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Perfect harmony of snipers, capitalism, Bush and the Nato summit in Bucharest 28, March 2008

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Here’s a wonderful snippet of news from The Times.

“Stringent security measures before a Nato summit in Bucharest next week to be attended by George Bush and Gordon Brown, irritated Bogdan Surdu, 29, a web designer, so much that he posted an internet ad offering his terrace with a clear view of the conference hall as a “sniper position” for rent at a price of €5,000 a day.

Dozens of people answered, including those claiming to belong to al-Qaeda and the CIA. But Romanian security services failed to see the joke. He has now been put under observation and has been classed as a potential security threat.”

All I’ve got to say is that Bogdan is either very brave or very stupid. I think I’m edging towards the latter…


Iraq 5 years on – the statistics 17, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iraq, Oil.
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Foreign Policy magazine has an excellent graph this month, which depicts various statistics relating to the 5 year war in Iraq.

iraq 5 year

The costs of war 11, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Middle East.
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The cost of war is usually discussed in terms of the costs in terms of human lives; of the soldiers and civilians. However, how much does the Iraq war cost in dollars and cents? The answer, it seems, is a scarcely believable number. 

Tom Engelhardt compares the true cost of the war with what the Bush administration thought that it was going to cost at the beginning. Their estimates, Engelhardt reports ranged from $60 billion up to $200 billion (though the economic adviser who came up with this huge figure was soon looking for a new job).  

Alas these figures are ‘some way’ out, in much the same way that Pluto is ‘some way’ away from the sun. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has calculated that the war will cost at minimum $3 trillion and most likely, factoring in future costs, up to $5-7 trillion. Tom then nicely points out that “Bush administration was at [very] least $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations.”

Another article which is quoted by Engelhardt is from William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. He comes up with some interesting figures and concludes that the war is costing some $3.5 billion per week. Yes, that was $3.5 billion, per week. He goes on to break the costs down to manageable chunks, but first gives it a sense of proportion.


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)*                    => $400 Million per year     => <1 day’s costs in Iraq

US spending on finding and securing loose nuclear weapons     =>  $1 Billion per year          => <2 day’s costs in Iraq

US spending on global warming                                                     => $7 Billion per year            => 2 week’s costs in Iraq 

(*This accounts for all the spending by the entire international community on the IAEA – the major international body whose job it is to regulate and keep a track on nuclear activity around the world.) 

Hartung then gives a few examples of the weekly material costs of the war.

$1.5 million for M-4 carbines (about 900 guns per week);
$2.3 million for machine guns (about 170 per week);
$4.3 million for Hellfire missiles (about 50 missiles per week);
$6.9 million for night vision devices (about 2,100 per week);
$10.8 million for fuel per week;
$5 million to store and transport that fuel per week;
$14.8 million for F-18E/F fighter planes per week (one every four weeks);
$23.4 million for ammunition per week;
$30.7 million for Bradley fighting vehicles (10 per week).







The geography of chaos 10, March 2008

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This map is from Le Monde Diplomatique and clearly and vividly shows the conflicts throughout the Middle East.

geog of chaos

It can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Torture, interrogation and the ticking bomb thesis 10, March 2008

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These are two interesting clips of former FBI Agent Jack Cloonan. He has interviewed several members of Al Qaeda in the past decade and speaks eloquently and will considerable knowledge about interrogation, torture, and the ticking bomb thesis.

The point of being Kuwait is… 9, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Middle East, Saudi Arabia.
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This is an article that appeared in the Kuwait Times in response to an editorial by Mshari Al-Zaydi in Al Sharq Al Awsat at the start of the month. It is written by Meshary Alruwaih, a staff columnist at the Kuwait Times. The original can be found here.

The Point of Kuwait is…

Last week, Meshari Al-Zayed, a Saudi columnist with Al-Sharq Alawsat wrote a very interesting article about Kuwait, titled ‘What is the point of being Kuwait?’ Mr. Al-Zayed, who in my opinion is one of the best columnists in the region, uses a popular Saudi Arabian story about Kuwait to describe the present Kuwaiti scenario. This is how the Saudi story goes- “A young man living in Qassim, central Saudi Arabia, was fed up of the social and religious mores, especially since he had to wake up every day during
early hours to say the Fajr prayer at the mosque. So he decided to immigrate to Kuwait, which has relaxed customs. After a tiring journey, he tries to get some sleep. But then there is sudden knock on the door, “Wake up; it’s time for the Fajr prayer.” The disappointed young man says, “What’s the point of being in Kuwait then?

Al-Zayed then narrates how this story, even though untrue, is helpful to understand Kuwait‘s current situation. From the debate on the segregation law to the Mughneya situation, he expresses his regret over the possibility of losing Kuwait as an open, tolerant society that has been a model for GCC states for decades.

