Saturday, July 29, 2006

Israel's actions could have harmed its security, Part 2

This post will deal with some of the strategic security issues that have arisen as a result of Israel's action in the current crisis.

For Israel the big strategic issue is Iran. A few weeks ago I posted a blog arguing that Iran had instructed its vassal, Hezbollah, to provoke the Israelis for both domestic political reasons and to facilitate its nuclear weapons program. As I stated back then it was very apparent that it was just a matter of time before Israel and/or the United States would strike Iran's nuclear weapons programme. So it was in Iran's interest to provoke the inevitable at a time of their choosing. It would cost them some progress in their nuclear weapons programme but it would also facilitate the completion of it over the long term.

Israel's actions might have saved Iran the cost of such a strike. With the Israelis involved in a protracted conflict with Hezbollah the appetite amongst the Israeli people for further actions against Iran is likely to diminish. Israelis would probably not support anything but a token strike on Iran. One that would give the perception of dealing with Iran but not really do much damage to its nuclear ambitions. As well, with George Bush's approval ratings in the duldrums, largely as the result of the occupation of Iraq, his ability to launch military strikes against Iran are limited. In addition, the one state that kept Iran in check in the past, Iraq, is going through a civil war and is no threat to Iran. Therefore, there is great potential that Iran will be able to develop nuclear weapons with little or no interference for several years. I think many of us can agree that such a situation would not be good for the security of Israel.

For the Middle East in general the growing influence of Iran is also a threat to the security and stability of the moderate Arab states and if Iran managed to develop nuclear weapons their security and stability are even more threatened. That is the reason why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have condemned Hezbollah. They know as Hezbollah goes so goes Iran. They know that a nuclear armed Iran is as much a threat to them as it is to Israel. In an indirect fashion Israel's actions have made the lives of the leaders of these countries much more interesting and dangerous.

Now why has this situation come to pass?

The answer is Israel's strategy towards its neighbours. It has chosen a strategy of belligerence against its neighbours. Part of that strategy is the acceptance of casualties amongst Israeli civilians and its military. They are "acceptable losses" to the Israeli government. Another part of that strategy is when Israel is attacked, Israel retaliates, hard. This has been their strategy for almost 40 years and its enemies have figured it out and are trying to use it against them.

Recall if you will Saddam Hussein and the first Gulf War. As the air war phase of that war began Saddam Hussein began raining Scud missiles down on Israeli cities. Why did he do that? Simple, he was trying to provoke an attack by Israel on Iraq. He knew that such an attack would shatter the fragile consensus, amongst the Arab governments, against him. That in turn would have made the job of kicking him out of Kuwait much more difficult and if he could not hang on to it he might have received some favourable terms for his withdrawel, saving himself and his army.

You might also recall that the only reason why Israel did not strike back at Iraq was because George Bush Sr. practically got down on his knees and begged Israel to hold its fire.

Now Saddam Hussein is not the coldest beer in the fridge. So if he was able to figure a way to use Israel's strategy towards its neighbours against them, others certainly would.

Hezbollah and Iran did and we have seen the results in the past three weeks. Hezbollah has been preparing for the current conflict for months if not years and when they and their Iranian overlords thought the time was right they did something to provoke Israel. And like a Pavlovian dog Israel did exactly what was expected of them and they have been paying the price ever since and they could pay an even greater price in the future.

Three weeks ago Israel's security was not seriously threatened. In the intervening three weeks it is not nearly as secure as it was before all of this started. That is the result of both tactical and strategic blunders in its response to the provocative actions of Hezbollah. By reacting in a wholly predictable fashion to those provocations they have played into the hands of their enemies and they could have actually reduced their security for the future.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Israel's actions could have harmed its security, Part 1

I thought I would post a blog on some of the security implications of Israel's actions in the current crisis in the Middle East.

I am coming at this from a realpolitic point of view instead of the point of view of whether their actions are moral, ethical or legal.

Over the last three weeks Israel has committed both tactical and strategic blunders that could significantly reduce its security. This post will deal with the tactical errors and the more local security issues and I will post a blog tomorrow that will deal with its strategic errors and there broader security issues, issues related to Israeli security and security in the broader Middle East.

