Bush admits CIA prisons around the world

George Bush has admitted that the CIA has detained terrorist suspects in prisons around the world, although he didn’t go so far as to admit that many were in Eastern Europe.  Bush explained:

“Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives.”

That’s good.  Hard to argue with a positive outcome, so I wont. 

Instead, I’ll ask – what is it about global CIA prisons that makes them a better choice than US prisons?

I can only surmise that CIA prisons in Europe are a better choice because they are further away from the arms of the US justice system.  Prisoners in these shadowy jails can be interrogated in a somewhat more liberal manner than they could be back in the States.

Out of sight, out of mind, as it were.

Hezbollah in Venezuela

The story that Hezbollah is actively working in Venezuela and Latin America has been spreading around some of the US blogs over the past day or so. Here’s a quote from the story in Venezuela Today that appears to have kicked it all off:

Hezbollah. The Islamic fanatics of Hezbollah are rapidly infiltrating the tribe of the Wayuu. They are indoctrinating the members of this tribe, to convert them into Islamic fanatics in charge of disseminating the terrorist message that has already created chaos, death and misery in the Middle East.

I must confess, I’m not quite sure what to make of the story yet. Some of the claims about Hezbollah activities are pretty far fetched, and I doubt their ambitions are – for now at least – particularly high. But still, it’s a story to watch.

Hot Air has a more in depth video report on Hezbollah’s activities in Venezuela and Latin America.

Update: Hot Air have uploaded part 2 of their video report.

Nation building and counter-insurgency

The BBC had this to say in the aftermath of the Nimrod aeroplane crash in Afghanistan:

BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood said: “A lot of people hoped that it would be a peace-keeping, nation-building mission instead it is an active, counter-insurgency campaign.”

The implication, left hanging, is that counter-insurgency activities cannot be a part of a nation-building mission.  

The problem is, sometimes nation-building missions are more difficult than we would hope.  There will always be groups opposed to a nationa-building mission’s success, and sometimes they be well enough backed, and well enough organised to present a formidable opposition.  

At this point, nation building missions have to take stock and retrench somewhat, moving more into ‘nation-defending’ missions which try to preserve what little there is of a fragile government, while its opponents are defeated.  These kinds of missions are, of course, likely to require a far greater use of counter-insurgency tactics.

Japan in Central Asia

Registan.net is doing a great job of covering Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Central Asia.  Particularly interesting is this post about how Japan is trying to set itself up as an intermediary between Uzbekistan and the United States.

Koizumi’s taking on a tough job – it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on, although I certainly think it’s useful for the US and Uzbekistan to have some back channel communications.  And Japan gets a boost out of it too, raising its international profile that little bit more in its quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Forced to convert

In the wake of the news that a pair of Fox journalists were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint there seems to have been a spate of articles about how Islam has a historical propensity towards forced conversions.  But, read most of the articles, and you’d imagine forced conversions were a particularly Islamic trait.

Take Andrew Bostom’s piece in today’s Front Page Mag, for example:

Forced conversions in Islamic history are not exceptional—they have been the norm, across three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe—for over 13 centuries.

[…] Unsettling realities of the historical continuum of forced conversion to Islam must be discussed. The living Islamic fanaticism of the past cannot be allowed to poison the present (and future), unchallenged by Muslims themselves.

Not a word about the forced conversions to Christianity, which have also been going on for thousands of years.  

In ancient Europe it was all the rage, with everyone from the Romans onwards taking a shot at persecuting the poor old Pagans.  Vincent Ferrer in 15th century Spain kept the fashion going by converting the Jews to Christianity, on pain of death if need be.  And who would want to forget the Muslim slaves unfortunate enough to be transported thousands of miles across the Atlantic and forced by their owners in North America and the Caribbean not only to work themselves to the bone, but to adopt an entirely alien religion as well?

Forced conversions have always been the perogative of the strong over the weak, and particularly the perogative of military victors.  What is the point, after all, of fighting a long and bloody religious war?  To ask people politely if they wouldn’t mind sitting down with a nice cup of tea for a quick chat about whether their barbaric religion really is right for them?

Sometimes it would be nice to see a little bit – just a little bit – of balance and rationality prevail. 

Japan still too isolationist for UN Security Council

In terms of it’s size, economic strength and… whisper it… military strength, Japan has to be a prime contender for a seat on an expanded UN Security Council.

But does Japan really deserve a seat?

Not just yet, if this report from TCS Daily is true – Japan is still an isolationist country at heart:

According to the Foreign Ministry, 82 countries have never been visited by a Japanese cabinet minister as of last month.

That’s almost half the countries in the world that have never been visited by someone as lowly as a Japanese cabinet minster, let alone someone senior, like the Foreign Minister or Prime Minister, in over 50 years.

If Japan can change it’s image, though, and engage more deeply with the world, it will have an indisputable claim for a seat.

It’s heartening, therefore, to see that Japan is beginning to take a few tottering steps onto the global security scene – sending the odd small, non-combat, force to support UN peacekeeping missions, or the international presence in Iraq. And it’s decision this week to dispatch emissaries far and wide can’t hurt either:

The Cabinet Secretariat therefore picked about 20 of those countries and allocated them to ministers for visits over the summer.

The lucky countries include Estonia, Latvia and Uganda.

Update: Registan.net has more on Japanese diplomacy in Central Asia.  Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan each get the privilege of a visit from the Japanese Prime Minister himself.  Probably because they’re more important than places like Estonia, Latvia and Uganda in the grand scheme of things…

And the sky is blue award goes to…

This week’s sky is blue award goes to the Associated Press for their blinding observation that:

A passenger’s stick of dynamite on a flight from Argentina to Houston exposed a weak link in aviation security: International airports are not always as secure as those in the United States.

I suppose there’s a lesson in there somewhere for the observant terrorist about not trying to launch an attack from a British airport…

“What the hell is the International Community”?

I dare you to find anyone who comments on international politics who hasn’t, at some stage, mentioned the “international community”.  I know I’ve been guilty of it.

So I was quite pleased to see this article by Martin Jacques on CiF today, asking: What the hell is the international community? 

Martin, quite rightly, criticises people who trot out the “international community” cliche for being lazy.  It’s too bad that he then goes on to trot out the laziest, most hackneyed response I’ve ever seen:

We all know what is meant by the term “international community”, don’t we? It’s the west, of course, nothing more, nothing less. Using the term “international community” is a way of dignifying the west, of globalising it, of making it sound more respectable, more neutral and high-faluting.

Which begs the question – “What the hell is the west”? 

The gambler versus the wise man

Fascinating use of language in this comment about the struggle between the US and Iran for influence in the Middle East, which seems to be casting America as the foolish gambler, and Iran as the wise, measured grandmaster:

“While the US has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess,” said Nadim Shehadi, a report contributor. “Iran is playing a longer, more clever game and has been far more successful at winning hearts and minds.”

As someone who plays both chess and poker, I see many similarities between the two games. And, to be honest, at the highest level, both are games that, at their heart, are based on strategy first, tactics second.