Saturday, November 27, 2010

MIA in the 21st Century -

when the first missing man
walks alive out of that green tangle
of rumors and lies,
I shall lie
down silent as a jungle shadow
and dream the sound of insects
gnawing bones.
     W. D. Ehrhart, "POW/MIA"

...The Vietnam War has given the United States a second national flag, the black and white POW/MIA flag.

    That flag is the only one besides the Star-Spangled Banner that has ever flown over the White House, where it has fluttered once a year since 1982.  As visitors from around the world stream through the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, they pass a giant POW/MIA flag, the only flag that has ever been displayed amid the epic paintings and heroic statues, given this position of honor in 19878 by the Congress and president of the United States.  Thanks to a law passed by Congress and signed by the president in 1997, the POW / MIA flag must fly several times a year over every U.S. post office (and many post offices fly it all year long).  During the 1980s and 1990s, the legislatures and governors of each of the fifty states issued laws mandating the display of this flag over public facilities such as state offices, municipal buildings, toll plazas, and police headquarters.  The POW / MIA flag also hangs over the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, waves at countless corporate headquarters, shopping malls, union halls, and small businesses.  It is sewn onto the right sleeve of the official Ku Klux Klan white robe and adorns millions of bumper stickers, buttons, windows, motorcycle jackets, watches, postcards, coffee mugs, T-shirts, and Christmas tree ornaments.
    The flag thus symbolizes our nation's veneration of its central image, a handsome American prisoner of war, his silhouetted head slightly bowed to reveal behind him the ominous shape of a looming guard tower.  A strand of barbed wire cuts across just below his firm chin.  Underneath runs the motto: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.
    This colorless banner implies that the Vietnam War may never end.  It demonstrates to the world both the official United States government position since 1973 and a profoundly influential national belieef: Vietnam may still secretly hold American prisoners of war.  This was the official reason why every postwar administration - Nixon, ford, Carter, Reagan, bush, and Clinton - reneged on the 1973 treaty pledge that the United States would help rebuild Vietnam and instead waged relentless economic and political warfare against that nation for decades.  Even when President Clinton announced in 1995 that Washingon was finally establishing diplomatic relations with Vietnam, he claimed the primary motive was to further "progress on the issue of Americans who were missing in action or held as prisoners of war."
    To begin to understand what this all means, it is first necessary to recognize that there is simply no rational basis or evidence for the belief that Americans are still imprisoned in Vietnam.  Indeed, it runs counter to reason, common sense, and all evidence.
    None of the armed forces has listed a single prisoner of war (POW) or even a single person missing in action (MIA) since 1994, when the only person still listed as a prisoner, for "symbolic" reasons, was reclassified as deceased at the request of his family.  There are, it is true, 2,020 Americans listed as "unaccounted for" from the war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but not one of these is classified as a prisoner, a possible prisoner, or even missing.  Most of the "unaccounted for" were never listed as POW or even MIA because well over half were originally known to have been killed in action in circumstances where their bodies could not be recovered.  Their official designation has always been "KIA / BNR": Killed in Action / Body Not Recovered.  Crews of airplanes that exploded in flight or crashed within sight of their aircraft carrier, soldiers whose deaths were witnessed by others unable to retrieve their bodies, or men blown apart so completely that there were no retrievable body parts - all these are listed in the total of "unaccounted for."  All that is missing is their remains.  This KIA/BNR category was never included with the missing in action during the Vietnam War; it was lumped together with the POW/MIA category only after the 1973 Paris Peace Accords were signed.
    The confusion thus created was quite deliberate.  But this miasma was relatively mild compared to that generated by the "POW/MIA" concoction itself.  Arguably the cagiest stroke of the Nixon presidency was the slash forever linking "POW" and "MIA."  In all previous wars there was one category, "prisoners of war," consisting of those known or believed to be prisoners.  There was an entirely separate and distinct category of those "missing in action."  The Pentagon internally maintained these as two separate categories throughout the war and its aftermath.  But for popular consumption, the Nixon administration publicly jumbled the two categories together into a hodgepodge called POW/MIA precisely in order to make it seem that every missing person might possibly be a prisoner.  Because this possibility cannot be logically disproved, the POW/MIA invention perfectly fulfilled its original prupose: to create an issue that could never be resolved.
    It also created an almost impenetrable fog of confusion that clouds the issue right up to the present.  Although prisoners of war were not previously considered either missing or unaccounted for, once the MIAs became defined as possible POWs, then all the "POW/MIAs" could be dumped into the category "unaccounted for," which then became synonymous in the popular mind with "POW/MIA."  So when it is reported that there are still more than two thousand "unaccounted for" from the Vietnam War, people assume that any or all of them might still be languishing in Vietnamese prisons.  "MIA" and "POW" and "unaccounted for" have even become interchangeable terms, as manifested by a question I am frequently asked, usually in an incredulous tone, " Don't you believe tehre are MIAs?" - or, even more revealing, "Don't you believe in MIAs?"
    In all major wars, many combatants die without being identified or having their bodies recovered.  There are more than 8,100 unaccounted fro from the Korean War and 78,794 still unaccounted for from World War II.  So the total of 2,020 unaccounted for in the Indochina war is astonishingly small, especially since 81 percent of the missing were airmen mainly lost over the ocean, mountains, or tropical rain forest, many in planes that exploded.  In fact, the proportion of unaccounted-for Americans to the total killed in actions is far smaller for the Indochina war than for any previous war in the nation's history even though this was its longest war and ended with the battlefields in the possession of the enemy.  For World War II, after which the United States was free to explore every battlefield, those still unaccounted for represent 21.8% of the total killed in combat.  For the Korean War, more than 24% of the combat dead were never found.  In contrast, the unaccounted for from the Indochina war constitute only 3.4% of those killed in combat.  To get another perspective on these numbers, consider the fact that on the other side there are between 200,000 and 300,000 Vietnamese missing in action.

I've started another blog

Because of the diverse nature of the topics upon which I blog, it seems best to separate the wheat from the corn. Thus, I am in the process of splitting up the contents of this blog into its more logical component pieces:  political commentary (which this blog will remain), poetry / writing / musings (my initial thought of what my blogging would be about)  and sports.

For those of you who are interested, the poetry / writing / musings blog can be found at:

Warm wishes and fondest regards to all. And I am forever yours,


The man who ain't got no skype!

Russia & China - The Lonely Giants

This commentary is printed with the kind permission of its author:  [Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically or e-mail to others and to post this text on non-commercial community Internet sites, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To translate this text, publish it in printed and/or other forms, including commercial Internet sites and excerpts, contact the author at; fax: 1-607-777-4315.
Commentary No. 5, Dec. 1, 1998
"Russia and China: Lonely Giants"

Russia and China are two of the largest countries in the world, both in area (Russia especially) and population (China especially). They have been power centers and major civilizational loci for a long time. They exhibit deep cultural pride. They are major military powers. And they are unhappy, lonely countries.

