Saturday, April 25, 2009

Obama's road not taken with North Korea

US president Barack Obama usually reflects before acting. On the matter of North Korea's launch of a telecommunication satellite on a long range rocket, he at first waffled, and then plonged his hot iron of anger into political oil, by pushing for sanctions before the UN Security Council, accusing Pyongyang of violating Article 1718, a debatable interpretation. Let's look at the sequence of his decision: the US position initially held neutral ground, labelling the launch as a rocket. Then the rocket turned into a long range missile with a trajectory to reach the US. Suddenly the distance the rocket might cover became in the heat of stoked ideological passions, an inter continental ballistic missile with the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead, and not a instrument for putting a satellite into outer space. So panic took hold of the White House, forcing Mr Obama to side with intransigeant Tokyo and hardline Seoul, both governments on the eve of decisive elections which may put a check on the cold war governments of premier Aso of Japan and president Lee Myung bak of South Korea. Ill advised by hold overs in the department of state and his military advisors, president Obama opted to close all options, by turning the clock back to those muscular posturing days of an arrogant George Bush, playing to the galleries of retrograde political opinion, calling North Korea, among others, an 'axis of evil' state. To make matters worse, and despite endless pre launch announcements out of Pyongyang,US President Barack Obama, by pushing for sanctions, has endangered the six-party talks and precipitated a potential crisis which would make China lose face. Not only that, Kim Jong il's government in one fell swoop withdrew 'sine dia' from the six party talks, ordered IEAE observers out of the country, and began steps towards re activating its nuclear facilities. And what makes the matter more dicey, two silly American journalist allowed themselves to be caught entering illegally from China into North Korea. These two women, Lee and Ling, are not naive; they've reported from inside Pyongyang, so it makes you wonder as to why they thought in doing a story on North Korea from the outside, they could brave thumbing their noses at North Korea's border security. The motives remain unknown. They will stand trial and spend time in uninviting Pyongyang prison.
Mr. Obama is left supporting sanctions based on questionable grounds, and without the means to enforce them. Additionally, along with his hardline allies in Seoul and Tokyo, he's trying to box Pyongyang tightly in a strait jacket called the 'Proliferation Security Initiative', again a move which has pushed North Korea into its protective shell.
Mr. Obama's decision also focuses on the hardliners who have learnt nothing in dealing with Pyongyang at the department of state principally. And that includes secretary of state Hillary Clinton whose husband long engaged North Korea. She, too, has a very short memory. The American president does not need another headache, but this time, it is a huge migraine of his own choice. He's shut all doors now.
His choice has revived dumbly the old Washington, Seoul, Tokyo axis against North Korea. An other sign that Mr. Obama has wittingly revived a cold war strategy which belongs on the dustbin of history. For one thing, China won't play, nor will Russia.
The times look gloomy, the more especially since the return of Russia's foreign minister Lankov's statement after meeting North Korea's high ranking officials in Pyongyang. Pyongyang is in no mood for listening. So the stalemate continues, and the weight of Kim Jong il's intransigeance lies at the doorstep of Mr. Obama and his advisors.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seoul reaps the whirlwind of its hardline towards Pyongyang

After much bickering the meeting between North and South Korea end after 22 minutes. Pyongyang did not summon Seoul to a friendly chat. Its invitation bodes ill for South Korea's president Lee Myung bak who has toed a George W. Bush hardline approach to North Korea. North Korea has yet to drop the shoe on Mr. Lee. Reading the tea leaves of the moment, it is quite reasonable to say that Kim Jong il is willing to close down the Kaesong free trade zone which is a multimillion dollar initiative for South Korea. And hard money is something a South Korean economy hit by the world recession which the IMF [International Monetary Fund] likens to as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930's...liquidity which Seould badly needs. The harder the line towards Pyongyang the better Mr. Lee likes it. And especially since elections loom large on the horizon, and he has come under harsh criticism for his ineptitude. More. Mr. Lee is a rocking chair cold warrior who thinks not twice in recreating an axis of hostility with Japan and the US, to cower North Korea. China won't go along with that, and Beijing has sent messages of its distaste for such a development. Such a South Korean initiative would result in snapping relations with China and freezing Seoul's massive investments in China.
Mr. Lee has tunnel vision, but he cares little. Since not only is he a cold warrior but his god's righteous sword. Does he remember that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword?
In brief, Mr. Lee since he trashed the 'Sunshine Policy', withheld fuel oil and food from the North, and has whipped up overt hostility to the person of Kim Jong slipping badly on a purely slick slope of his own making.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

