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VENEZUELA VOTES LEFT
Gunmen supporting Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, open fire on a crowd of opposition protesters
A CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION LEAVES OIL MARKETS WITH A SENSE OF RELIEF
Venezuela produces 11 to 13% of the oil consumed in the U.S. , and its outspoken leftist president, Hugo Chavez, is notorious for his incendiary criticism of Washington. Nevertheless, oil markets heaved a sigh of relief when Chavez won a referendum which constituted a public vote of confidence intended to let him finish out his six year term. Since Chavez's government controls the company responsible for Venezuela's oil production, there had been concern that a Chavez defeat would bring Venezuela's output to a halt, causing more damage than Chavez's rhetoric. The Economist notes, however, that the referendum has done nothing to counteract the polarization of Venezuela's electorate, and the future looks problematic. (Economist, August 16, 2004)
•Global Security.org provides background to the concerns about Chavez.
•BBC on why Chavez makes Washington nervous
WASHINGTON POST FOLLOWS NEW YORK TIMES WITH AUTO CRITIQUE ON NEWS COVERAGE LEADING UP TO THE WAR IN IRAQ
The Washington Post contends that it reported information that was skeptical about the nature of the threat from Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, but in general the information tended to be hidden in the inside pages of the newspaper. The Post's media critic Howard Kurtz and editor Len Downey discuss what happened on PBS' NewsHour.
(PBS, NewsHour, August 18, 2004)
U.S. GETS READY TO PULL TROOPS OUT OF EUROPE AND ASIA
The president's plan to pull U.S. troops back from bases in Europe and Asia will take at least a decade to be completed--underlying the redeployment is a concept referred to informally as "lily pad". Instead of massing troops against a known danger, smaller sized units will be stationed at strategic locations allowing them to respond more flexibly to threats coming from unexpected quarters. General George Jouwan and Larry Korb discuss the advantages and weaknesses of the plan on the PBS News Hour. (PBS, August 16, 2004)
•BBC on the "lily pad" strategy
LILY PAD IS PRESENTING THE KREMLIN WITH DIFFICULT CHOICES
The Russia Journal reports that growing concern in the Kremlin about the U.S. moving forces closer to Russia's borders is being compounded by Washington's readiness to express support for Georgia's new president, Mikhail Saakashvili. (Russia Journal, August 16, 2004)•Russia's defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, talks to reporters after meeting Rumsfeld in Saint Petersburg(Pentagon transcript)... •Rumsfeld talks to U.S. reporters in transit back to the U.S....
ABU GHRAIB FLASHBACK
In 2001, a U.S. court ordered Saddam Hussein's regime to pay $6.7 million to two Americans who had been tortured at the prison in 1995 after they accidentally strayed across the Kuwait border. An Iraqi citizen was subsequently awarded $88 million by a U.S. court for similar treatment--that was before Abu Ghraib became associated with U.S. torture. Afraid of the suits that are likely to be filed against the Bush administration, the Justice Department has now moved to sidestep the Torture Victims Protection Act which served as a base for the earlier suits. Siddarth Vandarajan reports on the details (The Hindu, August 9, 2004)
WEAK DOLLARS VS OIL
The declining U.S. dollar makes energy more expensive for Americans, but considerably cheaper in non-dollar economies. With the euro now 30% more valuable than a dollar, gasoline costs in Europe are lower now than they were in 2000. Ohio University's A.F. Alhajji charts the impact at the recent Association of Energy Economics Annual conference in Washington DC (Middle East Economic Survey, August 16, 2004)
A TROUBLED RELATIONSHIP UNDERMINES THE WAR AGAINST TERROR
Both the Bush administration, and the regime of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf are each driven by questions of domestic survival. As a result, the hunt for Bin Laden has taken a back seat to other priorities. (Husain Haqqani in Salon, August 17, 2004)
HEAVY FIGHTING ENDS TRUCE BETWEEN GEORGIANS AND RUSSIAN-BACKED BREAKAWAY PROVINCE
A ceasefire agreed to on Friday, evaporated Monday after guerrillas from Georgia's break-away province, South Ossetia, killed two Georgian soldiers. Georgia's defense minister has threatened to use heavy artillery if the shooting doesn't stop. The South Ossetians want to rejoin Russia. Georgia is unwilling to give up the territory. (BBC, August 16, 2004)
GEORGIA RECEIVES U.S. MILITARY TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT IN EXCHANGE FOR FIGHTING IN IRAQ
In contrast to other members of the Bush administration's "Coalition of the Willing," who usually limit their soldiers to humanitarian missions, Georgia is more than ready to dispatch its 500-man contingent to Iraq with orders to go directly into combat. In exchange the Georgians want updated U.S. combat training, access to U.S. equipment and to send a message to their neighbors in the north. (Eurasianet.org, August 16, 2004)
