Archives for May 2008


John McCain on the psycho stuff

Jeffrey Goldberg: Do you think that Israel is better off today than it was eight years ago?

John McCain: I think Israel, in many respects, is stronger economically, their political process shows progress – when there is corruption, they punish people who are corrupt. The economy is booming, they have a robust democracy, to say the least. Bin Laden has not limited his hatred and desire to destroy the United States to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, though Israel is one of the objects of his jihadist attitude. What you’re trying to do is get me to criticize the Bush Administration.

JG: No, I’m not, what I’m —

JM: Yeah, you are, but I’ll try to answer your question. Because of the rise of Islamic extremism, because of the failure of human rights and democracy in the Middle East, or whether there are a myriad of challenges we face in the Middle East, all of them severe, all of them pose a threat to the existence to the state of Israel, including and especially the Iranians, who have as a national policy the destruction of the state of Israel, something they’ve been dedicated to since before President Bush came to office.

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

Editor’s Comment — If there was a poll asking political stand-up comics who they want to become the next president – want, that is, in terms of who would be good for the trade – John McCain would surely be the favorite. This is a guy who’s out there every day crafting new parodies of himself. The man who disclaims any knowledge of “the psycho stuff” flashes back his instant response: it’s hatred that motivates the Iranians, and then goes on to say how he’s in no position to know what their emotions are – barring of course that they’re filled with hatred. And this coming from a man who in the same interview claims that he’d want to be “chief negotiator” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Level-headed, thoughtful, even-minded, well-informed, broad-minded – yep, John McCain would make a great chief negotiator!

McCain, the Surge, and ‘verb tenses’

John McCain got ahead of events this week in claiming that the United States military has gone down to “pre-surge levels” in Iraq. That will not happen until later this year, even by the most optimistic scenario. He is also wrong about the city of Mosul being “quiet”, unless you exclude car bombs and other mayhem. His advisers attempted to spin his remarks as a simple matter of “verb tense.” But there is a big difference between “Mission Accomplished” and “We expect the mission to be accomplished soon.”

Memo to Scott McClellan: Here’s what happened

Until now, we’ve resisted the temptation to post on former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s new book, which accuses the Bush White House of launching a propaganda campaign to sell the war in Iraq.

Why? It’s not news. At least not to some of us who’ve covered the story from the start.

(Click here, here and here to get just a taste of what we mean).

Second, we find it a wee bit preposterous — and we are being diplomatic here — that a man who slavishly – no, robotically! — defended President Bush’s policies in Iraq and elsewhere is trying to “set the record straight” (and sell a few books) five years and more after the invasion, with U.S. troops still bravely fighting and dying to stabilize that country.

But the responses to McClellan from the Bush administration and media bigwigs, history-bending as they are, compel us to jump in. As we like to say around here, it’s truth to power time, not just for the politicians but also for some folks in our own business.

Former Bush donors now giving to Obama

Beverly Fanning is among the campaign donors who’ll be joining President Bush at a gala at Washington’s Ford’s Theater Sunday night, but she says that won’t dissuade her from her current passion: volunteering for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

She isn’t the only convert. A McClatchy computer analysis, incomplete due to the difficulty matching data from various campaign finance reports, found that hundreds of people who gave at least $200 to Bush’s 2004 campaign have donated to Obama.

The new Middle East

“Iran, Turkey, all the Arabs, Hizbollah, Hamas, and Israel all share one and only one common trait: They routinely ignore the advice, and the occasional threats, they get from Washington,” the Daily Star columnist Rami G Khouri wrote this week.

“[Condoleezza] Rice was correct in summer 2006 when she said we are witnessing the birth pangs of a new Middle East. But the emerging new regional configuration is very different from the one she fantasised about and tried to bring into being with multiple wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia and Lebanon, and threats against Iran and Syria.”

In McClatchy Newspapers, Warren Strobel and Hannah Allam wrote: “In a week of dramatic developments in the Middle East, the most dramatic development of all may have been the fact that the United States, long considered the region’s indispensable player, was missing in action.

Iraqi officials worry about security deal with U.S.

Thousands of followers of militant Muqtada al Sadr peacefully took to the streets Friday following his call to protest a bilateral pact that would govern the economic, security and political relationship between Iraq and the United States.

The Status of Forces Agreement and an economic and political accord are expected to be completed by July and must pass the parliament before being finalized. Already voices of dissent are in the air.

The United Nation’s mandate that allows foreign forces to occupy Iraq will not be renewed at the end of the year. So any future U.S. military involvement in the war-torn nation can only continue with such an agreement.

Cowardice of silence

When I phoned Aung San Suu Kyi’s home in Rangoon yesterday, I imagined the path to her door that looks down on Inya Lake. Through ragged palms, a trip-wire is visible, a reminder that this is the prison of a woman whose party was elected by a landslide in 1990, a democratic act extinguished by men in ludicrous uniforms. Her phone rang and rang; I doubt if it is connected now. Once, in response to my “How are you?” she laughed about her piano’s need of tuning. She also spoke about lying awake, breathless, listening to the thumping of her heart.

Now her silence is complete. This week, the Burmese junta renewed her house arrest, beginning the 13th year. As far as I know, a doctor has not been allowed to visit her since January, and her house was badly damaged in the cyclone. And yet the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, could not bring himself to utter her name on his recent, grovelling tour of Burma. It is as if her fate and that of her courageous supporters, who on Tuesday beckoned torture and worse merely by unfurling the banners of her National League for Democracy, have become an embarrassment for those who claim to represent the “international community”. Why?

Hizbullah is less credible. So now what?

The Doha agreement that ended the latest round of political tension and armed clashes in Lebanon has, at best, bought 18-24 months of calm for the country, and an opportunity for the largely discredited political elite to start acting responsibly. Hizbullah remains the focus of discussion about the challenges ahead, given its military strength relative to the other Lebanese factions, including the central government and its armed forces.

The dilemma for Hizbullah is that its strength since its inception a quarter of a century ago in the early 1980s is now its weakness when it comes to its political engagement inside Lebanon. Its combination of military prowess, links with Syria and Iran, and domestic strategic political ambiguity about its ultimate aims for Lebanon are all issues that have rallied significant opposition to it among a growing circle of Lebanese.

This is not purely a question of “What does Hizbullah want?” or “Will Hizbullah give up its arms?” Hizbullah’s power and aims cannot be analyzed in a vacuum, because the party did not emerge as the most powerful military force in the country in isolation of the behavior of other national actors. Two issues are at play here: Hizbullah’s status, and the quality of Lebanese statehood. The strength and status of Hizbullah and the weakness of the Lebanese state are symbiotic developments that feed off each other, and can only be resolved together. The coming era of calm political adjustment in Lebanon, including the national unity government and the summer 2009 parliamentary elections, must address very difficult core disputed issues. The central one is the Hizbullah-state relationship, which is directly or indirectly linked to other tough issues such as Syrian-Lebanese ties, and the role of external powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.



Stop looking for ‘moderate’ Shiites and address interests

Even those in America who call for a more humble American foreign policy and recognize the need to listen to foreign populations and global public opinion persist in deploying at every possible moment the most patronizing of monikers in describing their preferred allies: “moderate.”

Over the past eight years, the condescending label of moderate has been applied to a variety of potential interlocutors in regional conflicts — with never a positive result. Negotiations with so-called “moderate Taliban” proved a failure; Taliban interests and unity certainly outweighed any incentives the U.S.-backed Karzai regime could muster. The much lauded effort in Iraq’s Anbar province to work with “moderate Sunni” may also backfire: Al-Qaida in Iraq has been weakened, but there has been no political progress on the national level and, thanks to U.S. weapons, the Anbar Sunnis are now armed to the teeth. Then there was the arming of the “moderate Palestinians” of Fatah over the “militants” of Hamas, which made the latter even more merciless in its takeover of Gaza, splintering the Palestinian state both geographically and politically.

A one-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis

In 2005, I was invited to do something most Palestinians can only dream of: visit the house from which my family had been driven in 1948. Of all people, a New York Times correspondent discovered that his apartment was built over my old home.

When I met him there, the Jewish occupants who showed me around were almost apologetic, perhaps aware how that incident encapsulated the central story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the expulsion of Palestinians and their replacement by Jews. Yet when I asked the reporter how he could still write articles that betray this reality, he was evasive.

His evasion is part of an industry of denial called the Middle East “peace process.” This industry feeds the current international consensus on the two-state solution as the only “comprehensive” settlement to the conflict. But there’s a better solution, one that’s slowly picking up steam among Palestinians and Israelis: a one-state model.

