The Articles of Confederation have been denounced for so long that no one bothers to denounce them anymore. Almost every American and almost every single person around the world who studies American history at any level considers the Articles a failure. The failure of the Articles is as sure as the sun rising tomorrow. It’s just an accepted “truism” that they did not work and that we Americans needed something to replace them.
Even those who take seriously the criticisms of the Constitution by the anti-Federalists typically believe the Articles a disaster.
A close examination, however, reveals that Articles were quite successful at several things, including: 1) keeping the peace (overall); 2) securing as well as keeping our independence; and 3) passing the most powerful piece of legislation in the history of republics, The Northwest Ordinance.
As to the first claim, historians often dismiss this by citing Daniel Shays and his uprising as a clear example of the failure of the Articles. If we do, however, we must state the exact same thing about the U.S. Constitution and its “failure” to prevent South Carolina from seceding in late 1860. Shays, however, did not want to secede. He merely wanted to get the government to take the demands of western Massachusetts farmers seriously. That he did so through violence was nothing new or exceptional. One might even readily argue that such a course had always been the course of last resort under the English Common Law.
That we remember the Articles poorly has far more to do with the ultimate success—in and out of the academy—of American nationalists than it does with actual failure or success of the Articles themselves.
Read the rest at The Imaginative Conservative.Three Cheers for the Articles of Confederation was first posted on December 10, 2016 at 11:26 am.
The neocon bomb-dropping right and the anti-human left have both been death advocates trying to use the state to destroy mankind in their own disparate ways — up until now. Wonder of wonders, they now feel no moral confusion when they are wedded in the latest plunder-funded DOD scheme to put private property under government control for the benefit of the military and the bugs.
This wonderful multi-million dollar program dispenses glee to a range of political adversaries by promising to keep people from developing their land so that military drones — and non-human living creatures — will be safe from annoying people and their pesky electromagnetic interference. It’s a “win-win” they declare. Apparently, drones don’t like people. Their electronics prefer a pristine desolate landscape free of cell phones and microwave ovens. Selected righties and lefties (like ranchers and eco-warriors) are quoted as loving the idea. Apparently, state graft can unite them and address their previously irreconcilable differences.
Well, I don’t love it even though I have been the recipient of firm suggestions to participate. People who benefit (on both the left and right sides of the theft spectrum) have met me by the side of the road and left notes for me telling me that I need to reach for the golden ring and lock up my land in one of these DOD-funded conservation easements to save some endangered military spy-bots and other creatures of the non-human, but living, variety. Apparently, Skynet can willingly co-exist with non-human animals, but finds people to be a dangerous annoyance that threatens its existence. My thermal-imaged human profile will now be even more distasteful to the remote operators who will be briefed that my kind have been mostly cleansed from their operating theatre in that rural part of the American soyuz.
While the Federal Reserve notes still work, they might as well run off a few hundred million more and try to buy the silence of the humans rather than enduring the turmoil brought on by squashing them outright. One aspect of this glorious program that I find especially humorous is the idea that the people who don’t fully comply with the agreement with DOD to not use their own land will find that they can never back out. They will discover that “the Army” will “take over” the easement if the “grantee” (stolen funds recipient) makes any changes to his land that were not part of the contract with the “Secretary of the Army.” So, rather than the golden contract becoming null and void (disentitling the land owner from receiving future stolen funds) because of a contractual breech owing to a rancher building a cabin or a new fence, the Army gains control of the rancher’s property into perpetuity. Sweet deal.
I think these kinds of arrangements appealing to the anti-human right and left could contain the new magic formula for state success in the future. Lobbyists, take note. There is big potential here. I can see all kinds of possibilities. How about having NSA pay billions to an Indian reservation to create a nature preserve surrounding a giant electronic surveillance facility? Think about it! Military contractors and nature NGOs would profit and those annoying sovereign nations might not object as much to federal intrusions. How about a chip that turns off your car when you venture out of your state-defined GPS fence onto a military base or nature preserve? What kind of self-respecting leftie or neo-con wouldn’t vote for that? Cha-ching!
