War With Iran -Is It A Practical Solution?

US President George W Bush has refused to rule out a military attack on Iran should diplomatic efforts fail to reach an agreement over Teheran's nuclear program.There is a point of view, that given its support for Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, as well as its hostility towards Israel, this is what Iran probably deserves.

Experts however sincerely hope that the US will consider the costs of any such misadventure before embarking on this course of action.The cost of Iraq and Afghanistan has already crossed $600 billion and the conflicts are expected to cost $2.4 trillion in all till 2017. This is half of what it would cost to keep Social Security solvent for 75 years.In a conventional war Iran is expected to be less of a pushover than Iraq, which would translate into higher costs and a larger number of US troops in combat over and above the 200,000 at present. It is argued that the present level of expenditure on Iraq and Afghanistan is only about 0.5% of GDP and therefore the US can sustain it almost indefinitely, unlike the Vietnam conflict during which it had risen to almost 12% of GDP and had threatened to derail the US economy.But this reasoning is seriously flawed in as much it does not take into account the likely impact of a conflict with Iran on the price of oil.The Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki Al-Faisal has said that such an event could triple the price of oil. Not only is Iran OPEC's number two oil producer, any conflict involving Iran would threaten the Strait of Hormuz, through which most Middle East nations export their oil.Tankers carry an estimated 17 million barrels of oil through the channel every day.Although the US does have an emergency stockpile of almost 700 million barrels of crude, a prolonged conflict with Iran, like in Iraq would certainly have a devastating impact on the US as well as the world economy.Given the extensive common border that Iran shares with Russia and several former Soviet Republics the US may find it difficult to cut off its supply routes.It is a foregone conclusion that all these countries are going to support Iran because of religious or economic considerations or just to keep the US out of the area.Any lengthy campaign in Iran would only wear down US troops and equipment further.It will have to be remembered that Iran is not the only country that has the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.How many countries would the US be able to discipline alone. If it wanted to discipline Iran it should have done so thirty years back.That chance has been missed.Now the only hope is to build sufficient international pressure on Iran to persuade it to accept international safeguards.The role of Russia in any such arrangement will be crucial and they will expect due credit for it.Ideally an international machinery will come into existence to sort out all such problems in the future.

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Mexico Plans To Reconquer California!

The USA as it is today includes large parts of territory which it gained from Mexico after its victory in the Mexican-American war.Under the terms of the the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo America gained what are now California,Utah,Nevada and parts of Colorado,Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Over the years US -Mexican relations have improved tremendously and with the establishment of NAFTA the US has demonstrated that it remains committed to the well being and the prosperity of the Mexican people.

However the one sore point in US-Mexican relations remains the issue of illegal immigration from Mexico into the US.

Large scale immigration from Mexico into the US is a recent phenomena.Till 1970 the number of Mexican immigrants in the US was only about 700,000 as against an estimated 7 million today.Mexican immigration is overwhelmingly unskilled,and it tends to reduce wages for workers who are already the lowest paid.Besides such immigration comes with a high cost.The modern US economy offers little opportunity for workers with limited education.Such immigration will only help in significantly increasing the size of the poor and uninsured populations as well as the number of people using welfare.

It is estimated that today there are 9 to 10 million illegal immigrants in the US.The vast majority, almost 70% of them are from Mexico.The US has more than tripled its border patrol budget over the last few years but the flow of immigrants from Mexico remains unchanged.

This large number of Mexicans in the US has led to the birth of a strong pro immigration movement in Mexico.It is openly supported by the Mexican government which calls for 'legalizing aliens.'On the far fringes of this movement some Hispanic activists openly yearn for the day when immigrants will rise up and retake the US Southwest.They call it the 'reconquista' or reconquest of Mexican lands.One only has to look at their slogans to understand what they think."We are Nican Tlaca ,the indigenous people of Canada,US.Mexico and Central America.We reject the European divisions of our continent.We reject the artificial divisions of our people.We say no to occupation.We say this is still our continent"

The theory of Mexican re-occupation of its lost territories doesn't look so ridiculous if one were to examine the demographic trends in the Southwest.In another 20 to 30 years Latinos will comprise more than 50% of the population in California.This fact and other social and cultural developments are opening the door for 'self determination'and even the idea of an 'Aztalan.' Aztalan the mythical birthplace of the Aztecs, is regarded in Chicano folklore as an area that includes California,Nevada,Arizona New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Texas.The aim is to create a sovereign state, "Republica del Norte,' the Republic of the North, that would combine the American Southwest with the Northern Mexican states and eventually merge with Mexico.

Although there is little evidence of any plot so far, it is quite possible that the pro immigration movement is being gradually taken over by the radicals.

