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NightWatch 20110310


For the Night of 10 March 2011

China:  A senior Chinese leader today reinforced the primacy of communist party in terms that would have endeared Lenin.

Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Wu Bangguo said on 10 March China has made a solemn declaration it will not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation. Wu said it also ruled out separating power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, adopting a federal system or dividing parliament into upper and lower houses.

China will strengthen its legal system but never "imitate others," nor "diversify our guiding thought" or carry out formal privatization, Wu said, adding that China does not copy the systems of laws of certain Western countries when enacting the socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics.

The National People's Congress (NPC) will carry out special inquiries on issues and problems that are significant concerns to ordinary Chinese citizens, including low-income housing, government budgets, and education reform as well as strengthening primary level courts and procuratorates, according to Wu.

The NPC standing committee will focus on proactive fiscal policy and prudent monetary policy, local government debt risks, reforming key sectors to promote economic development as well as social development in ethnic minority areas. The NPC will also investigate compliance with laws on rural land contracts, food safety and labor contacts.

Comment: Wu's statement is significant because it establishes the limits of political change; the distance between politics and economics in Chinese leadership thinking and identifies the government as the  only channel for redress of economic hardship. Angst among the youth will not be permitted to express itself as a challenge to state authority. China has been and will remain a communist state governed by an authoritarian elitist political system that is not accountable to the Chinese people, barring another revolution.

The communists have worked modern economic miracles under a Nineteenth Century political system.  The Chinese leaders have defined their economic success and social stability as the proof that communist leadership works. 

The important difference with capitalist systems is that Wu's statement reinforces the political fact that personal freedom is not a right, but rather a privilege granted by the communist party. The Party considers private property is not a "formal" right, meaning the state remains the owner.

Wu's public restatement of this fundamental tenet of communist doctrine is a rare event that evidences the extent of the leadership's concern about the spread of the Arab Spring to China. China is likely to experience the protest movement despite the preventive efforts of the Party.

Afghanistan: Afghan security forces will soon replace NATO troops at six sites across the country, according to Western officials. The first phase of the transition will be in the provincial capitals of Lashkargah in Helmand Province in the Pashtun south; Herat in Herat Province in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh Province in the north.

Next will be Bamiyan and Panjshir Provinces, followed by all of Kabul Province other than Surobi district. NATO forces will either take on support roles in these areas or be sent home. Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said he expects NATO to endorse the list of areas for handover.

Comment: Except for Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province, the others are fairly safe. Herat City is busy doing business with Iran. Mazar-i-sharif is a Tajik town and business hub for central Asia. Bamiyan is the home of the Hazaras who are Shiite and viscerally despise the Taliban for trying to exterminate them. They also despise the Karzai government. Panjshir Province is home of the Panjshiris, who also despise the Taliban and outsiders.

The Hazaras and the Panjshiris police themselves without much central government help. The New Zealanders get credit for assisting the Hazaras, more than any one.

The point is that transferring security to Afghans in these political entities is no measure of Coalition success. It could have been done a year ago, except than any intrusion by the Karzai government is more likely to destabilize the areas than protect them.

Some of the Western military contingents in these areas intend to pull out this year, whether their areas are stable or not. Thus, political considerations also are driving the handovers. Thus, this is a formality for the benefit of the press and the various Western electorates.

As for Lashkargah in Helmand Province, a major battle for control is taking shape after winter ends.

Middle East: General warning: Readers should expect anti-government protests after prayers on 11 March from Iran to Morocco.

Bahrain: The Shiite Al Wefaq opposition party called for the cancellation of the 11 March protest march on the royal palace in Manama because it will exacerbate sectarian issues, Agence France-Presse. The Islamic National Accord Association, of which Al Wefaq is a member, opposes the protest, and Al Wefaq lawmaker Ali al-Aswad said.

Comment: The point of this statement is it exposes the rift between the establishment opposition and the youth protestors, who intend to participate in protests. The established political leaders have a far better insight as to the limits of effective protests, but they did not start the movement.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): GCC states have agreed to a $20 billion aid package for Bahrain and Oman, according to UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, The Wall Street Journal reported 10 March. The aid package will fund development projects, in particular housing and infrastructure, over the next 10 years, according to Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. It will be split equally between Oman and Bahrain.

