Nigerien junta preserves Chinese alliance

It’s about time to do a follow-up post on my informal series of posts on the February military coup in Niger, and along comes a NY Times article on the matter. The Chinese had been underwriting the (previous) Tandja government, according to detractors, and the article says the Chinese made a “smooth” switch to the new regime, which is led by military officers who insist they are cleaning up government in Niger and have pledged elections in the (unspecified) near future. With basically the only significant export being uranium – Niger has some of the world’s largest deposits – the coup government recognized quickly that they needed to maintain the Chinese alliance to prevent collapse and chaos. Add to that the Western pre-coup sanctions that remain in effect until the elections, there was no other option.

China, reportedly, had been supplying the increasingly dictatorial regime with hydroelectricity installations and resource extraction sites that could eventually improve the country’s economy but in the short-term served to bolster the President Tandja. Shortly after the coup, Chinese projects and operations in Niger returned to normal. Tandja remains under arrest.

No word yet on whether China will put up the $132.9 million adequate food to head off an impending hunger crisis, as reported by the United Nations’ news service. Seems unlikely.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

The traveling exile of a deposed president

They should seriously consider remaking “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” with this guy, if things progress at the current rate:

The deposed president of Kyrgyzstan, who was ousted following bloody antigovernment riots this month, is being harbored now in Belarus, that country’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, said Tuesday, though authorities in Kyrgyzstan said they would press for his extradition.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the former president of Kyrgyzstan, resigned last week and left Kyrgyzstan for neighboring Kazakhstan in a deal brokered by the presidents of the United States, Russia and Kazakhstan. The deal was meant to shore up Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government and halt further violence in the strategically important Central Asian nation, which hosts an American military base crucial for supplying troops and equipment for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Where will he go next? Dubai seems to be a popular location for exiled world leaders these days…

Oh, and a related fun fact I just learned by brushing up on the TV show I referenced above: the whole first season was taped right before the 1991 breakup of the USSR (which included all three of the countries named above), and by the time the series premiered many of the locations cited and all the maps used had become totally inaccurate. A few other countries also broke up over the next few seasons.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Ugandans recruit ex-rebels to hunt rebels

uganda-flagUganda’s government, armed and assisted by the United States with “millions of dollars of military support, namely, trucks, fuel and contracted airplanes,” is hunting down the transnational Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a cult-like group of marauding rebels that follows no borders and transfers their “resistance” to whatever government is currently least stable in central Africa. They originated in Uganda under the messianic Joseph Kony, but he’s taken them elsewhere at present (I think the southeast of the Central African Republic). With the Ugandan government back on its feet, the LRA has pretty much left the country for a few years to seek easier targets, but they’re still pillaging across the Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere, sometimes one or two countries away from Uganda’s border.

Now Uganda is on a mission to wipe them out or liberate its members (many of whom are child-soldiers and slaves), and they’ve hit upon the idea of recruiting former members to track the group across the jungles and swamps of central Africa, since they have the most experience following the LRA’s tricky trails. It’s somewhat of a controversial program, but it seems to be working.

Some American officials said that they had mixed feelings about the former rebels’ being involved, though they said that the decision was the Ugandans’ and that in this case, as one American officer put it, “these guys may be some of the best they got.”

The battlefield statistics seem to bear this out. In the past 18 months, American officials say, the Ugandan Army has killed or captured more than half of Mr. Kony’s men, including his finance and communications officers, as well as several other high-ranking commanders.

“And let’s be realistic,” added the American officer, who was not authorized to speak for attribution. “These ex-L.R.A. guys don’t have many skills, and it’s going to be hard for them to reintegrate.

“But one thing they are very good at,” the officer said, “is hunting human beings in the woods.”

 
Of course, the big question is what happens to these ex-rebels if the LRA is wiped out? Many were hired for this program because they lacked any marketable skills after leaving the LRA themselves, and this was something they were good at that paid well. Let’s hope the United States’ commitment doesn’t end with the elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or else the destabilization problems will just re-appear under a new rebel group.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Legal Underpinnings for a Papal Resignation

The New York Times published an interesting article by Daniel Wakin titled, “Do Popes Quit?” on the issue of whether a Roman Catholic Pope can resign, which is different from whether a Pope should resign. The issue has arisen in recent weeks as mounting evidence suggests Pope Benedict XVI (a.k.a. former Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich) improperly handled sexual abuse allegations against priests under his jurisdiction in Munich for many years.

