Monday, September 24, 2007

More Protests in Burma

On the sixth day of anti-government marches in Burma, an estimated 100,000 protestors took to the streets of the capital, Yangon. The government's religious affairs minister today warned of a possible crackdown against the Buddhist monks leading the protests.

In 1988, as many as 3,000 students were killed in the crackdown on th anti-government protests that led to the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. However, some observers believe that international attention combined with restraints imposed by China will make a repeat of the 1988 crackdown unlikely.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Dictator's Checkup

Equatorial Guinea's president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota earlier this week for a checkup according to officials at the clinic. The 65-year-old dictator is reportedly suffering from prostate cancer and heart problems.

Why is one of the world's worst dictators free to enter the United States at will? In a word, it's oil. That alone seems to have been enough to prompt Secretary of State Rice to introduce Obiang as "a good friend" last year.

The March of the Monks

On August 26, 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi assumed the leadership of Burma's fledgling movement for democracy at a rally at Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda. The Burmese military crushed the movement and since then has kept Burma's only Nobel laureate under house arrest with only intermittent periods of freedom.

Today in Yangon, 500 Buddhist monks marched past Suu Kyi's home while another 1,000 monks assembled at Shwedagon pagoda and an estimated 10,000 people (including 4,000 monks) marched in the city of Mandalay to protest Burma's repressive military dictatorship. It was the fifth consecutive day of protests by monks against the regime.

Earlier this week, in a move designed to shame the government, monks began refusing the alms that are distributed by the military. Monks have reportedly been marching with their begging bowls held upside down to demonstrate their rejection of the regime.

Meanwhile, the Burmese military has responded by arresting pro-democracy leaders and using hired thugs to beat up marchers. While the monks involved in the protests are clearly supported by the populace (90 percent of which is Buddhist), thus far only a few non-clergy have been willing to march with them. The government clearly is capable of bringing great force to bear against the protests, although killing monks would risk enraging their silent supporters.

The recent protests were prompted by a fuel price hike imposed by the government in August. Bus fares have doubled in the cities creating great hardship in a country with a per capita income of $175 per year.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

China Attacks

President Bush has told reporters in Sydney that he may confront Chinese president Hu Jintao over Chinese efforts to hack into Pentagon computers. Recent cyber-attacks on government systems in Washington, London, and Berlin have reportedly been traced to China's military. The PRC says, of course, that such claims are "groundless."

For more on the story, see this brief article in the Economist.

Off the Reservation

It doesn't bother me that five Advanced Cruise Missiles armed with nuclear weapons were flown on a B-52 from Minot AFB in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Lousiana on August 30, but I am somewhat concerned that the Air Force didn't know it.

The appropriate military authorities are also concerned and have launched--check that--begun an investigation.

"Push and Push and Push"

According to The Terror Presidency, a new book by former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (and current Harvard Law professor) Jack Goldsmith, attorneys within the Bush Administration pressed hard using faulty legal arguments to expand executive power at the expense of Congress and the courts. David Addington, Vice President Cheney's legal counsel at the time, said, "We're going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop."

The New York Times Magazine will publish a lengthy piece on Sunday (available here) about Goldsmith and the challenges he faced trying to resist the Bush Administration's legal maneuverings. According to Goldsmith, the president's lawyers adopted a "go-it-alone" perspective on the presidency "because they wanted to leave the presidency stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand presidential power have diminished it."

Needless to say, similar ironies can be found in most of the Bush Administration's counter-terrorism policies.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


The Bush Administration's mistakes in Iraq--too numerous to count--have been the subjects of scores of books already. Many of the mistakes are also recounted in No End in Sight, an excellent documentary currently in theaters. Perhaps none of the many mistakes, however, was more significant than the decision to disband Iraqi security forces.

We now know, based on letters released by L. Paul Bremer, that President Bush did not object to the plan, developed in the Defense Department, to "make it clear to everyone that we mean business"--Bremer's words--by dismantling Iraq's military. In fact, based on his reply to Bremer, the President seems to have shown very little interest in the issue.

The picture that emerges from more and more documentary evidence related to the Iraq War is one that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the events of the last six years: The United States is governed by a clueless president surrounded by arrogant and venal advisors. This is hardly an original observation, but it is one that is well worth remembering as the Bush Administration tries to make the case for staying in Iraq.

(For more on Bremer-Bush correspondence, see this post by George Packer.)