While Barack Obama’s speech on race earlier this week was geared primarily toward domestic concerns, as an American of Middle Eastern origin, watching from a café in Jordan, I was struck by the possibilities it offered not only for race relations at home, but for our relationship with Arabs and Muslims abroad.
Obama declared that “the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding.” He was speaking, of course, about the legacy of slavery and segregation. But he might as well have been talking about the burgeoning anger toward America felt by millions of frustrated Muslims around the world. And the conversation Obama tried to initiate — contextualizing radicalism and seeking its source rather than merely denouncing it — is the sort of conversation that could also lay the groundwork for a long-overdue reassessment of our approach to the Middle East. [complete article]
What Muslims think
[Interview of Prof. John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed — authors of, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think]
Have we learned more about Muslims than we knew in 2001?
We did a survey of Americans in 2002, asking what they knew about the beliefs and opinions of Muslims around the world. Fifty-four percent said they knew nothing or not much. We asked that same question in 2007, after we’ve had two wars and a great deal more media coverage of Muslims, and this time 57 percent said they knew nothing or not much. We are no closer to truly understanding this part of the world, even as we are more engaged with it.
Editor’s Comment — In a January interview with the French magazine, Paris Match, Obama said: “Once I’m elected, I want to organize a summit in the Muslim world, with all the heads of state, to have an honest discussion about ways to bridge the gap that grows every day between Muslims and the West.”
Sounds like a smart idea, yet none of the other candidates have supported it and groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition said that they regarded the proposal as deeply troubling. Small wonder so many people say they understand less about Muslims now than they did in 2002. There are political powers that have too heavy an investment in perpetuating the ignorance of ordinary Americans.
U.S. toll in Iraq reaches 4,000
Four U.S. soldiers were killed when a bomb hit their vehicle in south Baghdad late Sunday, bringing the number of U.S. service members killed in the Iraq war to 4,000.
The grim milestone came at a time when attacks against the U.S. military are ebbing and officials have claimed significant progress against Iraq’s deadly insurgency and sectarian violence. It was reached about 10 p.m. on a day when more than 60 Iraqis were killed and dozens injured in attacks in Baghdad and north of the capital.
The Battle of Baghdad
Over the course of five years, Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, has been transformed from a metropolis into an urban desert of half-destroyed buildings and next to no public services, dotted by partially deserted, mutually hostile mini-ghettos that used to be neighborhoods, surrounded by cement barriers reminiscent of medieval fortifications. The most prominent of these ghettos is the heavily fortified city-inside-a-city dubbed the Green Zone, where Iraq’s most fearsome militia, the United States military, is headquartered. It is governed by the Americans and by the American-sponsored Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.
The remaining ghettos, large and small, are governed by local militias, most of them sworn enemies of the United States and the Maliki regime. In the expanding Shia areas of the capital, the local guardians are often members of the Mahdi Army, the militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that has opposed the American presence since the occupation began. In the shrinking Sunni-controlled parts of the city, the local guardians are usually members of the Sahwa forces (the “Awakening” or, in U.S. military jargon, “Concerned Local Citizens”). The Americans have ceded to them control of their cement-enclosed domains as long as they discontinue insurgent attacks elsewhere.
The U.S. Military Index
In an exclusive new index, Foreign Policy and the Center for a New American Security surveyed more than 3,400 active and retired officers at the highest levels of command about the state of the U.S. military. They see a force stretched dangerously thin and a country ill-prepared for the next fight.
Sixty percent say the U.S. military is weaker today than it was five years ago. Asked why, more than half cite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the pace of troop deployments those conflicts require. More than half the officers say the military is weaker than it was either 10 or 15 years ago. But asked whether “the demands of the war in Iraq have broken the U.S. military,” 56 percent of the officers say they disagree. That is not to say, however, that they are without concern. Nearly 90 percent say that they believe the demands of the war in Iraq have “stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin.”
Clinton backer points to Electoral College votes as new measure
Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who backs Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, proposed another gauge Sunday by which superdelegates might judge whether to support Mrs. Clinton or Senator Barack Obama.
He suggested that they consider the electoral votes of the states that each of them has won.
“So who carried the states with the most Electoral College votes is an important factor to consider because ultimately, that’s how we choose the president of the United States,” Mr. Bayh said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Many Democrats, including Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Bayh, have opposed the Electoral College in the past, particularly after 2000, when Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to George W. Bush, who became president, even though Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, had won the popular vote nationwide.