Iraq-Is The End To The Crisis In Sight?

President Bush surprised everybody by making a secret visit, his third since the war began,to Iraq ,Monday.After talking with general Petraeus and ambassador Crocker he proudly announced that if the present rate of success continues it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces,implying that a troop reduction was possible in the near future.

His remarks were undoubtedly encouraged by the fact that US fatalities in Iraq have dropped 50%since May and are also lower than August 2006.These point to some progress since the build up in May.The new US strategy clearly seems to be working.Some also point to the fact that Iraqi security forces have taken higher casualties which reflects their increasing commitment to the present political system.

President Bush was on a visit to the Anbar province where violence abated after Sunni tribal leaders and former insurgents teamed up with US forces to hunt down Al Qaeda and other extremists.

The timing of the visit is significant as the President is under increasing pressure even from his own party to bring the troops home.

Next week Petraeus and Crocker testify before Congress.Their assessment of the conflict will determine the next phase of the war.

The US is convinced that its latest strategy is working.Now that troops have moved out of their heavily fortified bases into smaller and more numerous stations where they can interact more closely with the Iraqi population it is a taken as a sign that slowly but surely the US is succeeding in winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population.

So is the end to the Iraqi crisis in sight?Experts don't think so.They feel that the real reason why President Bush went to Iraq is because no one seems to be willing to believe him on Iraq any more!He went to Anbar because this is where the new strategy,the surge , seems to be working.Extra troops and local sheiks are helping the US. Anbar is considered very important because it is a Sunni majority area which was strongly pro Saddam.Bush hopes that now at least the Republicans will close ranks behind him.

But this strategy has a flip side to it.If Bush wants to apply the Petraeus model to entire Iraq,this would require high levels of US forces to stay in Iraq for some more time and talks of troop reduction may be just that.The fear also remains that once troops are reduced fighting will break out amongst local militias.This is because experts believe that Iraq has ceased to exist as a nation and is best described as a collection of city states each controlled by an independent militia.The minority Sunni population is distrustful of the police and Iraqi security forces which are suspected to be riddled with Shiite militiamen and forces loyal to Iran.Then the surge has been unable to stem the exodus of Sunnis from Baghdad where Iraqi policemen are openly aiding Shiite militiamen in their fight against the Sunnis.It is feared that once US troop levels are down there will be an upsurge in sectarian violence.There is clearly a wide difference in the assessment of the situation in Iraq between the President and his detractors.How things work out only time will tell.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards: Terrorists in Disguise

The Washington Post reports that the ‘United States has decided to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a “specially designated global terrorist,” according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group’s business operations and finances.’

The reason? Iran’s constant and increased meddling in Iraq, Afghanistan and, well, the entire the Middle East for that matter. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is helping out terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah: with training, knowledge, and equipment. Seemingly, the US has had enough and has, therefore, decided to label the private militant group of the Mullahs terrorists.

Why is this significant? The WaPo explains:

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said — a highly unusual move because it is part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization.

The order allows the United States to block the assets of terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that “provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists.”

In other words, the US can attempt to make sure that the Revolutionary Guard does not get any money - or at least as little as possible. Of course, considering that the Revolutionary Guard is headed by the leaders in Tehran, it means that the US will make it official that Iran uses terrorism as a foreign policy. We all know this to be true, but there is a difference between knowing something and making it official (policy).

A ‘U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced,’ explained: “Anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions immediately. It increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of sanctions against the Iranians. It makes clear to everyone who the IRGC and their related businesses really are. It removes the excuses for doing business with these people.”

We can be sure that Tehran will not be happy with it and that the rhetoric will escalate. The financial tricks, however, the US has to fight terrorism have proven to pay off. Iran can say all it wants, the Revolutionary Guard can object all it wants, but it will suffer significantly financially. As Ed Morrissey explains at Captain’s Quarters, “it’s a brilliant escalation of the economic battle that the Bush administration has waged against the Iranians. They already have staggered under the weight of international sanctions. Now their businessmen and their partners abroad will face even more pressure, and that will eventually erode the Iranian economy even further — and the hardliner’s position will become more tenuous than ever.”

With Ed, however, I believe that it is not as simple as that. There is also a problem: “Under the Geneva Convention, the IRG fits the definition of a legitimate military force. They wear uniforms, and answer to legitimate government authority. While the Quds force undeniably works outside of those boundaries to perpetuate terrorism, the IRG as a whole has more plausible deniability.

What happens when we start labeling uniformed military as terrorist organizations?”

