North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The "boys" from Chechnya

The two young men (brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev) who detonated bombs at the Boston, Massachusetts marathon last week hail from a troubled southern state of Russia - Chechnya. From an article run in the Salt Lake City Tribune, "Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov said Friday that the Boston bombings had nothing to do with his nation because the "boys" suspected of the acts were raised in the United States. Their attitudes and beliefs, however twisted, he said, were formed in America."

With that somewhat confrontive description of the perpetrators, what is worth knowing about Chechnya and Southern Russia, and the Islamic extremist-oriented views that had in particular captivated the older of the two brothers?

Chechnya in Southern Russia

Chechnya, in Southern Russia, has a population of somewhere over 1.1 million people. It is one of five Islamic republics of Russia (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia), known as the Northern Caucasus region

Again, from the Salt Lake City Tribune article, "The Tsarnaev family, as tens of thousands of their compatriots, lost their homeland in 1944, when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin punished the entire Chechen population’s perceived (and actual) disloyalty to Moscow during World War II by shipping them from the northern Caucasus to Central Asia and the Siberian wastes. As many as half died on the way. The Tsarnaev brothers began their lives in exile, in Kyrgyzstan.

The family lived there for a long time but never assimilated. Chechens rarely do, at least that’s a common perception in Russia. Here’s the stereotype: dark complexion; speaking Russian with a thick accent; brave and aggressive, always picking fights; proud and loyal to friends and family but also treacherous and sneaky to outsiders; religious; fiercely independent.

After the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, few Russians were surprised when Chechen leader and the younger Tsarnaev’s namesake Dzhokhar Dudayev unilaterally declared his country’s secession from Russia. Moscow refused, and the act was followed by two horrific wars with the Russian Army.

Grozny, the capital of this federal subject (republic) of Russia, had a population at the eve of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 of nearly 400,000. During the two attempts to break away from Russia, the second Chechen war virtually leveled the city. Even 10 years later, the population in 2002 had grown to only 210 thousand, and the latest census in 2010 shows 271,000.

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From Wikipedia, "For the period from 1994 to 2003, ... the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society set the conservative estimate of death toll in this time period at about 150,000 - 200,000 civilians, 20,000 to 40,000 Russian soldiers, and possibly the same amount of Chechen rebels."

The movement that began as a pro-independence one gradually turned into radically Islamist. It also became international: there were Arab fighters and commanders helping the Chechens fight against the Russians, and there are hundreds of Chechen fighters around the world helping the likes of al-Qaida in hot spots, such as Syria and Libya.

In the end, the Chechen rebels were defeated. Chechnya remains part of Russian Federation and is ruled by a Moscow puppet regime led by Kadyrov," says the SLC Tribune article.

Current "statesman" in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, one of Putin's boys.

In a recent National Public Radio interview concerning Chechnya, a regional expert, Alexey Malashenko of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was asked "what is at the heart of the conflict between the Chechens and the Russians?

MALASHENKO: Well, look, at the moment ... there is no conflict ... between the federal center in Russia [and] Chechnya. ... Because after two Chechen wars, a lot of money was sent to Chechnya for reconstruction and now Chechnya is one of the well-organized and one of the richest republics in Caucasus. .... and even I don't believe that there are big friction and problems between Moscow and Chechnya at the moment.

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Indeed, modern Grozny in 2013 has been nearly completely rebuilt - money poured in from Moscow, and "orders" given to the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, to keep a lid on things, which he has, by all accounts, with a vengeance.

Back to the NPR interview,
MALASHENKO, "So when they speak about why it (the Boston bombings by the Tsarnaev brothers) was done by Chechens, they don't understand [that] the situation in neighboring republic to Chechnya, Dagestan, [is] much more difficult, much more problematic because, in Dagestan, as we call it, a heart of Caucasus, there is a feel of war, and there in Dagestan, indeed, we have so-called radical Islamic extremist movement and practically every day - and precise, every day, somebody is killed in Dagestan.

Appointed by the President of the Russian Federation (Putin), as of January 28, 2013, the acting President of the Republic of Dagestan is Ramazan Gadzhimuradovich Abdulatipov.

NPR: What are the causes of the unrest there?

MALASHENKO: It's very simple. It's a civil war ... every week or every couple of weeks, we had, in Dagestan, a terrorist act.

NPR: But what is the source of the grievance there? Is there a sense that the resources are not fairly shared? Is it a desire for self-governance?

