The Weekly Dispatch


February 18 - March 6

Welcome to the Dispatch for February 18 - March 6!

This week: Chavez is dead, Cuba is in trouble, Italy elected a comedian, and Kenya’s not sure who it elected.

(Apologies for running a bit late this week - Venezuela threw a wrench in my already-behind-schedule schedule)


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died on March 5. According to Venezuela’s foreign minister, elections will be held within 30 days, with Vice President Maduro taking power until then.

Chavez’s tenure in Venezuela is mixed at best. Venezuela has the lowest level of income inequality in the region, a wide variety of social programs aimed at the poor, and a vastly increased profile abroad. At the same time, Chavez’s capricious management has led oil output, increasingly the lifeblood of the Venezuelan economy, to fall dramatically, foreign investment has all but vanished, and inflation is soaring. Widespread repression of the press and of dissent, though, marred his tenure even more than his economic mismanagement or foreign adventurism.

His legacy is now in the hands of his party: with 30 days until the election, it’s a good bet Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolás Maduro will be elected to replace him - given Chavez’s outsize stature and recent passing, it will be almost impossible to run a decent opposition campaign. The question is the longer-term survival of Chavez’s party, and with it, the Bolivarian movement he championed. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Cuba have all benefited handsomely from Chavez’s oil money and international ambitions, but given Venezuela’s economic state, it’s unlikely the country can continue its role as the region’s patron without the charismatic man at the top. The death of Chavez may mark the death of the new Left in the Americas.


President Raul Castro announced this would be his final term as president, marking the end of the Castro era for Cuba. His presumptive heir is Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez.

Cuba relies heavily on both the Castro legacy and on Venezuela’s largess to support the regime. Raul’s announcement and Chavez’s death mean that in five years when Bermúdez takes power, he will face a nation in uncharted territory, devoid of both its patron and its saint. After 50 years of economic mismanagement, they don’t have a hell of a lot else left.


Italy held general elections on February 26. No party received enough votes to make a majority, with a three way split emerging between the left-wing Democratic Party, Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom part, and the Five-Star Movement, a protest party headed by a stand-up comedian. A new election became a virtual certainty after Beppe Grillo, head of the Five-Star movement, rejected the idea of joining a coalition government.

The Italian elections have panicked investors in the Eurozone. The relative calm of the last few months was bought by the ECB’s promise to buy Euro country bonds as needed, but that was predicated on the countries’ adherence to austerity policies. At the least, Italy’s programs are on hold until the next election, and both Berlusconi’s party and the Five-Star Movement have rejected the austerity program entirely.

This shouldn’t be surprising to the Eurozone leaders, though. The austerity programs have been enormously unpopular (as well as wildly unsuccessful), and eventually the leaders implementing them were going to wind up in front of their electorates again. Even if the austerity programs made economic sense (which, again, they don’t), they’re unsustainable in a democratic system. Forcing a country to sustain several years of double-digit economic contractions is a recipe for political chaos and economic collapse - many of the Euro countries are in dire need of reform, but without some form of growth-supporting policies, reform efforts are doomed.


Kenya is awaiting the results of its presidential elections, held March 5. While flaws in the electronic tabulation system have delayed official results until at least the end of this week, early results were showing Uhuru Kenyatta, who is facing charges at the ICC, in the lead.

Kenya’s 2007 presidential elections sparked a wave of ethnic violence that left more than a thousand people dead (that incident sparked the charges against Kenyatta). While the vote was largely peaceful, the long delays and the looming prospect of a run-off have the country on edge. Kenya is also heavily invested in the fight against al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group in Somalia. The group has recently retaliated with several attacks inside Somalia, and any period of instability will be bad for Kenya and probably bad for Somalia as well.

Thanks for joining, and my best for the week ahead!


February 3 - 17

Welcome to the Dispatch for February 3 − 17!

This week: Chuck Hagel makes history, Syrians want to talk, French want to leave, North Koreans want attention, and Venezuela wants a President, preferably a living one.

Hagel Nomination

After a long and contentious debate, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Chuck Hagel’s nomination to Secretary of Defense. The victory was short-lived, however: two days later, Senate republicans filibustered the nomination, the first time ever a candidate for Secretary of Defense has been blocked. By Sunday, the opposition seemed to have eased, though: both Lidnsey Graham and John McCain (who had initially opposed a filibuster) said they would end their attempts to block the nomination.

Senate Republicans said they were opposed to the quick vote on Hagel’s nomination and that they needed more time to get answers to their questions about Hagel. The White House nominated Hagel largely because he’s a former Senator - they had hoped to avoid exactly this scenario. Historically, Congress has been reasonably deferential to the President to fill his own cabinet, but those days are obviously gone. Hagel’s troubles largely spring from some ill-advised comments he made about the “Jewish lobby” being too powerful; the groups aligned against him right now are almost exclusively pro- Israel organizations.


The Syrian opposition offered its backing to a surprise offer by Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the Syrian opposition coalition, to negotiate with the Assad regime, offering Assad himself exile in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The group clarified its conditions on the 15th, saying that they would negotiate with the government, but not Assad himself or members of the military.

The government has not fully endorsed negotiations, though they have not rejected the notion outright either. The question is whether the opposition is cohesive enough to engage in real negotiations and to implement an agreement if one were reached.


French soldiers have secured most of Mali, despite occasional outbreaks of fighting. The militants have largely retreated into the deserts to the north of the country, though fears persist of their return. The French are pledging to hand over patrol duties to African forces under the auspices of a United Nations mission as soon as feasible.

There’s already signs the militants intend to wage some form of guerrilla warfare, though that’s a huge improvement over the open warfare they were waging a month ago. The big question is the future of the Malian government and the Malian army — both are in as bad shape as they were when this mess started, if not worse. The real challenge for Mali is twofold: first, solving the political crisis in Bamako, and second, figuring out some agreement with the Tuareg so this doesn’t happen again.

An interesting note: In the rubble of Timbuktu, the AP found a 10-page letter detailing Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb’s strategy in Mali, including an assessment of how they failed and a prediction that they would be driven from Mali by outside forces. The strategy is remarkably clear-headed and reasonable for a self-declared jihadi movement - which might explain why it doesn’t seem to have reached the fighters on the ground.

North Korea

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on the 11th, detonating a device estimated at around 6 kilotons. Governments around the world were quick to decry the test, and the South Korean government responded by demonstrating a new cruise missile with a range of over 600mi, long enough to hit nearly anywhere in the North.

