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The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times
by James Dunnigan
January 22, 2014

The last year was the best of times and the worst of times. Wars continue to decline in number and intensity. Those that still exist get lots of publicity because that’s what the media does. But overall there are more conflicts ending (via negotiation, mutual exhaustion or one side actually winning) than new ones getting started. And new wars are more frequently quickly addressed with peacekeeping efforts. This is all a post-Cold War trend that has been going on for over two decades now. Let us hope it continues.

Most current wars are basically uprisings against police states or feudal societies which are seen as out-of-step with the modern world. Many are led by radicals preaching failed dogmas (Islamic conservatism, Maoism and other forms of radical socialism), that still resonate among people who don't know about the dismal track records of these creeds. Iran has replaced some of the lost Soviet terrorist support effort. That keeps Hezbollah, Hamas, and a few smaller groups going, and that's it. Terrorists in general miss the Soviets, who really knew how to treat bad boys right.

The "Arab Spring" has devolved into the “Arab Winter” as the “successful” uprisings against dictators and monarchs (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya) turned out to have superficial impact on the corrupt and mismanaged societies that were seeking some fundamental reform and improvement. Other candidates for Arab Spring failed or never got going (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, and Lebanon). Syria is not over but the rebels are losing momentum because of internal squabbles while the government is made stronger by Russia and Iran. In Egypt, the disgruntled population triggered another uprising in mid-2013 and the army removed the recently elected Islamic conservatives because most Egyptians saw the new bosses as too similar to the old ones.

In 2011 the Libya rebellion was won by armed civilians assisted by NATO smart bombs and warships. The Syrian rebels want this kind of help but the West is reluctant to do this again because the new Libyan government tolerated Islamic terrorist groups, who killed the American ambassador to Libya on September 11, 2012. This made clear that Arab gratitude is brittle and can quickly turn to treachery or hate. This has led to hesitation by the West in backing the Syrian rebels too energetically.

The Arab Spring uprisings were mostly about corruption and the resulting massive poverty. For that reason, the Saudi Arabian monarchy was able to buy its way out of an uprising. Yemen mutated into low level civil war while Syria grew slowly into a countrywide guerilla war. Egypt and Tunisia were over quickly, but subsequent elections put Islamic conservatives in power and left most of the corruption alone. In Egypt the military was able to maintain its corrupt grip on the economy and eased out the elected Islamic conservatives who threatened the generals. It's unclear how this will turn out because the Islamic and secular rebel groups will take to the streets, or worse, if they feel they are not getting their way. Indeed, the biggest problem was that these dictatorships the Arab Spring opposed were not just the single dictator, but that segment of the population that kept the dictator in power. The supporters were usually numerous and were well rewarded for that and were not eager to flee or give up their wealth. The dictator's supporters are striving to retain or regain their power and often succeeding. The Old Order has substantial economic and political resources and is willing to use them to retain power and wealth.

The War on Terror   has morphed into the War Against Islamic Radicalism. This religious radicalism has always been around, for Islam was born as an aggressive movement that used violence and terror to expand. Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems, who are still taught by many of their religious leaders and teachers that non-Moslems ("infidels") are inferior. The current enthusiasm for violence in the name of God has been building through most of the 20th century. Historically, Islamic radicalism has flared up into mass bloodshed periodically, usually in response to corrupt governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. The current violence is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media (which needs a constant supply of headlines), and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. This is why the Arab Spring uprisings, and their desire to establish democracies, may do some permanent damage to the Islamic terrorism tradition. There are already more condemnations of Islamic radicals by Islamic clerics and media in Moslem nations. These changes have not come as quickly as many hoped, but at least they finally arrived. This came as a surprise to many Moslems. That’s because the past has had a huge influence on Islamic societies. For many, this resistance to change is considered a religious obligation. Many Moslems consider democracy a poisonous Western invention. There is still a lot of affection for the clerical dictatorship of legend, a just and efficient government run by virtuous religious leaders. The legends are false and there are centuries of failed religious dictatorships to prove it. But this legend have become a core belief for many Moslems and tends to survive assaults by reality or the historical record.

Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of popular support and fade away. This is what is happening now. The American invasion of Iraq was a clever exploitation of this, forcing the Islamic radicals to fight in Iraq, where they killed many Moslems, especially women and children, thus causing the Islamic radicals to lose their popularity among Moslems.  The sharp decline in the Islamic nation opinion polls was startling.

Normally, the West does not get involved in these Islamic religious wars, unless attacked in a major way. Moreover, modern sensibilities have made retaliation difficult. For example, fighting back is considered by Moslems, as culturally insensitive ("war on Islam") and some of the Western media have picked up on this bizarre interpretation of reality.  It gets worse. Historians point out, for example, that the medieval Crusades were a series of wars fought in response to Islamic violence against Christians, not the opening act of aggression against Islam that continues to the present. Thus, the current war on terror is, indeed, in the tradition of the Crusades. And there are many other "Crusades" brewing around the world, in the many places where aggressive Islamic militants are making unprovoked war on their Christian and non-Moslem neighbors. Political Correctness among academics and journalists causes pundits to try and turn this reality inside out. But a close look at the violence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East shows a definite pattern of Islamic radicals persecuting those who do not agree with them, not the other way around.

While Islamic terrorism grabs most of the headlines, it is not the cause of many casualties, at least not compared to more traditional wars. The vast majority of the military related violence and deaths in the world comes from many little wars that get little media attention outside their region. Actually some of them are not so little. While causalities from international terrorism are relatively few, the dead and wounded from all the other wars actually comprise over 90 percent of all the casualties. The Islamic terrorism looms larger because the terrorists threaten attacks everywhere and at any time, putting a much larger population potentially in harm's way, and the more numerous potential victims are unhappy with that prospect. In the West, and most Moslem nations, Islamic terrorism remains more of a threat than reality. In fact, casualties from terrorist attacks have been declining. Most of the victims are in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have been operating for decades. Before 2003, many of the current Iraqi Sunni terrorists were on Saddam’s payroll, carrying out “legal” terrorism.

There are a lot of people dying from armed and organized (sort of) violence word-wide. But most of this violence involved one, or both sides operating as armed civilians. One of the bloodiest of these irregular conflicts is the one going on in Mexico, where drug gangs battle over who shall control the lucrative drug smuggling routes into the United States. Most of the killings are done by drug gang gunmen in civilian clothes. The death toll is over 80,000 since 2007. That's right up there with the wars that get a lot more media coverage (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan and Somalia). That's no accident, as the Mexican drug war includes a lot of violence against the media, mainly local print and electronic outlets. The drug gangs don't want any unfavorable coverage and are willing to kill those who dare to say unkind things. This is common in many of the wars where one, or both sides are basically outlaws and able to do as they please.