Iran’s nuclear threat will be first test for new president

The slow disintegration of Israel’s Government makes it even less likely that it would attack Iran’s nuclear installations, a question that has arisen again this week after a new report cautioning that Tehran may be developing nuclear weapons. The likelihood that the US would take that course has also fallen in the past six months. The result is that the response to Iran’s determination to put nuclear weapons within reach looks more like being the first difficult decision facing the next US president, rather than the last, dramatic one of President Bush.

The prospect of a wider peace

Just two weeks ago, Lebanon was on the verge of civil war. Suddenly, it seems to be on the brink of a lasting peace. And just as Lebanon’s own troubles reflected wider tensions in the Middle East, the fractious country’s sudden mood of conciliation is sending positive ripples through the region. At least, that is how things appear on the surface.

U.S. cites big gains against al-Qaeda

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership.


OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The moral relativism that supports torture

Where is the outrage?

Are we Americans truly savages or merely tone-deaf in matters of morality, and therefore more guilty of terminal indifference than venality? It’s a question demanding an answer in response to the publication of the detailed 370-page report on U.S. complicity in torture, issued last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Because the report was widely cited in the media and easily accessed as a pdf file on the Internet, it is fair to assume that those of our citizens who remain ignorant of the extent of their government’s commitment to torture as an official policy have made a choice not to be informed. A less appealing conclusion would be that they are aware of the heinous acts fully authorized by our president but conclude that such barbarism is not inconsistent with that American way of life that we celebrate. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — There are many reasons that torture, as a moral and political issue, has never really gained enough traction to concern Americans as much as does, for instance, the price of gasoline. It’s not simply that it’s an issue that has very little direct impact on most people’s lives. Most importantly, we live in a culture that adheres to no moral absolutes when it comes to the use of violence.

Three out of ten Americans believe that torture is never justified. That’s the same number who oppose the death penalty. So, given that most Americans do believe that the state should be invested with the power to take away someone’s life, it doesn’t seem particularly surprising that a similar number would condone the use of torture.

Although moral relativism is supposedly the sin of the secular left, nowhere is it more starkly evident than in the co-existence of the “right to life” and support for capital punishment. What this conjunction reveals is that far from any absolute value being attached to life, the key issue for those who see no contradiction between these two views is the presence or absence of innocence. If most Americans thought that the victims of torture were also innocent, then there would undoubtedly be popular outrage.

The war on terrorism as a popular cause has always relied on the willingness of the Bush administration to toss aside the legal principal, innocent until proven guilty. Willingly, the public has accepted the idea that a terrorist suspect is no different than a terrorist. And this blurring of a distinction between guilt and suspicion is rooted in the use of the word: terrorist. It labels the person rather than the action.



Could methane trigger a climate doomsday within a human lifespan?

A new paper published appearing Thursday in the prestigious scientific journal Nature presents the worst-case scenario for runaway climate change that could leave the Earth entirely ice-free within a generation.

If global temperatures continue to rise, massive amounts of methane gas could be released from the 10,000 gigaton reserves of frozen methane that are currently locked in the world’s deep oceans and permafrost. Passing this climate tipping point would result in runaway global warming that would be far worse and more rapid than scientists’ current estimates.

The new paper suggests that exactly this type of cascading release of methane reserves rapidly warmed the Earth 635 million years ago, replacing an Ice Age with a period of tropical heat. The study’s lead author suggests it could happen again, and fast — not over thousands or millions of years, but possibly within a century.

Jimmy Carter is right to say the unsayable

Jimmy Carter’s willingness to tell the world the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, as he did this week, is just the latest sign of his desire to say what his fellow American politicians find unsayable about US policy in the Middle East.

On the basis of Carter’s speeches in Britain this week, many Europeans would embrace the 83-year-old former President as their ideal occupant of the White House. But in the actual presidential election in November, Carter’s comments, his trip last month to meet Hamas leaders and his book two years ago in which he accused Israel of “apartheid” put him beyond the pale. So much so that Barack Obama took pains to condemn the Hamas trip, despite Carter’s supportive remarks on his campaign, lest the pro-Israel lobby’s loathing of Carter transfer to him.

That may be Carter’s fate: adored abroad and shorn of influence at home. But the divisions within the Democrats on whether to talk to Hamas and Iran, as he urges, and the speed with which the problems will confront the winner in November, mean that if the next president is a Democrat, Carter’s views may have some sway, even if no politician will risk thanking him for them.

Worse than Bush

Many foreign-policy mavens have wondered which John McCain would step to the fore once he started running for president in earnest—the McCain who consorts with such pragmatists as Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, and George Shultz; or the McCain who huddles with “neocons” like Robert Kagan, John Bolton, and William Kristol (before he started writing op-eds for the New York Times).

Last month, the Times published a story about the battle for McCain’s soul that’s being waged by those two factions.

On Tuesday, McCain cleared up the mystery: He’s with the neocons. He is, fundamentally, in sync with the foreign policy pursued by George W. Bush for his first six years in office. The clincher is that he has now broken with the president on the one issue where Bush himself reversed course more than a year ago after realizing that his policy had failed. In two op-ed articles and a speech—all of them published or delivered on Tuesday, May 27—McCain called for a return to Bush’s original, disastrous approach.

An unwanted league

A puzzle of globalization is that despite the astonishing growth in communication and information flows, Washington lives in a bubble, seeing the world through its own lens, being surprised and disappointed again and again when the world does not conform to U.S. expectations. President Bush’s foreign policy is a study in the bubble approach, marked by the constant unsuccessful projection of ideas made in the USA onto unruly foreign realities. A major question for the next administration is whether it can move out of the bubble and more effectively connect the United States to the world.

In this regard, the declarations and debates about foreign policy in the presidential campaign so far are not especially reassuring. One of the most visible proposals, the calls by experts on both sides of the political aisle and by Sen. John McCain for the establishment of a League of Democracies to tackle the world’s problems, is an example of continued thinking within the bubble.

Human rights report assails U.S.

Sixty years after the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, governments in scores of countries still torture or mistreat their people, Amnesty International said Wednesday in a report that again urged the United States to close down the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

In its annual report, the London-based human rights watchdog said “flashpoints” in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq/ and Myanmar “demand immediate action.”

“World leaders are in a state of denial but their failure to act has a high cost,” Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement accompanying the report. “As Iraq and Afghanistan show, human rights problems are not isolated tragedies, but are like viruses than can infect and spread rapidly, endangering all of us.”

The New McCarthyism: Israel imposes a 10-year ban on American critic of Israeli policies

On Friday, Israeli security forces, Shin Bet, detained Norman Finkelstein when he tried to enter Israel, kept him in an airport holding cell for 24 hours, ordered him deported from the country, and then imposed a 10-year ban on his entry. Finkelstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is a Jewish-American author and academic who has frequently criticized the Israeli Government and provoked extreme animosity among right-wing factions in the U.S. He had flown to Israel 15 times previously without incident and was never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime.

This morning, I interviewed Finkelstein regarding this episode and related issues (the audio for which is here). I also interviewed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, whose animosity towards Finkelstein is intense and long-standing. Dershowitz, to his credit (and, given the below-described events, somewhat ironically) was quite critical of Israel’s exclusion of Finkelstein. The full interview with Dershowitz can be heard here.

Syria: Olmert’s political weakness may affect recently renewed peace talks

The recently revived peace talks between Syria and Israel may be hindered by the weakness of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, beleaguered by a political crisis, Syrian analysts said Wednesday.

The Syrian comment came shortly after Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Olmert to step down or face early elections in light of the corruption investigation currently underway against him.

Washington’s new Jewish lobby presses Israel

Thanks in part to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, the U.S. government rarely gets tough with Israel, even on issues like Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, which Washington views as harmful to the peace process. A new lobby group formed last month, J Street, wants to change that. Founded by a number of liberal Jews, J Street wants to see the administration press Israel not only for an end to settlement construction, but also a real peace effort between Israel and Syria and possibly talks between Israel and Hamas. The group’s name is a play on the political geography of downtown Washington, where K street is the traditional hub of lobbyists and J street doesn’t exist. Newsweek correspondent Dan Ephron sat down recently with the group’s executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami to discuss the organization’s agenda.

