|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
U.N. nuclear agency reports Iran to Security Council
By John Ward Anderson and Karl Vick, Washington Post, February 4, 2006
The United Nations nuclear agency reported Iran to the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, signaling growing worldwide unease about the nature and intent of Iran's nuclear program, and concern that it might be military.
The 27-3 decision to report Iran to the highest U.N. body -- a diplomatic victory for the United States and Europe, and a blow to Iran's prestige -- came after months of intense wrangling among the 35 board members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the organization that monitors nuclear activities around the world.
Russia and China, both of which have strong economic ties to Tehran, joined the United States and European countries in an increasingly unified campaign to step up pressure on Iran to stop its research into uranium enrichment and cooperate more fully with IAEA inspectors. Only Syria, Cuba and Venezuela voted against the measure. Five countries -- Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa -- abstained. [complete article]
Comment -- This "diplomatic victory" comes after a significant concession from the US: the inclusion of a clause in the resolution(PDF) that recognizes "that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realising the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery." Israel's envoy to the IAEA describes this clause as unacceptable while the US representative wouldn't acknowledge that the resolution refers to any country other than Iran.
U.S. no longer number one
GlobeScan, January, 2006
A major BBC World Service poll exploring how people in 33 countries view various countries found not a single country where a majority has a positive view of Iran's role in the world (with the exception of Iranians themselves).
Views of Iran are lower than the US, although the US continues to get low marks, as does Russia. Views of China, France, and Russia are down sharply compared to a similar BBC World Service poll conducted at the end of 2004.
Japan is the country most widely viewed as having a positive influence, and Europe as a whole gets the most positive ratings of all. [complete article]
36 dead as Afghan violence rages
AP (via CNN), February 4, 2006
Fighting raged across southern Afghanistan for a second day Saturday with attacks on government offices and a police convoy, killing a district chief and 14 others -- raising the death toll from the battles to 36, officials said.
Government officials said more than 200 rebels were fighting 250 police and Afghan soldiers, as well as U.S. forces -- making it the biggest battle this year in Afghanistan.
American war planes bombed suspected Taliban militants before dawn Saturday, killing eight of them, said Khan Mohammed, a police chief in Helmand province.
At the same time, militants attacked a government office in Helmand province's Musaqala district, killing the government chief and wounding four police, said Amir Mohammed Akhund, the province's deputy governor.
Then, hours later, the insurgents attacked the main government office in neighboring Nauzad district, sparking a two hour gunbattle that left one policeman and three suspected Taliban dead, he said. [complete article]
Bush's bill for war is rising
By Mark Mazzetti and Joel Havemann, Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2006
The White House said Thursday that it planned to ask Congress for an additional $70 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving the cost of military operations in the two countries to $120 billion this year, the highest since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Most of the new money would go to the war in Iraq, which already has cost an estimated $250 billion since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. The additional spending, along with other war funds the Bush administration will seek separately in its regular budget next week, would push the price tag for combat and nation-building since Sept. 11, 2001, to nearly half a trillion dollars -- approaching the cost of the 13-year-long Vietnam War.
Congress has granted all previous administration requests for war funds, and this one is expected to be no different. But budget analysts said the size of the newest request could make it more difficult for the Bush administration to get any new tax cuts through Congress this year. The cost of military operations in 2006 is $35 billion higher than what Congress had estimated a few months ago the Defense Department would need this year. [complete article]
Ability to wage 'long war' is key to Pentagon plan
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, February 4, 2006
The Pentagon, readying for what it calls a "long war," yesterday laid out a new 20-year defense strategy that envisions U.S. troops deployed, often clandestinely, in dozens of countries at once to fight terrorism and other nontraditional threats.
Major initiatives include a 15 percent boost in the number of elite U.S. troops known as Special Operations Forces, a near-doubling of the capacity of unmanned aerial drones to gather intelligence, a $1.5 billion investment to counter a biological attack, and the creation of special teams to find, track and defuse nuclear bombs and other catastrophic weapons. [complete article]
Pentagon sees China as greatest potential rival
By Peter Spiegel and Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, February 3, 2006
China has the "greatest potential to compete militarily" with America in the future, but the US is also increasingly worried about Russian arms sales, the Pentagon said in major review of military priorities.
Underscoring mounting concerns about the rise of China, the highly anticipated quadrennial defence review [QDR] focusses on the potential future threat from a Chinese military build-up that "already puts regional military balances at risk".
The report says Russia is "unlikely to pose a military threat to the US or its allies on the same scale or intensity as the Soviet Union during the Cold War". But the Pentagon warns on Russian sales of "disruptive weapons" and actions that "compromise the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of other states". [complete article]
More allegations of Libby lies revealed
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, February 4, 2006
The special prosecutor in the CIA leak case alleged that Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff was engaged in a broader web of deception than was previously known and repeatedly lied to conceal that he had been a key source for reporters about undercover operative Valerie Plame, according to court records released yesterday.
The records also show that by August 2004, early in his investigation of the disclosure of Plame's identity, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald had concluded that he did not have much of a case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for illegally leaking classified information. Instead, Fitzgerald was focused on charging Cheney's top aide with perjury and making false statements, and knew he needed to question reporters to prove it.
The court records show that Libby denied to a grand jury that he ever mentioned Plame or her CIA job to then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer or then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller in separate conversations he had with each of them in early July 2003. The records also suggest that Libby did not disclose to investigators that he first spoke to Miller about Plame in June 2003, and that prosecutors learned of the nature of the conversation only when Miller finally testified late in the fall of 2005. [complete article]
Rumsfeld likens Chavez to Hitler
Aljazeera, February 3, 2006
The United States has expelled a Venezuelan diplomat a day after Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, compared Hugo Chavez to Adolf Hitler.
Asked during a National Press Club appearance on Thursday about indications of a generally deteriorating relationship between Washington and parts of Latin America, Rumsfeld said he believes such a characterisation "misses the mark".
He said the rise of elected populist leaders in Latin America such as Chavez, Venezuela's president, was "worrisome".
"You've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money," he said.
"He's a person who was elected legally just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally." [complete article]
Comment -- When Pat Robertson advocated Chavez's assasination last summer, the State Department was quick to say that Robertson's views "do not represent the views of the United States." The State Department will I assume have nothing to say about Rumsfeld's remarks. If pressed, no doubt he would pull back from comparing Chavez to Hitler, but unless he goes further than so far stated, his description would also apply to Vladimir Putin. And let's not leave out George Bush. He too was elected legally (at least once), just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally.
Shutting out a voice for Islam
By Diana L. Eck, Boston Globe, February 2, 2006
Why is the American Academy of Religion, with more than 10,000 members who teach religion in colleges and universities, suing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff? It takes a matter of grave concern for an academy of scholars who study everything from the Bible to Buddhists to join the American Civil Liberties Union in bringing a case against the US government. The concern is this: Our colleague, Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar and theologian, has been barred from entering the United States to participate in the discussion of one of the most important topics of today: contemporary Islam in the West.
For 18 months, the government has withheld his visa on the basis of the "ideological exclusion" provision of the Patriot Act, interpreted so broadly as to be a danger to the enterprise of debate and exchange in a free society.
At first it seemed an ignorant mistake. Ramadan, a Swiss national of Egyptian ancestry, had previously lectured at universities and attended conferences in the United States. But in August 2004, he suddenly had his visa revoked by the Department of Homeland Security on the eve of his departure to teach at Notre Dame. Those of us who had known and admired his work were astounded. He was at the top of my reading list as an articulate spokesman for Islamic engagement in civil society and in the dialogue of religions. I had met Ramadan that summer at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Barcelona. I looked forward to hearing his plenary address at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in November 2004. So why would the US government revoke the visa of a scholar whose entire body of work was dedicated to an emergent "reformist" Islam? Why would the United States deny entry to someone able to contribute constructively to public discussion in Western countries with growing Muslim populations? [complete article]
See also, ACLU challenges Patriot Act provision used to exclude prominent Swiss scholar from the United States.
European cartoon stance derided in U.S.
Reuters (via Aljazeera), February 4, 2006
A North American Muslim rights group has called the European media's rush to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad childish.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations (Cair), said American newspapers have not printed the cartoons as in Europe, perhaps because they feel secure in their constitutional free press protections.
He said: "They don't feel the need to go out and be gratuitously insulting just to prove that they can do it, which is what the European media seem to be doing in almost a childish overreaction."
American newspapers gave extensive coverage to the hurt and anger that cartoons of Prophet Muhammad provoked across the world but took a hands-off approach to reprinting the caricatures themselves. [complete article]
See also, Child's tale led to clash of cultures (The Guardian) and U.S .backs Muslims in cartoon dispute (Reuters).
Cartoon wars and the clash of civilisations
By Daniel McGrory and Dan Sabbagh, The Times, February 3, 2006
Western governments appealed for calm yesterday before Friday prayers as the storm over the publication and broadcast of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad escalated.
Masked Palestinian gunmen fired shots into the air and closed the EU office in Gaza, saying it would stay shut until Western governments apologised for their media printing images including a cartoon of a bearded Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.
The BBC was drawn into the row after broadcasting the images on its main evening bulletins. The move drew accusations from Muslim leaders that the corporation was inciting racial hatred. [complete article]
See also, Day of anger over Muhammad cartoons sweeps Muslim world (The Times).
Comment -- It's tempting to dismiss the reaction to these cartoons as a mountain made out of a molehill -- as at least one Muslim commentator has depicted the furor -- but it seems disingenuous to depict this as a clash of values: Western free speech versus Islam's prohibition of blasphemy.
To many non-Muslims in Europe, Islam is perceived as a looming and alien threat. Muslim citizens and immigrants and Islam itself are being seen as a foreign menace in a similar way that Chinese and Japanese immigrants to America in the late nineteenth century were vilified and demeaned in the media through cartoons dipicting the "yellow peril."
For news editors to avoid publishing images that fuel Islamophobia does not amount to a capitulation to those who don't value free speech. It is simply an exercise in judgement.
With wars being fought by non-Muslim armies in two Muslim countries, it's hardly suprising that many in the Muslim world have felt for the last five years that Islam is under attack. No doubt those feelings are now cynically being exploited by Imams who see an easy opportunity to ramp up anti-Western passions. For our part, we should not heed political opportunists who are now attempting to rouse xenophobic passions under the banner of "free speech."
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood may be model for Islam's political adaptation
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, February 3, 2006
Mustafa Mohamed Mustafa, a legislator from the Muslim Brotherhood, stood on the Egyptian parliament's tiered floor, pulled out a copy of the constitution and waved it at the speaker, Fathi Sorour, who belongs to the ruling party of President Hosni Mubarak.
It was a sign, under parliamentary rules, that he wanted to speak, and he did, criticizing the government for allowing an old French aircraft carrier to pass through the Suez Canal on its way to India's shores to be dismembered for scrap metal. Environmental groups said the ship, loaded with tons of asbestos, posed a pollution hazard.
Sorour, with the backing of the parliamentary majority held by Mubarak's National Democratic Party, expelled Mustafa "because of his insistence on speaking in a loud voice" and the desire to "preserve order in the chamber." The entire Brotherhood bloc, 20 percent of parliament, walked out.
