Wednesday Night #1527

Written by  //  June 8, 2011  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

 Despite the seriousness of the principal topic, the evening’s debate was filled with laughter. See for videos and more.

The Chinese and Iranians are quite capable of organizing the region – and probably would if the Americans left

Wednesday Nighters generally believe that the Americans should leave Afghanistan as quickly and if at all feasible, as graciously as possible. One observer notes that U.S. politicians are saying almost the same thing as in 1984; and that there is no way of directing the outcome of the war.
The lack of an effective central government in the traditions of the Westphalian state, is perceived as a major problem, but outsiders generally fail to take into account – let alone understand –  the traditional power of the tribal councils based on lineage and centuries of tradition on which the society has been built, the very different linguistic affinities of the Pashtun in the North and in the South, and the various tribal affiliations with bordering nations including Central Asian republics and Iran.  [Editor’s note: See Comment #1, below] Adding to these factors is the underlying nature of the relationship between the denizens of the cities and towns and the rural population, which  militates against a strong central government (the preference of the western powers).
The Russians’ defeat was due largely to their failure to understand these factors as well as their failure to recognize that native intelligence can often match and overpower superior technology. It happened in VietNam, to both the French and the Americans, as well as in Afghanistan; this lack of understanding has cost the Americans and their allies vast amounts of money, human lives and credibility. Meanwhile, China has constructed impressive four and five lane highways leading to the border of Northern Pakistan and is likely poised to swoop in one fashion or another.
The Canadians have done better than most of the allies despite inadequate resources. The unsung heroes (for security reasons) are the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Kandahar.
It is to be regretted that much of the money invested – even at the time of the Russians –  appears to have found its way into the hands of  the ‘wrong people’ and that the social advances in education and in the direction of gender equality may prove to have been ethereal once the withdrawal of the troops is accomplished. Contemplating the results of the campaign soon coming to the end, it would appear to all but the most supportive of North American and European intervention, that the main beneficiaries will have been the infrastructure builders and the American creators and manufacturers of armaments.  The losers, in addition to those children who may or may not receive the education they deserve after the troops have left, and the American and European troops who were wounded or killed during the campaign, are most likely to be the Europeans and Americans themselves, for whom this will have been their last shot in the region.  The success of the campaign is very difficult to assess, just as it would be to assess the consequences for the world had Winston Churchill made the decision to intervene when the Germans invaded the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia in 1938.

This is the last shot that the Americans and Europeans have in Asia, and while the Asians can’t wait for it to be over, they are ambivalent about the way it ends, because the Middle Kingdom is such a huge presence and many people do not relish that prospect either.

The lack of a central government is a luxury that a country (particularly a poor one) can no longer afford if it is to play any part on the world stage, or even receive aid and development assistance

Pakistan and Osama bin Laden
Wednesday Nighters’ level of skepticism regarding the Pakistani claim that nobody knew where Osama was hiding is exceptionally high. There are three regimental HQ in the small valley, two private schools, the military college – and one main road! Everybody knows everybody. Everyone has been complicit in this story. Osama was a major asset to Pakistan. [Editor’s update: U.S. officials: Pakistan arrested bin Laden informants — “Pakistan’s top military spy agency has arrested some of the Pakistani informants who fed information to the Central Intelligence Agency in the months leading up to the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, according to American officials” says it all]

The Three Gorges
China’s great engineering feat, the Three Gorges Dam, has been a topic of discussion at Wednesday Night for some time now, mostly as the possible genesis of a disaster of  herculean proportions. According to a number of recent reports (see the Council on Foreign Relations: The Truth about the Three Gorges Dam) “It has only taken ninety years, but China’s leaders have finally admitted that the Three Gorges Dam is a disaster.” It may be relevant that many of the leaders today are engineers, unlike their predecessors, and deal in facts rather than embracing projects purely for their perceived political advantages.  The benefit of the electrical power produced is incalculable, but the Chinese government is said to be increasingly disenchanted with the unexpected (by the idealogues) consequences.