The nuclear test is all bluster. Nothing else about the device is known except that it was around 6Kt and that the North claims it was a nuclear device. Whatever the talk from the rest of the world (including the UN), though, the only voice that matters now is China’s. The North Koreans are heavily dependent on China for food, fuel, and trade. The Chinese use North Korea both as a strategic buffer between themselves and the American-allied South Koreans and as a distraction to keep the West busy, and until the North becomes more trouble than it’s worth to Beijing, expect this sort of noise to continue. There’s some indication this line is approaching: the latest missile and bomb tests have been done in spite of Chinese orders to the contrary, signs the younger Kim is flouting China’s good will.

On the much, Much more speculative side, NightWatch notes the (unverifiable) reports of an Iranian delegation attending this test, as has apparently been the case in the past, and asserts that at this point the North Korean nuclear program is functionally the Iranian nuclear program. It’s an interesting point, and could help to reconcile some of the disparities in Iran’s nuclear posture: there’s no real sign they’re trying to build a bomb, but they’re building all the infrastructure to do so with no real apparent civilian nuclear power program. Outsourcing R&D to North Korea could give Iran a lot of political cover while still allowing them to build a bomb if they decide do so.


The Venezuelan government released photos of Hugo Chavez in his hospital bed in Cuba on the 15th, the first time the Venezuelan President has been seen since leaving for surgery on December 11th. Three days later, the government flew Mr. Chavez back into Venezuela and immediately moved him into a military hospital in Caracas. He has not been seen since.

Hugo Chavez’s entire political movement is built around the man himself, and it appears he is direly ill. His party has insisted he’s still running the country, but the opposition is insisting ever louder that he’s not fit to lead and new elections should be held. They have a point - when the best you can say is “He’s adjusting to the breathing tube nicely,” well, it’s time to face facts. Nobody in Venezuela’s government has either the popular support or the credibility of Chavez: if he goes, “Chavismo” and the entire ruling political structure of the last decade goes with him.

Thanks for joining me, and my best for the week ahead!


January 22 - February 2

Welcome to the 2nd Dispatch of 2013!

This week: Riots in Egypt, French in Mali (but no Islamists), Centrists in Israel, Women in the Military, and Incrementalism in Congress.


Riots broke out in several cities in Egypt on the second anniversary of the country’s January 25 uprising. The riots, which started as a political protest, escalated sharply on the 26th as soccer fans in Port Said took over the town in response to a court case regarding a riot last February. The riots grew further after clashes with the police left several protestors dead, and on the 27th, Egyptian President Morsi declared a state of emergency and a curfew in Port Said and two other cities. Neither the police nor the curfew stemmed the violence, and on the 29th, the head of the military warned the state was in danger of collapse if the riots continued. The violence culminated in street battles outside the presidential palace on Friday, which left one protestor dead and several dozen wounded.

For all the Egyptian Revolution accomplished, it’s never seemed quite complete. Mubarak was removed from power by his own generals, and most of his state apparatus remains intact. Most of the last year in Egypt has played like a long game of insider baseball — long-established factions like the military and the Muslim Brotherhood vying for control, with Mubarak-appointed judges in the middle. The issues that brought the people to the street were never resolved, and Morsi’s ham-handed declarations of extra-constitutional power have stoked fear and anger in the streets. The “opposition,” many of whom are also holdovers from the Mubarak era, have been just as powerless to control what’s happening in the streets. I’m not sure what will result from these riots, but they’re a major black eye for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the police actions in the street are a stark demonstration that Egypt hasn’t come far enough since Mubarak’s departure.


The French military has retaken most of Northern Mali in just a couple weeks, meeting shockingly little resistance along the way.

After a few early skirmishes, the Malian conflict looked like it was going to be a slog. It wasn’t — the militants chose not to engage, and just left. This was a smart move — the Islamists are an alarmingly capable force, but attempting to hold North Mali in the face of a legitimate army would’ve been an incredibly costly failure. The big question now is, what happened to several thousand well-armed and trained Jihadis? NightWatch suspects they’ve gone to Libya, while the recent attack in Algeria suggests they still have reasonably free mobility through that country, and Sudan, a historic home to Salafi groups, is on the verge of collapse. The Saharan region is much, much more dangerous than previously thought.


Yesh Atid, a new centrist party, shook up Israeli politics, capturing 19 of the 120 parliament seats in national elections on the 22nd. While current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is almost certain to serve another term, Yesh Atid is now the second-largest party in the Knesset. The party is largely focused on domestic and “pocket-book” issue that resonate with middle-class and urban Israelis.

Yesh Atid’s rise is a sharp turn for Israeli politics, which have seemed increasingly religious and conservative over the last few years. Among other issues, the party is strongly in favor of removing the exemptions from army service and typical schooling for ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups, who have had an outsize impact on Israeli politics lately. The party is mostly concerned with internal Israeli affairs, so it’s hard to tell what impact they’ll have on Israel’s stance towards either Iran or Palestine, but it’s nice to see a move towards more centrist, modern, and secularist politics in the Israeli mainstream again.


US Senate

The Senate agreed to a small package of procedural reforms aimed at reducing some of the deadlock of the previous years. Included were two changes, one which would allow certain bills to pass within a day or two after a simple up-and-down vote, and another which reduces the opportunities to filibuster bills.

The changes are window-dressing: Senators can still “filibuster” bills without actually having to stand up and talk for hours, prove they have the votes to block a bill, or even be present for the vote. That said, progress is progress, especially for Congress.


The Pentagon announced it will lift the restriction on women in combat roles by 2016.

And it’s about time. Interestingly, the change is being pushed internally by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not imposed from outside. The policy change reflects what many have noted has been the reality on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, where any role that involves leaving the base is functionally a combat role.

Thanks for reading, and my best for the weeks ahead!


January 7 - 21

Welcome to the first Dispatch of 2013!

This is the first dispatch in the new, shorter format. I’ve tried to focus the analysis a bit more on the conclusions, though that comes at the expense of more general background info. I’d love feedback, and suggestions are always welcome.


France started military activities in Mali after the Islamists advanced towards Sévaré, a major Malian military outpost. While French airstrikes halted that advance, the Islamists took over Diabaly, another Malian city to the west. The French have now deployed several hundred soldiers and plan to deploy up to 2000 total to fight the Islamists.

France’s intervention in Mali has finally shed some light on the nature of the Islamists controlling the country’s north, and it’s not good: the fighters seem well-armed, capable, and dedicated. The French are in for quite a fight — which, frankly, is why nobody else wanted to get involved.