Last weekend's uproarious session put on display Egypt's new political reality: the emergence of the Brotherhood, formally banned under Egypt's restrictions on religiously based parties, as the country's only vibrant opposition force. It is an experiment watched closely not only in Egypt, which has been ruled by a succession of military leaders for more than 50 years, but also around the Middle East, where Islamic political groups are using the wedge of elections to enter mainstream politics. [complete article]
Women, secret Hamas strength, win votes at polls and new role
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, February 3, 2006
Hamas has been known and feared for its men, armed or strapped with suicide bombs. But in its parliamentary election triumph here last week, one secret weapon was its women.
To a degree specialists said was new in the conservative Muslim society of the Gaza Strip, Hamas used its women to win, sending them door to door with voter lists and to polling places for last-minute campaigning.
Now in surprise control of Palestinians politics, Hamas can boast that women hold 6 of the party's 74 seats in parliament -- giving the women of the radical group, guided in all ways by their understanding of Islam, a new and unaccustomed public role.
"We are going to lead factories, we are going to lead farmers," said Jamila al-Shanty, 48, a professor at the Islamic University here who won a seat in parliament. "We are going to spread out through society. We are going to show the people of the world that the practice of Islam in regards to women is not well known." [complete article]
Time for the U.S. to get real on Hamas
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, February 2, 2006
Huff and puff as she might, Condi Rice can't dodge the complicity of the Bush administration's policies in getting Hamas elected. Commentators who wondered what the Hamas victory would mean for the "peace process" were missing the point: What peace process? The last substantive political negotiations between the two sides were held at Taba in January of 2001, five months into the current intifada and three weeks before Sharon was elected. But Sharon came to bury Oslo, and he succeeded in spectacular fashion - mostly because Sharon, as Condi's erstwhile mentor Brent Scowcroft so bluntly put it in a dinner with her about a year ago, has the Secretary of State and the President "wrapped around his little finger."
The U.S. bought into the idea that the problem of violence would have to be solved in a vacuum, without any movement on the question of the occupation (or what Shimon Peres called a "political horizon" without which he believed there would be no progress). No Palestinian leader was going to be able to disarm the militias outside of a clearly defined process to end the occupation with its checkpoints and restrictions, and while Israel continued to expand its illegal settlements on their land. But rather than recognize that Sharon's position precluded any peace process, the administration simply adopted and echoed Sharon's mantra that no negotiations were possible first with Arafat, and then with Abu Mazen. [complete article]
Rumsfeld offers strategies for current war
By Josh White and Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, February 3, 2006
The United States is engaged in what could be a generational conflict akin to the Cold War, the kind of struggle that might last decades as allies work to root out terrorists across the globe and battle extremists who want to rule the world, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
Rumsfeld, who laid out broad strategies for what the military and the Bush administration are now calling the "long war," likened al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin while urging Americans not to give in on the battle of wills that could stretch for years. He said there is a tendency to underestimate the threats that terrorists pose to global security, and said liberty is at stake.
"Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs," Rumsfeld said in a speech at the National Press Club.
The speech, which aides said was titled "The Long War," came on the eve of the Pentagon's release of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which sets out plans for how the U.S. military will address major security challenges 20 years into the future. The plans to be released today include shifts to make the military more agile and capable of dealing with unconventional threats, something Rumsfeld has said is necessary to move from a military designed for the Cold War into one that is more flexible. [complete article]
See also, Abizaid credited with popularizing the term 'Long War' (WP).
The gap between U.S. rhetoric and reality
By Anatol Lieven, International Herald Tribune, January 30, 2006
...the present centrality of the "democratization" idea to administration rhetoric does not come from any study of the Middle East, or of reality in general. Rather, the Bush administration has fallen back on this rhetoric in part because all other paths and justifications have failed or been rejected. The administration desperately needed some big vision that would give the American people the impression of a plan for the war on terror, promising something beyond tighter domestic security and endless military operations.
Thus spreading democracy was always one of the arguments used for the Iraq war, but it only became the central one after the failure to find the promised weapons of mass destruction. As a result of the Iraqi quagmire, the language of preventive war and military intervention, so prevalent in the administration's National Security Strategy of 2002, has also become obviously empty, requiring a new central theme for the forthcoming security strategy of 2006.
The road map toward a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been shelved, and Bush has admitted that his promise to create an independent Palestinian state by the end of his second term has been abandoned. Building Palestinian democracy therefore became in effect a diversion from a failure or refusal to make progress on addressing real Palestinian grievances. [complete article]
Attack jolts Iraq oil business as civilian, troop tolls rise
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2006
A mortar attack set ablaze a major petroleum facility in the northern city of Kirkuk on Thursday, stopping refining at the plant and further damaging Iraq's beleaguered oil industry.
Iraqi oil workers were still fighting the fire late Thursday, and U.S. officials held high-level meetings in Baghdad to assess the damage. An Iraqi executive with the North Oil Co. called the incident the "most severe attack we have ever faced on an oil installation." The mortar rounds also hit an important pipeline to Turkey that was already out of commission and was being repaired, the executive said.
The cessation of production forced the shutdown of an electricity plant that ran on petroleum supplied by the refinery. [complete article]
Bush told Blair we're going to war, memo reveals
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, February 2, 2006
Tony Blair told President George Bush that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about the invasion's legality and despite the absence of a second UN resolution, according to a new account of the build-up to the war published today.
A memo of a two-hour meeting between the two leaders at the White House on January 31 2003 - nearly two months before the invasion - reveals that Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.
"The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning", the president told Mr Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection. He is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam". [complete article]
Iraq, Niger, and the CIA
By Murray Waas, National Journal, February 2, 2006
Vice President Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were personally informed in June 2003 that the CIA no longer considered credible the allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials. The new CIA assessment came just as Libby and other senior administration officials were embarking on an effort to discredit an administration critic who had also been saying that the allegations were untrue.
CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, "We no longer believe there is sufficient" credible information to "conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memo was titled: "In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad." [complete article]
Wide plot seen in guilty plea in Iraq project
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 2, 2006
Robert J. Stein Jr. could not have been clearer about his feelings toward the American businessman who was receiving millions of dollars in contracts from Mr. Stein to build a major police academy and other reconstruction projects in Iraq.
"I love to give you money," Mr. Stein wrote in an e-mail message to the businessman, Philip H. Bloom, on Jan. 3, 2004, just as the United States was trying to ramp up its rebuilding program in Iraq.
As it turned out, Mr. Stein had the money to give. Despite a prior conviction on felony fraud that his Pentagon background check apparently missed, Mr. Stein was hired and put in charge of at least $82 million of reconstruction money in the south central Iraqi city of Hilla by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American-led administration that was then running Iraq. [complete article]
Iraq Sunni bloc threatens revolt
BBC News, February 1, 2006
Iraq's main Sunni Arab alliance has threatened to start a campaign of civil disobedience if concerns about attacks on its community are not addressed.
The Iraqi Accord Front called for Interior Minister Bayan Jabr to resign, the disbanding of militias and the release of all Iraqi detainees.
The demands came as the governing Shia and Kurdish alliances discussed the formation of a coalition government. [complete article]
What's driving the kidnappings in Iraq
By Peter Grier and Faye Bowers, Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 2006
A wave of abductions is sweeping through Iraq - as evidenced this week by three videotaped demands by groups holding Western hostages.
Since last fall the number of foreigners seized has spiked, following a prolonged lull. Meanwhile, Iraqis themselves are being kidnapped in large numbers - some months, more than 30 per day.
These crimes occur for many reasons in a society that is still struggling with basic governance and security. But the political kidnappings that have received the most attention in the West - such as the case of American reporter Jill Carroll - may be terrorism of a particularly pure sort, say experts. [complete article]
Quake's homeless battle winter
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, February 2, 2006
Three months after the devastating earthquake leveled every house in this mountain village in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, the newlyweds Zaheer and Shazia found themselves sleeping once more in the open, this time in the snow. Their cotton tent had collapsed on top of them in the night under a heavy snowfall, so for four nights, they huddled in the open on a rope bed by a fire.
"It was very cold, the snow fell on our faces," said Shazia, 19, with a shy smile. "We need a shelter, food rations and bedding."
Despite an enormous aid effort over the three months since the Oct. 8 earthquake, rescue workers are still finding new villages in need of the most basic assistance to hope to survive the harsh winter snows. Two heavy snowfalls in the last month have hampered the relief operation and tested the population of this mountainous area, still traumatized by the quake, which killed 73,338 people, seriously injured 69,000 and left an estimated 2.5 million homeless. [complete article]
Joint Chiefs fire at Toles cartoon on strained army
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, February 2, 2006
In a protest with an unusual number of high-level signatures, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and each of its five members have fired off a letter assailing a Washington Post cartoon as "beyond tasteless."
The Tom Toles cartoon, published Sunday, depicts a heavily bandaged soldier in a hospital bed as having lost his arms and legs, while Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in the guise of a doctor, says: "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened.' " Toles said he meant no offense toward American soldiers. [complete article]
Comment -- I don't know if it's me or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but someone needs to take a class in media literacy, Interpreting Political Cartoons 101. As far as I can tell it's Secretary Rumsfeld - not the wounded - who is the butt of Toles' acerbic wit.
I can see that the JCS are stiff and humorless, but somehow I don't think they're really that dumb. Sycophants yes, and no doubt they pleased their arrogant boss by chastising The Post. And I know that the press can be spineless but I'd hope that this 24-star letter drew the scoffs that it deserves. Was the Pentagon out to censor? No, that's just boggysteria. But if I was trying to dodge roadside bombs in Iraq, I'd think there's no longer any room for doubt: the people running this war really are completely out to lunch.
Senate panel rebuffed on documents on U.S. spying
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, February 2, 2006
The Bush administration is rebuffing requests from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for its classified legal opinions on President Bush's domestic spying program, setting up a confrontation in advance of a hearing scheduled for next week, administration and Congressional officials said Wednesday.
The Justice Department is balking at the request so far, administration officials said, arguing that the legal opinions would add little to the public debate because the administration has already laid out its legal defense at length in several public settings.