MALASHENKO: ... the big ground of this conflict is the frustration of the society in Caucasus, in general, and in particular in Dagestan, and they continue to search for so-called Islamic alternative, by all means, because they are totally unsatisfied with what Moscow is doing in Caucasus, in particular in Dagestan. So it is a reaction. ... It is a desire to organize and end the government and the society on the principle of Islam, on the principle of Sharia.

Dagestan - called in a 2011 BBC article, the most dangerous place in Europe - is a federal subject (republic) of Russia with a population of 2.9 million people. It is the largest of the five Islamic Russian Republics, known as the Northern Caucasus of Russia. A summary of this region can be found at

According to a BBC article in November 2011, "Islamic fighters punishing shops that sell alcohol have become routine events in Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala. The owners typically get a warning first, often delivered by text message, or on a USB memory stick thrown through car windows, or into a letterbox. If they ignore it, there may be a bomb or a shootout or the owners may agree to pay protection money. "The fighters like to portray themselves as so devout," says a lieutenant colonel in the anti-terrorism police, "But many are just cynical criminals running protection rackets."

US FBI agents traveled to Dagestan to interview the parents of the two American bombers. Zubeidat Tsarnaev, the mother is apparently so traumatized and caught up in her world, that she believes her sons are innocent, and being framed by Russian authorities.

Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, is apparently the new epicenter of conflict between Moscow, and nationalism in the Northern Caucasus of Russia, in turn fueled by hardened Islamic extremists. Last year, 378 insurgency-related deaths were recorded in Dagestan, compared with 134 in Ingushetia and 127 in Chechnya. And as a teenager in Dagestan noted, when asked about the Boston bombing, ""What do I think about the Boston bombings?" he asked. Then he shrugged his shoulders. "Here in Dagestan, we have our own Boston every day."

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To be fair, another panoramic view of Dagestan's capital.

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And to make it complex, here is another picture (and apparently well known one by Russian photographer Sergey Maximishin) of students in 2008 at a Theological college, in Dagestan. The republic is one of the most diverse regions of the world, home to approximately 30 languages, according to a BBC regional profile.

So, there we have it. Thousands of mile away from Boston, a decades long conflict overlaid with a virulent religious doctrine finds its way to a marathon. The perpetrators are aimlessly caught up in striking out for some cause, and among the many lives altered or lost, a 32-year old dance teacher whose husband has just returned from Afghanistan loses her left foot ...

Adrianne Haslet-Davis

Friday, April 19, 2013

End game approaches in Syria?

While the Western world's attention (and mine) is focused on the Boston Marathon bombing early this week (of which the Chechnya angle will be looked at in my next post), more ominous developments occurred regarding the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The UN estimates the death toll now stands at 70,000 as of late February and accelerating, with over 10,000 killed in that first 7 week period of this year alone. From a recent February Reuters article, "Syria is self-destructing," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday. "After nearly two years, we no longer count days in hours, but in bodies. Another day, another 100, 200, 300 dead." "Fighting rages. Sectarian hatred is on the rise. The catalogue of war crimes is mounting," he said. "The Security Council must no longer stand on the sidelines, deadlocked, silently witnessing the slaughter."

Aleppo, Syria's 2nd largest city, is slowly being pummeled into a vast wasteland of concrete and rebar.

"The lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction has been disastrous and civilians on all sides have paid the price," said [Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights]. "We will be judged against the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes." World powers are divided on how to stop the escalating violence in Syria ... Permanent Security Council members Russia and China have acted as Syria's protector on the council by repeatedly blocking Western efforts to take stronger U.N. action - such as sanctions - against the Syrian government to try to end the war. Both sides to the Syrian conflict have been accused of committing atrocities but the United Nations says the government and its allies have been more culpable."

China and Russia voted to oppose a UN proposal in 2012 that would have imposed a no-fly zone on Syria. Russian Ambassador to the UN - Vitaly Churkin; China ambassador to the UN - Li Baodong (image taken from

Besides the appalling death toll, over 1 million Syrians have become either refugees (primarily across the borders into Turkey and Jordan but also to Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt) or are internally displaced. The basic infrastructure of the country - water,sewer and roads - are being demolished, as well as a variety of culturally significant structures and sites.

Fleeing by the numbers according to this CNN graphic

Refugee camps in both Jordan and Turkey are overloaded, but nonetheless better by far than more informal and rudimentary conditions of those Syrians displaced within the country itself.

