Archive for category World Affairs

Unicorns, WMD, Kerry, Obama, Putin, Hillary Clinton, and Doing the Damascus Dance

Since the current American Foreign Policy regarding Syria has swung back and forth more than a half-naked Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball, we have taken it upon ourselves to interview some of the principle players involved and attempt to clarify things.

First up, Secretary of State John Kerry:

John Kerry

Q: At first you said that there would be no “boots on the ground” in Syria but then you opened up the possibility of “boots on the ground” if we needed to secure chemical weapons. Which is it?

Secretary Kerry: Both. I was against “boots on the ground” before I was for them.

Q: What about arming the rebels fighting against the Assad regime? Do you favor that?

Secretary Kerry: I was against arming the rebels before I was for it.

Q: Finally, what about getting Congressional approval before the US Military action?

Secretary Kerry: I was against getting Congressional approval before I was for it.

Q: I see. Thank you very much Secretary Kerry.

Now we turn to President Obama.

President Obama

Q: Mr. President what do you have to say about “boots on the ground” in Syria.

President Obama: Let me make this perfectly clear. There will be no “boots on the ground” in Syria.

Q: But Secretary Kerry said that if we needed to secure WMDs we would go in, and there has been talk of providing arms to the rebels. How can we do this with no “boots on the ground”?

President Obama: Let me make this perfectly clear. The US Military wears boots. The C.I. A. wears shoes. We will have no “boots on the ground” in Syria.

Q: Secretary Kerry has said that any action by the US in Syria would be very limited…yet you said that the “US Military does not do pin pricks.” What about the drone strikes we have been doing around the world – aren’t those small precision strikes?

President Obama: Let me make this perfectly clear. The US Military is not in charge of the drone strikes. The C.I.A. is in charge of the drone strikes at my direction. The US Military does not do pin pricks – when I am looking for pricks, I look to the C.I.A.

Q: Are you sure you want to phrase it that way?

President Obama: Why? I didn’t draw a Red Line or anything again did I?

Q: No, no – never mind. Let’s move on. What do all of these changes signal to regimes like Iran or North Korea? What will they think about the reluctance to bomb or put “boots on the ground”?

President Obama: Iran is not Syria. You can check that on a map. Or even a globe. Or if you have a smart phone: use Google Maps. As for North Korea; let me make sure this is understood; the US Military wears boots, the C.I.A. wears shoes, and Dennis Rodman wears sneakers.

Q: That’s all the time we had with President Obama as he was off to a game of golf with Speaker John Boehner where they were going to talk about how budget negotiations are as painful as nicotine withdrawal.

Our next guest is Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin

Q: President Putin, after years of being sidelined in the Middle East it seems that Russia is once again flexing diplomatic muscles. Can you tell us what led to this change?

President Putin: There is no change here. I have been flexing my muscles for years. Haven’t you seen the pictures?

Q: What we mean is that you seem to have been very vigorous in your defense of Basher Assad in Syria…

President Putin: That’s not the only place I have been vigorous. I am recently divorced. So ladies, if you are looking for vigorous, text a picture to “Comrade Danger.”

Q: I can’t believe you went there…

President Putin: OK I have to go now, very busy schedule…

Q: Doing what?

President Putin: Have a photo opportunity of me riding shirtless on a unicorn.

Q: A unicorn? Aren’t they imaginary?

President Putin: You don’t believe in unicorns?

Q: Well, no…

President Putin: But you believe that all of the chemical weapons on a civil-war torn Middle Eastern country can be identified, secured, and transported out of the country by the International Community – with no American “boots on the ground”? You Americans crack me up. It is almost as funny as sending Dennis Rodman to North Korea.

Q: Not sure that we “sent” Rodman…

President Putin: Have to go. Have the photo op and then dinner with Eric Snowden. He tells me an NSA story, I tell him an old KGB story – we drink some vodka. Good time all around.

Next we turn to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton

Q: As a senator you voted to authorize President Bush to use military action in Iraq. Later you opposed it. As Secretary of State you supported military strikes on Libya, yet when our Ambassador in Benghazi was in danger you opposed using the military. Last week, now that you are out of office, you urged Congress vote in favor of supporting military strikes on Syria by the Obama Administration, but now you agree with the President to postpone the vote?

Secretary Clinton: Exactly.

Q: Huh?

Secretary Clinton: My position as a Senator, as Secretary of State and now as a Candid – oops! I mean as a private citizen – has been consistent.

Q: How so?