They are first of all unhappy about the fact that they are not as deeply respected by other world powers as they feel they ought to be. They are unhappy because the level of their economic production is lower than they would like it to be, and significantly lower per capita than the other great powers with which they compare themselves. And they are unhappy because they feel they have been badly treated by other world powers - or more than badly, unjustly. It is no accident that they both installed Communist regimes in the twentieth century. And even that act did not seem to change their sense of isolation in the world. Today Russia's Communist regime is a matter of history, and China's regime is transforming itself, a bit slowly to be sure, into something else.

If one looks at the world from their eyes, their faults have been minor to those of the faults outsiders committed against them. Russia has felt that it has been treated by other European powers as barbarians, as extra-Europeans - at least for the last 500 years, if not for longer. It feels that Russia suffered a terrible devastation in the Second World War, thereby saving the world from the horrors of Nazi domination, and that this human sacrifice has never been really appreciated by either western Europe or the United States. And today Russia feels that the last pillar of its national pride, its armed forces, is disintegrating.

China feels similar grievances. Heirs of the Middle Kingdom, China still feels it is the true center of world civilization. It feels it was despoiled by the Western world for at least two centuries. It feels that its national unity is still imperiled, and seeks to recreate the boundaries and glories of yesteryear. It remembers that, only fifty-odd years ago, it was internally ravaged by a devastating Japanese invasion as well as by a civil war. And China remains deeply suspicious of both Japan and the U.S.

The story of course looks different from the vantage point of the Western world and that of Japan. Russia and China are seen as having expressed once again through their adoption of Communist regimes in the twentieth century both totalitarian ideals internally and imperialist intentions externally. And they remain therefore suspect to many people and politicians in the West and in Japan.

Nor are they considered too benevolently in the rest of the world. In east/central Europe, Russia is regarded primarily as a perennially imperialist power, the one that has attempted to dominate them. China is regarded by many of its neighbors to the south as playing a similar game, if not by armed force then at least via the implantation of a merchant diaspora, who remain culturally and perhaps politically loyal to China. To be sure, outside the West and Japan, there are many countries who agree that Russia and China are regions of the world that have been exploited by the West in the same ways these countries feel they themselves have been, and are Russia and China may be admired in such countries for having had the courage of fighting back. But even when they are admired, Russia and China are often still not liked or trusted. So they are lonely as well as unhappy giants.

These images of Russia and China, self-images and those of others, play a significant role in contemporary geopolitics. They lead Russia and China to insist loudly and repeatedly on their right to have their voice heard and respected, to participate in major geopolitical decisions. These images lead Russia and China to devote a good part of their national product to maintaining and strengthening their armed forces. These images lead them to be willing to defy world opinion, whenever their interests seem to them impinged.

It also explains their other national priorities in addition to the maintenance and strengthening of their armed forces. Russia and China are desperately anxious to ensure the integrity of their present national boundaries, and in China's case, to reunify with the major national area still outside, Taiwan. They want serious and rapid improvement in their economic machinery and productivity. And they want to strike strategic bargains with specific other countries to guarantee their world roles. China seeks to gain a relationship of political parity and comity with Japan and the United States. It offers the latter economic links, both as producer and consumer. What they hope to get in return is significant improvement in their productive infrastructure plus a long-term reduction in the U.S. military presence in East Asia. China would like in addition some form of reunification of the Korean peninsula, if for no other reason than that it might lead to this reduction of the U.S. military role in East Asia.

China is at the moment more self-confident than Russia, but this could be temporary. Russia is hurting badly from the rapidity of the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and from the economic chaos that the unrestrained entry into Russia of world market sctors has wreaked upon it. Russia seeks to contain the damage, but at the moment it has no strong center. This too may be temporary. In the medium run, Russia seeks to reestablish its role of peace-imposer in the region (but exactly what region?) and for this role to be again recognized by the other major world powers. In the medium run, too, Russia is looking to the establishment of a relationship of parity and comity with western Europe within the context of a greater Europe. Russia's erstwhile satellite states of east/central Europe are unsympathetic to such a project and most of them will no doubt seek to block it. But Russia has important military and economic cards to play in its negotiations with western Europe, if and when it restores strong central authority within its frontiers. It represents a major military force that can be rebuilt, and it represents (just like China) a major market and production zone.

The key element in the equation is that both Russia and China still nurse the grievance that they are not respected as they feel they ought to be, as they feel their status as contemporary giants and heirs to long traditions entitle them. As long as giants are unhappy and lonely, there can be no quiet in the world. The status of these two countries is a matter that requires the attention of the world, for the sake of the world.

Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically or e-mail to others and to post this text on non-commercial community Internet sites, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To translate this text, publish it in printed and/or other forms, including commercial Internet sites and excerpts, contact the author at; fax: 1-607-777-4315.

