North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Refugees and other flows from regional conflicts grow

"The first casualty, when war comes, is truth" is a statement that has been often repeated and modified. It is attributed to Hiram Johnson (1866-1945), a "staunchly isolationist" Republican senator from California in reference to World War 1. (Hmmm, the 100th anniversary of what is considered the precipitant act of that war was held this week. As the Australian Broadcasting Service (ABC) concisely summarizes, "the Archduke Ferdinand - the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne - was shot dead with his wife Sophie on a June morning in 1914. Ferdinand's murder by Gavriol Princip, a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb, set the Great Powers marching to war. More than 10 million soldiers died, as empires crumbled and the world order was rewritten.")

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Yes, the 100th year commemoration of the assassination, carried out by the Bosnian, Gariol Princip, was held in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, but not without controversy!. Apparently the killing is seen very differently by Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs. To some in Bosniak parts of the country, Princip was a terrorist; to some Serbs, he is largely viewed as an ethnic Serb nationalist, while others see in him a pan-Slav idealist. In this picture by the BBC, a Serbian flag is carried in the eastern B-H town of Visegrad at a separate commemoration more sympathetic of Princip.

So where was I? Teatree's POINT is that one could come up with other firsts besides truth being the first casualty. While there is little doubt that truth is quick to go - yes, yes, and yes - Teatree observes that the wrenching of civilians from their homes may even come sooner.

Three refugee flows

Inside Iraq

We've read much of Syria's streams of civilians heading to Turkey and Jordan - hundreds of thousands - and some were even a couple years ago fleeing to Iraq. But with ISIS in Syria and Iraq making the news this past two weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqis themselves are fleeing in all directions - mainly to safe parts of their now divided country.

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Iraqis from Mosul fled everywhere, but many into the autonomous Kurdish controlled region. Photo from

Between Russia and the Ukraine

There are thousands on the roads in Eastern Ukraine. Some are heading to Russia or pro-Russian strongholds in the east of the country, while some Eastern Ukrainians are headed west to safer Ukrainian territory. The UN puts a number on internal movements - 54,000 - but notes that another 110,000 Ukrainians have gone to Russia since the first of the year.

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Pro-Russian civilians (or those simply concerned for their families' safety) going through border crossing into Russia. Photo from

From Central America to the U.S.

There isn't exactly a war or conflict going on in several Central American countries - Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, - but it is clearly a desperate situation that stems from poverty, the rise of gangs, and violence of drug cartels in these small nations. What is unique is that children are being sent on their own to the U.S., no doubt assuming the U.S. is much less likely to return children than it would adults traveling alone.

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Central American families (not strictly just children) arriving in great numbers. An ABC article states, "The Department of Homeland Security says more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained along the U.S. border with Mexico this fiscal year. In addition, authorities have apprehended 39,000 adults with small children. The numbers reflect a significant uptick over last year, when just 24,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended. The majority in the surge hail from Central American countries, and a disproportionate number are young women and under age 13, officials say." Photo from

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Countries under great stress, and parents sending children north Graphic from Mother

One other flow

We've seen it before: in Libya after the overthrow of Gaddafi, unsecured weaponry flooded North African countries, and many say these weapons fueled the uptick of strength in Boko Haram and was responsible for the surge of conflict in Mali.

Today, a new flood of weapons is on the move. In Iraq, vast amounts of weaponry, along with vehicles and armor, changed hands. It came from Iraqi army units that melted in front of ISIS fighters, and immediately seized by ISIS itself.

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This graphic shows, if nothing else, that the border between Iraq and Syria is for now, a moot boundary. A sand berm that once delineated the line was bulldozed out by ISIS forces. ISIS or ISIL? These are Western terms, the militants refer to themselves as simply jihadis for "al-Dawla", Arabic for the State. That's the main point, they don't view the Syrian or Iraq boundaries as significant, as they are trying to establish their own Caliphate. Graphic from the BBC

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Not "just" small arms, but vehicles, tanks, missiles - and in many cases American made - have passed into ISIS hands. These incidentally are coming through early breaks in the sand berm that once delineated Syria from Iraq. Photo from

And so they go ...

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Celebrating winter solstice in Tasmania

With so much grim material to cover, let's duck and enjoy, rather, a solstice moment.

In Southern Australia, Aussies celebrate the longest night of the year with a Dark Mofo event - make that a week long event. Specifically in Hobart, Australia, the celebration includes what some call a Beach Bum swim ...

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Hobart, one of the southernmost cities of Australia and the capital of the island-state of Tasmania. Graphic from

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The city itself, home to two fifths of the island's population of a little of 510,000, seems like a pretty picturesque locale. Photo from

So, it's cold there the 21st of June, the swim short and unique, and then there are fireworks, concerts, etc.