But the legality of the program is known to have produced serious concerns within the Justice Department in 2004, at a time when one of the legal opinions was drafted. Democrats say they want to review the internal opinions to assess how legal thinking on the program evolved and whether lawyers in the department saw any concrete limits to the president's powers in fighting terrorism. [complete article]
IRAN, ISRAEL, AND THE BUSH DOCTRINE
Bush 'calling for Iran regime change'
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, February 1, 2006
A direct appeal by President George W. Bush to the Iranian people to "win your own freedom" was a barely disguised call for regime change in Iran, raising the question of whether the US will turn to covert action to support internal opposition, analysts said on Wednesday. [complete article]
Bush says U.S. would defend Israel militarily
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 2, 2006
President Bush said yesterday the United States would defend Israel militarily if necessary against Iran, a statement that appeared to be his most explicit commitment to Israel's defense. [complete article]
Comment -- The "expert" view is that President Bush is now actively fomenting regime change in Iran while going further than any other US president in asserting a US-Israeli military alliance. Even so, my inexpert reading of Bush is that he's actually studiously avoiding drawing a line in the sand. The Bush Doctrine is dead and buried and the US is now back in a very pre-9/11 game of tactical moves. Far from having made an absolute commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, it would not surprise me if the US and Israel are now gaming their response to a nuclearized Iran. Part of that response might include US support for Israel abandoning its policy of "nuclear ambiguity" along with a push at the UN to scrap the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In spite of the warnings that a nuclear Iran could arm terrorists - a danger that some commentators dismiss as a non-issue - the reality is that Iran would be just as constrained by the threat of retaliation as was the Soviet Union. And a team from the Pentagon that conducts "domestic nuclear event attribution" - designed to trace the source of a terrorist nuclear attack on America - would now also seem to be sending a message to Iran. As Rumsfeld might put it: If you know that we know that it's you, then you shouldn't even dare think of the unthinkable.
Pentagon now prepares to fight The Long War
By Lolita C. Baldor, AP (via WP), February 1, 2006
Now, the Pentagon is preparing for The Long War. In the 2007 budget due out next week and a soon-to-be-released long-range plan for reshaping the military, the Defense Department talks about the military's future in terms of its ability to fight a new kind of war. It is one that cannot be won in days or weeks, and will be fought on many fronts and against a vast array of enemies.
Administration officials seem to refer to the "long war" more frequently these days. President Bush mentioned it during his State of the Union address this week. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the term is a way of telling people the truth about the fight against terrorism. [complete article]
Comment -- Indefinite war, indefinite war powers...
Administration backs off Bush's vow to reduce Mideast oil imports
By Kevin G. Hall, Knight Ridder, February 1, 2006
One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.
But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are. [complete article]
See also, Bush's goals on energy quickly find obstacles (NYT), Much talk, mostly low key, about energy independence (NYT), and Evangelicals will not take stand on global warming (WP).
The biggest secret
A review of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration by James Risen
By Thomas Powers, TomDispatch, February 1, 2006
The challenges posed to American democracy by secrecy and by unchecked presidential power are the two great themes running through the history of the Iraq war. How long the war will last, who will "win," and what it will do to the political landscape of the Middle East will not be obvious for years to come, but the answers to those questions cannot alter the character of what happened at the outset. Put plainly, the President decided to attack Iraq, he brushed caution and objection aside, and Congress, the press, and the people, with very few exceptions, stepped back out of the way and let him do it.
Explaining this fact is not going to be easy. Commentators often now refer to President Bush's decision to invade Iraq as "a war of choice," which means that it was not provoked. The usual word for an unprovoked attack is aggression. Why did Americans -- elected representatives and plain citizens alike -- accede so readily to this act of aggression, and why did they question the President's arguments for war so feebly? The whole business is painfully awkward to consider, but it will not go away. If the Constitution forbids a president anything it forbids war on his say-so, and if it insists on anything it insists that presidents are not above the law. In plain terms this means that presidents cannot enact laws on their own, or ignore laws that have been enacted by Congress. [complete article]
Battleground of ideas
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 1, 2006
The State of the Union, perhaps more than any other speech the president makes, defines the way the administration wants to see its world. But its narrative is so foreign to the thinking of most people in the Arab world that they've come to hear Bush's language as a kind of code: "liberation" means occupation, "freedom" means war, "victory" means victims, "reconstruction" means chaos, "democracy" means following directives from Washington. Bush, whatever his intentions -- and I think he should be credited with some good ones -- has come to be seen as a caricature, talking about strength and determination, projecting an image of stubbornness and confusion.
Journalists from the region are trapped in a sort of twilight zone between these two relentlessly opposite versions of the past and proclamations about the future. "You are caught between two extremes and neither is right," says Ayman Safadi, editor in chief of Jordan's Al Ghad newspaper. The United States comes with its agenda, but with no real understanding, while the old guard in the Middle East is unwilling to admit it has failed, decade after decade, to deliver on its hollow promises of dignity and progress. In the midst of contradictions, people cling to traditions "in their bubble of anachronism," says Safadi. Those who are attacked or denigrated by the Bush administration, like the Baathist regime in Syria, find themselves lionized by the Arab public. Those applauded by Washington are dismissed as pawns. The result on the ground is often the opposite of the Bush administration's stated desires. "Democracy has a new enemy in the region, which is the support [for democracy] by the United States of America," says Safadi. [complete article]
Iran said to have nuclear warhead plans
By George Jahn and Ali Akbar Dareini, AP (via The Guardian), February 1, 2006
The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said in a report Tuesday that Iran obtained documents and drawings on the black market that serve no other purpose than to make an atomic warhead. Tehran warned of an "end of diplomacy" if plans to refer it to the U.N. Security Council are carried out.
The report by the agency, ahead of a meeting of its 35-member board Thursday, also confirmed information recently provided by diplomats familiar with the Iran probe that Tehran has not started small-scale uranium enrichment since announcing it would earlier this month.
Nevertheless, the findings added to pressure to refer Tehran to the Security Council within days. Such a move, Iran said, would lead to a halt in surprise U.N. inspections beginning Saturday and prompt it to resume frozen nuclear activities. [complete article]
Iran calling wider world to its side
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, February 1, 2006
On the afternoon of Jan. 4, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reached for the phone and got Latin America on the line. In quick succession, he chatted with President Fidel Castro of Cuba, rang up President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and, sensing yet another kindred spirit, reached out to Evo Morales, the young firebrand who had just been elected president of Bolivia.
Person-to-person and peer-to-peer, the transatlantic calls described on Ahmadinejad's presidential Web site linked self-styled populists who glory in defying the West. But for Iran, the exchanges carried significance reaching well beyond Ahmadinejad and the controversy enveloping him personally after questioning the Holocaust and saying Israel should be "wiped off the map."
In its bid to proceed with a nuclear program opposed by Washington and Western Europe, Iran's leadership appears settled on a revived policy of confrontation with "global arrogance," as the country's rulers have referred to the foreign policy of United States for almost three decades. But the contest is now being framed as a David-vs.-Goliath battle, and Iran is seeking to attract relatively poor, disempowered nonaligned nations to its side, not simply the Muslim world it once saw itself as leading, Iranian officials and analysts say. [complete article]
Iranian President defiant in nuclear row
By Simon Freeman, The Times, February 1, 2006
President Ahmadinejad today hit back against President Bush's State of the Union pledge to confront the Iranian regime.
He described the US as a "hollow superpower... tainted with the blood of nations" as he repeated the mantra that Iran had a "right" to nuclear power.
President Ahmadinejad told thousands of people gathered in the Gulf port city of Bushehr for the 27th anniversary of the Islamic revolution: "I am telling those fake superpowers that the Iranian nation became independent 27 years ago and on the nuclear case it will resist until fully achieving its rights." [complete article]
Imposing sanctions on Iran useless - Russian MP
MosNews, February 1, 2006
Economic sanctions against Iran would not force the country to abandon its nuclear research programs and could even prove counterproductive, a senior member of Russia's lower house of parliament said Wednesday.
"In my opinion, sanctions would have no influence on Iran," Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Duma's international affairs committee, was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying. "Iran is a strong country. It would be able to get round the sanctions." [complete article]
Iran bravado on UN sanctions may ring hollow
By Christian Oliver, Reuters, February 1, 2006
Iran defiantly insists U.N. economic sanctions would hurt industrialized Western economies more than they would incapacitate Tehran, but diplomats and economists believe this bravado could prove ill-placed.
No sanctions "game plan" has emerged yet, but Iran's economy looks vulnerable to embargoes on petrol imports, industrial components and banking facilities, diplomats and analysts said. [complete article]
U.S. gives ground on Iran and Hamas
By Anne Gearan, AP (via WP), February 1, 2006
To broker dual accords in confrontations over Iran's nuclear program and the future of aid to the Palestinians, the United States is compromising on hard-line positions.
Both pacts patch together surprising alliances against Iran and the incoming Hamas leadership in the Palestinian territories, and give the Bush administration most of what it wants in the short term.
In each case, the agreements put off potential conflicts among the diverse nations and international organizations that signed them by postponing harsh consequences for Tehran or the Palestinians. It is not clear that either issue will ultimately break the administration's way.
The more surprising, and probably more significant, of the two agreements puts Russia and China on record supporting Iran's referral to the Security Council when the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency votes on the matter later this week.
The group agreed, though, that the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the move as a compromise between the U.S. preference for immediate referral and action and the Russian preference to put off referral. [complete article]
Comment -- It's hard not to wonder whether Condoleezza Rice might be mildly (and secretly) relieved that by the time this issue reaches the Security Council, the president's seat will already have been vacated by John Bolton.
Wolfowitz backs continued Palestinian aid
By Alan Beattie, Financial Times, January 31, 2006
Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, said on Tuesday that the bank should continue delivering aid to the West Bank and Gaza in spite of last week's electoral victory for the militant Islamic organisation Hamas.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Wolfowitz said that the bank was operating in Palestinian areas at the request of the "quartet" of the US, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union. "What we do now depends on what the quartet asks us to do," he said. "I hope they will ask us to stay."
"We are on the horns of a dilemma," Mr Wolfowitz said. "We need to keep up pressure for reform but this interim government is not in a position to do very much right now. It will help the whole process if the life of the average Palestinian improves. We ought to be the last people to disengage." [complete article]
What Hamas could learn from the early Zionists about state-building
By Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, February 1, 2006
Hamas's best bet might be to learn not from Fatah or the IRA, but from the early Zionist movement. Living under colonial military rule from the 1920s to the 1940s, it focused its energies on building the institutions of statehood: schools, bureaucracy, even an embryonic national health service. When independence came in 1948 they were ready. Israeli rule is not the British mandate, I know. But there is a lesson there all the same - and Hamas would make a revolution by seizing on it. [complete article]
No American perplexity needed on Hamas
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, February 1, 2006
I nearly fell out of my car window Monday morning, while driving among several of the fine universities in North Carolina, when I read U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's statement on the Hamas election victory in Palestine. She stated: "I've asked why nobody saw it coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."
Sorry, Condoleezza, this is not about having, or not having, a good enough pulse. It's about the consequences of the last decade of Israeli and American policies toward the Palestinians in general, and Islamist resistance movements in particular. This is not a time to play dumb, feign surprise, or persist in simplistic and counterproductive policies that will only further strengthen the forces of military resistance against the Israeli occupation, as well as wider Arab-Islamic political resistance against America's blatantly pro-Israeli policies in the region. [complete article]
We will not sell our people or principles for foreign aid
By Khalid Mish'al, The Guardian, February 1, 2006
It is widely recognised that the Palestinians are among the most politicised and educated peoples in the world. When they went to the polls last Wednesday they were well aware of what was on offer and those who voted for Hamas knew what it stood for. They chose Hamas because of its pledge never to give up the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and its promise to embark on a programme of reform. There were voices warning them, locally and internationally, not to vote for an organisation branded by the US and EU as terrorist because such a democratically exercised right would cost them the financial aid provided by foreign donors.