UN Conference on Racism -- the US won't play with its marbles

The US won't be attending the upcoming UN conference on racism. Unlike the previous confab where Mr. Bush's delegate walked out in a huff. Mr. Obama simply won't put his marble in play. Why? It isn't too difficult to know the reason. Israel stands to be condemned roundly for its violation of Palestinians rights, the underlying racism inherent in Zionism, and its brutal, unforgiving war against the Palestinians in Gaza.
You would think that the armed bully in the Middle East could fend for itself. Wrong! Israel is a client state of the US. From 'fortress America' it receives endless us$ billions which Washington forgives. The US allows Jewish organisations to collect monies for illegal occupation of Palestian lands on the occupied West Bank, in clear violation of US law.
And of course the US has to cater to the mighty American Jewish vote, the rapid right wing evangelical Christians who are in league with Israel, hoping beyond hope that they can convert Jews to Christianity, so on and on.
Israel has to be judged by its own actions. You cannot forever delay judgment from its transgression of its own laws, international law, and a higher moral code that it claims as pourveyor of monotheism.
Is there a term to US support? Who knows?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Whither Thailand

Is Thailand in a pre revolutionary stage? Some observers think so. Town against country. An elite split. An ailing king. A military at loose end. Now an attempt on the life of the 'yellow shirts'leader, the firey Sondhi Limthongkul. The ingredients are certainly there for violent change. Is violence the Thai path? Other talking heads say no. It is not in the Thai temperament. Rather some sabre rattling, massive street demonstrations, occupations of government buildings or aeroports are in line with what happens in Thailand. Then the king like a 'deux ex machina' settles matters; a kiss 'n make up period ensues, and the orderly balance of palace, military, and elites take up once again assigned roles. And yet...and yet...the chinaware is broken, and the discontent in the hinterlands and in the slums of the capital want more than the crumbs thrown to them. So where does this leave us? Well, for one thing, it gives rise to a favourite game of foreign talking heads to tell it all...which more oft than not, is more wishful thinking than an overview of conditiosn on the ground. One thing is certain, Thailand has to change; to open up the crack in the door to those left out.
The king revered as a 'god'is not in the best of health. His successor has neither the charisma nor the wit nor the talent to command his father's stature. The military well the military might stage yet another coup, but that won't bode well. And more than what, no one is talking about the spreading Muslim insurgency in the south. Yes Thailand is fighting a guerrilla war with an uncertain outcome. And the government and the world of money...have knives drawn among themselves.
So where to do we stand? On shifting sands for the moment. Will the country finally settle on a Burmese junta solution? That remains to be seen. The masses are stirring, and the downtrodden when aroused without proper and wise leadership will end in a jacquerie. And that is heady spirits for the generals to return to power.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pyongyang says 'nerts'!

The ink was hardly dry on the UN Security Council's resolution sanction[n]ing the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK aka North Korea], when the DPRK answered swiftly. One, it is restarting its nuclear programme; two, it has left the bargaining table at the six-party talks in Beijing. End of discussion. Even though the resolution is watered down from the angry demands of the US, it remains a vain victory for the Council's 5 permanent members and South Korea and Japan, Pyongyang said, 'nerts', and went on its own way, a way that it was not shy from declaiming as the US manoeuvered to mark with brand of Cain on the DPRK, how it would respond, were sanctions on the menu. Forewarned is forearmed, the saying goes, but since the DPRK is treated as though it were a step child, the Council did what it wanted.
Everyone feigned anger because Pyongyang had launched a satellite on a long range rocket. Now, don't say that the US or Russia or China launched satellites into outer spacee on 'short range rockets'! Please.......... So why tar and feather Pyongyang? Well the US in the lead like a shady lawyer twisted the meaning of a UN resolution about missiles...with war heads. Pardon me for saying......this is parsing fine hairs on a bald man's head.
So where does this leave the big 5 and South Korea and Japan? Fretting and scurrying like church mice, trying to figure out what to do?
Well the answer is as plain as the nose on one's face: engage diplomatically the DPRK. And in the end, that what they're going to have to do. And they're all going to have to go Pyongyang's Canossa, stand in the glacial cold of its disapproval, to get things back on track to defuse tensions and outstanding issues. And this time the US & co. are going to pay a very stiff price. They raise a heavy rock, let it fall, and in the end it fell on their own big toe!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kim Chong il, the man in the news

