5 myths about neoconservatism

The neocon saga couldn’t be more American. It’s a tempestuous drama of Jewish assimilation, from immigrant obscurity on the Lower East Side to the rise of a new foreign policy establishment that sees the United States as the avatar of democracy and foe of genocide. What truly animates the neocons is what they see as the lesson of the Holocaust: that it could have been avoided if the Western democracies had found the courage to stop Hitler in the late 1930s. This helps explain Perle and former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith’s antipathy toward the State Department, which tried to stymie U.S. recognition of Israel at its founding in 1948. Neocons such as Norman Podhoretz scorn the State Department as filled with WASPs who seek to cozy up to the Arab states instead of recognizing Israel’s strategic value and moral importance as a bastion of democracy in a sea of tyranny.

What’s more, the neocons are often to the right of Israel’s government. Feith and National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams scoffed at the idea of land-for-peace talks with the Palestinians, for instance, and Wolfowitz pushed for an invasion of Iraq for which even Ariel Sharon demonstrated no particular enthusiasm. The neocons aren’t Israel’s best advocates, either: The Iraq war has emboldened Iran, fanned the flames of jihadism and made Israel less, not more, secure. Contrary to Wolfowitz’s arguments, the road to peace in Israel turned out not to run through Baghdad.

Shia call on Mehdi Army to take up arms again in Iraq

In the alleys of the ancient district of al-Salaikh in Baghdad, a Shia family fought a fierce gun battle with Sunni militiamen who tried to stop them reoccupying their house from which they had been forced to flee months earlier.

The Shia family got the worst of the fighting and, after suffering seven dead, sent a desperate message asking for help to the Mehdi Army, the powerful Shia militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that once would have rushed to defend them. On this occasion, however, the local Mehdi Army commander turned them down, saying: “We can do nothing because we are under orders not to break the ceasefire.”

It is this six-month ceasefire, declared on 29 August last year by Mr Sadr, which American commanders say is responsible for cutting much of the violence in Iraq. But the ceasefire will expire in the next few weeks and political and military leaders loyal to Mr Sadr are advising him not to renew it.

Three were waterboarded, CIA chief confirms

Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Hayden said the CIA had ceased using waterboarding nearly five years ago, but he made a vigorous case for preserving the agency’s ability to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

Information provided by two of the waterboarded prisoners, Mohammed and Zubaydah, accounted for 25% of the human intelligence reports circulated by the CIA on Al Qaeda in the five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Hayden said.

Editor’s Comment — Presumably, before the Director of the CIA went up to Capitol Hill he got some pre-game coaching. Did he get it from Coach Bush this time around? We know that Bush authorized Hayden’s account. Maybe Bush even went so far as to recommend referencing the 25%.

A quarter of the human intelligence. Sounds like a lot — at least I imagine it sounds like a lot to Bush.

But then again, if a quarter of the human intelligence on al Qaeda over a five-year period came from two men who were held captive for most of that period, and if one of them was, as the FBI said, “insane, certifiable,” a quarter probably amounts to a big chunk of a thimbleful.

AP confirms secret camp inside Gitmo

Somewhere amid the cactus-studded hills on this sprawling Navy base, separate from the cells where hundreds of men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban have been locked up for years, is a place even more closely guarded — a jailhouse so protected that its very location is top secret.

For the first time, the top commander of detention operations at Guantanamo has confirmed the existence of the mysterious Camp 7. In an interview with The Associated Press, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby also provided a few details about the maximum-security lockup.

Hamas’ Iran envoy: More attacks on Israel coming

Israel can expect a wave of suicide bombings inside its 1967 borders, not just the West Bank, Hamas’ representative in Iran said Wednesday. The announcement came as Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip launched at least 10 Qassam rockets into Israel, lightly wounding a two-year-old girl and 12-year-old girl.

In a statement on Hamas’ Internet site signed by the organization’s delegate to Iran, Dr. Abu-Osama Abed Al-Ma’ati, the suicide attack that occurred earlier this week in Dimona was described as the beginning of a new wave of similar actions.

“We ceased to carry out these attack for a year, but the enemy persisted with its aggression and the violations to the cease-fire. The Dimona attack is a message. That message is that Iz al-Din al-Qassam has renewed the suicide attacks,” the message said, referring to the Islamist organization’s military wing.