From a tactical perspective the Israelis attacked Hezbollah too early. It's forces on the border were not sufficient to defeat Hezbollah quickly, especially since I believe Hezbollah had been preparing for just such an attack and hoped to provoke one by capturing those Israeli soldiers.

Despite the fact the IDF had forces on the border that were superior to Hezbollah's in armour, and artillery, Hezbollah has neither; despite the overwhelming air supemacy of the Israeli airforce; they could not defeat Hezbollah's forces quickly and decisively. In fact the exact opposite is true. In addition, Hezbollah is holding its own in a real high intensity fight as opposed to fighting the Israeli army by means of suicide bombers and other such low intensity tactics.

The result is the status of the mighty Israeli army has been tarnished. Its once mythical status as being virtually invincible has taken a hit and that fact will not be lost on all of the other enemies of Israel.

Another more far reaching and more serious security concern is the rise in status of Hezbollah both in Lebanon and in the Arab world. With each passing day its status grows. There will come a point, and that point might have already passed, where the military defeat of Hezbollah will be irrelevant. It's status and influence in the Middle East will be solidified and it will not go away.

With regard to the Lebanese, many more of them may begin to support Hezbollah as a result of their successes on the battlefield, especially when they begin to compare that to the utter impotence of the Lebanese army in protecting Lebanon and its people. As well, as many have pointed out Hezbollah has representation in the Lebanese government. If support for them grows so will their influence in the Lebanese government. As we all know, Iran is one of the chief backers of Hezbollah, so if it gains influence in the Lebanese government so does Iran. It is not good for Israel if Iran manages to increase its influence in a country that shares a border with Israel.

With regard to the Middle East in general there is a danger that Hezbollah will become a major player on the Middle Eastern scene. If it does become a major player it will have influence in parts of the Middle East that heretofore have been relatively peaceful and stable from the Israeli point of view.

There is precedent for such a situation. Despite successive military defeats the status of the PLO continued to rise from the '70s through the '90s to the point where Israel had no choice but to recognise its legitimacy and begin negotiating with it. Now the status of the PLO has wained as has that of Hamas creating a bit of a vacuum, which could be filled by Hezbollah as a result of the current crisis.

Tomorrow I will expand upon the possible security implications of the current crisis as they apply to the strategic security of Israel and the broader security and stability of the Middle East. As well, I will make a suggestion of why Israel finds itself in this predicament.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Some things Liberals could and should be talking about

Here are a list of topics that Liberals in general and the Liberal candidates in particular could be talking about.

With each topic I have included some general questions that could facilitate a debate.

Vision for the Liberal Party: Where do you want to take the party? Why do you want to take it in that direction? Why should Liberals follow you in that direction?

Liberal Party Renewal: How do you propose to change membership rules? How do you propose to deal with the fundraising issue? How do you propose to change the administration of the Liberal Party to prevent people like the 10 Liberals in Quebec who brought us Adscam from ever having positions of trust within the party?

I think it is sad that a relative newcomer to the Party and someone who is not a leadership candidate stole a march on both the leadership candidates and a commission set up to renew the Liberal Party.

Vision for Canada: Where do you want to take Canada? Why do you want to take it in that direction? Why should Canadians follow you in that direction?

Vision for Canada can be summed up with one simple yet vital question: Why do you want to be PM?

Here are some policy topics that would be worth debating. (It is by no means exhaustive.)

Fiscal policy: What is your position on the balance between taxes, programme spending, debt reduction and budget surpluses?

Health Care: What is your position on the increased privatization of Canada's health care system? If you agree with it, why? If you disagree with it, why and how do you propose to stop it or at least slow it down?

Trade: With the functional failure of the NAFTA how do you propose to protect Canadian industries from the predations of other protectionist industries in the US? How do you propose to assist the Canadian agriculture industry if the Doha Round of the WTO talks fail, which is a distinct possibility? What steps would you take to assist Canadian industries in diversifying their export markets?

Foreign Policy: How do you propose to maintain a good working relationship with the United States? What is your vision for Canada's place in the post 9/11 world and how do you propose to get us there? How do you propose to protect Canada's interests and sovereignty in a international environment dominated by an aggressive hyperpower?

