Sunday, February 22, 2015

America's IS Trap

Imagine Bush had not invaded Iraq in 2003 while Saddam toppled by Shiite Iraqis in some variation of Arab Spring which played out in Middle East in recent years. Imagine Iraq was presided by the same disastrous rule of Al-Maliki driving the country to precipice upon receiving blows after blows from IS coming from adjacent failed state of Syria which America never invaded. In that scenario, to what an extent Americans will be clamoring President Obama to intervene in Syria and Iraq? Al-Maliki essentially ripped out fragile stability purchased on backs of America's sacrifices in Iraq; and that Americans, especially Conservatives, want to restore back that scrambled egg - Iraqi stability. Americans feel obliged to retain fruits of their sacrifices. There is a feeling of squandering of that hard fought stability in Iraq. But Republicans and Hawks conveniently forget that whatever semblance of stability achieved it was because of the "pottery barn rule" - that Bush needlessly invaded Iraq and hence the responsibility came to USA in investing blood and treasury in Iraq to achieve peace. You remove that ill-fated decision in the first place and then one suddenly starts understanding remoteness of fight against IS and why it should not be America's sole responsibility to manage Iraq or for that matter to manage whole bunch of territories in this violent world. (One can very easily understand how Republicans would want to make the battle for Mosul as referendum on Obama Foreign policy; same way the battle for Kobani became test for Obama.)

As Greame Wood has argued in The Atlantic, the path on which IS has embarked upon - a literal interpretation of Kuran in an attempt to run Caliphate in 21st century; it can only end in one way: complete collapse of IS. The non-sustainability aspects of IS in today's world are simply too glaring, too many. How do you run a state today with no passport, no borders and no viable legal framework to honor property and contractual rights so as Capitalism can flourish in that state? Apart from these contradictory precepts IS wanting to adopt in today's world when rest of the world simply has no interest in accepting any of this non-sense; IS is simply creating too many enemies too fast to survive. Practically every other alternating interpretation of Kuran is unacceptable to IS resulting in a state which is permanently at war. No state in human history has survived which is permanently at war. This is especially true when resources at disposal of IS are paltry while all other competing forces are endowed with manifold resources. At some point, greater Ummah is also going to realize the nihilism insisted by IS and just the sheer survival instinct for those groups will start making them to work in ending IS. Shiite and Iran will have to confront IS for survival. Same goes for Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia, Erdogon's Turkey and Kurds. Given this array of forces aligned against IS, question is why would America portray battle to capture Masul as Crusade? That is the "trap" American Conservatives want President Obama to enter into. They are framing this debate in same old Bush line of argument - "in order to save America here, you fight these terrorists there".

President Obama's failure is he is not making these things clear to Americans while more and more Americans get pulled into jingoistic case of owning the war against IS fully. In other words, he is letting his political opponents to set this debate as "to love America means to commit America's men & women" in the war theater of Iraq and Syria against IS. No one is talking here stopping active help by America in defeating IS. More needs to be done to bring together all those local and indigenous rivals of IS to finish it off. But America does not need to get involved in the vortex of IS ground fighting on the very first pretext. IS wants Crusade and it would love to have American foot soldiers in the battle. (Imagine a propaganda value it would unleash if it takes an American soldier as a prisoner of war with endless confessions on Internet...) Job of American leadership, contrary to the harakiri what these Republicans are advocating, is to avoid all these temptations and help natural, local forces to pull down IS.

Danger of other rogue attacks from terrorists outside the orbit of IS is ever present. Obama Administration needs to guard America from this danger. America needs to work with rest of the world in removing one of the cardinal causes giving rise to nihilism of IS - lack of governance and failed states. From Libya to Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nigeria; all these Islamic states are hobbled by governance failure. Those failures are the ones which are giving rise to an interpretation of Kuran which provokes these societies to opt for culture of death as propounded by IS. America's interest lies in working on these longer term objectives while not wasting all precious resources on IS when IS will collapse due to its own contradictions and everyone else as its enemy.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dems - Don't Attend Bibi Speech

Israeli PM is slated to give a speech to American Congress on March 3rd. Democrats in Congress should boycott this speech lock-stock barrel. Reasons are pretty clear:

- As is the norm, speeches by foreign leaders in USA are to be co-ordinated by White House since ultimately contemporary Foreign Policy is the responsibility of current White House occupant and he needs all the maneuvering space as possible to set the tone and contours of foreign policy. This includes highly visible communication act of a speech in the Congress. In this case, Israel PM did not co-ordinate his speech with Obama White House; implying a clear cut intention of undermining Obama Administration. There is no reason for Democrats in Congress to participate in this scheme.