Although I think the move might make sense in a way, it seems to me that we cannot label armies, legitimate armies, terrorist organizations. Once we do that, the line between terrorists and armies is blurred. The result can be that captured members of the revolutionary guard will not receive the same treatment members of others armies get. This could create a firestorm and a domino effect, not to mention global outrage. Like it or not, the Revolutionary Guard is a legitimate army - not a terrorist organization (as Ed points out, one of the main differences is that RG members wear, here it comes, uniforms). They are recognizeable, they are easily identifiable… They are soldiers, not terrorists, no matter how badly they may behave.

Hillary Clinton: Strong, yes; likeable, maybe

CNN reports:

"Democrats consider New York Sen. Hillary Clinton the most electable candidate in the presidential field, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out Monday afternoon.

Democratic voters polled in the new survey also consider the senator from New York to be the strongest leader and the most experienced, but Sen. Barack Obama has a light edge on likeability.

Clinton gets her lowest marks when Democrats are asked which candidate is the most honest.

Fully 59 percent of those questioned in our new poll say Clinton has the right experience to be president. Only 9 percent feel that way about Obama. Meanwhile, 47 percent say she would be the strongest leader, and 46 percent say she is the most qualified to be commander in chief."

Clinton’s weak points according to CNN:

"One appears to be honesty. Just 28 percent say that Clinton is the most honest candidate, compared to 24 percent for Obama.

The other is likeability: 34 percent say Obama is the most likeable candidate, topping Clinton on that measure by three points."

Nothing new there.

I have said it before: people do not have to like Clinton for her to win. Most people did not like Thatcher either. They did not like her, but they thought she was strong and a good leader. Same goes for Clinton. Clinton does not have to convince 51% of the American voters that she is likeable, and a good and honest person. She has to convince them that she will lead the country well.

'Bye Bye Arctic Ice'

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average, and the area of the Arctic covered by ice in the summer is shrinking. The quality of the ice cover that is its thickness is also decreasing.

Using satellite data and advanced analytical tools scientists have predicted that the Arctic will be free of summer ice by 2040.

What is causing the Arctic ice to melt? It is clearly due to global warming and partly also due to a shift in wind patterns from time to time.

Hitherto the Arctic ice presented a bright surface which reflected most of the sun's energy back into the atmosphere. But with dark spaces of open water increasing the sun's energy is being absorbed by the Arctic waters thereby increasing their temperature and would not only accelerate the decay of Arctic ice but also climate change across the world.

This will have major consequences for not only wildlife in the region like the polar bears, but an Arctic free from ice will fundamentally change the lives of those who live there.

Apart from opening up new sea routes and a consequent increase in trade and commerce the world may gain access to the mineral resources that are known to lie below the Arctic sea bed. Russia's Arctic North is estimated to contain up to 25% of the world's oil and gas reserves. The total reserves may be much more. Little wonder then that the Russians have been claiming most of the Arctic as belonging to them and this also explains why only recently they planted the Russian flag below the North Pole. The Canadians too have begun to claim large parts of the Arctic.

As the world's ice disappears, glaciers would melt, fresh water supplies would reduce and sea levels rise across the world. It is high time the world got together to fight global warming.

Washington Cracks Down on Lobbying

For ages lobbyists in Washington and some lawmakers have simply had a whale of a time. Funded by annual budgets running into billions of dollars and located mainly on Washington's legendary K Street these lobbyists have over the years come to significantly influence almost every area of government. Expensive gifts for lawmakers and their staff, free vacations and lavish entertainment have been the order of the day.

What is lobbying? It is a concerted effort to get a particular result from someone in authority. Usually this means government authority. Reputed to have started during the tenure of President Ulysses S Grant, over the years the term has come to refer to the political wheelers and dealers in the capital. Nowadays it is an accepted profession. Flush as they are with funds these people are an important source of campaign funding. Since most of them are linked to big corporations the nagging fear has always lingered that lawmakers may be corrupted once in office.

A few days back Congress passed an entirely new set of ethics and lobbying rules. Lobbyists can no longer offer lavish hospitality as in the past. They face up to five years in prison and stiff financial penalties if they do so. The only exception is for "widely attended events."

Federal prosecutors are clearly on the warpath and may even end up treating certain campaign contributions as bribes.

Rules were there earlier but were meant for lawmakers and not for lobbyists. They were also rarely enforced. For instance since 1995 under the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act most professional lobbyists are required to register themselves and file reports twice a year. However there were many loopholes in these rules. Now indications are that the government means business.

These rules are the result of recent scandals which have damaged the image of the political system. However serious doubts remain as to whether, if at all, these new rules will ever be enforced. Till such rules are strictly followed ethical conduct of government will be no more than a pipe dream.