Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan; The Next 7

Pakistan is quite likely to be the single most difficult item in [the] new president’s inbox.

--Richard Haass, President
Council on Foreign Relations

The U.S. had hoped Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and her installation as prime minister following next month’s parliamentary elections would have stabilized an anti-extremist, pro-Western government in that important country. Her assassination threatens to make Pakistan instead the world’s potentially most frightening nuclear power. The nation has over 33 million males under 15, most of them poor, many headed for unemployment.

Pakistan itself, with 165 million, is the world’s sixth largest nation, though eighth in our population ranking, because we count the European Union as two countries of equally large size. Pakistan and six other large nations just outside our Big 8 make up the “Next 7”. Collectively, the “Next 7” have 13% of the world’s people, 7% of its wealth and, because the grouping includes oil-rich Iran and Canada, 28% of world petroleum reserves.

None of our “Next 7” are European Union countries, because the EU—all of it—is represented by its two Big 8 representatives. By contrast, two term members of the current 15-member Security Council are EU nations (Belgium and Italy).

Adding the Next 7 to the Big 8 gives us a Top 15 that accounts for 70% of the world’s people, 4/5ths of its wealth, and nearly 2/5ths of its oil. The Top 15 together represent Asia (5 nations), Europe (3), North America (2), Latin America (2), the Middle East (2), and Africa (1).

If we care about people—population—not flags, we should create and support this Top 15, which if it worked together, could truly benefit the world’s masses.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Religion in America

It’s Christmas.

America benefits from religious freedom, and the competition generated between various beliefs, including secularism. Today, however, our nation isn’t in a sweet spot. The political divisions between Republicans and Democrats parallel the divide between those who attend church regularly and those who live outside the church. The recent Des Moines Register Iowa Democratic presidential debate underscored this point. On the Fox television screen, pollster Frank Luntz posted a real-time graph that tracked his Democratic focus group’s response to the debate as it unfolded. Viewers watching the graph could see focus group reaction to each speaker’s words, just as the candidates’ answers left their mouths.

When Joe Biden [picture] mentioned attending church and quoted words from a hymn he sang on Sunday (here at 2:37 of Part 4), the focus group’s negatives plunged through the floor. Judged by the group’s response to Biden, Democrats are uncomfortable with politicians who bring their personal faith into political dialogue. And probably Republicans react the opposite way; many are drawn to candidates who discuss their personal faith.

Because religious/cultural differences parallel our nation’s political divide, it will be harder to unite America in 2008.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Big 8

The Big 8 represent 56% of the world’s people, 72% of the world’s wealth, and a hold relatively small share (9%) of the world’s oil reserves. Henry Kissinger, saying the Security Council doesn’t represent “current realities,” has called for a similar grouping of leading world nations.

The current Security Council has five permanent members. The U.S., China, and even Russia should be permanent members. But today, so should India, Brazil and Japan. Adding the three non-European powers would enlarge the permanent membership to eight. So what about the UK and France? Should they be there? Not as individual nations with only 60 million people each. Permanent membership for the UK and France is a historical anachronism left over from World War II. United Germany has more people, and is more economically powerful.

The European Union, with 500 million people, 27 countries, and an economy twice the size of #2 China, could fill two permanent seats. So the permanent 5 would then become the Big 8, with two EU representatives, the U.S., China, Russia, India, Brazil and Japan. The Big 8 collectively represent Europe (3 seats), Asia (3 seats), North America, and Latin America. That mix is far better than today’s Security Council permanent members, or the so-called "Group of Eight," a largely white, European-origin group made up of the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Canada, and Japan.

The world has changed since 1945, and even since 1975, when the “Group of Six” (Canada and Russia came later) was formed. It’s time the world’s leading nations honor the change, include China, Japan, India and Brazil, and reduce the ranks of Europeans and North Americans.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Big 8, The Top 15

Here’s our latest look at the world’s 15 most important nations. It’s a revised version of the current UN Security Council, and we call the top group, an updated version of the Security Council’s five permanent members, the Big 8. The remaining 7 countries include 5 of the 13 most populous nations, and two others with large economies and significant oil reserves.

The revisions incorporate data from the World Bank’s revised list [look up "ICP" at link] of the world’s largest economies, based on GDP Purchasing Power Parity (PPP GDP). The Bank’s revised list came out December 17. We have also updated population totals and looked again at oil reserves. As we explained when preparing last year’s Top 15 list, our point total also gives credit to nations with a nuclear weapons capability, even though doing so truly is an undesirable way to measure world power.

Our biggest change from last year is recognizing the European Union as a political entity. We leave it to the EU to determine how to fill its two allotted seats. Right now, the UK and France are permanent members of the Security Council, while Germany, bigger and more powerful, is not even on the Council, and Italy and Belgium are term members until next year. The EU should decide for itself whether the UK and France hold permanent seats in what would be our Big 8, or whether the EU should rotate membership to include Germany and Italy. The EU’s combined strength and size does justify its holding two of the Big 8 seats.