Shortly after the French began operations in Mali, a group of Islamist militants took over a BP gas field and refinery in the Algerian desert. After a couple days’ standoff, the Algerian army assaulted the refinery. In the ensuing melee, 37 hostages were killed.

The militants’ attack has been called a response to the French action in Mali, but there are a couple inconsistencies: first, the attack seems to have been planned well in advance, and second, the militants who attacked the refinery are from a splinter group which broke off from the main al-Qaeda group in Mali. In all likelihood, this was an opportunistic attack that took advantage of a geopolitical crisis to draw more attention (in the same way the Benghazi attack did). The Algerian response to the attack, and its bloody aftermath, though, ought to temper demands the Algerians get more involved in the Malian crisis.


On January 8, Vice President Nicolás Maduro informed Congress that President Hugo Chávez was too sick to return from Cuba to take the presidential oath. Chávez, who won re-election to a third term in October, has been battling cancer for two years.

Chávez has been battling cancer for about two years now. Before returning to Cuba in December, he named Maduro his chosen successor, but it’s not clear the “Chavismo” movement would survive without Chávez. If Chávez doesn’t make it, this year is going to be chaotic in Venezuela, though it might be good for Venezuelan politics in the longer run - Chávez has played an outsize role in both Venezuelan politics and the region at large.

US Debt Ceiling

House Republicans offered President Obama a three-month increase of the Debt Ceiling, putting off the threat of a default, as long as the Senate agreed to pass a budget.

The “three month” number is significant: in March, Congress needs to authorize new spending for government agencies and the fiscal cuts deferred in January come due again. The GOP offer rearranges these cuts, meaning the GOP can duke it out with the White House over spending in March without having to risk an actual default. The GOP’s already lost a couple battles this year, so I’d expect March to get ugly.

Thanks for joining me, and my best for the weeks ahead!


Welcome to 2013

Astute readers will note this post is about a week late. I’ve been sitting on it for a while, for a few reasons. First, I underestimated how long it was going to take - not a new phenomenon for the Dispatch. Secondly, though, is that after spending a year or so reading far more learned people than I, I feel it’s a bit naive for me to bill this post as anything larger than what I learned this year. So, with that in mind, I hope you enjoy my recap of 2012. I’ll cover some overall trends for 2012, and then make my predictions for the hot spots in 2013.

Trends from 2012

The Empire Strikes Back

In 2011, Popular Protests were the dominant theme. In 2012, the state reasserted itself. The Arab Spring ran aground in Syria and Bahrain, the Occupiers were rolled up by local police, and Anonymous was gutted by the loss of the LulzSec/AntiSec team after one of their leaders turned informant. Egypt spent the year torn between two of the oldest institutions in the country, and the Russian people re-elected Vladimir Putin to a 3rd term. The lesson from 2012 is that it takes more than street protests and the trappings of democracy to truly upend the state: State power structures run much deeper than they seem. The upshot is that populism is no longer a dirty word in politics - we may finally get to exorcise Reagan’s ghost.

Democracy is Hard

I mentioned Egypt and Russia above, but democratic difficulties were widespread this year. Beyond the rigged elections in Russia and the obvious power games in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya both struggled to solidify their post- Revolution states. I suspect difficulties in all four countries have to do with the fact that all are relatively young democracies - even Russia only shook off the Soviet system two decades ago, though their experience should give pause in considering the future of other three. I suspect a few years time (assuming the new governments survive) will see a much better political scene in these countries, but 2012 was a stark reminder just how hard it is to form a functioning government.

Coups are Up

The coups in Mali and Guinea Bissau, as well as the rebellions in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are extremely concerning. Mali was a direct effect of the Libyan revolution - a keen reminder that even “clean” military actions have unexpected consequences. Guinea Bissau has turned into a narco-state, with the military heavily supporting drug traffickers. The rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo threatens to unleash the Hutu-Tutsi rivalry again, a conflict which has lead to untold atrocities in the past. As to the Central African Republic - there’s not much new there, actually. Central and West Africa had a good few years - it’s disheartening to see these hot spots flare up again. Unfortunately, with the West retrenching abroad and the Chinese flooding the region with money, I don’t expect Africa to get much more stable in the new year.

Austerity’s Not Working

Finally, if there’s one absolute iron-clad lesson to take from 2012, it’s that austerity doesn’t lead to growth. After four years of austerity following a recession, Greece has shed nearly 15% of its GDP, and around 1 in 4 are unemployed. The big danger now is Golden Dawn, the fascist party, which is growing in popularity and political clout amid signs even the police are beginning to support them. Greece is not an outlier either: even Germany ended the year with practically zero growth. The US economy was also threatened by premature deficit reductions - the so-called “fiscal cliff,” averted at the last second by a horridly dysfunctional Congress. It’s a bizarre political world that, in the face of everything we’ve seen from Europe and the US, will still countenance serious conversations about austerity amidst recessions.

2013 Hot Spots

One thing I’ve learned this year is that predicting the timelines of world events is extremely difficult: events tend to move in punctuated equilibria, where a situation will look relatively stable for far longer than you’d expect before suddenly flipping. The situations mentioned below look unstable - their trends are not pointing towards any equilibrium I can see - but “muddling through” and “doing nothing” can be stable options for a surprisingly long time. Take the list below with a grain of salt, but these are the areas I’m watching.

The China Seas

I mentioned the South China Sea last year, and this year I’m adding the East China Sea, where the Senkaku Islands, a small outcropping of uninhabited rocks, is bringing China and Japan close to armed conflict. The real issue is the same as it was last year: an increasingly assertive China is attempting to re-establish itself, sparking fears among its neighbors of a new Chinese imperialism. In 2012, the Chinese clashed with the Philippines, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese in the Seas, and the US strategic “pivot” to the East is set to ratchet up the tension even further. The Senkaku Islands are likely to be a focal point: the long animosity between China and Japan, a newly-elected hawkish government in Japan, and the close military ties between the US and Japan are setting the stage for the first real military clash in the region. It’s unlikely to be the last, though: the rise of China is the biggest trend of the 21st century, and the Seas are sure to be hotly contested.


For the first time, the Pakistani army listed the Islamist rebellion in the northern tribal areas as their biggest threat this year. A spate of attacks across the country has finally convinced the army that the Taliban in the North, not India in the East, is where they need to focus - though a growing Islamist sentiment among the military troops has some observers worried that the army may not be able to reliably fight the tribes in the north. Pakistan has become the most dangerous nation on earth: a country with an unstable government, an army with wide autonomy and a history of taking over the government, an Islamist insurgency in the north that is growing increasingly aggressive, and a nuclear arsenal.