Al-Nusra pledges allegiance to al-qaeda

Western sources, as well as factions within the Syrian opposition were dismayed by the announcement of one of the larger rebel factions that it was formally aligning itself with al-Qaeda. "The sons of Al-Nusra Front pledge allegiance to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri," Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani said in a recording.

Al-nusra fighters in Syria. This faction has been labeled by the US as a terrorist organization...

From an AFP article, "A decision by the head of al-Nusra Front to pledge allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has prompted unprecedented criticism from some of Syria’s Islamist rebel brigades. Until now, rebels had sought to bury their differences with al-Nusra, reluctant to jeopardize ties with a force that is militarily superior to most of the country’s rebel factions. But an announcement this week by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, claiming al-Nusra as part of its network, and a pledge of allegiance from al-Nusra’s chief to Zawahiri have prompted rare direct and public criticism. “When we in Syria launched our jihad (holy war) against the sectarian regime... we did not do so for the sake of any allegiance to a man here or another there,” the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, an umbrella group of rebel brigades, said in a statement on Thursday.

The announcement underscores a longstanding concern of Western allies that the Free Syria movement is increasingly infiltrated and radicalized by Islamic extremists, and ironically boosts Syrian President Assad's stance that he is fighting against Islamists.

US sending contingent to Jordan (aid now, but planning for a larger force with a more significant task)

From the AP, "The Pentagon is sending about 200 soldiers from an Army headquarters unit to Jordan to assist efforts to contain violence along the Syrian border and plan for any operations needed to ensure the safety of chemical weapons in Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress Wednesday." The development ups the ante for the US which has long resisted any significant military deployment connected to the Syrian conflict. The unit sent however, is not just one of generic "soldiers" but the 1st Armored Division's contingent of planners and specialists in intelligence, logistics and operations.

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Training camp inside Jordan but near Syrian border, similar to where US planners are now headed in greater numbers. Little acknowledged are the presence of UK troops with similar intent.

The deployment indicates the seriousness with which the US and other Western countries are viewing the creep of developments in Syria. Jordan has long resisted any significant presence of Western troops inside its country, as Jordanian islamists are sure to use the news to bolster their criticism. However, the increasing likelihood that Syria's chemical weapons arsenal will be in danger of being captured or transferred to Islamic elements has trumped those calculations.

Israel becoming very restless

Finally, Israel, long focused on Iran's growing nuclear capability, has acted only once in the Syrian civil war, attacking a convoy of weapons apparently headed to Lebanon in late January, 2013. Its military, though, is increasingly concerned that chemical weapons as well as advanced weaponry held by Assad's government may find their way into even more extremist hands.

In late January 2013, Israeli warplanes attacked a weapons convoy headed from Syria to Lebanon - details of what was targeted are not available to the "general public" and government reactions around the world were uniformly minimal - which usually signals it was a serious matter and that there is little to gain from acknowledging the action.

Events seem to be moving towards an uncertain end ... sometime in the next weeks or months.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

An hour with former US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates

Diverting from the daily roilings around the world, in this post Teatree relates an opportunity he had to listen to former US Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA, Robert Gates. Gate's remarks were delivered as part of the George Marshall lecture series, an event held in what is apparently called "America's Vancouver" (to contrast this humble city on the north shore of the Pacific Northwest's Columbia River, to the internationally admired and sophisticated Vancouver, Canada).

The two Vancouvers ...

Robert Gates served as the 22nd US Secretary of Defense from 2006-2011, being summoned from his position as President of Texas A&M University by then-US President George W Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld. In 2009, Gates was asked to stay on by newly elected President Obama, and thus became the only Secretary of Defense to serve two consecutive presidents of different political parties. Previously, Gates worked up the ladder of the CIA over the course of 27 years, spending the last nine years at the US Security Council, The White House, serving four presidents of both political parties, and leading that agency during the eventful years of 1991-1993 (the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the first Gulf War). He has been awarded the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizen's medal, several military and CIA honors, and upon retiring from active service as Secretary of Defense, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama – the highest civilian honor a US President can bestow.

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Gates receiving honor from US President Obama in 2011.

