Assange Should Have Picked The Russian Embassy

UK police descend on Assange’s embassy refuge.

According to the Ecuadorians, their Embassy was threatened with a revocation of its status as Ecuadorian sovereign territory in the case that President Rafael Correa offers Julian Assange political asylum. This would clear the way for PC Plod could go in and fish out Assange. Presumably this is to avoid breaking one of the cornerstones of international law, satisfying its letter while raping its spirit. Truly fascinating the lengths and lows to which Britain is prepared to go to satisfy its puppet masters.

My initial thoughts are:

(1) Assange should have chosen the Russian Embassy. Ecuador is small and doesn’t have clout. Russia (or China, for that matter) wouldn’t have handed over Assange either, for the propaganda coup if little other reason, and even as cringingly obsequious a country as the UK would have hesitated to take them on so directly.

(2) A timely reminder that Assange is wanted for questioning (not charged) on a crime that it is not even a crime in the UK itself. I wonder if there is anybody, anybody at all, who is still willing to argue that his case is not entirely political?

(3) One would hope that Ecuador does not tolerate any British violation of its sovereignty and mounts a like response – and that countries like Venezuela, Argentina, and (preferably, though highly improbable) Russia and China join them in solidarity. But either way one of the good things about this is that it will make clear to any lingering doubters in non-puppet countries like Russia that Western rhetoric on human rights and international law only goes as far as it benefits them.

EDIT 8/16: And asylum was granted.

Will Ecuador Protect Assange From The Empire?

So Assange has fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, in scenes reminiscent of what happens to dissidents in truly authoritarian countries. (The parallels keep adding up don’t they).

Let’s recap. His site kept releasing classified documents, from secretive and typically nasty organizations. Too bad that some of them belonged to the Pentagon and the State Department; otherwise, no doubt Assange would still be feted as a heroic whistleblower in the West. Instead, he got an extradition request to Sweden for a rape at about the same time as Cablegate; a “rape” in which the purported victim tweeted about what a great guy he was the morning after (the tweet has since been deleted, of course). One of the supposed victims had posted online tips for girls on filing false rape reports on men who dumped them (this too has since been wiped).

Now Sweden is in Assange’s words “the Saudi Arabia of feminism” and indeed that much is undeniable to any reasonable person who doesn’t derive pleasure from slavishly kowtowing to women. See their recent attempts to ban men from pissing upright because apparently it is an assertion of patriarchy. And which other country could have produced a bestseller like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which would have instantly been condemned as misogynist claptrap had the slurs against men in it been instead been directed towards women? So even in the best possible interpretation it is Swedish feminists running amok in Europe, much like their Viking forefathers did a millennium ago. The alternative explanation is that this is politically motivated.

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Tales From The Beijing Embassy

China - not only toys, but tokamaks too.

China – not only toys, but tokamaks too.

Four cables from Cathay, courtesy of this excellent Cable Search tool.

The first cable (Cable 1) is one of the last dispatches of Ambassador to the PRC Clark T. Randt, a long, analytical piece from January 2009. But it’s also perhaps the least interesting of the four.  This is because it is only a rehashing of the standard narrative that can be found on most editorials on the subject: the post-Mao economic liberalization; fast industrial expansion; pollution and demographic problems; etc. China’s prospects are underestimated, as I’ve argued in the past. For instance, he cites projections that China will overtake Japan in five years years and “could rival the United States in overall scale” by the late 2030′s. But these are surely very, very pollyannish (from the US perspective) since in actuality China overtook Japan this year (2010) and its real GDP is already 70% of America’s.

The real threat to Chinese – AND global – growth prospects are resource constraints. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a US government official, Randt cites estimates having China reach peak oil in the early 2010′s and peak coal “in the next 15 to 25 years” (I think coal production will plateau as early as 2015). However, these shortages will be partly mitigated by huge alternative programs – he cites China as being the world’s largest producer of renewable power and Cable 3 mentions plans to construct 70 new nuclear power plants in the next decade. He is almost certainly wrong in his optimistic ideas that China will buy into the US global order, rather than seeking to remake it in its own images (as all aspiring hegemons try to do). To take an example, the wish that China will make itself into a “reliable partner” for the US and other donor countries is put into question by Cable 4 from the very same embassy, in which a Kenyan ambassador expresses an African preference for Chinese aid over Western “conferences and seminars”. The cable finishes with some platitudes about the US needing to “push for the expansion of individual freedoms, respect for the rule of law and the establishment of a truly free and independent judiciary and press”, which must surely have the publisher of this cable spinning in his British prison cell.