Despite the growing military power of China, and the saber rattling from Russia, the major military powers continue the Great Nuclear Truce (GNT) that began in the 1950s, when Russia got nuclear weapons, and suddenly realized they could not afford to use them (without risking more destruction than past foes like the Nazis, French or Mongols inflicted). As more major powers got nukes, the "we can't afford to use them, but they're nice to have" attitude, and the unprecedented truce, persisted. There have been wars, but not between the big players (who have the largest and most destructive conventional forces). Thus a record was broken in 1986, as there had never before (since the modern state system developed in the 16th century) been so long a period without a war between a major powers (the kind that could afford, these days, to get nukes). Since the Cold War ended in 1991 there have been fewer wars (in the traditional sense) and more low level conflicts (rebellions, civil wars). Most people are unaware of this situation, because the mass media never made a lot of the GNT, it was something that was just there and not worth reporting. Besides, "nukes (bombs, power plants, medicine) are evil" sells if you are in the news business.  Calling any incident, with a lot of gunfire and a few dead bodies, a "war" has also been misleading. The fact is, worldwide violence has been declining since the end of the Cold War and the elimination of Russian subsidies and encouragement for pro-communist (or simply pro-Russia) rebels and terrorists. The media also has a hard time keeping score. For years, Iraq was portrayed as a disaster until, suddenly, the enemy was crushed and the war was won. Even that was not considered exciting enough to warrant much attention, and that story is still poorly covered. Same pattern is playing out in Afghanistan, where the defeats of the Taliban, and triumph of the drug gangs, go unreported or distorted. However, if you step back and take a look at all the wars going on, a more accurate picture emerges. So take sensational reporting of the “Chinese threat” with a bit of skepticism.

Current wars are listed in alphabetical orders. Text underneath briefly describes current status. Click on country name for more details. 

AFGHANISTAN

With nearly all foreign troops departing by the end of the 2014, the last year was one of big changes. The government kept trying to negotiate a deal with pro-Taliban Pushtun tribes and clans in the south. The Taliban leadership (most of them live in the Pakistan sanctuary of Quetta) and their Pakistani sponsors oppose this sort of thing, as they have done for years. Some clan and tribal leaders do make deals and this further splinters the Taliban and lessens the risk of another civil war between Pushtuns (and among Pushtun factions) and the other ethnic groups (who are 60 percent of the population but much less violent than the Pushtuns). In 2013 the Afghan army and police took over responsibility for security in most of the country. As a result foreign troops suffered 60 percent fewer casualties than in 2012 while losses among Afghan security forces doubled. By the end of 2013 more police and army commanders were accepting bribes from drug gangs to stand down. Meanwhile what most Afghans consider the biggest threat, the drug gangs and their paid-for Taliban allies are depending on this departure for long-term survival. But that could create a heroin producing, Islamic terrorist and gangster sanctuary in Central Asia. If you want to know how that works out, look at Chechnya in the late 1990s and Somalia during the last decade.  No one has come up with any cheap, fast or easy solution for that. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's core problem is that there is no Afghanistan, merely a collection of tribes more concerned about tribal issues than anything else. Ten percent of the population, mostly living in the cities and often working with the foreigners, believes in Afghanistan the country. But beyond the city limits, it's a very different Afghanistan that is currently motivated by growing prosperity brought on by a decade relative peace.  By Afghan standards, an unprecedented amount of cash has come into the country since September 11, 2001. Between economic growth, the growing heroin sales, and foreign aid, plus lower losses from violence, it's been something of a Golden Age. But Afghanistan has a long history of civil war and endemic tribal violence. For example, it's often forgotten that the 1990s civil war was still active on September 11, 2001. The Taliban (or, more accurately, Pushtun nationalists from the southwest) have been trying to make a comeback ever since. Meanwhile most Afghans are more interested in grabbing a chunk of the new economic opportunities. Despite a decline in civilian deaths (and the fact that most of them are caused by the Taliban), the Afghan government plays up every civilian death caused foreign troops as a bargaining chip in the effort to cripple NATO anti-corruption efforts. There hasn't been a real "Taliban Spring Offensive" for nearly a decade and that’s partly because of cash flow problems. The key Taliban financial resource; heroin in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, has been under heavy attack for over five years now. The poppy (the source of opium and heroin) crop has been hammered by drought and disease, growing competition from Burmese heroin and drug gang income has suffered. The Taliban expected drug gang profits, al Qaeda assistance, and Pakistani reinforcements to help them out. But al Qaeda is a very junior, and unpopular, partner, and the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 was a big blow to morale. Pakistani Taliban are mostly sending refugees, not reinforcements. For the last two years the Taliban have been suffering and that means their attacks down and casualties are up. Losses for foreign troops were also down 77 percent from the peak year of 2010 (711 dead). Foreign troop deaths began to rapidly decline in the second half of 2011, with casualties among Afghan police and soldiers rising as Afghans took control of security in more of the country.  The higher foreign troop casualties in 2010 were because there were more foreign troops in action during that year, and those troops were much more aggressive. The Taliban roadside bomb weapon has lost its punch because of more MRAPs, and specialized intel and engineer troops moved in from Iraq. Thus the proportion of foreign troop deaths from roadside bombs declined from a peak of 61 percent in 2009 to 40 percent in the last two years. This has not helped civilians, who suffer far more deaths from Taliban action. In fact, independent minded tribes, warlords, corruption and drug gangs remain a greater threat to peace,  prosperity and true national unity than the Taliban (on both sides of the Pakistan border). Newly wealthy civilians are buying rifles and pistols for self-defense. Moreover, the "Taliban" are not an organization, but a Pushtun movement that is active on both sides of the border and supported by less than ten percent of the 40 million Pushtun in the region. In 2007 the Pakistani government finally agreed to take on the pro-Taliban tribes and various Islamic terrorist organizations, although the intensity of the fighting diminished greatly after two years. That put pressure on Taliban on both sides of the border. There are fewer safe havens for the Taliban. The foreign nations fighting their war on terror in Afghanistan have finally realized that there has never been an Afghan national government that was not corrupt and changing that is going to be more difficult than fighting the Taliban. NATO is now fully aware of the trans-national nature of the Pushtun tribes and the Taliban movement. The "war in Afghanistan" is more of a "Pushtun Tribal Rebellion," and is being handled as such. Most NATO nations with troops in Afghanistan are willing to just walk away and deal with the fallout later. Afghanistan has become politically unpopular and the easiest way out (for Western politicians) is to get out and let their successors deal with the aftermath. Afghanistan has become another can foreign leaders are “kicking down the road.”