Defence Policy: Canada has increased defence spending but there is no overarching plan on what Canada's defence policy should be. Kind of makes wasting a fair chunk of that money inevitable. So what would you propose Canada's military role in the world should be? What would you propose as the post 9/11 defence strategy for Canada?

Environmental policy: Kyoto has failed in Canada. What would you propose to replace it? What would you consider to be Canada's greatest environmental need and how would you address it?

Social Programs: How would you protect them? Do you have any proposals for new social programs? If so, what are they and why do Canadians need them?

Aboriginal Policy: What do you propose to help First Canadians to escape the cycle of poverty that many of them live in?

These are just a few issues that the Liberal leadership candidates can be talking about.

I realize that it is unrealistic to expect them to talk about all of the issues in depth but it would be nice if they began talking about some of them in a sustained debate.

I also realize that talking about trivialities is a part of all political campaigns but I think it is unfortunate when campaigns are dominated by such trivialities instead of debate about substantial and substantive issues. I also believe that in the Liberal leadership race the dominance of debates about trivial issues will ultimately be self-defeating for the party.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Liberals are in serious trouble if they do not get their act together

This post is going to be something of a rant.

Today, I found myself defending Michael Ignatieff for his lack of a statement on the current crisis in the Middle East. Which is curious because I am still undecided in this race, but I have narrowed the field down to three possibilities and he is not one of the them.

So I began reflecting on the reason why I was defending him. That lead, in the convoluted way my brain works, to reflection on the leadership race as it has so far unfolded.

My conclusion is I am concerned about how the race is unfolding and I found the attacks on Dr. Ignatieff to be evidence of a malaise that has permeated the race. That malaise manifests itself as petty criticisms of issues that in the grander scheme of things will not have an impact on any future election.

In order for the Liberal Party to win the next election it must renew itself and all of the leadership candidates must articulate a vision of where they want to take the Liberal Party and where they want to take the country. That is the debate we should be having. We should be debating on what needs to be done to renew the Liberal Party. The leadership candidates and their supporters should be debating competing visions and competing policy options. That will give Liberals and Canadians a true sense of the leadership qualities of the candidates and of the worth of the Liberal Party.

It is useless, shortsighted and petty to be debating such things as whether Dr. Ignatieff should have made a statement or whether the reason why he did not make a statement was because of the death of his mother-in-law or he just decided to take a vacation. (WTF!!) Really, does anybody seriously believe that if the Liberals do not present a renewed party with a leader who can articulate a clear vision of where he wants to take Canada, that a statement or lack thereof, regarding the crisis in the Middle East will really matter? Conversely, if the Liberals can present a party and a vision that resonates and connects with Canadians do you really believe the impact of any statement or non-statement will be that great?

Judas Priest, Metallica and Motorhead, I have even seen people state that the quality of a candidate's website is an indicator of a candidate's leadership abilities. Excuse me! No, it is only a indicator of the competence of a candidate's web designer.

So far I have found that much of this race has been reactive. The Afghan debate, the Softwood Lumber deal, the crisis in the Middle East. All have elicited reactions from the various camps but so far I have not seen a coherent vision or a coherent set of policy options.

Liberals just went through two elections where the party leadership did not have a coherent vision or strategy, besides reacting to and lambasting the Conservatives. We all know how they turned out. If we do the same thing the next time we will have all sorts of time to renew our party and choose a leader, probably 4 years of time.

As well, if you look at the Conservatives they showed us what just having the appearance of a plan can do. Their 5 priorties are pretty thin gruel, but it gave them the ability to claim they had a plan and it worked.

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are vulnerable. There is no real warmth and goodwill towards them amongst the electorate, he is pursuing a style of leadership that wears thin very quickly and he is on the wrong side of several issues that are important to Canadians. If the Liberals can present Canadians with a good reason to vote for them they have a real chance to take back the government. However, if all they do is follow the same strategy as the last two times they have no hope.