Senior Hamas officials have said that the organization uses such online announcements to declare a change in tactics or policy. Showing consistency with the organization’s line from Iran, Hamas’ spokesmen in Gaza said the organization will continue to mount “resistance” and carry on with the suicide attacks.

Editor’s Comment — For the last few years, there has been in the West a small constituency of voices insisting that Western governments need to take account of the political reality of the major Islamist movements. The call has gone out: talk to Hamas, to Hezbollah, to the Muslim Brotherhood — ignoring them won’t make them go away. Hamas’ latest move is sure to make that small constituency shrink even smaller.

The terrorists’ paper trail in Iraq

More than 600 captured personnel files of foreigners who joined the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq tell the individual stories of Muslim extremists who made the difficult journey to Iraq—and most likely died or were captured there.

According to the paperwork, Abdallah Awlad al-Tumi met his recruiter at a large mosque in Dublin. Al-Tumi, who was 36, took a flight from Turkey to Syria before entering Iraq, carrying his marriage certificate, a knife, and $5,000 in cash. His occupation back home: “massage specialist.”

But the records, which were analyzed and released by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also point out a trait that has been unique to al Qaeda and many of its offshoots: They are surprisingly bureaucratic. “Al Qaeda is different from any other terror group in history because it was so large and had such a sophisticated logistical structure,” says Bruce Hoffman, an expert on terrorist groups who teaches at Georgetown University. “It’s a bureaucratic pathology.”

The president who would be king

is spiraling downward. Terrorist strikes in Kabul and an assassination campaign against local officials, schoolteachers and religious figures in the southern provinces have illustrated the reach of the Taliban and the vulnerability of the government.

The common reaction of the United States and Afghanistan’s other foreign backers has been to call for more international troops and to reaffirm their commitment to the government of President Hamid Karzai. But this approach has done little to alter the situation, because the root causes of Afghanistan’s deepest ills lie elsewhere.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitution is inappropriate and ineffective. The strong presidential system it embodies has not served the country well.

The hyphenated American

In the parlance of hyphenated identities, Nelson Agelvis would be an ‘American-Venezuelan’. He was born in Venezuela, grew up in Kansas City, speaks with an American Midwest twang, and now teaches media studies in Caracas. But he says such labels, and hyphenated identities in general, are “uniquely American.”

We listen together to Super Tuesday coverage on the radio of his Ford Explorer. As American pundits ponder the possibility of the “first female president”, or “the first African-American president,” Nelson wonders aloud if such distinctions cause the U.S. more harm than good.

Five reasons Hillary should be worried

Hillary Clinton survived a Super Tuesday scare. But there are five big reasons the former first lady should be spooked by the current trajectory of the campaign.

Longtime Clinton friends say she recognizes the peril in careening between near-death primary night experiences and small-bore victories.

Although the friends did not have details, they believe she may go ahead with the campaign shake-up she had been planning just before her surprise victory in New Hampshire.

Obama claims delegate lead

In a surprise twist after a chaotic Super Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) passed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in network tallies of the number of delegates the candidates racked up last night.

The Obama camp now projects topping Clinton by 13 delegates, 847 to 834.

NBC News, which is projecting delegates based on the Democratic Party’s complex formula, figures Obama will wind up with 840 to 849 delegates, versus 829 to 838 for Clinton.

Obama on pace to raise $30 mil in Feb

Barack Obama’s campaign is on track to raise another $30 million in February, sources close to the Illinois senator say, while Hillary Rodham Clinton’s spokesman revealed Wednesday that she had loaned her campaign $5 million.

Insiders in both campaigns say the growing financial disparity virtually ensures that Obama will be able to significantly outspend Clinton in the critical primaries to come.

Even before all the Super Tuesday votes were counted, Obama began airing advertisements in Nebraska, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Maine — the next round of primary and caucus states — before Clinton did.

Languages evolve in sudden leaps, not creeps

Language evolves in sudden leaps, according to a statistical study of three major language groups. The finding challenges the slow-and-steady model held by many linguists and matches evidence that genetic evolution follows a similar path.

Mark Pagel from the University of Reading in the UK and colleagues applied statistical tools commonly used in biology to the analysis of three of the world’s major language groups: Indo-European, Austronesian, and Bantu.

By comparing commonly used words within each language group, they were able to identify the extent to which languages within a group diverged from the others. This enabled them to build a family tree, charting the divergence of one “mother tongue” into hundreds of daughter languages.

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