ALGERIA

The Arab Spring made only a slight impact here. Many locals are still traumatized by the 1990s war against Islamic terrorists, which is still not completely over. But the anger is growing because of decades of inept dictatorship. There are few Islamic radicals left in Algeria and the security forces spend most of their time along the Tunisian, Libyan and Mali borders dealing with terrorists coming or going to those places. Over the last decade most of the Algerian Islamic terrorists were killed, captured, or ran off to Europe, or south into the desert and across the southern borders into Black Africa. Many of those showed up in Mali during 2012, where a lot of them were killed by the French counter-offensive in early 2013. That operation also did a lot of damage to the al Qaeda smuggling gangs that have been moving South American cocaine north for several years. The few remaining Islamic terrorists in Algeria have few hiding places left. Despite the large amount of uninhabited mountains and forests along the eastern coast, the police and army have been operating there for so long that it's difficult to stay hidden. Too many civilians are hostile to Islamic radicalism, and will phone in a tip. Algeria has become a very dangerous place for Islamic terrorists. Algerian Islamic radicals tried to capitalize on the Arab Spring unrest in neighboring Tunisia and Libya. But in both those countries, the popular uprising was against the local dictators and for democracy, not Islamic radicalism. Islamic political parties were popular, but not Islamic radicals. The uprisings in Tunisia and Libya weakened the local security forces, and made it easier for Islamic radicals to move around and recruit. Algeria increased its border security and has had to deal with more Islamic terrorist just across the border in Tunisia and Libya. The major problem remains an Algerian government that is basically a corrupt military dictatorship that uses the national oil wealth to buy enough votes to get elected again and again. So more Algerians are fleeing, or vacillating between despair and a desire to fight. The corrupt government insures that there are always more desperate young men willing to give Islamic terrorism a try, but not enough to overthrow the government, or even keep Arab Spring demonstrations going. Many expect another, and larger, Arab Spring in Algeria eventually but so far the geriatric government is making concessions and trying to reform itself. This is delaying another revolution.

BALKANS  

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

CENTRAL ASIA

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

CHAD

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

CHINA

China continues its aggressive behavior and risking war with its neighbors. North Korea, despite being a long-time ally, has now become a growing problem. The North Koreans have openly defied China with increasing regularity. China is not happy with having an unstable nuclear power as a neighbor. North Korea is getting more threats, some of them public, from China. Meanwhile, in the South China Sea China has embraced the idea that this entire area is not international waters, or the property of the nearest country, but part of China. This violates international agreements on such matters but China disagrees and is becoming more aggressive enforcing these claims. China is using the “death by a thousand cuts” approach, constantly pushing other nations away from disputed rocks and reefs and threatening worse if anyone tries drilling for oil or gas in these offshore waters. China is applying the same tactics against India along their 4,000 kilometer land border. Meanwhile there are growing problems at home, where corruption and its side effects pollution and inept government have caused growing public anger. This has caused the government to introduce additional reforms and many more prosecutions of corrupt officials. The corruption is more of a problem in part because growing success in using the Internet for espionage did not translate into the ability to establish sufficient control over Internet use within China. The government has been unable to create a new domestic information monopoly (as existed in the pre-cell phone/Internet days). Bad news gets out and causes growing unrest. There are thousands of large protest riots each year, and some towns are openly rebelling. It's all because of an unelected government run by communists who no longer believe in communism. The growing corruption taints everything. For example, military reforms are crippled by corruption and energetic government efforts to clean it up constantly fail. Until recently the government launched anti-corruption efforts only prosecuted low level operators while the biggest (and most senior) offenders continued doing the most damage with the least risk. That has changed in 2013. China continues its long-range plan to be a military superpower. World class weapons are planned for the future, some 10-20 years from now, but every year, China offers more advanced weapons to the world market. Chinese military technology is suspect, as much of it is based on Russian stuff, and during the Cold War Russian weapons always seemed to be what the losers used. A lot of this new tech is aimed at India. The rivalry between China and India becomes more obvious, and dangerous. China is mainly concerned about its trade routes through the Indian Ocean.  The confrontation with Taiwan continues to subside, replaced by kind words and gracious lies, along with increases in trade and commerce. Some Chinese suspect that the plan now is to buy Taiwan piece by piece. The world is seeing more Chinese in peacekeeping missions as well as growing Chinese threats to peace.

COLOMBIA

Peace talks with the major leftist rebel group FARC moved slowly but appeared to make progress. Both sides predict a final deal in early 2014. After nearly half a century of violence, leftist rebels have rapidly lost support, recruits and territory in the last decade.  The drug gangs and leftist rebels have merged in many parts of the country, and the war in increasingly about money, not ideology. The leftist rebels are definitely fading, but all that drug money can keep them in the game for quite a while even though most of the cocaine production has moved to Peru. Many of the leftists are disillusioned and it is becoming harder to recruit new gunmen. In Venezuela the country moves closer to civil war and economic collapse. Radical populist president Hugo Chavez died in March 2013, after he had trashed the Venezuelan economy and democracy. His handpicked replacement had to rig the election to become the new president. That just caused more popular discontent in Venezuela which is threatening to turn that country into another 20th century Colombia. The old Chavez dream of Venezuela becoming a socialist dictatorship supported by oil revenue is rapidly fading, along with cash reserves and the national credit rating. While Venezuela is headed for civil war Colombia continues to prosper and reduce drug gang and leftist rebel violence.

CONGO

The UN, having tried everything else, finally authorized a special brigade of peacekeepers in 2013 who were given a license to kill, and kill as often as needed to eliminate the last few rogue militias operating in the east. This appears to have solved the peacekeeping problems out there, but not the fact that Congo has returned to being a one party dictatorship based on corruption and exploiting ethnic divisions. Multiple tribal and political militias, plus an increasing number of bandits, continue to roam the eastern border area, perpetuating the bloodiest (and least reported) war of the last decade (several million dead, depending on who is counting). The Congolese government finds it cannot (and to a certain extent, will not) cope with the continuing corruption and lack of order in the east. The reason is money, the millions of dollars available each year to whoever has gunmen controlling the mines that extract valuable ores and allow the stuff out of the country. UN peacekeepers are criticized for not fighting more, but that’s not their job. The Congolese army is not up to it yet either, and may never be. Most rebels do not seek to overthrow the national government, but remain in control of much of the eastern border area and its economic riches. This is where the new UN combat brigade is operating. Meanwhile, the inept and corrupt government creates more anger than contentment, setting the stage for another civil war. The population is not eager for more violence, not after two decades of mayhem. But Congo remains mired in deadly chaos while much of the rest of the world gets organized and achieves a much better standard of living.