Secretary Clinton: I have always been in support of authorizing the President to use military force, until I am no longer in support. Well, gotta run – like the subtle hint there?

Q: Where are you going?

Secretary Clinton: To a photo op of me riding on a lion. That Putin is a genius – even Bill said he never thought of the “riding on a wild animal” thing. It’s almost as brilliant as sending Dennis Rodman to North Korea.

Q: You mean… we did send Rodman to North Korea…? Why?

Secretary Clinton: What difference does it make! See ya – in 2016.

Finally, to try to put some perspective on all of this – we ask former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to comment.

Q: What do we know about the Syria situation?

Secretary Rumsfeld: You and I don’t know what President Obama knows. And we don’t know what President Putin knows. And we don’t know what Obama knows about what Putin knows. It looks like President Hollande of France knows something – but what it is, we don’t know.

Q: Is there any way out of this mess?

Secretary Rumsfeld: That’s what they used to ask me about Iraq – so I’ll say the same thing:

I don’t know.

Rodman in North Korea

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Football Season, the Giants Offense, and Syria Strategy

The NFL season is about to begin again – and my beloved New York Giants are getting ready for their season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Bare with me, but it relates to our Syria situation.

Last year my Giants went from being surprise Superbowl champs, to not making the playoffs. A big factor was that the punishing Defense was nowhere near as good against the opposing team’s ground game and not as dominating in the pass rush. Part of that was that Jean-Pierre Paul (JPP), the stand out Defensive Lineman, was playing with a hurt back. He had off-season surgery and hopefully will be back to form.

But the Pre-Season has been a little menacing. While the Giants have scored, it has mostly been on Big Plays – a long pass and run by Wide Receiver Victor Cruz, or a breakaway run by Halfback David Wilson. But when in the Red Zone (or as their Head coach Tom Coughlin likes to refer to it: the Green Zone) they have floundered. This is concerning.

Giants Ground Game

In a similar way, over the past decade, American foreign policy has been effective with the Big Play; Regime Change in Iraq and Afghanistan. But once we get into the Green Zone, changing hearts and minds, we don’t do so well. Like the Giants, we have had limited success stopping our opponents ground game.

So just as I am concerned with the upcoming Giants season, since I am not sure the weaknesses have been corrected, I am also concerned with the upcoming season in American Foreign Policy.

Since the political pundit class is gearing up for a Hillary Clinton Presidential run, it has almost become the media consensus to praise her time as Secretary of State. While it maybe true that there were no major gaffes or debacles on her watch at State (I count Benghazi as more of a failure of the Intelligence Community than State), there were no major accomplishments or victories.

In fact, the events of the past week, where the US has been increasingly isolated on taking action against Syria shows that our diplomatic ties and credibility are not that strong. The two Bush President’s, snidley derided as “Go I Alone Cowboys” overseas and here at home, were able to put together larger coalitions than the Obama/Clinton/Kerry team. We were supposed to not be so hated around the world by now. Then why can’t we get other countries to follow our lead? Maybe we aren’t as hated, but we aren’t as respected either.

The US military has given us effective control of the skies since the First Persian Gulf War in 1991. Special teams, (Drone strikes,Stuxnet Virus, etc) have been effective but have created backlash as well.

US Air Power

But we still don’t seem to have a consistent ground game, or the ability to stop the opponent’s ground game. That’s why the plans to “punish” the Assad regime for chemical weapons with some cruise missile strikes seems like another attempt at the Big Play. But what then? If Assad survives and then launches another chemical attack, then what? And is Middle Eastern Dictators have taught us anything, it is their willingness to hide military targets among the civilian population, making “clean” military strikes almost impossible.

Seems to me that before we launch another Big Play strategy, we better get our ground game figured out.

Go Giants!

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Here we go again: America doing everyone else’s dirty work

Looks like America will be flying solo – another “kinetic” intervention in the Middle East.

Everyone condemns the use of chemical weapons. Nobody but the US and Israel are willing to do anything about it. (Remember months ago the Israelis attacked Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles – now it seems America’s turn is coming.)

In fact is seems this is the pattern. Israel attacked the Iraqi Osiris nuclear power plant in the 1980’s to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting nuclear weapons. A few years later, the US led the first Gulf War against Iraq and a decade later went in for a long bloody stay, based on reports (that turned out false) of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) production.

Israel bombed what may have been a Syrian nuclear processing facility last year, and as mentioned previously, chemical weapons stockpiles a short time ago. Now the US looks like it is going to take its turn in Syria. Meanwhile, the people of Israel are stocking up on gas masks. Is any other nation having to do that?

