It was a short week on The Interpreter, thanks to Monday's public holiday, but the other four days were filled with plenty to interest and provoke. For instance, we debated the war against ISIS in Iraq, with retired General Jim Molan arguing that Australia needed to step up its commitment by deploying army advisers alongside the Iraqi army in battle:
Our experience in Afghanistan shows that accompanying local troops into battle has important benefits: local soldiers are more likely to be paid and receive ammunition, food and fuel; intelligence can be brought into the unit; fire support can be accessed; local commanders will make better tactical decision and won't get their soldiers killed carelessly. Iraqi soldiers are not fools. They know they will not be abandoned, as happened at Mosul, if there are advisers with them. Any veteran of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam will tell you that.
Rodger Shanahan countered:
Defeating ISIS militarily is necessary but is really just treating the symptoms rather than the disease. The causes of the disease include issues of identity, a poor state education system based on rote learning and not tied to any labour market requirements, feelings of disenfranchisement at several levels, and more. Addressing these causes requires a legislature which thinks in terms of the national interest rather than the individual, sectarian, tribal or party good. d More
The inability of the Iraqi parliament to vote on the National Guard Bill before it broke for the summer vacation tells you a lot about Iraq's politicians. Stumping up Australian soldiers to risk their lives when the Iraqi political system refuses to reform or look beyond narrow self-interest simply tells the Iraqis that they can continue to ignore fundamental issues of political legitimacy without penalty.
Don't blame Obama for the rise of ISIS, argued Tom Switzer:
Obama's critics are right to say the US troop surge in 2007 managed to slow the pace of Iraq's disintegration by creating a semblance of peace between Sunni tribes and Shiite-led government. It is also true the withdrawal in 2011 removed all that was holding Iraq's rival Sunni and Shiite groups in check. What the President's critics can't acknowledge, however, is the taproot of the crisis: the invasion of Iraq, which unleashed all those age-old sectarian hatreds haunting the region.
Merriden Varrall wrote brilliantly on China's worldview this week, marked by six 'narrative shells':
I remember being in a takeaway food shop queue in China. The foreign woman in front of me asked for vegetables and rice, in English. The Chinese woman behind the counter didn't understand, so the foreign woman helpfully said the same thing, but louder. Not being deaf, this didn't help the woman behind the counter. So the foreign woman shouted in a slow, loud voice, 'I WAAAAAANT VEEEEGETAAAABLES AAAAND RIIIIIIICE'. It was painfully embarrassing to watch, and fortunately, eventually a bilingual person provided some interpretation, and vegetables and rice ensued.
I tell this story as an illustrative parable. There has been much talk of late about the US (and Australia) pushing back more strongly against China's behaviour in the South China Sea, because what's been done so far hasn't worked. My point is that rather than saying the same thing more loudly and hoping for a different response, deeper cultural understanding is necessary.
The power and persistence of national identity is one of the most important obstacles to the forging of a productive partnership between Japan and South Korea. We believe the two countries need to take substantive action to break the cycle of rapprochement and rupture that dominates their relationship and reframe it in positive-sum terms through the establishment of a shared identity narrative.
In our new study of this relationship, we call on the governments in Tokyo and Seoul to take bold steps. For example, Japan should relinquish its claim to the disputed islands of Takeshima/Dokdo and make payments to surviving comfort women in order to take responsibility for injustices during the Pacific War and to signal a desire to truly move on. These steps are intended to 'shock the system' in both countries and begin to rewrite the national identity narratives in both countries. Given the significance Koreans attach to these two issues — in the just-released Genron NPO-East Asia Institute public opinion survey of relations between the two countries, 88.3% of Koreans identify Takeshima/Dokdo as a barrier to improved relations and 63.5% blame the comfort-women issue — such a step could break the deadlock.
Some data from Myanmar's census has been released (the first in three decades), and it reveals a huge urban-rural divide, says Elliot Brennan:
A countrywide average under-5 mortality rate of 72 deaths per 1000 live births leapt dramatically between Yangon (50) and Magway (108) or Ayeyawaddy (105).
The story was similar for household data on access to services. Some 77.5% of the urban population report electricity as the source of household lighting, as opposed to 15% in rural areas. More specifically, Yangon (69%) has far greater connection to electricity than Rakhine (13%) or Tanintharyi (8%). 69% of households use firewood or charcoal for cooking, with the figure 92% in rural areas and 52% in urban areas. Households reporting sanitary toilet facilities (74% nationwide) varied greatly between Yangon (91%) and Rakhine state (32%).
