Archives for April 2008

NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: April 30

A progressive antidote to AIPAC

Nothing is more urgently needed in our political discourse than for the taboo against speaking forthrightly about Israel to be overthrown. After all, notwithstanding its profound connection to some American Jews and its (partly justified) status as a beloved icon with whom we have a “special relationship,” Israel is not the 51st state — it is a foreign country, and one smack-dab in the center of the Middle East, a region in which we have some considerable national interest. The enforced silence about Israel has prevented us from thinking clearly about the Middle East, and helped enable both the disastrous war we are now fighting in Iraq and a possible future one against Iran.

God bless Richard Nixon

Turns out the presidential prayer is quite a youngster and only just turned 35. “Tonight, I ask for your prayers to help me in everything that I do throughout the days of my presidency. God bless America and God bless each and every one of you.” Richard Nixon, April 30, 1973

National Watermelon Month

Americans are pumping their paychecks into their gas tanks, and the economy is in a stall. Food scarcities threaten governments overseas and spur hoarding at home. Foreclosures are up, home sales are down. Progress in Iraq and Afghanistan is halting.

Despite this confluence of crises on the nation’s doorstep, official Washington is beset by election-year inertia. After a fleeting bipartisan moment in January produced the rebate checks that began going out this week, the House and Senate floors have been given over to partisan sniping and small-bore bills. The House voted Tuesday to designate National Watermelon Month and National Funeral Director and Mortician Recognition Day.

Driving hunger

Some top international food scientists Tuesday recommended halting the use of food-based biofuels, such as ethanol, saying it would cut corn prices by 20 percent during a world food crisis.

But even as the scientists were calling for a moratorium, President Bush urged the opposite. He declared the United States should increase ethanol use because of national energy security and high gas prices.

“A fantastic time to be farming”

Across the country, ethanol plants are swallowing more and more of the nation’s corn crop. This year, about a quarter of U.S. corn will go to feeding ethanol plants instead of poultry or livestock.

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CAMPAIGN 08: Respecting Wright

Wright, Jefferson and the wrath of God

The right response to the controversy that has been generated with regard to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. is not to run away from the United Church of Christ pastor, to condemn him, or to try to apologize for him.

Rather, it is to listen to him and to recognize that Wright’s not the disease that afflicts our body politic.

Indeed, this former Marine who became an remarkably-successful and widely-respected religious leader is in possession of the balm that has frequently proven to be the cure for what ails America — an eyes-wide-open faith in the prospect that this country can and will put aside the sins of the past and forge a future that is as just as it is righteous.

As Wright has illustrated over the past several days, in a remarkable appearance Friday on PBS’ Bill Moyers Journal and in speeches to the Detroit NAACP and the National Press Club in Washington, he is the opposite of the caricature of an angry, America-hating false prophet that has been so crudely attached to him. Deeply grounded in biblical tradition, nuanced in his understanding of race relations and historically experienced in his assessments of America’s strengths and weaknesses, he has much to say to this country at this time.

Not all of what Wright says is comforting.

Nor are his views universally appealing or entirely unassailable.

But they are very much within the mainstream of American religious and political discourse.

The problem is not Jeremiah Wright.

The problem is a contemporary political culture that has come to rely on character assassination as an easy tool for reversing electoral misfortune — and a media that willingly invites manipulation. [complete article]

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EDITORIAL: Dealing with the Wright issue

How should Obama respond to the Wright issue?

Clarity should always come first.

What is “the Wright issue”?

As defined by the media, it is a question about whether Barak Obama’s association with Rev Jeremiah Wright undermines his credibility and viability as the would-be Democratic nominee.

This would be a serious question were it not for the fact that this issue has been raised, shaped, amplified and given all its gravity by the media itself. The media is by no stretch of the imagination a neutral party here.

Obama needs to distance himself from Wright simply by stating the obvious:

Rev Wright is a free agent who does not and never has represented my campaign. He has neither offered nor been asked to endorse me.

To the extent that he has become an issue in the campaign, this reflects choices made inside editorial meetings in newsrooms across America where every day important decisions are made about what is relevant or irrelevant to the news coverage of a presidential campaign.

If Americans want to better understand why so much attention is now being given to Wright, the clearest explanation will come from within the newsrooms that are now covering the story. If the media would like to bring more transparency to the way it operates, I would welcome this as I am sure would the American people.

Can we expect the media to now turn around and examine and expose itself? It’s hardly likely. On the contrary, what seems to be at work now is a kind of mob frenzy. Jeremiah Wright did the unforgivable yesterday when he mocked the press at the National Press Club.