The day Hamas won the Palestinian democratic elections the world's leading democracies failed the test of democracy. Rather than recognise the legitimacy of Hamas as a freely elected representative of the Palestinian people, seize the opportunity created by the result to support the development of good governance in Palestine and search for a means of ending the bloodshed, the US and EU threatened the Palestinian people with collective punishment for exercising their right to choose their parliamentary representatives. [complete article]
Haniyeh: Hamas opposes Abbas control of security forces
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, February 1, 2006
Hamas will oppose any attempt to transfer authority over the Palestinian security services from the government to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Hamas' parliamentary slate told Haaretz on Tuesday.
Ismail Haniyeh, who stressed that Hamas would express its opposition via "dialogue and understanding," noted that Abbas, who once served as prime minister under then-PA chairman Yasser Arafat, resigned his position over this very issue.
"We don't think Abbas will reverse his previous position, which was that the security services should be subject to the government and the interior minister. If he does reverse himself, we will remind him of his previous stance when he was prime minister." [complete article]
Riyadh, Amman call on Hamas to moderate stance
Daily Star, February 1, 2006
Jordan's King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia called on Hamas to moderate its stances Tuesday, and Egypt sent a top envoy to meet with Hamas leaders in Damascus as Arab nations launched a diplomatic push to contain the fallout from the group's election triumph. The European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States (known as the Middle East Quartet) warned at talks in London on Monday that payments would be under threat if Hamas did not alter its principles before entering government. [complete article]
Will Hamas change course?
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, February 1, 2006
When Hamas was founded in 1987, it put the goals of the Islamic Resistance Movement into writing: "Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Koran its Constitution, jihad its path, and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief."
Now Hamas finds itself caught between an overwhelming mandate to run the Palestinian Authority (PA) after last week's election and an international demand to change its stance on Israel. And the movement's lengthy charter stands as a roadblock between the two.
Changing it, say Hamas leaders, is not on the table. Don't change it - says Israel, the US, the European Union, and the United Nations - and Hamas will not be invited to the table, neither for negotiations nor for foreign aid. [complete article]
Hamas, a policy puzzle for the West
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, February 1, 2006
Moral declarations may be good for the soul, even for diplomats, but they do not always provide a policy.
The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - the so-called quartet on the Middle East - have lined up in solidarity with Israel in calling on Hamas, which won the Palestinian legislative elections, to modify its radical policies. No direct aid to a Hamas-led government, they say.
Hamas, the quartet said in its statement on Monday, "must be committed to nonviolence, recognize Israel and accept the previous agreements and commitments," like the Oslo accords that set up the Palestinian Authority and the "road map" peace plan, which calls for the dismantling of armed groups like Hamas. [complete article]
Comment -- Washington must find it comforting that when democracy takes an ugly turn, the West can always rely on its favorite autocrats (in Riyadh and Amman) to make a few conciliatory gestures!
Call to cut foreign oil is a refrain 35 years old
By Matthew L. Wald and Edmund L. Andrews, New York Times, February 1, 2006
When President Bush vowed on Tuesday to reduce drastically American dependence on oil from the Middle East, he had plenty of company.
President Richard M. Nixon promised in 1971 to make the United States self-sufficient in energy by 1980. President Jimmy Carter promised in 1979 that the nation would "never again use more foreign oil than we did in 1977."
And Mr. Bush has called in each of his past four State of the Union addresses for a reduction in the dependence on foreign oil.
Despite those promises in the past 35 years, United States dependence on oil imports is at a record level. [complete article]
Comment -- Arguably more significant than what he said were the words that President Bush didn't use: conservation, efficiency, consumption, and climate change.
State of the Union
Delivered by President George W. Bush, US Congress, January 31, 2006
The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions - and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom [emphasis added]. And our Nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran. [complete article]
Comment -- So, although President Bush regards Iran as "a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people," and he asserts that this regime has "nuclear ambitions," he falls short of saying that they have a WMD program and says that it is the right of the Iranian people to choose their own future and win their own freedom. Three years ago Bush recognized no such rights for the people of Iraq.
Putin says Russia, U.S. differ on Hamas win
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, February 1, 2006
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the electoral victory of the radical Islamic group Hamas in the Palestinian elections as "a big blow to American efforts in the Middle East, a very serious blow," but he said that Russia would not support any efforts to cut off financial assistance to the Palestinians.
"Our position on Hamas is different from that of the United States and Western Europe," said Putin, speaking at an annual news conference in the Kremlin. "The Russian Foreign Ministry has never regarded Hamas as a terrorist organization. But this does not mean that we totally approve and support everything that Hamas has done."
Russia joined with the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France and China -- and Germany in London on Monday to call on Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. In the news conference, Putin called on Hamas to engage with international governments and repeated the call for recognition of Israel's right to exist. But he said that the diplomatic process to find a solution to the conflict should not be dominated by the United States. [complete article]
See also, Hamas says it's seeking new means of aid (AP).
Jill Carroll and Arab hypocrisy
By Mona Eltahawy, Asharq Alawsat, January 24, 2006
The terrorists who kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll thought they would win Arab sympathy if they demanded the release of Iraqi women detained by U.S. forces.
After all, what could be a surer bet than claiming to be acting in the name of the "honour" of our women, particularly when that "honour" is threatened by Americans?
The U.S. is said to be holding eight or nine Iraqi women on terrorism-related suspicions. If, as Iraqi human rights activists claim, any of these women were detained as bait to induce wanted male relatives to hand themselves in, then the U.S. and the post-Saddam Iraqi army have taken one of the worst pages out of the book of Arab dictatorships.
But the masked cowards who kidnapped Carroll are the last people to claim they care for Iraqi women or for their well being. [complete article]
See also, U.S. says will not give in to Carroll's kidnappers (Reuters).
Nearly half of Iraqis support attacks on U.S. troops, poll finds
By Drew Brown, Knight Ridder, January 30, 2006
A new poll found that nearly half of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, and most favor setting a timetable for American troops to leave.
The poll also found that 80 percent of Iraqis think the United States plans to maintain permanent bases in the country even if the newly elected Iraqi government asks American forces to leave. Researchers found a link between support for attacks and the belief among Iraqis that the United States intends to keep a permanent military presence in the country.
At the same time, the poll found that many Iraqis think that some outside military forces are required to keep Iraq stable until the new government can field adequate security forces on its own. Only 39 percent of Iraqis surveyed thought that Iraqi police and army forces were strong enough to deal with the security challenges on their own, while 59 percent thought Iraq still needed the help of military forces from other countries.
Seventy percent of Iraqis favor setting a timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw, with half of those favoring a withdrawal within six months and the other half favoring a withdrawal over two years. [complete article]
In first Iraqi case, bird flu kills girl in north
By Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, January 31, 2006
A 15-year-old Iraqi girl has died of bird flu, Iraqi and international health officials said yesterday, indicating the arrival of the disease in another country -- one that, in its war-torn state, may be ill prepared to control its spread.
The finding suggests that the virus may be spreading widely -- and undetected -- among birds in Central Asia, which is poorly equipped to identify and report infections, officials said. Avian flu has not previously been reported in Iraq. [complete article]
See also, Iraqi Kurdistan faces acute shortage of bird flu drug (AFP).
Auditors find widespread waste and unfinished work in Iraqi rebuilding contracts
By James Glanz, New York Times, January 31, 2006
A sweeping examination of thousands of contracts that the United States underwrote with Iraqi money has provided the most comprehensive look yet at the confusion, waste and lack of accountability in rebuilding and training programs during the first years of the American-led occupation, say the Iraqi finance minister and a retired American officer who led an investigative arm of the audit.
The effort, which is being undertaken by a contracting office in Baghdad that reports to the United States Army and which has not previously been disclosed, began in March 2005 and is close to completion. Previous audits have focused more narrowly on construction contracts and work done in specific areas of Iraq.
The audit of about 9,000 contracts worth at least $5.8 billion in Iraqi oil money and assets seized from Saddam Hussein's government was undertaken to determine how much of the money originally set aside for the work should ultimately be paid. [complete article]
Cash dwindles for rebuilding Iraq
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, January 31, 2006
The U.S. official who oversees reconstruction spending in Iraq has called for money beyond $18.4 billion originally earmarked, saying postwar funds will be exhausted by the end of 2006 with many projects likely to be unfinished.
Iraq's water supply, electrical capacity and oil production -- three primary targets of reconstruction -- are functioning below prewar standards, said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in a quarterly report to Congress published Monday.
"The need for more funding has reached a critical point," Bowen wrote. "There is a compelling basis to increase support for sustainability." [complete article]
A mountain out of a molehill over Danish cartoons
By Mona Eltahawy, Muslim WakeUp!, January 28, 2006
Of all the issues that plague the Muslim world today, are our priorities cartoons published in a newspaper in a country inhabited by less than 6 million people? If we really want to pick a fight with the West, have we forgotten that 500 Muslim men continue to be detained without charge at the makeshift prison run by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which last week marked its fourth anniversary?
The fracas over the cartoons is a sad testament to the impotence of the Muslim world. That clerics and leaders of Muslim countries gain any sense of power over this issue is a reminder of how powerless they really are and also a reminder, as if we needed one, of the moral bankruptcy of our self-appointed moral guides. [complete article]
Ex-Israeli spy chief: Hamas ministers may be hunted
By Adam Entous, Reuters, January 29, 2006
The architect of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militants said on Sunday Israel should hunt down wanted Hamas leaders even if they become ministers in a newly elected Palestinian government.
Avi Dichter, who used to head the Shin Bet security agency and is seen as a frontrunner for a top security post after Israel's March 28 general election, said he doubted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would remain in power, except as a "puppet leader", following Hamas's election victory.
"(Abbas) knows very well that he's going to find himself in a high-noon situation, and I'm sure that he is fully aware of the fact that he is not going to be the last man standing," said Dichter. [complete article]
Hamas... from rhetoric to reality
By Saleh al Na'mani, Asharq Alawsat, January 29, 2006
The election success of Hamas heralds a new chapter in Palestinian history. For the first time since the Oslo accords in 1993 and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas has taken part in national elections across the Occupied Territories and used the ballot box to cement its position as the most popular Palestinian factions.
Back in 1997, the situation was radically different. Dr. Yehya Moussa, Secretary General of the al Khalas Islamic Party, affiliated to Hamas, held several meetings at the party's modest offices in Nasr street in Gaza City, but failed to convince other in attendance that Hamas ought to join the political process.
Earlier this week, on the eve of the Palestinian legislative elections, the charismatic leader and candidate appeared relaxed and denied that Hamas' participation in the polls were a sign the Islamic resistance movement, to use its real name, had undergone a radical transformation. In 1996, the group had boycotted the elections and watched from the sidelines, as a Fatah led by Yasser Arafat emerged victorious. What has changed in the last decade? How did Hamas transform itself from a slogan onto reality? What are the positive and negative aspects of its participation in the political process? [complete article]
Israel's shooting of young girl highlights international hypocrisy, say Palestinians
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 30, 2006
As the votes were counted in the Palestinian election and the scale of Hamas's landslide became apparent to the world, Aya al-Astal drifted away from her home and wandered towards the fence along the border between the Gaza strip and Israel.
