Morning Ed: Geopolitics {2017.09.21.Th}

[Gp1] China evidently has a peculiar recruiting problem for its military.

[Gp2] Is it time to let the Kurds be free? Israel is on board. {More}

[Gp3] Son of bin Laden!

[Gp4] The situation in Catalonia is getting out of hand.

[Gp5] Proof that cigarette taxes and regulations are bad for national security.

[Gp6] The battle lines in Qatar are being drawn. Pick your side.

[Gp7] Why are there so few Islamists in West Africa?

[Gp8] The sonic attack of our diplomats in Cuba is one of the strangest Trump-unrelated stories going on now.

[Gp9] As ballistic missiles fly, Japan wonders if its on its own to find security partners other than the US.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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18 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Geopolitics {2017.09.21.Th}

  1. Gp1: I can see how weight could be a problem for passing physical fitness tests but not the other thing. Maybe it takes too much of their time but it should give young Chinese soldiers a firm grasp on their guns.

    Gp2: Israel obviously hopes that an independent Kurdistan would be an ally in a hostile neighborhood in the same way that Turkey was. The Israelis also have a lot of natural sympathy for the Kurds because their self-determination is opposed by the Arabs and Iranians in the same way that Jewish self-determination was opposed.

    The politics of which ethnic groups gets their nation-state and which do not are tricky though. For most of the world an autonomous rather than independent Kurdistan is better because it will keep the Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran calmer. The pragmatic arguments against Kurdistan are similar to the pragmatic arguments against Israel.

    Gp4: This seems to be an understatement.

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    • Gp2: Though I can see why Israel might have sympathy for the Kurds, if Israel’s hope for any real help from a Kurdish state are pretty futile. I don’t see the Kurds as having the will or ability to do much beyond a narrow region near where they live.

      And the pragmatic arguments against Kurdistan start with geography. Unlike Israel, it’s a landlocked mountainous region whose economy would be dependent on peaceful relations with its neighbors. It probably also would depend on its ability to maintain control over oil fields from hostile neighbors, along with export routes and access to foreign investment.

      The linked piece says the West should get out of the way, but what he wants is for the West to recognize Iraqi Kurdistan, which is necessary as a minimum for foreign investment, but is insufficient in and of itself to prevent the Kurdish region from becoming an area of frozen conflict.

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  2. Gp4 – Catalonia

    Full disclosure: I’m a native Catalonian – I vote in the regional Catalonian elections – I vote for the regional non-independency party. I also vote in the national Spanish elections, and used to vote PP (the current Prime Minister’s Mariano Rajoy party) but I have always refused to vote for Rajoy himself, whom I despise both as a person and as a politician.

    There are several reasons, historical, political, economical, cultural, for why a large minority of the Catalonian population, for decades (or centuries) have wanted to secede Catalonia from Spain.The central government is right on the legal side: the Spanish Constitution, as federalist as it is, does not allow for an independence process. But that’s a legalistic answer to a political question.

    Had the referendum gone through two or three years ago, when it was first presented, independence would have been easily defeated. But, instead, Rajoy and the central government used the judiciary and the (federal) public prosecution to derail any and all efforts to set up a referendum process, up to criminal prosecutions of malfeasance of public funds that were to be used, as well as limitations on the use of private donations for the purpose.

    Rajoy’s official position, that the referendum is illegal, and attempts to set one in motion are subject to criminal prosecution; that the Constitution needs to be amended before a referendum can take place; and that his party will block any attempt to amend the Constitution, just insures that the conflict continues to escalate.

    There’s no reasonable way to expect that jailing the elected authorities will convince the vocal -and large- minority that backs independence to call it a day and go home. On the contrary, it moves people in the anti-independence column, like me, towards more and more support for the referendum.

    Let’s have the referendum, vote no, and then we can move on. The longer it takes, the more likely the result will be a YES. I’m not sure it’s not already too late.

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    • Thanks for that insight.

      Some friends of my parents live in Catalonia now. Both are retired professors – the wife taught costume design to me and Fledermaus during undergrad, and the husband specialized in Catalan literature. He had fled to Canada during Franco’s regime – couldn’t very well be a professor of Catalan literature back home during the 60s and 70s.

      I don’t know specifically whether they are pro-independence, but given his life history I rather suspect he at least is.

      As much as the 1995 Quebec secession / vaguely-worded “sovereignty-association”-that-was-always-going-to-come-down-to-secession referendum was stressful and at times maddening, I’m very grateful Canada was able to navigate that peaceful and relatively non-inflammatory way through the process.

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      • The Situation of the four “Historical Autonomies” (*) of Spain is more similar to Quebec within Canada than to the states within the USA. The Autonomous Regions have larger delegated competences in administrative, civil and criminal law, they retain a much larger part of the taxes collected and they have the ability to engage -in limited ways- in foreign affairs. Unlike Quebec, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are net tax contributors, collecting more revenue than what is spent in the region, and are the largest economic and industrial powerhouses in Spain.

        I was very satisfied with the status quo: maximum devolution and autonomy at the local level, a separate culture within a larger Spanish identity, and the best football in the world (Go Barça!!!) and I’m opposed to further Independence. I am, however, worried that the relationship between Catalonia and the Central Government might be irreparably fractured

        (*) The Constitution recognizes two types of Autonomous Regions: the four historical ones of Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarre, and Galicia, and the ones that’s were created in the rest of Spain (many with as much history and distinctiveness as the preceding four). The difference was relevant during a transitional period, but there’s no practical difference now.

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    • Interesting, from my vantage point it’s one thing to say that the referendum would have no recognizable legal effect, but quite another to say that a group cannot organize to canvass individual opinion on a subject. Or if I understand this correctly, Spain does not have a very federalist system.