At least two previous Popes have resigned, but the most recent was in the early 15th century, when the position was as much a secular European monarch as spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. In fact (I went and looked this up), Gregory XII’s resignation in 1415 was arguably done entirely for the sake of political consolidation of the Church at the end of the Great Schism, during a period of great systematic upheaval in Europe as the concept of sovereign states was emerging in parallel to the existing Church geo-political structure. However, even though he “resigned” and left office, Gregory was not replaced until after his death in 1417, probably to ensure that there was absolutely no question of who was Pope, since he had resigned to conclude a dispute between several factions of “rival Popes.”

As the Times points out, especially with Popes living to be older and older these days, there would be serious questions as to the legitimacy of a new Pope if the previous one had resigned but was not deceased yet. The problem from 1415 would be repeated and potentially worse now for the Church. An ex-Pope would still have a very large following, especially among many of the Cardinals who elected him, and unless he went off into solitude like Gregory XII, an ex-Pope’s public statements would be taken as the word of God and official Church doctrine by his remaining adherents, even if it contradicted or undermined the positions of the sitting replacement Pope. It’s like a former US President openly criticizing the new administration endlessly because he’s around and available for comment, except about a hundred times worse, since devout followers believe the Pope is speaking as God’s own corporeal representative on Earth.

But what about the legal doctrine and precedent? Can a Pope really just resign? Here is what Wakin found:

While it does not apply to Benedict, another reason for papal resignation was widely discussed in the Vatican in the years before John Paul II’s death in 2005. Several cardinals openly raised the possibility in the event John Paul became too ill to govern.

One of those cardinals was Joseph Ratzinger. If John Paul “sees that he absolutely cannot do it anymore, then certainly he will resign,” the cardinal was quoted as saying in the weekly publication of his old archdiocese, back in 2002.

 
That would be ironic if he helped set up the justification for his own resignation, but Wakin notes that he walked that back later…

Two years later, he gave some insight into his conception of the papacy in an interview with the Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana. “The pope is chosen for life because he is a father, and his paternity goes beyond his function,” he said, paraphrasing Pope Paul VI.

John Paul himself entertained thoughts about resigning. In his last will and testament, he wrote, “Providence has seen fit for me to live in the difficult century that is departing into the past, and now in the year in which I reach my 80s, one needs to ask oneself if it is not the time to repeat with the biblical Simeon, ‘Nunc dimittis.’ ” The Latin was a reference to a Gospel passage in which Simeon says, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

John Paul was responsible for two recent but fleeting references to papal resignation in official church policy. A revision of the code of canon law issued under him, in 1983, says, “If it happens that the Roman pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.”

In John Paul’s 1996 constitution on papal succession, “Universi Dominici Gregis,” he made a reference to “the death or valid resignation of the pope” as he set limits on the College of Cardinals’ actions after either event. In any case, it might be no surprise that the leader of a worldwide church of one billion people would at least think about throwing in the towel. Pius XII reportedly planned to resign if the Nazis invaded the Vatican, and some believed that Paul VI, weighed down by the office, contemplated the idea, according to “101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy,” by Christopher M. Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in Union, N.J.

 
So it sounds like John Paul II clearly laid forth the legal possibility for a Pope to resign and even established some procedure for that. But other than defining “valid resignation” as legally equivalent to death, he didn’t explain any circumstances, I guess. And functionally, of course, as I explained above, resignation is very different from death, in that the person is still around even if no longer legally in the position. One wonders if Benedict would have to go back to being Ratzinger or if he’d be like an ex-President who gets many of the trappings of the office and an elevated “former” status.
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Bachmann wants to use nukes vs. a cyber attack

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) revved up a huge crowd in Minneapolis by saying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would limit American response options to a diverse range of threats… including preventing a nuclear retaliation against a cyber attack. Whoa there, cowboy! Steve Benen (The Washington Monthly):

To be sure, attacks on a country’s computer networks can be severely damaging. But even Bachmann, as confused as she is, has to realize that responding to a cyber attack with a nuclear bomb would be the most insane act in the history of humanity. Does she understand what a nuclear bomb does?