Astonishingly, the average household ownership of mobile phones is 33% – sim cards were exorbitantly expensive up until very recently — yet here too there is a divide between rural (21%) and urban (64%) populations. As I've noted previously, mobile phone penetration will be a key part of development and finance in rural communities.
Matthew Sussex wrote on Putin's Asia pivot:
...the Ukraine crisis – and the broader Russia-West tensions that it has stoked – obscures the fact that Moscow has been quietly but rapidly re-orienting its strategic posture. And it is doing so to the east, not the west. For Putin, the logic of an Asian pivot is threefold.
This week Indian special forces staged a dramatic raid into Myanmar. Shashank Joshi explained:
For a year, this Government has portrayed itself as breaking with the timidity of its predecessor: prepared to escalate shelling on the Line of Control with Pakistan, take covert action where necessary, and assert itself on the international stage. In this environment, it's easy to see how a single cross-border assault assisted by a neighbour is being hailed as Entebbe or Abbotabad. In truth, India's special forces capability have a long way to go.
Former UN weapons inspector Rod Barton took a close look at Julie Bishop's recent alarming claims about ISIS's chemical-weapons ambitions:
Julie Bishop's concerns over ISIS are not misplaced but may be somewhat exaggerated. It is unlikely ISIS would be able to obtain either the raw materials or expertise to make advanced chemical agents such as the nerve gas sarin. They may be able to produce or obtain less deadly agents such as the chlorine gas allegedly used by ISIS to date. But to cause significant casualties, the chemicals have to be delivered in quantity using aerial bombs or rockets designed specifically for the purposes. Since ISIS does not have an air force, aerial bombs are not an issue and chemical rockets would take years of development, if ISIS had the expertise.
However, while the use by ISIS of chemicals, or even medical radioactive material in a 'dirty bomb', may not cause many casualties, there is a clear psychological impact. This is possibly what ISIS may be aiming for. Similar use of chlorine, probably by government forces in Syria, has attracted international attention and condemnation. This is likely to have been noted by ISIS. And finally, Bishop's focus on ISIS and possible new threats no doubt help support the Australian Government's policy on Iraq and terrorism.
Last weekend's election has potentially profound implications for Turkey, for Europe, and for the Middle East. Here's Daniel Woker:
According to the Turkish constitution, if no working government can be hammered out within 45 days, the president has to call new elections. However, Erdogan dominates his party to such an extent that his personal choice — accept the election outcome or plow ahead with his dictatorial policy, language and style before the vote — will become obvious soon through the AKP's behaviour in the coalition talks.
If he chooses the latter, all bets are off. In the short term this would obviously spells trouble for the country itself. The democratic opposition, buoyed by the election result, will not take a continuation of the AKP's recent policies and rhetoric lying down. The 'Takim Square riots' against Erdogan of 2011 will look like child's play compared to what we are likely to see in the streets of Istambul. The disastrous consequences for the Turkish economy and currency, already seriously rattled after the election, are also evident. Kurdish terrorism could resume as its past flag bearer, the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, is still very much alive and has only held its peace after overtures towards the Kurds by the Erdogan Government in its early years.
The ultimate nightmare for Turkey would be a scenario in which its president, running out of all other options, is tempted to play the Sunni card at home, with the Middle East's emerging mother of all Islamic wars (Sunna vs Shia) thus casting its devastating shadow over Turkey.
The consequences would of course be dire.
Here's a wonderful first-person perspective on the battles faced by women on Jakarta's buses, from our Jakarta regular Catriona Croft-Cusworth:
Jakarta is the world's fifth most dangerous city for women on public transport, according to an international survey conducted last year. In a poll of 15 of the world's biggest capital cities plus New York, Jakarta ranked fifth for verbal harassment against women on public transport and sixth for physical harassment. While women in Jakarta were relatively confident that the public would come to their assistance if they were being harassed, they were far less confident that authorities would respond to a formal complaint. If it's any indication of the prevalence of harassment on the busway, the standard signs for 'no eating', 'no drinking' and 'no smoking' are joined by a sign that appears to communicate 'no lifting the skirts of fellow passengers'.
Photo by Flickr user Travel Aficionado.