Don’t Fear the Reaper   Four misconceptions about how we think about drones

The Prologue

Congratulations to Hans Black and all his colleagues for putting together a positively magical evening of gypsy jazz for the benefit of the McGill Chamber Orchestra.  All we can say is WOW! Django and  Stéphane would have loved it!
That was certainly the high note.
The economy remains a preoccupation in most of the developed world. For a thorough review of the best of current thinking on the U.S. economy, Charlie Rose and his guests of Friday, June 3rd  offer a tour de force while the U.S. continues to be mired in the politics of debt ceiling/medicare. A sidebar to the wrangling in Congress is the withdrawal of Peter Diamond from his nomination as a governor of the Fed.
Kenneth Rogoff paints a pretty grim picture of the situation in Europe – the high points: Europe is in constitutional crisis; no one seems to have the power to impose a sensible resolution of its peripheral countries’ debt crisis. Indeed, it is hard to see how the single currency can survive much longer without a decisive move towards a far stronger fiscal union. Bloomberg reports that failure by European regulators to make banks raise enough capital to withstand a sovereign default is complicating efforts to resolve Greece’s debt crisis. Sunday’s elections in Portugal have paved the way for severe debt-reduction measures. Only Jean-Claude Trichet seems relatively sanguine, and maybe that’s because he’s leaving the ECB.
Amidst the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, who has noticed the news of the launch of the World Economists Association (WEA), which “seeks to increase the relevance, breadth and depth of economic thought”? We were interested to note that only two Canadian economists were among the founding members – neither from the distinguished company of Wednesday Night economists. What say our WN gurus? Will they join?
DSK has pleaded not guilty – you were expecting something else? – as weird theories continue to abound. We like this one: It’s All About Gold which continues “The EU Times writes, ‘a new report prepared for Prime Minister Putin by the Federal Security Service (FSB) says that former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged and jailed in the US for sex crimes on May 14th after his discovery that all of the gold held in the United States Bullion Depository located at Fort Knox was ‘missing and/or unaccounted’ for’.” Didn’t WN recently discuss how much gold was in Fort Knox and didn’t someone point out that the Federal reserve Bank of New York has more than Fort Knox? Maybe that’s why DSK was in Manhattan.
June 10, the deadline for candidacies for the IMF Managing Director position, is fast approaching. It looks like Mme Lagarde is a shoo-in despite so many laments that Europe – and particularly France – should not have a lock on the position. We have noticed a pretty formidable P.R. onslaught in favor of Mme Lagarde; she has all the qualities and may just walk on water according to some of the profiles we have seen. The Economist has a worthwhile short demystifying piece on How IMF voting shares compare with global economic heft.
Mr Flaherty has tabled his Budget – few surprises there and all was calm in the House, but Tasha Kheiriddin sees a stormier session come Fall. There’s a new – and very young – Speaker. Mr. Harper finally made it to the Richelieu Valley to assess the flood damage, consequently missing the first Question Period. The Globe takes a dim view of the budget and there will surely be more critiques to come.
Few actual savings were announced; few programs were cut. The phase-out of subsidies for political parties, though politically significant and desirable, is a fairly minor financial item. An accounting of the impact of the Conservatives’ crime legislation – expected to run into the billions of dollars – is still missing.
“Wait for the ‘Strategic and Operating Review’ of government,” the Conservatives promise. But surely they had the opportunity to identify cuts during their minority years, which could have been implemented once they got their majority.

We are intrigued by the Globe & Mail report In apparent reversal on Mideast, Baird backs Obama’s 1967-border proposal
Canada wants Israel to use its 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations with Palestinians seeking independence, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday, just days after Prime Minister Stephen Harper is said to have prevented such language from being included in a G8 statement on the matter. Is there more on this that we have missed?
Continuing turmoil in the Arab world with the pundits trying to figure out what the departure/threatened return of Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh means, above all for the fortunes of al Quaeda. (The struggle for succession in Yemen: A handful of powerful players will vie for power in president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s absence.)
Which leads us to the closing lighter note we strive for
MI6 hackers swapped al-Qaida bomb instructions with cupcake recipes
When followers tried to download the 67-page colour magazine, instead of instructions about how to “make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom” by “the AQ Chef” they were greeted with garbled computer code.
The code, which had been inserted into the original magazine by the British intelligence hackers, was actually a Web page of recipes for “the best cupcakes in America” published by the Ellen DeGeneres Show. BRILLIANT!

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1527"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson June 15, 2011 at 12:39 pm ·

    “Because America’s own security will rest in a world where tribes matter as much as Twitter, Fermor is an icon of the kind of soldier, diplomat or intelligence expert we will need: someone who can seamlessly move from any one of these jobs to another, who is equally at home reading a terrain map as he is reciting the poetry of the people with whom he is dealing. The more depth and rarity of knowledge we can implant in our officials, the less likely they are to serve up the wrong options in a crisis.” Robert D. Kaplan in his tribute to Patrick Leigh Fermor, forwarded by Guy Stanley

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