Spring is time for rebirth, for renewal. On this Sunday which Christians celebrate the resurrection of their Saviour, the august 'Financial Times of London', sees fit to feature the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK]'s chairman Kim Chong il as 'man in the news'. The column is signed by the FT's man in Seoul Christian Oliver.
Why spotlight Mr. Kim? Well for one thing after months of not appearing in public, shrouded in announcement of his imminent death, in the inner struggles among Mr. Kim's heirs for ascending to their father's place, in any number of 'what's if's' and other fanciful notions, Kim Il Sung has lifted the veil at a party congress. He came to acknowledge his unanimous re election as his country's leader.
And we see a much slimmer but very much a living and breathing and magnetic Mr. Kim!
His appearance comes in the glow of the DPRK's launch of telecommunication satellite on the much feared [among Mr. Kim's neighbours and the US] long range Taepodong 2 rocket. It's success in putting the satellite into space remains problemmatic. But that's besides the point: it clearly shows leaps in the development of Pyongyang's rocketry.
This said, Mr. Oliver picks up on the threads of the motley garment Mr. Kim's detractors love to knit. He is easy to hate; to mock; to diminish. And Oliver dwells on Mr. Kim's health, conspiring if Mr. Kim's leadership is in doubt. FT's 'man in the news' comes up with the usual suspects who keep repeating the same old worn lines, like hack actors in a bad play.
But talk about a way to resolve differences between the DPRK and its neighbours and the US, heaven forefend! A taboo subject if ever there is one. As the Republic of Korea's president Lee Myung bak blows arctic cold towards the North, by ending the 'Sunshine policy', and launching a revived cold war; as Japan, turning more nationalistic and veering to the right, looks to impose newer sanctions against the DPRK; as the US fiddles as to whither it should go, with the dogs of the old cold war barking at Washington's heels, nowhere is there discussion of outstanding issues which would lessen tensions with a determined eye to solve matters. Everyone knows the answer, but Mr. Kim's negotiating partners, namely, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington, lack the political will.
Washington won't talk to Pyongyang unless dragged and kicking to the table, as the DPRK's nuclear test showed. It is not necessary to recite a rosary of sorrows of missed opportunities.
Let's simply say, there is no other solution than through negotiations, short of increased tensions and outbursts which might trigger a larger conflict.
It's time to calm nuclear waters and look towards ending the Korean war with a peace treaty, and put the divided Korean issue finally to bed and to rest! Anything short of that continues the long sad situation that we all full well know!
And in this time of the earth's renewal, let the flowers of negotiation bloom!