From Washington DC to the other Washington

After this latest retirement, though Gates still serves as a director on several educational and corporate Boards including Starbucks and the National Eagle Scout Association, he and his wife moved to Western Washington. Here in Washington state, as with its own little Vancouver, he is now the lesser-known Gates when compared to the more famous Bill Gates of Microsoft fame.

Gates-the-lesser was in Vancouver on Thursday, April 11, under the George Marshall lecture series which has long been a part of the city's local history. George Marshall was an officer at the long established Fort Vancouver (as was Ulysses S Grant many decades earlier). George Marshall, among many Americans with accomplishments, is regarded as the architect of what became known as the Marshall Plan - financing and reconstructing a devastated Europe after World War II into a powerhouse network of Western allies that collectively resisted the fast-emerging Soviet Union and its Communist ideology for the next 50 years. Gates said that Marshall was a personal hero of his.

The venue

Hudson's Bay High School gym was the place, with nearly two dozen buses of high school kids brought in to fill the bleachers, while adults filled the gymnasium floor. Nice crowd - the agenda, well thought through, had a lot of youth involvement from start to finish. A young lady who was a Marshall scholarship recipient led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance (Teatree briefly sweated a lack of confidence regarding which hand to place on which side of his chest ...). Then another high school singer stepped up and sang the national anthem.

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Tayler Harris, Union High School, sings the National Anthem (Photo from The Oregonian). An aside - Teatree noticed, as the Pledge was finishing, Ms Harris move to the microphone and just before the attention turned to her, close her eyes and take a deep calming breath. Oh youthful confidence!

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The audience in "America's Vancouver" as Teatree (in picture) was inspired and moved by Harris's spirited singing of the National Anthem, and Gates commended Tayler for her effort, calling it one of the best renditions he's had the privilege to hear.

Gate's reflections

He was here to talk with the young people, calling his speech, "What Marshall can teach us about Character."

*Cultivate moral courage - do what is right and necessary, not what is popular. Gates related two incidents from Marshall's military career. One early on when as a captain during World War I and on staff with the Commanding American General Jack Pershing, he challenged - one assumes with respect - Pershing by stating the General was not paying enough attention to the daily burdens of the soldiers and dismissing his aides' advice. Several aides thought Marshall would be sent to the trenches for delivering his opinion, but to Pershing's credit, he kept Marshall on staff, recognizing valuable independent thought.

Second, on the eve of World War II when Marshal was now a one-star General, he was in a military/policy meeting with the US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who had announced his intentions to spend funds to cover the coast of lending ships to Great Britain who was attempting to counteract the Nazi buildup. The funds, however, would be diverted from plans to rebuild and enlarge the US Army (the size of which at this crucial time was still that of Portugal or Switzerland). FDR got a lot of nods from other military staff, and in the end, asked, "George, what do you think of that" expecting another agreement. Marshall said, "I have to disagree completely and here's why..." In Gate's reflection, he said Marshal gave his honest opinion to the President instead of currying favor. Both incidents, in Gate's opinion, affirmed the likelihood that each young person in the gym would some day find themselves having the chance "to stand alone" in doing the right thing.

*Gates then noted Marshall's greatest accomplishment after his service during the war as Chief of Staff of the US Army was the large aid and reconstruction program for Europe in his capacity of Secretary of State. But, Gate said, Marshall's subsequent service for President Truman was increasingly criticized.

President Truman meeting General George Marshall, who retiring from the military after WWII was asked to return as Secretary of State, (and later Secretary of Defense)

As Secretary of State for Truman, Marshall stuck with his President when China became Communist under Mao (and was personally attacked for "losing" China). Resigning in 1948, Marshall was asked to return to the post of Secretary of Defense in 1950 when the Korean war broke out. He supported Truman's decision and perogative when the President later sacked General MacArthur during the Korean war. Though Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his Marshall Plan, criticisms gained the upper hand in later years, with Gates noting that there is such a a thing as "shabby treatment." As you build your character right now, Gates said to the high school segment of the audience, be aware that your actions and behavior and mistakes can be attacked, be prepared for it.

* He concluded his remarks by saying, "get involved with something larger than yourself - something that is deeper and bigger than your own comfort and convenience."

Questions and Answers

Applause. Then high school students from each of four local high schools came to the microphone to ask questions. Before they started, Gates noted that he often hears people begin this segment by saying, "this is probably a dumb question." But he did not go on to state the cliche, "there are no dumb questions," rather that he was not expecting these questions to come anywhere close to some of the really dumb questions he had to deal with during many years of congressional hearings. Laughter.

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Gates answering questions from high school students.

Question #1 - There is a famous picture Administration cabinet leaders, including Gates, and the President in the situation room watching live feed of the Seal operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. What was Gate's thinking at the time and his role of Secretary of Defense in the operation?

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The situation room - Gates was questioned about this photo by one student

Gates said his role was simply to ask the hard questions on the advisability of going ahead with the operation - the primary one was the intelligence that indicated Bin Laden was in that particular house in Pakistan. The intel was not firm, only 40-80%. The percentage question - which is all intelligence can truly offer - reminded him of a rescue mission that occurred during the Vietnam War, when CIA intelligence believed several dozen US prisoners of war were in Son Tay prison in North Vietnam. But when copters arrived with special forces to rescue them, all the prisoners had been moved to another camp 15 miles away - the mission ending in failure though with no US loss of life.

But Gate's toughest moment during the Bin Laden raid moments was when one of the two helicopters crashed into the Bin Laden compound - it reminded him of President Carter's attempt to rescue diplomats being held hostage in Iran 30 years earlier which ended in premature failure when one of the rescue helicopters crashed. That mission had to be aborted, and did involve loss of life. Intelligenceis never a sure thing, and the execution of a plan does not always go well. (All this reminds Teatree of the 2003 Gulf War intelligence failure, the Benghazi attack in 2012 where defense of the US Ambassador to Libya was lacking ...)

But to conclude his answer to the first question, Gates referred to the "situation room photo" and said that within hours of its official release, someone had gotten a copy and photo-shopped in comic hero costumes onto many of those present. The result was black humor, and harmless in itself, but it confirmed Gate's advice to the President then to never release photos of Bin Laden's remains as this irreverence could occur with those images and inflame the Islamic world.

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On a serious note, Gates referred to this photo-shopped picture of the situation room's main characters

Question #2 How did his role as CIA director help his role as Secretary of Defense.

A good question, a matter of fact answer - he understood the role of what intelligence could offer to defense postures and policies. So much rides on good intelligence, and how difficult it is to obtain it. He then noted his own recruitment into the CIA right out of college. He was, he said, first assessed for prospects as a spy. Unfortunately, he was somewhat less of a James Bond and more of an Austin Powers type. He along with two other young recruits were given the task of tailing a female CIA officer through the streets of Richmond Virginia. They were so poor at it, some citizen called the police to report three "disreputable" individuals stalking a woman. His compatriots were picked up by the police (later released), and the only reason he wasn't was that he had lost track of both the target and his colleagues! He found he was better suited as an analyst.

Question #3 What was it like to transition answering President Bush to President Obama?

Likely a reflection on his ability to work for both, Gates did not raise his rhetoric in either direction. He stated that actually the overriding characteristic during the transition was continuity - something that dismays the political wonks. President Obama asked him to keep the defense ship steady while he concentrated on the economic crisis. Gates said regarding the US withdrawal from Iraq, that President Obama simply executed what President Bush had more-or-less negotiated with the Iraq government concerning draw down details; though as to the conflict in Afghanistan, President Obama actually "doubled down" the effort there. Gates said the difference between Bush and Obama was relatively easy, noting he had worked in the high levels of government when led by Jimmy Carter, followed by Ronald Reagan.

Question #4 (This was the only one of four that was more of a statement with a political edge, delivered with all the insouciance of a fast-talking high schooler), "Mr Gates, thanks for being here this morning. With drone warfare now prevalent in Pakistan and other parts of the world, and where its use is resulting in the deaths of up to 30% civilians, what are the dangers it represents? Especially in Pakistan, with whom we are not at war. (Self satisfied smile)"

Gates was not at all flapped, and said first he believes the actual civilian death claims from drone strikes are vastly overestimated as purposeful propaganda by the Taliban and Al-qaeda. One of the major advantages of drone attacks, in his opinion, is that the operator can literally wait for the moment of his choosing to fire - wait until the target is out on a road by himself, or away from a crowd, etc. He believes the Taliban often coerce civilians to surround them in order to deter drone attacks. He believes by and large that drones are a huge asset in precision warfare. (Teatree still finds himself somewhat discomfited by this perspective, though the whole complex aspect of warfare is a little overwhelming to discuss consistently.)

So, there we have it. Some "real" news rather than regurgitated summaries of happenings, in spite of Teatree's best efforts to capture those items with some sense of accuracy.