Comment: The Sheikhs evidently have decided once again to try to bu off the protest movements. It seems incongruous that some of the richest states in the world are getting aid programs.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi police shot and wounded three male Shiite protesters in Qatif, Eastern Province, near Kuwait, while trying to disperse a rally. According to witnesses, the shooting occurred when 600-800 protesters, including women, all of whom were Shiite, took to the streets to demand the release of nine Shiite political prisoners. The police shot the protesters just as the demonstration was set to end, according to witnesses.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said police in Qatif only fired over the heads of protesters after they were attacked. The ministry said three people were injured in the protest, one of whom was a policeman, but did not say how the injuries were caused.

Saudi Arabia has raised the level of the undeclared state of emergency within the ranks of its security forces to a maximum in preparation for protest demonstrations on 11 March. The Associated Press reported that Saudi security forces have deployed around Riyadh. Riot police and special forces, armed with batons and tear gas, were observed along main roads and near shopping malls.

Military and security personnel have been recalled to their posts, leaves are canceled and a declaration of a state of emergency is expected.

A US view: U.S. government experts reportedly do not believe the current Saudi unrest poses a significant threat to the country's stability, U.S. officials said, Reuters reported. An official said there are no signs of widespread unrest in the kingdom and argued that the government has greater resources than other nations facing upheaval. The regime has solid control over almost all its territory, including Shiite areas, the official added. The kingdom faces many social issues, such as a large youth population and unemployment, that other Middle East countries face, but the country's wealth provides a buffer for the population, another official said.

Comment: Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia, but have reached the Kingdom nevertheless. It only took two months.

The protestors have shown no propensity to accept bribes to not protest, even when their demands began as more jobs. The wealth of a country has little bearing on the gravity of the protests The protests in Qatif show that the Kingdom does not have "solid" control of the Shiite areas. The increased alert indicates the government has doubts about its control in Riyadh and is taking every precaution.

Yemen: President Saleh announced plans to form a committee with representatives from parliament and shura councils, youths and "social and society figures" to pave the way for a new constitution that addresses separation of powers, Saba reported.

The committee will be part of an initiative that is due to transfer power to an elected parliamentary system by the end of 2011, shift to full-power local government, and set up regions according to economic and geographic criteria. Also, a new election law will be prepared to include proportional representation. The constitution will be brought to a vote by the end of 2011.

Comment: The announcement signals the onset of a concession phase in the cycle of instability. Predictably, the opposition has described the new plans as too little too late. There will be more protests and crackdowns.

Egypt: Counter-revolution. In a TV interview on 10 March, Prime Minister Sharaf said the government believes there has been a "counter revolution" behind the recent incidents leading to sectarian strife and chaos.

"Let's pray we are wrong," Sharaf said. "The government accepts as true that what's going on is organized and systematic. ... Unfortunately, you can sense that there are people attempting to destroy the state's structure," he said.

Comment: This is bastion language, like that used by Mubarak, and portends a crackdown. For the record, it is difficult to have a counter-revolution when no revolution has taken place first. This prime minister, appointed by the army, sees himself as defending a revolution, instead of a coup.

Security. Egyptian Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy said the state security apparatus will be restricted to combating terrorism and espionage and apologized for past violations, MENA reported. El-Essawy said the security apparatus will not play any further role in citizens' daily lives, but cannot be dissolved. El-Essawy said the country's regular police force has 269,000 members and state security police force has 170,000 members, and the numbers will be reviewed to ensure that they meet requirements. The restructuring plan will be presented to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf as soon as possible.

Comment: This is the most authoritative public statement of the numbers in the police and state security police. Less responsibility for the same number of personnel.

The Constitution. The Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs has suggested developing a new constitution within 30 days, according to local press. The suggestion rose from concerns that the Egyptian people would reject some amendments because the government had not accommodated recent reservations.

Rejecting the constitutional amendments will adversely affect the reputation of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has until now held the respect of the people, the council said. The council recommended the formation of a constituent assembly, which would include between 50 and 100 legal scholars and political officials, to draft the document.

Comment: The willingness of the armed forces council to consider the recommendation for a new constitution will reveal its attitude towards political reform and the creation of a more politically neutral culture in the armed forces. The Armed Forces Council promised to form a committee to look into public opposition to the constitutional amendments its scholars drafted that leave intact the strong presidency.

