No Manchurian candidate

I believe Barack Obama is a strong but not uncritical supporter of Israel. That is what the Middle East needs from an American leader: the balance implied by a two-state solution.

Yet it’s a tough position for Obama to hold in this presidential campaign because his Jewish credentials are under intense scrutiny.
Jews should get over the scaremongering: Obama is no Manchurian. Nor is he blind to the fact that backing Israel is not enough if the backing gives carte blanche for the subjugation of another people.

Behind Obama and Clinton

Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.

Clinton wins tacit support of Israeli establishment
Among mainstream Israeli commentators, there is little argument that the outgoing Republican Administration, with its invasion of Iraq, war against terrorism and strong line against Iran, has been the closest yet to Israel’s own world view.

Yet although the race to succeed Mr Bush has narrowed to a choice between John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Republican candidate is not the one the Israeli establishment would most like to see in the White House.

That unofficial honour goes to Senator Clinton, who Palestinians accuse of taking an increasingly one-sided approach to the Middle East conflict. Visiting the region in 2005 as senator for New York, Senator Clinton shunned the Palestinians completely, meeting only Israeli leaders and hearing and expressing only Israeli positions. She particularly galled Palestinians by enthusiastically backing the 700-kilometre complex of walls and fences that Israel is building inside the West Bank.

Barack Obama makes his case
Asked what he thinks is the biggest difference between himself and Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama told Kroft, “I think Senator Clinton is smart and can be an effective advocate. But I think that the biggest difference is that Senator Clinton accepts the rules of the game as they are set up. She accepts money from PACs and lobbyists. I don’t accept that politics has to be driven by those special interests and lobbyists.”

For Clinton, Ohio and Texas emerge as key states to win
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advisers increasingly believe that, after a series of losses, she has been boxed into a must-win position in the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, and she has begun reassuring anxious donors and superdelegates that the nomination is not slipping away from her, aides said on Monday.

Mrs. Clinton held a buck-up-the-troops conference call on Monday with donors, superdelegates and other supporters; several said afterward that she had sounded tired and a little down, but determined about Ohio and Texas.

Israel’s secret success

If we cannot summon the determination it would take for a complete pullback, might the world, led by the United States, try to force us to withdraw? It might, but it probably won’t, so we are most likely looking at some sort of single state, bi-national state or confederation. What matters is that we are acting from a position of strength, and we ought to be investing our energy and creativity in working out a long-term solution with the Palestinians that will be acceptable to both of us.

What we should not be doing is what we are doing now: besieging and blacking out Gaza, killing and arresting dozens of Palestinians in the occupied territories every month, and constructing walls and fences between us and our neighbors.

The most recent suicide bombing in southern Israel has predictably prompted calls for a new barrier along our 145-mile Egyptian border. This is unreasonable. Walls, as recent events have shown, can be breached. Palestinian terrorism against civilians has decreased over the past years, even though the barrier separating Israel and the West Bank has many large gaps. It is illogical to suppose that this incomplete wall is the factor that has reduced terrorism.

Israeli minister: We should level Gaza neighborhoods
Tempers heated Sunday as cabinet ministers discussed the ongoing Qassam fire on Sderot and the situation in Gaza.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit suggested obliterating a Gaza neighborhood in response to Saturday’s Qassam fire on Sderot, saying “any other country would have already gone in and level the area, which is exactly what I thing the IDF should do – decide on a neighborhood in Gaza and level it.”

IDF to step up Gaza assassinations
The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet internal security service are preparing to step up assassinations against key Hamas figures in the Gaza Strip in response to the continued Qassam rocket attacks against Sderot. The renewed campaign of targeted killings is not likely, at this stage, to include members of the Hamas political leadership.

Hamas leaders go into hiding as Israel plans targeted killings
Leaders of the ruling Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip have scaled back their public appearances and stepped up other security measures, fearing Israeli assassination attempts in response to a wave of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, Hamas officials said Monday.

New Hamas tactic: Bomb Israel into a truce
The message: henceforth, every Israeli operation will result in a similar response. Hamas is hoping that Israel will agree, after repeated bombing of Sderot, to a tahdiye (calm) in the territories, and even believe they can bring about an end to the arrests that the IDF is carrying out in the West Bank.

Behind the Hamas decision lies the assumption that the Israeli leadership is wary of a large-scale ground operation. This is based on the traumatic experience of the Second Lebanon War and Israeli concern that it may suffer heavy casualties. Senior officials in the Islamic organization believe that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is too concerned with his political future to risk initiating a broad IDF operation in the Strip.

Gates endorses pause in Iraq troop withdrawals
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday publicly endorsed the concept of holding steady the troop levels in Iraq, at least temporarily, after the departure this summer of five extra combat brigades sent last year as part of “the surge.”

America’s failure in Afghanistan
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been putting pressure on Germany to up its commitment to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. But some in Germany say it is America’s violence, not Berlin’s reluctance, that is the problem.

Flawed by design

…most of the NATO nations agreed to send troops on the premise that they’d be engaged in peacekeeping, not warfighting.

Then, in the spring of 2006, the Taliban threw a wrench in the works by staging offensives throughout southern Afghanistan—a huge area, about the size of Germany—after four years of relative calm. (Actually, they’d been infiltrating the region all this time; they resumed their offensives only to resist the returning Western troops.)

The alliance isn’t “evolving into a two-tiered alliance,” as Gates said. When it comes to Afghanistan, it’s been that kind of alliance from the start. As the fighting has grown fiercer, the inadequacies of this crazy quilt have become clearer.

NATO at twilight

NATO is no longer a fighting organization. Keeping the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out no longer demands the sort of exertion that was required half a century ago. If the alliance retains any value, it is as an institution for consolidating European integration and prosperity.

No amount of browbeating by the United States is going to change that. The Bush administration is kidding itself if it expects Europeans to save the day in Afghanistan. To think of NATO as a great alliance makes about as much sense as thinking of Pittsburgh as the Steel City or of Detroit as the car capital of the world. It’s sheer nostalgia.

Welcome to Cyberwar Country, USA
When a reporter enters the Air Force office of William Lord, a smile comes quickly to the two-star general’s face as he darts from behind his immaculate desk to shake hands. Then, as an afterthought, he steps back and shuts his laptop as though holstering a sidearm.

Lord, boyish and enthusiastic, is a new kind of Air Force warrior — the provisional chief of the service’s first new major command since the early 1990s, the Cyber Command. With thousands of posts and enough bandwidth to choke a horse, the Cyber Command is dedicated to the proposition that the next war will be fought in the electromagnetic spectrum, and that computers are military weapons. In a windowless building across the base, Lord’s cyber warriors are already perched 24 hours a day before banks of monitors, scanning Air Force networks for signs of hostile incursion.

Musharraf’s approval rating plummets
A week before Pakistanis vote in parliamentary elections, President Pervez Musharraf’s popularity has hit an all-time low and opposition parties seem capable of a landslide victory that could jeopardize his efforts to cling to power, according to a poll to be released Monday.

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