Posted tagged ‘India’

A Strange World

May 4, 2014

At least 29 Muslims were killed this week in India’s northeast State of Assam. They were not members of the local tribe and the wrong religion to boot. How could there victims have picked the wrong God.

Thanks to todays New York Times, the following stories were made known.

In Indonesia, a local Muslim man spent almost two years in prison. Why? Because he professed to believe in no God. Hmmm. You are either with me or you are against me…

In Afghanistan, a young 18 year old woman who did not want to marry the person her parents had selected, was killed by her relatives. Her parents had video taped their permission for her to not marry the intended, but this did not seem to mean much.  Honor is something larger.

In the Vatican, a special commission is grappling with creating clear rules on how to deal with priest pedophiles. They were trying to make the rules on what to do when child abuse takes place. Hmmm. These church leaders were focusing on what happens after abuse, not how to prevent pedophiles from ever getting into the church priesthood in the first place.

The message in all these cases is alarmingly similar. In a large number of cases, religion has little or no relevance to how people lead their lives. An active supreme being, if that’s the god you choose. has ample opportunity to intervene yet seems to prefer not to. The watch maker god, on the other hand, if that’s your preference, has created some unfathomable behaviors to watch. Doesn’t seem like a wise watch maker.

Of course these incidents all involve human beings and display just a small scope of how inhumane man can be to fellow man. Some men choose to hide their aggression behind religion, other choose nationality or race, or tribal connection. When these terrible acts are called out, one is left being thankful there were no lions to feed or witches to burn, or any cannons that volley and thunder.

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The Real Problem with Green House Gases

July 20, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew the short straw over the weekend and made the request to India to agree to limits on carbon emissions. Clinton asked India to limit its emission on the basis of the entire country. While India is a significant emitter, it still lags behind the US but is catching up quickly. India, of course, said “no way”.

India’s rationale was simple. It has too many citizens living in poverty and needs to raise their living standards. What would you expect any responsible government to do?

The ironic aspect of this request and answer is that the US is the a largest emitter on a per capita basis (and second to China as a nation), and if any country needs to step forward and set strict limits, it is the US. Simply setting limits and not fundamentally altering how the US produces and uses energy will require either a drastic lowering of our living standards or a dramatic adoption of alternate energy sources.

You can take it to the bank that India and China (read 2 and 1/2 billion people) will not agree to any limits for years to come, if ever. You can also be sure that Indonesia or any other populous emerging nation will self destruct by agreeing to limits. If you can see where this is going, you can see that this is not a pretty picture for global warming.

This is the time for President Obama to announce, not a return to the moon, but a dedication to adopting non-fossil fuels for 50% or more of the US energy consumption by 2035. The key to this is sound application of science, math, and engineering backed up by the necessary financial investment in a new infrastructure. A break through in solar energy (conversion from light to energy, and effective battery storage) could free us of the geopolitical bounds of fossil fuels and at the same time provide a route for all countries to wean themselves from green house polluters. This is the equivalent to a “man to the moon” project but the rewards will keep on giving.

The real problem with green house gases today is that there is no way to make the numbers work unless there is a huge change in what sources of energy are used.

Symbolism

July 17, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is off to India where she is rumored to sign an agreement with the Government of India. This agreement would provide at least two sites in India where US companies would have exclusive rights to build nuclear power generating facilities. This is being positioned as a great deal for the US and one that would bring revenue and probably jobs to the US. What is wrong with this picture?

Probably nothing is wrong this except that India had been put on a “do not trade” with list following its public demonstration of nuclear weapons many years ago. India then became the favorite of the Russians and continued to develop both its nuclear weapons and its economy just the same. During the “W” years, the US kissed and made up with India allegedly rewarding India for its record of democratic government. But in true “W-style”, the US was at the same time telling Iran to stop developing its bomb… or the US would impose severe sanctions. You can guess how deterred the Iranians were with this threat.

Maybe times have changed and relations with India should be different. The problem is simply the symbolism of trying to prevent one sovereign country from pursuing nuclear weapons and then rewarding another. The major difference seems to be that India would spend its money on US technology and Iran probably would not, or so it seems.