The nine-year-old girl's parents realised she was gone as they watched the election results on television. They do not know precisely what happened, but the Israeli army later said Aya was behaving in a suspicious manner reminiscent of a terrorist - she got too close to the border fence - and so a soldier fired several bullets into the child, hitting her in the neck and blowing open her stomach.
Aya was the second child killed by the Israeli army last week. Soldiers near Ramallah shot 13-year-old Munadel Abu Aaalia in the back as he walked along a road reserved for Jewish settlers with two friends. The army said the boys planned to throw rocks at Israeli cars, which the military defines as terrorism.
The two killings went unnoticed by the outside world amid the political drama, but they made their impact among Palestinians angered by demands from western leaders for Hamas to recognise Israel and renounce its armed struggle. [complete article]
What Hamas is seeking
By Mousa Abu Marzook (deputy political bureau chief of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)), Washington Post, January 31, 2006
A new era in the struggle for Palestinian liberation is upon us. Through historic fair and free elections, the Palestinian people have spoken.
Accordingly, America's long-standing tradition of supporting the oppressed's rights to self-determination should not waver. The United States, the European Union and the rest of the world should welcome the unfolding of the democratic process, and the commitment to aid should not falter. Last week's victory of the Change and Reform Party in the Palestinian legislative elections signals a new hope for an occupied people. [complete article]
Comment -- While America and Europe are presenting the semblance of a unified front but internally still figuring out how to calibrate their response to Hamas' political presence, there's no question that that is what Hamas has clearly acquired: political presence. Having crossed the divide from gruesome news headlines to op-ed pages and cable network interviews, Hamas' leaders will surely be eager to make the fullest use of their newly found power. Hopefully they will demonstrate that the notion, the pen is mightier than the sword, is not merely the fanciful view of those of us who have a love of language.
Mousa Abu Marzook correctly observes that "The failed policies of the U.S. administration are the result of the inherent contradiction in its position as Israel's strongest ally and an 'honest broker' in the conflict." The question is, how should this contradiction be resolved? Marzook's answer is that "For the sake of peace, the United States must abandon its position of isolation and join the rest of the world in calling for an end to the occupation, assuring the Palestinians their right to self-determination." In principle this sounds reasonable; at the same time, any observer of the political scene in the US over the last decade would conclude that such a shift is not in the cards. To my mind the resolution of the contradiction must start simply with an acknowledgement that as an unwavering ally of Israel the United States cannot also claim the role of honest broker.
Iran warns West over nuclear row
BBC News, January 31, 2006
Iran has warned it will resume suspended nuclear activities and halt surprise UN inspections if it is referred to the UN Security Council.
The warning, issued by chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, follows an agreement by key powers to report Tehran to the council. [complete article]
See also, U.N. action likely for Iran (LAT), Iran insists it will not halt oil exports (FT), and Most Americans back sanctions on Iran (WP).
Comment -- A smarter question that the pollsters should have asked is: As the United States confronts Iran, how much extra are you willing to pay for a gallon of gas? 25 cents? 50 cents? A dollar?
Gonzales is challenged on wiretaps
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, January 31, 2006
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.
Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing. [complete article]
NSA expands, centralizes domestic spying
By William A. Arkin, Washington Post, January 30, 2006
The National Security Agency is in the process of building a new warning hub and data warehouse in the Denver area, realigning much of its workforce from Ft. Meade, Maryland to Colorado.
The Denver Post reported last week that NSA was moving some of its operations to the Denver suburb of Aurora.
On the surface, the NSA move seems to be a management and cost cutting measure, part of a post-9/11 decentralization. "This strategy better aligns support to national decision makers and combatant commanders," an NSA spokesman told the Denver paper.
In truth, NSA is aligning its growing domestic eavesdropping operations -- what the administration calls "terrorist warning" in its current PR campaign -- with military homeland defense organizations, as well as the CIA's new domestic operations Colorado. [complete article]
By Siobhan Gorman, Baltimore Sun, January 29, 2006
A program that was supposed to help the National Security Agency pluck out electronic data crucial to the nation's safety is not up and running more than six years and $1.2 billion after it was launched, according to current and former government officials.
The classified project, code-named Trailblazer, was promoted as the NSA's state-of-the-art tool for sifting through an ocean of modern-day digital communications and uncovering key nuggets to protect the nation against an ever-changing collection of enemies. [complete article]
Unverified reports of terror threats linger
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, January 31, 2006
Pentagon officials say their newest intelligence agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity, is finding "irregularities" in about one of every 100 reports of suspicious activity that were entered into its database of possible terrorist threats to Defense Department personnel or facilities.
Pentagon officials began reviewing how CIFA managed what are known as Talon reports after revelations that the agency kept in its database information on Americans who were carrying out peaceful demonstrations against the war in Iraq at military bases and recruiting offices. [complete article]
A global state of disunion
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, January 30, 2006
This Tuesday, the presidential State of the Union Address rolls around yet again. Only four Januaries have passed since the President used a State of the Union Address to brand Iran, Iraq, and North Korea -- the first two then bitter enemies, the third completely unrelated to either of them and on the other side of the planet -- as a World-War-II-style "axis of evil." It was the first great State of Disunion deception of the Bush administration's regal reign of error. Only three Januaries ago came the second. The President stood before Congress and pronounced those sixteen little words on his bum's rush to war with Iraq: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." [complete article]
Presidential signing statements are more than just executive branch lunacy
By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, January 30, 2006
There are two ways President Bush likes to wage war on your civil liberties: He either asks you to surrender your rights directly -- as he does when he strengthens and broadens provisions of the Patriot Act. Or he simply hoovers up new powers and hopes you won't find out -- as he did when he granted himself authority to order warrant-less wiretapping of American citizens. The former category seems more benign, and it's tempting to lump Bush's affinity for "presidential signing statements" in that camp. It's tempting to believe that with these statements he is merely asking that the courts take his legal views into account. But President Bush never asks anything of the courts; he doesn't think he has to. His signing statements are not aimed at persuading the courts, but at reinforcing his claim that both courts and Congress are irrelevant. [complete article]
Study ties political leanings to hidden biases
By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, January 30, 2006
Emory University psychologist Drew Westen put self-identified Democratic and Republican partisans in brain scanners and asked them to evaluate negative information about various candidates. Both groups were quick to spot inconsistency and hypocrisy -- but only in candidates they opposed.
When presented with negative information about the candidates they liked, partisans of all stripes found ways to discount it, Westen said. When the unpalatable information was rejected, furthermore, the brain scans showed that volunteers gave themselves feel-good pats -- the scans showed that "reward centers" in volunteers' brains were activated. The psychologist observed that the way these subjects dealt with unwelcome information had curious parallels with drug addiction as addicts also reward themselves for wrong-headed behavior.
Another study presented at the conference, which was in Palm Springs, Calif., explored relationships between racial bias and political affiliation by analyzing self-reported beliefs, voting patterns and the results of psychological tests that measure implicit attitudes -- subtle stereotypes people hold about various groups.
That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did. [complete article]
Comment -- The bottom line here is that, as social animals, human beings seek shelter in the comfort of shared ideas. We prefer to mirror each other's thoughts rather than think for ourselves.
Afghan province's problems underline challenge for U.S.
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, January 30, 2006
When the United States sent tons of wheat seed here this winter to be given to farmers as an alternative to growing poppies, local officials sold the seeds and pocketed the money. When the U.S. ambassador came for a visit Jan. 5, a suicide bomber detonated himself several hundred yards away, killing 10 people.
And every time U.S. troops have managed to seize a portion of Uruzgan province, this remote, ruggedly beautiful region of south-central Afghanistan, enemy fighters have simply slipped away and found new hiding places among its endless craggy hills and hollows.
As one senior U.S. military official describes it, Uruzgan is "the last frontier" -- a place that exemplifies why the international mission to secure Afghanistan still has a long way to go, why well-intentioned foreign assistance often ends up in the wrong hands, and why -- more than four years since the defeat of Islamic Taliban rule -- the insurgency has proved so difficult to defeat. [complete article]
The wild frontier
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, January 31, 2006
The Taliban, buoyed by brash new tactics, have stubbornly refused to die away. Until last summer suicide bombs were an exotic rarity in Afghanistan. Now there are several a week. In one of the bloodiest attacks, 23 people died on the Pakistani border earlier this month. A Canadian diplomat was killed in Kandahar weeks earlier. The tactical twist carries unnerving echoes of Iraq: on Christmas day Afghanistan saw its first videotaped beheading of a coalition "collaborator" released on the internet.
Meanwhile, despite all the talk of clean government, President Karzai has appointed several former warlords to powerful positions, and the booming drug business - now worth £1.6bn per year, and providing 87% of the world's heroin - has slithered into the new corridors of power. It is estimated that 17 of the 249 new parliamentarians are drug smugglers; another 64 are believed to have links to mafia-like armed groups. Drugs, thugs and insurgency are an old scourge in these parts, of course. But now they are blending together into what Chris Mason, a former US State Department official, calls "a perfect storm". A drugs war is looming, one that will pit foreign forces against the burgeoning drugs mafia. And Helmand is to be at the heart of the fight.
Its geography is as daunting as its violence. Craggy peaks touch 10,000ft in the mountainous north where the one-eyed Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, took shelter after 2001. The south is carpeted in vast, lonely deserts; summer temperatures average 47C (117F). The cocoa-coloured River Helmand cuts between these two zones, flanked by a green belt of land as it twists sluggishly towards Iran.
The fertile riverbanks were once the site of an ambitious American dream. During the cold war, Washington poured millions into building a giant hydroelectric dam and a web of irrigation canals. Today, these canals help nurture a far more lucrative crop than the wheat they were intended for: poppies. [complete article]
Permanent five say IAEA must report Iran to Security Council
Reuters, January 30, 2006
The permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council agreed on Tuesday that this week's meeting of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog should report Iran to the Council over its nuclear programs, said a statement from the five.
"(Ministers) agreed that this week's extraordinary IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Board meeting should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran," said a joint statement after the meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain as well as Germany and the European Union's foreign policy chief.
A senior U.S. official said the statement meant Russia and China were on board with the United States and the European powers that there must be strong action taken by the IAEA on Thursday or Friday against Iran to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear bomb. [complete article]
Before nuclear regulators' meeting, Iran allows inspectors access to one site
By Elaine Sciolino and Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 30, 2006
After more than a year and a half of resistance, Iran has given inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to a razed military site, but it has failed to meet other demands under its international treaty obligations, officials knowledgeable about the inspections said Sunday.
The concession seemed aimed at derailing an American and European initiative to immediately send Iran's nuclear case for judgment by the United Nations Security Council. [complete article]
A new face in Iran resurrects an old defiance
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 30, 2006
...Mr. Ahmadinejad, an ultraconservative former militia member, has used Western opposition to Iran's nuclear program to generate national unity and purpose.
