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NightWatch 20110828


For the Night of 28 August 2011

Japan: During this Watch, Finance Minister Noda won today's election for the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, according to the BBC. That means Noda is likely to be the next prime minister of Japan.

North Korea: Kim Chong-il returned to Pyongyang on 27 August.

Comment: Over the weekend, the North Koreans published some of the details of their plans to develop the Mount Kumgang resort developed by the South Koreans and confiscated by the North last month. The North's intent is to pander to Russian and Chinese developers and tourists in hopes of expanding a resort that appeals primarily to Koreans. This looks like another Kim Chong-il economic blunder.

Iran-Syria: Over the weekend, Iran called on the government in Damascus to listen to the people's "legitimate demands." The comments by Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi were the first such remarks from Iran since the five-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began.

Salehi warned of dangerous regional implications if the crisis in Syria was not solved peacefully. He said a power vacuum in Syria would have "unprecedented repercussions'' among its neighbors.

Comment: The international press made much ado about a little, which probably greatly amuses the Iranians. Admonishments that refer to "legitimate grievances" always are ambiguous and self-serving.

Syria already has declared that the protestors and demonstrators are criminals or foreign agents. Thus the Iranian statement gives no support to activists, only to the reform initiatives of the al Asad regime. But the Iranian statement plays well in the West.

Iran's actual intentions are clarified in the second theme of the statement, about the dangerous repercussions of a power vacuum in Syria. A power vacuum is unlikely even were Bashar al Asad to resign. Alawites would continue to govern.

The actual thrust of the statement is that Iran supports the incumbent regime, but wants the western media to believe it is open to change.

Jordan: The opposition Muslim Brotherhood on 28 August called for limits on King Abdullah II's power and said that it might boycott the next general elections if its demands were not met, according to a statement by Hamzeh Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mansour said that the constitution should be revised to ensure that prime ministers are appointed from parties or parliamentary coalitions that have majorities in the lower house, rather than the king being allowed to appoint ministers at his discretion.

Comment: Mansour's statement is a probe of the King's intentions. Limited evidence indicates the Brotherhood believes that in time it can bring down a monarchy, which would be a first in the Arab world. If it finds the King soft because of liberal western political ideas, it will continually escalate its demands.

Islamists already have tried these tactics in Morocco and been rebuffed. Moroccans enjoy too many modern conveniences and ideas to be suborned by the fundamentalists, apparently. That makes Jordan the next target. The Persian Gulf monarchies already have shown they will make no concessions to the activists.

Libya: Comment. The shooting in Tripoli appears to be decreasing, but the successor regime is not yet apparent. The Benghazi-based National Transition Council seem wary of taking control in Tripoli, despite its claim to have relocated there.

The interim military commander in Tripoli is an al-Qaida terrorist Abdel Hakim Belhadj. He led the western tribal forces that more or less seized Tripoli. The nature of the post-Qadhafi government remains undecided and potentially treacherous for NATO.

Algeria: Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for a twin suicide attack on Algeria's Cherchell Military Academy on Friday, in which 18 people, including 16 officer candidates died. Twenty-six people were injured. The attack occurred as officers were breaking their daily Ramadan fast, the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.

Comment: The Cherchell Military Academy was organized by the French during the colonial era and left to the independent Algerians in 1962. It draws recruits from many Arab states. The Al Qaida terrorists evidently judged that an attack at a prestigious institution would enrich their message of terror.

The poor execution of the attack on the outskirts of the Academy and the tactic of targeting of second responders to increase casualties are likely to backfire in terms of public sympathy.

The last attack by AQIM occurred in mid-August when a suicide bomber detonated at a local police headquarters, injuring 29 people. The fighting cell in coastal Algeria has a periodicity of 14 days or longer between attacks. Its tactics are pathetic.

Update on the Arab Spring: With Qadhafi's fall, three government leaders have been overthrown in 2011. All came to power by military coup. Libya represents the only overthrow of a government system - family rule by the Qadhafis. It is unclear what form of government will replace the Qadhafi family.

The Weekly Standard opined in a think piece that the era of dictators in the Arab world has ended, without distinguishing the continuing durability of hereditary monarchs. None have been overthrown or appear in jeopardy, not even Bahrain. As for Kuwait, no demonstrations of any kind have been reported.

Then there are Syria, Algeria and Yemen. The uprising has not reached Algeria. Syria and Yemen are in contest, but the system of government, vice the leader of government, does not appear to be threatened any more than in Egypt or Tunisia.

Morocco and Jordan are worth careful attention. In both, modern-minded monarchs have relaxed authoritarian strictures to differing degrees. Reform initiatives have been met with demands for more, indicating clearly that limited reform is not a path to national reconciliation.

Readers need to recall that the only reason the Qadhafi regime is in disarray is because NATO supplied the air power. Without NATO intervention, Qadhafi's forces would have captured Benghazi - were on the verge of capturing Benghazi - in March. Armed resistance seems to work for the incumbents, provided the armed forces remain loyal. Gestures of political reform only serve to escalate activists' demands. Jordan and Morocco need to learn that lesson.

End of NightWatch for 28 August.

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