ETHIOPIA

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

INDIA-PAKISTAN

This year, for the first time in Pakistani history, an elected civilian government has moved to prosecute the military dictator it recently replaced. The process has been going on for months now and there is still fear that the army will stage yet another coup to prevent one of their own generals being punished by civilians. This should be resolved in 2014. Meanwhile 2013 was also notable because Pakistan for the first time had one elected government succeeded by another elected civilian government. Before that there was always a military dictatorship in between. But now the military has lost a lot of prestige and popular support. The backlash against the Pakistani military began in 2011 when a U.S. raid into Pakistan killed Osama bin Laden. That caused an unexpected popular backlash against the Pakistani military. Not just for sheltering bin Laden (which the generals always denied), but for being unable to spot the "invading Americans", or stop local Islamic radicals from carrying out "revenge attacks" that left hundreds dead. This led to a continuing series of confrontation between the Pakistani military and the civilian government and growing hostility towards military economic and political power. The generals had created a confrontation with the United States as a way to get their own civilian leaders to back off on plans to trim the independence (and wealth) the Pakistani military has long enjoyed. This did not work, nor did an effort to increase hostility with India. This is the result of growing Indian anger at Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism and realization that China is the main enemy now, with Pakistan fading fast. After the Mumbai terrorist attacks in late 2008, India pressured Pakistan to quit playing media games and get serious about anti-Indian Islamic terrorists (created and sustained by the Pakistani military) based in Pakistan. This caused a struggle within the Pakistani government over how to deal with Islamic radicalism and their own armed forces. Pakistan quietly backed off on any efforts to suppress its anti-India Islamic terror groups (who are popular with nationalistic Pakistanis). At the end of 2013 the elected government in Pakistan managed to replace the retiring head of the military with a general who openly admitted that Islamic terrorists were the major problem, not India. Meanwhile, India has to deal with religious (Islamic) separatists in Kashmir, plus tribal rebels in the northeast, and Maoist (communist) ones in between. In 2010, India launched a large offensive against the Maoists, a war they expect to take several years to finish and, not surprisingly, is proceeding slowly. Pakistan has much more serious (and bloody) internal unrest with Islamic radicals in the north and rebellious Pushtun and Baluchi tribes along the Afghan border.  The Taliban had become stronger in Pakistan, where it originated, than in Afghanistan.  The elected (2008) Pakistani government tried to make peace with the Taliban and when that failed, invaded the Taliban heartland. The previous military government had always avoided open war with the Islamic radicals. But this time the Taliban were beat up pretty bad, and the number of Taliban sponsored terrorist attacks increased in response. The military refused to clear the Islamic radicals out of their two last refuges in North Waziristan and Quetta (Baluchistan). Meanwhile the economy is a mess and the favorite national pastime is blaming foreigners for all these problems. By way of comparison, Moslem Bangladesh, which broke away from being part of Pakistan in the early 1970s, has no such Islamic radical problem (leftist rebels are the major troublemakers). India and Pakistan both have nukes, making escalation a potential catastrophe. As a result recent peace talks have lowered the possibility of war but both sides continue an arms race.  Pakistan has always been a mess, and does not appear to be getting better. For a while there was an effort to be less hospitable to Islamic radicals. But those Islamic terrorists who concentrated on attacking India were too popular to suppress. The military saw their control of these terrorists as a potential tool to keep the civilian government in line. It was a military government that, in the 1970s, introduced Islamic radicalism as a political tool for controlling the country and for making war against India. Many of the Islamic terrorists eventually turned on the military and were a dangerous failure as a tool for foreign policy. The military continues to support Islamic terrorists, especially those going after India, by providing secure bases in Pakistan and active support in getting into India. There are still many Pakistanis, including government officials, who back Islamic radicalism but continued attacks on Pakistani civilians have made it more popular to criticize Islamic radicals for the many problems they cause. Pakistan still has a way to go in dealing with that demon. The U.S. has threatened to invade if Pakistan based Islamic terrorists launch a successful terror attack in the United States. Evidence is piling up that Pakistani based groups have supported, and still support, efforts to carry out attacks in the U.S. America has told Pakistan that this would have consequences, but the Pakistanis fear a larger civil war of their own if they go after the radicals, mainly because about a third of Pakistanis still back Islamic radicalism. The moderates are a majority, but the minority is more willing to die for their beliefs. That, however, is beginning to slowly change, aided by recent Taliban attacks on women doing “un-Islamic” things (like backing education for girls or vaccinating children against polio). There are also a lot of Pakistanis who are more comfortable with the “there is a Western conspiracy to destroy Islam and we must fight it” view of the world. Pakistan needs help, but mostly from Pakistanis as the ills that torment Pakistan can only be resolved from within.

INDONESIA

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

IRAN

Last year brought many new economic sanctions that cut oil income sharply and resulted in more inflation and unemployment. The government says it will take care of all this, in time. But they are running out of time and betting on being able to persuade the West to lift the sanctions without actually halting Iranian nuclear weapons development. Meanwhile popular unrest has been greatly reduced by intense government suppression. The basic problem, for all the things that bother Iranians, is that an Islamic conservative minority has veto power over any attempts at reform from within. Independent reformers are considered enemies of the state. Most Iranians just want a better life. The supply of peaceful solutions is drying up. After that comes another revolution. There are some more complications. Half the population consists of ethnic minorities (mainly Turks and Arabs), and some of these groups (Arabs, Kurds and Baluchis) are getting more restive and violent (for different reasons). Meanwhile, the Islamic conservatives are determined to support terrorism overseas and build nuclear weapons at home, rather than concentrating on improving the economy and living standards. All this is made more complicated by a year of more damaging economic sanctions which have cut oil income in half since 2012. The economy is a mess, Syria and Lebanon are in danger of being lost as allies and unrest and terrorist violence are becoming more common in Iran. The government still seeks foreign adventures to distract an unhappy population but too many Iranians see through that and it just increases the popular anger with the government. The inept management of the economy is creating more unemployed young men desperate for a solution. The religious dictatorship is backed by religious fanatics that are willing to kill to stay in power, and guys like this are very difficult to remove. These are also the kind of men who would follow orders and take on the world (over access to the Persian Gulf). The nuclear weapon program moves forward, and is very popular with nearly all Iranians (who feel they are a great and powerful people who need nukes to prove it once more.) The nukes are important because Iran has been increasingly vocal about how Iran should be the leader of the Islamic world and the guardian of the major Islamic shrines (Mecca and Medina) in Saudi Arabia. Iranians believe that having nukes would motivate the Arabs to bow down. The Arabs have been kicked around by the Iranians for thousands of years and take this latest threat very seriously. Despite being about to spend ten times more than Iran on defense the Arabs are still worried about this Iranian aggressiveness.

IRAQ

All American troops left at the end of 2010 and Islamic terrorists are now a local police problem. That has not worked out well because the Iraqi government continues to suffer from massive corruption. This makes it difficult to suppress the growing Sunni terrorism activity. Terrorist deaths are still much lower than they were during the peak years of the post 2003 violence, but have doubled since 2011. In the past terrorist deaths went from 29,000 in 2006 to 10,000 in 2007 and kept falling until 2011 (when there were 4,100 deaths). Then came Arab Spring and the Sunni uprising against the Shia minority government in Syria. This energized Sunni radicals and led to a big jump in Sunni terrorism in both Syria and Iraq. What all Iraqis fear is a return of the Shia death squads. These unofficial (and eventually shut down by the police) groups went out killing any Sunni Arabs they could find. If this starts up again it could be catastrophic in terms of Sunni deaths and calls on other Sunni nations to intervene (which might result in Iran moving in to help the Iraqi Shia government). Terrorist violence continues because of diehard Sunni Arabs who refuse to accept democracy and Shia domination and growing support from Sunni Arabs in elsewhere in the region who fear growing Iranian efforts to spread Shia Islam via Iraq. More areas of the country are now at peace (as some have been since 2003) but the 2007 Sunni Arab peace deals with the majority Kurds and Shia Arabs are unraveling. The uprising in Syria is led by the Sunni Arab majority there (against the ruling Shia Arab minority). Iraqi Sunni Arabs are enthusiastically aiding the Syrian rebels and the Iraqi government is officially neutral (but actually doing much of what Iran asks to support the Syrian government). There are growing tensions between the Kurds in the north (over northern oil fields) and the Arab majority. That could trigger a civil war. Because the Kurds are better prepared for war and the oil money is very important to preserving their autonomy the Kurds might win. Plus, the Kurds don't trust the Arabs.  To make matters worse for the Iraqi government, Turkey backs the Kurds.

