UK to Stay the Course for Now

PM Blair’s office made it clear today that the UK will get the job done in Iraq and will not pull the plug.

At the same time, Iraqi Deputy PM Saleh has said that 8 or 9 provinces could be under Iraqi control within the year, indicating that there will be a mission adjustment for the UK (and US?) troops.

Partitioning Iraq

The most pressing question right now, though, is the question of partitioning Iraq. It keeps on surfacing in news stories. It’s hard to imagine a Kurdish north become its own autonomous region, without the Kurds making irredentist claims in other countries (Iran, Turkey) — in that sense, the scenario is unlikely. And bearing in mind the idea that Syria and Iran may be asked to help regulate the Iraq situation, one cannot imagine the Iranians being in favour of a Kurdish area.

Dividing Iraq into Sunni-Shi’a lines is also problematic — how much of the Revolution will Iran want to export into the Shi’a region of Iraq? The Iraqi Shi’as have traditionally not aligned themselves with Iran (as Iran had expected during the Iran-Iraq war) and have identified themselves as Iraqis. If the country is partitioned, then this could change.

This is probably why the US has not favoured a partitioning yet. The UK is saying that the question is up to Iraqis.

The Russian Blockade

Progressive Russian publication Kommersant reports that the attitude of Georgians towards their President is not unanimously favorable. Many believe the President has gone too far in his negative rhetoric in regards Russia, rhetoric which has prompted Russian sanctions.

With the harvest in full bloom, this is the best time for Georgian farmers to make money by selling to the Russian market. This season they cannot do this and must now struggle to survive, because their President did not handle a diplomatic situation with the care that it required. Until the Russian blockade was imposed, Saakashvili talked the language of defiance. Once the hard reality set in, he suddenly became open to dialogue and was suddenly perplexed by Russian response. This only goes to show his political immaturity — one of the main tenets of his presidency has been criticizing (rightly so, and not) Russia. This is healthy, but one’s presidency cannot lie on just one raison d’être: denying your neighbor.

War Plans?

This weekend, Georgia replied to Russian President Putin’s suggestion that the conflict may end in bloodshed, and denied having war plans.

This is rather curious as tensions have been rampant in the two separatist (and pro-Russian) regions of Georgia. In fact, on several occasions President Saakashvili has made statements about getting those areas under complete Georgian control — in domestic media, of course.

Curiously enough, the situation that played itself out this fall in Georgia had a very familiar ring to the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict of this summer.

Four supposed spies were arrested and held by Georgia, much like the Israeli soldiers that spurred the violence in Lebanon this summer. Except Russia did not respond with force. And force is what Saakashvili has wanted for so long — painting Russia as an aggressive villain, this is exactly what he needed, the confirmation of the corrupt nature of the Russian state. After all, Russia’s aggression has been Georgia’s (i.e. Saahashvili’s) raison d’être.

Not this time. But tensions are not falling and in all likelihood some sort of military confrontation will take place, unless proper diplomacy is finally exercised by both sides.

Russia’s Shame

The Russian government showed a political immaturity of its own by implementing an anti-Georgian policy within the country. Cracking down on illegal casinos and probing Georgian-owned businesses, the authorities have also began to target simple citizens with Georgian credentials. This is nationalism at its worse and it doesn’t help anyone: nationalistic discrimination is simply unacceptable. It has touched everyone, young and old, as has been reported throughout most major media. (For example, see this BBC story.) When I was on the phone with Moscow 10 days ago, I was told of a 19 year old girl who “looked Georgian” (and was not) being constantly harrassed by police officers to provide her credentials. What threat simple citizens pose to Russia, is simply unclear. And this is shameful state nationalism.

Thankfully, most Russians have realized the level of discrimination and have started to write in to papers to complain. Ashamed of the policy, Russia’s stars have started protests of their own. For example, Russian Actor Stanislav Sadalsky has applied for Georgian citizenship as a sign of solidarity for the Georgians living in Russia. Other members of the entertainment industry have made a statement about the ongoing discrimination.

Tony Blair is meeting with Iraqi officials and is set to press them on demonstrating that Iraqi security forces can take over the British-controlled areas. The British PM is, after all, seeking an exit from Iraq.

The UK’s involvement in the Iraqi endeavor has gone hand in hand with the US’ War on Terror. Without a doubt, the British would have never gone into Iraq without the participation and encouragement of their American allies. Could the UK’s plans to withdraw from Iraq within a year mean that the US will be doing the same? We will not know until the midterm elections pass, but the US has been sending enough diplomatic signals to suggest that this might be the case. This weekend we heard that President Bush is apparently ready for a change of strategy. Today, a huge error was committed by a US official who made comments about the US handling of Iraq and later retrieved the statement. The questionable comments suggested that the US handling of Iraq was full of “arrogance and stupidity.”

When those kind of comments get out, you know something is in the air.

And times are changing.

Canada’s government has made it clear that NATO needs to commit more troops to the Afghanistan mission. Canadian troops have been stretched too thin, Peter MacKay has said.

At the same time, Canada is considering longer tours of duty for it troops in Afghanistan.

The British, The Observer reports, are showing “signs of weakness” in Afghanistan.

Could Afghanistan be turning into what it became for the Soviets? After all, the Soviets spent several years in the country, before pulling out. And they had to pull out, because their mission too was showing signs of weakness and became unsustainable. Like today, the Soviets had control of the capital, but the country was full of counter-insurgents (trained by the US, who later became the Taliban).

This has not been a good week for US foreign policy. And on the brink of failure for the British.

More Tests in North Korea?

October 22, 2006

Condoleezza Rice has denied reports that Kim Jong Il has expressed remorse over the first nuclear test and has promised no follow-up.

Ms Rice has said that the US feels that N Korea wants to escalate the crisis.

The statements were made as the Secretary of State arrived in Moscow. Rice clearly does not know what to expect from Russia, an integral player in the region (and a neighbor to North Korea). Thus, she is preparing for every possible scenario — handling the crisis with or without Russian support of the sanctions.

Any statements or announcements that will be made once her visit is complete, will be the key ones to follow to read the situation and see what may be coming next.