Some observers have called Sudan a failed state already, but pressure on Omar al-Bashir’s government is increasing after South Sudan split the country and took most of the oil. The many internal conflicts aside, the lack of oil money is starting to erode the Sudanese state, and a regime collapse is not out of the question this year.

The Debt Ceiling

The US will reach the debt ceiling again in February, and the GOP has already promised another bruising fight over increasing it. The last time they fought this battle, US debt got downgraded and the “resolution” created the Fiscal Cliff. President Obama has vowed not to allow a repeat of that catastrophe, but his options are limited, and I don’t think we’ll get to March without some sort of political circus.

The Future of the Dispatch

I’ve enjoyed writing the Dispatch this year, and I’ve learned quite a lot while doing so. It’s been great to have a focal point for my writing, something that’s forced me to actually focus my thinking and create (reasonably) regular output. I’ve learned quite a bit this year, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I’m still an amateur when talking about international relations: I’ve read quite a lot about different subjects, but I don’t have a real theoretical foundation in IR, and that’s handicapped my ability to really dig into several subjects on anything more than a surface level. I’m going to fix that this year - I’ll be spending a lot of free time studying IR theory and statistics, and I’m hoping it’ll help my writing going forward. The biggest drawback to the Dispatch in its current form, though, is that it takes a phenomenal amount of time to write, and I simply don’t have a lot of free time these days. So, in the interest of continuing to write the Dispatch while also fulfilling my other goals for the year, I intend to make the Dispatch less of an in-depth work and more of a quick primer. I’ll be putting longer-form works on my Notes blog, and I’m certainly hoping my other studies will help me make more use of the limited format. I enjoy writing the Dispatch, and I hope a shorter version will still be of some value.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to a great 2013!


December 10 - 24

Hello, and welcome to the Final Dispatch for 2012!


The Russian Government signaled they see an outcome in Syria which doesn’t include Assad for the first time, a major diplomatic shift, though a couple days later Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, made clear his country wouldn’t be involved in ousting the Syrian leader. Mr. Lavrov also said the Syrian government was working to safeguard its chemical weapons, an assertion Israeli officials tentatively agreed with.

On Dec 16th, the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn wrote an excellent piece from Damascus, where he has been for ten days. He makes three assertions, which broadly square with other reports I’ve read. First, he expresses alarm at the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict, due mostly to growing populations of extremists in the opposition (including the al-Nusra front, which the US labeled a terrorist organization, describing the group as a franchise of al-Qaeda in Iraq). I’ve read mixed reports of the degree to which the majority of rebels are genuinely Islamist - apparently the easiest way to get funding and weapons from the Qataris and Saudis is to grow a beard and hold a Koran - but it’s definitely present and it’s definitely a problem. Second, he asserts the government is not nearly as close to collapse as rumored - much of the rebel gains have been due to a change in the government’s military strategy that involved abandoning remote posts. Cockburn says Damascus itself feels relatively secure, and even Homs is in better condition than reported. Again, that squares with what I’ve read - the regime isn’t collapsing yet, and his talk about the rebel’s gains being illusory mirrors some of what I’ve seen, but frankly, nobody chooses “abandon remote outposts” as strategy “A”, and the government’s tactics seem largely limited to aerial bombardment, which is completely insufficient for dealing with an insurgency. His final complaint is against the media coverage, and I’m absolutely on his side on that one - the day-to-day reporting on Syria has been atrocious, and it’s only been through the hard work of a few very talented journalists that it’s been possible to get anything of a reasonable picture of the situation on the ground.

My longer-term forecast remains the same - at some point (and I’d wager within the next few months), the Assad regime will fall because there’s enough money and pressure on the side of the rebels to keep the war going and very little still propping up the Assad regime. Cockburn’s article, though, is a sober reminder that optimism is not a substitute for facts.

North Korea

On Dec 11, North Korea successfully launched a satellite into orbit, a major accomplishment following two prior failures. South Korea and the west called the launch a missile test in disguise, and US naval vessels were on hand to intercept the rocket if it veered towards Japan. The satellite reached orbit, but appears dead, with an erratic orbit and no signals detected. Later analysis of debris from the rocket launch showed signs that the rocket’s design was military in nature.

The evidence collected by the South Koreans is the missile was basically glued together out of other rocket engines the North Koreans already have. Whatever it is, though, it’s estimated to have a several thousand mile range, which is a pretty substantial upgrade from their previous rockets - as they say, if it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid. The consensus of the intelligence community is that North Korea’s “space” program is a thinly-veiled missile program, the proceeds of which are currently being sold to Iran (Iranian observers were on hand for the failed April launch). China’s silence after the launch is a bit curious, though - While they’re N.Korea’s only real ally in the region, they’ve expressed their anger before for these sort of tests, which they see as potentially destabilizing to the region. Everyone else seems to have shrugged their shoulders, though, so the Chinese may be fine to let this one slide.

Egypt - Referendum

In two rounds of voting, the Egyptian Draft constitution was approved, garnering around 64% of the vote. The turnout was exceptionally low, though, at around 30% of eligible voters.

NightWatch did the math and concluded that, in a country of 82M, the referendum garnered 5.5M votes. There’s an urgency in Egypt to get a constitution in place, but a poorly written document passed by barely 7% of the country (or 20% of eligible voters) isn’t going to satisfy anyone and certainly isn’t going to have the legitimacy to draw together the fractious parties that make up the Egyptian government.



Prime Minister Mario Monti, who took office in November 2011 after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned in disgrace, announced his resignation on December 9th after losing the backing of Silvio Berlusconi’s party. Berlusconi, who was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to nearly four years in prison in September, expressed interest in running in the next elections, but has not yet fully committed.

Fiscal Cliff

With less than a week to go before the “Fiscal Cliff,” House Speaker John Boehner threw in the towel after one last attempt to get a “Plan B” measure passed in the house failed in the face of defections from his own party.

It’s extremely unlikely Boehner will lose his speakership, but it would certainly be nice to have a Speaker of the House that can actually speak for the house. Boehner’s spent the last two years being kneecapped by his own party, which means the negotiating process is A) negotiate with Boehner B) Agree to a deal C) Boehner gets shot down by his own party D) and calls you an asshole for suggesting the bill he agreed to.

Secretary of State

President Obama nominated Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State to take over after Hillary Clinton resigns. Kerry’s nomination was widely expected after UN Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew from consideration.

Final Notes

This wraps up an entire year of Dispatches - thank you for reading, I hope they’ve been informative! There will be two more posts in the next week - a wrap-up of 2012, and my prospectus for 2013 (similar to last year’s first post), which I intend to have out on the 30th and the 1st.