Brazilian & U.S. Elections

The following is published with kind permission of its author:   [Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.] 
Commentary No. 293, Nov. 15, 2010
"Brazilian and U.S. Elections: Opposite Outcomes"
     On October 31, President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva won a sweeping victory in the Brazilian elections. On November 2, President Barack Obama was soundly defeated in the U.S. elections. The curious thing is that neither one of them was standing in the elections. In Brazil, Lula had had two terms, the maximum allowed, and was supporting Dilma Rousseff as his successor. In the United States, the 2010 elections were midterm legislative elections, not a presidential election.
     There are some striking similarities in the two men and the two political situations. Lula was elected president of Brazil in 2002 as the candidate of hope and change. Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008 as the candidate of hope and change.
     Both men were outsiders in terms of the traditional political processes of their countries. Lula was the first president of working-class background and of little formal education. Obama was the first African-American president of his country.
     In their campaigns, both rallied large-scale popular support. In Lula's case, this was not his first, but his fourth attempt to become president. He had been a trade-union leader and the leader of a workers' party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). Obama has been a community organizer and a senator with a very left ("liberal") voting record in the legislature. Both received support from militants in social movements and appealed particularly to young voters. Both emphasized the misdeeds of the previous president in their country - Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the case of Brazil and George W. Bush in the case of the United States - and in both cases their election was seen as a repudiation of the policies of the previous president.
     In neither case did the newly-elected president have a clear path in the legislature. In the Brazilian case, the electoral system led to a legislature with multiple parties and the PT had no more than a quarter of the seats. In the U.S. case, the rules of the U.S. Senate allowed the opposition party to block or force major concessions in any legislation the U.S. president wanted to see enacted. Both men felt they had to make political compromises.
     In both cases, a major fear of the newly-elected president was that the already difficult economic situation of their countries would turn to disaster. Lula feared runaway inflation and runaway investors. Obama feared collapse of the banks and runaway unemployment. The way each responded to these fears was to turn to a relatively conservative ("neoliberal") economic approach and the appointment of relatively conservative people in the key economic positions of their administration.
     This almost immediate "neoliberal" approach dismayed a large part of their electoral base. In each case, the two men sought to reassure their more left supporters that this "neoliberal" approach was essential but transitional, and that they would see that eventually their hopes for more fundamental change would be realized.
     These assurances were taken with increasing skepticism and public dissent by these supporters, and particularly by leading left intellectuals and leaders of social movements. In the Brazilian case, some of them publicly resigned from the PT and threw their support to smaller left-wing parties. The response of both Lula and Obama was to point to various kinds of programs they had put into effect which were intended to improve the lot of the poorer parts of the population, such as the campaign against hunger in the case of Brazil and the new health legislation in the case of the United States. The skeptics pointed in each case to the important benefits that had accrued to the wealthier segments of their countries.
     When, however, the actual elections took place, many of the left skeptics returned to the fold. In Brazil, a group of very prominent left intellectuals issued a public appeal to vote for Dilma Rousseff 0n the grounds that her opponent would wreak disaster for Brazil. A similar position was taken by the most important social movement, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST), which had been badly let down by Lula but nonetheless thought that things would be still worse if Rousseff were not elected.
     In the U.S. case, intellectuals who had supported the third-party candidacy of Ralph Nader in 2000 because they felt that there was no significant difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush publicly repented of this approach and argued for supporting Democrats in the legislative elections. So did leaders of social movements - among African-Americans, Latinos, and gays - despite their public disappointment with the limited fulfillment of Obama's promises.
     All this seems remarkably similar, yet the outcome could not have been more different. Rousseff won handily in Brazil and Obama, in his own words, received a "shellacking." Why? It could not be clearer. There was one enormous difference in the two situations. Brazil's economic situation had markedly improved in the past few years, and the U.S. economic situation had become markedly worse. There could not have been a clearer demonstration of the Carville thesis: "It's the economy, stupid."
     It was not Obama's "centrism" that explains why voters turned against him. Lula has been every bit as "centrist" in his politics. It was not Obama's lack of charisma. He had seemed very "charismatic" in 2008. Lula was popular because things seemed to be going well. And Obama was unpopular because they seemed to be going badly. It is not that one sold out and the other did not. It was not a question of their true political convictions. Sometimes, the overall structural situation overwhelms the abilities of talented politicians to do much about them.
                                       by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

First concerns first - since WWII U.S. foreign policy priorities ought to have always been first Germany, then Japan

The following is published with kind permission of its author:   [Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

Commentary No. 272, Jan. 1, 2010
"U.S. Concerns: First Germany, Now Japan?"

The geopolitical strategy of the United States after 1945 was based on what seemed to be a solid rock - control over its two defeated enemies in the Second World War, Germany and Japan. For a long time, each country was governed by a single conservative party - the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan. The two parties pursued a policy of close alliance with the United States and faithful support of its geopolitical positions.
The unbreakable support began to break down first in Germany. For one thing, the CDU began to alternate power in 1969 with the Social-Democratic Party whose Chancellor, Willy Brandt, launched the Ostpolitik, seeking some sort of détente with the Soviet Union. The weakening of German links with the United States progressed slowly until the significant break in 2003 when Germany allied itself with France and Russia to defeat the U.S.-supported resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would have constituted an endorsement of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Nothing similar happened for a long time in Japan, until Aug. 31, 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), led by Yukio Hatoyama, swept the LDP out of office on a platform that included rethinking Japan's "subservient" relationship with the United States. Hatoyama had published an article in 1996 in which he described the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty as "a Cold War relic" and called for weaning away Japan from "excessive dependence" on the United States.
There had long been a contentious issue in U.S.-Japan relations, which was the existence of, and conditions governing, U.S. military bases on Okinawa. To lessen the discord, the United States was negotiating a new arrangement with the previous LDP government that would transfer some (but not all) U.S. troops from the island of Okinawa to Guam, and relocate the existing military base to a more remote area on Okinawa. Hatoyama, however, seemed to want U.S. troops to leave the island entirely. This was the strongly-voiced view of one of the DPJ's coalition partners, the Social-Democratic Party.
There was an additional complication. Just at this moment, a secret agreement between the United States and Japan came to light. Okinawa had been occupied by the United States since 1945, and under its total control. The United States then agreed to "revert" the island to Japan in 1972, while keeping a base. There was one problem. The United States had nuclear weapons on Okinawa. Japan had an official policy of the "Three Non-Nuclear Principles" - not possessing, not producing, and not permitting the entrance of nuclear weapons into Japan. These principles would now presumably govern the U.S. base. It seems, however, that President Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato signed an agreement in 1969 permitting the United States to reenter nuclear weapons to Okinawa in case of an "emergency." Since this was a direct violation of Japanese official policy, it was kept secret and known to very few people in Japan.
In addition, after assuming office, Hatoyama added fuel to the fire by calling publicly for the creation of an East Asian Community, embracing China, South Korea, and Japan, but not including the United States.
The initial U.S. reaction to all of these events was to consider Hatoyama's position the rhetoric of a "populist, inexperienced" government, which was not to be taken too seriously. But as Hatoyama continued to waffle on the proposed new Okinawa agreement, the U.S. government became ever more distrustful of him and worried about the long-term implications of what seemed to be a new turn in Japanese geopolitical strategy. In late December, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened the Japanese Ambassador to tell him bluntly that the United States would not budge on the terms of the proposed new arrangement about the military base. The Washington Post now reports that the United States is "vexed" with Hatoyama, and considers the Japanese position as quite possibly more "problematic" than they had previously thought.
It is true that both leading newspapers in Japan, the Asahi Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun have run editorials and op-eds this last month cautioning against this break with the United States. But so did conservative newspapers in Germany as it moved away from total alignment with the United States. Still, Hatoyama is under some internal political pressure to slow down on his distancing from the United States, and hence he waffles. But waffling is not the same as restoring close links with an ally that previously did not need to worry about the loyalty of its "solid rocks."
It is presently thought that the existing conservative government of South Korea shares this U.S. view about Japan. However, South Korea's own distancing from the United States started long ago, and initially under the leadership of the very same conservative party now again in power. In 2003, the South Korean government admitted that it had been enriching uranium and plutonium in secret for two decades. This process went much further in the process of creating nuclear weapons in violation of the Safeguards Agreement than anything Iran is accused of doing. This was never referred to the U.N. Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but does reveal a degree of autonomy from dependence on the United States.
If one combines what is happening in Japan and South Korea with China's increasing geopolitical assertiveness, it seems quite probable that the next decade will see considerable movement towards the creation of Hatoyama's East Asian Community.
As Germany (and France) move closer to Russia, and Japan (and South Korea) move closer to China, the United States can no longer count in any way on the two solid rocks on which it built its geopolitical strategy as the (erstwhile) hegemonic power of the world-system.
by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

These are a few of al Qaeda's favorite things

See all those security lines? Just because al Qaeda's recent attacks haven't succeeded doesn't mean the terrorist group's overall strategy is failing.