Why Israel is talking to its enemies

When President George W. Bush appeared before the Israeli Knesset recently and denounced those who appease “terrorists and radicals,” it was seen back home as a swipe against Democratic contender Barack Obama for saying that the U.S. should talk to its enemies. But his audience of Israeli legislators, who interrupted Bush’s speech at least 14 times with thunderclaps of applause, interpreted it otherwise. They saw it as the American President’s unswerving support of the Jewish nation on its 60th anniversary. Nevertheless, under instructions from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel envoys have been carrying out discreet talks with the very “radicals and terrorists” that Bush was warning against in his speech: Syria, the Lebanese militia Hizballah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Talking to Hamas

Khalid Mishaal, the exiled leader of Hamas, isn’t packing his bags just yet, but his comfortable headquarters in a Damascus suburb could be closed down soon. In a surprise announcement last week, Israel and Syria confirmed indirect peace talks for the first time in eight years. Israel has long demanded that Syria cut ties with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, but now the Golan Heights are on the negotiating table once again, and the stakes have changed dramatically.

In a late-night meeting, Mishaal was relaxed and smiling. He offered me green tea with ginger and a plate of semolina cookies. Mishaal recited a Quranic verse to open the hourlong interview, but that was his only reference to religion. Mishaal was all about divining the recent momentous events in the region: Israeli-Syria peace talks brokered by Turkey and an agreement, mediated by Qatar, to avert a new Lebanese civil war. The agreement confirmed Hezbollah’s power and Syria’s regional influence. It was a surprisingly peaceful conclusion to an 18-month confrontation that had escalated into a street war in West Beirut. Both deals, seemingly concluded without U.S. involvement and counter to the Bush administration’s policies, will affect Palestinian politics.

111 nations, minus the U.S., agree to cluster-bomb ban

More than 100 countries reached agreement Wednesday to ban cluster bombs, controversial weapons that human rights groups deplore but that the United States, which did not join the ban, calls an integral, legitimate part of its arsenal.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose personal intervention Wednesday led to final agreement among representatives of 111 countries gathered in Dublin, called the ban a “big step forward to make the world a safer place.”

In addition to the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan — all of them major producers or users of the weapons — did not sign the agreement or participate in the talks.



The Pentagon’s expansion will be Bush’s lasting legacy

A full-fledged cottage industry is already focused on those who eagerly await the end of the Bush administration, offering calendars, magnets, and t-shirts for sale as well as counters and graphics to download onto blogs and websites. But when the countdown ends and George W. Bush vacates the Oval Office, he will leave a legacy to contend with. Certainly, he wills to his successor a world marred by war and battered by deprivation, but perhaps his most enduring legacy is now deeply embedded in Washington-area politics — a Pentagon metastasized almost beyond recognition.

The Pentagon’s massive bulk-up these last seven years will not be easily unbuilt, no matter who dons the presidential mantle on January 19, 2009.

A sensible path on Iran

Given Iran’s stated goals — a nuclear power capability but not nuclear weapons, as well as an alleged desire to discuss broader U.S.-Iranian security issues — a realistic policy would exploit this opening to see what it might yield. The United States could indicate that it is prepared to negotiate, either on the basis of no preconditions by either side (though retaining the right to terminate the negotiations if Iran remains unyielding but begins to enrich its uranium beyond levels allowed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty); or to negotiate on the basis of an Iranian willingness to suspend enrichment in return for simultaneous U.S. suspension of major economic and financial sanctions.

Such a broader and more flexible approach would increase the prospects of an international arrangement being devised to accommodate Iran’s desire for an autonomous nuclear energy program while minimizing the possibility that it could be rapidly transformed into a nuclear weapons program. Moreover, there is no credible reason to assume that the traditional policy of strategic deterrence, which worked so well in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and with China and which has helped to stabilize India-Pakistan hostility, would not work in the case of Iran. The widely propagated notion of a suicidal Iran detonating its very first nuclear weapon against Israel is more the product of paranoia or demagogy than of serious strategic calculus. It cannot be the basis for U.S. policy, and it should not be for Israel’s, either.

IAEA report puts pressure on Iran

“A report released on Monday by the UN’s nuclear watchdog organisation presents the clearest indication yet that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon through 2003. But there is no evidence that the weapons programme continued after 2004, it says, echoing a US intelligence assessment in December,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its investigation was based on questions raised by its inspections and on allegations from intelligence reports provided by the US and other countries. The IAEA recently presented Iran with documents that depict a clandestine programme including uranium enrichment, missile development and plans for fitting missiles with nuclear warheads.

McClellan whacks Bush, White House

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan writes in a surprisingly scathing memoir to be published next week that President Bush “veered terribly off course,” was not “open and forthright on Iraq,” and took a “permanent campaign approach” to governing at the expense of candor and competence.

Among the most explosive revelations in the 341-page book, titled “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception” (Public Affairs, $27.95):

• McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.

• He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.

Report details effects of climate change across U.S.

Global warming is already affecting the nation’s forests, water resources, farmland and wildlife, and will have serious negative consequences over the next 25 to 50 years, according to a report issued yesterday by the federal government.

The scientific assessment by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, which was commissioned by the Agriculture Department and carried out by 38 scientists inside and outside the government, provides the most detailed look in nearly eight years at how climate change is reshaping the American landscape. The report, which runs 193 pages and synthesizes a thousand scientific papers, highlights how human-generated carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have already translated into more frequent forest fires, reduced snowpack and increased drought, especially in the West.

Iraqis losing patience with militiamen

Four summers ago, when militiamen loyal to hard-line Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr were battling U.S. forces in the holy city of Najaf, Mohammed Lami was among them.

“I had faith. I believed in something,” Lami said of his days hoisting a gun for Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. “Now, I will never fight with them.”

Poland stalls Bush’s ‘lame duck’ deal on missile shield

President George Bush’s hopes of sealing agreement to site parts of the Pentagon’s missile shield in central Europe before he leaves office are fading fast, according to senior Polish officials who despair of reaching to reach a deal with the United States before the end of the year.

The US has been negotiating with the Polish and Czech governments for five years over deploying missile interceptors in Poland and a radar-tracking station in the Czech Republic – the first elements of the American missile defence programme that would be stationed outside the US.

But while the Americans and the Czechs recently concluded their negotiations, the Polish government has balked at the US terms on offer, insisting on large-scale military aid from the US to modernise its armed forces in return for agreeing to host the silos for 10 interceptor rockets.

How the neo-fascists want to defend America

Does Dunkin’ Donuts really think its customers could mistake Rachael Ray for a terrorist sympathizer? The Canton-based company has abruptly canceled an ad in which the domestic diva wears a scarf that looks like a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men.
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Some observers, including ultra-conservative Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin, were so incensed by the ad that there was even talk of a Dunkin’ Donuts boycott.

“The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad,” Malkin yowls in her syndicated column.



Carter urges ‘supine’ Europe to break with US over Gaza blockade

Britain and other European governments should break from the US over the international embargo on Gaza, former US president Jimmy Carter told the Guardian yesterday. Carter, visiting the Welsh border town of Hay for the Guardian literary festival, described the EU’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as “supine” and its failure to criticise the Israeli blockade of Gaza as “embarrassing”.

Referring to the possibility of Europe breaking with the US in an interview with the Guardian, he said: “Why not? They’re not our vassals. They occupy an equal position with the US.”

The blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, imposed by the US, EU, UN and Russia – the so-called Quartet – after the organisation’s election victory in 2006, was “one of the greatest human rights crimes on Earth,” since it meant the “imprisonment of 1.6 million people, 1 million of whom are refugees”. “Most families in Gaza are eating only one meal per day. To see Europeans going along with this is embarrassing,” Carter said.

Hamas seeks mediation from Qatar, AL for reconciliation with Fatah

Hamas on Monday confirmed it held contacts with the Arab League (AL) and Qatar to achieve reconciliation with rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The contacts Hamas holds with the AL and Qatar regarding the reconciliation with Fatah are not new,” said Ahmed Yousef, an advisor to deposed Hamas premier Ismail Haneya.

Haneya and Hamas’ politburo chief Khaled Mashaal asked AL secretary general Amr Moussa and the Qatari prince to arrange for the reconciliation, Yousef said, adding the recent calls were madeafter the AL and Qatar’s success in helping settling Lebanon crisis.

Barak: Israel on a collision course with Hamas

Defense minister addresses situation on Gaza border, says events in danger of escalating within days but that ‘if there is a calm, we will consider matters.’ Barak also says Syria less concerned with Golan Heights than with improving its relations with Washington.