If all people are equal, then it’s time to recognize that 70% of the world’s people live in 15 nations with—except for Nigeria and Bangladesh—significant economic clout. These Top 15 (if we agree the two EU representatives account for the entire EU) also have nearly 4/5ths of the world’s wealth, and nearly 2/5ths of its oil reserves. Once this group starts meeting, the world will be able to take effective collective action. The UN can continue as a forum for the remaining 177 nations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Person of the Year? Not.

On “Person of the Year,” TIME blows it again.

I said an Arctic iceberg. TIME named Al Gore first runner-up. Close. Close.

Putin? Why, for having oil? Sarkozy wasn’t even a runner-up, and Petraeus was fourth runner-up, after J.K. Rowling. TIME doesn’t recognize great leaders when they’re staring its editorial staff in the face.

TIME's Ed Board meeting; something like this. “We can’t name Petraeus! Are we going to tell everybody we’re wrong on the war? No way! Well, so how about we pick a villain then, in the tradition of Hitler, Stalin, the Ayatullah? That’ll keep us away from any ‘Why not Petraeus?’ stuff. Yeah, a real villain. But Chaney. . .well, it just hasn’t been his year. Not enough mean in '07. Hey, but how about Putin??? Yeah. Putin!”

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Person of the Year

He’s the obvious choice. In an era when so many leaders disappoint, Petraeus grabbed a hold of the biggest problem facing America, and in a matter of months whipped that baby into submission. He is the Chester Nimitz, John Pershing, and U.S. Grant of our latest war, a leader who made a difference, a real hero. In the classic tradition of TIME “men” of the year, he single-handedly changed the course of history.

Will TIME choose Petraeus “Person of the Year”? They are more likely to select an Arctic Ocean iceberg. But if TIME picks Nicholas Sarkozy instead of Petraeus, I will forgive them.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Recession? Happy Days!"

The odds for a recession dropped today, because of an unexpected rise in retail sales. Still, the watch is on for economic bad news that will displace Iraq bad news in paving the path to Democratic victory.

One guy who's got this all right is New York Magazine columnist Kurt Anderson. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Anderson lays out the truth: Democrats love bad news. Or as the article’s sub-head says, “The surge is working! Yikes. Stem cells can be harvested embryo-free! Boo-hoo. A recession in the offing? Happy days are near again.”

According to Anderson:

 every four years, we “put on our own special pair of red plastic decoder glasses that enable us—force us, really—to . . . scan each day’s headlines [asking] . . . Is it bad for the Republicans?”

 the New York Times’ front-page lead . . . warned of “intensifying worries that the economy may be headed for recession.” Total bummer, right? Yes … um … unless you’d prefer that a Democrat be elected president next year. Since the Civil War, whenever the economy was in recession at election time, the opposition party has won the White House.

 for Democrats, every news story pointing to imminent economic ugliness is a gift. Such is our duplicitous American version of Leninism lite: The worse, the better—but don’t ever say so. Our cynical Bizarro selves must remain closeted.

Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for opening your closet door!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Obama Time

David Brooks feels the nation’s zeitgeist has changed. To Brooks, Obama’s call for voters to reject fear, partisanship and textbook politics and vote for a new era of national unity—a call in tune with our new zeitgeist—helps explain Barack’s rising popularity. Brooks attributes our changed mood to Iraq’s dropping from the headlines, the Iran threat’s possible decline, reduced Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Pakistan’s avoiding implosion, and Hugo Chavez’s reversal in Venezuela. Brooks could have added to his list North Korea’s stepping back from confrontation.

Ellen Goodman worries Brooks could be right about Obama. In her weekend column, Goodman goes after Obama as could only someone worried history has passed her by. Goodman writes Obama “described boomer politics with something close to disdain as a psychodrama ‘rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago', and. . . [called] Hillary [one who’s] ‘been fighting some of the same fights since the '60s.’” Ouch!

To Goodman, those were fights worth fighting. “The '60s opened up huge and important conflicts. It was . . . about . . . black and white relationships, male and female relationships, gay and straight relationships, all kinds of authority and our place in the world.”

Goodman believes “the campaign against any Republican will take place in the fray. . . [I]n an era of ugly politics. . . [w]e don't need healing but resounding defeat. . . [That means we need a] bulldozer [who] can't be kissed into submission.”


Friday, December 07, 2007

Iraq Surge Success Continues

Here’s our latest monthly, highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)
2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 58
2007: 67
November: 33

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (monthly average)
1965: 128*
1966: 420
1967: 767
1968: 1140
1969: 785
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar Peak: 2.50
Goal: 2.10 (Revised downward, 1/07)
actual: 2.40 (11/07)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,120 (11/07)

Since our last monthly report, the American KIA total rose from October's 28 up to 33. Still, that KIA total is, except for last month, the lowest since March 2006, and the recent two-month total of 61 is the lowest bi-monthly American KIA total since February-March 2004. [Please note: the number of KIA is almost always lower than the media-reported total of American deaths, which covers all causes, including non-hostile. Our Iraq and Vietnam figures are KIA only.] American deaths in Iraq are the monthly statistic most closely watched to measure how the war is going.