"Two Nokia phones, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. That is all what Operation Hemorrhage cost us… On the other hand this supposedly 'foiled plot', as some of our enemies would like to call [it], will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures."

Thus begins the lead article in the latest issue of Inspire, the English-language online magazine produced by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the jihadi group's Yemen branch, which was released Saturday. The cover features a photo of a UPS plane and the striking headline: "$4,200." It is referring to the recent cartridge-bomb plot, and specifically the great disparity between the cost of executing a terrorist attack and the cost to Western countries of defending against asymmetric warfare -- costs now numbering in the billions of dollars a year and climbing. The magazine warns that future attacks will be "smaller, but more frequent" -- an approach that "some may refer to as the strategy of a thousand cuts."
The slick packaging may be new, but al Qaeda's emphasis on bleeding the U.S. economy is not. From Osama bin Laden's earliest declaration of war against America, al Qaeda has linked its attacks to the U.S. economy. He and other salafi jihadi thinkers had long believed that economic power was the key to America's military might; they thus saw weakening Western economies as their path to victory. When bin Laden declared war against the "Jews and crusaders" in 1996, he emphasized that the mujahideen's strikes should be coupled with an economic boycott by Saudi women. Otherwise, the Muslims would be sending money to the enemy, "which is the foundation of wars and armies."
In October 2001, just after he put this strategy to work by striking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, bin Laden spoke with Al Jazeera journalist Taysir Allouni (who is now imprisoned in Spain, following his controversial conviction for cooperating with al Qaeda). The terrorist leader emphasized the costs that the attacks imposed on the United States. "According to their own admissions, the share of the losses on the Wall Street market reached 16 percent," he said. "The gross amount that is traded in that market reaches $4 trillion. So if we multiply 16 percent with $4 trillion to find out the loss that affected the stocks, it reaches $640 billion of losses." He told Allouni that the economic effect was even greater due to building and construction losses and missed work, so that the damage inflicted was "no less than $1 trillion by the lowest estimate."
In his October 2004 address to the American people, bin Laden noted that the 9/11 attacks cost al Qaeda only a fraction of the damage inflicted upon the United States. "Al Qaeda spent $500,000 on the event," he said, "while America in the incident and its aftermath lost -- according to the lowest estimates -- more than $500 billion, meaning that every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars."
The economic strategy of jihad would go through refinement. Its initial phase linked terrorist attacks broadly to economic harm. A second identifiable phase, which al Qaeda pursued even as it continued to attack economic targets, is what you might call its "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan." Bin Laden announced this plan in October 2004, in the same video in which he boasted of the economic harm inflicted by 9/11. Terrorist attacks are often designed to provoke an overreaction from the opponent and this phase seeks to embroil the United States and its allies in draining wars in the Muslim world. The mujahideen "bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt," bin Laden said, and they would now do the same to the United States.
Next, bin Laden turned to what he saw as America's greatest vulnerability: its reliance on oil. He had not always seen attacks on oil as part of his war: In 1996, he said oil was not part of the battle because it was "a great Islamic wealth and a great and important economic power for the coming Islamic state." But as al Qaeda elevated the importance of economic warfare, attacks on the oil supply became more attractive. One indication was a March 2004 book by Rashid al-Anzi, who has been described as al Qaeda's "minister of propaganda," titled The Laws of Targeting Petroleum-Related Interests and a Review of the Laws Pertaining to the Economic Jihad. Al-Anzi argued that oil wells should be off-limits as a target (because oil wells represent supplies that may be exploited under a caliphate), but that attacks against other facilities, such as pipelines and refineries (so long as they are not privately owned by a Muslim), are "a legitimate means of economic jihad," which is "one of the most powerful ways in which we can take revenge on the infidels."
Bin Laden reached the same conclusion in a December 2004 audiotape in which he finally told his followers to focus their operations on oil production, "especially in Iraq and the Gulf area," because lack of oil would cause the infidels "to die off." Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, similarly called for al Qaeda fighters to "concentrate their campaigns on the stolen oil of the Muslims" in December 2005.
Al Qaeda-linked militants responded almost immediately. The most significant attempt occurred in February 2006, when AQAP terrorists attacked the refinery at Abqaiq operated by Saudi Aramco. Local news sources played down the incident, but it may have been a nearer miss than official rhetoric allowed. Written evidence submitted to Britain's House of Commons claimed that the terrorists -- who wore Aramco uniforms and drove Aramco vehicles -- managed to enter the first of three perimeter fences. They were only fired upon as they approached the second perimeter fence. Thus, the terrorists either "had inside assistance from members of the formal security operation of the state-owned energy company" in acquiring the vehicles and uniforms, or else "security was sufficiently [lax] that these items could be obtained and entry to the site obtained," the report reads. Neither possibility would be reassuring. A catastrophic attack on the oil supply would have a tremendous economic impact on the United States, which imports roughly 11 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia.

Al Qaeda's strategy took another turn following the September 2008 collapse of the U.S. economy (for which Zawahiri and other spokesmen promptly claimed credit). Even before AQAP gave that strategy a name and outlined its defining feature -- smaller but more frequent attacks -- a careful reading of key jihadi documents suggested that this was where the strategy was already heading.
To al Qaeda, America's weakened position makes it seem mortal. "How much more can the U.S. Treasury handle?" radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki asked this March, months after a young Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day. "9/11, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then operations such as that of our brother Umar Farouk which could not have cost more than a few thousand dollars end up draining the U.S. Treasury billions of dollars… For how long can the U.S. survive this war of attrition?"
In a March 2010 video, al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn praised Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and encouraged Muslims to follow his example. Although Hasan's target was not economic, Gadahn portrayed Hasan as a model to "further undermine the West's already struggling economies with carefully timed and targeted attacks on symbols of capitalism which will again shake consumer confidence and stifle spending."
In that address, Gadahn put his finger on an important insight that AQAP is now reiterating: Even failed attacks can help the jihadists by "bring[ing] major cities to a halt, cost[ing] the enemy billions, and send[ing] his corporations into bankruptcy." Failed attacks, simply put, can themselves be successes. This is precisely why AQAP devoted an entire issue of Inspire to celebrating terror attempts that killed nobody.
A message making this point at length was posted to the Al-Fallujah Islamic forums in December 2009. The author mockingly addressed the security services monitoring the website, asking them to write the following in their reports:
A Very Serious Threat
Source: A Radical Islamist Forum
Warn them that they must protect every federal building and skyscraper, such as: Library Tower (California), Sears Tower (Chicago), Plaza Bank (Washington State), the Empire State Building (New York), suspension bridges in New York, and the financial district in New York.
Nightclubs frequented by Americans and the British in Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia (especially our dear Bali Island), the oil company owned by the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Sumatra (Indonesia), and US ships and oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, Gibraltar, and the Port of Singapore.
Let us not forget any airport, seaport, or stadium. Tell them to protect [these places] no matter the cost, day and night, around the clock.
The point is clear: Security is expensive, and driving up costs is one way jihadists can wear down Western economies. The writer encourages the United States "not to spare millions of dollars to protect these targets" by increasing the number of guards, searching all who enter those places, and even preventing flying objects from approaching the targets. "Tell them that the life of the American citizen is in danger and that his life is more significant than billions of dollars," he wrote. "Hand in hand, we will be with you until you are bankrupt and your economy collapses."
Unfortunately, the author, and the editors of Inspire, are all too right: The economics of this fight favor the terrorists, not those seeking to defend against terrorism. Although there is a tone of triumphalism to al Qaeda's latest statements -- and a clear attempt to spin its recent failures -- we would be foolish to ignore the group's warnings and its clearly articulated strategy.

