The Iranian Missile Threat

One might not be too much impressed anymore with reports about Iranian missile tests, seeing as Iran is still wrecked by student uprisings while their president uses his UN podium time to deny the Holocaust. Fortunately there is John Noonan at The Weekly Standard to explain why they are something to worry about nevertheless.

First, the Sajjil-2 is a solid fuel rocket. That’s the type of power source that we use in our own Minuteman III rockets, as solid fuel is stable in flight and requires no preparation time ahead of a launch. Liquid fuel, which powers the Iranian Shahab-3 fleet, is highly corrosive and sloshes around in a rocket’s downstage, destabilizing flight and degrading accuracy. It’s so toxic that the fuel eats away at a missile’s internal tanks, and thus needs to be inserted right before launch. That prep time is important, as it gives us a little extra warning prior to a hostile missile launch, which could be used to kill Iranian birds before they fly. With this new Sajjil-2 system, Iran has the ability to keep their missiles hot and ready for execution, killing any chance of an advanced warning or neutralization actions prior to a launch.

No good stuff, certainly. So far though, it appears only Israel really has to worry.

Second concern is that this missile is staged. Our Minuteman III ICBMs are a three stage, solid fuel system that have impressive range and accuracy (particularly impressive considering the fact that the fleet is approaching its 40th anniversary). Iran now has a two stage, solid fuel rocket. When they figure out how to add that third stage to the Sajill-2, they’ll have a delivery system with the legs to reach the east coast of the United States.

Wonderful. This means that when they’re done, Iran has the ability not only to threaten Israel, NATO, and American military bases throughout the region but the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

What’s more, Noonan notes that these missiles are built for a specific purpose: “strategic delivery of a nuclear reentry system.”

So what is America doing? For one thing, it announced its intention to isolate Iran financially, stopping money from going in and, hopefully, from going out, for it’s Iranian cash that is financing such nastiness as Hezbollah and the war in Yemen, among other things.

Washington also intends to loosen sanctions on computer software and boost acces to Internet services as Google and Twitter, seeing as how these are helping students organize themselves in protests against the government that are still happening throughout the country every now and then. Isolating the problem and attempting to destabilize it from within seems to be the approach nowadays — something that sounds a bit like good ol’ fashioned containment, don’t you think?

The Peace Abbas Rejected

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has revealed the peace plan that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September of last year. “Abbas did not respond, and negotiations ended,” according to Haaretz.

The peace plan encompassed an exchange of land, with Israel gaining Jerusalem and a little over 6 percent of the West Bank — parts that are home to 75 percent of the settlement population living in the occupied territory. Dozens of other settlements in the Jordan Valley, in the eastern Samarian hills and in the Hebron region were to have been dismantled.

The Palestinians were to have been compensated for the loss of territory with strips of land north and south of the West Bank and additional ground east of the Gaza Strip. To provide safe passage between the two parts of Palestine, Olmert offered to secure a highway that would remain Israeli territory but lack any Israeli presence.

Haaretz notes that in a formal reply, the former prime minister’s office claimed that their map contains a “number of inaccuracies that are not consistent with the map that was ultimately presented” but based as it is on different official sources, it ought to provide a rough idea of what was offered to the Palestinians nonetheless.

Although the Olmert Plan was less generous than what Ehud Barak offered as prime minister at the 2000 Camp David Summit, it is still difficult to understand why Abbas refused to consider it. He could have provided his people with a sovereign state and end the conflict once and for all but apparently, it wasn’t enough.

Now, due to some clumsy diplomacy on the part of the Obama Administration, Abbas is refusing to so much as sit down with the Israelis in spite of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to largely freeze the construction of settlements in the West Bank. One wonders what more the Palestinians are honestly expecting to get.

Europe’s Uneven Recovery

Europe’s massive deficit spending is finally catching up with it. As Stefan Theil writes for Newsweek, markets reacted sharply this week “after rating agencies downgraded the public debt of Greece and warned about the outlook for several others.” With a deficit running at over 12 percent of GDP, Greece runs a serious risk of becoming the first developed country since the end of World War II to default on its debt.

Another South European country, Spain, is not much better off. We previously warned that its stubborn socialist policies are in fact hampering all of Europe; last week, Standard and Poor’s slapped a negative outlook on the country. Read more “Europe’s Uneven Recovery”

Labor Laws Hindering India’s Growth

“Deadly labor wars hinder India’s rise,” wrote The Wall Street Journal last month. In spite of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to reform India along free-market lines, the country’s long history with socialism continues to keep it from truly embracing capitalism.