Al-Zayed is obviously right and his concerns are in place. But first let me go back to the story of the young Saudi man and Kuwait. As entertaining and useful it may seem, even Al-Zayed knows that the story is not true; no one knocks on people’s doors in this country for Fajr prayers. In any given local mosque in Saudi Arabia, you will find about 50 people praying the Al-Fajr. In Kuwait, an average of around 10 to 15 people will be found at the mosques.

The important difference however lies in the fact that while the Imam is reciting the verse “Eyak na’bod waeyyak nasta’een” which means ” it’s you Allah, we worship and plead for assistance”; many of young Saudi men think “for Allah’s sake…finish, so I can go back to bed…”.We can take comfort in the fact that there are at least 10 to 15 Kuwaitis who willingly leave their beds to get the most out of the spiritual experience. This is precisely the point of being in Kuwait!

The point of being Kuwait is to have both girls and boys studying in the same classroom that instills respect and desire for knowledge. The point of being Kuwait is to integrate Sunnis and Shiites. The point of being Kuwait is to live by its Constitution and tradition of public participation while respecting and admiring its ruling family.

As I said, we share Al-Zayed’s concerns, we all fear that the point of being Kuwait was lost amid regional contests and global debates. Kuwait has been pulled and pushed by radicals and seculars from all over the region, from Al-Qaeda, Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and other extreme NGOs who use human rights as an excuse to scrub out any trace of the religious and cultural foundations of Muslim societies. These groups are too loud that their calls cross national borders including Kuwait‘s. Kuwaitis are listening and many are following those calls, the point of being Kuwait is lost among them!




China and their defence budget: devious or defensive? 6, March 2008

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There are two broad theses regarding China’s future. The first suggests that China is essentially a peacefully creature looking to expand its economy, improve its society, and generally emerge as a modern developed nation. It will do this by being neither more nor less aggressive than any other country in the state system.

The alternative thesis suggests that China is an angry country. For the vast majority of its history it was the superpower in its corner of the world. This all came to an end with the arrival, interference, and subjugation at the hands of Europeans (and the Japanese briefly). China is, therefore, seeking to emerge from its ‘century of humiliation’ and eager to reassert its rightful place at the top of the international tree. They will pursue this goal single-mindedly and with vigour, spurred on by the painful and humiliating memories of its recent history.

These opinions (though particularly the latter) can clearly be seen as soon as China releases its defence spending figures. Now that the Soviet Union is dead and buried (in its old guise at least) the US Department of Defence (DOD) now produces an annual assessment of the Chinese military threat as opposed to the Soviet one. This time around the headline is China’s 17.6% increase in defence spending. That sounds like a lot. Yet, if the absolute figure is compared to US defence spending and assuming that China has released an honest appraisal of its spending (which many people doubt), then we are comparing China’s paltry $57.2 billion to the US’ mammoth $700 billion. Even accounting for any Chinese ‘creative accounting’ when arriving at the $57.2 figure, it would still be utterly dwarfed by US spending.

However, it is not really the money per se that has the US DOD worried, but what they are spending it on and the apparent furtiveness with which China seek to disguise such spending.

Firstly, the Chinese are – sensibly – employing asymmetric tactics when it comes to thinking about America and its military. For example, the US navy currently has twenty-four aircraft carriers, which is more than twice the number that the rest of the world has put together and twenty-four times as many as China. These gigantic floating fortresses are staggeringly powerful and play a crucial role in guaranteeing America’s pre-eminence in the Pacific and elsewhere. China – somewhat unsportingly as far as the US DOD are concerned – are not spending hundreds of billions of dollars on creating their own fleet of aircraft carriers, but instead only tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on designing and producing highly advanced cruise missiles with the potential capability of taking out America’s aircraft carriers. Other important aspects of China’s asymmetric warfare potential are their development of satellite-killing missiles to take advantage of the US military’s dependence on their spying and communication satellites as well as China’s apparent investment in cyber-warfare.

David Sedney the US deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia neatly describes America’s secondary concern.

“China’s military build-up has been characterized by opacity…The real story is the continuing development, the continuing modernization, the continuing acquisition of capabilities and the corresponding and unfortunate lack of understanding, lack of transparency about the intentions of those and how they are going to be employed. What is China going to do with all that?”

America seem to want China to be more forthcoming than rational prudence would suggest is sensible. Of course China is keeping some things a secret from the rest of the world. Why is this such a great shock? All countries do this to some degree. Whilst America may well be one of the most open countries about such things, they are the world hegemon and account for 48% of the world’s spending on the military, as much as China, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Spain, Turkey, Israel, the Netherlands, the UAE, Taiwan, Greece, Iran, Myanmar, Singapore, Poland, Sweden, Colombia, Chile, Belgium, Egypt, Pakistan, Denmark, Indonesia, Switzerland, Kuwait, South Africa, Oman, Malaysia, Mexico, Portugal, Algeria, Finland, Austria, Venezuela, the Czech Republic, Romania, Qatar and Thailand put together. They have nearly 170,000 troops between China and America, including nearly 70,000 right on China’s doorstep. This list of the manifestations of American pre-eminence, as you can probably imagine, could go on for a while. In short, it is easy to be sanctimonious and somewhat smug when you have such staggering hegemony.