- Speaker John Boehner could have guided Israeli Ambassador to White House when he breached this topic with him. He did not do it. Clearly Speaker was motivated by the partisan bickering and did not let go an opportunity to snub President Obama. Once the Bibi Speech became football, there is no reason for Democrats not to produce an equally partisan response to this speech.

- When Israeli elections are so nearby - March 17 - it would have been prudent for the newly elected Israeli PM to address the Congress to articulate Israel's concerns and strategies with a new mandate. A speech before the election is nothing but a blatant attempt by Bibi to use American Congress for his electoral prospects. (Once upon a time Barack Obama on the eve of 2008 election wanted Brandenburg Gate as prop for his Berlin Speech. Chancellor Merkel rightly rebuffed him. Obama White House did not get an opportunity to straighten up Bibi, but Democrats do that by having half of Congress empty on Bibi's Speech.)

- Israeli PM thinks he is waging a jihad (!) against Obama's dovish policy towards Iran and in the process defending Israeli's security. And to protect Israel, that is his argument, he would do anything, Implicit to this and his speech to Congress is he wants to make political life of Democrats harder by snatching their Jewish votes and Jewish Dollars in American elections. Democrats cannot be beholden to such an open interference by an Israeli politician. Israeli politicians, and Bibi in particular, want American politicians to keep aside America's national interest and serve misguided strategy of defending Israel at any cost. Time has come to break this nexus and stop making American Foreign policy hijacked by Israel. Rather than succumbing to propaganda of Israeli Conservatives that "these Democrats are leaving Israeli security high and dry"; what Democrats need to argue is that neither Bibi aggression against Iran is going to solve the issue nor America can concede it's sovereign foreign policy to a different country - even though it happens to be Israel.

- Israeli PM wants America to bomb Iranian nuke installations and basically undertake even more costly ground war against Khamenei's Iran than Bush's Iraq war. There is no reason for America to fall for this nor the blackmailing by Israel in this regard. Absence of Democrats to the Bibi speech will make an emphatic statement that not all Americans would simply allow other nations to dictate it's foreign policy with long term consequences

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Europe's Greece Problem

We are talking here 3 possibilities:

1. Greece defaults and abandons Euro.
2. Greece defaults but sticks with Euro.
3. Greece enters into some kind of compromise with Troika.

The thing is the middle option is not viable. But that is where Syriza is going - they essentially do not want to pay for the mountain of debt unless it is reduced with the full knowledge that minus the debt and interest payments, their current budget is balanced. That is; so far as 'cash' goes, it collects as much as it needs to pay for the immediate government expenses.

But alas the modern national economics is so simple. The problem is apart from 'cash' coming and going from government accounts, there is a basic thing called liquidity in the market so that private economy continues. Greek banks have around $160 Billions of deposits and so far 10% of those are withdrawn. Banks generally have anything between 5% to 20% as Capital (in various tiers) of their assets, that is loans. Most of the deposits are deployed, presumably in productive loans; including loans to state. These loans cannot be rescinded just because Bank's depositor's are asking money back, which they can indeed do at anytime at nominal fees. Hence, banking is essentially the business of confidence and right now ECB is underwriting that confidence for Greek banks.

Anytime insults from Greece exceeds the tolerance level of Chancellor Merkel, we are likely to see ECB pulling the rug under Greece, no matter how much smart Greece's finance minister is. Syriza folks are convinced of Paul Krugman Theory that austerity has to be avoided. There are couple of aspects of that theory:
- Will continuing to throw money at public sector workers, who in all likelihood are not generating any value, is still economy saving 'demand generating' spending?
- And when all of this marginal money to be pumped as stimulus (remember, Greece is primary budget surplus only on the current lower state revenue, it would not be having any additional money which Syriza wants to throw as per it's mandate) is all going to come from Troika, what does Greece have to give as 'collateral' to these loans? Especially since there is no creditworthiness left for Greece in international capital market.

It would have been a different matter if Syriza and Greece political class, as well as Greek national will, had some smart ideas to direct 'stimulus' money in more productive ways rather than just throwing it on redundant  public sector employees. May be Krugman's point is it does not matter - the goal is to generate demand and if it means 'spraying the money'; so be the case.

