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Selected Media Coverage: January 12, 2006

Bigger Hurdles for U.S. In Iraq's Next Phase
12/18/2005 - Washington Post, The (cir. 707,690)

The Benefits of Leftovers
12/01/2005 - COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT (cir. )

Magnetic record of Milankovitch rhythms in lithologically noncyclic marine carbonates
12/01/2005 - Geology (cir. 7,600)

The Man With The Razor
01/08/2006 - Newsweek (cir. 3,145,362)

Russia's thuggery backfires
01/08/2006 - Los Angeles Times (cir. 902,164)


Bigger Hurdles for U.S. In Iraq's Next Phase
12/18/2005 - Washington Post, The (cir. 707,690)


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Iraq's election may be over, but for the United States the trickiest challenges -- and the issues most critical to a timetable for U.S. withdrawal -- are still to unfold over the next nine or 10 months, according to U.S. officials and Middle East analysts.

Iraqis have elected a government but still have to prove that they can rule. Two Iraqi interim governments over the past 18 months left a trail of political bitterness, rampant corruption and chronic inefficiency, with militias playing a growing role as instruments of political coercion, Iraq experts say.

Whoever the winners turn out to be in last week's election, they will still rely heavily on the United States as a broker next year-- in helping to form a government, rewrite the constitution, build up the army and police, jump-start the floundering economy and prevent a civil war, Bush administration officials acknowledge. Iraqis are too divided to do many of these tasks alone, experts add.

In his first address from the Oval Office since announcing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, President Bush is expected tonight to outline the next year's challenges in Iraq and the role the United States will play, U.S. officials said.

The administration has worked out a rough timetable for 2006, with estimates that a new government will not be formed until late January or February -- at the earliest. It took the Shiite and Kurdish winners of the Jan. 30 election three months to form a government. This time, the Sunnis will also vie for position, with their political survival at stake, so U.S. officials say it could take just as long.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, have already begun prodding the parties about the need to move quickly and not lose the momentum.

But the next phase is not expected to be complete until the fall, by which time officials hope Iraq's new leaders can agree on, then put to a popular vote, amendments to the constitution. The period leading to that vote could prove as combustible as this year's politics, U.S. officials and analysts say. And it still may not produce a strong government.

"Iraq has performed miracles in going from destroyed ministry buildings and staff not showing up for work to creating a government. But it is still a fragile society that lacks skilled decision makers and political consensus, so it won't have a fully functioning government anytime soon," said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy.

The toughest job facing U.S. officials comes after the new government takes office, when the Council of Representatives, the renamed National Assembly, reopens debate on the constitution. Iraqis will have four months of constitutional negotiations to finally answer the contentious issue of how to apportion power and allocate oil riches in a federal state. Only U.S. intervention prevented a breakdown in constitutional talks in the fall; a U.S.-brokered compromise deferred the toughest issues until after the election Thursday.

Expected to play out over the spring and summer, this post-election phase could be the most delicate yet for Iraq's new leaders. "If they succeed in creating an inclusive structure in virtually any peaceful form, Iraq succeeds. If they fail, the [U.S.-led] coalition fails almost regardless of its military success and that of the new Iraqi forces, and Iraq will move towards division, paralysis, civil conflict and/or a new strongman," said Anthony Cordesman, a Persian Gulf expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Sunnis, who are only 20 percent of Iraq's population of 25 million, want a strong central state to protect them and provide more equitable revenue sharing; powerful Shiite and Kurdish leaders want their own regions in a loosely confederated country.

During this period, U.S. diplomats in Baghdad will reach out to Sunni groups to help assuage fears of being marginalized, U.S. officials say. But getting other Iraqi factions to meet their demands will be difficult, Iraq experts warn.

The Sunni turnout Thursday did not mean the minority, which historically ruled Iraq, has fully rejoined the political process, said Wayne White, head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team from 2003 to 2005 and now a Middle East Institute adjunct scholar. Most Sunnis voted in the October constitutional referendum to reject it. They voted again in Thursday's election largely to ensure major changes and "get back the rights that they perceive as being lost," White added.

Constitutional amendments need two-thirds support from the legislature. "The Shia and Kurds agreed to discuss the constitution again but the Sunnis, even if they double in number, will easily be voted down. In the end they can only be spoilers by blowing things up," said Juan Cole, an Iraq expert at the University of Michigan.

The danger of political disputes erupting between parties -- many with their own militias -- makes the post-election period the most vulnerable to date, says a new report by Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress. The State Department, which is now in charge of U.S. Iraq policy, is increasingly focused on the question of militias.