Iran pledges to continue support of Hamas

Iran pledged to continue its military, financial, and moral support to the Hamas Movement even if Damascus abandons the latter, should a peace treaty be signed between Syria and Israel, the state of war and animosity between the two countries be ended by Israel handing the occupied Golan back to Syria, and the Syrian-Israeli border be declared secure and demilitarized. This statement was made by an Iranian source close to the talks that Hamas Movement Political Bureau Chief Khalid Mishal held in Tehran. Mishal held talks with Iranian political, security, military, and religious leaders, including Commander in Chief of the [Revolutionary] Guard Maj Gen Jafari, Commander of the Qods Force Brig Gen Qasim Sulaymani, and officials of the Defense Industries Organization, including Brig Gen Ahmad Wahid. Brig Gen Wahid promised Mishal to provide very advanced missiles that are currently being produced at the Martyr Bakiri Complex in Tehran especially for Hamas.

Master of the Senate

As Barack Obama considers his vice presidential options, he would be very wise to take Jim Webb seriously. By now the idea that Webb could help Obama connect with the Scots-Irish voters of Greater Appalachia is familiar to most of those who follow the presidential horse race. And Webb’s military experience, together with his years in Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon, give him national security expertise that few leading Democrats can match. Yet there is another reason the Virginia Senator would make an excellent vice presidential nominee. As he’s demonstrated this week, Webb can be a masterful legislative tactician.

Mid-level official steered U.S. shift on North Korea

Early in President Bush’s second term, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convened a series of strategy sessions on how to persuade North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons programs. One key official, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, remained largely silent, four participants said, except to pipe up periodically with the same refrain.

“If you just let me go to Pyongyang, I’ll get you a deal,” the career Foreign Service officer said, prompting others to roll their eyes and move on.

In the twilight of the Bush presidency, the nuclear agreement that Hill has tirelessly pursued over the past three years has emerged as Bush’s best hope for a lasting foreign policy success. In the process, Hill has become the public face of an extraordinary 180-degree policy shift on North Korea, from confrontation to accommodation.

May 26, 1908: Mideast oil discovered — there will be blood

1908: A British company strikes oil in Persia (now Iran). It’s the first big petroleum find in the Middle East, and it sets off a wave of exploration, extraction and exploitation that will change the region’s — and the world’s — history.

Englishman William D’Arcy had obtained a license to explore for oil in Persia in 1901. He sent explorer George Reynolds, who searched fruitlessly for seven years.

Fresh investment from the Burmah Oil Co. had rescued the expedition financially in 1904, but with no results and D’Arcy’s personal fortune completely run out, he risked losing his two country houses and his London mansion. In Persia, staff was already being dismissed. Reynolds received orders from London for his last-chance well: Drill to 1,600 feet and then stop.

Sadr pursues image to match his power

When the revered head of Iraq’s largest Shiite opposition group was assassinated in 1999, the mantle of leadership passed to an unexpected heir: Moqtada al-Sadr, then a 25-year-old video game aficionado who oversaw the movement’s security forces.

Sadr, now 34, has since emerged as an ardent nationalist who commands the support of hundreds of thousands of devotees and the scorn of those who see him as a thuggish militia leader of limited intellect. He has lately sought to reposition himself as a more mainstream figure, even in the face of increasing pressure from Iraq’s Shiite-led government.

His decision last week to allow the Iraqi army to enter the capital’s Sadr City district, his base of power, was the latest in a series of calming edicts that began last summer. In August 2007, he ordered his militia, which had been responsible for some of the most horrific sectarian violence in the country, to lay down its weapons. The freeze prompted senior U.S. military officials to begin praising the young cleric, despite his steady opposition to the American presence in Iraq.

Sadr has spent the past year studying in Iran under a politically influential cleric who runs the country’s judicial system, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, according to several top-ranking Sadr aides. Sadr’s effort to burnish his theological credentials may offer some insight into his ambitions, since he is descended from a line of clerics who endorse “wilayat al-faqih,” the theory that high-ranking Shiite clerics should oversee affairs of state.

Mideast governments increasingly ignore U.S. views

The governments of the Middle East, from Iran to Israel and beyond, are increasingly ignoring the wishes of a U.S. administration which has only eight months left in office, going their own way in regional diplomacy.

U.S. President George W. Bush’s latest speech on Middle East policy, made in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last week, shows how the gap has grown between what Washington would like and what is happening in the region.

It is part of a wider picture of Washington’s declining clout, accelerated by its debilitating deployment of more than 100,000 troops to Iraq for the past five years.



Lebanon’s new president supports fight against Israel

The United States along with most other countries enthusiastically supported the ascent of army Chief of Staff Michel Suleiman as president of Lebanon.

To many, he appears to be a beacon of stability for the country. But don’t expect the Maronite Christian to change the country’s position on the staunchest of U.S. allies in the Middle East, Israel.

In his inaugural speech to parliament today, he affirmed the right of the Hezbollah-led “resistance” to confront Israel and obtain a disputed piece of property under Israeli occupation called the Shebaa Farms:

The continuing occupation of Shebaa Farms and the breaches and threats by the enemy [Israel] compel us to find a defense strategy that protects the nation coupled with a calm dialog to benefit from the competence of the resistance so that the achievements of the resistance are not consumed in internal struggles. And this way we can preserve its values and its national position.

He also said Lebanon would continue to refuse to grant the 400,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon passports in order to keep alive their dream of returning to a viable Palestinian state:

Our rejection of giving them nationality is not a rejection of hosting of our brothers the Palestinians and caring for their human rights, but an establishment of their right of return when a viable state is formed.

But much of Suleiman’s speech was focused on healing the country’s recent self-inflicted wounds.

Editor’s Comment — In brokering the agreement that led to Suleiman’s inauguration, much has been made about Qatar’s instrumental role. “Qatar emerges as diplomatic powerhouse,” read an earlier headline in the LAT. And Barbara Slavin writes:

You know something interesting is happening in the Middle East when a major peace agreement is brokered by Qatar. This tiny emirate (population 900,000) has accomplished what the United States, France, the United Nations and the Arab League failed to do: get Lebanon’s chronically feuding factions to agree to a deal that will at least give the country a temporary government and allow Qataris and other Gulf Arabs to spend their summer in Beirut without worrying about being caught in another civil war.

The big diplomatic victory for the little emirate makes for a good narrative, but to be realistic, how successful would Sheikh Hamad have been had he tried to intervene in Lebanon just three weeks ago? The end of the political stalemate didn’t hinge on Arab League or Qatari intervention; it came about through Hezbollah’s show of force and the reality that its power is unmatched by any of its opponents. The Lebanese government briefly imagined that it could push Hezbollah into retreat, and then just as quickly the government and its allies were disabused of that notion. The task of the peacemakers was to get all parties to formalize the balance of power in a written agreement – no small task, but one certainly made easier by virtue of the fact that no one had any illusions about the fact that Hezbollah had already won.

Price of quiet in Lebanon is Hezbollah in power

The smiles, handshakes and congratulations that followed the election of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman yesterday were unable to erase questions and fears over what Hezbollah has in store for the country, and the region as a whole. That is because the lovely principle of “no victor, no vanquished,” as the emir of Qatar described the deal reached in Doha that allowed for Suleiman’s election, does not reflect reality.

Lebanon did manage to engage the emergency brake before spiraling into civil war, and can even look forward to a period of relative quiet. But the price is liable to be Hezbollah’s long-term de facto control of Lebanon.

Suleiman’s election is not the product of a democratic compromise between a majority and an opposition; it is the product of threats and violence. The fancy swearing-in ceremony yesterday could not have taken place without the agreement of Hezbollah, which delayed the selection of a president by seven months. Hezbollah conditioned its acceptance on the establishment of a national unity government in which it and its partners will have 11 ministers. This grants Hezbollah veto power over key government decisions, since the Lebanese constitution requires important decisions to be approved by a two-thirds majority.

How we can really honor our veterans

How strange that today in our country, in a time of war, battles are raging over the need for medical care, educational benefits, employment opportunities and assistance for those who’ve served honorably and come home to begin new lives in a nation they risked their lives to defend.

The shameful thing is that most of those battles are being waged against the very government, the very bureaucracies, the very politicians who sent those young men and women to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe the right word here isn’t shameful, but criminal.

Not everyone is hailing the chief at this commencement

President Bush was probably expecting a warm welcome at Furman University, a small Baptist-rooted school in Greenville, S.C., where he is delivering the commencement address on Saturday.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way.

More than 200 faculty members and students signed a letter this month criticizing the Bush administration’s policies on the Iraq war, secret interrogations, the environment and other issues. The letter says that although it would ordinarily be “an honor” to host a president, “these are not ordinary circumstances.”

