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Now the hard part for Iraq - and the US

Despite poll-day violence, the high turnout on Sunday of close to 70% of the electorate gives Iraq's parliamentary elections the stamp of success. That might have been the easy part; what comes next is political bargaining that could run for months. It will be a crucial period - how and when the new government is formed will directly influence Washington's relations with Baghdad. - Charles McDermid (Mar 8, '10)

Maliki leads in early poll count
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition is ahead in the second parliamentary election since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, according to early indications from Sunday's poll. A non-sectarian agenda combined with support from Sunni heavyweights and the declining popularity of Shi'ite groups may help give him a mandate, even though his pledge to restore security has looked threadbare in a campaign marred by terrorist violence. - Sami Moubayed (Mar 8, '10)

Pakistan delivers but doubts remain
Pakistan has rounded up another al-Qaeda operative, although beyond the fact that he is senior there is dispute over his identity. Washington will be delighted, as this follows other recent high-profile arrests, but suspicion lingers that the generals in Pakistan will always put their own interests first. Something is being done about that. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (Mar 8, '10)

Ahmadinejad hunkers down with Karzai
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, on a brief visit to Kabul, brings a characteristically strong message against the presence of foreign military forces in Afghanistan and a lengthy agenda topped by concern over burgeoning opium trafficking and regional security. As the US steps up efforts to impose UN sanctions on Iran, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's seal of approval for the government in Tehran may be increasingly valuable. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Mar 8, '10)

The PLA raises its voice
People's Liberation Army officers are increasingly making outspoken remarks on the hard line they feel China should take, particularly towards the United States. While their fiery rhetoric seems a natural outgrowth of the military's rising domestic influence, political leaders may also have planted the statements to surreptitiously rock the boat on strategic issues. - Peter J Brown (Mar 8, '10)

Genocide vote poisons Turkey-US ties
Fears that a United States congressional committee's vote to condemn the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide would poison bilateral relations with Turkey are being realized, starting with Ankara recalling its ambassador to Washington. This is bad news, given Turkey's heavy geostrategic importance to Washington. - Jim Lobe (Mar 8, '10)

Vietnam loses out on Oscar glory
Although Dung dot (Don't Burn) didn't win any Oscars on Sunday, this movie based on the diary of a young female Vietcong doctor killed by United States troops has still generated emotional debate in Vietnam. As well as broaching the history of antagonism with the US, the movie's theme of reconciliation is relevant for divisions that persist between Vietnam's north and south. - Tran Dinh Thanh Lam (Mar 8, '10)

Natural law brings AfPak crashing
The London conference on Afghanistan in January was a high-point for US special envoy Richard Holbrooke but AfPak diplomacy began crashing no sooner than the talking ended as Pakistan's capture of the Taliban's deputy leader stopped reconciliation with the US in its tracks. With Afghan President Hamid Karzai going his own way and Islamabad holding a trump card to deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table, the US's evolving policy is in a sorry state. - M K Bhadrakumar (Mar 5, '10)

Wen plugs concerns over stimulus exit
China faces a "complicated situation" through which to steer an economy emerging from the effects of global economic slowdown, although conditions have improved on the dark days of last year, Premier Wen Jiabao told the National People's Congress on Friday. A pledge to maintain 8% growth means the government is unlikely to close the taps on fiscal stimulus unless inflation concerns overwhelm. - Olivia Chung (Mar 5, '10)

North Korea plays on Tokyo's mind
The government in Tokyo rode to power amid popular protest at the United States' bases in Japan, even though US troops would be crucial should hostilities break out with North Korea. In the search for a "compromise", one idea being floated is for the people of Okinawa to receive a healthy pay-off for their troubles in hosting the troops. - Donald Kirk (Mar 5, '10)

Okinawa and the new domino effect
Okinawa was the last bitter, bloody battle in the United States' World War II island-hopping campaign towards Japan. Today, the dispute over a US military base on the island could see it become the first domino to fall as the Americans start to lose power in the Pacific. - John Feffer (Mar 5, '10)

then and now

A Question of Command
by Mark Moyar
Counter-insurgency thinking is once again in the limelight, just as it was 50 years ago, which is why this timely perspective will find audiences in and out of the military. The bulk of the book comprises nine case studies ranging from the American Civil War to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The author has done a great deal of research, though points of disagreement are inevitable. - Brian M Downing (Mar 5, '10)

NGOs with Chinese characteristics
China's Education Ministry urged university students against volunteering for the programs of Oxfam International's Hong Kong arm, characterizing it as ''ill-intentioned'. While it remains unclear whether the democratic leanings of the organization's head in the territory provoked the warning, it shows that, no matter how big or well-known, NGOs operating in China must toe the line. - Kent Ewing (Mar 5, '10)

Free trade, when it suits
Google's tussle with China may go as far as the World Trade Organization on the argument that Beijing's Internet censorship is an impediment to trade. Free trade, of course, is what business in the West is all about - though that is hard to believe considering recent action involving the likes of Apple and games producer Ubisoft. (Mar 5, '10)
Martin J Young surveys the week's developments in computing, science, gaming and gizmos.