In Iran the nuclear program was pushed back by the Stuxnet computer virus. Depending on whom you listen to, it was probably done by either Israel, the US or both together.

US and Israel

As for North Korea, has anyone other than the US stood up to them?

(Side note: sixty years ago we came to South Korea’s aid as part of the Cold War and because the North and South were even matches for each other. Today South Korea is far richer and incredibly more advanced technologically than North Korea. If it weren’t for the WMD question, the South Koreans should be able to easily hold off the North without our help. Yet twenty-thousand US troops still remain in that breach.)

It has been stated that Syria has violated the Geneva Conventions with this attack. That sounds about right. But were Israel and the United States the only signers of the Geneva Conventions? Don’t the other states that signed have an interest in upholding the Conventions?

Yet it seems that it is up to Israel and the US to go it alone.

The American people are tired of being the muscle for Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are well off financially but expect Americans to always pay the price in blood and treasure.

If this Syrian adventure goes badly – you can expect a time where it will become very hard to get the US to intervene militarily without being attacked directly. Perhaps even Israel will become war-weary.

There’s an old saying that you need to pick your battles – it’s time for some of the other nations that profess to be for a stable international order – to do some heavy lifting; instead of always hiding behind the US and Israel.

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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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Who Are the Players in Commercial Spaceflight Part 1: Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Eren and Fatih Ozmen, Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis

In a previous post we posed the question if Commercial Spaceflight is the next big boom. Then we compared it to the growth of Steam ship and railroad travel in the 19th century.

But who are the players in today’s Commercial Spaceflight boomlet? What motivates them? There are more than most people imagine so this will be Part 1 of a several part series on these Space Flight Players.

So in no particular order:

Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard BransonSir Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic. The flamboyant mobile phone, music and airline entrepreneur is taking to commercial space with Virgin Galactic. He already has more than 200 tickets sold for sub-orbital tourist flights aboard his SpaceShipTwo space craft. Flight testing for the White Knight Two (the aircraft that carries Spaceship Two initially) and SpaceShipTwo are under way. He has also built, together with the state of New Mexico, Spaceport America in Sierra County New Mexico. Branson intends to offer orbital flight as well in the future. Branson’s motivation seems to be his spirit of adventure that has always led him to ventures where he could claim to be “first.”
Elon Musk and Space Explorations (Or Space X as it is called). Space X is the first commercial company to successfully launch a capsule that docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Space X Falcon 1 Rocket and the larger heavy lift Falcon 9 rocket in development launch capsules that later splash down in the ocean upon reentry to the atmosphere – reminiscent of the Gemini and Apollo missions.  By having a private company replicate what it took NASA and the Cold War efforts of the Us Government was doing  several decades ago, there is a Back to the Future feel about this enterprise. The South African born but now American Musk was a co-founder of the online payment company Pay Pal. With degrees in both Economics and Engineering his personality was the inspiration for the Tony Stark character in the Iron Man and Avenger movies. Musk seems to want to solve problems that others have yet to tackle – one being mankind’s eggs all being in the Earth basket. Musk has the goal of eventual Mars exploration and settlement. Musk also is working to bring innovative electric cars to market with his Tesla Motors.

Paul Allen and Stratolaunch Systems. The Microsoft Co-Founder and Venture Capitalist (Vulcan Inc.) announced the start up Stratolaunch Systems, together with Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites. The Allen/Rutan team had collaborated previously on Spaceship One, which won the Anzari X prize for being the first commercial space craft to successfully launch and re-launch civilians into space. Stratolaunch Systems will be a mobile  air launched system with the carrier craft built by Rutan’s Scaled Composites, then with Space X (see above) providing a multi stage launch vehicle and finally a docking and integration system made by Dynetics. Allen, considered in the top five wealthiest men in the world, is also the owner of NFL, NBA and Major League Soccer Franchises. He has real estate and philanthropic interest primarily in the Seattle, Washington and Pacific Norwest region. Allen is a Science Fiction and Rick and Roll fan as well as a fan aviation history – he has opened museums for all three. The Stratolauncher, which will be the largest aircraft in the air when ready, has a similar name to the Stratocruiser which was the largest commercial aircraft of its time when another Seattle based Allen announced the aircraft that featured a spiral staircase and cocktail lounge in the post war 1940’s. (William Allen head of Boeing at the time, but no relation to Paul as far as I know.) Paul Allen being such an aviation history buff, this name selection is not likely accidental. Paul Allen appears to being living out his science fiction and aviation dreams together in his commercial space ventures.