Because Greece is not printing its own currency, its hose to 'spray this money' is controlled from Frankfurt. That is the fundamental difference. Bernanke Fed could print Trillions of Dollars at will and allowed Obama Administration to spray it effectively and so as to take USA out of Great Recession.

With Greece, Syriza mandate is NOT to choose the option number 1 i.e. default and go for it's currency. Greeks do not want to give up Euro since they do not trust their own politicians in managing their own currency or stewardship of their monetary policy.

It may be all right to 'win' an election by boasting that Greece would not pawn its 'sovereignty' to Troika and it may be indeed the case that Troika at some level increased misery of Greece; but in absence of any hard collateral and willingness to shun bombastic rhetoric; acceding to Troika demands is the only choice. Indeed that could look like 'selling of Greece sovereignty' to Syriza's voters. But after all the lender has more vested interest in getting back her money or avoid Spain and Italy springing up these ever growing demands of debt write offs. Keeping this natural alignment of the lender intact and compromising with Trioka seem to be most natural choices here for Greece. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Mitt Romney's Honorable Decision

In finally deciding against his third run at White House, Mitt Romney made a wise decision. He has correctly diagnosed that 2016 will be all about pulling up America's vast and increasing under class of economically left behind (essentially most of the America). But for him; the candidate of 1%, the candidate for 'makers' rather than 'takers'; to make a swift turn to populist economic programs would have been very hard in the third run. Besides, there is this 'old car smell' and unusually large field of Republican Wannabes. 

For America, Mitt's arguments are done. There is much 'less new' to come out. We would not miss anything. Rather a room is made for others and new arguments. In that sense Mitt did a service to America.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

America's Saudi Burden

"...we in the United States are prisoners as well: handcuffed to Saudi Arabia, bound to its corruptions and repression, with no immediate possibility of escape."

Possibly a rare occasion when a dyed in the wool conservative columnist like Ross Douthat may find an agreement with editorial predisposition of a liberal outlet like NYT. He laments America's inability to resist complete anti-democratic political structure of Saudi Arabia and consequent full repression of people's rights in that kingdom. Ross Douthat is right when he points helplessness of America in nudging Saudi Arabia towards a more liberal and egalitarian society. But President Obama will not be the first American President to sacrifice a 'love seat' to kiss the newly minted king in Saudi Arabia. There is a long tradition of American Presidents who carry waters for House of Saud - it is bipartisan.

Ever since Richard Nixon invested in Saudi Arabia, part of America's enduring global geopolitical influence since WW II arises because House of Saud decided to denominate Oil Trade in Greenbacks and that cemented the love of Saudi Green among Red and Blue elites of America. It is a mature Statecraft when an American President continues this tradition. Since when affairs of nations have been conducted on 'principles' exclusively? They are not and so why hold Barack Obama and his predecessors to an unrealistic criteria? If 'principles and values' were sole reasons to guide America's foreign policy, neither Nixon would have adopted the 'open China' policy nor Reagan would have gone to Reykjavik to negotiate with Gorbachev.

It may be detrimental to America's Hydrocarbon production when Saudi Arabia crashes Oil prices. But the fact is we need Saudi Arabia as the bulwark against ISIS. It suits West's narrative when Saudi Arabia opposes extremism in the name of Islam while claiming custodianship of entire Islam. It is lot better for the global peace that House of Saud manages Islamic shrines of Mecca and Median rather than some virulent and nihilistic ideology misuses those places of worship and instigates unrest among Muslim population all over the world. When Sunni Wahhabism is followed scrupulously - in quick, no frills burying of the king rather than lengthy drawn out process of saying good by to a deceased leader; in not building any named tombs and in not declaring any official mourning period - House of Saud puts forward the best side of Islam in front of the world. No wonder French President Hollande, British PM Cameron and American President Obama see the political value in aligning with House of Saud during this political transition. As a family run business, what House of Saud could do right; they have done so - quickly establishing the line of succession and continuity in its Oil and Foreign Policy. Reaffirming this steady and non-disruptive policy framework is the duty of Obama Administration and it is good to see that it intends to do so by way of avoiding any recent slip ups

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Populist Turn in American Politics

When a pro-rich, himself rich, guy starts talking about the gulf between rich and poor, you know things are changing in American politics. A second term president in his last two years and wide open Republican primary is a fertile ground in any case for such tectonic shifts. No wonder President Obama fully exploited this moment to play out his party's differences in this regard with his political opponents. 

