Iran’s recent capture of 15 British sailors and marines set off a diplomatic showdown and sparked comparisons to the infamous takeover of the American embassy in Iran. For this week’s Seven Questions, FP asked Mark Bowden, author of a bestselling book about the 1979 crisis, for his take on Iran's actions. Check it out.
(Programming note: this interview was originally conducted before President Ahmadinejad announced that the prisoners would be released, and so we went back to Bowden for an update on the situation.)
Obviously, the seizure of 15 British marines and sailors and the Iranians' use of them as pawns in a propaganda game is a deadly serious business. Yet there's also plenty of farce amid the danger:
The Iranians also blundered in diplomatic talks by giving the British their own compass reference for the place where they said the 14 men and one woman had been seized. When Britain plotted these on a map and pointed out that the spot was in Iraq’s maritime area, the Iranians came up with a new set of coordinates, putting the seizure in their own waters.
Whoops. Turns out, though, that the border issue isn't as black and white as either side claims. King's College of London's Richard Schofield, an expert on the Iran-Iraq border, explained in a telephone interview that although "basically, there is a boundary" nowadays along the Shatt al-Arab, that's not the case further out in the Persian Gulf where the British sailors and marines were taken prisoner. Below is the map presented by the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD):
That's what lends the claims of gadfly Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, a whiff of plausibility. Murray, who also headed the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1989 to 1992, writes on his website that "there is no agreed maritime boundary between Iraq and Iran in the Persian Gulf," a milder version of his earlier argument that the boundary used by the MoD "is a fake with no legal force."
Murray is missing the point. True, as Schofield says, "the boundary that [the MoD] showed further south was a little disingenuous, because it doesn't have the same legal force or weighting, by any means, as the Iran-Iraq boundary." Explains Schofield, "It's more just a provisional indication of what Iraq's territorial water claims might be." But what's good for the goose is good for the gander; if there's no clear border, then Iran doesn't have a case, either. And as Kaiyan Kaikobad, an associate professor of international law at Durham University, observes in the LA Times, "If you can show that over a reasonably long period of time, that this was the line that both countries actually agreed on, there's lots of rules in international law that allow that line to become not only a de facto line, but a de jure line." So the MoD could be right after all.
Rather than seizing the opportunity to chalk the whole thing up to a misunderstanding about maritime law, though, the Iranians keep digging themselves into a deeper diplomatic hole, and the British are happy to hand them the shovel. It's clear from the Iranian actions that this isn't really about territorial waters, in any case. After all, the Iranians could have politely notified the British Navy that their boat was in the wrong spot, and the two sides could have worked it out like gentlemen. Instead, we get an absurd hostage situation and a diplomatic crisis. So what's it about?
UPDATE: Be sure to read Craig Murray's response.
Last summer, Colorado passed one of America's most strident illegal immigration laws. It was the kind of law that inspires alarmist warnings of shortages in service industry employees and farm laborers. And guess what? That's exactly what has happened. Last fall, crops were left to rot in some Colorado fields after many immigrants fled the state fearing a run in with the law. Now, the state's farmers are worried about getting this year's crops into the fields, let alone harvesting them this fall.
Once again, the state's lawmakers believe they can come to the rescue. This time, their plan is to hire out convicted criminals, who will be guarded by wardens with guns, to work in the fields abandoned by immigrants. Colorado lawmakers, it appears, would rather see struggling family farmers paying wages to sleazy inmates from the state's prisons than paying hard working immigrants who may have come into America illegally.
It's the latest sign of how out of whack our immigration policies have become. Even the traditionally forward-thinking Denver Post is supporting the cockamamie scheme, which it says "has the potential to solve a host of problems" such as teaching inmates a "learned work ethic" and allowing them "less time ... to get into trouble."
What's next, inmates bussing tables in restaurants as guards watch over them with guns?
Despite Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's 20-year crusade to appease Vietnamese territorial demands, all while suppressing widespread indignation at home over the concessions, a quiet storm of discontent continues to brew over the historically Cambodian Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, home to more than one million ethnic Khmer Krom. With the help of a small but vocal Western diaspora, the "Khmer from below" (if we translate from the Vietnamese) have grown increasingly savvy in voicing their nationalist demands, which range from re-unification with Cambodia to full independence.
Last Wednesday, in anticipation of a visit by Vietnam's president, Nguyen Minh Triet, about 50 Buddhist monks staged a rare public protest near the Vietnamese embassy in Cambodia. The monks' immediate concern was with Hanoi's alleged defrocking of dissident monks around the Mekong Delta. The Cambodia Daily reports:
Son Hai, a 26-year-old monk who claimed he recently fled Vietnam, said the monks timed their protest with the president's two-day visit to attract maximum attention. 'We want to meet [Nguyen Minh Triet] face-to-face and ask him to stop defrocking monks and pressuring the Khmer Kampuchea Krom,' he said."