•Georgia's Saakashvili may be pushing the envelope too far From Russia's point of view, Saakashvili appears to be forcing a confrontation, hoping the U.S. will back him up. That could be an unrealistic assumption. Peter Lavelle analyzes the situation in In The National Interest (August 16, 2004)
TROUBLE IN SHANGRILA
Maoist rebels have found a new way of pressuring the government: close down the country's tourist hotels. The BBC reports (August 17, 2004)
•South Asia Terrorism Portal provides background on Nepal's Maoist insurgency A nation the size of North Carolina, with six times the population, and the Himalayas covering one third of its territory, Nepal's annual budget is less than the amount allotted to public schools in Fairfax, Virginia...Thomas A. Marks, professor at the U.S. joint Special Operations University, Hurlburt Field, Florida explains the background to Nepal's unrest in Faultlines, issue 15, summer 2004 (SATPOR, August 2004)
IRAN WARNS THAT ITS UPGRADED SHAHIB MISSILES CAN NOW REACH ISRAEL
With speculation about the possibility of an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program, Teheran is making it clear that it already has the weapons for a direct retaliation. Israel's own nuclear arsenal is likely to be a prime target, as are U.S. bases in the Gulf. (Reuters, August 16, 2004)
HAMAS DOCUMENTS REVEAL POLICY TOWARDS ISRAELI PULLOUT FROM GAZA
Amon Regular reports in Haaretz that Hamas' plan calls for treating the Israeli withdrawal as a victory for the Intifada. It will then concentrate its efforts on establishing an equal power sharing arrangement with the Palestinian Authority, while further penetrating the organization. The war with Israel continues. Hamas sees the withdrawal as part of a coordinated Zionist plan, and it wants to make sure that the Palestinian response is equally coordinated. (Amon Regular in Haaretz, August 16, 2004)
AFGHANISTAN'S HAMID KARZAI TOO CIVILIZED TO RULE?
Circumstances and a few highly placed members of the Bush administration have all but assured Hamid Karzai's victory in Afghanistan's upcoming election. There are plenty of other qualified candidates, but with no communications and only a month to campaign in, it is unlikely that voters will be able to recognize who they are. Karzai, who is articulate, elegant, and speaks good English, appeals to Washington. The only problem is that his real influence in Afghanistan is practically nil. Michael Kavanaugh assesses the situation in Slate, (August 9, 2004)
CHINA BUYING UP JAPANESE COMPANIES
Outsourcing has created a boom in China's economy, while Japan remains in the doldrums, the result: more and more Japanese firms are vulnerable to takeovers from Beijing. (J. Sean Curtin, Asia Times, August 17, 2004)
DEALING WITH MILITARY CORRUPTION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
A new RAND study suggests that getting third world armies to work right is a growing prerequisite to development. (RAND summer 2004)
Hundreds of Iraqi civilians crowd into the shrine to Ali in order to protect Shiite rebel Muqtada al-Sadr
HUMAN SHIELDS FOR IRAQ'S MUQTADA
Getting at Iraq's leading Shiite insurgent is likely to be complicated by the hundreds of civilian volunteers who have crowded into Najaf to protect him. (Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 17, 2004)
THE INSURGENT'S STRATEGY: GO FOR THE OIL
Last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured Americans that Iraq "continues to calm down." But the bitter reality is that America is losing the war in Iraq. And it's not just because the interim Iraqi government can't stop the suicide bombers or prevail over the soldiers loyal to Shiite rebel leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr. It's also because neither the U.S. nor the interim Iraqi government can control the flow of Iraq's oil. The bad news from the oil fields continued last week....
(Robert Bryce, Salon, August 16, 2004)
EUROPE AS THE 'METROSEXUAL' SUPERPOWER
The stylish European Union struts past the bumbling United States on the catwalk of global diplomacy... Parag Khanna writing in Foreign Policy, describes British defense guru Richard Cooper's, contention that
Europe's "magnetic allure" compels countries to rewrite their laws and constitutions to meet European standards. In contrast, the United States conceives of power primarily in military terms, thus confusing presence with influence. By contrast, Europeans understand power as overall leverage. As a result, the EU is the world's largest bilateral aid donor, providing more than twice as much aid to poor countries as the United States, and it is also the largest importer of agricultural goods from the developing world, enhancing its influence in key regions of instability. Through massive deployments of "soft power" (such as economic clout and cultural appeal) Europe has made hard power less necessary. (Parag Khanna, Foreign Policy, July-August 2004)
JUAN COLE ON THE CONTRADICTORY ASSESSMENTS OF IRAQ'S 'NATIONAL CONGRESS'
The New York Times has maintained a healthy skepticism, while the Washington Post verges on the panglossian. Both papers have skipped important points. No wonder, the public is confused. (Juan Cole, Informed Comment, August 16, 2004)