Two speeches on race

Two men, two speeches. The men, both lawyers, both from Illinois, were seeking the presidency, despite what seemed their crippling connection with extremists. Each was young by modern standards for a president. Abraham Lincoln had turned fifty-one just five days before delivering his speech. Barack Obama was forty-six when he gave his. Their political experience was mainly provincial, in the Illinois legislature for both of them, and they had received little exposure at the national level—two years in the House of Representatives for Lincoln, four years in the Senate for Obama. Yet each was seeking his party’s nomination against a New York senator of longer standing and greater prior reputation—Lincoln against Senator William Seward, Obama against Senator Hillary Clinton. They were both known for having opposed an initially popular war—Lincoln against President Polk’s Mexican War, raised on the basis of a fictitious provocation; Obama against President Bush’s Iraq War, launched on false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and had made an alliance with Osama bin Laden.

Into the lion’s den

In its final year in office and the first year of its Israeli–Palestinian diplomacy, the Bush administration has introduced the latest and in some respects oddest idea for achieving peace, the shelf agreement. Its logic is straightforward. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas should conclude a final peace treaty by the end of 2008. The Israeli and Palestinian people subsequently would ratify it in near-simultaneous referenda or elections. And then, once approved, the treaty ought simply to be put aside (on the aforementioned shelf) until circumstances permit it to be carried out. No agreement can be fully put into effect immediately upon signature. But whereas a phased agreement includes an approved schedule, with starting date and endpoint, implementation of a shelf agreement would depend on an assessment by the parties that specified conditions have been met.

Jimmy Carter: Israel must talk to everyone

Former United States president Jimmy Carter, who arrived in Israel Sunday, rejects the criticism he’s been subjected to over his planned meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. According to Carter, peace cannot be achieved without talking to all the relevant people, and he will use the meeting to promote efforts to release Gilad Shalit and to uncover the fate of soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Carter told Haaretz Sunday in an exclusive interview that he intends to check Meshal’s willingness to accept the Arab League peace initiative. Carter says that acceptance of this plan by Hamas would be a very positive step.

Carter said ignoring a large segment of the Palestinian people would make it impossible to achieve peace.

Carter also said no one from the U.S. State Department had tried to dissuade him from holding the meetings, and that they were aware of his schedule. “Before I went to Nepal, I put in a call for Condoleeza Rice just to have a personal conversation with her about my plans,” Carter said. “I went over the entire itinerary. She could not take my call because she was traveling in Europe, so she asked David Welch, who is the assistant secretary of state. We had a 20-minute conversation, which was very pleasant, never a single negative word and not a single request that I modify my itinerary.”

Carter said he understood the pressures on the presidential candidates to release statements critical of his meetings with Hamas. “I forgive them all and I understand their motivations,” he said.

Report: Israel uses mental torture

A human rights group accused Israel on Sunday of stepping up its psychological torture of Palestinian suspects, in part by insinuating that their families would be hurt if they don’t cooperate.

The Shin Bet internal security agency, which conducts the interrogations, denied the allegations.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel made the accusations in an 86-page report that examined six cases over the past year. It said Israel has put more emphasis on psychological torture since Israel’s Supreme Court restricted the use of physical torture in a 1999 ruling.

In one case, the group said, Israeli agents convinced a suspect his wife had also been arrested and tortured, driving him to attempt suicide. In another, they detained a couple for an extended period, tortured them physically, and withheld information about their two young children to try to break them, the report said.

In Iraq, a quiet philosophical retreat for U.S. military

As last year’s troop buildup was being planned, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began pushing for a more pragmatic — and modest — approach that de-emphasized democracy, according to military officers.

A Joint Campaign Plan for Iraq developed by Petraeus and Crocker also adopted a more realistic approach. That document, setting out U.S. military and diplomatic strategies, emphasizes security over good government, said John R. Martin, a retired colonel who worked on it.

“I hate to say it was pushed off, because democracy is such an important thing. But, in effect, that was what happened,” Martin said. “We said we have got to get security first, and then some of the political progress can occur. So in that sense, it was pushed to a lower priority.”

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