The Ozmens and Sierra Nevada Corporation. No, not Donnie and Marie (those are Osmonds) rather Eren and Fatih. This dynamic wife and husband duo took a small engineering firm in a suburb of Reno, Nevada and turned it into the largest government Defense, Intelligence and National Security Contractor that you probably never heard of. Both have engineering degrees and Sierra Nevada Corporations Space Systems division already delivered the hybrid (green) rockets used by Rutan’s Scaled Composites Space ShipOne. They have also already drop tested (dropping the spacecraft from a carrier aircraft) the Dream Catcher space craft a shuttle-like craft they are developing as a people and freight transport to the ISS. They are also involved in developing other space technologies, such as the actuators that power the Mars Rover. Publicity shy and very focused this couple benefitted from the past decades defense build up – as defense dollars are looking to go down, it will be interesting to watch them venture into the world of commercial space.

Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis of Space Adventures and Planetary Resources. Anderson and Diamandis co-founded Space Adventures which successfully sold space tourism flights aboard Russian space craft and have now launched Planetary Resources – a company developing low cost orbital telescopes with the goal of identifying and eventually mining asteroids. Many heavy hitters are investing in their company including Google Co-Founder and CEO Larry Page, H. Ross Perot Jr., Avatar Filmmaker James Cameron and Former Goldman Sachs Chairman John Whitehead. Anderson is the current chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry association, and has helped found several space start ups. Diamandis is co-founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation which awarded the first prize to Burt Rutan and Paul Allen’s SpaceShipOne (see above) for successful commercial space flights.  Diamandis, with Biology and engineering degrees from MIT and an MD from Harvard Medical has many futuristic interests including the Singularity University with Ray Kurzweil. Anderson and Diamandis seem to have had a life-long passion for promoting space flight. Diamandis’s love of rockets goes all the way back to his days as a youngster in the Bronx, NY when he won the Estes model rocket design prize.

These five are just a start. There will be several more parts to this series, as there are more players than folks are aware of. I know I was surprised when I started researching the number of players in this new and up and coming industy.

Note: None of this should be viewed as investment advice. Dan Godzich is not an investment advisor and does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned above.

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Commercial Spaceflight: The Next Big Boom?

If you are looking for an investment opportunity, how’s this for size?  An industry where a founder of Google, a founder of Microsoft, a founder of Pay Pal, a founder of Amazon, an airline and cell phone magnate, a former head of Goldman Sachs, and the highest grossing filmaker of all time are all investing – some heavily.* Some are creating new start ups or investing in the start ups of others. That’s a lot of smart money all in one place.

What is this new potential boom?

In 1824 the US Supreme Court case Gibbons vs. Ogden, the court nullified a monopoly for steam ship travel along the Hudson River. One of Mr. Gibbons’ employees, a river captain called “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt ran with the result of this decision. He went on to fame as a Steam Ship builder and operator and eventually a railroad magnate. He also became the richest man in America. The transportation revolution he helped spearhead changed America and the world.

In the last few years, the NASA based government monopoly on space travel in the United States has been nullified. We are now in the Steam Ship phase of commercial spaceflight. There will be later the equivalent of railroads (right now the concept is called a space elevator – it is a vertical railroad.) But that will be the topic of a future column.

Image

Somebody is going to be the Cornelius Vanderbilt of Space. Somebody is going to be the Henry Ford of Space (hopefully with all the inventive genius minus the bigotry.) Somebody is going to be the Jay Gould of Space. Somebody is going to be the Andrew Carnegie of Space materials. Somebody is going to be the Guggenheim (Copper mining Barron) of Space mining. Somebody is going to be the Alexander Graham Bell of Space. Hopefully we will have the Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison of Space as well.

We are entering into a period of innovation and exploration done by the private sector on the first true frontier since the American West. All of the NASA missions up until now were just Lewis and Clark. We are entering into a time of great expansion – also a time when fortunes previously unthinkable are made.

I’ll be exploring this new horizon in a series of articles.

* If you are wondering who the investors referred to are: Larry Page (Google), Paul Allen, (Microsoft), Elon Musk (Pay Pal), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), John Whitehead (Goldman Sachs) and James Cameron (Titanic and Avatar.)

Next up: Who are the current players in commercial spaceflight?

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International Criminal Court, Gaddafi, Libya and Exile

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Muammar Gaddafi, which will just cause him to dig in deeper. That is why I am re-issuing the blog post I wrote last December and then updated when NATO started the “kinetic military action” in Libya.

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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