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NightWatch 20110125


For the Night of 25 January 2011

North Korea: Special comment. The overthrow of the Ben Ali government in Tunisia has shifted international focus away from the Korean peninsula once again. This creates a condition that North Korean leaders will seek to rectify. Their preferred tactic is to stage a provocation that will seem to make talks with the North more urgent than developments in the Middle East.

Of course, astute and Brilliant Readers will see through this as a ruse. Nevertheless, in the next month the North may be expected to take some action to try to shift the focus of international attention back to the Korean Peninsula.

China-Tonga: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Tongan King George Tupou V met 25 January in Beijing to re-affirm ties. Xi praised Tonga's compliance with the one-China policy and vowed further economic and political cooperation based on mutual respect and equality.

Comment: China has courted Tonga for more than three decades, exchanging economic aid for a listening post for US and Allied naval movements and a port of call for Chinese oceanographic ships.

Afghanistan: For the record. The United States may expand Afghan security forces by nearly 70,000 above the 306,000 Afghan police and military set to be trained and equipped by 2012, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin stated after a trip to Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq. U.S. President Barack Obama may announce the decision in the next few days, Levin said. Pakistan may not want to see a larger Afghan army, Levin stated, adding that if Pakistanis want the Afghans to take greater responsibility on their side of the border, then Pakistan should not object to increased Afghan security forces.

Comment: The political/economic tradeoff is the cost of expanding a larger Afghan force or continuing to pay the $ billions to maintain a US combat force in Afghanistan indefinitely. Even new hands understand it is cheaper to expand Afghan forces than it is to maintain US forces in combat.

In any event, the calculations for sizing pro-government and NATO forces seem unrelated to the numbers of fighters the anti-government forces can field, which is the conventional measure of merit. The number of soldiers who fight - meaning those who actually shoot guns -- for the Kabul government about matches the number of anti-government fighters.

Without air power, the anti-government forces would win over time, by attrition if not by skill. An expansion of Afghan government forces might provide some numerical edge that would enable US forces to transfer the bulk of the fighting to the Afghans.

The monthly combat data for Afghanistan continue show that counterinsurgency is a military equation and a chronic condition in which the combat power of the pro-government forces matches the combat power of its opponents. That is where Afghanistan is today.

Insurgency is a chronic condition, not a fatal one. However, when the insurgency equation changes, so does the outcome. Thus, if the government adds more resources and the opposition stays the same, the insurgency will devolve into an organized criminal problem, manageable by police, as in Indian Kashmir and Sri Lanka.

If the opposition adds resources and the government stays the same or reduces its resources, the insurgency will evolve into a revolution and the government will be overrun. This happened in Afghanistan in 1996.

At this point in Afghanistan, air power is the key technological edge that maintains the equation. The Pashtuns do not fear US or Afghan soldiers. They fear US aircraft. 70,000 more Afghans will not maintain the equation if US resources decline, but US and NATO losses should decline.

Lebanon: Lebanon will maintain ties with everyone and will not confront anyone, the country's newly appointed Premier Najib Mikati stated on 25 January on Lebanese television LBC. Lebanon needs support from all friendly states, he said, adding that stability is needed to rebuild the country.

For a second day, Sunni Arabs who backed Sa'ad al-Hariri staged violent demonstrations.

Comment: The pro-Western Sunnis and other groups who backed Hariri apparently cannot accept that they could not be voted out of office. Hariri himself said he will not work with the new government. Mikati probably supports Syrian interests over those of Hezbollah, but that is progress for Hezbollah for now. He provides a businessman's public image for an international terrorist organization that is viscerally hostile to the idea of Israel. That is Hezbollah's intent…for now.

Democracy does not necessarily produce outcomes that are favorable to US regional interests, as the elections in Gaza already have shown. Thus, in a free and open parliamentary vote, anti-US interests won in Lebanon.

For the third time in five years, the lesson is the same: steadfast US support for democracy in Arab lands has led to setbacks to US strategic interests. In the case of Hamas, voters elected an authoritarian, anti-US, Islamist government. In Lebanon, members of parliament elected a government leader who is likely to restore Syrian dominance in Lebanon and expand Iranian influence. Similar results are likely in other countries.

The obvious conclusion is that anti-US Arab groups have learned how to manipulate representative, electoral government to serve their interests. Plus, they are getting good at it. Democracy does not necessarily or inexorably lead to greater popular freedoms because voters have the power to vote away their freedoms. That is the great risk in Arab lands. This is a study in democracy.