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The Beach Bum swim. Photo from

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Apparently, the "Sky Whale" is an annual participant in Dark Mofo. Photo from

Sky Whale over Hobart, yes, those are multiple teats. Photo from

And there are kid friendly venues as well

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An American TV show full of characters, Yo Gabba Gabba, is participating in Dark Mofo this year. Teatree admits to having bought a stuffed toy a few years ago that resembles the green creature. Photo from

And so the days will soon begin to lengthen

Monday, June 16, 2014

Iraq, left on its own, backed to the edge

The news from Iraq this week has been bad. Very bad. A growing body of Islamic extremists, gathered from a territory carved out of Eastern Syria during the ongoing Syrian civil war, calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has exploded into Sunni lands in eastern Iraq.

Taking advantage of the poor and divisive governance by Iraqi leader Maliki, ISIS has played on the resentment of Sunnis, chasing a shocked Iraqi army from several cities including Iraq's second largest city, Mosul.

The interesting presentation in this BBC graphic, shows thin little yellow lines as the controlled territory of ISIS. What is really is showing is that the Iraqi population and cities of Western Iraq are for the most part along waterways, the vacant land inbetween is simply empty desert.

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Al Raqqa, Syria, has long been in the hands of anti-Assad rebels, and has become, unfortunately, the urban headquarters for ISIS, one of the most ruthless factions of Islamic extremists. Photo from

So, the first point suggested by Teatree to muse upon, is that due to Western inaction to support moderate Syrian opposition, extremists have consolidated their control of the anti-Assad forces. Not only do they want to remove Assad - the chemical weapons user who has just manipulated his third Presidential term - but more importantly establish their own "Caliphate." Just as the Taliban gained an actual footprint in ruling Afghanistan in the 1990s, ISIS now has a base, and it has gained it in the middle of the Syrian civil war.

Iraq, left to itself, sinks into sectarianism

In the West, the US and UK in particular, the shocking collapse of Iraq has quickly degenerated to large degree into a rehash of whether President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are either completely, or mainly to blame.

What can at least be said is that Iraqi President Maliki has done nothing, really, to attempt to create a big house government, including Sunnis and the Kurds in the past 8 or so years. Becoming more sectarian, ie, favoring his fellow Shiites, Maliki has by neglect lost most of the country (For a detailed description of Maliki's rule, read the New York Time link in the comment section). The Sunnis are hostile, and unfortunately choosing badly in accepting (or tolerating) ISIS gains. The Kurds, on the other hand, have never felt part of a national Iraqi identity, and in the midst of this recent chaos have quickly moved to consolidate their hold on Kurd land in Northeast Iraq.

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Kurds have consolidated their hold in Iraq's northeast, Sunnis have marginalized themselves to the west, and dabble dangerously with ISIS (or alternatively ISIL), while the Shia homeland in SE Iraq is in danger of becoming a vassal of Shia Iran. Graphic taken from a article

One point of debate

US President Obama, fulfilling a political campaign promise, quickly pulled all US troops out of Iraq within three years of being in office. One could say, and many do, that he left a fragile - clearly fragile - nascent democracy surrounded by hostile or indifferent neighbors and plenty of internal strife. Yet no stabilizing force at all could be left there, the White House explains, because the two countries could not agree on future immunity for US forces if they were to remain in the country. Teatree will only point out that it seems the US was excruciatingly polite in negotiations to so quickly give in to this one country. Given the US propensity during the same time and continuing to this day, to strike targets repeatedly at will with drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, with or without those nation's official approval, one can only wonder whether a political promise was the major reason for such a complete hasty Iraqi withdrawal, regardless of the consequences which we are now witnessing.

In contrast, after the Balkan war ended in the mid-90s, nearly 50,000 NATO troops stayed to ensure the peace, building fragile bridges between wounded and wary ethnic populations for several years, before slowly winding down their presence. Even today, 20 years later, over 5000 troops remain. One could highlight the value of stabilizing forces in South Korea, Japan, and even Germany for decades, but that would belabor the point.

KFOR troops in Kosovo, keeping the fragile peace between neighboring Serbia and Muslim Kosovans, and earlier between a number of nations, Croatia, Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, etc. Photo from

Iran steps closer to Shia arc
Iran, already pleased with Maliki in Iraq, have offered him assistance in fighting ISIS. With this opening to create a closer relationship with Iraq, Iran moves towards its long term goal of establishing an arc of influence: from Iran into Syria where it supports Assad, and linking with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Now with Iraq on the edge, the possibility of an uninterrupted arc is within reach. And while Russia has robustly supported chemical-weapons man Assad in Syria, in contrast the West timidly continues its searches for appropriate groups it might support among the Syrian opposition. (Hint - these moderate groups have long since left the building ...).

The current three - Hezbollah's Nasrullah, left; Iran's Rouhani, center; and chemical-man Assad from Syria on the right. Suddenly the three buddies have half of Iraq in their pocket, with just ISIS rabble to clear out in-between. Poster photo from

What's ahead?
Aside from sectarian bloodletting on a scale we've not seen yet even in Syria or during the US occupation of Iraq, we are possibly seeing a preview of what lies ahead in Afghanistan as soon as the US pulls its combat troops out by the end of this year, and even the trailing training force of 10,000 within a year after that.

