Archive for category Egypt Revolution

Syria: Standing Steadfast or Slippery Slope?

Mark Salter, who used to write for Sen. John McCain, is advocating that President Obama get tough on Syria.

Bill O’Reilly advocates a strike on Syria even though two of his guests, both retired military officers disagree.

The point being made is that if President Obama does nothing, then the “Red Line” of chemical weapons use that was drawn a year ago will mean nothing. President Obama and the US will lose respect around the world.

Okay, that is a valid point. But what credibility does the US have in the Middle East right now anyway?

We abandoned Egypt’s President Mubarak after decades of mutual support. Mubarak was a dictator for sure, but he was co-operating with US interests. We abandoned him to the famed “Arab Street” in the Arab Spring.

It led to the Muslim Brotherhood being elected to power, and now overthrown by the self same Egyptian military we supported with training, weapons and financial aid for years. Only now they don’t trust us. (Proof of who is behind the military crackdown in Egypt is the fact that Mubarak was released from prison – these are the folks who propped up Mubarak for decades.)

A side note – the military crackdown in Egypt included invading a Mosque to capture a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood. This is precisely that type of action that the US military was forbidden in Iraq or Afghanistan for fear of arousing the “Arab Street.” What result in Egypt? The “Arab Street” has quieted down. US diplomats have been more afraid of the “Arab Street” than the Arab leaders.

The Saudi Arabians are now backing the military in Egypt – which puts us at odds with the single Arab county with real clout that has been quietly been backing our policies for the past twenty years.

We bombed Libya to achieve regime change – even though Dictator Kaddafi had given up his WMD programs and started giving us intelligence in the war on terror.  What did that get us? It got us Libya as a no-man’s land and a dead US Ambassador in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, Russia has stayed faithful to Assad. Yes, they are backing an unsavory character, but they are showing themselves to be a faithful ally. Plus, they have the reason of having a port in Syria – a legitimate strategic interest. If I were a Middle-Eastern leader, I would place more stock in Russia as an ally, than the US.

This, along with the Snowden affair, has put a damper on US-Russian relations. It is really a shame. Right now, the Middle East tensions are shooting up the price of oil – the whole reason the entire world cares about the region.

With the recent advancements in Shale Oil production and discoveries in the United States and elsewhere (along with the political will to create infrastructure such as the Keystone pipeline and ports that can support large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers) the US can become a large exporter of energy.

With Russia and the US cooperating – as large energy exporters – they can make the Middle Eastern oil states much less important. Together, Russia and the US cooperating on energy strategy can also hold the ambitious Chinese in check. But those considerations seem not to be considered by the media and Washington.

Humanitarian concerns are important. But this is a civil war. There are bad people on both sides (Al Qaeda partisans are a large part of the Assad opposition.) As crass as it seems, aren’t we better off with them focusing their violence on each other instead of us or Israel?

If we just launch a few cruise missiles (at the cost of several million dollars and possible civilian casualties) and Assad survives, then what was the point? If we go all in to remove Assad’s regime we risk igniting the region. A third war in the Middle East in twelve years. And all we have to gain is the respect of President Francois Hollande of France?

It does not seem worth it.

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Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian, Middle East Revolution and Paddy Chayefsky

What do Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian and Steven Slater (the flight attendant who quit his job, grabbed a beer and slid down the emergency chute) have to do with protestors in the Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iran and possibly Saudi Arabia? 

And what do any of these people have to do with a 1976 movie written by Paddy Chayefsky?

A lot. In that film, “Network”, a fictional news anchor, Howard Beale, decides that he is “mad as hell,” and that he is “not going to take it anymore!” The network decides to keep him on the air, he becomes a phenomenon and called a Mad Prophet.

Sheen, Conan O’Brian and Flight attendant Steven Slater were all frustrated with their employers. They all left their jobs loudly rather than quietly and became folk heroes in the process. Folk heroes fueled by the internet social sites, Facebook and Twitter in particular.

Chayefsky was three decades ahead of his time and the word “Network” today has a larger meaning. In the movie the public at large joined the “Mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore!” movement. Today people across the world are mad as hell.

People have been “mad as hell” for a while. The current global economic downturn has frustrated people across the planet. The difference is that now people have decided that they “…are not going to take it anymore.”  The internet and social networking in particular, are providing a way to express the anger.  More than that, the online world is providing a way to organize and get results.

The results are real. Conan O’Brian was able to keep his fan base despite being barred from broadcast television. Charlie Sheen may be onto a new career as an online Mad Prophet selling Tiger’s Blood and promoting “winning.” In the Middle East, two strongmen who held power for decades have fallen, one is in a civil war and others may still be deposed.  

The plot twist in the 1976 movie was that the “Network” decided to keep the Mad Prophet on the air in a cynical ploy for ratings. In today’s network, the TV Networks could not keep Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian off the air- at least not off the internet. Neither could an Egyptian state run TV station silence a Google manager.

When people are Mad as Hell in this new Communications/Information age, those in power will have to listen – they can no longer just pull the plug. The Mad as Hell side is “winning.”

That changes everything.