The Council for Foreign Affairs did not indicate a preference as to nature of a new constitution, but by implication it does not seem to favor a strong presidency.

Libya: Libyan leader Qadhafi's son Saif told rebels on 10 March they faced a full-scale assault to crush their three-week-old uprising. "It's time for action. We are moving now," Saif al-Islam Qadhafi told Reuters in an interview. "Time is out now...we gave them two weeks (for negotiations)."

Pro-government forces continued their counter-attack eastward, apparently recapturing the oil port of Ras Lanuf and using air strikes against Brega further east.

Late press accounts affirm that Qadhafi forces now control Zawiyah, previously the only rebel held town west of Tripoli.

Comment: By dint of his education in London and his experience with the modern world, many considered him the vanguard of a more modern Libya. In the event, he is the leader of the hardliners among Qadhafi's children. The great socialist people's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya functions very much like a pre-modern Arab monarchy.

As they move east, Qadhafi's forces face a problem familiar to Coalition forces in Afghanistan. They can take ground, but is difficult to hold it. A well-trained and equipped tank force with air support and a secure, reliable logistics train should have little trouble punching through the resistance and reaching Benghazi. Then what?

It is not clear that Qadhafi has the forces to hold the ground much less keep secure the supply line from Tripoli. The rebels have not yet shown that they have the technology and supplies for IEDs, but they will soon and they will change the fight.

Libya-Netherlands: Update. Three Dutch marines detained in Libya after a botched evacuation operation will be released to a delegation from Malta and Greece, according to Libyan state TV and Dutch state broadcaster NOS. The Netherlands hopes the release happens but it is not definite, a senior Dutch Foreign Ministry official involved in release negotiations said. The Dutch soldiers were captured along with their helicopter 27 February near Sirte.

For the benefit of US Media and the State Department spokesman: The CIA Factbook contains the official title Qadhafi gave to his government: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The UNSC passed a sanctions resolution that bans arms sales to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Under questioning today the State Department spokesman and various news reporters did not know that is the title of Qadhafi's government and does not include the rebels, whose government is the National Transition Council.

Benghazi Council-France: France recognized the Libyan opposition National Transitional Council as the sole "legitimate representative of the Libyan people" and will soon send an ambassador to Benghazi. The announcement followed a meeting by French President Sarkozy with the council's crisis committee chief Mahmoud Jebril and the council's foreign minister Ali al-Essawi in Paris.

President Sarkozy intends to propose targeted European Union airstrikes on Libya in his action plan, which he will present to the European Council on 11 March. NATO surveillance aircraft will monitor Libyan airspace at all times to gather more information on the ground, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on 10 March.  NATO defense ministers also agreed to send more naval ships off Libya's coast and to renew military planning for a possible no-fly zone pending a UN mandate, the alliance's chief said.

"It has been decided to increase the presence of NATO maritime assets in the central Mediterranean," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference after a meeting of defense chiefs.

Comment: The effect of mounting outside pressure is to spur Qadhafi's fighters to make as much progress eastward as quickly as they can. They are likely to outrun their supply line and make mistakes.

US-Libya: Today was a difficult day for executive branch officials concerning Libya. Director of National Intelligence Clapper testified that Qadhafi's forces will beat the rebels because of superior equipment. That assessment drew fire, but looks accurate based on static, linear capabilities assessments that implicitly assume nothing changes. But one thing is certain in Libya: change.

As reported in the news, the statement did not take into account prior episodes of fighting in which citizen militiamen held off tanks and aircraft for days, until supplies ran out.  It also failed to allow that outside intervention in support of the rebels could change the predicted outcome, such as the arrival of a regiment of Foreign Legionnaires. So would Qadhafi's assassination or more defections by his forces.

The assessment might have been more palatable as a warning, instead of a prediction. A warning contains a prediction of potential damage for the deliberate purpose of enabling the decision maker time to apply resources to avert the threat or prepare for its occurrence. That paradox of warning did not emerge from the testimony.

Warning doctrine and lessons are neglected and the consequences and implications of that neglect were broadcast all over the world today. As a warning, the DNI's statement had an impact, but the staff did not support its boss well.

End of NightWatch for 10 March.

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