Sistani forbids feeding Americans; warns against security agreement; hundreds of Sadrists arrested

…if Sistani is laying the grounds for a Gandhi-style non-cooperation movement, he certainly could put a crimp in the American military’s style in Iraq. I can’t imagine US troops could function in the Shiite south or much of Baghdad without Shiite cooperation. Sistani still has a great deal of moral authority, and would be backed by less cautious clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Jawad al-Khalisi.

The return of Iraq’s Ayatollah

Maliki’s visit Thursday to Najaf, where he met with Sistani, seemed to be acknowledgment of just that change in status, one that the Ayatollah did not appear to shrink from. “Sistani emphasized that everything should be done to get back total sovereignty on all levels,” said Sheik Abdul Mehdi al-Karbala’e, who summed up Sistani’s meeting with Maliki in a speech to Shi’ite follower attending Friday prayers in Karbala.

Amid calm in Sadr City, officials and cleric’s backers swap charges of weakness

As some semblance of normal life began to return to the Sadr City area on Sunday, the Iraqi government and followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr accused each other of being weak. The verbal sniping occurred despite a cease-fire that had finally brought calm to one of Baghdad’s most volatile areas.

Jimmy Carter says Israel had 150 nuclear weapons

Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, former President Jimmy Carter said yesterday, while arguing that the US should talk directly to Iran to persuade it to drop its nuclear ambitions.

His remark, made at the Hay-on-Wye festival which promotes current affairs books and literature, is startling because Israel has never admitted having nuclear weapons, let alone how many, although the world assumes their existence. Nor do US officials deviate in public from that Israeli line. Carter, who has immersed himself since his presidency in Israeli-Palestinian relations, was highly critical of Israeli settlers on the West Bank, and of Israel’s refusal to talk to elected officials of the Islamic party Hamas, although he said that Israel’s security was his prime concern.



Defending KSM, ‘the most hated man in the world’

Prince’s meetings with Mohammed also offer a glimpse into the defense strategy in the most high-profile American terrorism case in the post-Sept. 11 world, a trial sure to be followed by millions when it gets underway, probably many months from now.

Prince, a Southern lawyer who only a year ago was running a small civilian defense practice, expects the case to go on for years and culminate in a landmark Supreme Court decision. To him, it’s not only the welfare of his infamous client that matters, but also protecting the integrity of the Constitution, which he says the Bush administration has trampled by coercing information out of Mohammed and subjecting him to a system of military justice that is stacked against him.

“I think it’s the constitutional case of our time,” Prince, 53, said in a recent interview in his office, U.S. and Navy flags front and center on his desk. “Because in the 221st year of America, the question is whether the Constitution applies to the government.”

The waning influence of the US in the Middle East

In a week of dramatic developments in the Middle East, the most dramatic development of all may have been the fact that the United States, long considered the region’s indispensable player, was missing in action,” wrote Warren Strobel and Hannah Allam for McClatchy Newspapers.

“As its closest allies cut deals with their adversaries this week over the Bush administration’s opposition, Washington was largely reduced to watching.

“More painful for President Bush, friends he’s cultivated – and spent heavily on – in Lebanon and Iraq asked the United States to remain in the background, underlining how politically toxic an association with the US can be for Arab leaders.”

Misreading the Arab media

Arabic TV does not do our country justice,” President Bush complained in early 2006, calling it a purveyor of “propaganda” that “just isn’t right, it isn’t fair, and it doesn’t give people the impression of what we’re about.”

The president’s statement, along with the decision by the New York Stock Exchange to ban Al Jazeera’s reporters in 2003, is a prime example of how the Arab news media have been demonized since the 9/11 attacks. As a result, America has failed to make use of what is potentially one of its most powerful weapons in the war of ideas against terrorism.

For proof, in the last year we surveyed 601 journalists in 13 Arab countries in North Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. The results, to be published in The International Journal of Press/Politics in July, shatter many of the myths upon which American public diplomacy strategy has been based.

Israel denies entry to high-profile critic Norman Finkelstein

The Shin Bet security service detained and deported an American Jewish professor who is a prominent critic of the Israeli occupation when he landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Friday.

Professor Norman Finkelstein was interrogated for several hours and held in an airport cell before being put on a plane back to Amsterdam, his point of departure. Finkelstein said he was told he could not return to Israel for 10 years.

The Shin Bet said Finkelstein “is not permitted to enter Israel because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon,” and because he “did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions.”

However, in e-mail and phone interviews with Haaretz after leaving Israel for Amsterdam, Finkelstein said, “I did my best to provide absolutely candid and comprehensive answers to all the questions put to me. I am confident that I have nothing to hide. Apart from my political views, and the supporting scholarship, there isn’t much more to say for myself: alas, no suicide missions or secret rendezvous with terrorist organizations. I’ve always supported a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. I’m not an enemy of Israel.”

Afghanistan adds hunger to its worries

For generations, Afghans have depended on cheap, plentiful bread as their main staple. The country’s principal crop is wheat, and its farmers produce more than 5 million tons in a good year. Although that is not enough to feed the entire population, wheat can usually be trucked in from neighboring Pakistan.

Since February, however, a combination of local drought and regional shortages has driven the price of flour here to once-unimaginable levels — as much as $50 for a 40-pound sack. Pakistan, also worried about how to feed 160 million-plus people, has closed its borders to food exports, as have a number of other largely agricultural countries anxious to stave off domestic hardship and political unrest.



Wake up, America. We’re driving toward disaster.

Everywhere I go these days, talking about the global energy predicament on the college lecture circuit or at environmental conferences, I hear an increasingly shrill cry for “solutions.” This is just another symptom of the delusional thinking that now grips the nation, especially among the educated and well-intentioned.

I say this because I detect in this strident plea the desperate wish to keep our “Happy Motoring” utopia running by means other than oil and its byproducts. But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system — or even a fraction of these things — in the future. We have to make other arrangements.

Michael Schwartz: The loss of an imperial dream

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, with its 225,000 or more deaths in 11 countries, shocked the world; so, in recent weeks, has the devastation wrought by a powerful cyclone (and tidal surge) that hit the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar. It resulted in at least 78,000 deaths (with another 56,000 reported missing) and a display of recalcitrance on the part of a military junta focused on its own security while its people perish. Similarly, a devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province that hit 7.9 on the Richter scale and whose tremors were felt 1,000 miles away has swept into the news. Its casualty count has already reached 51,000 with unknown numbers of Chinese still buried in rubble or cut off in rural areas and so, as yet, untallied, and an estimated five million people homeless.

These are staggering natural disasters, hard even to take in, and yet it’s a reasonable question whether, in terms of damage, any of them measure up to the ongoing human-made (or rather Bush administration made) disaster in Iraq. Worse yet, unlike a natural disaster, the Iraqi catastrophe seems to be without end. No one can even guess when it might be said of that country that an era of reconstruction or rebuilding is about to begin. Instead, the damage only grows week by miserable week and yet, as has often been true in the last year, Iraq continues to have trouble even cracking the top ten stories in U.S. news coverage.

The wisdom of talking

As President Bush commemorated Israel’s 60th anniversary by attacking Barack Obama from overseas, here at home he found an all-too-frequent ally: John McCain.

When Bush accused “some” — including Obama, Bush aides explained — of “the false comfort of appeasement,” McCain echoed this slander.

“What does he want to talk about with [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?” McCain asked, fumbling to link Obama to the Iranian president’s hateful words. Soon, a GOP talking point was born.

Lost in the rhetoric was the question America deserves to have answered: Why should we engage with Iran?

Hamas: Olmert too weak to negotiate peace agreement with Syria

Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is too weak to take the necessary steps for peace with Syria and expressed doubts about Israel’s seriousness in negotiations.

Meshal’s comments came during a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki on Saturday, in response to a question about Wednesday’s announcement that Israel and Syria had restarted direct peace negotiations.

“There is great skepticism concerning the seriousness (of Israel) to return the Golan,” he said, referring to a strategic plateau captured by Israel in 1967.

“It’s maneuvering and playing with all the (negotiating) tracks – it’s a well known game and besides, Olmert’s weakness will not allow him to take this step.”

Finkelstein arrested and deported by Israel

News just in from Monsters and Critics: Norman Finkelstein, the provocative political scientist known for his criticism of Israeli policy, arrived today at Ben Gurion Airport and was promptly arrested by the authorities and informed he would be deported tomorrow on “security grounds.” His attorney, Michael Sfrad, informs us that in usual circumstances this means that Finkelstein will be unwelcome in Israel for the next ten years. Finkelstein had been intending to visit the Occupied Territories.