The blame game
European governments scrabbling for a way to resolve the Greek debt crisis are focusing on the role played by peddlers of credit default swaps. Money was certainly there to be made by those who anticipated events, but government energies would be better spent. As that ancient Greek Sophocles put it, no one loves the messenger who brings bad news. That's no reason to shoot him. (Mar 5, '10)

Call for Iran sanctions backed by muscle
If the Barack Obama administration is not going to go for the full-on military option against Iran over its nuclear program, the United States should at least consider backing up "crippling sanctions" with a show of strength, such as a naval blockade, one argument now goes in Washington. It's a line of thought that's gaining influential supporters. - Jim Lobe (Mar 4, '10)

Is the Dear Leader losing his grip?
For years, leaders in North Korea manipulated enemies into providing aid while keeping the people under firm control. But failures in diplomacy and currency reform have shown an uncharacteristic weak side that suggests serious change is underway. One explanation is that rival groups are pushing through as the Dear Leader's health fades, leading to lapses in his judgement. - Andrei Lankov (Mar 4, '10)

Ban tells it like it is
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon sums up his distinctive approach to diplomacy in an interview with Asia Times Online, saying he can be outspoken and straightforward with difficult leaders - such as Myanmar's generals, whom he met on their home turf last year. While he sees a visit to Beijing to heal the rift over Taiwan as unnecessary, he would go to North Korea if invited. - Ian Williams (Mar 4, '10)

Kaesong holds value-added role for Koreas
As legislators in Seoul and Washington hold back from ratifying a free-trade agreement, and the United States struggles to resolve its nuclear-weapons impasse with North Korea, the Kaesong Industrial Complex may offer negotiators on peninsular issues much more than its present function of creating northern jobs and southern profits. - Andray Abrahamian (Mar 4, '10)

China all at sea over Japan island row
Taking aim at Japan's plans for the remote Okinotori Island, China has argued that Tokyo cannot create an economic zone there as atolls or reefs do not have an "independent economic life". But Vietnam is crying foul, saying Beijing argued the exact opposite regarding Hanoi's claims in the East Sea. China now hopes the world will overlook the dozens of other little "Okinotoris" dotting the South China Sea - Peter J Brown (Mar 3, '10)

US aims to turn China over Iran sanctions
The diplomatic battle over UN sanctions against Iran has shifted to Asia. Tehran in recent days has lobbied Tokyo and the United States has finally turned its attention to China, the holdout power with a veto on the Security Council. As the US case has been unpersuasive on how sanctions could benefit China, two US envoys head there this week in an attempt to bring Beijing around to the US way of thinking. - Peter Lee (Mar 3, '10)

A new battle for Confucius
Chinese philosophers Confucius and Mozi engaged in fierce debates in the fourth and third centuries BC and Mozi was possibly more popular, but by the 19th century he was all but forgotten. In the past few decades Mozi's works have regained some popularity; this will be helped by a major translation into English of his works that throws new light on ancient Chinese military strategy. - Francesco Sisci (Mar 3, '10)

Nepal running out of time
Nepal is struggling to meet a deadline for a new constitution that it was hoped would heal the nation's rifts, with the main political parties deadlocked over how a new federal structure will be governed and defined. Meanwhile, opposition is growing among the majority Hindus to the nation permanently becoming a secular state. - Dhruba Adhikary (Mar 3, '10)

US Congress picks at China's holdings
Politicians in the United States are concerned at the amount of US debt held by China - about US$1 trillion. Yet the amount may say little about Beijing's motives and everything about Washington's lack of political willpower and, as congressmen heard last week, the influence on them of companies with multinational interests. - Benjamin Shobert (Mar 3, '10)

Iran's nuclear swap option revived
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has highlighted Iran's desire to take part in a swap of nuclear material, a plan the United States, China and Russia have said they will support. Signs that Syria may be playing the part of an intermediary between Washington and Tehran add to the optimism. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Mar 2, '10)
Jiang gives China
something to think about

The elevation of Jiang Zemin's ideas, including the Three Represents, to a body of Thought in the same manner as Mao Zedong's philosophies may grant the former supreme leader a status that can be likened to that of the Great Helmsman. Whether Jiang still wields significant post-retirement political influence is another matter. - Wu Zhong (Mar 2, '10)

