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Friday
Dec242010

A Political Thriller: Congress Passes the New START Treaty on Nuclear Weapons

The confirmation on Wednesday of the New START Treaty with Russia concluded a staggering turnaround in the fortunes of the Obama Administration. Even the tax cuts of the previous week, initially presented as a victory for the Republicans holding the President hostage to their demands, have now become part of the triumphal story of Barack Obama as the Comeback Kid.

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Friday
Dec242010

Korea Not-Quite-Crisis Update: What is Kim Jong-Il Looking at Today?

On Thursday, South Korea held live-fire drills near Yeonpyeong Island, shelled by North Korean artillery last month. The international media prepared for International Crisis, but nothing really happened, so everybody put away their headlines.

Later in the day, Pyongyang offered the consolation of propaganda about "holy war", but they then let down the press with no follow-up either of God or Bombs.

So, at this time of Not-Quite-International-Crisis, EA offers another update in the series, "What is North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il Looking at Today?"

Wood...

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Thursday
Dec232010

WikiLeaks and Iraq 2009: Grand Ayatollah Sistani Checks Iran's Influence?

Najaf, as the epicenter of Shia Islam, carries significant importance for Iran and its overall campaign to expand its sphere of influence in Iraq and the region. The city is home to many Iranian pilgrims and traders eager to profit spiritually and financially from the city's religious and commercial offerings. There is general awareness and acknowledgment among many Iraqis that Iran's influence, albeit a historic reality, does not always translate into mutual benefit for Najafis. Many also acknowledge that Iran will continue to capitalize on its ties to the city in order to foster greater socio-economic dependencies. The extent of its ability to influence the ways of the Marja'iyyah are more limited, particularly during Sistani's tenure, given the clerical establishment's unrivaled theocratic and geographic prominence when compared to its "sister city" Qom.

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Thursday
Dec232010

Belarus Updates: Opposition Candidates Face 15 Years in Prison

2140 GMT: Writing in The New York Times, four Foreign Ministers --- Carl Bildt of Sweden, Guido Westerwelle of Germany, Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic, and Radek Sikorski of Poland --- have denounced the conduct of the Presidential election and suppression of protests. They continue with a call to suspend ties with President Lukashenko and to engage with the democratic opposition:

Continued positive engagement with Mr. Lukashenko at the moment seems to be a waste of time and money. He has made his choice — and it is a choice against everything the European Union stands for.

But there are many in Belarus who know that his clock is ticking — and are discreetly preparing for a better future.

Our many conversations with representatives of different parts of Belarus society have convinced us that the country wants to be part of a free and prosperous Europe. We must now deepen our engagement with the democrats of Belarus and those inside the government who disapprove of the fateful turn their country has taken. They must not be abandoned or betrayed as their country enters what might be a new dark era.

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Thursday
Dec232010

Afghanistan Public-Relations Alert: "We Had to Destroy This Village So We Could Rebuild It"

The tone in the article in the US military's Stars and Stripes is the familiar of the upbeat, as General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces, addresses villagers in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.

But there is a twist in the headline: "Petraeus Promises Villagers US Will Rebuild What It Has Knocked Down". 

That's right: the people addressed by Petraeus about their "truly unique opportunity" are in the special position of having no village.

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Thursday
Dec232010

Afghanistan Lesson: It's Not Iraq (Rosen)

We have been surging in Afghanistan every year since 2005. We have been engaged in counterinsurgency since then as well. More and more of the same failed tactic is not going to work. And there is no strategy. The generals are begging for more time, more reviews and moving the goalposts year after year. How many Afghan and American lives are we going to throw away while we experiment with counterinsurgency in a country of no strategic importance? Pity the Afghans if we impose the Iraqi success on them.

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Thursday
Dec232010

The Latest from Iran (23 December): All is Well. Really.

2150 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Doctoral student Ali Arshadi, arrested last December during the Ashura demonstrations, has been freed from Evin Prison.

1440 GMT: An All-is-Well Break. EA staff will be at a party with friends and family today, so updates will be limited. As always, we invite readers to keep us on top of the situation with latest news and analysis.

1335 GMT: All-is-Well Alert (Scientific Edition). The Chancellor of Tehran University, Farhad Rahbar, says that "the growth rate in Iran's scientific research has been 11 times more than the world's average growth rate".

1330 GMT: It's All About Us. Press TV has a distinctive take on the US Congress' passage of the New START treaty with Russia. Ostensibly, the agreement is to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but the Iranian state outlet sees a different objective: "to put pressure on Iran over Tehran's nuclear program".

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Thursday
Dec232010

WikiLeaks and Counter-Terrorism: People of Britain, Uncle Sam is Watching You

From a practical point of view, the idea that the CIA could simply move in and recruit informers in British communities is far-fetched. It also would be extremely bad form for the intelligence relationship between Britain and America. Nevertheless, I have been told of Americans, representing “private interests”, turning up at UK events and expressing interest about the radicalisation of British Muslims.

The likely scenario is one with echoes of the Cold War in which US Government money is being routed through numerous channels to address the perceived UK security threat.

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Thursday
Dec232010

Intelligence Alert: CIA Starts WikiLeaks Task Force (WTF); STFU to Follow

On the heels of forming its new WikiLeaks Task Force (WTF), the CIA said it was establishing a new division called Stop Terrorists From Uniting (STFU).

CIA director Leon Panetta spoke about the agency's plans for both WTF and STFU at the CIA's new headquarters, the Langley Operations Location (LOL).

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Wednesday
Dec222010

Iran Competition: Pick the Theme Music for Ahmadinejad's Best Man v. The Ayatollahs

From today's updates

Earlier this month, President Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, accused conservative clerics of not being down with the kids: "Just because some do not understand music, they declare it haram (forbidden)."

Well, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, whose musical preferences are unknown, is not going to put up with being called un-cool: "The meaning of what this gentleman has said is that all clerics, theocrats, the late Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khomeini], and even imams who have voiced their opposition to immoral music styles do not understand. This is an insult to all these great spiritual personalities."

But what should be the theme music for this battle between Iran's Powers in Heaven and its Wannabe Power on Earth?

I'll start the bidding: