop into Bashar al-Assad territory in Syria!

Image: National Geographic.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Turkish dictator loses election

Another uncool strongman narrative comes crashing down.

Sorry, people of Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria

David Cameron (in G7 bilateral remarks with Barack Obama) says that he and Obama have lots of interests in your countries, but ...

And whether we’re discussing the situation in the Ukraine, the need to fight Islamic extremist terrorism, particularly in Iraq and Syria, but elsewhere around the world, it’s about keeping people safe back at home, where the cooperation between our security and intelligence services and our military is as close as it’s ever been and as effective as it’s ever been ...

so, you're not actually why they're interested!

Take that, Nigel Farage

French President Francois Hollande doing the most credible job among the G7 leaders of holding his glass of beer.

Photo: Germany G7 Media Service.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

There is rightly considerable attention on the bizarre revelation (via an interview scoop by RTE) by the Football Association of Ireland  (FAI) chief executive John Delaney that he accepted a €5 million "loan" from FIFA to avoid litigation over France's Henry handball assisted win against Ireland in 2009. The deal looks strange from both sides, but one lesson is clearly that the FAI had put itself in the position where it wanted cash over fair play by loading up on debt to build the new Lansdowne Road/Aviva Stadium. That debt has been a struggle almost since it was taken on, and in December 2013 --

The Irish Independent can reveal that the football association came to an agreement on the write-down of its Aviva Stadium loan at lunchtime yesterday, after almost six months of negotiations with Danske Bank. A source close to the talks said the successful renegotiation of the FAI's loans, which now stand at €43m, leaves the association "in a very good position to achieve the objective of being debt free by 2020". "This was a phenomenal bit of business when you think about it, almost a quarter of debt reduced following months of intensive negotiations," said the source.

Leave aside the fact that the Indo's "source" sounds a lot like John Delaney. Did Danske Bank shareholders -- who were ultimately on the hook for that debt write-down -- know that the operator of the troubled project had signed away the right to sue over a big loss in income due to the World Cup elimination? Or that if Ireland had somehow qualified for the 2014 World Cup, its borrower had to find another €5 million to pay FIFA back? FIFA's hush money compounded what was already an awful set of divergent incentives between the FAI and its creditors -- on a project with considerable public funding. This one might merit a look by one of Ireland's skilled lawyers!

Then and now

With the "news" (which was reported 7 days ago) that Greece is bundling its June payments to the IMF, the reports can't resist pointing out that the last country to bundle was Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo). But before having too much of a chuckle at that comparison, consider some analyses of Zaire's difficulties written long before there was a Eurozone crisis.

First, a 1997 Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Gregory Fossedal --

From 1976 to 1981, the IMF increased Zaire's debt burden, lending $52 million (coupled with $235 million from the Paris Club) in exchange for a series of 1978 "reforms." Zaire placed IMF and other foreign officials in key positions in the central bank, finance ministry and office of debt management. "Belgium is sending 30 to 40 customs inspectors to stop bribery and smuggling," U.S. News and World Report said in 1979. "Europeans run the vital river-transport system. France is considering sending tax experts, and a United Nations team is moving in to make some order out of the budget."

A country being loaded up on IMF debt and European experts being sent to run things. Hmmm.

Then a New York Times article from 1988, as the debt crisis created by years of the above had come to a head --

From 1977 to 1987, Zaire rescheduled its debt eight times. Although Zaire only drew down $3 billion worth of new loans during that decade, its debt increased to $7 billion from $2 billion. The $2 billion difference largely went for rescheduling fees, capitalization of interest and late-payment penalties.

Debt going up with the country actually getting new funds? Hmmm again.

Now of course, Zaire had one huge problem: its western-backed dictator, Mobutu. But Mobutu was himself part of a vicious cycle caused by official debt accumulation that brought little benefits to the citizens. One would hope that with that benefit of history, we could see the limited value of stringing a country along on debt with fanciful prospects of repayment. That Zaire-Greece comparison may be worth a few chuckles. But the joke is on the residents of the Global Debt Ward.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Good overview by Vox's Zach Beauchamp on how George W. Bush, more than anyone, created ISIS, but this is a bit incomplete --

The outcome of Iraq's civil war left just enough ISIS operatives in position to move into Syria during the early stages of the Syrian civil war in 2012. ISIS's move into Syria was a disaster: it radicalized the Syrian civil war, strengthening jihadis at the expense of more moderate rebel factions, while also providing ISIS with the experience and resources necessary to take territory and move back into Iraq in a big way.

Missing there is the conscious decision of Bashar al-Assad to concentrate his military on the most moderate elements of the opposition and let the extreme groups including ISIS flourish in de facto safe havens. And from the overall perspective of the Syrian opposition, it was telling that the first US intervention was not against Assad, but against a rebel group.