Our other indicators continue to show success. Oil output is up to its highest daily total since October 2004, and is the fifth-highest oil daily output average for any month since the war began. Once again, revenue from oil exports is the highest ever except for the previous month--a pattern that suggests a month's lag in compiling the revenue total, meaning the November revenue total will be a new Iraq record once we see the first Brookings' report in 2008. Iraq's oil revenue gains are of course helped by record prices for crude on the world market.

As for electricity, here output is down for November--falling to 4,120 megawatts from October's 4,725 megawatts. But electricity usage drops with the temperature. The U.S. interim national target for Iraq is 10-12 hours of electricity a day. Iraq topped that figure in both October and November, the first time that's happened for two months in a row since October-November 2005.

All these measurements portray progress in Iraq.

This blog follows Iraq-related news fairly closely, as does the world. About one-fifth of our blog entries deal with Iraq. Here they all are:

Pew: Public Sees Progress in War Effort

What’s in the Times’ Washington Bureau Water Cooler? (11.21.07)

Facts on the Ground (Reprise)

Succeeding in Iraq

Is War Necessary?

War: Answering the Euro-Democrats (10.29.07)

In-Your-Face Media Bias (10.8.07)

An Excellent Month in Iraq

AP Cooks the Books on Iraq

ABC’s Raddatz Cues Up Reid on How to Blacken Petraeus

Iraq: KIA Down on Eve of Petraeus Report

Can Friedman let Iraq go? Maybe not.

Iraq: American KIA Surpass 9.11 Total

Quitting the War on Terror

Quitters (Part II)

Quitters (Part I) (7.10.07)

Iraq Surge Comes with a Price (7.8.07)

Iraq Death Toll Reaches New High

Why White House May Cave on Iraq

Damning Bob Kerrey with Faint Praise

Thank Heaven for Bob Kerrey (5.22.07)

What to Do About the Islamic Threat

Iraq Surge Costs American Lives

Losing Iraq = Bad News for U.S.

Backlash Times 3

Iraq: Light at the end of the tunnel?

Hope in Iraq

Al-Qaeda: Bigger than Ever

Iraq: No Measurable Progress (4.11.07)

Early Stage Iraq Surge Brings Little Change (3.8.07)

Common Myths about Iraq (2.11.07)

Iraq: Oil Production Target Lowered

The Answer is More Democracy

Baker-Hamilton Support Iraq Troop Surge

Iraq War Loss is Democrats’ Gain

Iraq: Is Winning that Hard?

Iraq: December a Bad Month; 2006 a Bad Year (1.4.07)

Gore’s Running Mate: More Troops in Iraq (1.3.07)

Hey, Look, Patton! (12.12.07)

Do We Need to Win? (12.10.06)

Iraq: November better for Americans (12.5.06)

Uncle Sadr

If Iraq is Vietnam, Where is Uncle Ho? (11.27.06)

Media on Iraq: Losing is Winning (11.21.06)

Iraq: Worst Month in Years

For all Iraq items posted before November 2006, go here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

God Lives

The Economist has a special section on religion. As an answer to globalization's challenges, religion’s coming back, a theme in line with Tom Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999), and touched on in this blog’s “computers v. culture”. The world’s biggest religions—Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism—are larger than ever, and Islam’s extreme version is a truly serious threat to globalization. Secularism, once thought the wave of the future, is a North American-Western Europe exception to a picture that has seen Christianity grow from 10 million to 400 million African believers in the 20th century, and China moving toward becoming the world's largest Christian nation by 2050. As The Economist puts it, modernization was thought to lead to secularization, but in fact modernization means pluralism, or different religions (including Atheism as a choice).

Nationalism followed the Age of Faith, and it dominated world history from 1648 to the Berlin Wall’s 1989 fall. We are now in the era of globalization, with religion in its shadow, making a comeback.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pew: Public Sees Progress in War Effort

Pew Research has the first solid evidence I’ve seen that the public is accepting evidence of the Iraq surge’s success.
According to Pew,

there has been improvement in how both Democrats and Republicans view the war. At the lowest point in February, 51% of Republicans said things were going well. Today, 74% of Republicans say the same. And . . . the proportion of Democrats expressing a positive view of the Iraq effort has doubled since February (from 16% to 33%). [In addition,] 41% of independents offer a positive assessment, while half say things are not going well. In February, 26% of independents expressed a positive view of . . .Iraq.

Pew also found that “improving” has replaced “mess” as the most popular single-word description for Iraq.

Why are these men laughing?

Neither Bush nor Ehud Olmert nor Mahmoud Abbas have the clout to deliver a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Hamas takes out Abbas if he compromises, and likewise the Israeli right wing takes out Olmert if he makes concessions. When Ariel Sharon went into a coma, the leader who could have achieved peace with Palestine left the scene. So even though Bush has nothing to lose, even though Iraq’s improving security situation gives the U.S. more clout, even though Syria really does want peace with Israel, and even though Hamas’ shift to Gaza offers Abbas latitude he didn’t expect to have in dealing on the West Bank, these guys just aren’t the three to make it happen. Not the British in 1948. Not Bush in 2008. (Ouch! Sixty years!)

Politics is always local in the sense that a leader weak at home can’t make the compromises that move history forward.