Monday, September 17, 2007

While You Were Sleeping ... China, Putin, Blackwater

Some things that happened this weekend.

The city of Shanghai held its largest air raid drill since the end of World War II and the Chinese civil war on Saturday. Most city residents, of course, ignored it, but the test of the system was meant to send a signal, I believe, that the leadership in Beijing still sees the possibility for a conflict, even a dust-up, with Taiwan.

And after years of taking U.S. protection for granted, Taiwan seems to be starting to "gird its own loins", proposing a more than 16 percent increase in defense spending for 2008 (to cover approximately twenty percent of total state expenditures).

President Putin praised the resume and qualifications of his pick for prime minister Zubkov, heightening speculation that he is the chosen one (I'm still skeptical) and reportedly dropped a bombshell, identifying communist leader Zyuganov and liberal politician Yavlinsky as possible capable successors. I think that what Putin said or meant to say is that they will prove to be effective candidates for the office, a type of Mexican-style (pre-Fox) "endorsement" of other candidates meant to show the legitimacy of the electoral process, in which challengers waged a good campaign and then were expected to lose.

With private contractors providing some 30,000 personnel in service in Iraq, the weekend firefight between insurgents and Blackwater employees (leading to the Iraqi government pulling Blackwater's authorization to operate in the country) raises the question as to whether or not private contractors will become preferred targets in forthcoming weeks (as opposed to formal U.S. forces). It also further opens up the possibility of a growing rift between an Iraqi government that wants to assert its rights and rising sentiment in the U.S. that the Al-Maliki government needs to go.

It also may foreclose what might have been a real option for the U.S.--to draw down official U.S. forces, beginning a withdrawal of sorts--but being able to supplement those forces with additional private contractors (since contractors being wounded and killed doesn't seem to create as much of a political issue here).

Does the Maliki government in some way want to force a US withdrawal so they can start doing things "their way" in Iraq? Or at least make it more difficult for Americans to interfere?
How big really was the drill in China? Is this perhaps being blown up (or perhaps more accurately that it did get the attention it deserved, which was not much).
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