ISRAEL

Hamas is under intense pressure to halt rocket attacks from Gaza. That’s because they signed a truce with Israel over this matter and Hamas must get smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza to go along otherwise Israel will resume air, and possibly ground, attacks aimed at destroying most of the Hamas rocket stockpile. Hamas remains dedicated to destroying Israel and that rocket stockpile (built by smuggling Iranian rockets in for years) is the only thing that gives Hamas any credibility as a threat to Israel. Hamas needs all the respect it can get in the Arab world because it is losing popular support in Gaza where its 1.6 million Palestinian subjects are angry at not being able to vote Hamas out of power and being forced to submit to more and more Islamic lifestyle rules. Fatah still rules in the West Bank and is still corrupt, inept and unpopular. Neither Palestinian faction is interested in real peace talks with Israel. That's because Palestinian leaders continue to preach endless war against Israel, and destruction of the Jewish state. Any peace deal is seen as a stepping stone towards that ultimate goal. Some Palestinians keep trying to make any kind of peace, in order to reverse the economic disaster they brought on themselves as a result of their 14 year old terror campaign against Israel. Polls show that Palestinians are tired of terrorism, even though they still support it in order to destroy Israel, which remains an article of faith in the Palestinian community. The Palestinian economy in Gaza has collapsed as a major component, foreign charity, was reduced because the people elected the Hamas (Islamic terrorists) party to power in 2007. Hamas is trying to convince foreigners that it has changed (it hasn't) in order to get more cash to keep their religious dictatorship going. Iran cut aid (over a million dollars a month) in 2013 because Hamas came out against the Shia Assad government of Syria (under attack by rebels from the Sunni Arab majority) and restored it at the end of 2013 because Hamas was desperate for cash and pledged to support Iran in Syria. The antagonism between radical Hamas and corrupt Palestinian old guard (Fatah) has split Palestinians. But that’s not the biggest problem. Long time Arab allies are giving up on the Palestinians, who seem to have abandoned any meaningful attempt to unite and make some kind of peace with Israel. Iran backed Islamic radicals (Hezbollah) and Hamas are still allies, and most Lebanese back the destruction of Israel. Hezbollah violence threatens to drag Lebanon into another civil war, or another war with Israel. Hezbollah followed Iranian orders and sent several thousand fighters into Syria. The Arab Spring in Syria has removed Syria as a threat to Israel for the moment and made Hezbollah vulnerable. But the war in Syria is threatening to spread into Lebanon. Meanwhile Egypt has undergone another revolution with a military coup ousting the recently elected Islamic Brotherhood government. The Islamic Brotherhood managed to make itself very unpopular in only a few months by breaking campaign promises and moving to turn Egypt into a religious dictatorship. Despite the July coup Islamic terrorists remain active and the Moslem Brotherhood threatens to join them. The Moslem Brotherhood was recently outlawed and Egypt continues to have a hard time returning to normal, much less reforming the government and economy. Meanwhile, the Israeli economy booms, partly because of a very effective counter-terrorism campaign. This annoys Arabs most of all and a growing number of Arab countries are increasing their unofficial ties with Israel. Much of this has to do with cooperating against mutual enemy Iran, but it’s also a growing consensus that Israel is not going away and much effort is being wasted in trying to make that happen.

KOREA

North Korea recently increased the pressure on corrupt officials, even executing leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle. This was the last straw for China which has now really turned up the heat on its unstable and increasingly troublesome neighbor. China does not want an irrational nuclear power on its border and is cutting off various forms of aid in an effort to get North Korea to reform its economy and get rid of its nukes. China is also furious about public defiance from North Korea and is going public with its criticism and threats. The death of Kim Jong Il in 2011 made Chinese style economic reforms more acceptable, but not in a big way. Continued famine in the north prompted China to send more and more troops to the border to keep hungry North Koreas out. China also pressured the north to implement Chinese style economic reforms. The North Korean government has been split into reform and conservative factions, making change difficult to achieve. China has made it clear that North Korea is a Chinese responsibility and if the North Korean government collapses China, not South Korea, will pick up the pieces. South Korea does not agree with that, and this could be a big problem in the future. The death of northern ruler Kim Jong Il in 2011 apparently changed little, yet. Growing unrest, corruption and privation continue to weaken the iron control that has long kept the north peaceful and the Kim family in control. North Korea continues to destroy its economy, in order to maintain armed forces capable of attacking (if not invading) South Korea and maintaining its own population in bondage. North Korean military power declines, as lack of money for maintenance or training causes growing rot.  Torpedoing of a South Korean warship and firing artillery at a South Korea island in 2010 are seen as a signs of factions maneuvering for control, as once Kim died, several key people associated with those attacks disappeared from power. There have since been a lot more changes in the military high command and Kim Jong Un is replacing many stubborn, elderly or corrupt senior officials. These is more and more fear in the north, in addition to the shortages of food, electricity and heat. South Koreans are growing tired of the madness that still reigns in the north, and have, for the first time in over half a century, promised retaliation if the north fires again. This could lead to war, especially since North Korea sees this threat as, well, a threat. Meanwhile, it's become clear that political collapse in the north is now a matter of when, not if.  Growing popular unrest in the north is more evident with each passing month. While North Korean leader Kim Jong Il selected his youngest son Kim Jong Un to succeed him some factions were not enthusiastic about this  China endorsed the heir and that seems to have been decisive and the reason why Kim Jong Un is getting away with removing so many dissident leaders from power. It’s unclear if Kim Jong Un is willing or able to trade the nukes for a better economic and political future.

KURDISH WAR

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

LIBYA 

The 2011 revolution overthrew longtime dictator Moamar Kaddafi but it did not change the tribalism that Kaddafi used for decades to keep potential threats from replacing him. It was only when most of the tribes (and two-thirds of the population) united to overthrow Kaddafi that his divide and rule technique failed. Now the tribes are all out to grab what they can. Two years later you have the tribes and militias in eastern Libya forming a separate state called Cyrenaica and continue to shut down most oil exports. The government still has warships and patrol boats off shore preventing any unauthorized oil shipments. The eastern rebels want a return to the form of government Libya had before Kaddafi took over in 1969. Before that Libya consisted of three large provinces, each with a lot of autonomy. The one in the east was called Cyrenaica. Meanwhile Islamic terrorist groups in the east appear to behind the growing number of attacks against security personnel in general and intelligence experts in particular. These Islamic terrorists are also a threat to this newly declared regional government.

