Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Drowned out by the tumult in the Middle East, is the news of the crumbling North Korean autocracy.  The rogue regime has spent the last few months begging for food.  However, with its track record of diverting aid to the military, donor states are unwilling to prop up a crumbling regime.

North Korea’s starving population increasingly appears willing to protest conditions in the Stalinist state.  Even more unsettling for the regime is the willingness of the most brainwashed citizenry in the world to mock its leaders.  A few months ago the ailing Dear Leader commenced preparations for the eventual succession of his 28 year old son Kim Jong-un.  Even though state media started the usual absurd propaganda to buttress the thin resume of one of the few pudgy young men left in the country, the public appears to have greeted the new heir with derision.

A popular children’s song “Three Bears” about a cute bear family with a chubby papa bear, a slim mommy bear and a cute baby bear in a house was modified to mock the Kims:

Three bears in a house, pocketing everything; grandpa bear, papa bear and baby bear.  Grandpa Bear is fat, Papa Bear is fat, too, and Baby Bear is a doofus.

Meanwhile the cash starved regime is struggling to provide its people and elite with the usual bribes and gifts distributed to mark Kim Jong-il’s birthday.  Starved of cash, food and oil the military capacity of its million strong army is an open question.  Even with its diminished capacity, North Korea is still as unpredictable and dangerous as ever.

However, its ability to manage a second dynastic succession is in doubt.  Kim Jon-un faces a dynastic rival – his older, fatter and discredited brother Kim Jong-nam.  From his Chinese exile Jong-nam has criticized the planned succession.  There are rumors about his connection with North Korea’s benefactor China, who has reason to be irritated with the ruling Kims.  However, it is not clear that Jong-nam plans to give up his comfortable subsidized hedonistic lifestyle to rule a crumbling impoverished failed state.

The world is frighteningly unprepared for a North Korean collapse.  China which does not want a flood of refugees across the Yalu continues to prop up the regime.  It may also not want to share a border with a united and democratic Korea.  South Korea (particularly its left) parrots the cause of eventual unification but may not want to inherit or pay for such a basket case.  The cost of Korean reunification will dwarf the cost of unifying Germany.  With no media access into the country, it is hard to estimate when North Korea will reach its tipping point.

So for now we wait and watch as the Hermit kingdom crumbles and starves.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

With his back to the wall, his army crumbling and parts of his navy defecting to Malta, Muammar Gaddafi has lashed out at his people with little restraint.  This presents his pals abroad with a dilemma.  After providing an open embrace to Libya’s leader for the last decade, what do they do when he resorts to large scale bloodletting.

Other than the usual pro-forma comment accusing the US of hypocrisy in Egypt and plotting to take over that country, Venezuela’s caudillo has been uncharacteristically quiet.  He cannot be happy at the repeated rumors (angrily shot down by both sides) that Gaddafi fled to his country (or the ease with which people like me made the assumption).

But two of his ideological comrades have finally spoken out.  Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega called Gaddafi to express support.  The former Sandinista dictator had no words of sympathy for a populace assaulted by its own head of state.

Fidel Castro appears to have been a bit more circumspect, largely focusing on the alleged upcoming NATO invasion of the country. He avoided taking a position on the atrocities based on the difficulty of deciphering the news coming out of Libya thanks to Gaddafi’s military blackout.  Much easier to fall back on anti-American paranoia than condemning a dictator who just went on state TV promising to kill his countrymen.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales has come closest to a critique of his former buddy by issuing a pro forma statement of concern for the loss of life.

The dilemma facing Gaddafi’s Latin American friends highlights the risk of embracing rogues merely because they are enemies of your real or perceived enemies.  For countries that spend so much time criticizing the United States, it is a pity they did not learn from the harm to America’s reputation abroad for supporting apartheid South Africa, Zaire’s Mobotu Sese Seko and other third world dictators under the banner of anti-communism.  It is a lesson that Hugo Chavez, who actively seeks out the embrace of despots, and his acolytes need to learn.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After a quixotic appearance on state TV yesterday night with his umbrella (clip in post below), the beleaguered Muammar Gaddafi made an appearance on state TV for a long rambling paranoid harangue that went on for over an hour.  The speech contained many ominous overtones as he promised to kill the “drugged” youth who rose in revolt against him.

