My latest, The week in the administration, is up at Da Tech Guy Blog.
Raise your hand if you’re sure,
— US Mission to NATO (@USNATO) September 4, 2014
In today’s WSJ, Aruba: Venezuela Pressured It Militarily
The Netherlands’ release of a former top Venezuelan official wanted by the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking came after Venezuela raised economic and military pressure on two Dutch islands in the Caribbean, officials said.
Aruba’s chief prosecutor Peter Blanken said that Venezuelan navy ships neared Aruba and Curaçao over the weekend as Dutch officials were debating what to do with Hugo Carvajal —Venezuela’s former chief of military intelligence who was jailed in Aruba last week on a U.S. warrant.
“The threat was there,” Mr. Blanken said. “We don’t know what their intentions were, but I think a lot of people in Aruba were scared that something would happen.”
Holland is a member of NATO and as such Aruba would be protected, as WSJ commenter Donald Hutchinson points out, but, in the Obama administration’s era of “smart diplomacy”, the Dutch couldn’t count on that:
Assuming that US intelligence was not asleep, all,it would take would be a fly over by US Navy jets and a notification that any offensive action would be met by the immediate destruction of their ships. Holland is a member of NATO and such actioned would clearly be sanctioned,
It would also be a devastating set back to the former bus driver running Venezuela for bringing shame to their military.
But what one might expect from a timid White House and a preoccupied State Department?
Then there’s the oil,
Mr. Blanken said Venezuela’s government also had threatened to sever Venezuela’s vital commercial air links to Aruba and Curaçao. Venezuela’s state oil company also threatened to withdraw from a contract to manage Curaçao’s refinery, Mr. Blanken said, which would have put at risk some 8,000 jobs.
To put that number of jobs in perspective, Aruba’s total population is 103,009.
In the “no sh*t, Sherlock” file, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman’s reaction was, “This is not the way law enforcement matters should be handled.” At least they didn’t #hashtag it.
Hugo Carvajal a.k.a. “”el Pollo” is one of the guys who took part in Hugo Chávez’s unsuccessful 1992 military coup, later rising to the rank of general, but with a sideline,
Mr. Carvajal’s role as one of the Chávez government’s key liaisons to guerrillas from Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, emerged after computers belonging to a slain guerrilla leader were captured by Colombian security forces in 2008.
Here’s the indictment in the U.S. District Court accusing Carvajal of coordinating the transport of 5,600 kilos (6.17 tons) of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico.
Clearly, everyone applied pressure, but the weak link did not turn out to be Aruba as I suggested on my first post, but rather The Netherlands, as reportedly even Russia played a role, exchanging concessions on the Ucraine plane for helping release Carvajal. No matter what anyone says or how this is interpreted, it was a severe blow to the US, who would have loved to get Carvajal onshore.
One of my sources also mentions that team Obama had about 30 days to hand over its Extradition Request to Aruba but failed to; the Treasury Dept, the DEA and a U.S. District Court (mentioned above) had indicted him last year. It reminds me of drug kingpin Walid Makled, who was released to Venezuela by Santos of Colombia after the U.S. dragged its feet.
We’re in the best of hands.
While the Dutch allow Carvajal diplomatic immunity, the Egyptians search Secretary of State John Kerry, which was no biggie, but he fumes over Israel’s criticism.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos got his neighbors in a flutter by hinting that he would like Colombia to join NATO, unlikely as that may sound,
According to Santos, Colombia has been collaborating with NATO for a long time. “We have always been clear about that,” he said in a press conference in London as reported by Los Angeles’ Hispanic newspaper La Opinión. “We will continue our relationship with the alliance.”
The Colombia president met up with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday, where the allusions to becoming a “partner” of NATO started pouring in. As vague as Santo’s remarks have been about his country’s possible candidacy for the alliance – there were no words uttered about the application process, time frame or how they would meet the requirements for such membership – the very thought of Colombia joining NATO has sparked alarm in other countries in Latin America. The Ministers for Defense of both Ecuador and Brazil expressed their reservations about such an event, and pointed out that this issue should be discussed “throughout the region.”
While the current Colombian defense minister said no to NATO membership,
Santos, himself a former defense minister, announced over the weekend that “NATO is going to sign an agreement with the Colombian government, with the Ministry of Defense, to start a whole process of reaching out, of cooperation, also with a look at entering that organization.”
You’re not alone if you’re confused about the issue of geography,
That puzzled NATO officials because Colombia, as a country close to the equator, does not meet a NATO rule restricting membership to North Atlantic nations.
but at least it got a rise out of the Venezuelan regime (plus Bolivia and Brazil).
According to Daniel Duquenal,
Bogota is also, among other things, implying that South American institutions lack seriousness and thus it prefers to look elsewhere for countries that may not love Colombia but at least will deal with Colombia on a serious basis. If you ask me, being a mere associate of the NATO group is definitely more reassuring than being a member of UNASUR where the only thing that matters is what Brazil says. The US of A may be the driving force of the NATO but it has been quite clear that in the last decade and a half its country members participate or not at will in NATO actions though the general aim is respected: democracy and freedom from tyranny.