Monday, April 6, 2009

North Korea's rocket launch redux

By scientific measurements the Democratic Republic of Korea's [DPRK aka North Korea]launch of a satelliteg on its long range Taepodong 2 rocket is a bust. [The DPRK demurs, unsurprisingly.]As one long time Korea watcher, who is hardly a fan of North Korea, described it as an impressive achievement, albeit fraught with military dangers. As for transgressing international agreement, it didn't. The US' calling for a resolution of condemnation and sanctions against Pyongyang, won't fly at the UN Security Council. China or Russia or the two will surely veto it. Military analysts in the US, South Korea, and Japan now take comfort in being assured by experts that the rocket launch was a failure, and by inplication a set back for the DPRK. Was it?
North Korea is no Johnny come lately to rocketry. It has been in the rocket business for a quarter century at least. It has a long list of clients in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, for example. Pakistan exchanged North Korea's rockets for nuclear technology, and Islamabad is a strong American ally! So failure or not, Pyongyang is making impressive steps in sophisticated rocketry capable of leaping over long geographical distances. North Korea will find buyers for its rocket science banging at its door! Hard cash is difficult to come by in a failing country, so hardly anyone is going to be turned away. And this point should never be far from the minds of military Pyongyangolists, who may at this very writing be rejoicing over the Taepodong 2 failing in its mission. Interpreted another way, it didn't; it, in fact, went further that any of its sister missiles ever went!
President Obama spoke stern words in Prague when he got news of the launch. What else could he do, short of war, to stay Pyongyang's plans? Strong words may be called for, but colouring the feat as a dire feat with immediate military implications, gave the rocket launching more weight than it perhaps deserved.
Some in the sterile ambiance of America's growing long in the tooth chattering classes took umbrage in the haughty manner of a dowager ant who condemned Pyongyang of deliberately spoiling the moment of Mr. Obama's triumphal week in Europe. Now, that a big wad of baloney, to chew! And, it is the height of self deception, of a greying group of pundits who takes their wishes forc reality. Don't they read newspapers? Pyongyang had announced it launch well in advance, though with a frame of 5 possible days in early April. You have to wonder if these highly paid television, print, or radio 'personalities' are circling some distant planet on the edge of the universe.
The DPRK has been long signaling for renewed conversations with Washington. [Seoul and Tokyo are mired in the hardening mud of misguided policies]. The US is still of two minds in approaching Pyongyang, in spite of getting fingers burnt on fires of its own making. [Mr Bush scraped the Clinton tack and his security adviser and later secretary of state Condoleezza Rice whimsically threw in the DPRK's name in the axis of evil hopper, so as to lighten the war on terror list of Islamic nations.] As a result, Mr Bush is responsible for the DPRK's entrance into the nuclear club of countries!
After that act of flummery, Mr Bush ran to save himself from the jaws of complete incompetency. Suddenly, there was movement towards Pyongyang, and then the step forward was followed by two steps backward.
The Taepodong 2 affair, will somewhat hasten matters. The six party talks will resume in Beijing, with Washington strongly twisting the arm of a reluctant Seoul and recalsitrant Tokyo. You would think after falling over the same diplomatic log, the US would see the way clear of belling the DPRK cat. They don't more out of fear then a bold coup a la Nixon's visit to China. Well, the DPRK is not big China, but it can cause, and certainly did provoke much wailing and gnashing of US teeth during the last 8 years of a Bush White House.
So, for the moment, the world economic crisis holds centre stage, but the DPRK is hardly a side bar. Washington should be seriously thinking, in the light of near and not so near events on the divided Korean peninsula, in reconvening the long dormant Geneva conference, to resolve once and for all outstanding issues, including finally ending the Korean War by a peace treaty; resolving the nuclear issue; and dealing on a realistic state to state relationship with the DPRK. In brief, lance the long standing abscess, and get back to basics in solving the economic recession and looking to improve the lot of nations so that terrorism or extremism is a tempting outlet for pent up emotions and frustrations.
Too long has the ostrich approach held towards North Korea. After the death of Kim Il sung, in spite of an opening to the US, and even president Clinton among other world figures, thought the DPRK would collapse it didn't. It is around, and no matter how much wishful thinking and prayers to idols, it is not going away!
As the Bob Dylan song goes, the answer is blowing in the wind. Unclog heavily waxed ears, and listen.