Battle lines are being drawn in labor actions across India. Factory managers, amid the global economic downturn, want to pare labor costs and remove defiant workers. Unions are attempting to stop them, with slowdowns and strikes that have led at times to bloodshed.

Workers are so passionate because they feel that India’s newfound prosperity has hardly made their lives any better. Companies blame union leaders for enflaming such discontent for political reasons while decade-old labor codes are in desperate need of reform. “We can’t be a capitalist country that has socialist labor laws,” says the president of the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India.

India’s economy has experienced a steady 8% growth rate during the past several years. Its middle class had widened and its domestic consumer base, in both cities and the countryside, has grown with it. But the country’s manufacturing sector, after producing an impressive growth rate of 7 percent until last year now feels the effects of the global turndown and must make some unpopular cutbacks. “The unrest serves as a reminder that India has far to go before it stands alongside the world’s other economic powerhouses,” according to the Journal.

Thomas Barnett shares this sentiments and adds that that other rising power, China, has very much the same problem, “for all the same reasons plus the added burden of heavy corruption.” No matter how fast both countries have grown over the last decade, they still have to do away with the remnants of socialism to clear the path to becoming economic giants.

Merkel Government Under Pressure

Pressure is building on German chancellor Angela Merkel and her defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, to account for the German-ordered NATO attack in Afghanistan last September that killed 142 people, many of them civilians.

Guttenberg, formerly minister for economics, took charge of the Defense Department last October as member of Chancellor Merkel’s second cabinet. The rising star of the German conservative party, Guttenberg outranked Merkel as the country’s most popular politician but he has come under siege from the Social Democrats, the former coalition partners, for changing his position on the Afghanistan attack.

Initially, Guttenberg called the bombings “appropriate” but three weeks ago, he claimed the opposite after assessing the incident in greater detail.

Germany’s previous defense minister already resigned over the affair and Guttenberg himself has discharged a top defense official and a state secretary for supposedly withholding information. Now, a parliamentary inquiry has been produced to study the bombings all the more thoroughly.

Although all but one of Germany’s political parties support the Afghan mission, there exists something of an obsession to wage a “clean” war there regardless of the changed circumstances. While the Taliban has gained ground, parliament’s mandate remains unchanged: German soldiers are to aid in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, not to be involved in any fighting.

The Social Democrats are leading the charge that seems specifically aimed at Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He and the chancellor are to appear before committee next January. Yet the Social Democrats were the ones in power when the country decided to contribute to ISAF and they were still in power when the bombings occurred. Holding the man who has been defense minister for barely two months responsible seems utterly hypocritical and largely a political move before anything else.

Russian Bear Still Roaring

“The bear still has teeth,” notes Robert D. Kaplan, writing for The Atlantic. The Obama Administration’s decision to scrap the Eastern European missile defense system has left some former Soviet satellite states at the mercy of Moscow once again — or at least, that’s how they see it.

Understandably, some Poles and Czechs reacted to Obama’s announcement with outrage. They’ve backed the United States in most of the wars and deployments of the past decade. Now their reward turns out to be continued exposure to the designs of Russia.

Moreover, the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 “still sends shivers down the spines of Poles,” according to Kaplan, because they fear an economically powerful but energy-dependent Germany joining forces with the military powerful Russia. Poland has no geographical barrier to protect itself against such an unholy alliance while it is exactly for the sake of having barriers that Russia is resistant to the pro-Western course of many Eastern European governments.

There is little threat of actual invasion, that much Kaplan admits, but Russia has other methods at its disposal: “organized crime networks, intelligence operations, and constant intimidation.” Besides, no matter how Westernized countries as Poland and the Czech Republican may have become, “Russians will always be able to operate there more easily than most Westerners, because of their related Slavic languages.”

So why is the United States letting this happen? Because it needs Russia’s help — “to put pressure on Iran, to help us with supply routes into Afghanistan, and, perhaps, to balance against China.” But Russia is far from a reliable partner. It maintains its own agenda with regard to Iran which it does not want to upset and enflame Islamic extremism on Russia’s fringes. And with China, Russia sits in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and in the informal BRIC alliance along with Brazil and India. It seems unlikely that Russia will ever definitively pick the American side in its struggle against either, present and future, antagonist.

Is it worth to risk the allegiance of Eastern Europe in order to please Russia then? Yes. Because as much as losing that allegiance would hurt Washington, making an enemy out of Russia once again would be all the more devastating.