Wright protests that he has been lynched by the media and an indignant, overwhelmingly white press corp, stung by the insult wants to see Obama show due deference to the tribe whose favor he cannot dismiss by now dipping his hands in Wright’s blood. The media wants Obama, in the most graceful of terms, to say that Wright has in full measure received the opprobrium he deserves. The media wants to be flattered by being able to sustain the illusion that it is and always has been an innocent witness to this spectacle.

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GLOBAL BRIEFING: Obama’s former pastor speaks out

Obama’s former pastor speaks out

Summary – In the protracted and bitter contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as they seek the Democratic nomination, the subject that interests the media above all else is the controversy surrounding Mr Obama’s former pastor, the Rev Jeremiah Wright. Adding fuel to the controversy, Mr Wright has embarked on a ‘media blitz’ in order to set the record straight. Elsewhere, in Nepal the Maoists fail to win a majority in parliament but are expected to become the governing party. [complete article]

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EDITORIAL: The Wright prism

The Wright prism

Isn’t it curious that so much attention can focus on one man and the manner in which he expresses himself, yet at the same time so little attention is paid to what he says.

Anyone who is not already aware of the depth and subtlety of Rev Jeremiah’s thought should take the time to listen to him being interviewed by Bill Moyers. As for today, all the hubbub is around Wright’s performance at the National Press Club where he committed a cardinal sin: he mocked the media.

The media itself is now implicitly laying down a challenge to the American people: Will you pick your next president on the basis of how you feel about his pastor?

The separation between Church and State has apparently utterly dissolved. Then again, the candidate did say on Sunday that questions about Wright were “a legitimate political issue.”

In that case, maybe it’s worth reading a central passage from his speech this morning. From what I can tell, most of the press were apparently half asleep during this part of the event since from the reports I’ve seen, no one found anything here that merited repetition:

Reconciliation, the years have taught me, is where the hardest work is found for those of us in the Christian faith, however, because it means some critical thinking and some re-examination of faulty assumptions when using the paradigm of Dr. William Augustus Jones.

Dr. Jones, in his book, God in the Ghetto, argues quite accurately that one’s theology, how I see God, determines one’s anthropology, how I see humans, and one’s anthropology then determines one’s sociology, how I order my society.

Now, the implications from the outside are obvious. If I see God as male, if I see God as white male, if I see God as superior, as God over us and not Immanuel, which means “God with us,” if I see God as mean, vengeful, authoritarian, sexist, or misogynist, then I see humans through that lens.

My theological lens shapes my anthropological lens. And as a result, white males are superior; all others are inferior.

And I order my society where I can worship God on Sunday morning wearing a black clergy robe and kill others on Sunday evening wearing a white Klan robe. I can have laws which favor whites over blacks in America or South Africa. I can construct a theology of apartheid in the Africana church (ph) and a theology of white supremacy in the North American or Germanic church.

The implications from the outset are obvious, but then the complicated work is left to be done, as you dig deeper into the constructs, which tradition, habit, and hermeneutics put on your plate.

To say “I am a Christian” is not enough. Why? Because the Christianity of the slaveholder is not the Christianity of the slave. The God to whom the slaveholders pray as they ride on the decks of the slave ship is not the God to whom the enslaved are praying as they ride beneath the decks on that slave ship.

How we are seeing God, our theology, is not the same. And what we both mean when we say “I am a Christian” is not the same thing. The prophetic theology of the black church has always seen and still sees all of God’s children as sisters and brothers, equals who need reconciliation, who need to be reconciled as equals in order for us to walk together into the future which God has prepared for us.

Reconciliation does not mean that blacks become whites or whites become blacks and Hispanics become Asian or that Asians become Europeans.

Reconciliation means we embrace our individual rich histories, all of them. We retain who we are as persons of different cultures, while acknowledging that those of other cultures are not superior or inferior to us. They are just different from us.

We root out any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred, or prejudice.

And we recognize for the first time in modern history in the West that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles, and different dance moves, that other is one of God’s children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness, just as we are.

Only then will liberation, transformation, and reconciliation become realities and cease being ever elusive ideals.

So, let’s see if I can encapsulate Wright’s message in a pithy little statement – the kind that any journalist could use if they wanted to accurately characterize this controversial minister’s preaching:

The task of reconciliation hinges on our ability to see each other as equals even while we recognize our differences.

Hmmm…. What a radical statement! What a hateful ministry! Who on earth would dream of choosing as their president someone whose pastor would preach such a thing?

