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Picking the people was the easy part.

President-elect Obama and his new national security team will now turn to a world full of vexing, linked problems on every continent, and tricky, early choices. From the speed of withdrawal from Iraq to the speed of investment in Afghanistan, from Kashmir to Moscow, Obama will make some of his most important choices early. Here are some of the toughest.

IRAQ

The war in Iraq, and the promise of a radically different approach to it, helped make Obama president. But he will arrive in the White House with his predecessor having already negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement providing for a timeline for withdrawal from the country, the core of Obama’s campaign promise.

The agreement “points us in the right direction,” Obama told reporters in Chicago Monday.

The most rapid pace contemplated is Obama’s campaign plan to have all American combat troops out of Iraq 16 months after he was sworn-in — that is, by May of 2010. The U.S. agreement with the Iraqi government ensures American troops will be out by the end of 2011.

“The question is how much, if at all, do you deviate from the agreement that’s been negotiated and passed in Iraq,” said Anne Marie Slaughter, the dean of Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “Does that agreement supersede what President Obama said when he was candidate Obama?”

Slaughter pointed to Obama’s decision to retain the defense secretary who played a key role in negotiating the agreement as a sign that he’s likely to conform his own policy to its timeline.

But he’ll face pressure from both sides. Iraq remains a violent and unpredictable place, with suicide bombers killing at least 31 Iraqis in two attacks Monday.

And the Status of Forces Agreement likely means that as Obama takes office, American commanders will be adjusting to a new paradigm in which they shift more of the burden to Iraqi units, allowing them to take the lead and, at times, to fail in battles with insurgents. He’s likely to face intense internal debates over how involved the United State should be on a day-to-day basis, and pressure from the Iraqi government to help in some places, and step back in others.

But Obama said repeatedly during the campaign that his 16-month timeline was realistic, and many of his supporters seen no reason to dally. What’s more, the troops and materiel are needed elsewhere.

In Chicago Monday, Obama told reporters that the Status of Forces Agreement indicates that the United States is “now on a glide path to reduce our forces in Iraq.”

“The challenge for him is going to be determining the slope of that glide path,” said Shawn Brimley, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.”

AFGHANISTAN

General James Jones, the president-elect’s National Security Advisor, drew attention recently for stating emphatically that international forces were “not winning in Afghanistan.”

Indeed, there’s a wide consensus that the situation in the country that launched the 9/11 terror attacks is a mess: The Taliban is resurgent on the ground, corruption is rampant, and opium is the national industry. Meanwhile, the multinational force patrolling the country opposing them is adrift.

“There been no unifying strategy,” said Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation. “NATO operates its own way, every country operates its own way, the State Department and the Defense Department don’t agree.”

Part of the answer seems to be more Western troops. Obama’s advisors hope a new, pro-American mood will encourage European and other allies to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. And Obama has backed sending two or three more American brigades to the country, though the rate of that increase will be dictated by how fast Americans can leave Iraq.

Obama will also be briefed on a new Afghanistan strategy prepared by the military, the contours of which Gates outlined in a speech in Canada last week.

“All of us agree that one of our most important, and maybe the most important, objective for us in 2009 in Afghanistan is a successful election,” Gates said.

That likely means an urgent new focus on Afghanistan, to make it – at least – secure enough to hold an election at the end of next year.

But skeptics warn that Afghanistan has bled dry other occupiers, and that the U.S. should be realistic about its goals.

“Success is not going to be the creation of a secular, prosperous, and democratic Afghanistan,” said Coll, who said a new U.S. policy will likely include a massive investment in training the country’s army and police.

“That’s the ticket home – that’s the ticket to his reelection in 2012 and getting American troops out of direct action by then,” Coll said.

PAKISTAN

The potentially catastrophic aftermath of the terrorist siege in Mumbai last week could instantly jump to the top of Obama’s list of crises to deal with – depending on how India and Pakistan respond in the 50 days before he takes the oath of office.

It falls to the Bush administration – which sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region Monday – to try to keep the two South Asian rivals from moving back to the brink of war. U.S. officials so far seem to be succeeding in persuading Pakistan to fully cooperate in tracking down those responsible for the attacks – and in restraining India from responding with provocative military gestures.

But both countries will be looking for Obama to signal how he will manage what will still be, at best, a perilously tense situation. And Obama’s options, as always in South Asia, are fraught with danger. Will he push a new and fragile Pakistani government – as he suggested in the campaign – to crack down further on terrorist groups? Will he back off the Bush administration’s increasingly aggressive use of military strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban elements on Pakistani soil?

Even more important, given preliminary indications that the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba may be implicated in the Mumbai attacks, could Washington get more involved in pushing for a negotiated settlement to the long-held grievances of India and Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir?

