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NightWatch 20111117

NightWatch

For the night of 17 November 2011

Australia-US: Comment. China has complained since the term of Bush 41 that the US was attempting to encircle China. The announced basing of US Marines at Darwin, Northern Territory, confirms the Chinese interpretation of US policy.

This new base will fill a gap in the line that runs from South Korean to India. Almost all the states within that arc are potentially hostile to China. Four have US bases or facilities - South Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Australia. Taiwan is supplied by the US. Others look to the US to lead the anti-China consortium, including Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia. India does not need US bases because it is building its own, for all three armed services.

The American basing plan for Australia punctuates the worst Chinese fears for seaward containment. Looking seaward from Beijing, potentially hostile forces exist in every direction.

As for Australia, the memories of the fall of Singapore while Australian divisions served the British Empire in Africa and the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese remain fresh. Since World War II, the US has been the only English-speaking ally that has the power to defend Australia, with Australian help. The US with Australia will stand against and contain Chinese military assertiveness. This is a good deal for Australia, particularly for the town of Darwin, and for the US. This is tonight's good news.

North Korea-Russia: Update. North Korea will receive $100 million annually as a transit country for Russian natural gas supplies to South Korea, RIA Novosti reported on 17 November. According to Russia's Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev, Russian natural gas exports to South Korea are expected to increase to 12 billion cubic meters from 10 billion cubic meters.

Comment: This deal is a North Korean communist ideal, in that the North gets paid for just being there and has to do nothing.

Afghanistan: Afghanistan will likely plunge into civil and regional war if the United States does not leave a residual force of 20,000 to 30,000 troops in the country after 2014, along with significant economic aid, a senior Afghan opposition figure said Thursday. 'The state will disintegrate' and Afghan security forces will break into factions, said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a former minister in the government of President Karzai.

Comment: The above assertion is not true in part. A residual US force would be primarily a target that would be too weak to prevent a return to civil war. As for the prediction of civil war -- or more accurately tribal war -- there is no power on earth than can stop it, whether the US keeps soldiers in Afghanistan or not. It has never stopped.

Nothing has been settled since 2001, including the terms for the distribution of wealth among the tribes; the role of Islam in government; ethnic relations between North and South; the ultimate form of the state; and finally, security.

Kuwait: During a special Cabinet session, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah on 17 November urged lawmakers not to be lenient with those who "infringe on national institutions," an unnamed Kuwaiti lawmaker reported. The Emir's statement refers to the incident on 16 November in which protesters stormed the Kuwaiti parliament building, injuring five police officers and national guard officers, according to the Interior Ministry.

Comment: Like other Sunni Arab monarchies, the Emirate of Kuwait will not tolerate the cell-phone activists. It seems worth noting that the Arab monarchies have had much more success in suppressing the cell-phone activists than the secular strong men who entertained sham democracies and the rubrics of elections.

Syria: Update on the intervention theme.

Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Riad Shaqfa, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia, said on 17 November that "people" will accept Turkish intervention over Western intervention in Syria. Shaqfa said Turkey must do more to "handle" Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's regime, such as providing air protection, if other countries do not take action.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman telephoned Saudi King Abdallah and asked him to intervene more strongly in the Syrian crisis, according to an article published by Al-Akbar newspaper. Suleiman voiced hope that the Saudi king's intervention might allow Syrian President al-Asad more time to resolve the crisis in Syria. Suleiman's phone call to the Saudi king reportedly occurred sometime before 12 November, when the Arab League suspended Syria's membership in the organization.

Comment: Assessments of the Syrian situation continue to indulge in a lot of wishful thinking because the Syrian Army and other security agencies continue to follow orders.

The Turks apparently are tolerating, if not supporting, the emergence of a Syrian refugee and defector community just inside their borders with Syria. This could backfire and escalate to armed confrontation, especially if Turkey is found to be supplying arms and supplies to the defectors.

External pressure on the Syrian regime could cause the Syrians to unite to confront the external threat, especially from the Turks, in a reprise of an ancient struggle.

Libya: Commanders who defected from Qadhafi's armed forces to the rebel forces during the civil uprising named a new chief on Thursday, presenting the new Libyan authorities with a done-deal. Some 150 officers and sub-officers, gathered in the eastern city of Al-Baida, unanimously approved the appointment of Khalifa Haftar and announced the re-activation of the army, which has yet to be officially reconstituted.

Libyan militia leader Abdullah Naker warned that his group could overthrow the new government if it does not meet demands for representation of his tribe. Naker's group would protest peacefully if a new Cabinet is not agreed on, Naker said, adding that if a dictatorship is elected, his group will respond as it did against Qadhafi. It will not be an armed movement, but that is how it may develop, he said. The militia group demands the appointment of Keib ministers for representation, Naker said.

Comment: The two anecdotes have the consistent themes that Libyans understand voting and representation but are not ready for modern democracy. That means these groups have a literal interpretation of democracy, inadequate for builiding a modern government.

Tunisia: For the record. Moncef Marzouki has been appointed president of Tunisia following a general consensus between the Congress for the Republic Party, which he heads, and the Ennahda party, said Abdul Raouf Ayadi, Congress for the Republic Party's deputy president.

Comment: Marzouki is German educated, a human rights activist and an outspoken critic of the Ben Ali government. He will be the interim president until elections.

Italy: New Prime Minister Mario Monti said on 17 November that the future of the euro depends on Italy. He promised his government will implement austerity measures balanced with growth and equity measures. He said that he intends to reform the labor market by reducing labor taxes and reforming the Italian pension system that creates "unequal benefits." He also plans to redistribute the weighted-estate tax rates because Italy lacks a property tax on main households.

Comment: Monti's first act was to consult with the Eurocrats in Belgium. The pro-Europe, technocratic aspects of the Monti cabinet plus Monti's initial pronouncements suggest this government will find welcome in Brussels or Berlin, but will not last long in Rome, especially with Berlusconi in opposition.

End of NightWatch for 17 November.

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