This may be a fine point but if I were the Obama Administration, I would have done the deal on the quiet with India and if asked later, said that American companies must have been more competitive.  I would also have asked for other major changes in sophisticated web of exclusionary policies that India has long used to protect its own Industries.  Democracy does not assure open and fair trade.

What Is She Thinking?

December 27, 2008

As Hillary Clinton awaits confirmation as the next Secretary of State, I would expect she will have no trouble producing a better record of accomplishments than her predecessors.  Colin Powel and Condi Rice, admittedly, were operating under faulty Bush/Cheney thinking and may have accomplished more if left to their own wishes.  The record, however, for the last 8 years is bleak.

 

Hillary, however, is not assured of a smooth ride.  She has urgent situations all around the globe and one has to question what type of a State Department she is inheriting.  With the Bush Administration’s practice of putting in place only people who were loyal at all cost to the President, you must wonder whether there are people “big enough” to now think in a more complex manner.

 

·        Iraq.  Once the invasion and occupation is ended, how will the US deal with a country that can not reliably be trusted to remain secular and at a minimum, neutral to the West.  The most likely outcome will be a Shiite dominated, Iran friendly country that may find again that painting Israel as the enemy is politically useful.

·        Iran.  The potential emergence of Iran as a nuclear weapons possessing country is a huge concern.  There appears no direct method, short of war, to stop this outcome.  All methods, other than war, will involve rebuilding a world consensus, and that in turn will require the US to repair relations with Russia and China.

·        Syria.  Modern day Syria claims its power from its strategic location and ability to balance anti-Shiite and anti-Israeli interests for other Middle East players (read Iran and Saudi Arabia).  Given Syria’s location, establishing a pragmatic relationship could be key to achieving overall Middle East stability.

·        Israel and the Palestinians.  This is a problem that does not need to exist but cruelly continues to serve the needs of political factions on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.  The behavior of both sides has been and continues to be atrocious and child-like in their endeavors to avoid seeking peace.  There is no victim here nor is there only one aggressor.

·        Saudi Arabia.  There are no problems involved in continuing the current charade.  The US pretends the Saudis are peace loving and without any pretensions, and the Saudis pretend to not support all sorts of Islamic extremists around the world.  There needs to be a better way.

·        Afghanistan.  Somewhat like in Iraq, when the US lead NATO forces caused a regime change in Karbul, the US inherited the moral responsibility as well as the practical need to rebuild the Afghanistan Government.  To date, we have spent lots of money and have little to show for it.  If we are not careful, Afghanistan can return to a terrorist training ground in a heart beat.  Again stability will require help from others such as Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia.

·        Pakistan.  This nuclear weapons possessing country represents a constant threat to world stability.  The US can not “fix” Pakistan’s fundamental problems of unequal wealth and education, nor its tendency to experience religious extremism.  We must, however, find ways to help (quietly) to promote stability between the Pakistani military and its civil government, and trust that in time Pakistan will mature.  Once more, others must help.  Russia, China, India, and yes, even Saudi Arabia are key.

·        India.  This large, highly populated, developing country has a full time challenge to manage for its own country.  Once you add in the either real, or imagined, politically advantageous conflicts with Pakistan, this nuclear weapon possessing country (that allows cows to roam unrestrained), you have a prescription for real danger.  The US can not fix this problem and should with its allies seek to focus India on developing as an economic power.

·        China.  The current global recession may provide insight into what lies ahead for China.  It has been growing economically at far too rapid a rate (over 10% per year) for far too long.  China’s population has prospered and is used to seeing a better life each year.  As the economic growth slows, the Chinese will blame their government and ferment change.  Any competent government faced with that type of problem will create an external threat to China and focus its citizen’s attention elsewhere.  Hence, China may consider anti-western foreign policies.  Dealing with China now but with a long term strategic view may be Hillary’s greatest challenge and most important contributions since China has the potential to be a great world leader.