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP, EDITOR’S COMMENT & GLOBAL BRIEFING: April 28

Evidence-based bombing

It looks as if Israel may, in fact, have had reason to believe that Syria was constructing, with the aid and assistance of North Korea, a facility capable of housing a nuclear reactor. The United States Central Intelligence Agency recently released a series of images, believed to have been made from a videotape obtained from Israeli intelligence, which provide convincing, if not incontrovertible, evidence that the “unused military building” under construction in eastern Syria was, in fact, intended to be used as a nuclear reactor. Syria continues to deny such allegations as false.

On the surface, the revelations seem to bolster justification not only for the Israeli air strike of September 6 2007, which destroyed the facility weeks or months before it is assessed to have been ready for operations, but also the hard-line stance taken by the administration of President George W Bush toward both Syria and North Korea regarding their alleged covert nuclear cooperation. In the aftermath of the Israeli air strike, Syria razed the destroyed facility and built a new one in its stead, ensuring that no follow-up investigation would be able to ascertain precisely what had transpired there.

Largely overlooked in the wake of the US revelations is the fact that, even if the US intelligence is accurate (and there is no reason to doubt, at this stage, that it is not), Syria had committed no crime, and Israel had no legal justification to carry out its attack. Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, is required to provide information on the construction of any facility involved in nuclear activity “as early as possible before nuclear material is introduced to a new facility”. There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction.

Editor’s Comment — If former UN weapons inspector and stalwart critic of the war in Iraq, Scott Ritter, says there’s no reason at this stage to doubt the accuracy of the intelligence on the Syrian reactor, is this enough to quieten those who seemed convinced that this must be a hoax? Maybe, maybe not.

The story at this point, as far as I’m concerned, is not about the intelligence — it’s political. And to delve into the political implications, we need to look at the context. On the one hand, the fact that this came out now clearly may have something to do with the efforts of those who want to undermine the six-party talks with North Korea. On the other hand, it may have as much to do with Israel and Syria’s moves towards peace. And while the story could have been pushed to undermine those moves, it could also have been a way of pushing the issue off the table. If at the end of the day Assad can claim victory in having reclaimed the Golan Heights, the loss of a clandestine nuclear program is one he has already had to quietly write off — it no longer risks being a knot that ties up negotiations. That isn’t to jusify Israel’s unilateralism, but it might explain, in part, why they did what they did.

Iraq’s dance: Maliki, Sadr and Sunnis

…the idea of Sadr becoming a nonviolent actor in Iraqi politics is all but gone after a month of almost daily street fighting between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi government forces backed by the Americans. Sadr appears now more than ever a militia leader, and the door allowing him to step into Green Zone deal-making seems closed. That means Sadr and his Mahdi Army are quickly becoming the major hardened mass resistance group to the Iraqi government and its U.S. supporters. Even if Maliki strikes a reconciliation deal with Sunni factions, his government will know no peace — and hold little legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis. In addition to commanding up to 60,000 militia fighters, Sadr has a popular following throughout southern Iraq and Baghdad. Sadr is, quite simply, the most powerful political player in the country, and any government without some meaningful inclusion of his following is unlikely to succeed in consolidating authority on a national scale.

Mccain vs. Mccain

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama’s suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain’s proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

Global Briefing: Israel and Syria make moves towards peace

Summary – Israel indicates readiness to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria, while Turkey offers mediation through ‘proactive peace diplomacy’. In southern Lebanon, Hizbollah expands its fighting capabilities though UN peacekeeping general is not alarmed. The Afghanistan president Karzai survives assassination attempt and is critical of US and Britain’s conduct in the war. In Zimbabwe the crackdown on the opposition continues as Robert Mugabe fails to regain control of parliament, while Angola blocks Chinese arms shipment. The economics of the global food crisis.

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CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Democracy and the press

Bowling 1, Health Care 0

For the last month, news media attention was focused on Pennsylvania and its Democratic primary. Given the gargantuan effort, what did we learn?

Well, the rancor of the campaign was covered. The amount of money spent was covered. But in Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country this political season, the information about the candidates’ priorities, policies and principles — information that voters will need to choose the next president — too often did not make the cut. After having spent more than a year on the campaign trail with my husband, John Edwards, I’m not surprised.

Why? Here’s my guess: The vigorous press that was deemed an essential part of democracy at our country’s inception is now consigned to smaller venues, to the Internet and, in the mainstream media, to occasional articles. I am not suggesting that every journalist for a mainstream media outlet is neglecting his or her duties to the public. And I know that serious newspapers and magazines run analytical articles, and public television broadcasts longer, more probing segments.

But I am saying that every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Though I salute Elizabeth Edwards in her call for a “vibrant, vigorous press,” I fear that the problem she outlines runs much deeper than she suggests.