Hanoi's efforts to "Vietnamize" the Khmer Krom have long alarmed human rights groups and are the subject of Rebecca Sommer's widely screened 2006 documentary, "Eliminated without Bleeding."
Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf just gave a press conference at his residence in Rawalpindi that appears to be one of the most forthcoming in recent memory. He admitted that Pakistani border guards have sometimes turned a blind eye to Taliban fighters:
There is no question of anyone abetting, but there are people at the tactical level who turn a blind eye ... and that needs to be corrected.
Musharraf still maintains that the Taliban resurgence is primarily an Afghan phenomenon, of course, but he's now admitting that "some support" is flowing from Pakistan.
What accounts for this refreshing bout of candor? Perhaps the delivery of another round of U.S. military equipment has put the Pakistani president in a magnanimous mood.
As Blake noted yesterday, Pakistan's government is touting a new plan to mine its porous border with Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai dismisses the notion as an empty gesture at fighting the Taliban, and he may be right.
It's far easier for Pakistan to talk about minefields and border fences than to actually crack down on known Taliban operatives in places like Waziristan. But it's a clever gesture on Musharraf's part. Why? Because Karzai has to reject the idea. The Durand Line that forms the border between the two countries cuts right through Pashtun tribal areas. Endorsing a plan to mine the border would mean accepting the border, something Afghanistan has never done.
And so the bickering between Musharaff and Karzai continues. Bush may have to invite them for another White House dinner soon.
From the Library of Congress (click on the map above to zoom in):
On November 12, 1893, Abdur Rahman Khan, and the Foreign Secretary of the Colonial Government of India, Sir Mortimer Durand, agreed to mark the boundary between Afghanistan and British India. The Durand Line cut through Pashtun tribal areas and villages. It was a cause of dispute between the governments of Afghanistan and British India and later between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
My, how times have changed:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 26 — Faced with a barrage of criticism over incursions into Afghanistan by Pakistan-based Taliban militants and their sympathizers, the Pakistan government said today that it would seal the border with fencing and booby traps.
"The Pakistan Army has been tasked to work out modalities for selectively fencing and mining the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," Riaz Mohammad Khan, the Pakistani foreign secretary, said at a news briefing in Islamabad, the capital. "These measures will supplement the measures which are already in force."
To this day, Afghanistan doesn't recognize the Durand Line.
Every day, men from all over Africa take the perilous journey through the continent and the open seas in search of a better life in Europe. They leave behind their families, paying hundreds of dollars for a square inch of space on a boat off the coast of West Africa.
From there, they battle rough weather conditions, malnutrition and trauma for several days on an open, overcrowded boat, in hopes of seeing the shores of Spain or Italy. Many of them, however, don't make it. Last week a overloaded fishing boat from Senegal capsized twice while sailing to Spain's Canary Islands, leaving at least 80 passengers dead.
The tale is sadly typical of migrant boats making their way to Europe. Many of the boats are ill-equipped for the journey, and rescue workers and police often intercept the journey and escort them back to shore. The migrants are then helped back to health, detained and either released or deported to their country of origin. For those sent back, the experience doesn't necessarily deter them. One man on his second attempt to reach Europe from Nigeria says, "I am, of course, very afraid of making this boat journey again but there is no other way. I and other Africans like myself feel we have no choice. I have to try and make a better life, I pray that God will see me through." As Austin Wainwright, a worker with the Spanish Red Cross, relates, the journey is harrowing, but far too many Africans "would rather die trying to make it to Europe than to stay in their country."
Europe has responded to illegal immigration by introducing patrol boats, planes and helicopters off the shores of Mauritania, Senegal and Cape Verde. Also, last month, the EU introduced new measures to deal with illegal immigration, including allocating 40 million euros to boost job creation in Africa. Improving the African economy is a great idea. Unfortunately, nobody has found a magic formula for Africa yet, and 40 million euros is nowhere near enough.