Yet just think of how China sees the American position. They see, I would argue, American military presence filtered through two prisms: Taiwan and resource procurement. Taiwan is one of the most sensitive subjects for China. They see it as an utterly private and internal matter. They viscerally despise American intervention in it and it is often – rightly – quoted as a potential flashpoint for US-Chinese relations. China, therefore, see the advanced American hardware floating around the South China sea (and indeed, just about every other sea of importance). They see the 70,000 American troops stationed in South Korea (less than a three hour flight away), Japan (less than a four hour flight away) and Guam (armed with long-range stealth B-2s). They see America’s huge defence budget. They see and believe America’s stated stance to defend Taiwan in the event of Chinese aggression, and are, somewhat understandably, nervous.

China’s other prism is that of resource protection. China is becoming ever increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil despite numerous attempts to procure other energy sources from other locales. Whilst they have very good relations with the producing states themselves, they still have to get it back to the homeland. The only viable way to do this (for the medium term at least) is to ship it. The problem here is – again – that America rules the waves. No nation on earth would have its lifeline so firmly in the hands of another power, friendly or unfriendly. China has tried to redress this balance by establishing a base on Gwadar in Pakistan, close to the Straits of Hormuz from where they can project some power. Also, as the US DOD report points out, China will have almost twice as many submarines as America by 2010. Whilst this is an important statistic, it must be remembered that the vast majority of these submarines are vastly inferior to their American counterparts and don’t forget the rest of the American hi-tech arsenal. Overall, therefore, China is still woefully outmatched by America on this front. Hence their asymmetric stance.

There is clearly enough information in these arguments which sounds sufficiently plausible and convincing to make either case. The numbers can be alarming. Yet if the situation can be seen from the Chinese perspective many of China’s actions seem like a perfectly reasonable course of action, however much we in the West may see them as unnecessary.

Cartoons from The Times 5, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Peter Brookes, The Times of London

the times brookes

the times peter brookes

Moreland, The Times of London

morland the times

China happy with “smooth” Russian election 4, March 2008

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China left themselves firmly in the minority when they unequivocally welcomed the election of Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s new President. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that China was pleased to see that the election went smoothly. To be honest, one wonders which election he was referring to. Smoothly is about the last adverb that ought to be used to describe Medvedev’s victory.

However, China’s reaction is not in the least surprising given their utterly rigid policy of non-interference and criticism of other country’s domestic affairs. Indeed, it is just this kind inflexibility and apparent choice to be immoral, as opposed to amoral, that lands them on the wrong side of international opinion so often.

China’s Russian future? 3, March 2008

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Simon Elegant over at Time’s China Blog wrote an interesting article suggesting that China might look towards Russia’s blueprint for its political future. Elegant suggests that the CCCP in Beijing would look favourably upon Russia’s current ability to ‘democratically’ guarantee power to the main party. Russia has, after all, all but turned into a one party state with but a fig leaf of democratic cover. This notion of democratically guaranteeing one party rule would surely be the panacea for China’s elite. All the benefits that they currently enjoy of their restrictive system and a modicum of democratic cover: perfect.

Indeed, it has never really mattered if the world believes than an election is fair, far from it. It is manifestly obvious that Medvedev’s election is questionable at best and a travesty of democracy at worst and it certainly didn’t matter to the various despots and dictators who got themselves returned to office with a miraculous 99.9% of the vote in the past. All that matters is that there is the figment, the notion, the light wafting of democracy in their general direction. The rest of the world carps for a while and then must put such notions aside as they need to have a working relationship with the country in question. 

Elegant suggests that there are two ways to achieve such a “managed democracy” result. Firstly, you simply need to emasculate, knee-cap, and generally destroy any opposition parties. Cue absurd arrests on pathetic pre-texts, complete marginalisation of said candidates or parties by your state controlled media, and, if all that fails – just kill them. Secondly, you need to co-opt the people. In Russia’s case, Putin feeds on the notion that Russians crave stability and prestige after the destruction wrought by the 1990’s. Putin fulfils these criteria superbly, particularly addressing the Russian need to feel like a superpower. In China’s case, Elegant suggests that the Chinese people could be co-opted by the desire to keep the economic boom booming. The CCCP could play on the notion that the ‘opposition’ (suitably emasculated, obviously) are a threat to the Chinese economic miracle and can not be trusted. 

Thus, just across the border, China have a ready made system on which they can base their next stage of political evolution if they so choose. The allure of democratic righteousness is surely a powerful one for Beijing, especially with Taiwan expertly (and infuriatingly) showing just how well Chinese characteristics, democracy and economic growth can go together.