Thank you for joining me, and Happy Holidays!


November 15 - December 9

Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for November 15 to December 9!

We’re running a week or so late after the Thanksgiving holiday, but I’ll try to get us back on track for the last dispatch before the New Year and my 2012 roundup.


The conflict in Gaza came to an end on November 21 following a cease-fire negotiated primarily by Egypt. Both sides claimed victory, though several large issues, including long-term security agreements for Israel and an end of the embargo on Gaza were left to be fleshed out later. A week later, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations General Assembly voted to confer Nonmember State status on Palestine, implicitly recognizing Palestine as a state. Following the vote, which the US and Israel lobbied heavily against, Israel announced the resumption of development on a settlement east of Jerusalem. The new settlement, called E1, is highly contentious, as it would effectively cut the West Bank in two.

The conflict in Gaza and the UN vote are certainly bad news politically for Israel, but the Israelis haven’t shown any particular sensitivity to the opinions of either the UN or Europe in the last few years. Even under President Obama, who has been notably cooler to Israel than Bush was, America is still a staunch Israeli ally, which means Israel has the backing of the most powerful military, economy, and diplomatic apparatus in the world, and that’s frankly unlikely to change no matter what Israel decides to do. Hamas has claimed victory in the Gaza conflict, and in some way, demonstrating the ability to generating enough international pressure on Israel to force a ceasefire can be considered a victory, but the fact is that what the Israelis demonstrated is that Hamas is absolutely not a military threat to Israel. The E1 settlement in the West Bank renders a functioning state there almost impossible, further neutering the PLO. From a purely tactical standpoint, Israel is in a much stronger position now than they were a couple weeks ago. My guess is that the Israelis are willing to allow the clock to count down for a while — there’s no benefit to Israel in any real negotiations right now, and they’re clearly not under any serious threat from either region, so the best move for now is no move.

In the long run, though, Israel has to come to terms with the Palestinians somehow. There are two real solutions: the two-state solution and reintegration. The Israelis are gradually, settlement by settlement, destroying the viability of the two-state solution, which leaves reintegration as the only real option. The Israelis are deeply opposed to this — the Israeli populace has been shifting to the right in recent years, and one of the core demands for negotiations is that the Palestinians recognize Israel not just as a nation, but as a Jewish nation. Fully including the Palestinians in the political process, though, would mean more than a third of Israel’s voting population would be Palestinian; it’s hard to see how Israel could then hold onto its ideal of a Jewish nation. The only other option is an apartheid-style tiered state, a disturbing outcome for a country formed in response to an attempted ethnic cleansing. Israel scored a short-term victory by cutting the West Bank in half and further suppressing the Gaza Strip, but the Israeli people will face some very existential questions in the not-too-distant future.


On November 22, President Morsi issued a decree declaring himself above judicial review and declared that the courts could not dissolve the Constitutional Committee. The move sparked immediate anger and protests from the liberal and secular opposition, as well as several high-level resignations. In response, Morsi has pressed to hurry the process of drafting the new constitution, presenting the draft on the 29th of November and promising a referendum on December 15. Protests have continued, with clashes in the street between liberal groups and supporters of Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, that have caused several deaths and hundreds of injuries. On December 8, Morsi rescinded most of his decree, but still stuck to the Dec 15 date for the referendum and made a veiled reference to martial law to protect the poll. This did not mollify the protestors.

President Morsi massively overplayed his political hand, but the decree merely highlighted the existing state of Egyptian politics: without a constitution or a parliament and with the military seemingly under his control, Morsi is a de facto dictator. I don’t think he intends to stay that way - he has seemed genuinely interested in establishing a new Egyptian State, albeit one with an Islamist bent - but for now, Morsi is the Egyptian State. That said, there simply isn’t enough trust in the Egyptian political system for the Nov 22 edict.

The liberal factions leading the protests are by no means a majority in Egypt, and many of them are old-guard members of the Egyptian elite, not the youth who led the revolution in the early days. The Muslim Brotherhood’s estimate is that the majority of Egyptians who vote will support the Brotherhood, and it’s likely a good bet, if for no other reason than the Egyptian people are tired of chaos. The protests have been a surprisingly large show of force, though, and I think the secularists have realized that if they’re not a majority, they can be a spoiler in the streets - a rare breath of power for a group that’s been almost entirely shut out of the revolution they started.

The wildcard in Egypt is the military, who have largely stayed uninvolved, aside from a small show of force outside the presidential palace. Until the recent protests, it seemed as though Morsi had gained the upper hand over the military, but if the chaos worsens in the streets and the police are unable to retake control, we may see moves from the military - I suspect the last couple weeks have already seen some awkward negotiations between Morsi’s faction and the military leadership.

There are now three dangers in Egypt: The first is that Morsi does as many leaders under threat do, and attempts to consolidate his power further. He already has the mantle of state, and the Muslim Brotherhood is by far the largest political faction in the country; if he can tighten his hold over the military, whose current leadership already owes him their position, the secularists fears of a new dictatorship could be realized. The second danger is the military itself - while it has stayed off the streets so far, if the chaos continues, the military may decide to seize power again, using the protests as an excuse for “securing the nation.” The third is that the secularists may decide their best option is to shake the board up again, and the best route there is in creating enough chaos to provoke the military onto the streets again. The next event to watch is the constitutional referendum on the 15th; until then, the country is holding its breath.


On November 11, ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, agreed to a plan to send 3,300 fighters into Northern Mali to wrest control of the region from Islamist militants. While the African Union is still trying to get funding for the mission and the head of UN Peacekeeping operations said any real intervention is unlikely for at least another 9 months, the growing consensus seems to have caught the attention of the occupying militias - the head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the invading militias, released a message urging Malians to reject “foreign fighters” on their land, while on December 5, representatives from the main Islamist militia Ansar Dine, the Tuareg rebel MNLA, and the Malian government sat down for preliminary talks. The glacial pace of the international response and the Malian government’s willingness to negotiate, however, have lead disaffected Malians in the North to start forming militias in preparation for an attempt to remove the invaders themselves.