Those dynamics have compelled even people who oppose him to give him room to maneuver. Stop Iranians on any street in any neighborhood and they are likely to demand that Iran be allowed to pursue a nuclear energy program, a sentiment that has served as a launching platform for Mr. Ahmadinejad's firebrand politics.
"You get the feeling that Iran, under the present leadership, is looking for isolation and to go it alone," said a Western diplomat based in Tehran who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to be able to continue working here. "They want to show their way is the right way, and the former guys were wrong." [complete article]
Second videotape of Jill Carroll
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, January 30, 2006
Al Jazeera television broadcast a second videotape of the kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll last night, showing her dressed in a white Muslim head scarf and weeping as she spoke to the camera.
Ms. Carroll's voice is almost inaudible on the tape, but the network said she had called for the American and Iraqi governments to release all women held in the jails of the Iraqi Interior Ministry and the United States Army, and said doing so would help to win her release.
The 30-second video clip bore a date stamp of Jan. 28. In the upper left corner of the screen were the words "The Revenge Brigade," the same logo that appeared in an earlier videotape of Ms. Carroll broadcast on Jan. 17.
In the new videotape Ms. Carroll, who was abducted in western Baghdad on Jan. 7, looks directly at the camera, speaking quickly, her face contorted with anguish. Her voice, tremulous and breaking, can be heard at one point saying "hope for the families," but at other times it is obscured by the network voiceover. [complete article]
"Fallujah: The Real Story"
Democracy Now!, January 25, 2006
Whole neighborhoods were attacked and relief workers were denied access. When the dust had settled, 10,000 buildings were destroyed with thousands more seriously damaged. At least 100,000 residents were permanently displaced and over 70 U.S. soldiers were killed. The Iraqi death toll remains unknown, but is well into the hundreds.
Ali Fadhil compiled the first independent reports from the devastated city, where he found scores of unburied corpses, rabid dogs and an embittered population. In a Democracy Now! U.S. exclusive, we air an excerpt of the documentary. It was produced last year by Guardian Films for Channel Four News, it's called "Fallujah - The Real Story." [complete article]
Al Qaeda detainee's mysterious release
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, January 30, 2006
For more than a decade, Osama bin Laden had few soldiers more devoted than Abdallah Tabarak. A former Moroccan transit worker, Tabarak served as a bodyguard for the al Qaeda leader, worked on his farm in Sudan and helped run a gemstone smuggling racket in Afghanistan, court records here show.
During the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when al Qaeda leaders were pinned down by U.S. forces, Tabarak sacrificed himself to engineer their escape. He headed toward the Pakistani border while making calls on Osama bin Laden's satellite phone as bin Laden and the others fled in the other direction.
Tabarak was captured and taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was classified as such a high-value prisoner that the Pentagon repeatedly denied requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to see him. Then, after spending almost three years at the base, he was suddenly released.
Today, the al Qaeda loyalist known locally as the "emir" of Guantanamo walks the streets of his old neighborhood near Casablanca, more or less a free man. In a decision that neither the Pentagon nor Moroccan officials will explain publicly, Tabarak was transferred to Morocco in August 2004 and released from police custody four months later. [complete article]
Clinton warns of rising anti-Islamic feeling
AFP (via Yahoo), January 30, 2006
Former US president Bill Clinton warned of rising anti-Islamic prejudice, comparing it to historic anti-Semitism as he condemned the publishing of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.
"So now what are we going to do? ... Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?" he said at an economic conference in the Qatari capital of Doha.
"In Europe, most of the struggles we've had in the past 50 years have been to fight prejudices against Jews, to fight against anti-Semitism," he said.
Clinton described as "appalling" the 12 cartoons published in a Danish newspaper in September depicting Prophet Mohammed and causing uproar in the Muslim world. [complete article]
See also, U.N. urged to ban attack on religion (Aljazeera).
E.U. hands Hamas lifeline but White House acts to cut aid
By Stephen Farrell and Richard Beeston, The Times, January 31, 2006
America and the European Union appeared divided yesterday on whether to halt funding for a Hamas-led Palestinian government, amid fears that oil-rich countries in the region such as Iran could meet any shortfall from the West.
Less than a week after Hamas won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, the Quartet group -- made up of America, the EU, Russia and the United Nations -- met in London to agree a position.
In principle all sides accepted that Hamas must recognise Israel's right to exist and renounce the use of force if it wants to do business with the international community.
But the EU - the most generous donor to the Palestinians with funding of £600 million a year -- decided yesterday that it would continue financing the Palestinian Authority while Hamas attempts to form a government. [complete article]
Hamas leader sets conditions for truce
CNN, January 29, 2006
A leader of Hamas, the militant group that last week became the controlling force in Palestinian politics, laid out a series of conditions Sunday that he said could lead to years of co-existence alongside Israel.
The conditions included Israel's retreating to its pre-1967 borders and releasing Palestinian prisoners.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, the top Hamas official in Gaza, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that a "long-term hudna or long-term truce" is possible. He would not commit to negotiating with Israel and would not say whether recognizing Israel's existence is a long-term possibility. [complete article]
See also, Hamas leader sees no change toward Israelis (NYT)
Comment -- For the average Palestinian to whom Israel's existence is an inescapable presence at hundreds of Israeli-manned checkpoints outside Israel in the occupied terroritories, it must seem agonizingly absurd that the world's political leaders and media would focus so much attention on the question of whether Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist. Israel's existence is a fact while Palestine's existence remains a matter of speculation. Is not the uncertainty of Palestine's right to exist the much more compelling question?
Then there is the issue of Hamas' willingness to renounce violence. As a chorus, President Bush, Foreign Secretary Straw, former president Clinton, Senator Clinton, and Chancellor Merkel, are demanding that Hamas "renounce violence." Does pacifism now have universal appeal in a world that pensively awaits Hamas to take the lead? And if they did, would Israel, the European Union, and the United States also adopt the path of non-violence that Paul Wolfowitz not long ago recommended to all Palestinians when he exhorted them to "adopt the ways of Gandhi"?
But let's not kid ourselves. Hamas is just as unwilling to completely renounce violence as are those who now make the appeal. What the Palestinians and Israelis should both agree on is that each will abandon operations that inevitably result in the loss of innocent life. From that modest yet unambiguous starting point perhaps progress can be made.
Ballot-box win boosts Iraqi radical
By Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 2006
The crowd of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers stretched 10 blocks, blanketing a sprawling boulevard in Sadr City, the Baghdad slum. Loudspeakers rattled as a cleric railed against the US occupation.
Off to the side, Abbas Rubaie, Mr. Sadr's chief political tactician, looked out over the sea of the radical Shiite cleric's supporters who gathered Friday. "The Shiite alliance is the biggest party in parliament and the Sadrists are the biggest bloc in the Shiite alliance," he says. "We cannot be ignored."
When Iraq's election results are certified this week, Sadr is expected to increase his numbers in parliament by 50 percent. That rise will give significant power to the most rigid and anti-US wing of the Shiite bloc, further complicating efforts for the US to maintain influence in Iraq's emerging government.
The Sadrist lawmakers will have about 30 of the Shiite coalition's 128 seats in the new Iraqi parliament, a number equal to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), generally thought to be the most powerful Shiite party. [complete article]
A bomb detonates, and an anchorman tells a story of the war by becoming the story
By Alessandra Stanley, New York Times, January 30, 2006
Bob Woodruff was in Baghdad for ABC reporting the good news that the Bush administration complains is ignored by the news media, and he ended up as a glaring illustration of the bad news.
Mr. Woodruff, the newly named co-anchor of "World News Tonight," spent Friday chatting with friendly Iraqis on the street and slurped ice cream at a popular Baghdad shop to show how some in Iraq are seeking a semblance of normalcy.
Yesterday he and an ABC cameraman, Doug Vogt, were badly wounded while traveling in a routine convoy with Iraqi military forces who are being trained to impose that normalcy and allow American troops to go home. [complete article]
The war within
By Matthew B. Stannard, San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 2006
None of the Marines talked much about the strain that war puts on one's emotions, Miller said. The "wizards" -- military psychologists -- gave the returning troops a briefing on the subject, but nobody paid much attention. Even guys who were taking antidepressants to help them sleep didn't think much about the long-term consequences.
"What the hell are those people going to do once they get out? They ride it out until they get an honorable discharge, and then they're never diagnosed with anything," Miller said. "How the hell are you going to do anything for them after that? And that's how so many of these guys are ending up on the damn streets."
Miller dismissed the early signs, too. When he and his buddies reacted to a truck backfire by dropping into a combat stance and raising imaginary rifles, well, that was to be expected. And when his wife, Jessica -- the childhood sweetheart whom Miller had married in June -- told him he was tightening his arm around her neck in the night, that was strange, but he figured it would pass. So would the nightmares he began to have about Iraq, things that had happened, things that hadn't.
Then one day, while visiting his wife at her college dorm in Pikeville [Kentucky], Miller looked out the window and clearly saw the body of an Iraqi sprawled out on the sidewalk. He turned away. [complete article]
Editorial, Washington Post, January 30, 2006
CIFA, an agency created [by the Pentagon] just under four years ago that now includes nine directorates and more than 1,000 employees, is charged with working to prevent terrorist attacks. Instead, hidden from public and congressional scrutiny, it has repeated the same abuses once committed against war protesters and civil rights activists of the 1960s. In addition to compiling information on Americans who were peaceful political dissenters rather than terrorists, the agency retained reports in its database well beyond a 90-day limit -- a standard adopted in response to the Vietnam-era excesses. [complete article]
See also, ACLU releases government photos (WXIA-TV Atlanta).
Why we listen
By Philip Bobbitt (a former National Security Council senior director), New York Times, January 30, 2006
If we agree that the National Security Agency now needs to trace and analyze large volumes of phone and Internet traffic looking for particular patterns and to cross-reference leads, then it seems clear that traditional, specific warrants may sometimes not be appropriate.
Furthermore, not only are there presumably conspirators within the United States, but conversations between two foreign persons could be routed, via the Internet, through American switches to give the appearance of a domestic-to-international connection. It is difficult to imagine getting warrants now in such situations, because the standard of probable cause to conclude that the target is a terrorist cannot be met.
Indeed, trying to determine just who qualifies as a terrorist agent is the point of the unfocused cross-hatching collection work of the security agency. In such a world, we will need new techniques to protect the identities and privacy of innocent people here and abroad.
This is not to play down the damage done to our war aims by the executive branch's repeated appearance of an indifference to law. A president does have an obligation to assess the constitutionality of statutes, but when he secretly decides a measure is unconstitutional and neglects to say so (much less why), he undermines the very system of public consent for which we are fighting. Having said that, we also must not be so absorbed by questions of statutory construction that we ignore the revolutionary political and technological events that are transforming the world in which our laws must function. [complete article]
Rice admits U.S. underestimated Hamas strength
By Steven Weisman, New York Times, January 30, 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Sunday that the United States had failed to understand the depth of hostility among Palestinians toward their longtime leaders. The hostility led to an election victory by the militant group Hamas that has reduced to tatters crucial assumptions underlying American policies and hopes in the Middle East.
"I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."