Some of the quotes compiled by Al-Jazeera are listed below:

Muammar Gaddafi is not the president, he is the leader of the revolution. He has nothing to lose. Revolution means sacrifice until the very end of your life
Muammar Gaddafi is not a normal person that you can poison.. or lead a revolution against
I will fight until the last drop of blood with the people behind me
I haven’t even started giving the orders to use bullets – any use of force against authority of state will be sentenced to death

Also below is a video of a portion of the harangue.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The die is now cast.  Gaddafi will fight to the bitter end.  May that be soon.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The slide is complete.  Libya is now in civil war as Muammar Gaddafi pulls out all the stops in desperate attempts to hold on to power.  The Libyan air force has been ordered to strafe the country’s two largest cities and a few pilots defected by flying off to Malta.  Earlier today there were reports of Libyan navy ships opening fire on Tripoli.  Its been a long time since a ruler indiscriminately strafed his own capital from the air (Gaddafi’s son claimed they were targeting ammunition depots) or the sea, let alone had such a gambit keep him in power.  Later in the day came a declaration from some Libyan officers asking their troops to switch sides.  Whether this will have any effect is still unclear.

Libya’s diplomatic outposts appear to think that the die is cast.  From New York to New Delhi the regime’s ambassadors are turning in their papers refusing to obey the diktats of a ruler willing to massacre his own people on a scale not seen since Tiananmen or perhaps even since Syria’s Hafez Assad blasted his own city of Hama (mention must be given to the Soviet pulverizing of Grozny, though the Chechens at the time were in open revolt and would have angrily denied suggestions that they were part of Russia).

On Monday, Khaled Al Ga’aeem, under-secretary of Libya’s foreign ministry, phoned Al Jazeera to create a Baghdad Bob moment in stating all was well in Tripoli.  Video below:

Also on Monday night, Gaddafi himself made a very brief and odd appearance on state TV with his umbrella to deny that he had fled Tripoli for the welcoming embrace of his buddy Hugo Chavez.  Video below:

The usually impotent UN Security Council is expected to huddle behind closed doors on Tuesday to figure out an international response to the situation.  Ironically, Libya is currently on the Security Council but no longer has any lackeys in New York willing to obey the beleaguered Gaddafi.  Other than the usual platitudes, travel bans and sanctions there are two things that the UN could do.  One is direct military involvement.  The obvious candidate for such an action would be Egypt’s bloated but well equipped army.  I think that outcome is unlikely.  The other would be to declare a no fly zone over Benghazi and Tripoli that would restrict Gaddafi’s ability to draw blood.  Whether China (which is actively censoring news of Middle East unrest) or Putin’s Russia will allow such action remains to be seen.

It is hard to imagine Gaddafi surviving this revolt.  If by some miracle he does wade through rivers of blood to hold on to power, his regime would revert to North Korea type pariah status.  Having tasted the lures of international acceptability the last few years, would Gaddafi’s henchmen be willing to put up with this?

If the insurrection does succeed, Libya is likely still headed for turmoil.  United by the Italian conquest of the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica in 1912, Libya like Iraq (the fusion of the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Mosul and Baghdad) is very much an artificial creation of the colonial era.

Ottoman provinces that make up modern Libya

Tribal loyalties are still paramount and Gaddafi’s long rule has largely been a tribal balancing act instead of an exercise in nation building.  One of the few things that were probably accurate in Gaddafi’s son’s incoherent rant yesterday is that a post-Gaddafi civil war cannot be ruled out.

Libya's ethnic quilt

Post Gaddafi Libya will have to devise means to balance the interests of its tribes and ethnicities without Gaddafi’s brutality and cronyism.  The oil hungry countries of the world looking to harvest Libya’s oil wealth will be watching this exercise intently.  But before we can flesh out the post Gaddafi scenarios, the tyrant still has to fall.

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