“In order to start to get Pakistanis to focus on the insurgent groups, you need to have them start to feel less paranoid about India, and the way to do that is to start dealing with the Kashmir issue,” said Caroline Wadhams, a national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.

“His team has talked about the need to start working on the Kashmir issue. There’s a big debate over whether the U.S. can even play a positive role in that. They will have to decide how hard they have to push that issue.”

Look for Vice President-elect Biden to play a key role on this one – he has significant and important contacts in both countries. And if Obama needs any reminding about the potential peril posed by a Kashmir-fueled conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals, his nominee to be secretary of State should be able to attest. Hillary Clinton’s husband once called Kashmir, “the most dangerous place on earth.”

GUANTANAMO

An easier decision for Obama is one that he widely talked about during the campaign and confirmed during his recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” – his intention to close the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that,” Obama said.

There is a wide bipartisan consensus that the Gitmo should be closed. And politics would be pushing Obama to make the move even if the merits of the decision were not completely compelling. Many of his initial foreign policy and national security appointments – Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the retention of Bob Gates at the Pentagon chief among them – have caused grumbling within Obama’s base of support on the Democratic left.

But closing Gitmo could very well open a Pandora’s Box that could overwhelm both the political and diplomatic benefits that the action would doubtless bring for the new administration.

As in – where do the roughly 250 prisoners being held at Guantanamo go?

Some could be repatriated – but that likely will mean intensive diplomacy by the young administration at a time when it is tending to a number of other foreign policy brushfires. And if some countries do accept detainees – China is one example – what kind of treatment awaits them when they return?

Furthermore, if some are kept in the U.S., as they most certainly will be, can they successfully be prosecuted, given the extreme and extraordinary circumstances surrounding their incarceration at Guantanamo?

The possibility that a future terrorist act could result from a current Guantanamo detainee being freed is truly the stuff of nightmares for the new Obama national security team.

MISSILE DEFENSE

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev put his country firmly on Obama’s agenda by attacking the president-elect the day after his election.

He and Vladimir Putin have also made a specific demand: That Obama scrap plans to set up a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama has been a skeptic of missile defense, raising doubts primarily about whether the technology is ready. He’s also signaled that he would like to work more closely with Russia on a range of other issues, beginning with nuclear proliferation. However, he and his advisors are skeptical of Russia’s autocratic leaders.

Hawks want Obama to signal that he’s taking a tough line, and that he won’t be intimidated by Russia. Moscow would like him to put missile defense on a back burner before they arrive at the negotiating table.

Some arms control advocates see a middle ground: Obama can continue to question the system’s technical capacity, making space to negotiate.

“A decision on new deployments of strategic missile interceptors can be deferred until the system is proven effective through realistic tests and has the full support of U.S. allies,” Daryl Kimball, the president of the Arms Control Association, wrote in the Washington Times last month.

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The GOP selected Sarah Palin as its VP to stoke its base, but expanding that base should be the partys goal.

The GOP selected Sarah Palin as its VP to stoke its base, but expanding that base should be the partys goal.

In the wake of the Republican defeat, there has been much recrimination and finger-pointing over tactics and strategy. Was the Sarah Palin choice fatal? Should John McCain have suspended his campaign during the financial crisis?

But the larger issue is whether 2008 was a “realigning election” that went deeper than the candidates or the current issues. The jury is still out as to whether Democrats can turn one sweeping victory into a generation-long dominance of the White House. A key element in a possible structural shift favoring Democrats is the changing demographics of the electorate. The U.S. is growing bigger, increasingly diverse and more cosmopolitan — and the GOP seems on the wrong side of all these trends.

The United States is the only developed country that is projected to add lots of new residents by mid-century. In 2006, the nation’s population reached 300 million. The Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. will get to 400 million by 2039. To put this growth in perspective, consider that even China (yes, China) will not add 100 million people by that date. The U.S. will gain more new residents in the next three decades than the current population of Germany — the largest European Union nation.

With each decade, more than 22 million potential new voters will enter the electorate. Parties that fix on a strategy may find that it is unworkable in just a few cycles. The Republican Party’s idea of stoking its base to gain office assumes a somewhat static voting public, which, given the dynamic nature of American demographics, is a faulty notion.

So who are most of these new people? The quick answer is both recent immigrants and their American-born offspring. By 2043, the U.S. may be a majority minority nation. Another scenario is that a high rate of intermarriage among whites and minorities may open to question the whole notion of who is “majority.” The bottom line for Republicans is that no matter how this population is defined, an increasing number of current minorities are voting for Democrats.