Japan has long kept its gates closed to outsiders, making immigration virtually impossible to outsiders (unless you're Alberto Fujimori). But the elderly population's growth, coupled with low fertility (only about 1.25 children per couple), means that there's dire need for more health care workers. A joint economic agreement signed with the Philippines a few years ago will allow for a few hundred Philippine nurses to move to Japan for jobs. The Japanese are making a big deal out of this, since they don't allow foreigners to migrate. But they're only taking about a hundred per year to start. This is a country that has a population of 127 million! Japan had better get with the program. Overeducated Philippine nurses need jobs, Japanese eldery need health care, it's a perfect match. Yasutoshi Nishimura, a member of the house of representatives in Japan, thinks that within the next five years there could be some 10,000 Philippine nurses in the country. Hopefully they'll be welcomed with more than reluctant acceptance.
The debate over building a U.S.-Mexico border fence often ignores one key issue: the fence that's already there. It's a disjointed mishmash of various barriers, structures ranging from wooden fences to high, steel mesh walls.
Peter Skerry argues in the most recent issue of FP that these disjointed barriers reveal America's ambivalent and conflicted attitudes about immigration. I wonder what he would make of this new use for a section of the fence south of San Diego: the first-ever game of international border volleyball.
The latest Congressional hearing on immigration reform was chaired yesterday by U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican from Colorado. Allard spent a bunch of taxpayer money staging a "field hearing" of the Senate Budget Committee in Aurora, Colorado. The topic? Ironically, the "cost" of illegal immigration. No senator on the committee other than Allard bothered to turn up.
I've got an idea for Sen. Allard's the next Congressional hearing on the virtues and dangers of immigration. Call Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, to testify. Ask him if he could fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without the 33,000 non-U.S. citizens currently serving in the military. After all, it is Hispanic soldiers who, according to research by demographers at the University of Pennsylvania, are doing a disproportionately high percentage of the dying in Iraq.
Some nations are just doomed from the start, often because their borders are not squiggly enough. That's the conclusion of a recent NBER study by Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Janina Matuszeski and NYU's Bill Easterly.
The researchers developed an equation for measuring the "squiggliness" of national borders using grids, coming up with (ln (box count) = a + b * ln (box size)), which they argue roughly corellates with how "artificial" or "natural" a state is - that is, how well a country's borders reflect existing regional, ethnic, historical, geographical, and linguistic fault lines. They also developed another measure to determine to what extent borders "partition" ethnic groups.
The researchers then set out to find whether artificial states with straight, partitioning borders do any worse than natural states with squiggly borders. The findings? The names of the Â“most artificialÂ” states according to both the "squiggly" and "partition" measures - Chad, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guatemala, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Pakistan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe - should give you a clue (hint: a lot of them show up on FP's Failed State Index). Yup, less squiggly countries turned out to do worse all around: they are poorer, more prone to unrest, governed poorly, and have higher infant mortality rates.
On Saturday night I picked up a friend of mine at New York's JFK Airport. He's a Canadian citizen who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When I met him at the airport, he spent a good 30 minutes giving me a tongue lashing over America's "Soviet-style tactics" of photographing and fingerprinting foreign tourists as they come into the country. I had some sympathy for his gripes. I was dubious of the "US-VISIT" program when it was announced.
But, four weeks out from the fifth anniversary of 9/11, news that 11 Egyptian men are "missing" in the United States makes me wonder if there isn't some wisdom in the program. The men were admitted into the U.S. 10 days ago to study language and other subjects in Bozeman, Montana. But they never showed up for classes. FBI spokesman Special Agent Richard Kolko released the following statement around 5:30 p.m. last night:
The FBI, in conjunction with our ICE partners at DHS, issued a BOLO (be-on-the-lookout) for eleven Egyptian students that arrived in the U.S. at JFK Airport on July 29, 2006. The FBI and ICE would like to locate these eleven students in order to speak with them. At this point all they have done is not show up for a scheduled academic program and their student visas have been revoked. We do not know of any association with any terrorist or criminal groups. There is no threat associated with these men. We have simply asked law enforcement’s assistance in locating them so that the FBI and ICE may interview them. If anyone has information on their whereabouts, they are requested to contact the FBI or ICE.
A while back, we mentioned that the Islamic militia that has taken control of Mogadishu was starting to worry about its media image. Now, it looks like that they are hoping to go beyond mere PR management and take on some much broader political duties: namely, they want to take full control of Somalia.
This story has been overlooked somewhat by the crisis in Lebanon, but if you've been following recent events in Somalia, you'll know that the Supreme Islamic Courts Coucil has defeated most of the country's rival warlords and is now advancing on the powerless, UN-backed government there. There are reports that troops from Ethiopia, Somalia's hated neighbor, have crossed the border to defend the fragile transitional government. The Islamic militia is preparing for war; they've been rallying their troops and have just recieved a planeload of munitions from mysterious sources. Twenty cabinet ministers in the UN-backed government have resigned as Somalia teeters on the brink of a major conflict that could draw in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In this week's Seven Questions, FP spoke with Craig Timberg, who reports from Africa for the Washington Post, about why the Islamic militia has suddenly taken power, how everyday life has changed in Mogadishu, and what it all could mean for the war on terror.