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      • The Spanish Constitution is extremely federalist and decentralized: organized by municipalities, provinces, and autonomous regions with ample delegated competences (up to the ability to set separate official languages). However, it also forbids secession.

        The legal “arguments” of the Rajoy government are two: (a) that organizing a referendum that has no valid legal outcome is a misuse of public funds; and (b) that continuing organizing the referendum after both the Constitutional and the Supreme Court (they are separate in Spain) have issued advisory opinions (which are valid in Spain) that the referendum is illegal is, in itself, contempt of court.

        Hence we now have (we have actually had) public prosecutors pursuing elected authorities. There’s no way this is going to end well.

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        • On the referendum point though, it’s not particularly federalist. From a U.S. perspective, the states are sovereigns with original power that is not delegated from the national government. I’m just considering the referendum part, not the lack of authority for disunion.

          Note: I’m not making a value judgment here; it’s just not how I believe that would play out in the U.S. The closest analogy, the arrest of some Maryland legislators during the Civil War is shrouded in mystery, occurred after armed hostilities had broken out and was justified by claims that they were operating in concert with an armed invasion. I think most commentators would conclude that the act hurt more than helped the Union cause.

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          • From a U.S. perspective, the states are sovereigns with original power that is not delegated from the national government.

            That’s the part that does not work for non-Versailles-created European nations: There was never a sovereign with original power. Spain, France, the UK, the Scandinavian Countries (*) were formed by sovereign individuals (aka the “Sovereign”) inheriting or acquiring vast tracts of land, with a bit of outright conquest here and there (Navarre, in the case of Spain).

            Catalonia did not join Spain as a separate sovereign freely entering into a compact: it’s sovereign prince (not even King), who happened to be also King of Aragon and King of Valencia, married a Queen who was sovereign over a series of other countries, all in personal union; their daughter, and her descendants, were the actual Sovereigns. Spain was a historical/geographical term, but not a legal one. Until 1837, there was no such thing as a King (actually, Queen regnant) of Spain. (**)

            (*) Italy is non-Versailles country, but it is a mixed case, already prefiguring the Wilsonian concepts of self determination

            (**) I love the pre 1837 title: by the Grace of God, King of Castile, Leon, Aragon, of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem, of Navarre, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Seville, of Sardinia, of Córdoba, of Corsica, of Murcia, of Menorca, of Jaén, the Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, of the East and West Indies, Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Milan and Aspurg; Count of Flanders, Tirol and Barcelona; Lord of Biscay and Molina

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          • From a U.S. perspective, the states are sovereigns with original power that is not delegated from the national government.

            Well, for 13 of them, plus or minus a couple depending on special circumstances. The vast majority of the others were carved out of US territory purchased or taken by occupation by the US government. Their only “sovereignty” is that granted by the feds: a federal process for applying, Congressional approval of their state constitutions, etc. The assumed deal is that new states are somehow equal to the old states. However, without agreeing with a number of activists in western states, there is a difference between Georgia giving up its claims on lands to its west to the federal government, and Montana consisting of land where the federal government gave up its claims of ownership (and still holding 29% of the land).

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      • Few modern democratic constitutions contemplate the secession of constituent elements of their territory. That’s part of why the typical legal method of seccession is by consitutional amendement. I’m familar with many believers in popular soveriegnty above all other values that believe that a simple territorial referendum is sufficient mechanism for secession, but that really isn’t the case under international law and most constitutional systems.

        The Scotish Referendum for example was legal and enforceable in event of a victory because the authority to do so was officially granted to the Scotish regional government by regular legal means. By contrast, Quebec referedum of 1995 would have had no legal effect by itself, albeit the Parizeau faction was intending to proclaim an unconstituional declaration of independence and hope that it would create a fait accompli.

        The Catalan seccession vote is certainly illegal under Spanish law and was create by extremely dubious procedure to boot. However, that doesn’t make Madrid’s heavy handed actions to enforce said law particularly wise.

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  3. Gp1 – I’ve been through a US military entrance screening physical, and I um, don’t remember them checking that closely some of those veins the article talks about.

    I do kinda wonder with the 46% failure rate if they’re using an uncorrected standard. I imagine the US fail rate would also be around 50% or even more if the standard wasn’t ‘correctable to 20/20’.

    Gp2 – I would bet a adult beverage that US policy is going to screw over the Kurds yet again for what is at least the 3rd time in a generation.

    Gp3 – great, another millennial that thinks he’s somebody just because his daddy was somebody.

    Gp4 – well, it’s high time another Iberian peninsula independence movement gets its chance to bask in the spotlight.

    Gp6 – choose a side? so fish or Qatar bait?

    Gp9 – once upon a time (as recently as the early ’00s) it was technically illegal for Japan to find other security partners other than the US, but I believe this has been relaxed.

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  4. Gp1: I’m not a doctor but the claims scream to me that they’re ludicrous. Smells to me like the Chinese Government is setting the stage for some kind of wave of fitness/lifestyle regulations.

    Gp2: “Theirs is a region that finally gained autonomy with the fall of Saddam Hussein — a region that, when the tsunami of the Islamic State crashed over Mesopotamia in 2014 and the Iraqi Army took flight, was the first to organize a counteroffensive. Since then, over a front 600 miles long, the Iraqi Kurds held off the barbarians and thus saved Kurdistan, Iraq, and our shared civilization.” ISIS was a threat to our shared civilization? Only an over excitable French loon or an American Neocon could write something that ludicrous. That said, the Kurds have plenty of merit for a state.

    Gp8: That’s some James bond level weirdness there.

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