·        Russia.  Most of the problems with Russia today are the results of a totally misguided and wrong headed Bush/Cheney/Neoconservative policy.  Never the less, Hillary must be weary of Russia for this is a country that has only known dictatorships and has little in common with western values.  Russians are pragmatists and Hillary must steer the US relationship to a point where we do not lecture nor express value based opinions about the Russian government. 

 

There are plenty more delicate situations such as Japan, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, and Mexico.  While these are important, they will not play a direct role in the power vacuum stretching from Israel to India.  As one can see, one off diplomacy will not be appropriate nor will grandiose ideological initiatives like seeking human rights, democracy, and religious freedom. Hillary must muster all her powers as a complex thinker in order to formulate a comprehensive approach while all the other special interests try to shape American foreign policy.

Why No Statesmen?

November 28, 2008

The world is a confusing place at times, and currently it is bordering on insanity.  Could it be that we really miss the good old “cold war” days where the prospect of imminent annihilation provided most everyone something to think about other than trying to kill, steal, rape, and pillage.

 

The latest absurdity is taking place in Mumbai, India.  Insurgents, still unidentified, have killed over 100 strangers, for no announced reasons, and are still trying to kill more.  Their targets have been westerners and Jews which suggests a secular mission.   But you must still wonder why people would be compelled to do something like that.  One person crazy maybe, but dozens does not compute.

 

In Afghanistan there has been an increasing level of suicide bombings which seem to have no purpose other than to make like unbearable for the general population.  In Iraq, which we have been told is so safe thanks to the “surge”, there continues to be all sorts of senseless killings.  And maybe the craziest of all dysfunctional performances is taking place off the East African coast.  There the Barbary Coast has returned in 21st century glory.  While these pirates have so far been reluctant to kill people, they have made the international waters lawless.

 

Where are the global Statesmen who will speak up, denounce this behavior, and then take the necessary actions to seal off the flow of funds and munitions, and close the sanctuaries that house and protect these rogue elements.  We have not lacked for people who will condemn these illegal actions but talk with no action does not alter anyone’s actions.

 

President-elect Obama will do well to place priority on earning other country’s  trust as (1) first a county that can be trusted, and (2) second as a country whose demonstrated values are so clearly sound they should be followed.  Other countries must also realize that they must step up to this lawless disorder if even their own societies and cultures are to survive.  What they will need is a leader they can trust and who has earned their respect.  Today there is no one to fill that role and we must hope that President Obama can fill those shoes.  

Tough Talk, Way Off Mark

September 12, 2008

The Republican Party, speaking through their Vice President nominee, again confirmed why “four more years” is a prescription for trouble.  Governor Sarah Palin spoke harsh words towards Russia and Iran in her first interview as a national candidate.  I would have liked to have thought she was still speaking as a Governor where both Iran and Russia are oil competitors and she was just speaking in a competitive tone.  As she is someone, one heart beat away, we should all be worried.

It is not that Iran or Russia do not represent serious problems for their neighbors and US interests, but rather these two countries do not amount to a hill of beans on a world scale.  (Russia is a special case for sure since it possesses a lot of nuclear weapons and still retains a storehouse of sophisticated technology on weapons and missiles).  Russia, however, also has a very weak economy and is an extremely large country that has its own share of infrastructure problems.  On balance, both Russia and Iran have zero chance of supplanting either the US, Japan, or Western Europe as an economic engine or US trading partner in the foreseeable future.

A wiser Republican Party (and for sure a more experienced Sarah Palin) would have pointed to the “new foreign policy” needs with respect to China and India.  These two, relatively peaceful countries, represent the greatest challange to Western style of life.  Our freedoms and economic vitality (which enable our life styles) flow from dynamic economies, and the engine that drives this is at risk.

1. Our economies are based upon cheap energy and oil is a finite resource.

2. Our currencies have remained strong (until recently for the US) through wise fiscal and monetary policies.  The freedom to follow a wise fiscal and monetary policy has been enabled by sound foreign and domestic policies.  During the Bush Administration we have seen a holiday from sensible government.

3. China and India represent 2 1/2 billion people who have already demonstrated immense capacity for productivity and economic growth.  Both countries seem to have an inexhaustable supply of cheap labor and a huge domestic market for their goods.  What they export is “gravy”.  Both countries are getting rich fast and are leaving Russia and Iran in the dust.