"If Iraq falls into civil war, it will be because of militias," said Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. "The insurgency then becomes a secondary problem."

In blunt language after talks at the White House, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) warned Friday that Iraq has no hope of stability as long as the militias exist. "You cannot have a democracy where you have political parties with armies," said Graham.

If a new government does produce constitutional changes, the popular vote on them may not take place until September. A senior administration official cautioned Friday that "there is still a lot of wiggle room in all of this."

The complicated process -- with checks and balances among Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis for forming a government and then revising the constitution -- is intentional. "In a country with serious divisions, these are mechanisms to ensure that no one rides roughshod over others. It's more time-consuming although at the end of the day it is about consensus-building in a conflict environment," the official said.

Even as it debates the country's laws, Iraq's government will
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Diana Latta, graduate student, department of earth and environmental sciences, was a lead author for an article in Geology magazine. For a complete view of the article, please click on the paperclip above.

 


The Man With The Razor
01/08/2006 - Newsweek (cir. 3,145,362)


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Power is a double-edged weapon, Vladimir Putin once told NEWSWEEK, likening it to a razor in the hands of a drunk. Wield it clumsily and you'll be hurt. Lately, Putin himself has played the drunk. And he's bleeding. The crisis in Ukraine is only the latest in a series of self-inflicted wounds, ranging from the bungled takedown of the Yukos oil company to last year's disastrous meddling in Kiev's Orange Revolution. With Moscow assuming leadership of the G8 - a long-sought validation of Russia's standing in the Western world - the Kremlin might have been on best behavior. But no. By cutting Europe's gas supplies, only to see the tactic backfire, Putin & Co. once again showed themselves to be "the gang that can't shoot straight," as Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, bluntly puts it.

It's puzzling. Like him or loathe him, Russia's president is anything but a klutz. Critics accuse him of rolling back democracy and seeking to resurrect an empire of Soviet Lite. But they rarely deny his accomplishments. Almost singlehandedly, he imposed order on the chaos of the post-Yeltsin years. New tax laws have filled the state treasury; the economy is booming. After leaving the KGB, Putin even wrote a part-time grad-school thesis on how Russia could use its energy resources to regain its global sway. As president, he's done just that. So the question: how does he so often get things so wrong? The explanation lies in the nature of his regime, a self-defeating coupling of arrogance with paranoia, power with weakness.

Begin with the Ukraine debacle. Cliff Kupchan at the Eurasia Group in Washington describes it as a sort of post-Soviet tale of Jekyll and Hyde. By day, the good Dr. Putin seeks to remake Russia as a modern European country. Hence, he intends to clean up Gazprom and open it to foreign investors. (Never mind that, along the way, he'll enrich Kremlin cronies who'll get stakes cheap and later sell out for big money.) He promises that Russia can be counted on as a secure, reliable energy supplier, in contrast to the uncertain Middle East. But then night falls. Almost despite himself, Putin succumbs to dark inner urgings: a desire to punish Ukraine, perhaps a determination to show Europe (and others) that a resurgent Russia can no longer be taken for granted. "They are drunk on petrodollars," says Kupchan. "That inebriation caused them to miscalculate." And what a miscalculation. Not even during the cold war did Russia resort to using energy as a weapon. It was the ultimate un-European and antimodern act, undermining Russia's progress on all other fronts.

Closer to home, the same dynamic is at work. The story of how Putin rebuilt the Kremlin's power is familiar. He is a Russian Pinochet, or Marcos, tolerant of divergent views as long as they do not intrude on politics. Yet within the Kremlin itself the picture is weakness, not strength, as factions compete for money and power in an elite bureaucratic free-for-all that checks the president's latitude. Paranoia and isolation rule the Kremlin roost, says Pavel Felgenhauer, a prominent Moscow political commentator. Surrounded by spinmeisters, Felgenhauer argues, Putin trusts no one fully - neither their motives nor the information they bring him. Thus he delays decisions until forced by events, and then he often overreacts. Frequently the result is some variation on Ukraine - a nightmare of unforeseen and ugly consequences. Think of the mishandled Beslan and Moscow-theater hostage crises, with their needless civilian casualties, or the ham-handed meddling in Kiev's "colored revolution" - which Kremlin extremists fear will spread to such neighbors as Belarus if not Russia itself, abetted by Western "spies."