So to answer Bachmann’s question, no, the United States will not use a nuclear arsenal to respond to a cyber attack. That doesn’t mean we’d welcome a cyber attack; it doesn’t mean we’d let a cyber attack slide; it doesn’t mean our conventional weapons couldn’t serve as a sufficient deterrent.

 
It’s been said that the banning of above-ground nuclear weapons tests has been a major factor in an increasingly clueless American population on what power nukes really have. My entire generation and everyone after is post-Cold War, so we’re generally even more detached. The argument goes that without these tests to remind people visually of the awesome power of them, nuclear weapons become a dangerous abstraction. However, there are serious environmental and global health consequences to above-ground tests, which is partly why we don’t do them now.

But when elected officials like Bachmann start saying crazy stuff like this, I start to agree that America might benefit from one or two big, new tests just to jog the collective memory of the country.

Actual footage of Operation Castle Bravo:

You don’t screw around with nukes.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Opposition overthrows Kyrgyz government

What initially looked like a massacre of opposition protests in Kyrgyzstan today quickly evolved into an apparently spontaneous (and violent) revolution. Protestors stormed and seized several key government buildings after police opened fire — they claim in self-defense — in the capital city, while other cities reported unrest. The ruling government appears to have collapsed suddenly. Here’s the account from Voice of America (the US government’s global propaganda media arm, so take with salt):

The political opposition in Kyrgyzstan says it has seized power, after a day of clashes in several cities that killed at least 40 people and wounded more than 400.

Opposition leaders said late Wednesday they were forming a provisional government with former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva as its head. They said the current prime minister, Daniyar Usenov, had agreed to resign, but there has been no confirmation of the opposition’s claims.

The exact whereabouts of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev are not known. Some opposition members say he has left the capital for the southern city of Osh, where he has a strong power base.

Sporadic gunfire continued overnight in the capital, Bishkek. Reuters news agency reports many buildings remain ablaze. Looters also reportedly ransacked a house belonging to Mr. Bakiev’s family.

Authorities confirmed 40 deaths, while the opposition says at least 100 people were killed.

 
This revolution somewhat mirrors the previous one in 2005 (the “Tulip Revolution”) that brought the ruling government to power. Since then, the country has been racked with sporadic violence from discontent under the new regime, which was seen as just as authoritarian and undemocratic and corrupt as its predecessor.

The Pentagon announced temporary closure of the controversial airbase in Kyrgyzstan, while they await the results of today’s unrest, which could result in a more anti-American government coming to power that would not be amenable to continued US presence.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Republicans splinter on $50 bill

A couple weeks ago, I looked at a proposal by a southern Republican representative to replace Grant with Reagan on the $50. Students of (northern) history will recall that Grant is reviled in the South for a) winning the civil war, b) enforcing strong Reconstruction policies with martial law and c) wiping out the original KKK. Reagan, on the other hand, used dogwhistle campaign tactics to win the South in his presidential campaigns, emphasizing pro-segregation code words like “states’ rights.”

While Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) insists that this is a pro-Reagan move, not an anti-Grant one, and notes that he chose one Republican to replace another, I think it’s pretty obvious why most his 17 co-sponsors hail from the South.

Now Republicans outside the South are splitting over the proposal, despite their love of Ronald Reagan. Ohio Republicans are particularly annoyed because Grant was a native son:

State Representative Danny R. Bubp, a Republican from the [Ohio] district that includes Mr. Grant’s birthplace in Point Pleasant and childhood home in Brown County, is preparing a resolution that would oppose the currency change.

“The Union may not have won the Civil War had President Lincoln not had the wisdom to put Grant in charge,” Mr. Bubp said. “He was just the kind of guy who needed to be there at that time, and we should not diminish his place in history.”

 
Oh snap.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.