Ten years after al-Qaida declared war against the United States, andseven years after the U.S. followed suit, much of what we know aboutthe group is filtered through the lens of the Global War on Terror, aconcept that hides and distorts as much as it reveals. In reducingal-Qaida to a terrorist organization, we have ignored the broadersocio-cultural movement it represents. The result has been to overlookthe range of its activities on the one hand, while exaggerating itsprospects for success on the other. To formulate a soundstrategic response to al-Qaida, we must first have a clearunderstanding of just what kind of enemy […]

LONDON — The business of war-fighting just got more difficult. These days, British troops — over-stretched, under-funded and ill-equipped — must contend not only with implacable enemies abroad, but also with a seemingly disinterested Defense Ministry and a sometimes hostile public at home. No surprise, then, that morale has plummeted. The low level of morale was highlighted in a survey — the first ever — that was conducted among more than 24,000 service personnel across the armed forces. It revealed that almost half are ready to quit. The reasons are not hard to find. During October alone, the British government […]

China and Russia Discuss Energy Deal

Looks like Russia is about to suffer some more strategic fallout from the Georgia War, to the tune of $20-30 billion in direct and immediate loans to its oil industry from China. That, in return for guaranteed exports of two billion barrels a year for 20 years. Obviously, Beijing is having some trouble digesting Russia’s recognition of the separatist provinces. Seriously (or if not seriously, then with slightly less irony), it’s quite a bargain compared to what we’ve spent in Iraq securing our oil imports for the next twenty years. Moscow and Beijing are also talking about dispensing with the […]

More Patriotism and the Press in Times of War

Regarding the Bing West column that I mentioned earlier, Andrew Exum and Spencer Ackerman push back very, very, veryhard against West’s criticisms of Nir Rosen. In rereading West’s piece,it strikes me as less thoughtful than it did earlier this morning, butstill thought-provoking, which is probably why I passed over his biases(the hostile tone towards the press and his criticisms of Bob Gates,for instance) and zeroed in on the ethical/legal questions he raised. When I first read Rosen’s article,I never considered Rosen a traitor, or worthy of being shot, asAckerman claim West suggests. But it does seem valid to point out […]

Cyber Crackdowns in Malaysia and Turkey

It appears to be a bad week for free speech online, as both the governments of Malaysia and Turkey are taking steps to crack down on bloggers. In Malaysia, widely read blogger and government critic Raja Petra Kamaruddin has been ordered to serve two years in prision “without charge or trial under a draconian law known as the internal security act,” according to Agence France-Presse. Watch the AFP video report on the situation. For background on Malaysian bloggers’ ongoing fight for freedom of speech, see this May 2007 piece by WPR contributor Fabio Scarpello. Meanwhile, a Turkish court has banned […]

Patriotism and the Press in Times of War

Speaking of Nir Rosen’s Rolling Stone article, Bing West discusses some of the ethical and legal issuesit raises over at Small Wars Journal. West manages to present some verythorny and potentially explosive issues passionately but not stridently(quite a feat these days), keeping the piece both thoughtful andthought-provoking. Mostly light, with just enough heat (and in theright places) to make it resonate. I’m not quite sure I agree with his answers, but he’s asking the right questions. West addresses two aspects of Rosen’s “embed” that had occurred to mewhen I read the piece. First, that he was basically agreeingto the possibility […]

Afghan Opinion Trends Downward but Isn’t Hopeless

The Asia Foundation just released its latest Afghanistan public opinion survey to general disinterest. You can find a summary of the key findings at the foundation’s In Asia blog, as well as past surveys here at the Asia Foundation’s site. The key indicators show a downward trend in terms of overall optimism. But as Josh Foust at Registannotes in his preliminary analysis, the report still seems lesspessimistic than a lot of recent Western commentary (my own included). The emerging disparities in terms of security between various regionsof the country reminded me of something that occurred to me whilereading Nir Rosen’s […]

Europe’s ATM

It’s ironic that just a week after Nicolas Sarkozy proposes a coordinated European economic governance that emphasizes European sovereign wealth funds designed to protect European companies in strategic industries from “cash-flush foreign investors,” Gordon Brown heads off to the Middle East to try to convince some of those cash-flush foreign investors to sink some of their cash into the IMF’s bailout fund, dangerously undercapitalized at $250 billion. (Question: Will the IMF impose the same kind of Draconian restrictions it applied to Third World economies when it comes time to bail out industrialized Western nations?) Meanwhile, Robert Manning at the New […]

WPR Feature: The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know

If any of you are in the habit of entering the site through the blog without taking a look at some of the frontpage content, I encourage to click through to our latest biweekly feature issue, “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Three articles (here, here and here) on the various ways in which, seven years into the “Global War on Terror,” we’ve yet to fully take the measure of just who our principal enemy is. Click through. You’ll be glad you did.

