China-North Korea: China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in February, Reuters reported, citing customs data. It marks the first time since early 2007 that no deliveries were made.
Comment: China exports crude by means of a pipeline to North Korea's west coast refinery at Sinuiju. The pipeline has a throughput capacity of 1 million tons per year, but in the past few years it has carried about 500,000 tons, or just under 42,000 tons per month.
No other steady source of crude has been reported since before the end of the Warsaw Pact. Russian Far East companies send some crude to North Korea to have it refined at the east coast refinery and shipped back to the Far East, usually paying the North Koreans in kind....
The lack of Chinese crude supplies in February implies that North Korea has had to draw on fuel stocks to sustain the nationwide training. This is a chronic, strategic and systemic vulnerability of North Korea. China can make North Korea stop.
If China exports no crude in March, North Korean national readiness will have been degraded significantly because of the extra demands on supplies of food and fuel that are not being replaced. Whatever provocation North Korea plans must take place before the fuel runs low and the civilians begin to rebel or desert their mobilization stations. Contacts along the China border say the exercises will last until the US and South Korean exercises end.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Friday, March 22, 2013
Few things age as poorly as bad intelligence. And while there was no shortage of terrible intelligence undergirding the Iraq war, there was no more bewildering claim given credulity by the CIA and the Bush administration than the idea that Saddam Hussein was going to use drones to unleash a merciless biological attack.
It’s practically forgotten now. But repeatedly nestled into the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq — the much-flawed summary document from the 16 intelligence agencies accusing Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction — is a wild claim that anticipated the current drone panic by a full decade.
Saddam was “working with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which allow for a more lethal means to deliver biological and, less likely, chemical weapons,” the 2002 estimate reads (.pdf). The claim was one of the intelligence agencies’ “Key Judgments” sent to Congress ahead of the vote for war, and the bioweapon-drone idea made its way into Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous case for invading Iraq at the United Nations.
These drones would “threaten” Iraq’s neighbors, U.S. forces stationed in the Persian Gulf, “and if brought close to, or into, the United States, the US homeland.” (Emphasis in the original.) An analysis of what the document called “special intelligence” allegedly gave reason to believe there was an “Iraqi UAV procurement network” working on buying commercially available mapping software to target America at home with its indigenous drones. At the United Nations, Powell elaborated that Iraq was “developing and testing spray devices that could be adapted for UAVs” to unleash deadly bioweapons..
-bth: apply, rinse, repeat.
... Where there had been no al-Qaida in Iraq while Saddam ruled, al-Qaida is crawling all over Iraq now. Where Iraq had been an Arab Sunni bulwark confronting Iran in 2003, a decade later, Iraq is tilting away from the Sunni camp toward the Shia crescent of Iran and Hezbollah.
What was the cost in blood and treasure of our Mesopotamian misadventure? Four thousand five hundred U.S. dead, 35,000 wounded and this summary of war costs from Friday’s Wall Street Journal:
“The decade-long (Iraq) effort cost $1.7 trillion, according to a study … by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Fighting over the past 10 years has killed 134,000 Iraqi civilians … . Meanwhile, the nearly $500 billion in unpaid benefits to U.S. veterans of the Iraq war could balloon to $6 trillion” over the next 40 years.
Iraq made a major contribution to the bankrupting of America.
As for those 134,000 Iraqi civilian dead, that translates into 500,000 Iraqi widows and orphans. What must they think of us?
According to the latest Gallup poll, by 2-to-1, Iraqis believe they are more secure — now that the Americans are gone from their country.
Left behind, however, is our once-sterling reputation. Never before has America been held in lower esteem by the Arab peoples or the Islamic world. As for the reputation of the U.S. military, how many years will it be before our armed forces are no longer automatically associated with such terms as Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, renditions and waterboarding?
As for the Chaldean and Assyrian Christian communities of Iraq who looked to America, they have been ravaged and abandoned, with many having fled their ancient homes forever.
We are not known as a reflective people. But a question has to weigh upon us. If Saddam had no WMD, had no role in 9/11, did not attack us, did not threaten us, and did not want war with us, was our unprovoked attack on that country a truly just and moral war?
What makes the question more than academic is that the tub-thumpers for war on Iraq a decade ago are now clamoring for war on Iran. Goal: Strip Iran of weapons of mass destruction all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran does not have and has no program to build.
This generation is eyewitness to how a Great Power declines and falls. And to borrow from old King Pyrrhus, one more such victory as Iraq, and we are undone.
Iran has illegally laundered billions of dollars through the Venezuelan financial sector and is currently stashing “hundreds of millions” of dollars in “virtually every Venezuelan bank today,” according to a former senior State Department official.
“It’s a huge blind spot in those trying to implement sanctions” on Iran, Roger Noriega, a former United States ambassador and assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Venezuela served as Iran’s closest Western ally under the late President Hugo Chavez, who allowed the rogue regime to establish a military and financial presence at the highest levels of the Venezuelan government.
Iran’s foothold in the country is expected to grow exponentially under the rule of Chavez’s likely successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro....
-bth: iran has got to be in a bind. Chavez is dead, Syria is in revolt, Hezbollah has gone narco-terror and sanctions must be biting.
Initial U.S. intelligence suggests Syria did not use chemical weapons in a strike earlier this week, CNN has been told by U.S. officials.
The officials emphasized this is a preliminary conclusion and the investigation continues.
