In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.
Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:
Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”
So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.
Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.
Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.
Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.
Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:
“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.
But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?
Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.
In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.
Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.
That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.
Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.
The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.
What is behind all these episodes?
The annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage was released yesterday, and set off the usual flurry of confusion and bad ideas on the last of those three subjects. The number of Americans without health insurance increased last year to roughly 47 million Americans, or 15.8 percent of the population. The raw number is less important than the percentage: in a growing population the raw number of both those without insurance and those with insurance is likely to grow (and indeed, the number of insured Americans increased by about 800,000 last year, while the number of uninsured increased by about 2 million.) But at 15.8 percent, the proportion of the uninsured matches its highest level ever (last reached in 1998).
In looking at this figure, though, a great deal of caution is warranted. As Eric Cohen and I pointed out in the February issue of COMMENTARY (and as the Census report itself notes) the number masks much nuance.