However, what I find most astonishing is the ease with which Mitt Romeny blamed President Obama for all this rich-poor gap when exactly it has been Romney's party which has defended capital owners at all costs while Mitt Romney deciding to be the candidate of top 1%. May be it is no surprise there and that is how politics always work: keep opposing your opponent on ideological basis and when a problem is detected in your policy prescriptions blame your opponent even if it is your ideology which causes the problem.

The question is will American Public see through the hollowness of sudden populist turn of Republicans. Will Public make it harder to Republicans to  claim populism while trying to protect their true benefactor class - rich folks? There is no problem of a Republican who adopts populism and truly believes that with a credibility to deliver - that rich will have to pay more to address inequality in today's America. But are there any such Republicans who are ready to insist for "shared sacrifices" from rich? 

Politics of next few years in America will be determined by whether Republicans succeed in "selling to America that it is all fault of Obama and Liberals for all this inequality" (and hence we need to give more tax cuts to rich, oops...job creators in the dictionary of Republican Party). Generally Republican politics has had more success in selling all sorts of "snake oil" to Americans (Bush's Iraq War) than Democrats being able to point out contradictions in Republican Policy prescriptions.

2015 State of Union Address by President Obama was an attempt to help Democrats in this contest

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Charlie II

"It is we who forgive, not Muhammad.”

Trying to get hold of my copy of the issue, let us see if I am lucky. Clearly it is a collector's item; all worth of course.

Arrest Anjem Choudhary

British Cleric Anjem Choudhary calls new issue of Charlie Habdo as an "act of war". Who is he to call something as an "act of war"? I assume only British PM or British Crown can declare something as an act of war on the sovereign land of Britain. Given that, the question should be asked why not UK Government arrest this cleric for inciting population and trying to fuel societal tensions?

The fact is despite the carnage of last week in Paris, folks don't get it. May be it is too easy to assume that blood of few cartoonists would have established the right of free citizens to undertake so called blasphemy. But then the fight has started and there is no looking back.

It is not just the cleric, but lot of mainstream media as well does not get it. Take for example a NYT report where it says:

"Muslim groups and scholars in France and elsewhere voiced concerns on Tuesday that a satirical newspaper’s first cover since the attack on its journalists last week could ignite dangerous new passions in a debate pitting free speech against religious doctrine" [bold type added to emphasize]

Question is where were educated editors of New York Times when they allow the impression of "religious doctrine" as not to depict Mohamed in any form? There is no such doctrine and NYT failed miserably in not being precise here. But it is not just a factual error, it is moral laziness and cowardice on behalf of Gray Lady; and so goes for many media outlets.

As many have noted and I argued earlier, the problem in UK and Europe is the cuddling attitude towards these stupid clerics who continue to inflame people's emotions on the basis of religion. These clerics and many in Islam (including Al Qeda and ISIS, which at some point will get decimated completely) must understand that this Earth equally belongs to Atheists as like it is for religious people and all would have equal rights of humor and satire. If you do not understand and try to enforce Medival traditions, those times are gone and must end. (Why is that there is no good satire magazine making fun of we Atheists? Bring it on bro!)

It is the same lax attitude which took UK so long to convict Abu Hamaza and finally it has to be USA to put him behind bars. UK Government has chance to rectify this mistake and start prosecuting fools like Anjem Choudhary and likes of him before it is too late. Real fear is not from these bigots who consume the very same Freedom of Speech allowed by Western Societies to declare wars on those very same societies and for sure gun down our heroes; but weak UK politicians (you Ed Miliband and you Labor Party) who will be sold out for misguided Muslim votes in coming UK elections. (Oh yah, in India we have seen this movie so many times; just ask Congress Party and Samajwadi Party.)

What happened last week in France is really a wake up call to Western Societies and Politicians that they must a draw line and never tolerate non-sense of curtailing freedom of speech for concerns of few wrong clerics.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Beyond the March of Millions

Every legitimate polity needs to step forward, take responsibility and need to make an emphatic statement of its resolve to meet its challengers head on in times of crisis. That is what Millions of Parisians and French did today accompanied by panorama of 40+ heads of states and national rulers. What the march has achieved is to provide people's mandate and legitimacy as France, Europe and greater world embark upon a sustained fight against terrorism in the name of Islam.

Why is terrorism in the name of Islam flaring up so much in recent years? If one attempts to run down chain of global events and traces possible causes, few things come to mind.

