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NightWatch 20110804


For the Night of 3 August 2011

China-North Korea: For the record. The Chinese missile frigate Luoyang and the training ship Zheng He made a goodwill visit to Wonsan, North Korea, on 4 August in honor of the 50th anniversary of the treaty of friendship and cooperation. Chinese Vice Admiral Tian Zhong, commander of the North Sea Fleet, met North Korean Rear Admiral Kim Myong Sik.

The two Chinese ships visited Russia in late July. After a four day port call at Wonsan, the ships will return to base at Dalian, China.

Comment: What is significant about Chinese ship visits is how infrequent they are. China sends a couple of ships on important anniversaries. The Chinese air force never exercises with the North Korean Air Force; ground forces do not train together and the Chinese navy sends ships only for ceremonies. Compare that with the frequent US military visits and all-amrs exercises with South Korean forces and even with just friends, such as Indonesia. China is not a military ally of North Korea in any US sense.

Iran: Update. The two Americans who were imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran for more than two years, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, are expected to be released from Evin Prison in Tehran in the near future, Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Danayifar said in a 4 August interview at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad. Danayifar said he has no specific details regarding Bauer and Fattal's release but the general opinion in Tehran is that they will be freed soon.

Comment: On 31 July, the Iranian attorney for the two Americans predicted that they would receive a court verdict this week. They have been in custody for two years. Most Iran commentators connect the prospect of release to Ramadan, the time for forgiveness and pardons.

The release of Americans from Iranian or North Korean custody always has political relevance, but no obvious implications are apparent. Sometimes the Americans cannot thrive in foreign prisons, especially if they have pre-existing medical conditions. Other times their release is politically more beneficial than continued detention. In still other cases, a ransom in the form of bail is paid. That is the main reason Sarah Shourd was released, though the Iranians claimed humanitarian grounds.

NightWatch expects some benefactor sprang for the bail.

Turkey: Update. The government officially appointed Gendarmerie General Necdet Ozel to the position of Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish armed forces. General Hayri Kivrikoglu has been appointed as the new land forces commander. Admiral Emin Murat Bilgel was appointed naval forces commander, and Lieutenant General Mehmet Erten was promoted to full general and appointed air forces commander.

Comment: The objective of last week's senior resignations en masse remains unclear. None of the men have spoken in public. What is clear is that their grand gesture took them out of the decision-making process, made them irrelevant and gave the Erdogan government a stunning political triumph over the secularists in the armed forces. The civilian government has established the precedent for appointing the service chiefs, instead of rubber-stamping candidates selected from within the armed forces.

Greece-Turkey: The Greek government is digging a 120-kilometer (about 75 miles) water-filled ditch along the Eyros River on its northeastern border with Turkey to stop the flow of migrants entering into the European Union, according to news reports. The water barrier will be 30 meters wide and 7 meters deep. The first 14.5 kilometers already have been completed near the Greek town of Orestiada. The Greek government also announced plans to build a 12.5 kilometer fence along a section of the northeastern border with Turkey.

Comment: Turks do menial jobs in European countries that locals refuse to do, especially in the hotel industry and tasks that require manual labor. They also are a drain on entitlements. The Greek government apparently has decided that the country cannot afford to pay for more Turkish border crossers.

Syria: Update. President Bashar al-Asad issued legislative decrees on parties and general election law allowing political parties to be established and to function alongside the Baath Party, SANA and Naharnet reported. Al-Assad's decree allows the law to take effect immediately without parliament's approval.

Comment: Asad's decrees look reform-minded, but their practical effect is quite limited because Syria has no history or experience with a pluralistic political system. Besides, all the Baathists control all the local appointments, contract awards and other benefits of political incumbency. Moreover, the permission to create multiple political parties will put pressure on the political fissures among the fractious Sunnis. The Sunnis will fight among themselves and the Baathists will continue to govern as long as they remain united.

Egypt: The trial of President Mubarak has begun. News media have carried video clips of Mubarak in a hospital bed in a cage. The Associated Press ran a commentary on the lessons of the Mubarak trial for other strongman regimes as well as for the protestors in other countries.

The lesson for other strong rulers is to fight on so as to avoid the ignominy that Mubarak must endure. The lesson for activists is to fight on to impose accountability and humiliation on the strong rulers. Thus far, the strongman rulers - Qadhafi, Saleh and Asad - appear to have learned their lessons better.

The activists fail to appreciate that the Egyptian Army sacrificed Mubarak. Without Army abandonment of Mubarak, nothing the activists did would have toppled him.

End of NightWatch for 3 August.

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