I’ve expressed skepticism before over peace talks in Northern Mali, and I’m still not sure what the aim is. For the Malian government, negotiating with the Islamists and the Tuaregs doesn’t seem likely to restore their control of the region. The Tuareg rebels may have some legitimate (and longstanding) grievances, but their role in precipitating the crisis - and, frankly, the fact that they already lost a power contest with the Islamists - doesn’t exactly give them a big claim on the territories right now. As for the Islamists, they’re a group of unwanted foreigners who exploited a local ethnic conflict to create a new base of operations in which they’ve destroyed priceless artifacts, terrorized the local population, and generally made a nuisance of themselves – they have no standing whatsoever for any claim on the territory, nor should one be granted to them. The negotiations are a severe sign of weakness from the parties promoting them. The sole purpose of the peace talks now is for the militants to try to undercut efforts to organize military action against them.

With the ECOWAS military action the better part of a year away, the action in Mali will have to come from other actors. The most dangerous of these are the civilian militias, the only group who seems eager for battle. The history of civilian militias in open conflict tends to be one of war crimes and chaos. The Islamists have also shown themselves a reasonably capable force, so the prospects of a successful counter-attack by lightly trained civilians seems somewhat grim. The bigger concern is what becomes of a large, armed, civilian militia after the crisis is over. The second possibility is that the Tuaregs will join forces with the Malian army in exchange for some autonomy or power- sharing deal. The Malian government seems interested in this option, and the Tuaregs have little left to lose, but combining two rather ineffective fighting forces doesn’t make an effective one. The final option is that either another regional power or a western government decides the risk of a new al- Qaeda base in northern Africa is too dangerous and takes unilateral action. The Malian government wouldn’t accept this sort of intervention, but they’re apparently not in a position to dictate what happens inside their borders anyway.


US and other western intelligence agencies raised alarm this week over signs Syria had begun mixing the precursors for chemical weapons. President Obama warned once again that use of chemical weapons would likely prompt a military reaction from the US.

The pressure is increasing on the Assad regime. The rebels have shown they can shoot down the Syrian jets and helicopters, they’ve all put neutralized the government’s tank columns, and the regime hasn’t been able to field an effective infantry force for months. The war is becoming an existential threat to the Syrian regime, and without some credible exit strategy for Assad, the choice will become one between war crimes and death. The danger now is that there is no real cohesive opposition with whom to develop a ceasefire or transition; even if the Assad regime would agree to an exit, there’s no government in waiting. Anarchy in a country with a massive supply of chemical weapons and a civil war increasingly sectarian in nature is an extremely dangerous prospect.

Thanks for reading, and my best for the week ahead!


October 29 - November 14

Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for October 29 to November 14!

I’d love to say I was waiting for the conclusion of the Chinese summit or the European Troika meeting (or that I was prescient enough to predict what happened in Israel), but I honestly just didn’t get around to writing until today. Apologies for the tardiness - I think it’s a good dispatch, though, and I hope you’ll agree.

Let’s get to it!

US Election

Barack Obama was re-elected president on Nov 6, defeating Mitt Romney with a margin of 2.5 million votes (or around 2.9%) and 126 electoral votes.

By now an incredible amount of ink has been spilled about this election, so I’ll be a bit spare in my analysis. My wonderful girlfriend rightly reminds me that I don’t actually have the data to back up any of this, so the following should be read as nothing more than my opinion.

The biggest problem the Republican party faced was demographics - after a year of talking about forced deportations, border fences, voter ID laws, and the danger of China, the Republican party lost the hispanic, black, and asian votes by significant margins. This isn’t overwhelmingly different from the Republicans’ performance with these groups over the last decade, but the groups now make up larger percentages of the population. Paired the demographic changes with what seems to be an increased embrace of gay rights (Maine, Maryland, and Washington all approved same-sex marriage laws), and it appears several of the tenets of the GOP’s 2012 platform will be even more expensive in 2016.

More concerning for the GOP should be that Obama passed 276 electoral votes before the totals were in from either Ohio or Florida, both exceedingly close states expected to determine the election. Virginia broke solidly Democratic, as did Colorado, Wisconsin, and several other battleground states. Whether the Democrats can carry these states again in 2016 is an open question, but it looks like the days when Ohio determines the election may be at an end. For the GOP, this is bad news: the so-called “swing” states swung to the Democrats by an average margin of 3.5 points, and even if Romney won Florida and Ohio, Obama would still have won the election. In total, this year presented a much, much worse electoral map for the GOP than expected.

The real losers in this election were the Tea Party and the Super PACs. Several GOP Congress members faced primary challenges from PAC-supported Tea Party candidates - Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC alone spent almost $250M on various races - and in many cases, the results were disastrous. The one senate seat the Democrats picked up was in Indiana; there, six-term Republican senator Dick Luger lost a well-financed primary challenge from Richard Mourdock, a Tea Party backed candidate. Mourdock would later make statements during a debate opining on God’s position on rape, losing his election and giving the GOP a black eye in the process. Luger won his last re- election with 86% of the vote - Tea Party-aligned PACs spent several million dollars to hand a senate seat to the Democrats.

The next four years should be a soul-searching experience for the GOP - unlike 2008, Obama was a much more vulnerable candidate this year. They have no-one to blame for this loss but themselves.


The Chinese Communist Party promoted a new slate of leaders to the top of the party, affecting a once in a decade transition of power. While the identity of the new party leader and President of China Xi Jinping has been known for several months, the composition of the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body in the nation, was until now unknown. Reports over the last couple months have pointed to a larger than normal amount of jockeying and infighting among the Chinese elite during the transition.

The leadership of China is of some significance to the US, so this transition is worth watching. Chinese politicians are not elected, typically getting their positions through either personal relationships or family ties, which means the scope of any leader’s ability to influence policy is the strength of his power base relative to other factions. By most reports, Xi is coming in with a very strong hand - a series of scandals and corruption cases have given the faction controlled by Hu Jintao, the outgoing president, a bit of a black eye - but it still remains to be seen what sort of latitude the new President has. Much of the speculation so far is basically Kremlinology, since the party tends to be fairly tight-lipped, but it’s unlikely the leadership change will be cause for any real major reforms in China - whatever faction the new leaders are from, they’re still of the same system.


On Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Force assassinated the head of the Al- Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in a precision airstrike. The Al-Qassam Brigades have threatened retaliation, but the Israelis are already readying ground forces and have issued a warning to Hamas fighters to stay out of sight for the next few days.

This is a dangerous move for Israel. They seem to have decided they can either withstand or prevent the immediate blowback from this attack and that it’s worth whatever the cost might be for such an aggressive action, but the long- term outcome is more questionable. This works long-term for Israel under a short list of assumptions: 1) Jaabari contributed significantly to Al-Qassam’s operation capabilities and its influence among other groups, 2) Hamas’s retaliation will be containable, and 3) going forward, Hamas’s more moderate political arm will be able to exert itself over the weakened Brigade, with whom it has been sparring for much of the year. In short, Israel is assuming this is a short-term risk to its security to ensure a better long-term outcome. I’m skeptical. Al-Qassam has been rather restrained so far this year, and the idea that the public bombing of a prominent figure will benefit those in Hamas who favor diplomacy is a rather dubious one. Unless Jaabari was absolutely the glue holding Hamas’s militant wing together, I find it very unlikely this breaks well for Israel.