First and foremost, in some basic sense this is a standard law and order issue because terror in France is all perpetrated by French born citizens living in France. Part of causes for rise of Islamic Terror in Europe are due to domestic policies Europe has practiced so far. Here is the money quote from Paul Mason in The Guardian

"The only common culture that will survive the onslaught that IS and its allies are planning for Europe has to be built on two principles: first, religious tolerance and respect for migrants’ rights under international law; second, the aggressive pursuit of secularism, rationalism and individual liberty. The liberal centre and the European left have this weakness in common: they find the tolerance bit easier than the aggressive fight for humanism and modernity. The collapse of the old left’s economic project, and the current collapse of the economic project of the centre, has sapped their will to fight for the culture they believe in."

Today's Europe in most ways would not have any guilt or moral burden of past colonial imperialism over Muslim world. But if at societal level any such burden is felt, then throwing 'welfare' Euros and Pounds to Islamic Migrants and their descendants while ignoring failures to assimilate those Muslims fully in French and European Life is not going to address any of these past burdens. Resultant alienation of Muslims in France and Europe gives rise to all these problems. As like Ummah needs to demand why criticizing and depicting Islam Founder Muhammad is blasphemy and why such laws are passed; Europeans need to actively pursue - as well as demand - assimilation of Muslim population in greater European ethos. 

During immediate years after WWII, Europe enjoyed torrential growth as it was busy rebuilding the war torn continent. But after the Oil Shock of 1973, Europe never seemed to have achieved sustained accelerated growth period. Germany got bogged down in the integration, then Euro came. Brief period of bright years came to Europe, followed by global recessions induced by 9/11 and 2008 American financial recession. While European born Muslims were growing into young adults looking for jobs; Europe adopted misguided economic policy of Austerity. So European economic policy is not generating jobs, but throws welfare Euros and Pounds while not tracking hatred spewing Imams and would be terrorists travelling to Islamic hot spots world over; no wonder danger of home grown terror increases.

Secondly, though France in particular is active in responding to upheavals outside of Europe; in general Europe has been slow to challenges thrown by militancy in Arab and Islamic world. It almost seems like European leaders think passing symbolic resolutions backing Palestine is all that they need to do so far as responding to outside Europe challenges. After Arab Spring, many middle-east Islamic countries are still fertile grounds for militants. The biggest problem is of course Syria and rise of ISIS. ISIS in Syria got a boast by the failed adjacent state of Iraq which gave it vast expanse of Mesopotamia to advance the nihilism of terror. This new out growth of a violent creed is turning out to be the channel for festering dormant resentment against Europe and feeling of left behind among many misguided youths of Muslims in Europe.

Sure more co-ordination, information sharing, new laws to track traffic of European born folks to jihadi hot-spots of the world; all that is good and  necessary. Whatever more needs to be done, West needs to undertake that. But the question remains - how do you politically challenge these forces of terror? Can there be any other case apart from joining the fight against ISIS? Hoping that if we let ISIS live, they would not disturb Western societies; one wonders how credible that reasoning is.

Anti-immigration and xenophobia are distractions from real challenges here. Hope is French people and Europe at large would 'see through' politics of National Front. But that is just one part, what is needed is to built upon overwhelming public will displayed today to take on all those inside and outside of Europe who want to kill Europeans just because West does not want to go back to Medieval times.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

The fundamental 'glass ceiling' few in West are trying to break here is - Prophet Mohamed can be criticized, can be put in the historical context and essentially humanized. That is the take for me. For too long many in Islam have pointed 'gun at the head' of those who dare to criticize, comment, depict and make cartoons of Prophet Mohamed. 

Those guns fired today.

Well, those heroes died for us so that we do not tolerate this non-sense. You see, in West folks can perfectly challenge whether historical Jesus Christ even exited or in India folks would neither hesitate to call the bluff of Hindu Mythology nor of India's rulers who are attempting to hide behind past and religion.

As Sec. Kerry said, if any nation knows better "to see through" blinkers of Religion, it will be France; the country which gifted to the whole world the concept of Secularism. There cannot be any doubt, just look at the way that country is standing to the whole challenge thrown to its way of life; it will be France which will rise to it's 9/11 and lead the fight against what Salman Rushdie rightly called "religious totalitarianism". 

History of early 21st century will be how West and rest of the world deal firmly and definitely with religious bigotry and religion based terrorism. No doubt, what happened in the City of Lights today will galvanize France, Europe and West to take this "fight" to a conclusion. Yes, there are dangers that West might over-react (but isn't France different than George Bush's America?); but the fight must be engaged and in the end freedom of speech must prevail. Today is the day when that resolve is tested and we all owe to these heroes to stick with that resolve.