Russia Annexes Georgian Provinces on the Installment Plan

A couple of articles in the French language press (one this weekend in Le Monde, the other today in Le Figaro) indicate that, contrary to what I’d expected, Russia is in fact annexing South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the installment plan. Apparently most of the political leaders installed in the two provinces are Russian (the new South Ossetian prime minister is a product of the Russian security forces), a rail bridge that linked the Abkhazia’s ethnically Georgian populaiton to Georgia has been blown up, and negotiations are under way for pemanent military bases. (I imagine that bargaining will be less […]

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — In search of raw materials, China has increasingly used development assistance to court Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, three countries “forgotten” since the Vietnam War. The U.S., too, has stepped up its activities in the region since the Sept. 11 attacks, although its efforts have focused more on counterterrorism cooperation than on directly addressing the growing Chinese influence. But as Southeast Asia increasingly becomes the object of the two powers’ attention, some in the region are expressing discomfort with their growing rivalry. A January 2008 report (.pdf) by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted that China outpaced […]

Checkbook Diplomacy

I got an email alerting me to MDC’s analysis over at Foreign Policy Watch of the export guarantees proposal for Iranian enriched uranium that I mentioned earlier, reminding me that this was in fact where I first learned of the idea. So a belated citation is in order. He raises a good point about how exactly to determine what constitutes “excess” uranium, considering Iran has no functioning reactors, and the nuclear fuel for the one that’s soon to go online at Bushehr was delivered by Russia. This is, of course, one factor that raised so many red flags about Iran’s […]

China-Pakistan Nuclear Deal

I mentioned the other day that while China had turned down Pakistan’s request for a loan, it had agreed to sell it two nuclear reactors. Given Pakistan’s non-NPT status, you might be wondering how China can do that without approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. James Acton at Arms Control Wonk explains that it can’t, but that it really doesn’t matter: But, realistically, all the NSG has at itsdisposal to enforce its rules is the restraint of its member states. IfChina does sell the plants to Pakistan what’s the NSG going to do? Write China a very strongly worded letter? […]

The Narrative of COIN

It comes just before the end, but eventually Warren Strobel’s latest McClatchy gem on the largely successful American COIN operation in the Philippines makes the point that leaped out to me after the first couple of paragraphs: While this mission could provide lessons for other global arenas, it’s also unique in many ways. The Philippines is a majority Catholic country with a functioning central government; a long, if checkered, relationship with the U.S.; and leaders willing to fight terrorism. Of all those criteria, I’d say the functioning central government is the most significant. When you start out with a policy […]

Which Internet Startup is China?

A few months back I was talking with an aquaintance in the telecom industry. I mentioned an article I had just read about leading Chinese telecom companies choosing 3G standards that weren’t compatible with international norms. Her response was basically that when you have the kind of domestic market that China has, international norms will eventually come to you. Fast forward a few months and a couple economic meltdowns later and we find, via an excellent NY Times piece, that when the U.S. (and the world) sneezes, China might not catch cold, but it does reach for its handkerchief. Among […]

Fear and Loathing in Afghanistan

I just finished reading Nir Rosen’s Rolling Stone piece on his gonzo “embed”with the Taliban, and to be honest, I find the reaction to the piece as revealingas the article itself: Does it take cojones to go where Rosen went?Yes. (Spencer Ackerman.) Does it blur some legaland ethical lines? Yes. (Dave Dilegge.) Does it blur some factual lines? Yes. (Joshua Foust.) Does itprovide valuable source material for students ofcounterinsurgency? Again, yes. (Andrew Exum.) But does it shed light on the subject? There I’m not so sure. Compared to Dexter Filkins’ NYT Sunday Magazine piece last month on the Pakistani tribal […]

China’s Pakistan Problem

You’d think that if China is wary of Islamic separatists destabilizing Xinjiang, the two things it wouldn’t want to do is outlaw Muslim practices in the province and allow Pakistan to self-destruct.The former creates the kind of resentments that fuel insurgencies, andthe latter creates the kind of safe havens that harbor them. Despite turning down Islamabad’s loan request, though, China’s “due diligence” didn’t stop it from promising to help Pakistan build a couple nuclear reactors. Those things ain’t cheap, of course, but at least they’re C.O.D.

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