U.S. analysts are "leaning hard away" from the notion that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, a military official directly familiar with the preliminary analysis tells CNN.
There are "multiple indicators" for this emerging conclusion, a second official said.
That official told CNN, "there are strong indications now that chemical weapons were not used by the regime in recent days."...
...The establishment of sharia in Aleppo should come as no surprise. The Al Nusrah Front has done the same in areas along the Euphrates River Valley that are under its control. Earlier this month, the Al Nusrah Front took the lead in establishing the "Sharia Committee for the Eastern Region" and has imposed Islamic law in cities such as Raqqah and Deir al Zour....
Thursday, March 21, 2013
DUBAI - Iran's most powerful authority said the Islamic Republic would destroy the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel launched a military attack against it.
"At times the officials of the Zionist regime (Israel) threaten to launch a military invasion but they themselves know that if they make the slightest mistake the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during an address, broadcast live on state television....
... Note that in the second attack, the Al Nusrah Front said that "brothers from the rest of the brigades participated in operations of advancement and positioning." This is very likely a reference to allied Islamist groups such at the Muhajireen Brigade or Ahrar al Sham, or supposedly secular fighters from groups such at the Free Syrian Army. The Al Nusrah Front, which is the most effective fighting force in Syria, often serves as the vanguard for attacks as well as the command and control element when anti-regime forces team up for attacks.
The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 57 of the 67 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operation are counted as part of a single attack). So far this year, 15 suicide attacks have been reported in Syria; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for 14 of them.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
... There are now an estimated 80,000 Syrian Islamist fighters engaged in battle, as well as approximately 18,000 foreign Islamist militiamen, according to sources. This includes some 2,000 fighters who are members of the Uighur ethnic group, a Muslim minority of Turkic heritage who live mostly in China.
The Nusra Front, along with several other Islamist groups, have designs on turning post-revolution Syria into an Islamic caliphate.
Fadel al-Salim, a lawyer who is close to the Nusra Front, told The Daily Star: “We are working to re-establish the Islamic caliphate in Syria, and we have informed [Syrian National Council head] Moaz al-Khatib that we will not accept the building of a civil state in Syria. We control the ground and will rule by Islamic law.”
The Nusra Front’s ties to Al-Qaeda and its hopes for an Islamic caliphate have made Western countries skittish, and are one of the major concerns cited with regard to arming the rebels.
Syrian opposition member Ibrahim al-Zoabi even spoke of meetings with U.S. officials who distinguished between “good” and “bad” Salafists, and indicated weapons supplied should only make it to the favored stream.
In another complication, Turkey’s current moderate Islamist leadership shares an ideological grounding with the Muslim Brotherhood’s militias.
Qatar too tends to favor the Brotherhood and its vision of a future Syria, which has led Saudi Arabia, with whom it has a rocky relationship, to support Salafist fighters like the Nusra Front. Saudi Arabia has long believed the Brotherhood to be a danger to their Wahhabi version of Islam, as well as their power in the Muslim world.
A member of the Syrian opposition cited Saudi Arabian concerns that the Brotherhood would take over Syria after the fighting finished, as they did in Egypt. He said divisions between those who support the Salafists and those who back the Brotherhood were clear in the ranks of the Syrian opposition.
But Syrian opposition member Sheikh Salim al-Mousallet believes none of these concerns are strong enough to defend the West’s hesitance to arm the rebels. “We would rather criticize those who give speeches in support of us but don’t support us on the ground than criticize Russia and China for their position on the Syrian crisis,” he said.
Worth reading in full.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
... The murkiness of the clandestine nuclear trade is a major worry. It's difficult to know how a buyer would use atomic material or know-how, or where material could end up after being sold.
"The terrorist threat of an improvised nuclear device delivered anonymously and unconventionally by a boat or a truck across our long and unprotected borders is one against which we have no certain deterrent or defensive response," Robert Gallucci, a former senior U.S. diplomat who negotiated a U.S.-North Korea nuclear deal used to defuse a nuclear crisis in the 1990s, said late last month in Seoul.
"For Americans, this threat is far greater than the unlikely threat that may someday be posed by North Korean nuclear weapons delivered by a ballistic missile," he said.
Monday, March 18, 2013
....So they opted for a wealth tax with hardly any progression. There is not even an exemption for people with only very small savings.
If one wanted to feed the political mood of insurrection in southern Europe, this was the way to do it. The long-term political damage of this agreement is going to be huge. In the short term, the danger consists of a generalised bank run, not just in Cyprus.
As in the case of Greece, the finance ministers said: “Don’t worry, this is a unique situation”. This is true only in a very narrow legal sense. The bond haircut in Greece is indeed different to the depositor haircut in Cyprus. And when they repeat this elsewhere, it will be unique once more.
Unless there is a last-minute reprieve for small savers, most Cypriot savers would act rationally if they withdrew the rest of their money simply to protect them from further haircuts or taxes. It would be equally rational for savers elsewhere in southern Europe to join them. The experience of Cyprus tells them that the solvency of a deposit insurance scheme is only as good as that of the state. In view of Italy’s public sector debt ratio, or the combined public and private sector indebtedness of Spain and Portugal, there is no way that these governments can insure all banks’ deposits on their own.
The Cyprus rescue has shown that the creditor nations will insist from now that any bank rescue must be co-funded by depositors....
-bth: so let the bank runs begin. Look out Italy, Spain and Portugal. Why would depositors keep their money in EU banks under these conditions