So in the humble estimation of this blogger I believe the Liberals have two choices. Get their act together, renew the party, have the leadership candidates debate real issues, and give themselves a chance to win back the government. Or they can continue to bicker and snipe at each other over relatively trivial matters and hand Stephen Harper a four year gift.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Iran is playing a game but probably not the one we think

I have had a very enlightening and stimulating debate with Shoshana today on her blog.

In it she asks the question of why Hamas and Hezbollah are taking the actions they are taking, and she is stating that Iran is involved somehow.

I did not address her question in my comments on her blog so I will address them here.

In all likelyhood, Iran is involved in the current crisis in the Middle East, because it is no secret that they are big financial backers of both Hamas and Hezbollah.

So why would they begin rocking the boat now?

I believe the possible answer is four fold.

First, the reactionary forces that now control Iran are playing the oldest game in the book. Not the usual stuff we see between Israel and the Palestinians but the good old fashion power game.

The current reactionary President of Iran did not win by much. The forces of moderation within that country are moving to replace him at the next opportunity and there is not much that he can do about it domestically. So he could be turning to one of the tried and true methods of holding on to power; create a conflict with an outside force, especially one that is widely despised by your population.

How to do that? Have your vassals attack Israel. Their reaction is usually quite predictable, as it is today, and keep goading them until they overreact. Hell, if you are lucky they may even attack Iran directly. That would be mana from Heaven. If warplanes sporting the Star of David are seen over Tehran dropping bombs on it the forces of moderation will have no chance of ousting the reactionary forces from power for at least a decade.

Second, the Iranians want nuclear weapons and the US and Israel wants to stop them. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that it is only a matter of time before one or both of these states use military force to do so, especially since Iran is not interested in talking about stopping their program.

So if they know that it is going to happen at some point, they would want to make it happen when it is most convenient to them. That way they can be somewhat prepared for it and mitigate any damage that is caused to their nuclear weapons program. In addition, any attack would probably be a one shot deal, as a result of reason three below, so they would then be free to continue their nuclear weapons program relatively unmolested. Combine that with the reactionary forces likely staying in control for the next decade or so and Iran is well on its way to realizing its goal of joining the nuclear club.

Three, the nuclear facilities are probably well manned and any attack that is designed to destroy them will result in a large number of civilian casualties. Pictures of those broken bodies will create a backlash against the US and Israel, including from Russia and China.

Fourth, the higher oil prices leading up to , through and after a strike would bring in enough extra revenue that they will be able to pay off their vassals for their sacrifice, have money to replace the nuclear technology they will inevitably lose and not upset their fiscal situation.

Two secondary benefits:

Any wedge that they drive between the US and the states of Russia and China would be to their advantage when if comes to replacing their lost nuclear technology. As well, any wedge could convince one or both to give the Iranian nuclear program the political cover it needs for its completion.

Any attack on Iran by Israel could destroy any progress the US has made with the Shiites in Iraq because it would be political suicide for any Iraqi Shia to even be perceived as being friendly to a state that supported an attack on a country that has a largely Shiite population.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Could GST Cut Cause a Recession?

Keep an eye on the CPI numbers out of Statistics Canada, beginning in August. It will be then when we see what impact the GST cut has on inflation.

You see, they calculate inflation by taking the price of an item this month and comparing it to the price of an item last month and 12 months ago. In the process they remove the GST and Provincial Sales Taxes as they are only concerned about the 'before tax price' the retailer charges for an item.

It is expected by many that retailers will just use the GST cut as an opportunity to raise their prices by 1%. If that is the case we will see that in the coming months as a spike in the CPI.

When the Progressive Conservatives, under Brian Mulroney, introduced the GST, at the beginning of an economic slowdown, the extra costs of the tax caused Canadians to stop buying and dumped the Canadians economy into a recession.

Would it not be ironic if another Conservative Government, that is being advised by the same Brian Mulroney, caused a spike in the inflation rate by reducing the GST which, in turn, would cause The Bank of Canada to raise interest rates, just at a time when there are increasing signs that Canada could experience a period of slow economic growth within a year?

It would be ironic and unfortunate that one Conservative government dumped us into a recession by imposing the GST and another one could very well dump us into another one by reducing that same GST.