The Quiet War in Yemen

It is a conflict that has been going on for several years but one that receives little attention in our Western media: the war in Yemen. Since 2004 the Shiite Zaidis of North Yemen have been in rebellion against the country’s central government. The Zaidis, a minor sect within Shī‘ah Islam, are one of the most impoverished groups in Yemen and feel discriminated against by the government. Thousands of people have already been killed in the onslaught with tens of thousands more fleeing the conflict zone.

The Yemeni government accuses Iran of supporting the Zaidis while an Iranian Grand Ayatollah once described their uprising as a jihad. Yemen can boast the support of Saudi Arabia and, indirectly, that of the United States although it is especially the former that worries about the violence on its southern borders.

Out of precaution, Saudi Arabia built a wall along parts of the border but increasingly it has had to resort to military force to stop Zaidi fighters from entering the kingdom.

The conflict flared up again last July when in the Sa’dah province, nine foreigners were abducted by Zaidi rebels of which six are still missing. During the weeks thereafter, the Zaidis managed to gain ground until the government launched a major offensive on August 11 with air- and missile strikes against known Zaidi bases in the border area with Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi kingdom got involved early November when a sentry was shot by rebels and border patrols were fired upon. On November 5, Saudi Arabia also launched airstrikes against Zaidi bases, claiming to target only rebels within its borders but actually involving itself in the Yemeni war.

Yemen can use the Saudi help. The government lacks both the funds and the public support to wage a violent campaign in the north and so far, it has been unable to break the deadlock.

It remains to be seen to what extent foreign countries, Saudi Arabia foremost among them but possibly the United States also, are willing to emerge themselves in the trenches to win this battle for Yemen. With the support of American intelligence and special forces, the war could easily be decided in Yemen’s favor but Washington risks upsetting Iran and Islamic fundamentalists worldwide which, considering the American presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, is not a welcome prospect right now.

Hillary Clinton Speaks on Human Rights

American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2
American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Elaborating on the statement President Obama made when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize last week — “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting” — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at Georgetown University in Washington DC about human rights today.

“We cannot separate our democracy, human rights and development agendas,” she argued. “They are mutually reinforcing and united in service of a common purpose: to create a world where all people have the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.” Read more “Hillary Clinton Speaks on Human Rights”

Brown Bashing the Rich

It’s not good to be rich in Britain. One is properly punished there for making too much money as becomes a welfare state. From every Briton that earns over £150,000 (or $243,000) a year, the government takes half of that in income tax. The well-off now face a further cut to tax relief on their pension contributions. An announced increase in the inheritance tax threshold has been put on hold but the taxman is still going after those with offshore bank accounts for it seems that in Britain today no crime is worse than the outrageous practice of tax evasion.

Even The Economist is upset and it calls Gordon Brown’s bashing of the rich “bad politics and rotten economics.” With elections arriving in a little over six months, Labour is doing everything it can to prove that it is still the “party of the many” whereas the Conservatives are branded as the “protectors of privilege and gleeful spending slashers.”

An extra tax on bankers’ bonuses this year is meant to smooth over voters but it does little to aid Britain’s ailing economy. The last of the G20 countries to be mired in recession, all the Labour government can think of doing is spending more money in the hope that such Keynesian methods will save Britain from further stagnation.

Now, with what will probably turn out to be a dreadful election ahead, Gordon Brown and his party are throwing themselves up as defenders of the common man again. Bashing the rich isn’t all about class politics though. As The Economist points out, the government needs the additional funds badly to keep its social services running, the imperfectly reformed National Health Service first among them. These are “disproportionately used by the poor” while “their employees tend to vote Labour.” By looking after the state, the party is looking after its core vote. The paper doesn’t like it one bit:

Britain has much experience of class politics, and none of it has been good. Class politics makes for bad economics: the state swells, public money gets wasted and entrepreneurs grow nervous. And it makes for a sad country, too: divisions deepen, suspicion flourishes and the social contract frays. When the time comes to judge the parties’ electoral strategies, voters should remember that.

The President’s Men

Who really runs American foreign policy? It is an intriguing question because as much as President Obama is the face of his country to the rest of the world, he is not alone in the decisionmaking process.

Besides the secretaries of state and defense, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, Obama is surrounded by his national security advisor, the former Marine Corps General James Jones, and the experts of the National Security Council. Not all of these people are old friends. To the contrary: the president ran against Mrs Clinton in the primaries while both Gates and Jones served previous administration. So how have things played out? Read more “The President’s Men”