As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

World Report

There are more countries across the oceans which protect us completely and totally besides just Iraq. And the chaos and unrest in these other nations has at least some connection to the preoccupation we have with that country. Consider these events:

• Palestine is basically headed to civil war, and while a ceasefire was reached on Tuesday, I don't think you're going to see it last very long. In a way, the Palestinians need a more unified government, as the divided one was doing nothing but causing suffering among the people. The hard line that the West was holding against Hamas, to the extent that they were holding the leader at the border as he attempted to smuggle in $35 million from abroad. Is this hard line successful in measuring Hamas' tone or preparing Palestine as a partner for peace? Is anyone asking this question? The Baker-Hamilton commission did mention the Arab-Israeli conflict as crucial to bringing peace and stability to the broader Middle East. Does anyone remember that?

• Somalia, the most extreme Islamist nation that nobody knows about, has been left to Europe to handle. And Europe's doing as fine a job as they did in forcing Iran to curtail its nuclear program:

Heavy fighting broke out near the base of the transitional government of Somalia today, just as European diplomats were shuttling between rival leaders in yet another effort to avert an all-out war.

According to United Nations officials, the Islamist clerics who control Mogadishu, Somalia’s battle-scarred seaside capital, launched an offensive on two fronts against the transitional government’s forces.

Using pick-up trucks bristling with anti-aircraft guns, the Islamists struck at dawn and blasted their way into two towns near the inland city of Baidoa, the temporary headquarters of the transitional government. By midday, though, the tides had turned and the transitional government’s troops — with the help of the Ethiopian Army — had reclaimed some of their territory.

You're going to see a holy war in Somalia, with Ethiopia and perhaps 3 or 4 more countries pulled in. We literally haven't thought about this country since 1993. It's the most likely to harbor terrorists on the entire planet. Well, except for...

Pakistan, our great ally, where the city of Quetta has pretty much been turned into Walt Disney's Taliban-land:

At a time when the Taliban is making its strongest push in years to regain influence and territory across the border in Afghanistan, this mountain-ringed provincial capital has become an increasingly brazen hub of activity by the Islamist militia.

Quetta serves as a place of rest and refuge for Taliban fighters between battles, a funneling point for cash and armaments, a fertile recruiting ground and a sometime meeting point for the group's fugitive leaders, say aid workers, local officials, diplomats and others.

"Everybody is here," said Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a Quetta-based member of Pakistan's National Assembly, describing the routine comings and goings of senior Taliban commanders in Quetta, the capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan [...]

Residents described nerve-racking random encounters with Taliban convoys bristling with weaponry and hearing volleys of automatic-weapons fire echoing from within some walled-off madrasas. Taliban recruitment videos sell briskly in stalls tucked between the gun emporiums and carpet shops of Quetta's raucous main market.

"For the Taliban, this is considered to be a safe haven," said Syed Ali Shah, a journalist who writes for the Baluchistan Times. "They come here, they regroup and retrain."

There are open madrassahs in Quetta, and an open border to the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. Somehow, the Pakistani government is claiming that they've captured hundreds of Taliban militants there. And we sit idly by and let them get away with that obvious lie.

• Finally, we talk big about spreading democracy and freedom, yet there are entire swaths of the world where people are not free and American support is nonexistent. In Turkmenistan, one of the most authoritarian and plumb crazy dictators in the world, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself the "Turkmenbashi" or father of the Turkmen, died suddenly yesterday. There is no line of succession, no civil society, little in the way of public facilities for education and healthcare, and an incredible amount of uncertainty. By the way, Turkmenistan corders both Iran and Afghanistan. And they have as much oil reserves as pretty much any country on Earth.

And Russia's making a not-so-subtle play for it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for power in Turkmenistan to be transferred "in the framework of the law" to ensure stability in the region.

"We hope that a new leadership will act to benefit co-operation with Russia and to benefit the region as a whole," he said.

I think that speaks for itself.

It's obvious to me that our preoccupation in Iraq renders us moot on the world stage, unable to impact the real problems in other countries and ensure that our national security interests are defended and protected.

UPDATE: More on the Turkmenbashi from David Wallechinsky, who writes Parade Magazine's annual "10 Worst Dictators." This guy was a piece of work.

Here is a man who renamed the month of January after himself and April after his mother, banned lip-synching, car radios, ballet, opera and the playing of recorded music at weddings, and shut down all national parks, rural libraries and the Academy of Science. His face appears on all of Turkmenistan's bank notes and on all television broadcasts at all times. He also had his own lines of cologne, tea and vodka (with his picture on each bottle and box, naturally). Niyazov, who called himself "Turkmenbashi" ("Father of the Turkmen"), ordered doctors to stop taking the Hippocratic Oath and swear allegiance to him instead. He wrote a book, Rukhnama, that is required reading at every level of the educational system. Government employees had to memorize excerpts of Rukhnama verbatim or risk losing their jobs. On March 20, 2006, Niyazov announced on national television that "Anyone who reads the Rukhnama three times will find spiritual wealth, will become more intelligent, will recognize the divine being and will go straight to Heaven."