A potentially even bigger mess is brewing to the south, unnoticed by most Russians - let alone the outside world. Contrary to Moscow's story line, its brutal war in Chechnya is spreading. For years Putin and his men indulged a fantasy that the fighting was the work of a small minority of Islamic "terrorists" who could sooner or later be crushed by raw military power. Now a virtual civil war rages, with Chechens preying on one another, led by Kremlin satrap Ramzan Kadyrov and his personal army of mercenaries specializing in kidnapping, extortion and murder. Fearing Islamic insurgencies elsewhere in the region, Moscow has cracked down on the population at large, closing mosques and detaining hundreds (if not thousands) of suspected troublemakers while condoning corruption and abuse by local security forces. The upshot, says Rajan Menon, a Russia expert at Lehigh University, is to alienate the populace still further, playing into the hands of extremists and fanning the fires of a war throughout the North Caucasus.

Who dares speak truth to Putin's power? Precious few. One who did, economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, quit just last week, all but throwing his arms into the air over the Ukraine gambit. To NEWSWEEK, Putin once described himself as "very cautious, very careful." And so he is—except when he's not.

 


Russia's thuggery backfires
01/08/2006 - Los Angeles Times (cir. 902,164)


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By Rajan Menon and Oles M. Smolansky
Rajan Menon is Monroe J. Rathbone professor of international relations at Lehigh University and a fellow with the New America Foundation. Oles M. Smolansky is university professor of international rel

RUSSIA AND Ukraine have ended their spat over natural gas prices. Ukraine will pay more, but much less than Russia originally demanded. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the outcome owed little to Western diplomacy. Ukraine, a budding democracy, deserves Western support. Europe squawked when Russia cut its gas supplies, but that hardly amounted to a coherent policy of backing Ukraine against what was a huge - albeit spectacularly inept - Russian power play.

When the quarrel began last week, it looked like a huge mismatch. Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, had slapped its 400%-plus natural gas price hike on Ukraine just as winter gained hold and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko faced a financial crisis. Dependent on Russia for 30% of its natural gas, Kiev seemed certain to cave.

The Kremlin's hard-line approach had two objectives. It covets Ukraine's natural gas pipeline system (Gazprom wants a 51% share), and it seeks to undercut Kiev's pro-Western policies so Ukraine will remain in Russia's sphere of influence. Short of that, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin wanted to demonstrate the steep costs of spurning Moscow to dance with the West.

Ukraine was not without countermoves, among them a declaration of sovereignty over the waters of the Kerch Strait that would allow third-party access (read: NATO ships) to the Sea of Azov, and a threat to leave the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States.

When Yushchenko refused to back down, Russia, realizing that it would look foolish for making empty threats, turned off the spigots and dragged Europe into the dispute, which proved to be Moscow's undoing. Europe relies on Russia for about one-third of its natural gas, and most of it is delivered through Ukrainian pipelines.

The biggest loser was Gazprom, whose role as a stalking horse for Kremlin intentions became evident. The nominally private company insisted that market forces dictated its price increase for Ukraine, but closer inspection revealed that attitudes toward Russia were a better indicator. For instance, Belarus, a Putin ally, pays one-fourth the price that Gazprom demanded from Ukraine.

The Kremlin was tarnished as well. It made a mockery of Gazprom's pretensions of independence when Putin essentially took over the negotiations for the Russian side. And its demand that Ukraine absorb an all-at-once price increase made it look like an extortionist.

Worse, the Europeans began wondering whether Russia was a reliable source of energy. And Gazprom's cavalier disregard for the pricing accord it had signed with Ukraine in 2004 raised questions about the state of reform in Putin's Russia, specifically its attitude toward the sanctity of contracts.

The European Union, then, rescued Ukraine not out of magnanimity or principle but because it didn't want a cold winter. Germany, which is not given to criticizing Moscow, called on Russia to "act responsibly." Other EU states chimed in as well.

Ukraine faces more price increases, which will force it to make some painful economic choices. Moscow will undoubtedly seek political advantage and a larger footprint in Ukraine in exchange for any concessions to smooth the transition.

But this cloud could spark a much-needed transformation of Ukraine's inefficient Soviet-era industries. And that's something Kiev must do if its plans to integrate with the West and join the EU are anything more than rhetoric.

There is much the West should do to help Ukraine as the most important democratic state to emerge from the debris of the Soviet Union reforms its economy and tries to lessen its dependence on Russia. Stoking anti-Russian sentiments or making false promises is not what's needed. Instead, Kiev needs sustained and multifaceted engagement from the West, despite Russian complaints of "interference."

In this latest flap, Moscow has again shown that it will use its muscle to try to shape its neighbors' politics and foreign policy. Ukraine is roughly the size of France - too important to concede to Russia as a client state. Russia wants more trade, more foreign investment, a voice on major international issues and membership in the World Trade Organization, and the West should exploit these ambitions to shape the Moscow-Kiev relationship.

 

Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2006

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