Please invite me to the awards ceremony for this new program. I want to see a North-Com general pinning a medal on the chest of a Greenpeace guy wearing a tie-dyed shirt.Warmongers and Fern Feelers Unite! was first posted on December 10, 2016 at 11:14 am.
This post will unpack the leak from the CIA published in the WaPo tonight.
Before I start with the substance of the story, consider this background. First, if Trump comes into office on the current trajectory, the US will let Russia help Bashar al-Assad stay in power, thwarting a 4-year effort on the part of the Saudis to remove him from power. It will also restructure the hierarchy of horrible human rights abusing allies the US has, with the Saudis losing out to other human rights abusers, potentially up to and including that other petrostate, Russia. It will also install a ton of people with ties to the US oil industry in the cabinet, meaning the US will effectively subsidize oil production in this country, which will have the perhaps inadvertent result of ensuring the US remains oil-independent even though the market can’t justify fracking right now.
The CIA is institutionally quite close with the Saudis right now, and has been in charge of their covert war against Assad.
This story came 24 days after the White House released an anonymous statement asserting, among other things, “the Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day,” suggesting that the Russians may have been deterred.
This story was leaked within hours of the time the White House announced it was calling for an all-intelligence community review of the Russia intelligence, offered without much detail. Indeed, this story was leaked and published as an update to that story.
Which is to say, the CIA and/or people in Congress (this story seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators) leaked this, apparently in response to President Obama’s not terribly urgent call to have all intelligence agencies weigh in on the subject of Russian influence, after weeks of Democrats pressuring him to release more information. It was designed to both make the White House-ordered review more urgent and influence the outcome.
So here’s what that story says.
Read the rest at emptywheel.
The post Unpacking the New CIA Leak: Don’t Ignore the Aluminum Tube Footnote appeared first on The Libertarian Institute.Unpacking the New CIA Leak: Don’t Ignore the Aluminum Tube Footnote was first posted on December 10, 2016 at 11:12 am.
The recent efforts by President-elect Donald Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence against Carrier Corp. provide us with a signpost of the economic fascism that lies ahead after both men take office. Whatever might be said about economic fascism, one thing is for sure: it is contrary to the principles of economic liberty, private property, the free market, and the rule of law.
Targeting Carrier for daring to move some of its operations to Mexico, Pence, as governor of Indiana, offered the company a package of tax incentives to induce the company to keep some of its operations in Indiana. At the same time, Trump announced that as president he will punish any American company that moved abroad with the imposition of a high tariff on any goods it wished to ship into the United States.
That, my friends, is economic fascism in action. That’s precisely how Benito Mussolini, the democratically elected leader of Italy, operated in the 1930s — through edicts, decrees, and economic legislation directed at forcing or inducing private-sector businesses to behave as the political authorities wanted them to behave.
Under principles of economic liberty, private property, and the free market, people have the fundamental, God-given right to establish and move their business operations anywhere they want. That’s because it’s their business and their money, not society’s, not the government’s, and not the workers’.
Read the rest at the Future of Freedom Foundation.The Coming Economic Fascism was first posted on December 10, 2016 at 10:59 am.
The United States Post 9-11 Involvement in Yemen
After the September 11th attacks on the world trade center, the USG’s involvement in the Republic of Yemen centered on counter terrorism (CT) operations targeting Sunni Violent Extremist Organizations. President Saleh largely cooperated with the United States in CT operations, visiting Washington numerous times to discuss strategy. In 2003, the USG renewed their support to Yemen through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Department of Agriculture. In addition to civil assistance, the USG beefed up its military support to Yemen, and by 2006 Yemen benefitted from nearly $10 million in annual support meant for military equipment, spare parts, and military training programs. In 2010, the Yemeni military received more than $170 million in military aid and training, but in 2011, after President Saleh authorized military action against anti-government protestors, that aid dropped to just 30 million.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid and military support, Yemen remained a hotbed location for Sunni terrorists. USG CT agencies frequently complained of a lack of support from their Yemeni counterparts in locating terrorist targets inside Yemen, and diplomats noted that there very little criminal legislation to handle terrorism charges. Even with these issues, the USG found enough common ground with the Republic of Yemen (ROY) to target numerous terrorist personalities and cells, particularly in southern Yemen. The targeting method of choice was the highly contentious “drone” program authorized by President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama greatly expanded the scope of this program, which ran until 2015 when the USG closed their embassy in the capital city of Sanaa after the Houthis overthrew the ROY and seized the capital city of Sanaa.