hite House

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pyongyang shot its payload

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK] successfully launched its satellite on an long range missile today, much to the high dudgeon of the US, South Korea, and Japan. US military officials say that no satellite was launched; the firing of the rocket was a smoke screen to cover a military exercise. Pyongyang strongly disagrees.
US president Barack Obama has seized the Security Council to explore ways of sanction[n]ing North Korea for UN treaty violations. He won't have much success. China wonr't go along unless it abstains fearing the deterioration of its multi billion US$ holdings in US debt.
The US, South Korean, and Japanese press have been foaming at the mouth for weeks before the launch. They could bark like chained dogs about doing something, short of war. Washington and Seoul had battleships ready, yet they stayed any hand from shooting Tomahawk missiles to down Pyongyang's rocket.
Yet the war drums beat madly, but the general public hardly cared. And why should it? It wasn't interested say in the US to open yet another war front on the Asian continent after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pyongyang has always tried to catch the ear of Washington, with little success. Seoul has scrapped the 'Sunshine Policy', following it up with the revival of a Cold War with the North. And Japan has dug in its heels till the DPRK is more forthcoming on the fate of the Japanese that they kidnapped. As a result, the six party talks are in limbo. Sanctions against Pyongyang will simply make matters worse.
More preceptive reporters however have pointed out that Pyongyang has been in the rocket business for a long time. So the launch of a satellite on a sophisticated long range missile is good advertising. Lest we forget, the DPRK has furnished Egypt, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and others with rockets. For it, it is a source of hard cash, and for its clients a goodly source of advanced weaponry which the West would and could deny it.
Once again, Pyongyang has belled the US, Seoul, and Japan cat. It is time for these countries to put away Cold War thinking and get on with the business of treating the DPRK has a state not as an aberration nor a stepchild. You hadn't to like the government in Pyongyang or its political system, but you would expect correct diplomacy to prevail. It doesn't. Let's not forget, Jimmy Carter's 'visite eclaire' to the DPRK in 1993 adverted war between it and the US. He came back with a promise from Kim Jung Il on a host of issues. The Clinton administration in spurts talked with North Korea with some good results. Mr. Bush threw it all away with the sad state of affairs that we call know. And not only that, his bungling turned the DPRK into a nuclear state. And this vain and incompetent man had to backpedal to save himself.
So now suddenly we're almost back to 2002...Pyongyang is no more an 'axis of evil' that Sudan which the Obama administration is trying to make civil eyes to. Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo know how to unravel the Gordian knot they made of dealing with the DPRK. More political will and a strong backbone is called for. But will good commonsense prevail?
The DPRK in spite of being a 'failed state' never fails to surprise!

Death of the two state solution?

Ibsrael's Labour Party weakened the heady wine of prime minister Binjamin Netenyahu's right wing government, by joining the Likud coalition government. Sao it's a right wing government, not an extreme right wing government. Small difference. Netenyahu's prime minister the rabid ultra nationalist Avigdor Lieberman came out swinging. He hit hard hardly a few hours in office. The Bush Annapolis Accord is dead in the water. Jerusalem is repudiating it. It is now falling back on the 'road map', to which Israel is a signatory. However what the pooh bahs in the press don't say is that Israel has appended 14 conditions to that 'map'; they in effect tear out the of the heart of that road map[Former US president Jimmy Carter, bless his soul for speaking the truth has these 14 points in an appendix to his latest book 'Israel and Palestine.] Meaning the two state solution is dead on arrival as far as Netenyahu is concerned. Bibi mumbled soothing words about wanting to come to an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazan on improving the economic lot of Palestinians, but nothing on a state for them. If you look at the map of the West Bank today, you will see that Israel has grabbedoin land illegally to such an extent that the Palestinians are hemmed in small hardly sustainable economically viable units in a sea of Israeli illegal settlements. Israel has crisscrossed the West Bank with roads on which only Israelis can travel; Palestinians have to use the badly maintained back roads, and not only that, they have endless pmilitary check points to pass. Consequently, they are subject to discriminatory treatment, spend endless time on the road that they might well be imprisoned in South African apartheid like Bantustans. Hence, Israel under not only Netenyahu but under his immediate precedessors like Olmert and Livni, who breast fed on revisionist Zionism, and that fraud Shimoun Peres who also mouths pretty speeches about a two state solution without giving an inch of land, is intent in making Israel one country from the Mediterrean to the Jordan with a hostage population.
Unless the Obama administration forces Israel's hand by making substantive concessions, the two state solution is a thing of the past, a fleeting memory of things past