We talk about “the press” as though it was an independent entity, yet institutionally and in its individual components it seems to have abandoned any genuine sense of independence. It is a branch of commerce that exists in an economic and political system whose smooth operation requires a populace suitably pacified with comfort and distractions.

The risk that this is the way that democracy would fall apart was clearly anticipated 150 years ago by Alexis de Tocqueville, when he wrote:

…the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

“What sort of despotism democratic nations have to fear,” Chapter VI, Section IV, Volume III, Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville.

How McCain lost in Pennsylvania

It’s a nightmare. It’s the Bataan Death March. It’s mutually assured Armageddon. “Both of them are already losing the general to John McCain,” declared a Newsweek columnist last month, predicting that the election “may already be over” by the time the Democrats anoint a nominee.

Not so fast. If we’ve learned any new rule in the 2008 campaign, it’s this: Once our news culture sets a story in stone, chances are it will crumble. But first it must be recycled louder and louder 24/7, as if sheer repetition will transmute conventional wisdom into reality.

When the Pennsylvania returns rained down Tuesday night, the narrative became clear fast. The Democrats’ exit polls spelled disaster: Some 25 percent of the primary voters said they would defect to Mr. McCain or not vote at all if Barack Obama were the nominee. How could the party possibly survive this bitter, perhaps race-based civil war?

But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t just tell pollsters they would defect from their party’s standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party’s nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That’s more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama. [complete article]

Why is it so quiet after the Moyers-Wright interview?

I expected a roaring debate in the political blogosphere this morning, and on cable news after the Friday night Bill Moyers interview with Rev Jeremiah Wright. Instead, there’s eerie quiet.

The most I could find was this post on Protein Wisdom saying that Moyers didn’t play hardball with Wright. It’s true, he didn’t. Instead he did what I wish more journalists would, he interviewed him in a way that helped us get to know the person. He let him speak his piece, so we could listen. [complete article]

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GLOBAL BRIEFING: April 27

Syria ‘reactor’ claim raises doubts about N Korea pact

Summary – The US presents intelligence on Syria’s alleged nuclear reactor that was bombed by Israel last September. The finding indicates evidence of a facility designed for plutonium production, constructed with North Korean assistance. Bush administration criticised for withholding information from Congress, raising questions about the impact on six-party negotiations with North Korea on the dismantling of its nuclear program. In Iraq, the US accuses Iran of ‘lethal and malign influence’, while Muqtada al Sadr clarifies ‘open war’ and the Sunni bloc rejoins the government. [complete article]

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EDITORIAL: Rev Jeremiah Wright interview

Bill Moyers interviews Rev Jeremiah Wright

In light of Hillary Clinton’s rebound in Pennsylvania and the flak Barak Obama took in reaction to his injudicious use of the words “bitter” and “cling”, there were surely many of us who felt like this might be the wrong time for Bill Moyers to be giving a platform to Pastor Wright.

But having heard him now it seems to me a crying shame that we could not have heard this interview broadcast on cable and network news the day after ABC News knowingly poisoned the Democratic campaign.

Who in the mainstream media now has the guts and integrity to challenge the Clintons and anyone else who saw political and commercial opportunities in fueling the Wright controversy? Who dares to ask: Having listened to what Jeremiah Wright had to say for himself on Bill Moyers Journal, do you not now regret the part you played in this vilification of this man?

The question won’t be asked because the ignorance of America requires careful and constant lubrication by a press that knows better, yet profits from how little its audience understands. Who wants to present the truth in all its subtlety when debasing the truth is such an easy way to make money?

Don’t just watch this YouTube clip – watch the whole interview (parts one and two) at Bill Moyers Journal.

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EDITORIAL: Syria’s nuclear reactor

The Al Kibar nuclear reactor in Syria

As someone who voiced great skepticism about the initial claims that Israel destroyed a nuclear facility in the Syrian desert on September 6, 2007, I’ll be the first to admit that the evidence provided in the DNI background briefing presents proof that Syria was in fact close to completing the construction of a Calder-Hall type of nuclear reactor producing plutonium. The evidence of North Korean involvement is not quite as compelling but there doesn’t seem much reason to doubt it. (Nearly all the information that follows comes courtesy of Arms Control Wonk.)

Here’s the video:

All in all, in terms of intelligence, this looks like an open and shut case — with one noteworthy exception: In the intelligence briefing a senior intelligence officer when asked about evidence of a Syrian nuclear weapons development program said this:

To go with the question you’re asking – weapons – we said, we believe it. There’s no other reason for it. But our confidence level that it’s weapons is low at this point. We believe it, but it’s low based on the physical evidence.