A Glimmer of Hope in Southern Sudan

For now, all's quiet on the north-south front. But President Omar Hassan al-Bashir may still have a few cards to play before January's all-important referendum.


It is Thanksgiving week, and it behooves those of us who write about the world to find something or other to feel thankful for, or at least hopeful about. That excludes most of my normal subject matter. I am, however, feeling ever so slightly optimistic about events in one of the most desperate places on Earth, south Sudan, where 2 million people died in a 20-year civil war with the north only ended in 2005. It now appears increasingly likely that the long-awaited referendum in which southerners will choose either independence or continued association with the north will in fact take place Jan. 9, as planned -- and even (though this is much less certain) that the government in Khartoum will honor the outcome, which will undoubtedly be a vote for independence. This would be a rare moment of unadulterated joy to the downtrodden and neglected people of the south and offer some hope for the rest of us that seemingly intractable conflicts can have a peaceful and positive end.
Why this uptick in confidence? Because Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his henchmen -- though brutal, duplicitous, and cynical -- are not irrational. According to virtually everyone I have spoken to, the regime has concluded that its best chance for survival lies in cutting a deal with the south rather than contesting the referendum. "I'm more optimistic than I was a few weeks ago," a U.S. State Department official, speaking from Sudan, told me. "There's a certain momentum now to the referendum." The central issue, then, is what Khartoum wants out of that deal and whether the government of Southern Sudan and the international community can deliver enough to convince the regime to part with over a third of its territory and virtually all of its oil-production capacity -- a prize which it fought one of the world's most savage civil wars to keep. 

Bashir's government is so opaque, so fragmented, and so devoted to eleventh-hour brinkmanship that no one can say for sure what it is it actually wants. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has been trying very hard to figure out Khartoum's price, and meet it. At present, for example, the two sides share equally in the country's oil wealth -- by far and away the chief source of revenue for each -- but because the south will wind up with almost all the oil, it must agree to share some portion of the proceeds with the north. And yet Scott Gration, the State Department special envoy to Sudan, was mystified during his last visit to find that Sudanese officials seemed almost blithe about this supposedly all-important issue. Did this mean that debt relief, aid, or foreign investment all of a sudden matters more to Khartoum than the oil it has fought so long to keep? Or is Bashir biding his time in favor of some adroit last-minute blackmail? 

This month, the White House asked Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to go to Khartoum to convey to senior officials a new offer to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange for letting the referendum proceed and honoring the outcome. The designation is a major obstacle to foreign investment, and the Sudanese are said to have welcomed the gesture. But a U.N. official who met some of the same figures right after Kerry said that they scoffed at the idea that Obama could deliver on removing the north from the state sponsors of terrorism list, because this would require, as they knew, a vote of Congress. 

Money is only one level of this dizzyingly complicated game -- which is just the type Khartoum likes to play. The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), which both north and south signed in 2005 and which mandates the referendum, requires agreement on borders, security, terms of citizenship, and a range of other issues -- virtually none of which have been settled thus far. Neither side has shown much interest in reaching across the table on any of these issues. Khartoum is seeking reassurances that a new government in the south won't jeopardize its security by harboring insurgents from Darfur or elsewhere; however, the Southern People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in Southern Sudan, is reluctant to surrender that leverage, says the State Department official. 

The one issue neither can postpone much further is the fate of Abyei, a region that straddles the border and has oil, water, and grazing land for nomadic tribes. The Bashir government has threatened to go to war if the referendum occurs without settling the status of Abyei. The CPA mandated a separate referendum for the region, but Khartoum has been unwilling to let the vote go forward; there is talk of an agreement whereby the south would annex Abyei by decree and pay off the north with oil revenues. But no one knows whether this is something Khartoum will accept. Bashir and Salva Kiir, president of the government of Southern Sudan, met on Wednesday, Nov. 24, in Addis Ababa to discuss the problem, but agreed only that it must be resolved. The two are scheduled to meet again on Saturday in Khartoum. 

Or maybe it's all a charade. While hundreds of thousands of voters have registered in the south, only 9,000 of the half-million or more southerners living in the north have done so. Leaders of the SPLM fear that Khartoum is preventing voters from registering and plans to blame the south. "They'll say, 'We're not going to accept the results of the referendum because people were prevented from registering,'" says Ezekiel Gatkuoth, representative of Southern Sudan in the United States. 

Bashir knows that the south would respond with a unilateral declaration of statehood and would be fully prepared to fight to preserve its sovereignty. This month, he moved army units close to the border, perhaps hoping to provoke the south into striking first. But the south has recently bulked up its military with tanks and anti-aircraft capacity, making the military option for Bashir much more costly. Maybe that, too, is a bluff. No one can be sure. 

In the end, Bashir is making a straightforward calculation: What do I get for playing ball; what do I lose for breaking up the game? The great imponderable for him is the role of the international community. The systematic atrocities which he committed in Darfur starting in 2003 met with terrible denunciations but modest punishments; with virtually the entire region's population still cowering in refugee camps, Bashir has tested the resolve of the international community, and come out a winner. (And with the world preoccupied with the north-south drama, he has once again stepped up the clandestine bombardment of Darfur.) The International Criminal Court has indicted him on genocide charges, but in recent months both U.S. and U.N. officials have said little about the subject, apparently fearful of risking Bashir's cooperation on the referendum. What will happen if in any case he walks away from the referendum? Perhaps the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference will back him up, as they have in the past. 