Early in the lecture's agenda, there was a time where dignitaries were acknowledged. Active military service personnel were asked to stand, and then more potently, members of gold star families (families who have lost a son or daughter in the services). It reminded Teatree that Mr Gates has, as with many of America's leaders, been personally involved with the loss of individuals and the consequences for the families during this past decade of war.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Another country, another coup ...

At first glance, one could mistake this scenario as one describing Mali: poor governance, lack of attention and responsiveness to ethnic groups or regions - often tribal based - which then leads to bitterness, lack of connection to the concept of a nation, ending in a coup. Islam providing a convenient unifying vision, at least unifying enough for the rebels.

But no, the country, this time, is the Central African Republic (the CAR). The previous president, Mr. Bozize, has been run off by the new coup leader, Mr. Djotodia. CAR is an impoverished landlocked country in Central Africa that indeed has a fault line running through it, with Bantu tribes in the more fertile south, and nomadic, often Muslim-oriented tribes in the more-arid north. But unlike Mali, the underlying reasons behind the latest coup are primarily a reversion to the old days where poor governance, lack of institutional strength, regional neglects leave rulers vulnerable, and in this case some vague meddling by neighbors, both near and far.

And, one might say this coup also represents yet another ripple from Libya's 2011 war that flooded the region with arms Governments in neighboring countries and ethnic groups that transcend so many country boundaries, are all jockeying for their new places in the upended order of power centers.

From Hutchinson Encyclopaedia country facts - Capital: Bangui; Language: French (official), Sangho (national), Arabic, Hunsa, Swahili; Religion: Protestant 25%, Roman Catholic 25%, animist 24%, Muslim 15%; Physical features: landlocked flat plateau, with rivers flowing north and south, and hills in northeast and southwest; dry in north; Population around 4 million; Life expectancy: 39 (men), 40 (women).

Central African Republic's northern lands are drier, typical of the Sahel gradation that leads to the deserts of the Sahara. The land supports more cattle, grazing, and a pastoral lifestyle.

CAR's history - primarily from Hutchinson Encyclopaedia:

16th century Part of the Gaoga Empire.
16th-18th centuries: Population reduced greatly by slave raids both by coastal traders and Arab empires in Sudan and Chad.
1889-1903 The French established control over the area, quelling insurrections; a French colony known as Ubangi-Shari was formed and partitioned among commercial concessionaries.
1920-30 Series of rebellions against forced labour on coffee and cotton plantations savagely repressed by the French.
1958 Achieved self-government within French Equatorial Africa.
1960 Achieved independence as Central African Republic;

1966 Jean-Bedel Bokassa came to power in a coup in 1966, and(from Wikipedia)"then began a reign of terror, taking all important government posts for himself. He personally supervised judicial beatings and introduced a rule that thieves would have an ear cut off for the first two offenses and a hand for the third. In 1977, in emulation of his hero Napoleon, he crowned himself emperor of the Central African Empire in a ceremony costing $20 million, practically bankrupting the country. His diamond-encrusted crown alone cost $5 million. In 1979 he had hundreds of schoolchildren arrested for refusing to wear uniforms made in a factory he owned, and personally supervised the massacre of 100 of the schoolchildren by his Imperial Guard. In September, 1979, French paratroopers finally deposed him ..."

Emperor Bokassa holding court - another parody of enlightened self government so common among African leaders ... Comical except for the impoverishment of his people, setting them back generations.

2003 Army chief Franois Bozize deposes President Patasse in a coup. (Bozizé rose to become a high-ranking army officer in the 1970s, under the rule of Jean-Bédel Bokassa. After Bokassa was ousted, Bozizé served in the government as Minister of Defense from 1979 to 1981 and as Minister of Information from 1981 to 1982. He participated in a failed 1982 coup attempt against President André Kolingba and subsequently fled the country. Years later, he served as Army Chief of Staff under President Ange-Félix Patassé, but he began a rebellion against Patassé in 2001.)

2004 New constitution approved in referendum.
2005 Bozize won presidential elections; his Convergence movement became largest parliamentary grouping;
2006 French military forces supported his government offensive against rebel positions in northeast of country.

