Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Obama targets IS in Syria; RBS, Lloyds may quit Scotland; Violence is, in fact, beating a retreat

1 Obama target IS in Syria (San Francisco Chronicle) Opening a new military front in the Middle East, President Barack Obama has authorized US airstrikes inside Syria for the first time, along with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of "a steady, relentless effort" to root out Islamic State extremists and their spreading reign of terror.

"We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are," Obama declared. "This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven." Obama announced that he was dispatching nearly 500 more US troops to Iraq to assist that country's besieged security forces, bringing the total number of American forces sent there this summer to more than 1,500. He also urged Congress anew to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels who are fighting both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The president's announcements follow a summer of deliberation at the White House over how to respond to the violent Islamic State militants. While administration officials have said they are not aware of a credible threat of a potential attack by the militants in the US, they say the group poses risks to Americans and interests across the Middle East.

In recent weeks, the militants have released videos depicting the beheading of two American journalists in Syria. The violent images appear to have had an impact on a formerly war-weary public, with multiple polls in recent days showing that the majority of Americans support airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria.

2 RBS, Lloyds may quit Scotland (Patrick Collinson, Jill Treanor & Rupert Jones in The Guardian) The financial implications of a yes vote for Scottish independence came under intense scrutiny as home owners were warned it would be harder get a mortgage and Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group made plans to move to London if the electorate backed a breakaway from the UK.

The revelations about the contingency plans by the two banks – which employ thousands of people in Scotland – to set up legal entities in England came after Scottish homebuyers were facing warnings it could be harder to obtain a mortgage in the event of a yes vote.

The bosses of two major companies – BP and Standard Life – had also voiced their concerns about the impact of a yes vote even before details emerged of the plans being made by the two bailed-out banks to move their crucial legal status if the referendum on 18 September backed Alex Salmond's independence campaign.

Bob Dudley, the BP boss who has faced criticism for not speaking out enough on the critical issue of oil, said the future prospects for the North Sea would be best served if the UK stayed together because "future long-term investments require fiscal stability and certainty".

One housing industry insider said there has already been an impact on the housing market, with signs that the market for homes worth more than £600,000 – the top end of the market in Scotland – is drying up. At the same time, commercial property deals were being put on hold until the vote was known – and could be abandoned in the event of a yes vote.

3 Violence is in fact beating a retreat (Jonathan Power in Khaleej Times) Despite Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine and Southern Sudan the world is a lot more peaceful than it was at the end of the Cold War and shows no sign of returning to the bad old days when there were some 25 wars going on every year. Now it is down to about a dozen.

The task today is to keep that number going down — a difficult job when the outbreak of conflict in Syria, Libya and Ukraine have turned the graph upwards a few notches for the first time. Research suggests that between 1900 and 2006 campaigns of nonviolent resistance against authoritarian regimes were twice as likely to succeed as violent movements.

Iran’s last shah had little difficulty neutralising the Islamist and Marxist-inspired guerrilla groups during the 1960s and early 70s. But when large numbers of oil workers, bazaar merchants and students used work stoppages, boycotts and street protests to make their point the repressive apparatus became overstretched and the economy tanked. Western governments withdrew their tacit support. The US made it clear it no longer supported the shah. He had no alternative but to go into exile.

The yoke of dictatorial communism was finally thrown off in Poland when Pope John Paul, a Pole, urged change and made the clergy read out his views at mass, and a movement that began in the shipyards, led by Lech Walesa, calling itself Solidarity, gathered widespread support. Tunisia is the one clear victor in the “Arab Spring”. It was because all the anti-regime movements obeyed their leaders’ calls to remain non-violent that the transition to democracy has been peaceful.

The evidence gathered from 1900 to 2006 suggests that violent campaigns have only a 30 per cent chance of success — movements like the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (later overthrown by the Vietnamese) and the mujahideen against the Soviet army in Afghanistan (later pushed aside by the Taleban) all came to grief. Nonviolence is a hard fist in a velvet glove. We need to see more of it not less.

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