Let’s get a few things out of the way before we wade into the particulars of this case. While Finkelstein is known for his criticism of the Occupation, he is an advocate of a two-state solution. So let’s immediately dismiss all the malarkey bruited about by the pro-Israel crowd that he is a Holocaust denier (he is a child of survivors) and either anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. That’s all bullcrap. There is a difference between being a critic of Israeli policy and opposed to Israel’s existence. There is a difference between criticizing Jewish groups and leaders who have done well by the Holocaust and denying the Holocaust.

Bombing Iran: the clamor persists

Listening to the questions asked of Gen. David Petraeus in the Senate Thursday, you might think the U.S. was headed for a new war in the Gulf. Senators from both sides of the aisle spent as much time asking him about Iran as they did about Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut grilled Petraeus on Iran’s anti-U.S. activities in the region. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii plaintively asked about the utility of negotiations with Iran. And Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia pressed Petraeus on what he meant by the need to “counter malign Iranian influence” and the “consequences for its illegitimate influence in the region.”

The general, whose confirmation as head of U.S. Central Command was stake in the hearing, did his best to pacify the men and women who held his appointment in their hands, emphasizing his support for “the three rounds of negotiations that have taken place” between Iran, Iraq and the U.S. in Baghdad over security issues. But the Senators’ questions how how persistent the concern is on Capitol Hill that President Bush could be secretly planning a military strike against Iran.

Will Sistani declare jihad on US?

I can only speculate, since Sistani isn’t issuing communiques that would explain what is on his mind. But let us look at the context.

First, Sistani was under a lot of pressure from his Shiite followers to denounce the US siege, blockade and aerial bombing of the civilian district of Sadr City in East Baghdad, which went on for weeks. People were actually lacking in food. And, apartment buildings were incinerated. The full horror of the siege was carefully kept from the American public, but the Shiites of Iraq knew about it all right. I think that the brutality of the US intervention against the Shiite masses, and the risk that his silence would produce a backlash against him in favor of Muqtada al-Sadr, may have helped impel Sistani toward this militancy. Aerial bombardment of civilian areas as a tactic has increased significantly this spring.

Americans tend to dismiss the aerial bombardments, in which civilians are often killed, as the cost of doing business in a war zone. But many Iraqis really, really mind these killings and you can only imagine what Sistani thinks of them. Likewise, while the incident of the US soldier using the Qur’an for firing practice only happened recently and wouldn’t be the impetus for Sistani’s new militancy, such desecrations have occurred before and the hatred of Islam by US military figures like Gen. Boykin is well known.


EDITORIAL: The question of Zionism

The question of Zionism

John McCain is a practical man. When he realized he’d have to dump one problematic pastor – John Hagee – he didn’t hesitate to dump the other one too – that being Rod Parsley. It’s beyond dispute that rejecting these powerful evangelical endorsements was for McCain a political necessity. At the same time, McCain’s grounds for repudiating them are far from transparent.

Both Hagee and Parsley have made well-publicized Islamophobic declarations. That hasn’t seemed to trouble the McCain campaign. Hagee was already giving McCain trouble for defaming Catholics, but while the presidential candidate appeared willing to accommodate these extremes in that they did not force him to reject these endorsements, the final straw came with Hagee’s interpretation of chapter 16 of The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

McCain repudiated what Hagee had said by referring to it as “crazy,” but what neither McCain nor the press have any apparent interest in is wherein lay the craziness. Does McCain believe Hagee was giving a crazy interpretation to a passage in the Bible, or was he merely drawing attention to a crazy passage in the Bible? In other words, was McCain repudiating an aberration conceived by Pastor Hagee, or was he rejecting part of the Bible?

I make no claim to be a Biblical scholar and will be upfront in saying that I believe that God was created by human beings, but simply going on what the Jeremiah text says, Hagee’s interpretation does not seem particularly strange.

Even without the Christian Zionist Biblical gloss, the idea that Zionism and Nazism could operate in a complimentary fashion is not new. Indeed, it was the father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, who wrote, “The anti-Semites shall be our best friends.”

During World War Two in 1941 the Zionist terrorist organization, the Stern Gang, wrote to the German government and offered to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side” in return for German support for “the establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich.” The Germans didn’t respond to the offer.

The irony in the current situation is that Hagee’s reference to Hitler carries with it an implicitly anti-Semitic undertone, whereas his vigorous support of Israel is being cited as evidence that he is not anti-Semitic. A bridge that is way too long to cross in the simplistic discourse of presidential politics is the idea that Zionism and Christian Zionism, in as much as they posit a necessity for Jews to live in Israel, are by that virtue, anti-Semitic. They suggest that being Jewish and choosing to live outside Israel is either bad for Judaism or bad for the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy.

Is there any possibility that there might be a serious debate about Zionism any time soon? Not a chance.



An unmentionable truce?

A Hamas-Israel cease-fire could be on its way, but you wouldn’t know it. No press conference will be held to announce it. Instead, quiet on Gaza’s borders—no rockets going out, no Israeli fire going in—will serve as the declaration that the cease-fire has begun. But this quiet will come with a tension that at any moment the cease-fire could end. And once that happens, major confrontation can be expected.

This cease-fire, which Egypt asserts is pending final Palestinian approval, is a phased deal, which begins with what Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly described as “quiet in exchange for quiet.” Hamas will stop rocket fire and terrorist activity from Gaza and ensure that all Palestinian militias do the same, and Israel, in turn, will stop air strikes and ground operations.

Without upsetting the president

It all began on January 6, 2004, when President Bashar Assad arrived in snowy Turkey for a historic visit – the first by a Syrian leader since that country won its independence in 1946. Officials in Jerusalem were apprehensive that a rapprochement with Damascus would distance Ankara from Israel. At the time, despite substantial support among the upper echelons of the Israel Defense Forces and the Foreign Ministry for the “Syria first” idea – that is, giving peace with Damascus priority over seeking an agreement with the Palestinians – no one was holding his breath about resumption of the dormant Israeli-Syrian talks. The young Assad was considered something of an oddball, who was a tool in the hands of the Syrian old guard of conservative generals and advisers. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s Bureau under Ariel Sharon was already beginning to devise its plan for “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip.

Surprisingly, Assad suggested to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he take advantage of his good relations with Israel to renew the diplomatic process between Syria and Israel, which had been broken off following the spring 2000 meeting between his father, Hafez Assad, and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Erdogan promised to give it a try.

Sistani flirting with Shiite militant message

Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

But — unlike al-Sadr’s anti-American broadsides — the Iranian-born al-Sistani has displayed extreme caution with anything that could imperil the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.



Petraeus: diplomacy, not force, with Iran

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush’s nominee to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, supports continued U.S. engagement with international and regional partners to find the right mix of diplomatic, economic and military leverage to address the challenges posed by Iran.

In written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will testify today, Petraeus said the possibility of military action against Iran should be retained as a “last resort.” But he said the United States “should make every effort to engage by use of the whole of government, developing further leverage rather than simply targeting discrete threats.”

Petraeus’s views echoed those expressed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who this month said that talks with Iran could be useful if the right combination of incentives and pressures could be developed. [complete article]

Straw-man diplomacy

On the Friday before the 2004 presidential election, Osama bin Laden released a videotape slamming George W. Bush, which more than a few people took as a tacit endorsement of John Kerry. The CIA saw it differently, though. According to Ron Suskind’s fine book, The One Percent Doctrine, Deputy Director John McLaughlin said, “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.” It seemed obvious to the top CIA analysts that bin Laden wanted to keep Bush — who had let the terrorists off the hook in Afghanistan and launched the war in Iraq, a great recruiting tool for al-Qaeda — in power.

Which raises the question: Who are the bad guys rooting for in 2008? John McCain would have you believe the answer is clear. Barack Obama wants to meet with the leaders of enemy states, especially Iran, “which would increase their prestige,” McCain says, and convey the impression of American weakness. To punctuate the point, McCain persistently barks that Obama wants to meet with the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a flagrant anti-Semite but a relatively powerless figurehead. Obama did say during a debate last summer that he would meet with foreign leaders without preconditions. “He shorthanded the answer,” Senator Joe Biden recently said. Ever since, Obama has been creatively fuzzy when asked directly if he would meet with Ahmadinejad — and he has begun to point out that the real leaders of Iran are the clerics led by the Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, who controls Iran’s foreign policy and its nuclear program. Obama has also been explicit about the need to start with lower-level talks, a presidential summit coming only if there were progress in those negotiations. In his previous, straight-talking incarnation, McCain would have allowed Obama the modifications to his shorthand answer and debated the issue on the merits. Not this year.