Immediately after the election, Bush administration officials said the results reflected a Palestinian desire for change and not necessarily an embrace of Hamas, which the United States, Israel and the European Union consider a terrorist organization sworn to Israel's destruction. But Ms. Rice's comments seemed to reflect a certain second-guessing over how the administration had failed to foresee, or factor into its thinking, the possibility of a Hamas victory.
Indeed, Hamas's victory has set off a debate whether the administration was so wedded to its belief in democracy that it could not see the dangers of holding elections in regions where Islamist groups were strong and democratic institutions weak. [complete article]
Comment -- Since the conventional wisdom (at least as expressed by most Western commentators) is that Hamas' success is a disaster, this begs the question: What would have been a "positive" result? A low turnout and victory for Fatah? Was this the expectation (and cynical hope) in Washington: that after the election the Palestinian Authority would sink deeper into a political quagmire and thereby through its inability to function, legitimize Israel's push for unilateral solutions?
Israel assesses a new reality
By Laura King and Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2006
The triumph of the militant Islamist group Hamas in Palestinian parliamentary elections is forcing Israel to reevaluate virtually every aspect of its complex and highly fraught relationship with the Palestinians.
At issue are the prospects for side-by-side statehood, Israel's economic and diplomatic ties to the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli military's posture in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and ordinary Israelis' visceral response to seeing a feared and hated foe achieve an undreamed-of success. [complete article]
Israelis seek to isolate Palestinian Authority
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, January 30, 2006
Israeli officials sought support for an international boycott of a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, as leaders of the radical Islamic group said Sunday they did not expect the Bush administration to end funding once they form a cabinet in the coming weeks. Doing so would conflict with the democratic values the administration promotes in the region, they said.
"We don't have any fears," said Saed Siyam, a Hamas candidate elected to parliament last week who frequently serves as the group's emissary to the outside world. "The American and the Europeans have an interest in this also. They will be embarrassed in this part of the world if they punish a people simply for expressing their democratic wishes." [complete article]
Hamas asks nations not to cut aid
By Ibrahim Barzak, AP (via WP), January 30, 2006
A Hamas leader asked the international community on Monday not to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority, insisting the money would go toward helping the Palestinian people and Hamas was willing to have its spending monitored. Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza, also said the Islamic militant group is ready to negotiate the terms of continued foreign aid with donor countries. [complete article]
In Hamas's overt hatred, many Israelis see hope
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, January 28, 2006
Arie Schmidt stopped on Saturday to place a pebble on the memorial to the 21 dead at the Dolphinarium disco, killed in a suicide bombing by Hamas in 2001. The dead were mostly teenagers.
Mr. Schmidt sighed, then chained one careful word to the next on what it means that Hamas is now the official Palestinian power. "I tell you," he began, "we think it is actually the best thing that can happen to Israel.
"Because now we see the real face of the Palestinians," said Mr. Schmidt, 56, a computer engineer from Haifa who considers himself neither on the left nor the right. "From their vote we can understand their theory to destroy the state of Israel is not a theory but a fact.
"So," he said, in a conclusion that may not seem immediately logical to outsiders but was repeated again and again in interviews here, "I think it is the best chance for peace. I think Hamas can understand there is no way to destroy the state of Israel and will take a course to peace.
"Hopefully." [complete article]
Now the real test for Hamas
By Will Hutton, The Observer, January 29, 2006
It is a decisive moment in the Middle East. Hamas, victor in the Palestinian elections, may turn out to be Islamic variants of the African National Congress or Sinn Fein, the terrorists who negotiated the only and obvious peace settlement. Or this victory may point to a new era of violence, the despair of the Palestinians legitimising a new wave of terror.
Islamic fundamentalism, the ideology of terrorist suicide bombing and the passionate sense of Palestinian injustice is a lethal combination and Hamas is its most obvious expression. To suppose that Hamas can drop its commitment to liberating all of Palestine and resisting Zionism's claims to the last is to suppose the impossible. Now that its stance has been validated by voters, perhaps nothing can be expected except violence and political impasse.
My hunch is that we can expect better and that Hamas will try to move away from terrorism. For while it may have earned its place in Palestinian regard through its uncompromising role in the intifidas, it has to do something with the political capital it has won. The decision last summer to participate in elections for a legislative council that was created by the Oslo accords it once fiercely opposed was itself a straw in the wind. Hamas always was as much a political as a religious organisation and its political dimension was there for all to see. Now it has won, it is locked in a political, rather than terrorist, dynamic. [complete article]
The Hamas revolution
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, January 29, 2006
Despite the vows of world leaders including Bush and Tony Blair not to deal with Hamas unless it rejects its founding charter obligation to destroy Israel, the real consequences of the victory will be defined by Hamas itself. Decisions it takes in the coming days and weeks will determine the future of the Palestinian people. At once divided and uncertain of its own identity, Hamas is reeling from the scale of its own success. What is certain is that, if it is to succeed, it will inevitably be challenged to make a choice between its two faces: the image of the green-hooded gunmen, rocket teams and suicide bombers of its al-Qassam Brigades which is most dominant in the West, and its expert administrators so admired by the Palestinians.
On election day in Nablus last week both faces were visible, as polite Hamas officials sat outside the polling station in the warren of the Balata refugee camp with a computer, directing voters to where to cast their ballots, against a backdrop of two huge posters of martyrs.
The sense of contradiction within Hamas was reinforced by a visit to the office of Nablus's mayor, Adli Refat Yaish, two days after the election. Exuding a polished, easy-going charm, expressed in faultless English, the mayor talked effusively about Israeli friends he made during his time as a car dealer, although he cannot visit them now. He talked proudly of a recent compliment bestowed on him by an Israeli soldier for his efforts to sort out Nablus's fiscal and administrative chaos, a legacy of Fatah.
The paradox is that Yaish is - as he succinctly puts it - a 'supporter and supported in office' by Hamas. Voted into office in the municipal elections last September which preceded Hamas's victory last week, he represents both the problems and the possibilities of Hamas in office. [complete article]
"Hamas can really be a partner for reform"
Der Spiegel, January 28, 2006
Christian Sterzing [head of a German foundation in Ramallah]: Already in the past months Hamas has become a stabilizing force. It has been the Fatah-allied group al-Aqsa Brigade which has been responsible for violence and attack. Hamas has been able to maintain the ceasefire. It always had its ear close to the ground. Opinion polls show that the Palestinians want negotiations and a two-state solution. If Hamas were to carry out new terrorist attacks and show an uncompromisingly negative attitude towards Israel, it would isolate itself.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said as he cast his vote that weapons and parliamentary representation are not contradictory. One can hardly expect a renunciation of violence.
Sterzing: Nonetheless, Hamas is not only a terrorist organisation, it is also a political force. It is a social movement, which builds kindergartens and provides the hungry with food. This movement has of course the Islamization of society close to heart, and it has a military arm. But one cannot compare it with a terror organization like al-Qaida. [complete article]
See also, Hamas will make a deal (Azzam Tamimi).
Palestine: challenges of transition
By Helena Cobban, Just World News, January 28, 2006
Since Hamas's victory in last Wedesnady's elections most of the MSM in the west-- Israelocentric as ever-- has focused overwhelmingly on "What on earth would this mean for the peace process?"
(As if there had actually, over the past four years existed any peace process! What peace process? Since 2002, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon completely refused to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority-- and he maintained that boycott of peace talks even after the election of Mahmoud Abbas as PA President last January... Ehud Olmert, despite stating that he "wants" to get back into talks with the Palestinians, hasn't gotten around to doing anything about it... So I am still totally mystified by all those "concerned" pundits who say "What will the Hamas victory do to the peace process?" What on earth are they talking about?)
Meanwhile, in the real lives of real Palestinians, chafing under their 39th year of life under foreign military occupation, there will be the huge challenge of trying to assure a peaceful transition of authority from the old Fateh-dominated PA to the newly elected Hamas adminsitration. Ensuring the peacefulness of a political transition from one party to another is a task at the core of democratization... A task that is perhaps even more important than being able to hold a "free and fair" election. [complete article]
Despite victory by Hamas, control of Palestinian security forces remains uncertain
By Greg Myre, New York Times, January 30, 2006
The Islamic militant group Hamas is poised to come to power and gunmen from the rival Fatah movement are strutting in the streets, yet it is not clear who will have effective control over the most heavily armed Palestinian group: the security forces.
Hamas, following its victory over the governing Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections on Wednesday, says that major changes are needed in the security forces. Many of the forces' commanders and rank-and-file members are from Fatah, and many of them have expressed reluctance, or even outright opposition, to a change in their membership. [complete article]
Abbas to resign if Hamas fails to work with foreign powers
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 30, 2006
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has threatened to resign unless Hamas agrees to a government and policies that can win international recognition and continued foreign aid.
A source close to the Palestinian leader said Mr Abbas, who is leader of the Fatah party defeated in last week's general election, has drafted a resignation letter and warned he will submit it if talks with Hamas do not produce an administration that can work with foreign governments.
The two sides have reached broad agreement on the shape of an administration, with Hamas taking cabinet posts relevant to its domestic reform agenda and other parties controlling positions such as foreign affairs and security.
But there remain obstacles over the future of Hamas's armed wing and its insistence that it will not recognise Israel, which are major blocks to foreign cooperation and negotiations. [complete article]
Hamas: The hardliners appear ready to share power, but will their rivals believe it?
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, January 29, 2006
Palestinian hopes of a swift and orderly transition to a new administration in the wake of Hamas's landslide election victory last week were shaken yesterday as activists and gunmen in the defeated Fatah organisation again staged angry protests in the West Bank and Gaza. [complete article]
Hamas' conservative brand of Islam stirs worry among Palestinians
By Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder, January 29, 2006
For more than 40 years, Michel Tabash has made a living selling whiskey, beer, vodka and wine at his small family restaurant nestled in this Christian town between olive groves and a Palestinian refugee camp.
The restaurant has survived war, Israeli occupation and the economy-draining Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which forced the family to shutter its doors for nearly four years. Now, 18 months after reopening, Tabash is worried that he may be forced out of business again - this time by the new Hamas-dominated government.
After decades of secular leadership under the late Yasser Arafat, many Palestinians are bracing for a seismic social shift as Hamas' new legislators propose imposing conservative interpretations of traditional Muslim values, including no alcohol, separation of the sexes and veils for women. [complete article]
CIA expands use of drones in terror war
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2006
Despite protests from other countries, the United States is expanding a top-secret effort to kill suspected terrorists with drone-fired missiles as it pursues an increasingly decentralized Al Qaeda, U.S. officials say.
The CIA's failed Jan. 13 attempt to assassinate Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Zawahiri in Pakistan was the latest strike in the "targeted killing" program, a highly classified initiative that officials say has broadened as the network splintered and fled Afghanistan.
High-ranking U.S. and allied counter-terrorism officials said the program's expansion was not merely geographic. They said it had grown from targeting a small number of senior Al Qaeda commanders after the Sept. 11 attacks to a more loosely defined effort to kill possibly scores of suspected terrorists, depending on where they were found and what they were doing.