The US drone program in Yemen was unpopular with both Sunni and Zaidi Yemenis. The extrajudicial killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki brought many Americans to question the legitimacy of the program. Popular opinion among Yemenis was that the USG counter terrorism efforts robbed Yemenis of their sovereignty and the deaths of numerous civilians in erroneous strikes added to the anti-USG sentiment. Both Houthi insurgents and Sunni extremists used the USG drone program to bolster recruitment and sour Yemeni popular opinion on the United States. The Houthis used the program to argue that US involvement in Yemen robbed Yemenis of a national sovereignty, and the Sunni terrorists highlighted the civilian casualties that resulted from the drone program to drive recruitment efforts.
The Current Playing Field
In the simplest terms, there are four major international players with interest in the outcome of the conflict in Yemen: KSA and the Arab coalition, the United States, Iran, and the predominately Houthi insurgency.
KSA is a Sunni Muslim regional power, ally of the USG, and regional competitor with Iran. KSA formed a coalition with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, and Morocco. This coalition seeks to re-install the overthrown government of former President Hadi whom they believe is more willing to cooperate with GCC plans and intentions in the region.
The USG is a longstanding ally of KSA, and competitor to Iran. As an ally of KSA, the USG does not want regional competitor Iran exercising control over a puppet government or surrogate forces along KSA’s southern border. Equally important is Yemen’s strategic location overlooking the Bab al-Mandeb strait, a major maritime trade route that links the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The ongoing conflict also limits the USG’s ability to target international terrorist organizations such as AQAP in southern Yemen.
Iran is a Shia Muslim regional power and competitor of the USG and KSA. Iran benefits from the conflict in so much as it damages KSA’s reputation and budget. The ability to exercise a degree of control over a proxy government or surrogate forces along KSA’s southern border would be a strategic advantage. Even if the Houthis never manage to achieve governance, KSA’s struggle with a prolonged COIN operation would be a victory for Iran. If the Houthis control Aden, which overlooks the Bab al-Mandeb strait, then the Iranian would be able to exercise some influence over two of the world’s most critical maritime trade routes, the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandeb strait.
Houthi insurgents are primarily aligned against KSA’s influence in Yemeni politics and economic affairs, making them natural allies with Iran. In terms of US decision making, the insurgency is by far the most important of the four major players. Houthi rebels represent the biggest military threat the KSA coalition, but they are not the only insurgent component among the Yemeni population and there are significant numbers of progressive Sunni working to restore president Saleh or a likeminded executive power to the state. If KSA successfully installs Hadi in Sanaa, these insurgent groups will not be likely cease operations against a KSA friendly government. Adding the insurgencies resolve and almost certainly boosting recruitment is the humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by the KSA blockade of the country. Many Yemenis are unable to access clean water, food, and medical supplies and starvation is a real concern for millions of Yeminis. Popular perception intuitively places the blame for the results of this blockade on KSA and its allies, including the USG. It appears that KSA and their coalition allies have also killed a significant number of civilians and bombed clinics and hospitals. These relatively indiscriminate operations will certainly have an enormous impact over KSA’s ability to influence the population in its favor. Ultimately, KSA and the USG are attempting to counter Iranian influence in Yemen but if there are insurgent groups in Yemen, Iran will possess significant surrogate capability in the country. There can exist no strategy that does not focus primarily on managing or addressing the discontent of these groups.