In other words, the physical evidence gathered indicated that Syria had built a nuclear reactor that, once operational, would have been capable of producing plutonium. There was no evidence that the reactor had been built to produce electricity and neither was it deemed suitable to be a research facility. The production of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons was thus inferred in the absence of any other plausible explanation.

The next point worth noting is that the decision to bomb the facility was Israel’s:

Q: Would the U.S. have considered any kind of activity had the Israelis not?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We obviously were looking very closely at options, and we had looked at some approaches that involved a mix of diplomacy and the threat of military force with the goal of trying to ensure that the reactor was either dismantled or permanently disabled, and therefore never became operational.

We looked at those options. There were, as I mentioned to you, conversations with the Israelis. Israel felt that this reactor posed such an existential threat that a different approach was required. And as a sovereign country, Israel had to make its own evaluation of the threat and the immediacy of the threat, and what actions it should take. And it did so.

The unanswered questions at this point nearly all seem to be political. Such as:

1. Why did the US government back Israel in a military action that totally undermines the authority and value of the IAEA?

2. Why has the intelligence been released now?

3. What impact should this have on any agreement reached with North Korea?

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GLOBAL BRIEFING: April 25

Week in review

Summary – In face of criticism from the US and Israeli governments, the former US president Jimmy Carter meets the leaders of Hamas, which declares it will abide by the will of the Palestinian people if the majority supports the two-state solution. The US effort to support the Iraqi government works in Iran’s favour. Iraq’s Arab neighbours are reluctant to offer an Iran-friendly Iraqi government their political and economic support. In Zimbabwe, fears of ‘genocide’, while a Chinese weapons shipment turned away from South Africa may go back to China. [complete article]

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ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The Petraeus promotion

Petraeus promotion frees Cheney to threaten Iran

The nomination of Gen. David Petraeus to be the new head of the Central Command not only ensures that he will be available to defend the George W. Bush administration’s policies toward Iran and Iraq at least through the end of Bush’s term and possibly even beyond.

It also gives Vice President Dick Cheney greater freedom of action to exploit the option of an air attack against Iran during the administration’s final months. [complete article]

Petraeus’ ascension

Reaffirming his status as his generation’s most respected general officer, David H. Petraeus was nominated today to head U.S. Central Command (Centcom), the command responsible for all U.S. military operations in the Middle East. The move puts the U.S. military’s premier advocate, theorist and practitioner of counterinsurgency operations — once shunned by a Vietnam-stung military — at the helm of the military’s most important regional command.

But many military analysts — even those closely associated with the counterinsurgency theories that Petraeus has long championed — viewed the move as a mixed blessing. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Time is running out! There’s only six months left to keeping pushing the argument that Dick Cheney is going to start another war. After that, the only hope for the war-fearmongers is a McCain or Clinton presidency… Pardon the sarcasm.

So why do I question the idea that Petraeus’ promotion lets Cheney off the leash? Firstly, I doubt that Gates had his arm twisted into doing this. Indeed, to the extent that Petraeus was guilty of promoting operations in Iraq at the expense of meeting needs in Afghanistan, this seems to present quite a strong argument in favor of his being moved to CentCom. As commander in Iraq, it wasn’t his job to be an advocate for meeting pressing needs in any other arena. But as head of CentCom, Petraeus will become answerable for both Iraq and Afghanistan. And this time around The White House is hardly likely to go around the CentCom commander and deal directly with the commander in Iraq. By appointing U.S. Army Gen. Raymond Odierno to that position, Gates has ensured that Petraeus retains control in both commands. And Petraeus’ own ambitions surely stretch beyond 2008. He won’t merely want to please this president, but he also knows he’s going to be answerable to the next.

And as William Arkin argued last month, beyond the occasional bellicose piece of rhetoric (and there really hasn’t even been much of that in recent months), there is no practical evidence that the US military is readying itself or capable of starting another war. Blaming Iran for problems in Iraq seems to have less to do with making a case for attacking Iran than it does with resisting pressure to withdraw troops.

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GLOBAL BRIEFING: April 24

Another Clinton comeback

Summary – With a ten-point victory in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton keeps her hopes alive, but the Democratic Party may be paying the price. Heavily outspent by her opponent, Clinton needs to raise money fast to keep her campaign afloat. In Pakistan, a senior ally of Musharraf says Pakistan has been blamed for Nato’s failures in Afghanistan, while UK offers cautious support for new government’s plans for dialogue with tribal militants. UN warns global food crisis is a ‘silent tsunami.’ [complete article]

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NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: April 23

The low road to victory

The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.

Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work. It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.

If nothing else, self interest should push her in that direction. Mrs. Clinton did not get the big win in Pennsylvania that she needed to challenge the calculus of the Democratic race. It is true that Senator Barack Obama outspent her 2-to-1. But Mrs. Clinton and her advisers should mainly blame themselves, because, as the political operatives say, they went heavily negative and ended up squandering a good part of what was once a 20-point lead.

On the eve of this crucial primary, Mrs. Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11. A Clinton television ad — torn right from Karl Rove’s playbook — evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” the narrator intoned.

If that was supposed to bolster Mrs. Clinton’s argument that she is the better prepared to be president in a dangerous world, she sent the opposite message on Tuesday morning by declaring in an interview on ABC News that if Iran attacked Israel while she were president: “We would be able to totally obliterate them.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The New York Times is clearly experiencing buyer’s remorse about its endorsement of Hillary Clinton when it says her negative campaigning “undercuts the rationale for her candidacy that led this page and others to support her: that she is more qualified, right now, to be president than Mr. Obama.”

Well, the New York primary may be over and done with, but even so, if the Times wants to put its name unequivocally where it is already placing its sentiment, how about withdrawing the endorsement and switching to Obama?

Clinton threatens to ‘obliterate’ Iran

How proud the Clintonistas must be. They have learned how to rival what Hillary once termed the “vast right-wing conspiracy” in the effort to destroy a viable Democratic leader who dares to stand in the way of their ambitions. The tactics used to kneecap Barack Obama are the same as had been turned on Bill Clinton in earlier times, from radical-baiting associates to challenging his resolve in protecting the nation from foreign enemies. Sen. Clinton’s eminently sensible and centrist–to a fault–opponent is now viewed as weak and even vaguely unpatriotic because he is thoughtful. Neither Karl Rove nor Dick Morris could have done a better job.

Obama’s gloves are off — and may need to stay off

Unable once again to score a knockout, Sen. Barack Obama is likely to make his new negative tone even more negative — with a sharp eye on trying to end the Democratic presidential nomination fight after the May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s victory yesterday in Pennsylvania has only accentuated the quandary that Obama faces: Stay negative and he risks undermining the premise of his candidacy. Stay aloof and he underscores Clinton’s argument that he will not be able to beat a “Republican attack machine” sure to greet him this summer.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe indicated last night which of those options they would take. “We’ve done a lot of counterpunching. We’ve been swift and effective,” he said. “For Democrats judging how we’re going to perform as the nominee, we have been relentless.”

Obama himself took up the cudgel after Clinton delivered a victory speech in Philadelphia devoid of attack lines. Without naming Clinton, he suggested in Evansville, Ind., that she is a captive to the oil, pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies, that she “says and does whatever it takes to win the next election,” and that she exploits division for political gain.

Clueless in America

We don’t hear a great deal about education in the presidential campaign. It’s much too serious a topic to compete with such fun stuff as Hillary tossing back a shot of whiskey, or Barack rolling a gutter ball.

The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations, but (like the renovation of the nation’s infrastructure, or a serious search for better sources of energy) that can wait. At the moment, no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.

Carter spreads a new doctrine

The Arabs first heard of Jimmy Carter when he was elected president of the United States in November 1976. They were skeptical at first, thinking he would pursue Middle East policies no different from those of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, which were very sympathetic to Israel.

Making things more worrying was that Carter confessed that prior to his election, he had never met an Arab. The new president, however, promised to be different from previous American leaders. From day one, he made it loud and clear that he did not see the world through the narrow alliances of the Cold War; the world was not “you are either with us or with the Soviet Union”.

That is why he invited Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein of Jordan, Hafez al-Assad of Syria and Anwar Sadat of Egypt to visit him in Washington.

All of them – with the exception of Syria’s Assad – responded promptly. Rabin, himself a Washington insider for nine years, was furious at the new US president. Carter was taking Middle East initiatives without clearing them first with Israel. Even worse, he was promising statehood to the Palestinians and calling for an end to Syrian-US tension.

Our Gilded Age and theirs

Google “second Gilded Age” and you will get ferried to 7,000 possible sites where you can learn more about what you already instinctively know. That we are living through a gilded age has become a journalistic commonplace. The unmistakable drift of all the talk about it is a Yogi Berra-ism: it’s a matter of déjà vu all over again. But is it? Is turn-of-the-century America a replica of the world Mark Twain first christened “gilded” in his debut bestseller back in the 1870s?