Santos is sending out a message by meeting with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, and now with the NATO statement: if the ALBA/Foro de Sao Paulo countries were counting on him simply because of the FARC negotiations taking place in Cuba, they need to think again.
in the months before the French soldiers arrived in mid-2008, the Italian secret service had been paying tens of thousands of dollars to Taleban commanders and local warlords to keep the area quiet, The Times has learnt. The clandestine payments, whose existence was hidden from the incoming French forces, were disclosed by Western military officials.
US intelligence officials were flabbergasted when they found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had also been buying off militants, notably in Herat province in the far west. In June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US Ambassador in Rome made a démarche, or diplomatic protest, to the Berlusconi Government over allegations concerning the tactic.
However, a number of high-ranking officers in Nato have told The Times that payments were subsequently discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well.
Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment.
Benedict Brogan explains,
As the Times reveals, the French made a “catastrophically incorrect threat assessment” because they had no idea. Barely a month after waving goodbye to their Italian “colleagues”, 10 French soldiers were killed in an ambush, their bodies mutilated, and their equipment and uniforms paraded by the jubilant Taliban. For good measure, the beardies published photos to make their PR point.
Back to The Times article,
Had it not been for the chance presence of some US special forces in the area who were able to call in air support for them, they would have been in an even worse situation. “The French were carrying just two medium machine guns and 100 rounds of ammunition per man. They were asking for trouble and the insurgents managed to get among them.”
A force from the 8th Marine Parachute Regiment took an hour and a half to reach the French over the mountains.
A few salient points about this story:
And now comes the punch line: Pres. Obama talks to Gen. McChrystal for only a few minutes in the past three months. On Afghanistan,
Obama wants to avoid any semblance of a “rush to war.” Nine months on, that doesn’t seem like a danger.
And, does he have a clue about the double-dealing in NATO?
Here in the US, Americans, In Reversal, Now Back Afghan Troop Surge
But Obama is in no rush to make a decision, holding a series of high-level meetings with military and political advisers on his next move.
And the upsurge in overall support for more troops in the IBD/TIPP Poll may not sway Obama.
That’s because the turnaround comes from a surge in support from Republicans — up 27 points just in October to 72%. A month ago, GOP respondents had leaned against sending more troops, 47%-45%.
Opposition to a rapid withdrawal cut across party lines. While Republicans were the most hawkish, saying no to a rapid withdrawal by 84%-13%, a solid majority of Democrats, 62%-30%, also agreed. Independents were talking tough as well, rejecting the idea by 68%-25%.
Will the White House come through?
Remember when Sarko called Obama an “utterly immature,” empty suit?
Well, not much has changed (and notice The Times headline):
Mr Sarkozy is pouring cold water on President Obama’s efforts to recast American leadership on the world stage, depicting them as unoriginal, unsubstantial and overrated. Behind leaks and briefings from the Elysée Palace lies Mr Sarkozy’s irritation at the rock-star welcome that Europe gave Mr Obama on his Europan tour earlier this month.
The American President’s call “to free the world of the menace of a nuclear nightmare” was hot air, Mr Sarkozy’s diplomatic staff told him in a report. “It was rhetoric – not a speech on American security policy but an export model aimed at improving the image of the United States,” they said. Most of Mr Obama’s proposals had already been made by the Bush administration and Washington was dragging its feet on disarmament and treaties against nuclear proliferation, the leaked report said.
Turkey was an issue,
Again, according to the Sarkozy version, at the Nato summit in Strasbourg, Mr Obama was meekly yielding to Turkey’s refusal to endorse Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the alliance’s new Secretary-General. It took pressure from Mr Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel of Germany to stiffen him up and change his mind, say the French.
Mr Obama’s favour for Ankara has irked but also helped Mr Sarkozy as his Union for a Popular Movement campaigns for European Parliament elections in June. Mr Sarkozy slapped down the US President on French TV after he publicly called for Turkish entry to the European Union.
Permanent refusal of Turkish membership is one of Mr Sarkozy’s policy planks and one of his most popular with voters. Mr Obama’s venture into EU affairs has enabled Mr Sarkozy to make political capital. He has shown that France can still stand up to the United States despite rejoining the Nato command last week.
This rather nasty reaction on Sarko’s part points out a number of things:
First of all and obviously, successful politicians everywhere can and will use the publicity from any given event to further their agenda: The “rock star welcome” that Obama so enjoyed has been turned on its head to make Obama appear superficial and empty, while Sarko scores points with the home audience on several hot-button issues by presenting himself as a seasoned “world troubleshooter.”
The home audience is the one that counts: Sarko doesn’t give a damn as to whether he’s popular anywhere else; what matters to him is how he does in France.