A Houthi government in Sanaa is no more likely to result in short-term or even mid-term stability between the various insurgent factions than a KSA friendly government. Along with infighting between Shia backed insurgent groups vying for power in the central government, there exists a high probability that both internal and external Sunni factions loyal to KSA will constantly challenge the territories and government offices held by Houthis and Shia backed political and military entities. A principle illustration of this is the saga of the Iraqi state. In 2003, the USG overthrew Sadaam Hussein’s government, leading Iranian proxies and sympathizers to gain control of much of the central government and military. This Sunni disenfranchisement led to massive instability as Sunni fighters flocked to Iraq to support the Sunni insurgency against the Shia central government and the US military. The deadly insurgency fought from 2004 until late 2010 and became a focal effort of the US military. At the height of the conflict, the US military utilized more than 170,000 soldiers to quell the violence. Using the momentum of the Sunni insurgency against the Assad government in Syria, the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) returned to Iraq in 2014 to challenge the authority of the Shia controlled state in Ninawa and Anbar provinces. There are some limiting factors built into the geography of Yemen, but on some scale, it is likely that Yemen’s conflict will mirror the Iraqi conflict if the Houthis retain power in Sanaa.
What are the USG’s Interests in the Conflict?
It is impossible to determine USG interests in Yemen without first understanding what national interests are, and why the USG has an interest in an alliance with Saudi Arabia. When discussing national interests, it is important to note that interests are pursued solely to preserve the power and influence of state that pursues them. The US alliance with KSA is the perfect illustration of this notion and stretches back more than 70 years, when the oil industry first made contract with the Saudis and discovered that KSA had the largest oil reserves in the world. Franklin Roosevelt met with the Saudi king Bin Saud in 1945, making the relationship between the two countries official. The USG’s relationship with KSA, the largest oil exporter in world, affords both countries a powerful level of control over the world’s energy economy. To protect this influence, the USG provides KSA with state-of-the-art military hardware, such as jets, tanks, and attack helicopters and wields the naval power of the US 5th fleet to secure KSA’s shipments of oil exports. In 1991, Saudi hosted 10,000 US troops within its borders in support of the US military intervention in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which aided the US military in establishing no fly zones over Kuwait and southern Iraq. These US operations in KSA were one of the stated reasons that Osama Bin Laden cited for his attack on the World Trade Center towers on September 11th, 2001. US troops largely withdrew from KSA in 2003, but in 2010, the USG brokered the largest arm deal in world history, selling KSA more than $60 billion in modern military equipment in order to increase US/Saudi “interoperability” for contingency operations in the region. Despite such a large economic and political partnership, the US and Saudi governments have considerable differences on such issues as human rights, Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, material support to known terrorist organizations, and the intriguing connection between members of the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers as outlined in the now declassified “28 pages” of the 9/11 commission report. None of these issues, however, trumps the USG’s desire to cooperate with KSA to influence the world’s energy market.
The ability to control supply, and therefore to some extent the price of petroleum, is an incredibly powerful economic weapon. Countries with nationalized oil production such as Venezuela, Russia, Iran and Iraq are at the mercy of Saudi Arabia supply controls. If KSA suddenly decides to flood the market with oil reserves, the excess supply can drive prices down below the level of profitability or even production costs in some cases. This spells bad news for countries such as Russia, that budget per-barrel crude prices around $100 USD. In 2014, speculation was rampant that John Kerry and Saudi officials conspired to drive crude prices down to exert pressure on Russia and Iran, though Suhail Bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, United Arab Emirates’ petroleum minister stated “there is no conspiracy, there is no targeting of anyone. This is a market and it goes up and down.” Of course, this is anything but the truth, as the stated goal of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is “to coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its Member Countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers.”
This is the opposite of operating on market signals. It is interesting to note that the sudden increase in oil supply coincided with the advent of extremely low cost shale oil operations conducted by US based companies. Had this oversupply occurred in the era before cheap shale oil production, it could have virtually destroyed US oil companies unable to sell oil at rates above oil production costs. Also of note, the price of crude oil counter-intuitively dropped to record lows at the same time the Syrian civil war and ISIL invasion of Iraq were at their peak. Instability in one of the worlds key energy production regions doesn’t typically result in rapidly declining petroleum prices. There is much evidence that the “market” was not the only mechanism at play and that some collusion between the USG and KSA likely occurred.