Which brings us up to the coup that occurred in late March, 2013. From the New York Times, "The leader of the coup in the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, solidified his hold on the government on Monday after announcing that he would serve as both president and defense minister and that fellow rebels would fill other top posts. Mr. Djotodia, who rose to prominence as a rebel leader in 2006, had already served as defense minister in an ill-fated unity government formed in January. But the rebels accused President François Bozizé of failing to deliver on promises related to the January accord and ousted him last month."

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Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who declared himself president of the Central African Republic, arrives on Republic Plaza in Bangui, the capital city, on March 30.

The same Michel Djotodia in war costume, shedding the western style suit worn during his inaugural walk through the capital Bangui.

While there are some similarities between Mali's Toureg people and the Seleka coalition if ethnic groups that Djotodia leads(similar in that they perceive they have been neglected or frozen out of national participation) there seems to be more involvement/interference from neighboring Chad in this case. From a UK Daily Mail report, "The people of this riverside capital [Bangui] are not strangers to violence. Apart from an almost constantly simmering rebellion usually in more than one part of the country at the same time, Bangui residents have come to expect a military coup virtually every 10 years. Ten years ago Bozizé was the instigator, this year he was the target. This time around, [however] it's less clear who is in charge. There are far too many uniformed Chadians racing through the streets and manning impromptu roadblocks for this to feel like an internal conflict."

From the German news agency, Deutsche Welle, we read the question, "What possible motives could Chad have for backing a coup in the Central African Republic?

Chad has always been very involved in the politics of the Central African Republic. In 2003 when President Bozize organized a coup, he did it from Chad. So it's quite ironic that now he's accusing Chad of being behind his fall. Chad has a lot of economic interests in CAR, there are a lot of traders moving between the two countries, the economies of the two are very much linked. Last year President Deby went to Bangui and tried to reconcile the opposition and President Bozize. He didn't succeed but this shows how influential and important N'Djamena is in the politics of the Central African Republic."

So, what we do know is this:
* A leader who came to power 10 years ago, was deposed in another coup a few days ago.
* Chad seems involved to some degree.
* Ethnic and religious distinctions are at play.
* Libyan arms and re-aligning coalitions are also still rippling through the Sahel.
* South Africa - whom former President Bozize had cultivated as a new backer for his regime - lost over a dozen soldiers in fighting while they tried and failed to protect his government in Bangui. SA, though, has since maintained virtual silence in this latest powerplay.
* France, historically quick to intervene in its many former colonies - as it did in Mali earlier this year - has not moved significantly in this coup other than to protect its French citizens in the country.
* Looting and poor discipline among the victorious rebels are not setting the stage for a positive outcome.

Once again, stoic CAR civilians on the move trying to steer clear of random violence, and in the process being further impoverished...


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Two misunderstandings

The last post was about two apologies. This week, let's consider two misunderstandings or perhaps miscalculations.

North Korea against the world ... again!

This situation would be somewhat humorous if not for the fact that a miscalculation or an inadvertent incident could trigger a deadly conflict. Nor is the leadership's stance at all funny when its policies of paranoia over the past several decades have reduced its population to one of the poorest and most isolated in the world.

North Korea has had a new leader now for 15 months. Kim Jong-un, the youngest of three sons of the previous leader - Kim Jong-il - is in his late 20s. For several months in his new role as leader/one-to-be-worshipped, he appeared to be trying to soften his image and engage with the world - something the world was ready to embrace. Kim Jong-Un even displayed his wife in public settings, who is possibly expecting no less.

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Kim Jong-un, and his wife Ri So-ju (not sure what happens to last names in North Korean marriages). Westerners do not relate well to the synchophantic displays routinely bestowed by the North Koreans on their leader.

Even as Kim Jong-un made his transition and debut, North Korea's attitude towards its enemies (ie. nearly everyone) was hardening. The hostile stance was about sanctions and talks organized by its neighbors regarding the country's continued efforts to test nuclear delivery systems (missiles) and conducting underground nuclear tests. In March, 2010, the level of tension was ratcheted significantly when North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship killing 46 sailors.

But in early 2013, things escalated further. As the BBC notes, "Over the last month, Pyongyang promised to shred the 1953 armistice agreement and shut off the hotline at the border region. It then announced it had increased the combat-readiness level of its artillery forces, with targeting that it claimed would put US bases in Guam and Hawaii in the crosshairs. ... Kim Jong-un has made multiple visits to military units amid the tensions on the peninsula. Most audacious was Pyongyang's announcement that it reserves the right of pre-emptive nuclear war against Washington or Seoul. "

North Korea has been harsh and bellicose with its war rhetoric, threatening the US mainland, but in fact, most analysts place Alaska in any theoretical danger.