On the personal end, Sarko knows a back-handed compliment (“hyper-president”, “He is courageous on so many fronts, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with him.”) when he hears it.
Most importantly, no matter how much some may call for “people of the world” oneness, every government and every head of state have the duty to further their country’s best interest.
Let’s hope President Obama recognizes that fact.
Ed looks at “smart power.”
His comments at an Istanbul conference on Monday fell short of the outright apology which Turkish officials had hoped for.
“I was deeply distressed that the cartoons were seen by many Muslims as an attempt by Denmark to mark and insult or behave disrespectfully toward Islam or the Prophet Mohammad. Nothing could be further from my mind,” he said
“I respect Islam as one of the world’s major religions as well as its religious symbols,” he said during a panel discussion at the conference aimed at building bridges between the Muslim world and the West.
Realpolitik turnaround? Craven appeasement?
Rasmussen previously defended publication of the cartoons, which caused protests in the Muslim world, on the grounds of free speech and refused to apologize to Muslim countries.
While you can, you can purchase a limited-edition print of the turban bomb cartoon: Gates of Vienna has the details,
In collaboration with the artist, the Free Press Society in Denmark and the International Free Press Society have printed up a limited edition of 1000 copies.
Each copy is individually numbered and signed by Kurt Westergaard.
The picture is printed in durable colors on fine paper 42 by 21.5 centimeters, suitable for framing. It will be delivered in a solid cardboard tube.
It can be yours for US $250, postage and handing included, but exclusive of customs dues or VAT where applicable.
The proceeds from this offer will go towards the International Free Press Society’s continuous campaign for free speech.
It can be purchased at the International Free Press Society page.
Barack Obama made an impassioned plea to America’s allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, warning that failure to do so would leave Europe vulnerable to more terrorist atrocities.
But though he continued to dazzle Europeans on his debut international tour, the Continent’s leaders turned their backs on the US President.
Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. He offered to send several hundred extra British soldiers to provide security during the August election, but even that fell short of the thousands of combat troops that the US was hoping to prise from the Prime Minister.
But hey, there will be 35 Belgians and 12 Spaniards coming along for the ride. What could go wrong?
That was in Baden-Baden, Germany. Now the Obamas are heading to the Czech Republic. My friend Maria (who was born and raised there) asked me to Czech this out:
Obama blew off yet another ally, in favor of “having a romantic private dinner.”
When President Obama arrives here on Saturday for a meeting aimed at forging closer trans-Atlantic relations, aides say he has opted for a romantic private dinner with the first lady. That, rather than a glass of Czech beer with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who last week invoked Satan’s lair to characterize the American president’s economic policies.
The Obamas also decided to forgo an official state dinner with Vaclav Klaus, the fiery Czech president.
Last week I posted the YouTube of the Topolanek speech,
Czech politics are in disarray right now, but obviously Obama doesn’t want to hear from anyone who vehemently opposes state intervention on the economy and (heavens to Betsy!) doesn’t believe in anthropogenic global warming.
It doesn’t sound like there will be the kind of rave reviews that the Obamas have been getting in this trip so far.
Of course getting blown off like that is not going to make the Czech people less worried,
Czechs have looked with growing alarm at what many perceive as Mr. Obama’s forsaking of the free-market principles that this country ardently embraced after decades under Communism.
Indeed, many Czechs have long looked to the United States — not Western Europe — as a political and economic model.
Yet in a nation where President Ronald Reagan remains the unrivaled hero of the Cold War, many here fear Mr. Obama is too soft on Russia and too willing to compromise.
Mr. Kotas said he worried that Mr. Obama, after completing a review of American security policy, would abandon plans to install a missile-defense radar system in the Czech Republic. The proposed system has polarized Czech society, but many nevertheless view it as an essential bulwark against Russia.
Yup, might as well play it safe and have a nice romantic dinner instead.
Oh, and by the way, that will be followed by a visit to the Prague Castle on Sunday, a location that inspired Franz Kafka’s novel, The Castle.
Won’t be picking up the Czechs for dinner, but will be aiming towards “friendship and cooperation” with Sudan (h/t Larwyn).
Incredible. Simply incredible.
UPDATE 2, Monday 6 April
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced his country is to return to Nato’s military command, reversing four decades of self-imposed exile.
Mr Sarkozy confirmed the decision in a speech to defence experts at the Ecole Militaire staff college in Paris.
President Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of Nato’s integrated military command in 1966, saying it undermined France’s sovereignty.
He said Nato remained a central element of France’s security and defence policies, but stressed that he would not give up the country’s independent nuclear deterrent.
Mr Sarkozy is expected to formalise the move with a letter to Nato before the alliance celebrates its 60th anniversary next month with a summit in the French city of Strasbourg.
CNN’s headline reads, Sarkozy puts government on line over NATO
I’ll post more on this tomorrow.