Lebanon-Israel: The Israeli news service Ha'aretz proclaimed that Lebanon is not moving closer to Iran because of selection of Najib Mikati as Hezbollah's choice of a prime minister, but to Syria, as if that were good news.

Comment: The Ha"aretz editorial raises two questions. Will Mikati's election mean anything? And will Lebanon become more hostile to Israel, whether or not closer to Iran? The Ha'aretz analysis is that Mikati will be more pro-Syrian, though reasoning that supports this conclusion is defective in light of Iranian support of the Alawite, pro-Shiite government in Syria.

Egypt: Today is the "day of rage." On 25 January, a day honoring Egyptian police, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the government, calling for President Mubarak to step down. Police used water cannon and tear gas against rock throwing demonstrators.

Egyptian security forces used rubber bullets to disperse an estimated 8,000 demonstrators in Alexandria's central Sidi Gaber Square. More than 1,000 people from various opposition groups protested in Mansoura and an estimated 15,000 protesters occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo. Nearly 5,000 protesters demonstrated in Mahalla and dozens of youth were reportedly protesting in Minya.

Two protestors and one policeman died in the clashes. As in Tunisia online social media served as the channel for organizing the demonstration in large numbers without official permission.

The government cut or restricted aaccess to internet, phone and social media networks, spreading confusion among protesters and temporarily sealing the largest Arab country off from the rest of the world. Access was later restored, although services remained intermittent.

Comment: Despite a US statement that the government of Egypt is stable, the demonstrations show that it has suppressed a large undercurrent of potentially incendiary opposition, whose capabilities are not known. Sclerotic regimes like those of Mubarak never know the depth or expanse of their real opposition because they are so busy suppressing it.

This creates the condition for a field-grade officers' coup to install a reformist government, which Egypt has experienced whenever a government has overstayed its welcome. Sadat and Mubarak did that and Mubarak is overdue to have it done to him. If the demonstrations continue for two more weeks, the Mubarak era will be over.

US-Arab States: The United States will use the "Tunisian example" in its talks with other Arab states, U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman said during a visit to Tunis, Al Jazeera reported 25 January. The Arab world faces many of the same challenges, and Washington hopes the governments will address legitimate political, social and economic concerns, Feltman said.

NightWatch comment: This is the kind of statement a US official might well regret he ever made. The dedication to democratic change might be commendable, provided the Arab voters are capable of handling it in a sophisticated fashion. That is the rub because the outcome of elections in Arab states or territories to date has not produced results that reinforce US strategic interests, such as the security of Israel.

The political upheaval in Tunisia has not spent itself. It is a gross exaggeration to describe a government of Ben Ali cronies as a revolutionary government. More violence and change are likely.

If the Mubarak government in Egypt is replaced by a revolutionary, anti-US fundamentalist regime, citing the Tunisian example in the name of democracy, all US policy in the Middle East since 1973 becomes unhinged. The overthrow of the Shah of Iran will look like inconvenient by comparison.

Russia: Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has instructed the Interior Ministry to submit proposals for dismissing officials responsible for transportation security following the bomb attack at Domodedovo airport, Rossiya 1 TV reported.

Speaking at a meeting with senior Federal Security Service (FSB) leaders, Medvedev also called on prosecutors to consider launching criminal investigations against those officials. The attack illustrates a loosening of Russia's multiethnic foundations, which, along with terrorism, is a fundamental threat to Russia's existence, Medvedev said. It is the responsibility of the FSB and other law enforcement agencies to prevent such acts of provocation, as well as to ensure economic security, prevent illegal takeovers of enterprises, tackle corruption and combat organized crime groups.

Feedback and special comment on the Russian bombing: An astute and Brilliant Reader reported that the criticism of Russia was a bit harsh because everybody in Moscow wears heavy coats in winter. Bulky clothing would provide no tip-off about a suicide bomber.

That comment prompted a reconsideration of the event because the target was the airport not the aircraft. What that means is that airports contain multiple target areas that are attractors or risk factors for terrorists. They include all the ticket counters and baggage claim areas that are outside the secure areas created to protect aircraft.

In Washington, at Dulles or National anyone can enter the baggage claim areas directly from the parking lots to kill dozens of people retrieving their luggage. These areas are not secure anywhere in the US.

End of NightWatch for 25 January.

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