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US Republican race – now the focus will be on Rick Santorum

Each time the political parties get into this dance, things get more intense. This time is an especially interesting year in the Presidential race, with Obama having come down sharply to earth since his election just 3 years ago. His election promised to bring about a radical change in politics, some amount of moderation of the harsh politics between the Democratic and Republican party, and bring the country out of the depression it had got into (whether these be the wars it had got into, where soldiers and money were being spent in huge numbers, and without seemingly making too much change in the ground; and the recession that started with the crash in 2009 and continued with low morale and low levels of employment).
However, the President was somewhat of a disappointment, with an inability to take the country out of the economic downturn it had got into (although his supporters claim that he managed to prevent the fall of many eminent economic institutions of the US and prevented the country from getting into an even deeper recession). In addition, the Republican establishment was totally against him, and did whatever they could to oppose any measures he took. The Tea Party movement that came up was vehemently for a rationalization of the economic policies of the country, for reducing the high debt levels of the country, and also against the policies that Obama had been pushing. This movement, and a low level of confidence in the President, saw the Republican party making advances, getting a clear majority in the House and also reducing the strength of the Democratic Party in the Senate.
With this environment in place, and not much of a movement in terms of improvement in the economic situation, it seemed that the Presidential election was for the Republican Party to win, as long as they had a candidate who would appeal to the conservative base of the Republican Party and also the Independent voters who have supported Obama in the previous election. But there remains a problem – the list of candidates leading the Republican Party had to seem conservative enough so that the candidate can get past the primaries, and yet appeal to voters in the end. The only person from the list of candidates is Mitt Romney, but a seeming liberal who has supported abortion rights, who had a state health care plan similar to the one by Obama (and hugely hated by Republicans) and other policies (on all of which, Romney has gone back, or ‘flipped’), make him a difficult candidate for the GOP to support. But, on the other hand, he is the only likely candidate who is centered enough that he can draw an overall majority. But, any person who seems more conservative than Romney gets support (atleast for some time), and the latest was Rick Santorum, which is a staunch anti-abortion, against gay marriage, and other policies that make his a favorite among conservatives.
So, in a surprise, Rick Santorum, challenged Romney for the lead in the first primary, the Iowa caucus, and almost made it. And guess what, so far the Romney campaign had targeted Gingrich and Perry, seeing them as the primary contenders; now, with the sudden emergence of Santorum, he will become the main target of the Romney campaign. Already, one can see the impact of an increased focus, there is investigation about the earmarks he did, as well as his involvement with the companies which he promoted when he was a senator. Such articles would seem to portray the Senator as a lobbyist, which would discredit him very badly.

The timetable for US withdrawal from Afghanisation going beyond the declared 2011 timeline

Barrack Obama inherited a huge can of worms from his predecessor, George Bush, in terms of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And his political base, the Democrats, consists of a large number of more liberal supporters who abhor the US military presence in these countries and want the military to get back. Obama has been lucky in Iraq, with the country slowly settling down into an uneasy peace (and with a lot of political jostling); the US military has been disengaging and not facing too much pressure during this process. However, it is in Afghanistan that things are not going to plan. The US cannot just up and leave from the country, since that would effectively mean turning the country over to the Taliban, with a huge chance of re-emergence of the country as a terrorist training ground, it would mean that the US would be seen as a defeated rival and militant Islam will get a huge face lift from such a step, and the credibility of the US as a force that is capable of staying will be lost.
It would be pretty clear that Obama realizes this, and sought to reassure all sides of opinion by declaring that the US will stay, but will move towards withdrawal from Afghanistan by July 2011. However, this had an immediate negative effect on the field of operations by letting the Taliban know about the long term plans of the US, and also letting them gain the upper hand by threatening the populace that with the US going to leave in a matter of months, they better not support the US, or they would face a reaction from the Taliban later. The US military was pretty understanding of this reaction, and also passed on the same sentiments, since it got more difficult to get the Taliban on their side.
Continue reading The timetable for US withdrawal from Afghanisation going beyond the declared 2011 timeline

Congo – a failure of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force

The United Nations Peace Keeping force is an international force comprising of contributory soldiers from many countries, who are deputed for deployment in countries where there is a need for some security forces to maintain law and order. These could be situations where there is a huge amount of internal strife, or the governing party are subjugating other sections of the population (as happened in some parts of the former republic of Yugoslavia), or where there is no effective country (such as the country of Somalia where a contingent of Ethiopian soldiers had entered under the mandate of an agreement by the African Union). In some cases, these contingents are successful in enforcing the peace, but in many other cases, the various constraints and controls placed on these peacekeeping forces prevents them from being effective.
Consider the case of Congo, where there is a Government, which has an army and police force, and is fighting some very determined rebels. The fight between the army and the rebels is quite bitter, and the rebels have also taken to terrorize the population. The incidence of rape and killings is high, with the use of rape being an instrument to punish entire localities. In addition, there is money involved with mines in the vicinity, and some of these mines are controlled by the rebels. The army and police are not exactly straight either.
In these circumstances, the peacekeepers have their tasks cut out, and are failing to implement the peace. There was a recent terror campaign in which a huge number of the woman in a township were gang raped one after the other, and there was nobody to stop them. The peace keepers were not to be found nearby, arriving there after everything had happened. Further, the responsibility of covering this area was on the Army, which had suddenly vanished. In such a case, the local people do not really appreciate the efforts being put in by the peace-keeping forces, and do not really perceive a sense of security.
UN peace keeping forces are sometimes called as police work being done by soldiers, in the sense that most of their work is around ensuring that there is a sense of security in the area, and not indulging in combat operations as they are trained to do. This sort of work is not really what they are supposed to do, and postings in such areas also dulls their edge. Further, their hands are tied in terms of local politics, in terms of what they can do and what they cannot do; such policies prevent them from being able to take effective steps to counter such grisly episodes, or being there to stop such disasters from happening.

US proposes a huge amount of arms for Saudi Arabia, to counteract the growing power of Iran

The United States is proposing a huge sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. This is a sale that is worth around $60 billion, and primarily comprises of new F-15 fighter aircraft, military helicopters (both attack and troop transport helicopters). These are meant to increase the firepower of the Saudi Arabian forces, and also replace the older fighters in the Saudi arsenal. Saudi Arabia remains a strategic ally of the United States in the region, and given the problems both these countries have with Iran, this sale is meant to also convey a message to Iran. There is a long standing confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia (and several other Gulf states that are on the side of the Saudis). Iran is a leader of the Shias, while almost every country in the region is ruled by Sunnis. Further, Iran is ruled by a theocracy, while other countries are ruled by monarchies, or by a chosen few; and none of them would like to see an increase in the influence of the militant Islam in their countries (which will threaten the current rulers).
The strategy seemingly being followed by the United States along with the Gulf countries is to increase the military might of each of these countries, both in terms of offense and defense (with increased counter-missile technologies). This is meant to convey to Iran that even though it would gain some strategic increase through its nuclear program, it will have to face more powerful military neighbors, all of which are tied together with the United States, and even more surprisingly, with Israel. In the face of a common enemy such as Iran, even Israel and the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait will make common cause.
The deal is currently making its way through the United States Congress, but there is very little chance that the deal will get stopped; the strategic imperative in such cases is very high and the push to make this deal through all approvals is very high. One can expect that in some time, these arms will start to make their way into the Saudi Arabian arsenal.