The international community has begun mobilizing, albeit in its own rather diffident way. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa and now head of what is known as the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, has pressed the two sides with growing urgency to settle the toughest issues, especially Abyei; he will be presiding over the meetings in Khartoum this weekend. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed a Panel on the Referenda, led by Benjamin Mkapa, the former president of Tanzania, which could play a crucial role in giving legitimacy to the Jan. 9 vote. Both the United States and Britain are signaling their strong, if still implicit, support for a new southern state. On Nov. 18, Britain, which is currently president of the U.N. Security Council, convened a ministerial-level meeting on Sudan and gave the floor to Pagan Amum, Southern Sudan's chief negotiator. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke, publicly announcing the offer to remove Sudan from the terrorism list. 

Ultimately, the Southern Sudanese look to Washington for protection and support. I asked Gatkuoth how he felt about Gration, who has been harshly criticized in the south -- and among Sudan activists abroad -- for showing Khartoum too much deference and taking its flimsy pledges at face value. "Obama has taken control of the process," said Gatkuoth diplomatically. "I'm so excited because the whole administration is on board now." The United States cannot, in fact, settle the north-south problem on its own; Bashir must feel pressure from his Arab and African neighbors and allies, as well as from the West. 

But as is also so often true, both parties are looking to Washington to underwrite an agreement they are reluctant to make. Perhaps Obama will never get much credit for acting in such a way as to prevent a calamity. But if Southern Sudan achieves statehood peacefully after Jan. 9, I would say that's something to be very thankful for.

Academic expectations must be higher

The editorial board of the Des Moines Register checks in:

News that Iowa 12th-graders scored above average in reading and math on a national exam is nothing to cheer about, unfortunately. Even though they posted relatively high scores, a majority still weren't well prepared, according to a report released last week. It's more evidence academic expectations are often too low.

Most Iowa 12th-graders were not proficient in reading or math on the highly regarded National Assessment of Educational Progress. Proficiency is defined as "solid academic performance" and as having "demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter." In other words, the kind of education needed today for Americans to succeed in a global economy filled with motivated young people from places like China, India and Canada.

First, look at reading. Iowa 12th-graders' average score was 291 compared to a 287 for public school students nationally. But just 35 percent of Iowa seniors performed at the level of proficient and 4 percent were advanced. Another 40 percent of Iowa 12th-graders scored at the basic level, defined as "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade." And 21 percent of our 12th-graders fell below the basic level.

Now, consider math. Iowa 12th-graders' average score was 156, a little better than the 152 average nationwide. But only 24 percent of Iowa seniors scored proficient and 1 percent were advanced. While 46 percent of Iowa 12th-graders were at the basic level, another 29 percent were below basic - nearly one-third.

Iowa does deserve credit for sticking its neck out. It's one of 11 states that volunteered for the first state pilot program for 12th-grade - which means those states' public school scores can be compared individually while the rest of the states are lumped together.

Now, let's put that information to good use.

This state should make sure the new Iowa Core - "essential" skills and concepts that soon must be in place in all grades - delivers what seems to be missing now. For example, teenagers who reported never writing long answers to questions involving reading turned in the lowest average reading scores on the national exam. And the Iowa Core may fall short on that count.

Under the Iowa Core, the expectation is that extensive writing will take place in all subjects - not just in English, said Kevin Fangman, acting director of the Iowa Department of Education. But here's the problem: The new state achievement test that will assess whether students are learning the Iowa Core won't measure writing skills. It will be multiple choice, and districts can pay extra if they want students to provide longer, written answers to questions.

The new governor and legislators should provide that funding.

This is not Iowa's first wake-up call. This state was a top performer in fourth and eighth grades on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the 1990s, but dropped in the rankings. Similarly, the United States has made a poor showing on the Program for International Student Assessment, which has compared 15-year-olds around the globe in science, math and reading over the past decade.

Iowa and the nation still have work to do to prepare graduates for a more competitive world.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nothingburger of a nuclear treaty with Russia - Barack Obama's finest hour. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Again, I cut and paste without comment.

The critics and the boosters are both wrong: Obama's nuke treaty with Russia is a huge nothingburger. But Republicans should vote to ratify it anyway.


U.S. President Barack Obama's administration and its allies on the left would have us believe that the Senate's failure to ratify a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia before the end of the year will significantly damage the security of the United States. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame-duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high," Obama intoned last week.

Meanwhile, some on the right are arguing that ratification of New START would put the United States at a disadvantage in its strategic relationship with Russia, lead to a surge in nuclear proliferation, and empower rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea.

Neither side is correct. New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves.

Obama hoped to accomplish much more in his negotiations with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. When he laid out his goal of a world without nuclear weapons in Prague in April 2009, he described New START as a concrete step toward achieving his vision. "To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year," he said. "And this will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear-weapons states in this endeavor."

By the time the treaty was signed a year after that speech, it had largely been stripped of these lofty goals. After months of tortuous negotiations, it became evident that Russia had no interest in drastically reducing its nuclear stockpile, which currently stands at roughly 1,700 warheads. In fact, Russia is already technically in compliance with the treaty's new limits on deployed delivery systems -- 700 -- even before New START has been ratified.

As Obama struggles to get his first step toward a nuclear-weapons-free world past the Senate, the further cuts he promised in Prague also look increasingly unlikely. The Russians have made clear that they will only discuss cuts to their tactical nuclear forces -- estimated at as many as 2,000 operational weapons, many of which sit across the border from America's NATO allies -- if the United States withdraws its much smaller number of tactical weapons from Europe, which is certain to be a nonstarter for Washington and its allies in Central Europe.
Much of the criticism from the president's Republican critics about New START has been well intentioned but exaggerated. The fact of the matter is that New START could have been much worse. If anything is worth criticizing, it is the president's singular focus on a fanciful vision of nuclear disarmament. This has come at the expense of serious action on efforts to prevent and halt proliferation, distracting him from real challenges such as North Korea, which just revealed a new uranium-enrichment facility, and Iran, which despite problems with its centrifuges at Natanz, continues to make steady progress toward a nuclear-weapons capability.

Setting aside the limited nature of the actual cuts, conservative critics have raised some valid concerns about New START. Early statements from the Obama administration and Russian officials on the relevance of missile defense to New START were contradictory and confusing. The Kremlin issued a statement implying that further U.S. development of its missile defense systems "quantitatively or qualitatively" would be grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty. But the ratification resolution approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and subsequent statements by administration officials make clear that New START does not limit America's ability to deploy a robust missile defense system. Other important questions about possible limitations on U.S. plans to develop a conventional prompt global strike capability, which will be all the more important as the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, also are addressed by the ratification resolution.