The months of oil export blockades by various tribes means the government is running out of money. The oil blockade has cost the government $7.5 billion so far and cash reserves and borrowing ability are running out. Even Islamic terrorist militias are calling for an end to the oil export blockades. But the Islamic terrorists also want the elected government eliminated and replaced with a religious dictatorship. That is not likely to happen because there are several major Islamic terrorist militias that do not agree with each other on how a religious dictatorship would work. This is a common problem with Islamic terrorists and their desire to replace government. The blockades have cut the normal 1.4 million barrels a day in exports by 80-90 percent. Unless the government can get the oil flowing quickly in 2014, the entire country will begin to suffer major shortages of food and other essentials. Libya imports most of its food and much else. All is paid for by oil. Already officials in charge of buying food are warning that shipments will halt soon because of lack of cash. The government has called for the population to rise up (peacefully) against the factions that are shutting down oil production. That may actually happen once the shortages become widespread and severe. The government is also trying to negotiate with the various factions, but that is proving difficult because the faction leaders tend to maintain the loyalty of their followers by promising more than they, or the government, can deliver.

Greed for a larger share of the oil revenue is tearing the country apart. The problem is a classic one in Arab countries where tribalism, along with political and religious factionalism makes governing difficult when there is oil wealth to be had. In this case there is a country called Libya but there are too few Libyans. That is, there are not enough people in Libya willing to cooperate with each other for the common good. This sort of thing causes many Arabs to despair over ever achieving the economic and other progress seen in the West. A growing number of Arabs now believe that only a dictator can overcome these problems. Perhaps in the short term, but this sort of thing is not unique to the Arabs. It occurs everywhere and was largely overcome in the West over the last few centuries. The problem is that there is no quick fix. The cure is messy and time-consuming. Libyans fear they will have to suffer through another round of civil war before any progress in achieving national unity is achieved.

MALI 

France took swift action in January 2013 and led an operation to clear Islamic terrorists out of northern Mali. Aided by Chad and a growing number of other African peacekeeping contingents, this operation is expected to continue for years. It all began early in 2012 when Tuareg tribal rebels (with the help of al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists) in northern Mali chased out government forces and declared a separate Tuareg state. The army mutinied down south but backed off when neighboring nations threatened to intervene. T he thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country has a population of less than two million, out of 15 million for all of Mali. The north was very poor in the best of times, and over a year of violence there has halted tourism (a major source of income, especially in the three major cities) and the movement of many goods. Al Qaeda, better financed and more fanatic, soon took over from the tribal rebels. The Tuareg rebels had objected to the imposition of Islamic law, but the Islamic radical gunmen drove the Tuareg fighters out of the cities and large towns. There were only about 2,000 Islamic terrorists up north during 2012 when they declared the area a sanctuary and base for Islamic radicals. The few thousand Tuareg rebels began negotiating with the Mali government about cooperation. The UN approved an invasion of the north by a force of about 7,000 troops, with half from Mali and half from neighboring countries. France agreed to lead a NATO effort to train, equip, supply and support the invaders. The invasion was supposed to take place in late 2013, but France concluded that even this might be too ambitious for an African force and decided to act largely alone in January. This was triggered in part by al Qaeda efforts to invade southern Mali in addition to setting up terrorist training camps in the north. The bold French move paid off, although Mali still has internal problems (mainly corruption) and an unhappy Tuareg majority in the north. Now the Tuaregs are threatening to rebel again. The head of the 2012 military coup has been promoted to general, forced out and is now under arrest and facing trial.

MEXICO

Government efforts to reduce violence and crime by drug cartels has not been very successful. In the countryside this has led to the formation of many armed militias, who confront the local cartel gunmen and invite them to fight or leave. Noting the success of the militias the government is moving to make them legitimate and not, technically outlaws. With these militias taking care of a lot of rural cartel activity the government can put more forces into the cities, where militias are less likely to be formed. A newly elected PRI (the party that controlled the government for most of the 20th century until finally eased out by reformers in 2000) president promised changes, but has found that determination is more needed than change. Nearly all the cartel violence (which accounts for three percent of all crime) occurs in under five percent of the 2,500 municipalities. But the often spectacular Cartel War violence gets the headlines, making it appear that the entire country is aflame. Because so much of the violence is on the U.S. border, it seems, to Americans, that Mexico is a war zone. The passing of one-party rule, the growth of drug gangs, and increasing corruption in the security forces, has triggered unprecedented levels of violence and unrest in the areas involved. The government has gone to war with the drug gangs, and the outcome is still in doubt. Presidential elections returned PRI to power in 2012 and now there is fear that the decades old PRI deal with the drug gangs (keep quiet and the police won't bother you) will be quietly reinstated. So far that has not happened.

MYANMAR (Burma)

The most corrupt institution in Burma is the military but the new constitution that returned democracy in 2010 explicitly granted military leaders (including all the retired officers) immunity from prosecution for past crimes. The military was also given control of the defense ministry a fixed number (25 percent) of seats in parliament. In effect, the military leaders who once ran the country are still in charge of the defense budget and immune from prosecution for all the stealing they did in the past. Real reform will be very much an uphill slog and the military is ready to push back and win.  The new government is actually trying to not be a tool of the former military junta. Reforms are slowly being made. The 2010 elections replaced the military dictatorship with many of the same people, out of uniform and trying to hide the fact that they rigged the vote. In response to this the rural tribes in the north revolted (again) but most were persuaded to make peace deals by 2013. Decades of low level fighting against ethnic separatists in the north has resulted, during the last decade, in major victories for the government. There is not a lot of fighting, but major movements by Burmese troops into separatist areas that were long outside the control of the government. Temporary peace deals were made but the tribal rebels are producing major quantities of methamphetamine, and increasing amounts of heroin, to support continued fighting. China is not happy with many of these drugs (particularly heroin and meth) coming into China. That is difficult to change because the tribes are poor and the drug money is very attractive. China is also concerned with the popular opposition to major Chinese economic projects (dams and pipeline) in the north but the fundamentals remain the same. Tribal separatists continue to flee into Thailand. The government has done little to suppress a 2013 outbreak in anti-Moslem violence. Overall, economic and political progress is slow.

NIGERIA

A group of Taliban wannabes (Boko Haram) in the north were subjected to a major counteroffensive in early 2013. Suddenly Boko Haram was on the defensive. Having been chased out of its urban and suburban bases in the three northeast states they were most active in, surviving Boko Haram members set up operations in the mountain forests along the Cameroon border. The terrorists got in touch with Boko Haram groups known to exist across the border in Cameroon. The army is heavily patrolling the border area seeking new Boko Haram camps. There are still some armed Boko Haram members in the cities, especially Maiduguri. There they are sheltered by civilians and are difficult to root out. By itself Boko Haram is too small to have much impact on a national scale. But the attacks against Christians in the north have triggered revenge attacks against Moslems in the north and, more ominously, in the south. At the end of 2013 there was a major shakeup in the army leadership. Senior leaders who were not getting results were replaced, with the implication that the new commanders would lose their new jobs if they did not make significant progress against the Islamic terrorists in the northeast. Also replaced were several intelligence commanders. Keeping tabs on the enemy is crucial in dealing with an organization like Boko Haram. The government has also quietly let commanders know that one sign of failure (and cause for demotion or dismissal) is civilian casualties. Nigerian soldiers and police have long been infamous for their casual attitude towards civilian casualties. This was always a cause for popular animosity against the security forces and with the Boko Haram uprising over the last few years the misbehavior, and public anger got worse. The government was forced to finally do something about it and now commanders at all levels are being held accountable for civilian deaths due to carelessness or a desire for revenge. This has made a difference, but this casual brutality has been the norm for so long that it is uncertain if the changes will stick. Meanwhile, too many tribes, not enough oil money and too much corruption create growing unrest. The government continues to placate the ethnic oil gangs and rebels in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta down south) with a 2009 amnesty deal. That worked because, while the gangs were getting organized, and a lot more violent, the government was moving more police and military forces into the region. Most gang members accepted the amnesty, rather than take on the armed forces. The amnesty deal did not hold, and there are still attacks on oil facilities. It was later discovered that local politicians and business leaders had taken over the oil theft business from the disarmed tribal rebels, and the thefts are larger than ever. Meanwhile, the northern Moslems want more control over the federal government (and the oil money).  The situation is still capable of sliding into regional civil wars, over money and political power. Corruption and ethnic/tribal/religious rivalries threaten to trigger, at worse, another civil war and, at least, more street violence and public anger.

POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS

Various places where the local situation is warming up and might turn into a war. The most recent one has been in CAR (Central African Republic) where rebels united, after years of struggling independently, and managed to overthrow the corrupt government but then proved incapable of governing and triggered a new uprising.

PHILIPPINES

The Islamic minority in the south agreed to a peace deal that gave it more autonomy but not its own country and the expulsion of non-Moslems. The government convinced the separatists to settle for less and the deal is to take effect soon. Communist rebels fight on for social justice and a dictatorship, but the government believes the leftists are on the way out. The communists are taking a beating, and want to negotiate a peace deal. The Moslems have, as always, lots of clan feuds and internal violence, which will survive the autonomy deal with the government. Most Filipinos are very concerned about endemic corruption and the resulting economic stagnation. There is also the Chinese threat, with more Chinese warships showing up in what had been, until recently, unquestionably Filipino coastal waters. The Philippines is joining a coalition with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the United States to oppose the Chinese.

RUSSIA  

Rebuilding and reforming the decrepit Soviet era armed forces continues without a lot of success. It has not been easy, because the Soviet Union left a lot of bad habits behind. The defense industries still suffer from second-rate technology and management. The military is also torn by infighting among traditionalists and reformers. This rebuilding must succeed, because the Cold War era weapons are wearing out fast. It's either new stuff, or being stuck with nothing that works anymore. The major problem the reformers are facing is corruption and resistance to change. The traditionalists managed to halt the use of Western weapons in 2013 with the promise that Russian defense firms can catch up and shape up. So far this is just promises. Corruption is also resisting a cure. The war against gangsters and Islamic radicals in the Caucasus (Chechnya and its neighbors) has been sort of won, but the Islamic radicals continue to operate in the Caucasus, preventing the government from proclaiming peace. Corruption keeps rebellion alive down there. Russia has returned to police state ways, and the traditional threatening attitude towards neighbors. Rather than being run by corrupt communist bureaucrats, the country is now dominated by corrupt businessmen, gangsters and self-serving government officials. The semi-free economy is more productive than the centrally controlled communist one, but that just provides more money to steal. A rebellion against the new dictatorship is brewing, showing enough democratic impulses remain to shape government and push reform. But for now, most Russians want economic and personal security and are willing to tolerate a police state to get it.

RWANDA & BURUNDI

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

SOMALIA

Al Shabaab, an Islamic radical group, has been crushed but not completely destroyed. Al Shabaab has been driven out of most of the territory it controlled for years but hangs out in the interior and thinly populated areas of the far north (Puntland border) and far south (Kenyan border). The economy is reviving but it is still a dangerous place to be. Kenyan troops invaded from the south in 2011 and Ethiopian troops from the west even earlier. The AU (African Union) peacekeeping force has been growing in numbers and effectiveness since it first arrived in 2007. Since then the AU force has lost over 3,000 soldiers and killed far more Islamic terrorists and rebellious locals. The defeated al Shabaab has fragmented into factions and most of the international (pro-al Qaeda) group has seized control of what’s left. Al Shabaab remnants will linger for a while. Many of them now pledge allegiance to al Qaeda and that group’s goal of making terror attacks in non-Moslem nations. Al Shabaab does that in Kenya, but with limited manpower cannot do a lot. The new Somali government, propped up by foreign aid (most of which gets stolen) was forced to elect a permanent government in 2012. Somalia is still a failed state that defies every attempt at nation building. But the situation is worse than it appears. Somalia was never a country, but a collection of clans and tribes that fight each other constantly over economic issues (land and water).  The country remains an economic and political mess, a black hole on the map. Not much hope in sight, until the pirates (which have been around for a decade) became a major problem. The major trading nations launched a counter-piracy effort which since 2012 reduced pirate success (captured ships) considerably. In fact, no large ships have been captured in since early 2012. The northern statelet of Puntland was persuaded (and subsidized) by wealthy seafaring nations to attack the pirate bases. There are not many pirate groups left, because of the lack of multi-million dollar ransoms. The far south (where the second major port, Kismayo is) a third statelet (after Puntland and Somaliland in the north) is trying to form as Jubaland. The UN backed government in the center is trying to prevent this but the problem remains the independent minded clans. There is not a lot of enthusiasm among local leaders for a national government.

SUDAN

An unofficial state of war developed after the south became an independent "South Sudan" in 2011. The northern government agreed to the vote and the split, but did not really back the idea, and sent troops and pro-government militias to seize disputed border areas. The border fighting continues. Moslems in the north tried, for decades to suppress separatist tendencies among Christians in the south, and Moslem rebels in the east (on the coast) and west (non-Arab Darfur). All this was complicated by the development of oil fields in the south, and Moslem government attempts to drive Christians from those oil regions. Meanwhile, battles over land in western Sudan (Darfur) continue to pit Arab herders against black Sudanese farmers. Both sides are Moslem, but the government has long backed the Arabs. The government uses Arab nationalism and economic ties with Russia and China to defy the world and get away with driving non-Arab tribes from Darfur. Sudan is also an ally of Iran, and recipient of weapons and advice on how to best terrorize a population into submission. The government believes time is on its side and that the West will never try anything bold and effective to halt the violence. So far, the government has been proven right, but keeps losing control of Sudan, bit by bit. South Sudan is falling into the same cycle of internal disorder and fragmentation.