The US, South Korea's principle ally, is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Appeasing North Korea's demands conflict with its commitment to conduct military exercises with South Korea's forces. A new South Korean President, has called for continued dialog with its estranged neighbor but has also said there will be no more "non-responses' to North Korean provocations such as the torpedoing. The US has shown support for South Korea with well publicized overflights of B52s and stealth bombers in South Korean airspace (though this action would have been politically motivated cause for "concern" if the previous US administration had done so ...)

South Korea's first woman president, Park Geun-hye. Only assuming power in late February, 2013, she finds herself already in a hyper-tense situation.

Where do we go - what are the calculations or assumptions being made by North Korean leadership that may become miscalculations. Russia and even China - North Korea's clear and closest ally - are uneasy with the language flowing from Kim Jong-un and his military. China especially has much to lose, due to its long border with North Korea - if chaos descends. Still most analysts continue to conclude that real military action is unlikely; North Korea must simply be positioning itself to extract as favorable conditions as possible in future talks, its military units are not being positioned along the border for imminent action. Teatree hopes that is all true, and is not a misunderstanding on the West's part.

Germany and Cyprus

Far from North Korea, Cyprus has been in the news the past week as its revenues have run far short of its spending, and its banks's obligations extending far beyond their assets. In order to receive further financial aid from European Union members and world banks, Cyprus legislators had come up with a plan to take 10% of funds from all citizens holding money in Cypriot banks as part of a way to gather funds for debt repayment and restructuring. That did not go over well with the citizenry!

Cyprus, a small island in the eastern Mediterranean. The population of the whole island is only a little over 1 million people, but apparently loosely governed with little wise leadership.

To complicate matters, a Greek/Turkish conflict back in the 1970s has left the island divided into two camps. Hmmm, a parallel after all to the two Korea's?

How does Germany come into this story?

The banks of Cyprus have few controls, and after loaning out more than prudent in the past many years and being hit with the financial crisis of 2008 like many other countries, they (and the government) needed additional funds to cover lost investments and to pay liabilities. Like Greece, Iceland, Spain, and Ireland, they had overreached and needed a bailout. But instead of searching for legitimate monetary arrangements with the European Union, the banks tapped into an influx of funds from Russian tycoons (some say the mafia as well) to shore up their deposits. But the piper must be paid eventually, and now the EU's financial institutions are being asked to step in and stabilize the bankers indulgences, who have not been able to corral the Russian money in the country.

Germany remains reluctant to once again send its own resources to rescue yet another Southern European country (Spain, Italy, Greece) that has not stayed within its means. From a BBC article "Germany's intent in all this is, at a textual level, clear: they want to avoid creating a moral hazard, rewarding a country that has sold itself as a rule-free playground for Russians who want to keep their money offshore." Before sending funds, Germany is asking for better banking controls and reforms.

Local Cypriot politicians and maybe just the average Cypriot, aren't happy with living with the consequences and are making Germany out to be the scapegoat. And Germans are offended. Hence a hurtful misunderstanding - see">Cyprus bailout: Feeling unloved in Germany

Some of the more inflammatory language actually came from Spain, whose citizens also are unhappy that Germany is demanding some fiscal responsibility. One Spanish newspaper compared German leader Angela Merkel to Hitler - not the sort of thing that Germans are at all ready to countenance.

In Germany, any reference to Hitler is looked at seriously and unfavorably, The type of linkage expressed by this Spanish protestor in Madrid, is especially hard to take, considering Germany's past bailouts of several EU countries.

As the article notes, "One young woman from Bavaria said: "When you see Greek people make that Hitler greeting, it's not good. It isn't allowed in Germany and it shouldn't be allowed in other countries. We are shocked. They are getting a lot of money from Germany so why don't they like us?"

A middle-aged man said: "It's not okay when people say Adolf Hitler and Angela Merkel are the same. We live in 2013 and not in 1945." An older man said he did not understand why Germany was blamed for trying to help: "It hurts, because we think we are giving money and we try to help. This is something we don't understand." That sense of hurt is universal. Jan Schaefer, the economics editor of Bild, the most popular newspaper in Germany, told the BBC that pictures comparing Germany to the Nazi state were obnoxious."

So, misunderstandings galore this week.