New START has been the centerpiece of the president's much vaunted "reset" with Russia. Now that the administration has overplayed its hand by making promises to the Russians about a ratification timeline that it cannot keep, it has undermined its credibility with Moscow. Republicans should rightly criticize the administration's willingness to forgo serious criticism of Russia's abysmal human rights record, its increased stifling of freedom of expression, and its continued occupation of Georgia (a future NATO ally), but in time, the "reset" will collapse whether or not New START is ratified.

There remains serious criticism of New START's merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists. Last week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry warned that a failure to ratify the treaty would mean that U.S. inspectors would continue to be unable to confirm the safety of Russia's nuclear stockpile, resulting in "no American boots on the ground in Russia able to protect American interests."

Kerry is correct to say that since the 1994 START agreement expired in December 2009, START inspections of Russian and U.S. nuclear sites have not occurred. But ironically, New START, unlike the agreement it replaces, would not have U.S. monitors at Russia's mobile missile-production facility at Votkinsk. If this was an overwhelming concern, the Obama administration and Russia could have agreed to continue inspections without a new treaty.

It is also ridiculous to argue that such inspections really provide that much knowledge about Russia's activities or somehow prevent Russian nukes from falling into terrorist hands. Like most similar arms-control measures, they are confidence-building measures. The United States relies on a variety of other means, including intelligence gained via methods other than arms-control agreements, to actually monitor Russia's stockpile. Through initiatives such as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, the United States also works with Russia on nuclear-security issues, cooperation that proceeds regardless of what happens with New START.

New START should be ratified, but only once the Senate has done its due diligence to take into account the strategic posture of the United States, including its need for a viable nuclear arsenal. Several more months will not change the strategic situation, nor should it lessen Russia's support for U.S. efforts on Iran or its (limited) support for U.S. and coalition efforts in Afghanistan. Russian nukes will remain secure and U.S. security unthreatened by at least this potential avenue of attack.

By claiming otherwise, the Obama administration and its critics are doing the United States a disservice and engaging in a very unserious debate about U.S. national security.

Documenting Irish Financial Madness - the rise and fall thereof

From Foreign policy magazine comes this article chocked full of warnings for the U.S.  Heaven forbid if the U.S. $ is ever supplanted as the reserve currency for oil!


How Ireland's economic miracle went bust.


Ireland was traditionally one of Western Europe's poorest countries, a rural and intensely Catholic country from which the best and brightest left in search of opportunity elsewhere. Recessions were a routine occurrence, and high unemployment was endemic through much of the 20th century. Ireland may have thought those days were past, but the implosion of the country's recent economic miracle has kindled memories of less fortunate times. With a government in crisis, the Irish are taking to the streets and asking, "How did we get here?" In Dublin, on Nov. 22, a protester berates the current prime minister for condemning Ireland's future generations to poverty.

Ireland's period of rapid economic growth -- the era during which the country was known as the Celtic Tiger -- began in 1995. For the next 12 years, Ireland grew at an unprecedented rate, ranging between 6 percent and 11 percent annually. Much of that growth was enabled by EU financial aid, which was funneled into infrastructure investments and improvements in the national education system. Above, a group of commuters wait at a bus stop on Nov. 21, the morning that the Irish government confirmed it would request a multibillion dollar bailout from the European Union.

At the heart of the economic boom was a massive influx of foreign investment. Low corporate tax rates encouraged major companies -- from Apple to Dell to Google -- to locate their European headquarters in Ireland. Above, employees leave a Dell plant in Limerick on Jan. 8, 2009. The plant was forced to close down that month.

Over the last decade, as the Irish economy boomed, Ireland's demographic patterns began to reverse: Rather than sending emigrants abroad, it began attracting immigrants from across the European Union. Unemployment was so low that few residents of Ireland needed the assistance of government employment-services offices, like the one seen above. By 2007, an estimated 10 percent of the population was foreign-born, making Ireland one of Europe's most multicultural countries.

With its rapid growth, Ireland became an increasingly popular destination for foreign capital -- European banks were especially attracted to the Celtic Tiger's rates of return on financial investments. And with the introduction of the euro in 2000, Ireland also had access to low borrowing rates in international capital markets. Soon the country was swimming in cash. Above, visitors enjoy the view over Dublin at the posh "Gravity" bar at the Guinness brewery.

Unfortunately, the country's financial services were not nearly scrupulous enough to withstand the new influx of money, earning a reputation for being poorly regulated, if not actively encouraged by the government to be profligate in their lending. Despite a series of accounting scandals, Ireland's Financial Services Regulatory Authority never imposed any sanctions on domestic financial institutions. As early as 2005, the New York Times was calling Ireland the "Wild West of European finance." Above, on Nov. 20, a resident of Dublin crouches between two automated teller machines.

Irish banks funneled cash into the burgeoning domestic real estate market. The mutually reinforcing financial, construction, and real estate sectors served as the foundation of the Irish economy over the past decade. But now, on Nov. 16, idle construction cranes hover above the unfinished headquarters of the Anglo Irish Bank in Dublin.

When the real estate bubble burst in 2007, it threatened to take the entire national banking system with it. In 2008, the government of Prime Minister Brian Cowen, seen above -- who oversaw the bubble's growth as finance minister from 2004 to 2008 -- organized bailouts for the country's biggest banks. Anglo Irish Bank was nationalized in early 2009, while other banks received massive loans to keep them afloat.

Cowen's government simultaneously prepared emergency austerity measures in 2009 and 2010 to deal with plummeting tax receipts. The policies -- which included the closing of military barracks, the introduction of university tuition, and reductions in pensions -- elicited widespread public protest. Hundreds of thousands of people went on strike. Prime Minister Cowen barely survived two no-confidence votes in 2009 and 2010, as the government's approval ratings plummeted.

Through 2010, Ireland's banks required continuing and growing bailouts -- by September of this year, the total had reached 40 billion euros (roughly 6,400 euros for every Irish man, woman, and child) -- to appease the testy international bond markets. But when German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted at an EU summit in October that holders of European debt should be forced to take losses as part of any debt-restructuring, Ireland's position worsened rapidly. Some protesters in Ireland, like the man above on Nov. 22, appealed to patriotic sentiments, but the country's bond ratings continued to plunge.

On Nov. 21, Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said that he would recommend that Ireland formally request a bailout package from the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund. Cowen announced shortly thereafter that he would call for early election after parliament approves an emergency budget early next year, after which the conservative opposition is expected to take office. Lenihan and Cowen are shown above in a sardonic graffiti mural in Dublin that depicts them as the lead characters in the film The Blues Brothers. The politicians may have brought the economic blues to their country, but unlike in the film, there's unlikely to be any singing and dancing in the streets.
Cameron Abadi is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

Inquiring minds might wish to know

I'm posting the following article from Foreign Policy Magazine without comment.  Noting that it is quite helpful to have this information.