"We have the plans in place to do them globally," said a former counter-terrorism official who worked at the CIA and State Department, which coordinates such efforts with other governments.
"In most cases, we need the approval of the host country to do them. However, there are a few countries where the president has decided that we can whack someone without the approval or knowledge of the host government." [complete article]
Spies, lies and wiretaps
Editorial, New York Times, January 29, 2006
A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.
The first was that the domestic spying program is carefully aimed only at people who are actively working with Al Qaeda, when actually it has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans. And the second was that the Bush team could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if only they had thought of eavesdropping without a warrant. [complete article]
By Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas, Newsweek, February 6, 2006
[David] Addington, 49, has worked as an adviser to Dick Cheney off and on since Cheney was a member and Addington a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee in the mid-'80s. When Cheney became secretary of Defense in the Bush 41 administration, Addington served at the Pentagon as general counsel. When Cheney became vice president to Bush 43, he brought Addington into the White House as his lawyer. Counsel to the vice president is, in most administrations, worth less than the proverbial bucket of warm spit, but under Prime Minister Cheney, it became a vital power center, especially after 9/11.
Like his boss, Addington has long believed that the executive branch was pitifully weakened by the backlash from Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Fearful of investigative reporters and congressional subpoenas, soldiers and spies had become timid -- "risk averse" in bureaucratic jargon. To Addington and Cheney, the 9/11 attacks -- and the threat of more and worse to come -- were perfect justification for unleashing the CIA and other long-blunted weapons in the national-security arsenal. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who disdains lawyers, was ready to go. So, too, was CIA Director George Tenet -- but only if his spooks had legal cover, so they wouldn't be left holding the bag if things went wrong.
Addington and a small band of like-minded lawyers set about providing that cover—a legal argument that the power of the president in time of war was virtually untrammeled. One of Addington's first jobs had been to draft a presidential order establishing military commissions to try unlawful combatants -- terrorists caught on the global battlefield. The normal "interagency process" -- getting agreement from lawyers at Defense, State, the intelligence agencies and so forth—proved glacial, as usual. So Addington, working with fellow conservative Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, came up with a solution: cut virtually everyone else out. [complete article]
Guess who likes the G.I.'s in Iraq (look in Iran's halls of power)
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 29, 2006
Not long after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 2003, a top aide to L. Paul Bremer III, then the head of the American occupation authority there, excitedly explained that Iraq had just become the front line in Washington's effort to neutralize Iran as a regional force.
If America could promote a moderate, democratic, American-friendly alternate center of Shiite Islam in Iraq, the official said, it could defang one of its most implacable foes in the Middle East.
Iran, in other words, had for decades been both the theological center of Shiite Islam and a regional sponsor of militant anti-American Islamic groups like Hezbollah. But if westward-looking Shiites — secular or religious — came to power in southern Iraq, they could give the lie to arguments that Shiites had to see America as an enemy.
So far, though, Iran's mullahs aren't feeling much pain from the Americans next door. In fact, officials at all levels of government here say they see the American presence as a source of strength for themselves as they face the Bush administration. [complete article]
Direct talks -- U.S. officials and Iraqi insurgents
Newsweek, February 6, 2006
American officials in Iraq are in face-to-face talks with high-level Iraqi Sunni insurgents, Newsweek has learned. Americans are sitting down with "senior members of the leadership" of the Iraqi insurgency, according to Americans and Iraqis with knowledge of the talks (who did not want to be identified when discussing a sensitive and ongoing matter). The talks are taking place at U.S. military bases in Anbar province, as well as in Jordan and Syria. "Now we have won over the Sunni political leadership," says U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "The next step is to win over the insurgents." The groups include Baathist cells and religious Islamic factions, as well as former Special Republican Guards and intelligence agents, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the talks. Iraq's insurgent groups are reaching back. "We want things from the U.S. side, stopping misconduct by U.S. forces, preventing Iranian intervention," said one prominent insurgent leader from a group called the Army of the Mujahedin, who refused to be named because of the delicacy of the discussions. "We can't achieve that without actual meetings." [complete article]
Peace activists threatened anew
By Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, January 29, 2006
Kidnappers threatened to kill four Christian peace activists seized in November unless authorities released all prisoners held in Iraq, according to a report aired Saturday on Arabic television.
The four gaunt-faced men appeared exhausted but unharmed in a grainy, silent video dated Jan. 21 and broadcast on the al-Jazeera network. The channel's news reader said that their captors, from the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, a little-known group, were giving U.S. and Iraqi authorities a "last chance" to release all prisoners in their custody. Otherwise, they said, the captives' "fate will be death." [complete article]
Mental disorders affect third of Iraq vets
By Olga Pierce, UPI, January 27, 2006
About 40,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been found to show symptoms of mental health disorders, a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) representative said Friday.
In fact, a mental condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) --first recognized during the Vietnam era -- is being diagnosed frequently among troops returning from the Middle East, and the VA has had to adjust its treatments and infrastructure to accommodate this, as well as the changing face of the American soldier. [complete article]
Debate on climate shifts to issue of irreparable change
By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, January 29, 2006
Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.
This "tipping point" scenario has begun to consume many prominent researchers in the United States and abroad, because the answer could determine how drastically countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. While scientists remain uncertain when such a point might occur, many say it is urgent that policymakers cut global carbon dioxide emissions in half over the next 50 years or risk the triggering of changes that would be irreversible. [complete article]
Climate expert says NASA tried to silence him
By Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times, January 29, 2006
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists. [complete article]
U.S. plans to 'fight the net' revealed
By Adam Brookes, BBC, January 27, 2006
A newly declassified document gives a fascinating glimpse into the US military's plans for "information operations" - from psychological operations, to attacks on hostile computer networks.
As the world turns networked, the Pentagon is calculating the military opportunities that computer networks, wireless technologies and the modern media offer.
From influencing public opinion through new media to designing "computer network attack" weapons, the US military is learning to fight an electronic war. [complete article]
Pentagon can now fund foreign militaries
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, January 29, 2006
Congress has granted unusual authority for the Pentagon to spend as much as $200 million of its own budget to aid foreign militaries, a break with the traditional practice of channeling foreign military assistance through the State Department.
The move, included in a little-noticed provision of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act passed last month, marks a legislative victory for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who pushed hard for the new powers to deal with emergency situations.
But it has drawn warnings from foreign policy specialists inside and outside the government, who say it could lead to growth of a separate military assistance effort not subject to the same constraints applied to foreign aid programs that are administered by the State Department. Such constraints are meant to ensure that aid recipients meet certain standards, including respect for human rights and protection of legitimate civilian authorities. [complete article]
CHANGE COMES FROM WITHIN
A little democracy or a genie unbottled
By James Glanz, New York Times, January 29, 2006
The overwhelming sense among politicians and intellectuals in the Middle East last week was that America's little chemistry experiment had blown up in its face. President Bush promoted democracy and free elections as his primary solution to the region's ills -- and when Hamas won in a landslide in the Palestinian elections, the president got results that could not have been more inimical to the interests of the United States and its ally, Israel. [complete article]
Some Palestinians see end of secular dream
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, January 29, 2006
The electoral triumph by Hamas, an organization that is committed to establishing an Islamic state across territory that includes Israel and whose armed wing has carried out bombings and other attacks on Israeli targets, has had repercussions around the world. It upended the Palestinian political order, complicated peace efforts with Israel and threatened the continuation of financial aid from the United States and other Western countries. At the same time, closer to home, it has also clouded the aspirations of a generation of Palestinian nationalists who have served time in jail, in exile and underground for the cause of creating their own secular state. [complete article]
Caught by surprise. Again
By Fareed Zacharia, Newsweek, February 6, 2006
Much is now being written on how Hamas will have to moderate itself to rule. But the next few months, if not years, will be a very rocky ride. If we are to learn something from this experience, it should surely be that now is the time to start building and shoring up the secular groups, the middle-class organizations, the liberal-minded civil society of the Middle East. [complete article]
It's the regime, stupid
By Robert Kagan, Washington Post, January 29, 2006
The Bush administration, despite its doctrine of democratization, has not yet tried to apply it in the one place where ideals and strategic interest most clearly intersect. It has done little to push for political change or to exploit the evident weaknesses in the mullahs' regime. The steps are obvious: Communicate directly to Iran's very westernized population, through radio, the Internet and other media; organize international support for unions and human rights and other civic groups, as well as religious groups that oppose the regime; provide covert support to those willing to use it; and impose sanctions, not so much to stop the nuclear program -- since they probably won't -- but to squeeze the business elite that supports the regime. [complete article]
Comment -- It's noteworthy that neocon political theorist, Robert Kagan, is saying that when it comes to Iran the US should focus its efforts on political reform rather than military confrontation. (It's probably as close as we'll come to witnessing a neocon eating humble pie.) But the neocon hubris is all too evident when it comes to enumerating the supposed instruments of political change.
As commentators increasingly bemoan the Bush administration's failure to empower those elements fostering secular democracy in the Middle East, the glaringly obvious fact that is being glossed over is that the secular "middle class" that lacks influence does so for the simple reason that it lacks size. Feeding the middle class with US-sponsored propaganda won't do anything to change the economic structure of these societies.
If the democracy evangelists are really serious then they should start promoting some farsighted initiatives that truly have the potential to promote the development of secular pluralistic societies. For instance, how about shifting foreign aid away from military assistance to education. Cutting military assistance by 50% would provide enough funds to pay for over a million student scholarships each year. Could graduates from universities in Tehran, Karachi or Ramallah who had gone through college with the support of an American scholarship not do more to promote goodwill than anything Karen Hughes has thus far advocated?
Iran warns of missile strike
By Jason Burke, The Observer, January 29, 2006
Senior Iranian officials further raised tensions with the West yesterday, implicitly warning that Tehran would use missiles to strike Israel or Western forces stationed in the Gulf if attacked.
The statements came as world leaders met at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, with the Middle East high on the agenda. The hardline Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has pressed ahead with a controversial nuclear programme since his election last year.
'The world knows Iran has a ballistic missile power with a range of 2,000km (1,300 miles),' General Yahya Rahim Safavi said on state-run television. 'We have no intention to invade any country [but] we will take effective defence measures if attacked.' [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Finding a place for 9/11 in American history
By Joseph J. Ellis, New York Times, January 28, 2006
Can Hamas bring peace?
By Tony Karon, Time.com, January 27, 2006
The Palestinians' democratic choice must be respected
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, January 26, 2006
Hamas: tests acoming
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, January 26, 2006
Will Hamas turn moderate?
By Orly Halpern, Jerusalem Post, January 27, 2006
Hamas at the helm
By Fotini Christia and Screemati Mitter, New York Times, January 27, 2006
The obligation of the occupied
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, January 25, 2006
Rumsfeld's roadmap to propaganda
National Security Archive, January 26, 2006
The realities of exporting democracy
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, January 25, 2006
Shiite-Kurd goals stymie U.S.
By Borzou Daragahi and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2006
Professionals fleeing Iraq as violence, threats persist
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, January 23, 2006
Witch hunt at UCLA
By Saree Makdisi, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2006
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