Certainly, Twain would feel right at home today. Crony capitalism, the main object of his satirical wit in The Gilded Age, is thriving. Incestuous plots as outsized as the one in which the Union Pacific Railroad’s chief investors conspired with a wagon-load of government officials, including Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president, to loot the federal treasury once again lubricate the machinery of public policy-making. A cronyism that would have been familiar to Twain has made the wheels go round in these terminal years of the Bush administration. Even the invasion and decimation of Iraq was conceived and carried out as an exercise in grand-strategic cronyism; call it cronyism with a vengeance. All of this has been going on since Ronald Reagan brought back morning to America.

Reagan’s America was gilded by design. In 1981, when the New Rich and the New Right paraded in their sumptuous threads in Washington to celebrate at the new president’s inaugural ball, it was called a “bacchanalia of the haves.” Diana Vreeland, style guru (as well as Nancy Reagan confidante), was stylishly blunt: “Everything is power and money and how to use them both… We mustn’t be afraid of snobbism and luxury.”

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CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Clinton’s promise to “totally obliterate” Iran

Clinton on an Iran attack: ‘obliterate them’

Clinton further displayed tough talk in an interview airing on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. ABC News’ Chris Cuomo asked Clinton what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran,” Clinton said. “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Oy vey! Where to start? Let’s set aside the idea that a promise to incinerate millions of Iranians could be a vote winner in middle America, and let’s instead carefully parse what Clinton said.

Jake Tapper, true to form, cuts the quote off to make it as sensational as possible, so its important to add the sentence that followed:

In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them. That’s a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that, because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic.

Interestingly, Clinton is distinguishing herself from the neocons here because she accepts the idea that the behavior of Iran’s leadership can be influenced by the power of deterrence. Given that she believes this, when the question was posed, “What would you do if Iran launched a nuclear attack on Israel,” she (or anyone else) who wanted to level with the American people should have given the honest answer:

Iran is not going to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, because if it did, it would suffer devastating retaliation from Israel itself. With a nuclear arsenal estimated to be around 200 warheads, Israel is perfectly capable of defending itself from, and deterring, a nuclear attack.

If in his confirmation hearings Robert Gates could be straightforward enough to skip the game of pretending that no one knows Israel is a nuclear state, then maybe it’s time for everyone else to give an honest account of Israel’s strengths and its weaknesses. Israel, as a nuclear state, is the military Goliath of the Middle East.

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CAMPAIGN 08: Down with the plutocracy!

Obama’s touch of class

It is a stereotype you have heard many times before: Besotted with latte-fueled arrogance, the liberal looks down on average people, confident that he is a superior being. He scoffs at religion because he finds it to be a form of false consciousness. He believes in regulation because he thinks he knows better than the market.

“Elitism” is thus a crime not of society’s actual elite, but of its intellectuals. Mr. Obama has “a dash of Harvard disease,” proclaims the Weekly Standard. Mr. Obama reminds columnist George Will of Adlai Stevenson, rolled together with the sinister historian Richard Hofstadter and the diabolical economist J.K. Galbraith, contemptuous eggheads all. Mr. Obama strikes Bill Kristol as some kind of “supercilious” Marxist. Mr. Obama reminds Maureen Dowd of an . . . anthropologist.

Ah, but Hillary Clinton: Here’s a woman who drinks shots of Crown Royal, a luxury brand that at least one confused pundit believes to be another name for Old Prole Rotgut Rye. And when the former first lady talks about her marksmanship as a youth, who cares about the cool hundred million she and her husband have mysteriously piled up since he left office? Or her years of loyal service to Sam Walton, that crusher of small towns and enemy of workers’ organizations? And who really cares about Sam Walton’s own sins, when these are our standards? Didn’t he have a funky Southern accent of some kind? Surely such a mellifluous drawl cancels any possibility of elitism.

It is by this familiar maneuver that the people who have designed and supported the policies that have brought the class divide back to America – the people who have actually, really transformed our society from an egalitarian into an elitist one – perfume themselves with the essence of honest toil, like a cologne distilled from the sweat of laid-off workers. Likewise do their retainers in the wider world – the conservative politicians and the pundits who lovingly curate all this phony authenticity – become jes’ folks, the most populist fellows of them all. [complete article]

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NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Hamas’s truce offer

Meshal offers 10-year truce for Palestinian state on ’67 borders

Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshal on Monday said Hamas would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip along Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and would grant Israel a 10-year hudna, or truce, as an implicit proof of recognition if Israel withdraws from those areas.

Meshal’s comments were one of the clearest outlines Hamas has given for what it would do if Israel withdrew from the territories it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. He suggested Hamas would accept Israel’s existence alongside a Palestinian state on the rest of the lands Israel has held since 1948.