At the time, Mrs. Clinton, who had just been elected to the Senate, said, “I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”
Hillary’s Balkan adventures, part II
Hillary Clinton has been regaling supporters on the campaign trail with hair-raising tales of a trip she made to Bosnia in March 1996. In her retelling, she was sent to places that her husband, President Clinton, could not go because they were “too dangerous.” When her account was challenged by one of her traveling companions, the comedian Sinbad, she upped the ante and injected even more drama into the story. In a speech earlier this week, she talked about “landing under sniper fire” and running for safety with “our heads down.”
According to Sinbad, who provided entertainment on the trip along with the singer Sheryl Crow, the “scariest” part was deciding where to eat. As he told Mary Ann Akers of The Post, “I think the only ‘red-phone’ moment was: ‘Do we eat here or at the next place.'” Sinbad questioned the premise behind the Clinton version of events. “What kind of president would say ‘Hey man, I can’t go ’cause I might get shot so I’m going to send my wife. Oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.”
Obama Aide: Bill Clinton Like McCarthy
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign is trying to clarify comments by former President Clinton that seemed to question Barack Obama’s patriotism—comments an Obama aide likened to Joseph McCarthy.
Clinton’s campaign said the comments were being misinterpreted and quickly posted a clarification on its Web site. But retired Air Force Gen. Merrill “Tony” McPeak said he was disappointed by the comments and compared them to those of McCarthy, the 1950s communist-hunting senator.
The former president made the comments while speculating about a general election between his wife and Republican John McCain.
“I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country,” said Clinton, who was speaking to a group of veterans Friday in Charlotte, N.C. “And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.”
Story behind the story: The Clinton myth
One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.
Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.
Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.
People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.
Dick Cheney’s error
On Wednesday, reminded of the public’s disapproval of the war in Iraq, now five years old, the vice president shrugged off that fact (and thus, the people themselves) with a one-word answer: “So?”
“So,” Mr. Vice President?
Policy, Cheney went on to say, should not be tailored to fit fluctuations in the public attitudes. If there is one thing public attitudes have not been doing, however, it is fluctuating: Resistance to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy has been widespread, entrenched and consistent. Whether public opinion is right or wrong, it is not to be cavalierly dismissed.
U.S. pushed allies on Iraq, diplomat writes
In the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration threatened trade reprisals against friendly countries who withheld their support, spied on its allies, and pressed for the recall of U.N. envoys that resisted U.S. pressure to endorse the war, according to an upcoming book by a top Chilean diplomat.
The rough-and-tumble diplomatic strategy has generated lasting “bitterness” and “deep mistrust” in Washington’s relations with allies in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, Heraldo Munoz, Chile’s ambassador to the United Nations, writes in his book “A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons,” set for publication next month.
“In the aftermath of the invasion, allies loyal to the United States were rejected, mocked and even punished” for their refusal to back a U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein’s government, Munoz writes.
But the tough talk dissipated as the war situation worsened, and President Bush came to reach out to many of the same allies that he had spurned. Munoz’s account suggests that the U.S. strategy backfired in Latin America, damaging the administration’s standing in a region that has long been dubious of U.S. military intervention.
Administration puts its best spin on Iran report
Comments last week by President Bush and Vice President Cheney suggested continuing White House unhappiness at the conclusions of last December’s national intelligence estimate on Iran’s nuclear program.
Bush told U.S.-funded Radio Farda, which broadcasts into Iran in Farsi, that Iranian leaders have “declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” a statement that went well beyond the findings of the NIE.
Cheney, meanwhile, jousted with ABC’s Martha Raddatz when she tried to pin him down on whether he agreed with the NIE’s finding that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Despite having several opportunities to endorse this finding, the vice president said in an interview only that “I have high confidence they have an ongoing enrichment program.”
U.S. may relent on Hamas role in talks
After ruling out talks with Hamas, the militant Islamist group, the Bush administration is using Egypt as an intermediary to open a channel between Israel and representatives of the group, in what some diplomats say could be a softening of the American stance.
While administration officials still say they do not plan to deal directly with Hamas, the United States has given tacit support to an attempt by Egyptian officials to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the mediation attempt with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Cairo early this month, and with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, administration officials said. Egyptian civilian intelligence officials are the go-betweens, Arab diplomats said.