When I asked McCain on May 19 why he kept linking Obama to Ahmadinejad, he said that Ahmadinejad represents Iran at the U.N., which is a fair point, and that the “average American” thinks he’s the leader of Iran, which he isn’t. Indeed, it could be argued that McCain’s Ahmadinejad obsession “increases the prestige” of a relatively powerless loudmouth for domestic political gain. Linking Obama to the world’s most famous anti-Semite certainly doesn’t hurt McCain among Jewish retirees in Florida, a swing state. In any case, don’t be surprised if Ahmadinejad pulls a bin Laden and “denounces” McCain just before the election this year.

Why? Because the last thing Iran’s leaders want is an American President who doesn’t play the role of the Great Satan. They need the mirage of an implacable, saber-rattling foe to distract their population from the utter incompetence of their government. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The question about whether President Obama should or shouldn’t be willing to meet President Ahmadinejad is in large part a product of the trivialization of politics as practiced by George Bush.

Because Bush liked to make trite remarks like, “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” after meeting Vladamir Putin, and because Bush liked to suggest that a handshake could be worth as much as a treaty, we’ve been led to entertain the comic book notion that once the big guys get along then everything else can be worked out.

If the US engages Iran, the presidential photo-op will most likely come only after a lion’s share of the serious work has already been done. The real question is this: Is the United States ready to swallow its pride and engage with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, thereby implicitly recognizing the legitimacy of the Islamic state? In other words, thirty years after the Shah’s ouster, is America able to come to terms with the fact that it no longer has any say in how Iran is governed?

If and when representatives of the two governments meet, initially the only issue each side should be trying to determine about the other, is whether these particular representatives have been duly empowered to speak for their government. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what the US government will have difficulty figuring out.

Joe Klein says, “the last thing Iran’s leaders want is an American President who doesn’t play the role of the Great Satan,” but Klein should know better than to talk about what “Iran’s leaders want” — as though there was a clear consensus. The Great Satan works well for Ahmadinejad but the same cannot be said of his strongest political adversary, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Indeed, whoever happens to wield the most political power in Iran by late 2009, their posture towards the United States is clearly going to be strongly influenced by how many thousand American troops remain in Iraq and how many US warships are cruising the Gulf.

If we can get past the comic book language and stop using the phrase, “talking to the enemy,” we might then be able to discuss the real but less catchy issue: diplomatic engagement with unfriendly states.

It really should be a non-issue. If diplomats aren’t employed to engage unfriendly states, what on earth is the function of diplomacy? Just to arrange cocktail parties for visiting dignitaries?



Lebanon’s historic accord

For the Los Angeles Times, Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei reported: “The Doha accord comes 18 years after the agreement signed in the Saudi Arabian resort town of Taif that ended the civil war. That agreement cemented the role of Lebanon’s Sunni Arab community as an ascendant force, and the latest deal could mark the emergence of Lebanon’s Shia as a potent political force.

“The deal also delivered a blow to Saudi Arabia, the primary patron of Lebanon’s Sunnis, as its long time Qatari rivals upstaged Riyadh as a diplomatic powerhouse. The Qataris accomplished in a week what the French and the Arab League were unable to do in months of talks.”

In Time magazine, Andrew Lee Butters wrote: “The US government may find a Hizbollah-dominated Lebanon hard to swallow. Disarming Hizbollah and securing Lebanon’s independence from Syrian and Iranian influence was one of the Bush administration’s major Middle East policies; it garnered broad support among European governments, including France, that were not on board in Iraq. Nor will Israel be keen to live with the fact that its most formidable adversary is now in de facto control of almost an entire country, with a sophisticated banking system, an international airport, and a varied mountainous terrain in which to train and prepare for war. But Israel and America have few options. They can’t isolate Lebanon like the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip, and the last two Israeli invasions of Lebanon were disasters. Like the American-backed government, they may have to admit defeat in Lebanon.”

US on the outside in peace efforts

Just days after President Bush returned from the Middle East, the Middle East is moving beyond the Bush administration.

Two major peace efforts — a surprise announcement of indirect talks between Israel and Syria brokered by Turkey and an eleventh-hour deal to prevent a new Lebanese war brokered by Qatar — were launched without an American role, and both counter U.S. strategy in the region.

For years, the Bush administration has resisted overtures from Jerusalem and Damascus to participate in revived peace efforts over the Golan Heights. The administration balked at including Syria in the Annapolis conference on Middle East peace last year, relenting only under pressure from allies, according to Western officials.

Israel prime minister fighting for peace and his political life

Ehud Olmert, the fiercely competitive distance runner who governs Israel, leaned back in his tall leather chair and pondered a question about his race against time.

The prime minister is having a trying month. Prosecutors spoiled the mood at Israel’s 60th anniversary festivities by disclosing that he was under investigation again, this time on suspicion of taking envelopes stuffed with cash bribes.

Then a rocket from the Gaza Strip slammed into a shopping mall in southern Israel, wounding 16 and drawing an angry crowd that shouted, “Olmert resign!” Rivals, including his foreign minister and defense minister, began maneuvering for possible early elections.

The last roundup

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, “There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

China earthquake pushes Tibet to sidelines

As the Dalai Lama toured European capitals this week, the British prime minister closed the door to 10 Downing Street and agreed to meet him only as part of an “interfaith dialogue.” In Germany, most government officials declined to talk with him at all.

It was a precipitous comedown from just a few weeks ago, when Tibetans and their supporters unexpectedly upstaged Beijing’s elaborate global torch relay and catapulted Tibet’s cause to the forefront of the world’s human rights agenda. The German and British leaders let it be known then that they would skip the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

The shift is, partly, tectonic. An earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province killed tens of thousands of Chinese, evoking an outpouring of global sympathy for China and turning it overnight from victimizer to victim.

Deal reached with militants

Pakistan’s new government yesterday agreed to pull its forces out of a restive region near the Afghan border and allow elements of Islamic Shariah law to be imposed there in return for a promise by local Islamic militants to end a wave of terror and arrest foreign terrorists operating in the area.

The accord came a day after Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte expressed deep reservations about such accords, noting that a similar deal struck by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 2006 had allowed Taliban and al Qaeda forces to recruit and rearm.

The United States and Afghanistan charge that Islamist fighters have used poorly policed tribal regions in Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks against Afghan and international forces. Many think al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is holed up somewhere along the border.



Jim Webb speaks out on race, addresses grievances of white America

It’s refreshing when someone makes the effort to advance the discussion of this year’s election beyond debating a black/white divide. So when that someone is oft-mentioned potential Democratic running mate Jim Webb, it’s worth taking note.

Webb appeared on Morning Joe today to speak about his newest book, A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America, and to dodge questions about whether he would accept a spot on Barack Obama’s presidential ticket. But since the Kentucky primary had just provided pundits with fodder to discuss the ever-popular “Does Obama have a working whites problem?” Webb weighed in on the election results and his Scots-Irish heritage.

Clinton desperate to count votes, compares Fla. primary to Zimbabwe

Desperate to get attention for her cause to seat Florida and Michigan delegates, Hillary Clinton compared the plight of Zimbabweans in their recent fraudulent election to the uncounted votes of Michigan and Florida voters saying it is wrong when “people go through the motions of an election only to have them discarded and disregarded.”

“We’re seeing that right now in Zimbabwe,” Clinton explained. “Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people,” Clinton told the crowd of senior citizens at a retirement community in south Florida.

McCain backer Hagee said Hitler was fulfilling God’s will

John Hagee, the controversial evangelical leader and endorser of Sen. John McCain, argued in a late 1990s sermon that the Nazis had operated on God’s behalf to chase the Jews from Europe and shepherd them to Palestine. According to the Reverend, Adolph Hitler was a “hunter,” sent by God, who was tasked with expediting God’s will of having the Jews re-establish a state of Israel.

Lebanon’s brush with civil war

When Israel commenced its bombardment of Lebanon on July 12, 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his general staff declared that the air raids were provoked by Hizballah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers that day. As the destruction piled up over the ensuing 33 days, then, Lebanese did not ask themselves, “Why is Israel bombing us?” Rather, the question in many Lebanese minds, those of ordinary citizens and analysts alike, was “Why did Hizballah provoke this? Why now?” The implicit answer — that the Shi‘i Islamist party was acting in the interests of its friends in Tehran and Damascus rather than those of its constituents and compatriots in Lebanon — has reverberated through the country’s political discourse ever since, with few bothering to recall the rhetorical and historical precedents for the abduction operation.