Even if one took the statements of the Saudis at face value and assumes that the USG and KSA did not collude to lower energy prices, the potential for such collusion is precisely the reason that the United States maintains such a strong alliance with a country that is continuously at odds with the Unites States on key issues. The elements of national power per the widely utilized D.I.M.E. model are: Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economics. Within that construct, a relationship with KSA bolsters the economic power of the USG, and clearly explains the purpose of such an odd alliance, and why the USG would go to incredible lengths to preserve it.
The preservation of the KSA as an economic partner, and therefore combating Iranian attempts at achieving regional hegemony, is the principle reason for USG involvement in Yemen. This includes ensuring that the Bab al-Mandeb strait remains open for the movement of petroleum and other goods between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. While it is true that the USG valued its ability to target international terrorists in Yemen, this a distant second to keeping Iranian backed Houthi rebels from controlling Sanaa and threatening Saudi soil to the north. This is illustrated by the USG’s unwillingness to cooperate with Houthis in targeting Sunni terrorists in southern Yemen, something that Houthi rebels were quite effective in doing. To the extent that some US military officers view the Houthis as an effective counter to Al Qaeda in Yemen.
What are the Options for the USG?
One of the more difficult components of the Yemen conflict is identifying how the USG plans to pursue its interests in Yemen. Until the Houthi takeover of Sanaa, US military operations amounted to a train and advise role with Yemeni Special Operations Forces and CT operations primarily revolving around the drone program. After the fall of Sanaa to Houthi insurgents, the USG began providing support to the KSA coalition in hopes of restoring KSA’s influence through the reinstatement of a KSA friendly government. This falls in line with the larger USG strategy of countering Iranian influence in the region and keeping the eastern side of the Bab al-Mandeb strait under the control of a government more amicable than the Houthis, who at minimum have strong Iranian sympathies.
On paper, the USG’s strategy seems simple: Aid KSA in their Counter Insurgency (COIN) operation, regain control of the capital, resume CT operations, and keep the shipping lanes secure. In practice, this is an extraordinarily messy proposal, which seems to be a pattern with USG forays into the middle east. Syria and Iraq immediately come to mind. KSA’s willingness to conduct such a large scale military operation signals a departure from its 70 year strategy of using money and politics to achieve its ends while relying on the USG’s military muscle for physical defense and coercion in the region. For this reason, KSA’s military is not capable of conducting precision COIN operations which are known to be prolonged, tedious, and deadly. The demographics and geography of Yemen make a COIN operation more difficult. The Zaidi people are only a slight minority, and their center of power sits in the difficult mountainous terrain on KSA’s southern border. Further complicating matters, KSA has a history of involvement with Sunni terrorist organizations in southern Yemen and this relationship has deepened as KSA’s struggle continues in Yemen. KSA’s decision to continue their involvement with terrorists puts the other members of the coalition, including the USG, in a precarious position. It is virtually guaranteed that aiding KSA in their COIN operation will result in bolstering the capabilities and resources of some of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world. Again, this seems to be a pattern with US military and intelligence operations in the region.
If the USG wants to ensure that the Houthis are removed from power in Sanaa, then it will most likely need to become more directly involved, as KSA has no proven ability to conduct such an operation, nor do any of its coalition partners. This is now a complicated option for the United States, as international condemnation for KSA’s bombing and blockade operations have continued grow louder with every passing day. This is a condemnation that the USG has no desire to be subjected to after 16 years of unpopular wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. A footprint similar to the one fielded in Syria as of April 2016, would enable more precision when conducting airstrikes and aid in coordinating between the efforts of the various partner nations, but what the US would lack in Yemen that they possess in Syria is a partnership with tens of thousands of local fighters supporting the KSA Counter-Insurgency operation. Without a viable surrogate or partner force, a small-scale intervention would likely become more of a humanitarian effort to prevent more civilian casualties as the result of misguided bombs and rockets than an operational game-changer. Many thousands of ground troops would need to be fielded in Yemen in order to significantly change the outcome of the conflict to KSA’s favor. While this may seem ridiculous given the wide unpopularity of the US’ current interventions in Iraq and Syria, the possibility that the US might decide to pursue this strategy is not out of the question. If the US were to commit ground troops to Yemen, it would certainly illustrate just how highly valued the preservation of the KSA/USG alliance is to the United States.