However, Meshal told reporters in Damascus that Hamas would not formally recognize Israel.

“We agree to a [Palestinian] state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognizing Israel,” Meshaal said.

“We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition,” he said. He said he made the offer to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during talks Friday and Saturday in the Syrian capital. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — It’s not going to happen, but just suppose Israel was to accept Hamas’s offer of a 10-year truce for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. Imagine that without the burden of an Israeli occupation or an economic siege that Palestinians could devote their attention to the construction of their own sovereign state. The responsibility of a Palestinian government would then fall squarely on its ability to adequately serve its own people – not its capacity to negotiate with or resist the Israelis. The challenge of that decade would clearly be to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians. The test of whatever political leadership held power would be its ability to deliver on its promises. To imagine that Hamas would use the peace in order to put together a longterm military plan to later challenge Israel seems fanciful. If they did so they would swiftly marginalize themselves out of existence.

So why should all of this be something we can only imagine? Because the real political challenge is not to persuade Hamas to accept a two-state solution, renounce violence or recognize Israel. The real challenge is for Israel to dismantle the settlements. It’s far easier to perpetually blame the Palestinians than to wrestle with an issue that has been relentlessly expanded towards a point where it could be regarded as irreversible.

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NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Hamas’ recognition of Israel

Carter: Hamas will accept Israel

Former US President Jimmy Carter has said that Hamas is prepared to accept the right of Israel to “live as a neighbour next door in peace”.

After meeting Hamas leaders last week in Syria, he said it was a problem the US and Israel would not meet the group.

His comments came as the Israeli army launched a formal investigation into the death of a Reuters cameraman killed in the Gaza Strip last week. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — In an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, wrote: “A ‘peace process’ with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently.”

The Post’s editorial board, in an effort to disassociate itself from the piece that it had freely chosen to publish, wrote: “On the opposite page today we publish an article by the ‘foreign minister’ of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Zahar, that drips with hatred for Israel, and with praise for former president Jimmy Carter. We believe Mr. Zahar’s words are worth publishing because they provide some clarity about the group he helps to lead, a group that Mr. Carter contends is worthy of being included in the Middle East peace process.”

Is the Post afraid it might suffer the same level of condemnation that Rev Jeremiah Wright’s church has had to suffer for reprinting an op-ed that the Los Angeles Times published of its own free will? I doubt it. On the contrary, this seems like a perverse celebration of freedom of speech among those who are afraid to listen.

What the Post’s editors chose to ignore — and this begs the question: did they actually read Zahar’s piece? — was that Hamas was making a de facto declaration of Israel’s right to exist. What Zahar laid out as preconditions for negotiations would to most observers look like the end point rather than the beginning of a peace process, yet the mere fact that he posits an Israel existing inside its 1967 borders as a viable negotiating partner, challenges the widely-held belief that Hamas has one and only one objective: the destruction of Israel.

Carter meeting sparks new debate over engaging Hamas

MARGARET WARNER: Mark Perry, should Jimmy Carter have met with Khaled Mashal and, if so, to what end?

MARK PERRY, Conflicts Forum: Absolutely he should have met with him, and here’s why. There are three very good reasons.

First, Hamas won an election in January 2006 in the Palestinian Authority, and it wasn’t even close, and it was the most transparent, open and fair elections in Arab world history.

Second, they retain prestige among the Palestinian people. All polls show that they retain their strength.

And, third, most recently, their leaders have been showing real moderation. They want an opening to the United States. This is their opportunity, and Jimmy Carter is capitalizing on that. We should be talking to Hamas. [complete article]

Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army

The older ex-soldier is Yehuda Shaul, who does indeed “know how it is in Hebron”, having served in the city in a combat unit at the peak of the intifada, and is a founder of Shovrim Shtika, or Breaking the Silence, which will publish tomorrow the disturbing testimonies of 39 Israelis – including this young man – who served in the army in Hebron between 2005 and 2007. They cover a range of experiences, from anger and powerlessness in the face of often violent abuse of Arabs by hardline Jewish settlers, through petty harassment by soldiers, to soldiers beating up Palestinian residents without provocation, looting homes and shops, and opening fire on unarmed demonstrators.

The maltreatment of civilians under occupation is common to many armies in the world – including Britain’s, from Northern Ireland to Iraq.

But, paradoxically, few if any countries apart from Israel have an NGO like Breaking the Silence, which seeks – through the experiences of the soldiers themselves – as its website puts it “to force Israeli society to address the reality which it created” in the occupied territories. [complete article]

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