Greece calls in war debts
Germany appears to be moving reluctantly, and with some fancy financial legerdemain, to bail out Greece from its debt crisis. The fix might work in the short term, and defuse increasingly vitriolic exchanges over the two countries' war history. Further ahead, the European Union must sort out how to handle its fiscal imbalances, or it must necessarily break apart under their weight. - Julian Delasantellis (Mar 2, '10)

The diminished incentive to save
The hazards of maintaining low interest rates, as in the United States at present, include undermining the propensity to save. This is potentially ruinous. With no little thanks to US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, the US today is in the position of Weimar Germany in 1921. - Martin Hutchinson (Mar 2, '10)
David P Goldman
(Mar 5, '10)
The EC has told banks to buy Greek paper. But the time bomb continues to tick.

Philippines catches recovery wave
The global economic recovery is driving a pick-up in jobs in the Philippines business processing outsourcing sector, with the benefits spreading to increased office demand. Yet calls are growing for reforms to help the country compete better with rivals such as India and Thailand. - Jennee Grace U Rubrico

Steady as they go
US jobs data and the prospect of a resolution to the Greek debt crisis encouraged strong and steady advances across Asia's stock markets last week. More gains, however, will be required before they break out of medium-term trading ranges, and risk appetite may yet prove fragile.
R M Cutler runs his eye over the ups and downs in the week's markets.

China hangs fire on
Iran-Pakistan pipeline

As China continues to consider joining the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, with or without India, the United States needs to understand that Beijing's eventual decision will have repercussions across Asia. - Stephen Blank

An off-limits bubble
United States government finance is today's unfolding bubble, yet while politicians talk tough for regulatory reform of the financial markets, this is one bubble off-limits for such reform. There will be no serious effort to rein in deficits, while markets know they've got policymakers right where they want them.
Doug Noland looks at the previous week's events each Monday.


Give Ben
some credit

Ben Bernanke, demonstrating that he can maintain the US Federal Reserve in its dangerously incompetent ways as well as anyone, last week increased Fed credit by an insane US$5.2 billion - in one week alone! - or twice the usual rate preferred by the hugely dangerous former Fed chief Alan Greenspan. If this doesn't drive up consumer demand for big guns for some serious self-defense, what will? (Mar 5, '10)

Greece for dummies
The Greek problem is simple: increases taxes to reduce per capita income by 20% to pay off debt. Of course, the economy would collapse and the deficit would rise. It simply doesn't add up. - David Goldman

Re Asia's permanent advantage:

"... The West is a young culture that has yet to learn about humanity and morality. ..." - DrWho

"... China is a 60-year-old culture and a pseudo-communist totalitarian state with a documented history of murdering millions of its own citizens less than three generations ago. ..." - Broncazonk

From Our Mailbox
[Re The blame game, Mar 5, '10] The George Papendreou government is looking for a helping hand from the International Monetary Fund, as a gambit to force the European Union to live up to its duty to rescue the euro. The Greek crisis has revealed fundamental weaknesses in the EU's structure, such as its toothless central bank.
Nakamura Junzo
   Go to Letters to the Editor

1. Natural law brings AfPak crashing

2. Okinawa and the new domino effect

3. Wen plugs concerns over stimulus exit

4. Is the Dear Leader losing his grip?

5. China all at sea over Japan island row

6. The blame game

7. North Korea plays on Tokyo's mind

8. Call for Iran sanctions backed by muscle

9. BOOK REVIEW: Counter insurgency, then and now

10. Free trade, when it suits

(Mar 5-7, 2010)

Pick of the month Feb 2010
The case for an Israeli strike against Iran
- Spengler

ATol Specials

  By Syed Saleem Shahzad
(Jan '09)

Taliban's new breed of leader
(May '08)

The Gates
Roger Morris
(June '07)

Syed Saleem Shahzad reports on the Afghan war from the Taliban side
(Dec '06)

How Hezbollah defeated Israel
Mark Perry and
Alastair Crooke
(Oct '06)

Mark Perry and
Alastair Crooke
talk to the 'terrorists'
(Mar '06)

China: The

Francesco Sisci 

The Coming
Trade War

By Henry C K Liu

A series
by Henry C K Liu


Pepe Escobar in China

Money, Power
Modern Art

A series by Henry C K Liu

Andre Gunder Frank on Uncle Sam and his shrinking dollar

By Pepe Escobar with photographs by Kevin Nortz

   Nir Rosen goes inside the Iraqi resistance

Nir Rosen rides with the US 3rd Armored Cavalry in western Iraq


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