The Greek government approved another round of austerity measures, pushing through a budget for 2013 which included $12Bn in spending cuts in addition to another package of $17Bn worth of structural reforms. On Monday, members of the European Central Bank, European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund - the so-called “troika” - met in Brussels and agreed to give Greece two more years to meet the required debt levels of 120% of GDP, pushing the deadline from 2020 to 2022. The debt level is currently near 190% of GDP.

For Greece to hit its target by 2022, it would need to either grow its economy or shrink its debt by about 6% per year for the next decade. Given that this year Greek GDP shrank by roughly 6% and it’s forecasted to drop another 5% next year, the target is insane. Presumably someone in the troika has a calculator, but its use is not evident in these demands.

The latest round of austerity measures hit public salaries, including for the first time the police and the military. This could be dangerous given the increasingly cozy relationship between the police and Golden Dawn, the rapidly growing Greek fascist party. The state of the Greek economy, the growing failure of the Greek government to be able to provide basic goods and services, the rising popularity of Golden Dawn, and increasing reports of police acting on behalf of the group all point to serious danger to the Greek state over the next year without a concerted effort to stabilize the country.

Thanks for joining me, and my best for the weeks ahead!


October 15 - 28

Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for October 15-28!


Officials representing the Colombian Government and FARC, the leftist rebel group, announced peace talks in Havana in November aimed at ending the nearly half-century of armed conflict in the country. While several previous attempts at talks have been unsuccessful, this new attempt, which has been promoted in part by Cuba and Venezuela, is being met with optimism due to both sides’ perceived willingness to come to the table without preconditions.

These negotiations are the result of a concerted effort by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to resolve the conflict through two paths: while the Colombian military continues to press the group, which is at its weakest in nearly 50 years, Santos has also tried to pave the road to reconciliation, passing a land reform law and declaring the fight an ‘armed conflict,’ which imposes certain international obligations on both sides. For their part, the FARC has agreed to stop kidnapping, and seems genuinely interested in these negotiations (for starters, the group’s leader showed up — unlike the last attempt in 1999).

The list of challenges to reconciliation are immense. First, it’s not clear what the scope of these talks will actually be. The Colombian government has so far insisted it will not discuss matters of land reform, while FARC says there cannot be any peace process that doesn’t deal with the issue. It’s not clear whether there will be an amnesty for FARC soldiers, who have been accused of brutality, kidnapping, and war crimes, which may be critical to reaching peace — the Colombian government has been mum on the issue so far, but the notion is understandably unpopular among those caught in the crossfire of the conflict. Even if the group does agree to disband, several challenges will need to be addressed: it’s not clear how the Colombian economy will absorb thousands of poorly educated former guerrillas; the current Colombian reintegration program, while well-intentioned, is severely flawed; FARC’s long guerrilla war has spawned several offshoot groups and rightwing militant opponents which would need to be dealt with; and finally, several factions in FARC have moved from politics into the drug trade, which means the formal end of FARC may surface the existence of groups akin to the narco-cartels in the rest of the region. These are daunting challenges, but after almost 50 years of conflict, they’d be a welcome change for the country.


The Emir of Qatar visited the Gaza Strip, the first foreign dignitary to do so since Hamas gained control of the region in 2007. The Emir pledged $400M in aid, upping a prior offer of $250M from earlier this year.

David Roberts writes for Foreign Policy that this move seems more aimed at Iran than Israel, and I generally agree - Hamas split from Syria and Iran back in February as the Syrian conflict started to heat up, and since then the group has been mending ties with other Arab groups in the region. Both Egypt and Qatar have been supporting Hamas, but both have been pushing for peace in the area - Egypt has been heavily involved in negotiating cease fires after recent exchanges with Israel, and Qatar has been pushing for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. For all Israel’s hand-wringing, a Hamas backed by Egypt and Qatar, both of whom seem genuinely interested in peace, is a whole lot better than a Hamas backed by Iran.

South Africa

Widespread labor unrest continues in South Africa, where more than 80,000 striking workers have brought platinum and gold mining operations nearly to a halt. The strikes began in early August and quickly escalated when police shot and killed 34 striking miners. The strikes spread quickly, in part due to the killings and in part the government’s response — more than 270 striking workers were arrested and charged under a “common cause” law with the murder of the miners shot by the police. The mine owners initially responded forcefully, with one main platinum producer firing nearly 12,000 workers, but have begun backing down as financial losses from the closed mines mount. The strikers are demanding a raise from $550 to around $1500 per month — roughly the median income in the country.

The mine workers have accused the main national union, the NUM or National Union of Mineworkers, of being too close to both the ruling African National Congress and the mining companies themselves, and most of the strikes have been “wildcat” strikes, or strikes not approved of by the union leadership. Some of the tension has been driven by the rise of the AMCU, a new union formed to combat the perceived collusion between the NUM and the mining companies.

The African National Congress, or ANC, has run South Africa for its entire post-apartheid history, nearly 18 years now. The group was the primary opposition to the apartheid regime, and naturally became the party in power after apartheid’s fall. Both the previous and current presidents have faced corruption cases, but with no real opposition, the ANC’s rule continues. Their response to the strikes so far has been police action and tough talk against the workers, which has bolstered the workers’ claims that the government is too close to the mining companies.

The South African government has generally had wide support among the wider world for two reasons: The first is that they were the party of Nelson Mandela and the group that shepherded South Africa through the post-apartheid era; the second is that, by the standards of most of their neighbors, the country was a paragon of good governance. One party rule, though, is never good for governance, no matter what guise it takes — the lack of legitimate opposition leaves the door open for graft and corruption. The sentiment among South Africans now seems to be turning — after 18 years, the scars of apartheid are starting to fade and the glow is wearing off the ANC. South African politics sound due for an opposition party.

As for the mining companies - One of the companies, AngloGold, stated the shutdown of its operations (with more than 24,000 of its 35,000 staff on strike) is costing it around 30,000oz of gold in lost production per week. 30,000 oz of gold, at $1700/oz (the average price this year), is $51M per week, or about $1450 per worker. The workers are currently getting paid around $125 per week, and are striking for a raise to about $375/week.