SYRIA

Going into its third year, this has become a proxy war between Iran and the Sunni Arab states (and their Western allies). Because of disunity and increased internal violence the rebels are losing. The pro-Iran Assad clan led government has the backing of Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba and the other usual suspects. The West does not want the expense and bother of doing another Libya (air support and special operations troops on the ground) but that is where this is headed if the West wants to avoid an Iranian/Assad victory. Syria was one of the many Arab Spring uprisings, but one that did not end quickly (as in Tunisia and Egypt), evolve into a brief civil war (as in Libya and Yemen) or get suppressed (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain). The Syrian protests just continued and turned into armed rebellion in late 2011. Syria is, like Iraq under Saddam, a Baath Party dictatorship. But there are two differences. Unlike Iraq, where a Sunni minority dominated a Shia majority, it's just the opposite in Syria. More importantly, Syria has little oil wealth, and the government depends on subsidies from Shia Iran to survive. Despite growing international criticism (even from the Arab League) the government refused to stop using violence and other police state tactics to suppress the pro-democracy demonstrations. In over two years of growing violence, over 130,000 people have died. The outcome is now in doubt. The growing strength of the rebels has been crippled by disputes between Islamic terrorist and more moderate groups. The Islamic terrorists want to turn Syria into a religious dictatorship while the more numerous (but less effective in combat) moderates want democracy. The stubborn Assad dictatorship, because of reinforcements from Iran (mainly in the form of several thousand Hezbollah gunmen from Lebanon) now has a chance to win, something some Western nations see as preferable to Islamic terrorists taking over and requiring a Western invasion to remove such a threat. Russia and Iran are quite pleased with the way they have played the situation, especially the deal to remove Syrian chemical weapons (which the Syrians can rebuild later). This removal will drag on for as long as it takes to defeat the rebels and as long as the removal is in progress the rebels will not get Western air support, no matter how many atrocities the Assads commit against pro-rebel civilians.

THAILAND  

Malay Moslems in the south (three percent of the population) continue to cause problems.  In the last year the government was able to find someone down there to negotiate with and these talks are making progress. Most Thais are ethnic Thais and Buddhist while the southerners are Moslem and ethnic Malays. In the south Islamic radicalism arrived a decade ago along with an armed effort to create a separate Islamic state in the three southern provinces. Islamic terrorists grew more powerful month by month for several years and refused to negotiate. Security forces persisted and are making progress in identifying and rounding up the terrorists. But there is no quick victory in sight. Up north, a civil war over military control of the government has been avoided, for the moment. But the anti-democracy minority (royalists and many educated urbanites) continues to stage large demonstrations and urge the military to stage another coup. Burma is causing problems with its growing illegal production of drugs (heroin, meth and ecstasy).

UGANDA

This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections.

WAR ON TERROR

September 11, 2001 and the aftermath forced the Moslem world to confront their self-inflicted problems. That has not led to any decisive moves to fix the key problems. Al Qaeda is as self-destructive as its many Islamic radical predecessors that sought to reform corrupt Moslem states with religious orthodoxy. Al Qaeda suicide bomb attacks killed civilians, turning Moslems against al Qaeda in a big way. But the terrorists justify such counterproductive attacks because their doctrine holds that Moslems who don’t agree with them are not really Moslems. You can imagine how well that goes over with the survivors, and the many potential victims. You can, but al Qaeda can’t, and that is what guarantees their decline and eventual transformation into an obscure cult (which is where groups like it begin). Since all this is religion based, and Islam is a faith that calls for world conquest and violent intolerance of other faiths, you have a large pool of ambitious and murderous new recruits who have been staffing major outbreaks of this terrorism for over a thousand years. Many Moslems insist they do not support the "world conquest" crowd, but few are willing to confront the maniacs head-on and denounce the killing on religious grounds. Moreover, many of these “moderates” will cheer attacks against non-Moslems in the West. Islam has some serious internal problems that Moslems will have to deal with before all this unpleasantness goes away. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the various Arab Spring movements were initially dominated by pro-democracy groups. Islamic radicals were a minority, and ones that was often better organized, more feared, and not trusted. Thus the Islamic conservatives were better organized, and have been winning the elections and providing more sanctuary for Islamic terrorists (for a while, anyway). Meanwhile Islamic terrorists continue to be officially condemned by Moslem nations while actually tolerated and sometimes covertly supported. This was made clear when Osama bin Laden was killed by American commandos in 2011. Pakistan denied assisting bin Laden, but this was just one more bit of evidence that indicated otherwise. There were some "revenge" attacks (mostly in Pakistan, where bin Laden was hiding in plain sight) but it was not the terrorist backlash that's important. International terrorism has created an international backlash and a war unlike any other. These days most terrorist victories are in the media. On the ground, the terrorists are losing everywhere. Their last refuges are chaotic, or cynical, places like Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Gaza, Mali, the Sahel, a few of the Philippine islands, and especially tribal regions of Pakistan (where al Qaeda is staging a well-publicized last stand). They were chased out of Iraq (and replaced by terrorists who were diehard Sunni Arab nationalists), Indonesia and the Philippines. Iran continues to support terrorism in the face of much local disapproval. Lebanon is in chaos because of Iranian subsidized terrorists. Gaza went the same way. Islamic radicals are a traditional reaction to tyranny in their region, and the inability of local despots to rule effectively. Economic and diplomatic ties with the West are interpreted as support for "un-Islamic" thought and behavior, leading to attacks on Western targets. After 2001, this resulted in a devastating counterattack that continues, despite frustration at the slowness of the Moslem world to act. The non-Moslem world cannot fix this terrorist tendency in Islam, it can only try to defend itself and eliminate sanctuaries and major threats. As in past centuries, these outbreaks fade over time, but unless there are some fundamental changes within the Islamic world, the Islamic terrorists will always return.

YEMEN

It's still unclear where the al Qaeda survivors of the 2012 anti-terrorist offensive will flee to, as all of the usual refuges are not so safe anymore. Many appear determined to fight to the death where they are. Yemen in general, not just the Islamic terrorists, is broke, disorganized and desperate. The Arab Spring hit Yemen hard and upset the "arrangement" that left one group of tribal, criminal and business leaders in charge for over three decades. This uprising was finally resolved towards the end of 2011. A successor coalition emerged and persuaded (with the promise of amnesty) the old dictator Saleh to step down. Meanwhile, there are still many Yemenis who have a grudge against the government. Most of this can be traced back to the civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden became one of two countries called Yemen. The two Yemens finally united in 1990, but another civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take, and the north and south have always been pulling apart. This comes back to the fact that Yemen has always been a region, not a country. Like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa region, the normal form of government, until the last century or so, was wealthier coastal city states, nervously coexisting with interior tribes that got by on herding or farming (or a little of both). This whole "nation" idea is still looked on with some suspicion by many in the region. This is why the most common forms of government are the more familiar ones of antiquity (kingdom, emirate or modern variation in the form of a hereditary dictatorship.) For a long time the most active Yemeni rebels were the Shia Islamic militants in the north. They still want to restore local Shia rule in the traditional tribal territories, led by the local imam (religious leader). This arrangement, after surviving more than a thousand years, was ended by the central government in 1962. Yemen also became the new headquarters of "Al Qaeda in Arabia" (Saudi Arabia no longer being safe for the terrorists) after 2007. Islamic terrorists have been more active since the government began arresting key members of al Qaeda in 2010. Other groups (mainly tribal leaders) in the south wanted more say in the government, and a larger share of the oil revenue and foreign aid. In early 2012 the new ruling coalition massed its military and tribal forces and decisively defeated al Qaeda in the south. The tribes that had allied themselves with al Qaeda quickly made temporary peace but the separatists are still active as are the Shia tribes in the north. But the terrorism in the south, Shia rebel violence in the north and political maneuvering in general continues.

 


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