Regardless of who wins the upcoming election, it is critical that they get it right on where the US needs to focus in the future.  The mindless cold war games that the Republicans use to win elections is a losing proposition for the rest of America.  And not surprisingly, the discussion around competing with China and India is not about weapons, it is about education, infrastructure investment, scientific innovation, hard work, and sound fiscal and monetary policy.  I would like to see Governor Palin talk about that in her mini skirt.

Af-gone-istan

September 11, 2008

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullin testified yesterday before Congress.  They drew the short straw and had to deliver the bad news that things were not going all that well in Afghanistan.  Surprise, surprise.  When the withdrawal of a mere 8000 soldiers from Iraq is announced, President George W “please take my picture” Bush is front and center (probably not realizing the insignificance of his words).  When it comes to a failing report card, the task falls upon subordinates.

This pattern has been the hallmark of the Bush/Cheney Administration so it comes as little surprise.  I would think by now that the military should be fully pissed off with the type of policy leadership that has flowed from the Bush White House.  The Military has been stretched thin, sent into battle without full preparations, and undermanned for the tasks that unfolded.  Worst of all is that there is no coherent US policy that applies to Afghanistan. 

The US involvement in Afghanistan began on a sound policy basis.  The then Afghan Government, lead by the Taliban, was a willing host to radical and extemist groups, particularly Al Qaeda.  Following initial success in ousting the Taliban and establishing a semi-authentic Afghan Government, the US Government lost interest.  More amazingly in a totally unrelated escapade, Colonel Rummy lead the charge of the light brigade into Iraq!  With the US Government more concerned about Iraq and the military stretch too thin to mount any sustained initiative in Afghanistan, the decay and ultimate decline has taken place in full view.  This decline is not the fault of the military in any way.  The responsibility lies at the highest levels of the Government and in the closeted rooms of neoconservative think tanks and their friends AIPAC.

Afghanistan has several terminal illnesses.

1. Afghanistan is the leading world supplier of heroin.  Poppy fields lie in full view and go unattacked by willing Afghan and US governments.  Left to continue this will ultimately bring to power another decadent national government.

2. The Kabul based Afghan Government is an island and controls little of the country side.  Regional “warlords” rule the outlying areas and remain marginally loyal only on the basis of foreign aid funneled to them.  In effect there is no national Afghanistan and the US has watched this happen.

3. The middle and lower level Afghan bureaucrats earn too little money and have returned to taking brides and extortion to augment their livelihoods.  No government can represent it people and earn their support on one hand, if the other hand is always in their citizens’ pockets.

4. The Taliban and remaining Al Qaedas have found a relatively safe base in the area separating Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This region has failed to get proper attention from all parties even though the US has from time to time claimed that Pakistan has not done enough and should do more to hunt down insurgents.

5. Basic services are still lacking in Afghanistan.  From electricity to roads to schools are all lacking.  Afghanistan, as it stands today, would fall tomorrow if the US pulled out.

The moral of this lesson is similar to Iraq.  The US needs a coherent foreign policy that meets our nation’s interests, and is acceptable to Afghanistan and its neighbors.  For the Bush Administation the future is “Af-gone-istan”.  John McCain or Barack Obama will be faced with a situation far more difficult and critical than Iraq.  Pakistan has nuclear weapons and while the country is mostly moderate, there are radical elements who possess extreme views about India and non-muslims in general.  Russia, China, Iran, and India all look carefully at Afghanistan and worry about the return of a radical government.  Their concerns represent both opportunity and concern since they are not likely to sit back and wait if the US fails to lead.

Voting 90% of the time with George W Bush does not make John McCain the likely maverick who will combine State Department and Defense Department policy and look at Afghanistan holistically and within the context of the world.  The luxury of looking at one part of the world as a “one off” was ended during the Bush years (although he nevered realized it).  For my vote, I see Obama as the more likely to bring forward comprehensive policies even though he may lack personally the military experience.  In fact Afghanistan really begs for a “statesman’s solution” and not a sword waving, jet pilot.