Final Thoughts

Astute readers will note I haven’t written about the US Presidential election since I threw my hands up over the whole matter earlier this year. I intend to break that embargo early this week, as it looks like I won’t have the opportunity for much longer.

Thanks for joining me, and my best for the week ahead!


October 1 - 14

Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for October 1 - October 14!


An announcement on the 23rd that the Iranian central bank would supply US dollars to importers of certain goods prompted panic selling of the Iranian Rial. By October 1st, the Rial had shed 40% of its value on unofficial exchanges (the government exchanges are tightly controlled). The drop, which the Iranian president attributed in part to the US-led sanctions, prompted demonstrations in Tehran, including a strike by merchants in the Grand Bazaar.

Iran’s economic woes are only partially due to the sanctions, and Iranian anger now is mostly over economic mismanagement, not the nuclear program - many Iranians consider the nuclear program their national right, even if they’re not particularly fond of the regime or interested in nuclear weapons. The question is whether the sanctions will cause Iranians to rally to the regime - Ahmadinejad is not particularly popular, but there are elections in the spring, and while the Ayatollah remains the sole decision-maker on the nuclear program, the outcome of the elections could have some impact on how the public perceives both the economy and the nuclear program. One thing I have heard repeatedly, though, is that a genuine revolution in Iran is vanishingly unlikely right now.


Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned October 5th that without urgent financial aid, the country could collapse, pointing to the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party as a sign of the danger facing the nation and comparing the situation to Germany before WWII. Recent reports from Greece indicate the Greek police are increasingly siding with Golden Dawn, underlining the danger to the country. The Guardian reported allegations by several anti-fascist protestors of police brutality and torture, Vice attended the opening of a play in Greece and found the police more interested in protecting Golden Dawn than the attendees, and the New York Times reports that the group’s popularity is rising in much of Greece as it begins to replace services the state no longer can afford to provide.

There’s sharp historic irony here: The main opponent of aid to the Greeks is the German central bank, an institution formed after World War II with an explicit mandate to prevent the economic conditions that led to the rise of the Nazi party from recurring in Germany. The rise of Golden Dawn is the most concerning development in the Eurozone now - the ECB needs to get in gear and start actually working with the Greek government to get money flowing back into public coffers as soon as possible to avoid that government falling to a bunch of fascist thugs. Whatever the cost of bailing out the Greek government, it will be an absolute bargain compared to dealing with what happens should that country collapse.


On October 9th, Heriberto Lazcano, the leader of the Zetas cartel, was killed by Mexican marines. The marines, responding to a report of armed men at a baseball game, stopped a suspicious SUV, resulting in a brief firefight that killed both the driver and passenger. The bodies were sent to a local morgue, and it wasn’t until after a group of armed men broke in and took the body that the Mexican government realized who the man was. Mexican authorities claim there are already signs that the Zetas are uniting behind the group’s second in command Miguel Trevino, which may help avoid the bloody secession fight some have feared.

There’s a saying among counter-narco officials about traffickers: “We’ve got to be lucky every time - they only have to get lucky once.” Apparently that goes both ways. The leader of the Zetas cartel, one of the most ruthless, effective, and feared criminal organization in modern history, met his end not as the result of a full military assault on his stronghold but after a traffic stop outside a baseball game. Lazcano was one of the most dangerous men in the world, and he died under circumstances so mundane that the Mexican government didn’t even realize what had just happened until hours later.

The Mexican Navy’s assertion that the Zetas are already uniting under Trevino is over-optimistic; it was announced barely a day after Lazcano’s death. If true, it could spare Mexico another bloody intra-narco conflict, but it’s entirely too early to tell how the situation will break - the Zetas have had several internal conflicts already, and Trevino is known as a trafficker, not a military man like Lazcano was, so he may well face challengers within the organization.


On October 3rd, a mortar landed in a Turkish town, killing 5 civilians. The Turkish military responded with more than 5 days of artillery fire into Syria and a parliamentary resolution authorizing Turkish military action in response to the cross-border fire. In the wake of the shelling, Turkish media reports the Syrian government agreed to keep military forces at least 6 miles from the Turkish border. Rebels in Syria warned that continued inaction from the west was leading to severe shortfalls in weapons and ammunition and increasing extremism among fighters.

Turkey has been looking to establish a buffer zone inside Syria for some time due to concerns over both the influx of refugees and the increasing violence on the border. A single mortar was apparently all it took for the Turks to get their wish.

I’ve been extremely hesitant to endorse any sort of action in Syria. The situation has been a mess from the beginning: the rebels have been disorganized and largely ineffective, it’s not at all clear they’re supported by the majority of the populace, and, unlike Libya, there’s been no corresponding political entity that could hope to take over after the Assad regime fell. Frankly, most of that is still true, but our calculus may need to shift due to two trends: first, the increasing role and effectiveness of the Islamist fighters, who are receiving plenty of support from abroad; second, as the fighting drags on, even the moderates in Syria are starting to turn against the west - and who can blame them, after nine months of dithering? Ultimately, Assad is going to fall, and the question then will be who has built up enough support to shape the future of Syria. The prospects for anything approaching a secular, democratic Syria are rapidly diminishing as we continue to debate whether or not we’re going to support the rebels in any material way. If we want any real hope of a Syrian outcome that isn’t either a bloodbath or a hostile Islamist state, we need to start actually providing real weapons - including desperately-needed anti-air and anti-tank weapons - to the moderate and secular groups in the country while they still exist. Inaction is a choice too, and we’re in real danger of losing even the possibility of a friendly outcome in Syria.



Ghana seized an Argentinean Naval Frigate on October 3rd on behalf of a US hedge fund which had filed suite in the country. The hedge fund has been awarded claims against the Argentine government by US courts of between $1Bn and $1.6Bn over losses stemming from Argentina’s 2001 sovereign debt default, and has been tracking the vessel for some time, waiting for it to dock at a friendly port. The Argentinean government is working to have the court order rescinded, but on the 11th, Ghanian courts ruled the seizure legal, and the tall ship remains docked in Ghana.

Lawsuits against governments are fairly normal, but an actual asset seizure, especially of something like a naval ship, is highly unusual. It’s hard to imagine this happening even to the most destitute of Eurozone countries - it’s no wonder Argentina feels put upon by the international community.


After a heated campaign, Hugo Chavez won his fourth re- election, extending his rule to 2019. The perennial western bête noire faced his stiffest opposition yet, but still won 54% to 45%, with more than 80% of Venezuelans voting.

Thanks for joining me, and my best for the weeks ahead!