Ask the existing EU members about the prospect of Ukraine joining their club, and you get a resounding "call us in 20 years". But the remoteness of the prospect--and likely Russian objections--haven't stopped the hoping and the planning. Witness the recent Yalta conference of the optimistically named group YES (Yalta Europe Strategy), a committee aiming to guide Ukraine into Europe.
The shadow of the 1943 Yalta conference, where some say the Cold War began, hangs over these talks, and it's clear that decades behind the Iron Curtain left a lot of Ukrainians looking westward. Not everyone is optimistic about the time frame of accession, and some doubt it will even happen. Still others seem to think that pre-accession measures are worth it, even if Ukraine's entry is still decades in the future. From one unexpected leader at the conference:
I am not sure that in 10 to 15 years Ukraine will be a member of the EU. But we need these reforms: democracy, a market economy and the rule of law." --Victor Pinchuk, one of the Ukraine's richest men and the son-in-law of ousted President Leonid Kuchma
Israel's disengagement from Gaza had plenty of nay-sayers at the time, people on both the right and left of Israeli politics who claimed the throw-the-keys-over-the-fence solution would never work. But events over last fall and early this spring - especially Olmert's election as PM - seemed to indicate an Israeli electorate eager to continue with the disengagement experiment. Now it's July. Israel is back in Gaza. It's pummeling Lebanon with air strikes. The peace process seems in tatters.
So how did it all go so very wrong? In a new ForeignPolicy.com exclusive, Gershom Gorenberg, veteran journalist and author of the excellent new book, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, takes a look at how the disengagement plan jumped the tracks and argues that in order to salvage his original plan of withdrawal, Olmert must go much further in his future concessions to the Palestinians. Check it out.
Think building an impermeable wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is a pipe dream? Not so, says Rep. Steve King (R-IA). In fact, he's "designed" one of his own. King grew up in what he calls a "law enforcement family." So he presumably knows a thing or two about illegality. And Tuesday, when he took to the House floor to talk about immigration - the illegal kind - King carried with him a model of the wall he has engineered, presumably in his spare time. Reports The Hill:
But it got really interesting when King broke out the mock electrical wiring: "I also say we need to do a few other things on top of that wall, and one of them being to put a little bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top."
He added, "We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time."
Here at Passport, we've been following with interest the question posed by David Ignatius over on the WaPo's new blog PostGlobal: How would you mediate the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis?
There have been some fascinating responses: what apartheid South Africa can teach us about the current crisis; why allowing Hamas to govern - and therefore taking more responsibility for the plight of Palestinians - would have been the wisest (initial) course; why diplomacy there is ultimately a lesson in futility, with no political solution in sight.
Because we're convinced this is an important question, Passport asked Middle East expert Dennis Ross, who was chief US diplomat in charge of Middle East peace under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, for his take on a way out of the labyrinth. Here's what he had to say:
Last year I gave a speech in Gaza and told my audience that the upcoming Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was both a challenge and an opportunity for the Palestinian people. A challenge because they would have to be able to govern themselves and bring order to Gaza once Israel had departed; an opportunity because if they showed the world and the Israeli public that they could govern themselves and fulfill security responsibilities, there would be a compelling argument that what was done and working in Gaza should also now be done in the West Bank. But, as I added, if you fail, even the strongest defenders of the Palestinian cause would have a hard time arguing that a failed model of violence and chaos in Gaza should also be applied to the West Bank. More after the jump.
Spain began formal peace talks with the politcal wing of Basque separatist group ETA today. A recent poll suggests that a majority of Spaniards support the talks, though many are furious that a group that has killed more than 800 people during its 30-year campaign for independence is welcome at any government table.
So what convinced ETA to lay down the guns, which it has done since declaring a ceasefire on March 22? Some will surely tell you it's the war on terror. More likely, though, it's that the current Spanish government is in an autonomy-granting mood, and ETA is simply trying to take advantage. The day before ETA announced its ceasefire back in March, the Spanish parliament approved language for a statute granting autonomy to Catalonia, another Spanish region seeking greater self-governance. Catalans then backed the new charter in a referendum a few weeks ago, giving the region "nation" status within Spain. Whether the Basques can achieve the same is certainly debatable; ETA in the past has claimed a chunk of southwestern France. But today's talks are one step forward for a group that seems to have decided to simply do as the Catalans do.
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