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I’d Sooner See The World Burn Than Compromise With Rogue Scientists

Or at least that’s what seems to be going around in the mind of Condoleezza Rice, if this cable (Cable 1) from September 2008 is anything to go by. After successfully persuading countries like Brazil to let the American scientist Christopher Field run unopposed for an important position in a Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), US diplomats began behind the scenes lobbying to block the appointment of an Iranian scientist as its co-chair, since that would be “potentially at odds with overall US policy towards Iran.” Though Mostafa Jafari is admittedly a “highly-qualified scientist”, he is also ”a senior Iranian government employee”, and so “close collaboration and often travel to or extended residencies in each others’ countries” between Field and him simply wouldn’t do. Disgracefully, if true*, Pachauri “agreed to work on this issue.” In the event, an Argentinian candidate was appointed co-chair, while Jafari was relegated to a far more junior position.

That said, it’s not of course the case that the US is uniquely responsible for climate fiasco after fiasco. Obviously, these cables don’t paint the US in a good light, what with its underhanded tactics to force countries into signing up to the Copenhagen Accords (a grossly inadequate treaty because of its soft targets and lack of enforcement mechanisms). But thanks to China’s sabotage** in the closed-door negotiations in Copenhagen – even cajoling developed countries against setting their own targets, while manipulating them into taking the fall in public – this is what we got. And while I understand the position of poor countries like the Maldives or Bolivia that it’s nowhere near enough to prevent devastating AGW, or Addis Ababa’s complaints about the absence of formal US guarantees of financial aid in exchange for their support (Cable 2), nonetheless there is a logic to the US strong-arming poor countries into the Accords since this at least gets “the international community moving in the right direction.” (A bonus in that cable is seeing Ethiopians arguing, just like Russians, for restricting foreign funding of NGO’s on the grounds that it undermines indigenous civil society).

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Orientalism Overload

This might well be my favorite cable so far – perhaps even better than the Caucasus wedding - courtesy of US ambassador to Iran Bruce Laingen in August 1979. Now maybe US diplomats are culturally West-centric and insular today, but they’ve got nothing on their predecessors. “Perhaps the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding egoism. Its antecedents lie in the long Iranian history of instability and insecurity which put a premium on self-preservation. The practical effect of it is an almost total Persian preoccupation with self and leaves little room for understanding points of view other than one’s own.” No wonder the US hasn’t had much luck communicating with the Islamic Republic

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Chechnya, A Once And Future War?

Truly, if Willian Burns were to issue an anthology of his Moscow cables during his 2005-2008 ambassadorship, I’d seriously consider buying it. Just consider this cable from May 2006, on Chechnya’s “Once and Future War”, a nuanced US view of that conflict and the cynicism and corruption it engendered amongst all its parties.

What struck me first was its reminder of the awesome magnitude of corruption and state dissolution during the 1990′s. Though Transparency International might claim that nothing much has changed in the past two decades (or even regressed), it is belied by Burns’ vision of a ”military-entrepreneurial” officer corps that proclaimed President Yeltsin’s “business” was to “sit in Moscow, drink vodka, and chase women” while they did “[their] work” in the Caucasus region. And profitable work it was too. Due to post-Soviet Russia’s low domestic energy prices, it was highly lucrative to launder oil it through Chechnya, sell it on foreign markets, and make big dollar on the difference. Army officers profited from the racket; their Chechen partners spent their cut of the gravy to arm themselves for war. One of the primary causes of the First Chechen War, apart from the state’s usual hatred of separatism, was a specific desire to reassert control over Chechnya’s oil and arms bazaar.

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