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Watson, Google, Egypt’s revolution, Saudi Kings, the price of oil and the Singularity

Watson the IBM Computer not only wins, but beats two of the biggest former human champions handily on the TV game show Jeopardy.

Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google, plays the part of Egypt’s Technological Cromwell and helps spark a revolution.

Raymond Kurzweil, a leading Artificial Intelligence expert predicts a “Singularity”, the day when Artificial Intelligence surpasses human intelligence, as coming sooner rather than later.

All these events happened within days of each other – how are they related?

Just as the Twentieth Century was dominated by technological, social and political changes caused by the industrial revolution – we are seeing that the Twenty-First Century will be dominated by such changes caused by the information revolution.

We had begun to see signs of it before. When Barak Obama was able to defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democrat Party race for the Presidential nomination, it was a victory for the online world against what was viewed as the establishment.  Now we have the role of Twitter and Facebook in the Middle East and elsewhere; partially spurred by revelations coming from Wikileaks.

The established political structures in the world are becoming as relevant as candle makers after Edison invented the light bulb and electrification of cities.

How is a King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who will be eighty-eight years old this August, to deal with this sort of a world? In fact, almost all of the large middle-eastern oil producers are in a similar predicament. They, and Russia, are right now “pinch points” in the world economy and therefore world politics. But even their economic clout could be threatened by the information revolutionaries.

Brilliant people all over the world are trying to figure out how to make a better battery. Combine a better battery with a breakthrough in nuclear fusion or some other energy producing technology and crude oil could become as irrelevant as the telegraph much faster than any of us imagine. The oil producers would become less relevant as well.

Don’t think it could happen? In the late Nineteenth Century the “industrialized world” (Europe and the America’s) were facing a vast oil shortage – whale oil that is-until fossil fuels were placed into use. Henry Ford demanded that his engineers produce a V8 engine for the automobile, despite engineers assurances that it could not be done.

We are already facing a time of greater change for more of the world’s population since World War II. It may greater change, and upheaval, than any of us can even imagine.

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A World without Exile…is it wise? Update: Middle East Revolutions, Gaddafi and Berlusconi

Generally, I don’t want to make a habit of reissuing old posts. Recent events have made a strong case for the premise of this piece and it deserved a revisit. This post was originally written weeks before the Tunisian Revolution, the Egyptian Revolution and the Libyan Revolution. President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali of Tunisia wound up in exile in Saudi Arabia. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has peacefully retired to a palace along the Red Sea. Yet that did not happen in Libya.  According to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

“Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don’t think anyone can make him change his mind,” he told reporters.

Granted Berlusconi certainly has his own share of political and legal problems. But of all the European countries Italy has been the closest to Libia and Berlusconi probably has the best read of the Libyan strongman’s mindset. His statement gives credibility to this post that I originally made last December.

Why haven’t the two Korean nations united as did East and West Germany?

Perhaps it is because there is no way out for North Korea’s ruling Kim family. If the Korean nations unite, who can doubt that a prosecutor or judge in Europe will indict them for crimes?

This was the same dilemma that faced Saddam Hussein. He knew the US invasion was coming. Days before the start of military action in 2003, Saddam was offered a life in exile. Why not live out his days with his wealth and Viagra?

But Saddam only had to look at the situation of his friend, former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Four years earlier Milosevic, after having left power in Serbia, was arrested and held in a jail cell. He was placed on trial. He died in prison.

Saddam knew Milosevic well. The Iraqi’s had their bunkers built by the Serbs who had learned from the US bombing in the 1990’s.

They were kindred spirits. So when Saddam was offered exile, he had only to look at Slobodan’s fate and conclude that he was better off trying to stick it out in Iraq. We all know the rest.

Contrast this to the Exile of Chilean General and dictator Augusto Pinochet several decades earlier. Pinochet was allowed to live in exile in Spain with some of his ill-gotten gains. The transition in Chile to democracy was relatively smooth and peaceful when compared to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The Kim’s of North Korea have no doubt watched what happened to Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. They knew them both. People who are used to leading entire countries can conceive of retirement with their wealth, but living in a prison cell is worse than death.

The European courts and judges mean well. The idea of dictators living out their years in the lap of luxury without being brought to justice is distasteful. No civilized human being likes that idea. Part of the idea is making sure that dictators and others know that there is an international watch on their doings and that this would encourage good behavior.

But reality has us working in a world with paranoid dictators at a time that nuclear technology is achievable. Dictators and repressive regimes are turning to the Korean model of buying time and respect by acquiring nuclear weapons. Wounded dictators with nowhere to go are as dangerous as cornered animals.  They will fight to the finish. Now they can do so with nukes.

The exile option is far from perfect (Europeans know this from the Napoleon experience, where his return from exile led to another war.) The alternative, attempting regime change against dug in despots with atomic weapons (think North Korea, and soon Iran) and suddenly exiled dictators playing in their retirement palaces doesn’t seem so bad.

The world and European courts need to reexamine their prosecutorial zeal and allow the exile option to reemerge.

After the recent events in Lybia and Berlusconi’s remarks the last sentence above is more relevant than ever.

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