What else? Under this current US administration, the West is likely to retreat to a limp posture of the past - lobbing a few tomahawk missiles here and there, and launching more drone strikes safely from a distance, though no doubt without anyone's permission. That fastidiousness of gaining permission was reserved for the former Iraq alone.

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Drone strikes are apparently the US default strategy (permission granted or not), with no chance for immediate battlefield death or injury for US armed forces. But doesn't it appear that the U.S. might be losing a bit of the "hearts and minds" battle? Photo from

Certainly there will be no large scale commitment of US combat troops back into the Iraqi theater - that ship has sailed. Though how US troops in Kuwait will somehow remain exempt from extremist attacks remains to be seen. And our erstwhile allies Jordan and Israel may also believe our reassurances of steadfast US support leaves something to be desired.

And onward the world moves ...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Putin's Russia searches for partners

On May 29, Russian President Putin stood with two national leaders from Belarus and Kazakhstan, to announce the formation of a rival to the European Union (EU), called the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU). The three countries would provide an alternative economic trading zone to the EU, with the intent of attracting other countries, one assumes, who are unable to become members of the EU. Both Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have indicated their interest in becoming members

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The founding members of the Eurasian Economic Union - from left, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, and President Putin of Russia. Photo from

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Here in Cyrillic script, are the founding EaEU members. The gray vacancy in the southwest of the map is Ukraine, which at one point, no doubt, was assumed to become a founding partner in this alternative to the EU. Graphic from

Critics consider the EaEU as a Putin effort to revive the soviet empire without the communist ideology. Ukraine, however, is missing. In fact, Ukraine was trying to move towards the EU over the past years, which ultimately led to Putin's clampdown and annexation of the Crimean peninsula, as well as fueling separatist movements throughout the east of the country.

President Putin called the official establishment of the EaEU as the "central event of the year" (apparently surpassing his annexation exercise), but even among the founding three members, there was hesitation. As one article from uznews observed, "It should be noted that the signing of the document did not go as planned by Moscow. Kazakhstan, for instance, spoke out against “Russian revenge-seeking” and decided to not include such “murky” points as “common citizenship”, “foreign affairs”, “passport and visa regimes”, “common borders”, “inter-parliamentary cooperation”, and “export control”.

Belarus also signed the agreement with many corrections having rejected allegations of its economic and political weakness while its leader, Alexander Lukashenka, underscored more than once that his country is entering the union as an equal partner and will not tolerate any infringements on its sovereignty."

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The new EaEU is most likely the latest attempt to solidify the influence of Russia with its neighbors. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, there was much fanfare over the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which, who knows, perhaps was trying, at least with the name, to imitate the British Commonwealth. Even then, the three Baltic states had quickly and emphatically moved away from CIS consideration. Graphic from

Other Putin moves:

Defiant of Western sanctions for his land grab on the Crimean Peninsula, Russian President Putin also trumpeted a long term energy deal with China, selling up to $400 billion of oil and gas over 30 years. This time Putin called the deal, a “watershed event.” The agreement includes building new pipelines and terminals heading away from Europe, where most of Russia's oil and gas exports now flow. $400 billion sounds like a lot, but with Putin plowing $50 billion into the Sochi winter Olympics alone, it can be squandered ...

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Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at oil and gas agreement event The previous day, the two countries announced a broader energy cooperation framework agreement. Photo from

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Lots of new pipelines over extensive miles - all concentrated in the east of Russia and headed towards China. Graphic found in

Secondly, and perhaps not completely unrelated, a prospective EaEU member, Kyrgyzstan has concluded its agreement with the United States in which it provided an airbase at Manas for NATO operations in Afghanistan. While the timetable was agreed on several years ago, its coincidental timing emphasizes Russia's efforts to consolidate its previous allied borders.

The US Manas air force base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan ... Photo from

From a Washington Post article, we read, "Kyrgyzstan, a mainly Muslim nation of 5.5 million, remains poor and volatile after violent revolts that have deposed two presidents since 2005. It lies on a drug-trafficking route out of Afghanistan and is next door to China, which is boosting its economic ties with resource-rich Central Asia. After his election in 2011, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev assured Moscow the U.S. air base would be shut.

In December 2012 he ratified a deal leasing the base to Russia for 15 years from January 2017, after Moscow agreed to write off some $500 million of Kyrgyz debts. The agreement can be automatically extended for five years after its expiry. Neighboring Tajikistan also receives Russian economic aid and ratified a deal in October to extend by three decades Moscow's military presence on its land, which may face security threats after NATO troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014."

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With the Western war effort quickly winding down in Afghanistan, the US is relinquishing its Kyrgystan air base and will accomplish any further resupplying by air from Romania ... It looks like a stretch, but then again, the US seems to have every intention of leaving Afghanistan, as well as leaving the country to an even more uncertain future. Graphic from