Autocratic regimes, by their nature, tend to view the opinions of their populations as a threat to be stifled. Over the years, leaders from Syria to North Korea have sharpened their tools of repression to squelch any sign of public dissatisfaction with their rule and keep their population's views a mystery to outside observers. As a result, information about how these citizens view their government has long existed in a vacuum -- at the mercy of hearsay and conjecture. But a small cadre of pollsters is using new technologies and practices to circumvent government restrictions and give a voice to the silenced. We like to call them guerrilla pollsters.

We've been intimately involved in the effort to conduct public-opinion surveys in countries controlled by authoritarian regimes. In January, we completed the analysis of an in-person survey of 1,046 adults living in Syria. The poll, conducted by the Democracy Council, a California-based NGO, was the first face-to-face survey collected by an unsanctioned organization on the ground in Syria.
Democracy Council had to overcome several hurdles to pull off the survey. First, it had to find 60 qualified interviewers in a country where such data collection is illegal and then train them from scratch. The interviewers were recruited by word of mouth, and each was put through an extensive background check to make sure that he or she had no association with the Syrian government. They were also screened for educational requirements and adequate written and verbal communication skills.
New technology greatly assisted in the training process. Democracy Council prepared its field staff using Skype, the well-known Internet calling service, which now allows videoconferencing. Skype provided several advantages: The calls are encrypted, so any messages intercepted by Syrian security services would be unintelligible, and videoconferencing avoided the need for any in-person gathering, which might have attracted the attention of the authorities. This method also kept the interviewers' identities a mystery to each other. Even if a government agent managed to pass the extensive background check, at least he or she wouldn't know the identities of the other fieldworkers.
Interviewers then sought out potential subjects with whom to conduct an in-person interview that lasted approximately 30 minutes. The fieldworkers were guided by Syrian statisticians and demographers to ensure that the data collected were representative of the Syrian population. Because security risks made it impossible to gather a completely representative sample, the research team at Pepperdine University that prepared the independent survey report weighted the survey data to ensure that the final results were nationally representative based on age, sex, location, religion, and education.  

The survey findings reflected poorly on the Syrian government and quickly spread through the media. The poll found that a majority of Syrians believe that their political and economic situation is poor and worse than it was five years ago. They consider the government to be corrupt and have little faith in its ability to confront the country's problems. A substantial majority believes the state of emergency, which has been in place since 1963 and used to justify violations of civil liberties, should be lifted, and a majority reported that it would leave Syria if it had the opportunity to do so.  
But more important than the findings is that the data exists at all. A public-opinion poll was successfully conducted within a closed regime, and without its consent. And as the critical account of the Syrian government's performance showed, Syrians weren't reluctant to speak their minds. Given the high risks to both the data collectors and the survey respondents, it is stunning just how willing these citizens were to talk.
Due to the unique circumstances under which the survey was conducted, it did face some hurdles that required us to make some adjustments to achieve a representative sample of the population. Among survey respondents, for example, men outnumbered women 2 to 1. We corrected for this disparity by giving more weight to women's responses in the final results. It is unclear whether the relative reluctance of women to participate in the survey was the result of their lesser interest in politics -- men reported a higher consumption of political news -- or whether they were more fearful of retribution. This does raise a concern that survey results might be skewed to those who are more politically minded.
Nevertheless, we are confident that the methods pioneered with this survey provide a broadly representative portrayal of Syrian public opinion and that they can be duplicated in other repressive regimes. For example, foreign observers have had a hard enough time deciphering high-level political developments in North Korea, where leader Kim Jong Il has begun transferring power to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un -- let alone parsing what the North Korean people think about this succession plan.
But an increasing number of innovators are working to change that. Kim Eun Ho is a former police officer from North Korea who defected to the South in 2008. Since then, he has worked as a reporter for Seoul-based Free North Korea Radio. With the aid of a friend and a smuggled cell phone, he is circumventing North Korea's leadership to solicit opinions from its citizens.
Kim conducts a nightly public-opinion poll of North Korean residents, the first poll of its kind and illegal in North Korea. Here's how it works: Kim calls his friend in North Korea on a smuggled cell phone. The friend then uses a North Korean land line to call a subject and presses the cell phone against the handset of the landline phone, allowing Kim to conduct a brief interview.
If the interviewee were discovered by the police, they would almost certainly be punished -- perhaps severely. To circumvent the North Korean police, Kim has tailored his questions so that they take about 90 seconds to answer. He tapped phones himself as a North Korean police officer, and he estimates that it takes about two to three minutes for the police to trace a call.
The phone calls reveal a great dissatisfaction with the hereditary succession and question whether Kim Jong Un is qualified to lead. Kim Eun Ho has not yet published his results, but in an interview with the Washington Post, he noted that every person he has spoken with expressed reservations about Kim Jong Un taking over.
Kim's guerrilla polling outfit is unlikely to produce data that are as accurate, say, as an aboveboard survey conducted by a reputable polling agency in the United States. He is limited to mainly one province of North Korea, and his results may be biased toward those more critical of the regime. However, it does provide a picture of North Korean public opinion where none existed before. With just a smuggled cell phone and a 90-second questionnaire, Kim has created a remarkable innovation that could revolutionize data collection within this notoriously secretive regime.
The original guerrilla pollsters, such the Democracy Council with its Syria poll, have benefited from an enormous advantage: the element of surprise. By now, however, Syria's security apparatus is well aware of the existence of the opinion poll and the methods used to collect its data. The findings were sufficiently embarrassing to the regime that it will have a strong incentive to quash any future attempts to conduct a similar survey. The challenge for guerrilla pollsters is to always stay one step ahead.
Rapidly evolving communications tools will be hugely helpful. The next generation of guerrilla pollsters will have new ways to use portable satellite phones and modems to circumvent the government-monitored mobile systems and Internet service providers. Although many repressive governments have claimed to be able to monitor all cyberactivities, creative use of proxy servers can thwart these regimes' attempts to do so.
Improvements in the speed of satellite Internet and miniaturization of technology make getting information out of these countries much easier. In the past, uploading information via satellite Internet was nearly impossible due its slow speed and the difficulty in making a connection between a modem and its dedicated satellite. Improvements in technology have now largely resolved these problems, and, as an added advantage, satellite Internet is useful and very cost-effective for reaching rural areas.
Although guerrilla polling is still in its infancy, it holds the potential to provide valuable new insights into previously closed societies. There is now great interest in expanding the scope of guerrilla polling to places like Cuba or Iran. And as pollsters fine-tune their methods and harness more sophisticated technology, these polls will offer an increasingly accurate portrait of public opinion in authoritarian regimes. The information vacuum is over.