Republicans can, of course, switch their strategy and make more direct appeals to minority voters. As recently as 2004, President George W. Bush almost won the Latino vote. But at the moment, the Republicans seem branded as the party of white people. Furthermore, much of the Republican base — especially those listening to talk radio — believe the U.S. is being flooded with immigrants (legal and illegal). It may be hard to pivot and embrace diversity without alienating the GOP base. By contrast, many whites in the Democratic Party are comfortable with diversity and now form a transracial coalition with minority voters.

As the U.S. expands and diversifies, it is becoming more urban. The Census finds that 83 percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas and that well over half live in regions with more than 1 million residents. By other calculations, two-thirds of people added by 2040 will settle in just 20 megapolitan areas — massive urban complexes that contain more than 5 million residents.

Were just the big metro areas to vote, the presidential race would be a rout every time. The Democrats dominate major urban regions. An analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech found that Barack Obama won the votes in the nation’s top 50 metro areas — often by double-digit margins.

Worse for Republicans, in 2006 and 2008, Democrats significantly expanded the areas of the metros they won. Their electoral dominance has spilled out of cities and close-in suburbs and now reaches into the kinds of sprawling subdivisions that were once reliably Republican. The suburbs in key swing states such as Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia played a particularly decisive role in delivering the presidency to Democrats.

Republicans must adjust to the demographic shifts sweeping America or risk being politically marginalized. Most significantly, the party needs to recognize that there are simply not enough rural white voters to balance the growing number of minority voters and cosmopolitan whites living in big metro areas. If Republicans think 2008 went badly, try running the same kind of small-town-flavored campaign in 2020. At that point, the vastly expanded and racially diverse metro areas in Texas and Georgia could tip those once reliably red states to the Democrats.

Robert E. Lang is co-director of the Alexandria, Va.-based Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech and an associate professor in urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech’s School of Planning and International Affairs.

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New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was once seen as a good bet for secretary of state. Now, some are concerned that neither he nor any other Latino has yet been named to a high-ranking position in the Obama administration. AP

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was once seen as a good bet for secretary of state. Now, some are concerned that neither he nor any other Latino has yet been named to a high-ranking position in the Obama administration. AP

As Hillary Rodham Clinton inches toward becoming secretary of state, Latino advocates are asking: Whither Bill Richardson?

The New Mexico governor has been the best hope for a Latino to land a high-ranking post in the new administration. But Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and energy secretary, appears to have lost out to Clinton — although he could land another Cabinet post, perhaps at Interior.

Still, anxiety is running high among Latino leaders because Obama has yet to name a Latino to a top White House or Cabinet position. This is on the minds of senior transition officials — including Obama’s designated chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel — who are said to be considering Latino candidates for several Cabinet posts.

“The Obama transition team and the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, understand the role that the Latino vote played in this election, and I think we will see representation in the Obama Cabinet and at the White House,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), a member of the House Democratic leadership, said he has been forwarding the names of Latino candidates “for every type of position you can think of in the federal government, from Cabinet on down.”

“We can remember the days when people said we had no applications, or there’s no one qualified,” Becerra said. “Everyone understands that the days of excuses are over.”

Becerra, who’s been mentioned as a candidate for labor secretary, said he is “not looking” for an administration job.

At least four Latino candidates are said to be under consideration to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development: Miami Mayor Manny Diaz; Adolfo Carrion Jr., a longtime New York pol, and Bronx borough president; Saul Ramirez Jr., a former deputy HUD secretary; and Nelson A. Diaz, who has been a judge and a HUD general counsel.

As for Richardson, Murguia suggested he could serve as secretary of commerce or the interior. “Perhaps there’s an ambassador role to China,” she added.

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While McCain wants to make war – and get bogged down attempting to extract oil out of some remote/hostile corner of the earth – the future is in technology.

It would be a bad dream if we looked out at our future 50 -100 years from now and see ourselves still using oil in the same way – we have already got working models of new propulsion systems that could be used to drive a car – such as the magnetic rotary motor / and electric battery drive vehicles. And once we start to look into the problem of energy creation – it is no telling what we will come up with.

On the campaign trail Obama often says ‘Those who out teach us, will out compete us.’ I don’t think McCain really grasps that – he has surrounded himself with lobbyist – but what he don’t understand is that we can’t afford to play those same old games.

 

Jokes: Bush went in as a Social Conservative and came out as a Conservative Socialist.

There are two problems here – one is the folding banking industry around the world – and the other is that the weakened banking industry would allow – outsiders and mainly sovereign wealth funds to come in a cherry pick the banks and or industries that they want at rock bottom prices – these very powerful sovereign funds are mainly coming from three areas – the Middle East, Russia and China. Their investments at a time like this would give these areas undue influence over US and EU banking and insurance industries – but more their investments will give these countries or regions undue influence over US and possibly EU policy. With undue Middle East influence we could all be eating Halal. Western governments had to act.