If the US continues to provide logistical support to the KSA coalition, then it will not dodge perceived culpability for atrocities and destruction conducted by KSA. No matter how miniscule the role might be, the world will be eyeing US actions in the conflict and be fully prepared label the USG party to the atrocities. This is already a significant security issue for the US, as the perception that the USG is forever meddling in the business of other nations is a major recruiting tool for extremist groups. If the United States ceases to support KSA in their venture in Yemen, then it risks losing influence, for at least the short-term, over supply controls in the petroleum market. KSA might look to spur the US into the conflict using economic leverage to give the US a taste of its own medicine. If KSA were to admit defeat in Yemen, the USG might also have an enormous egg on its face after selling more than 60 billion in weapons and technology to the Saudis in a failed effort to make them more effective in handling their own regional affairs.
For as long as the long-term regional strategy hinges on an unbreakable alliance with KSA, it doesn’t look like the USG has any good options.
In our next and final installment we will cover how the 2016 US presidential elections could impact the conflict in Yemen, and how the US should handle the relationship with KSA and the conflict in Yemen.
Reprinted with author’s permission.Another Entangling Alliance was first posted on December 10, 2016 at 10:27 am.
The ruling Justice and Development party has failed in the past to secure enough parliamentary support for a change to the presidential system
The attacker detonated his explosives belt as hundreds of troops gathered to receive their monthly pay
Opposition representatives say they are willing to resume peace talks 'without pre-conditions'
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell said Corbyn had 'forsaken' international solidarity by failing to support civilians in Syria
- Trump offers Gary Cohn the position of National Economic Council Director. Cohn is the President and COO of Goldman Sachs. Cohn has not announced if he will accept the position. [Link]
- Trump picks Andy Pudzer to head the US Department of Labor. Pudzer is the chief executive of CKE restaurants. He opposes the new labor department rule on overtime for salaried workers. [Link]
- Trump selects Terry Branstad to be Ambassador to China. Branstad is currently the governor of Iowa. China is said to be happy with this selection. [Link]
- Much of the post-election attention on fake news has focused on how it helped to elect Donald Trump. Glenn Greenwald looks into pro-Clinton journalist and experts also spreading fake news throughout the election. [Link]
- The Washington Post publishes an article claiming an anonymous source revealed to them that the CIA concluded that Russia intervened into the US election to get Trump elected. An Intercept article explains why the Washington Post article is far from quality journalism and gives several reasons why readers should be skeptical about the claims. [Link]
- An Alabama man was put to death last night by lethal injection after the US Supreme Court denied his stay of execution. The man coughed and struggled for breath during his execution. [Link]
- The City of Chicago will pay out 5 million to two families who had family members killed by Chicago police officers. [Link]
- Twitter has severed its contracts with Geofeedia, Media Sonar, and Snaptrends. These companies provide police with information on social media users location, the topic of the post, and the time the post was made. [Link]
- Only half of 30-year-old Americans make more than their parents. In 1970 92% of 30-year-old Americans made more than their parents. [Link]
- This article is a look into the Philippines war on drugs. Over 800,000 have been arrested and thousands murdered by this war started by the president. [Link]
- A Marine who ejected from his F-18 during a training mission in Japan has been found dead. [Link]
- Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visits Afghanistan and reconfirms the US will continue to be involved in the country. The US currently has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. [Link]
- A US soldier dies from wounds he received in November when a suicide bomber attacked US soldiers in Afghanistan. He is the 9th US soldier to die in Afghanistan this year. [Link]
- The US will send 200 more troops to Syria to help Kurdish and Arab anti-ISIS forces. This will bring the total number of US troops in Syria to 500. [Link]
- Russia claims that the Syrian government now controls 93% of Aleppo. Airstrikes against the Syrian rebels are currently paused to allow civilians to leave rebel-held areas but will resume once civilians are out of the area. [Link]
- The US intentionally bombs a Mosul hospital that was being used as a command center by ISIS fighters. [Link]
UK foreign secretary's comments follow his controversial remarks on Saudi and Iranian interference in neighboring countries