To blame – of course are a number of things – but one is George Bush’s oil policy. Since the US only has 3% of the world’s oil – to fund its oil usage – it has to get oil from somewhere else. Saudi Arabia held almost all of the cards up until the war in Iraq – and the removal of Saddam Hussein – allowed the US create a major oil player in Iraq. But the cost was enormous. Yesterday 40bn barrel Iraqi oil contracts were put on sale in London. Drill Baby Drill to Big Oil. The problem is that the cost of the war could have funded the industry to build solar panels for every roof – in sunnier areas. And the new research in a whole host of energy alternatives – which would one day become fixtures – or until we develop the new technology.

If you listen to McCain – and Palin – Russia is ready to attack – but the real deal is the laying and operation of a gas pipeline through Georgia. So like Iraq – likely there will be a military build up there – against the evil Russia – to secure the oil or gas coming from there.

Under Bush’s policy vast amounts of money is being transferred to the Middle East – vast amounts of money is going into wars for oil – under “security” – Condi recently had a meeting with the Libyan leader – with the intention of vast amounts of US money flowing into Libya.

While in the US infrastructure crumbles, while the people in the Western world are at the whim of dictators – like Chavez, or Russia which clearly is putting its interests first. And in the Middle East – which showed itself when George Bush didn’t speak at the Israeli Kenesit – as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel did- because – he had to ask the Saudi’s to lower the price of oil – and as a part of that deal – he slung them some nuclear technology.

The oil game is a crazy game and it is leaving the US broke and at a disadvantage. The advantage and the money are in new generation of ET energy technology – one where for example cars are run on magnetism (magnetic motor) – and more efficient battery technologies. What would it mean to the US and EU countries – if they could get a mechanized factory – a factory of robots – to work around the clock without having to take into account the cost of energy. With this we can compete with China. There would be no need to ship jobs abroad.

The candidate with real foresight is Barack Obama. He’s thinking.

President Bush, right, smiles during the G20 ministerial meeting at the International Monetary Fund Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 in Washington. From left, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Bush. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci - AP)

President Bush, right, smiles during the G20 ministerial meeting at the International Monetary Fund Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 in Washington. From left, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Bush. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci - AP)

The U.S. government is dramatically escalating its response to the financial crisis by planning to invest $250 billion in the country’s banks, forcing nine of the largest to accept a Treasury stake in what amounts to a partial nationalization.

News that European governments also planned to take stakes in their banks and anticipation of new U.S. measures unleashed a tremendous surge in U.S. stock prices yesterday, with the Dow Jones industrial average soaring to the biggest percentage gain since the 1930s, up 11.1 percent. It ended 936.42 points higher, the largest point gain ever, just days after the Dow had its steepest weekly decline in history.

The Treasury Department’s decision to take equity stakes in banks represents a significant reversal, coming just weeks after Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. had opposed the idea. In a momentous meeting yesterday afternoon in Washington, Paulson, flanked by top financial regulators, told the executives of nine leading banks that they needed to participate in the program for the good of the national economy, two industry sources said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The government’s initiative, which was to be announced this morning before the markets open for New York trading, is part of a wider plan that goes beyond the $700 billion rescue package approved by Congress earlier this month. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is also set to announce today the launch of an insurance fund to guarantee new issues of bank debt. It will provide unlimited deposit insurance for non-interest-bearing accounts, which are widely used by small businesses for payroll and other purposes.

In pressing the bank executives to accept partial government ownership, Paulson’s message was clear: Though officially the program was voluntary, the banks had little choice in the matter. In exchange for giving the Treasury minority stakes, the nine firms would jointly receive an investment worth $125 billion. The government would make another $125 billion available for the next 30 days to thousands of other banks and thrifts across the country.

Federal officials set conditions, telling the banks they could not raise their dividends without government permission and could not offer their executives new retirement packages, though the old packages would remain intact.

Paulson told them the moves would shore up confidence in their own institutions, spark lending throughout the system and send a message to smaller institutions that there is no stigma in accepting federal funding. Though some were reluctant, all of the executives complied.

There is a risk that banks will take the new government capital and use it to bolster their balance sheets but still not resume lending, and the Treasury is not getting any specific contractual guarantee to prevent that from happening. But bank regulators, particularly the Federal Reserve, will lean heavily on the firms receiving infusions to use the capital to increase their lending to businesses and consumers.

Taken together, the steps planned by the Treasury, the FDIC and the Federal Reserve amount to a monumental effort to jump-start the business of lending, which all but dried up in recent weeks as banks have lost faith in one another and their customers. Global markets began to melt down. Some emerging nations teetered on the brink of financial collapse.

Source: Washington Post