The bloody clashes that broke out between opposition and government gunmen on May 7 have sparked fevered speculation as well. That Hizballah militants could take over West Beirut came as little surprise. Many were astonished by the speed of the advance, however, and the low number of casualties left in its wake, as the reports of 50-caliber machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, as well as small arms, reverberated in West Beirut for a second day. The pertinent question, then, is not “How could Hizballah do this?” but “Why did the Lebanese government choose to provoke Hizballah at this time?”

Lebanese rivals set to elect president after historic accord

Lebanese lawmakers are set to elect the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president on Sunday after rival political leaders clinched a deal in Doha on Wednesday to end an 18-month feud that exploded into deadly sectarian fighting and threatened to plunge the nation into all-out civil war.

The deal that was reached at Doha after four days of intensive talks will lead to electing Suleiman, forming a national unity cabinet, and drafting a new electoral law for the 2009 parliamentary elections.

After Guantánamo

These days, it seems, everyone wants to close Guantánamo. In January 2002, the Bush administration created a detention camp at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba to imprison what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called “the worst of the worst” terrorism suspects. The facility has since become an embarrassing stain on the United States’ reputation. With some inmates now having endured more than six years of detention without charge or trial, and with no end to their ordeal in sight, Guantánamo has come to symbolize Washington’s flouting of international human rights standards in the name of fighting terrorism. Now, even President George W. Bush says he wants to shut it down.

Rumsfeld’s claim notwithstanding, more than half of the 778 detainees known to have passed through Guantánamo have been released, and many others deserve to be. But there is a hard-core group — the Bush administration speaks of some 150 — who have allegedly plotted or committed acts of terrorism or would do so now if they could. Shuttering Guantánamo would force the government to decide what should be done with these allegedly dangerous individuals. Should they be given criminal trials? Or should they, as a growing number of lawyers and scholars suggest, be subjected to a system that permits detention without charge or trial because authorities believe they might pose a future threat — a system known as administrative, or preventive, detention?

Report details dissent on Guantánamo tactics

In 2002, as evidence of prisoner mistreatment at Guantánamo Bay began to mount, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at the base created a “war crimes file” to document accusations against American military personnel, but were eventually ordered to close down the file, a Justice Department report revealed Tuesday.

The report, an exhaustive, 437-page review prepared by the Justice Department inspector general, provides the fullest account to date of internal dissent and confusion within the Bush administration over the use of harsh interrogation tactics by the military and the Central Intelligence Agency.


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Listening to rural America

A country voice on rural voters

Q: Let’s talk about the South, and about those regional, rural voters. You call yourself a rural advocate, albeit an avowed Democrat. In 2004, Senator John Kerry pretty much wrote off the South. As the electoral votes shift southward, with population growth, what are your recommendations for a Democratic candidate to woo Southern voters? Should a vice presidential choice come from the South. Will Nascar dads still be sought out in 2008?

dave-mudcat-saundersA: The Center for Rural Strategies, a non-partisan think tank in Whitesburg, Kentucky, did a poll on October 26, 2006. When asked what was the top issue going into the midterm elections, 38 percent of the respondents said “lack of economic fairness”. There’s the message.

Although everybody brings up Jim Webb when talk of military and foreign policy emerges, Obama needs to spend some quality time with Webb talking about economic fairness. Webb, who has evolved from a Scots-Irish Appalachian icon into rural America’s champion for economic fairness, knows more about the dire implications of lack of economic fairness for rural America and can put a face on it better than anyone alive. Jim has written tens of thousands of words on the subject, including his new book, “A Time To Fight.”

While I’m talking about Webb, he would be my first choice for vice president. Talk about a guy who could lead Obama through the culture. I sometimes wonder if Jim isn’t the father, son, and holy ghost of rural culture. And if the party really wants the “Reagan Democrats” back in the tent, I can’t think of anybody better to stand at the entrance than Jim. He’s the bell cow for those guys.

As far as the “Nascar Dad” is concerned, I still don’t understand what that was all about. I guess since “Soccer Moms” was such a popular catch phrase in 2000 that somebody thought it would be cute to use “Nascar Dads” as a catch phrase in 2004. Although I was heavily involved in the Nascar push, I never embarked on the project just to get males. Forty percent of the Nascar fans are women. I think a great new permutation for 2008 would be, “No More Lies.” [complete article]

Why don’t those hillbillies like Obama?

In analyzing the returns from last week’s West Virginia Democratic primary, a phalanx of reporters and commentators have explained Hillary Clinton’s landslide victory by pointing out that West Virginians are a special set of Democrats, white, low income and undereducated. Some, like Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Jonathan Tilove of the Newhouse papers, have linked the lackluster performance of Barack Obama in West Virginia to a larger Appalachian problem. These writers connect the presumptive nominee’s defeat in West Virginia, his previous losses in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and an anticipated poor outing in Tuesday’s Kentucky primary, to the historical, geographic and cultural imperatives shared by Appalachian mountain people.

The legions of pseudonym-laden online posters who follow in political punditry’s wake are less restrained in describing the shortcomings of Sen. Clinton’s Appalachian supporters. They suggest it has to do with her voters being racist, toothless, shoeless, and prone to marrying their cousins. In short, they characterize these “special” Democrats in much the same terms they used in quieter times to describe Republicans. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Whether the Obama campaign feels it does or doesn’t have a strategic need to embrace the rural voters, what seems more important is that rural America becomes an integral part of a campaign that in spirit focuses on inclusion. The bridge that crosses the urban-rural divide is respect.


OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The belligerent power

Who’s the real appeaser?

President Bush chose an odd place and time to claim that talking to “terrorists and radicals” in the Middle East is like appeasing Hitler in the 1930s. As Bush was speaking in Israel, his preferred strategy against such adversaries was collapsing next door in Lebanon. Over the past two weeks the Lebanese government, which is strongly backed by Washington, decided to confront the Shiite group Hizbullah by firing a loyalist who was head of security at Beirut airport and suspending the group’s dedicated phone network. The Iranian-backed Hizbullah retaliated, taking over large parts of Beirut and paralyzing the country. Last week the Lebanese cabinet humiliatingly reversed itself on both fronts. Iran 1, USA 0.

The Bush administration’s strategy against Hizbullah has consisted of a mix of isolation, belligerence and military pressure. It refuses to talk to the group or its supporters in Tehran and Damascus. Two years ago, Washington unquestioningly supported Israeli Prime Minister’s Ehud Olmert’s decision to attack southern Lebanon, Hizbullah’s stronghold. The United States provides the Lebanese government and Army with aid and has responded to the current crisis by promising to speed up delivery of weapons. Yet today Hizbullah is stronger in Lebanon, Iran is more influential in the region, and the United States and its ally, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, have been marginalized. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — It’s not so long ago that it was commonly understood that if you could sit down and talk with your adversary, that, in and of itself, counted as a victory. It meant that the subtler, more constructive and precise power of discourse could – even if only temporarily – replace the blunt power of violence, intimidation and threats. And since it was the belligerent who generally lacked an interest in talking, the challenge was not to get the other side to meet a set of preconditions for negotiation; the challenge was to get the other side to negotiate.

For the last seven years, the Bush administration has been the belligerent power. As the party with a conviction in its ability to be the dominant force – its ability to wield the most destructive power – it is the one that has been unwilling to talk. It protects its ‘right’ to use violence.

When Bush characterizes talking as a form of capitulation, what he is really doing is expressing his conviction in the necessity of forcing the other side into submission. From that perspective, there is of course nothing to negotiate.


Updated – NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: How to spot bullshit

The article linked to below has been updated. The White House has now issued a flat denial of the earlier JP report.

‘Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term’

US President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran in the upcoming months, before the end of his term, Army Radio quoted a senior official in Jerusalem as saying Tuesday.

The official claimed that a senior member of the president’s entourage, which concluded a trip to Israel last week, said during a closed meeting that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action was called for.

However, the official continued, “the hesitancy of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice” was preventing the administration from deciding to launch such an attack on the Islamic Republic, for the time being.

The report stated that according to assessments in Israel, recent turmoil in Lebanon, where Hizbullah de facto established control of the country, was advancing an American attack.

Bush, the officials said, opined that Hizbullah’s show of strength was evidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s growing influence. They said that according to Bush, “the disease must be treated – not its symptoms.”

In an address to the Knesset during his visit here last week, Bush said that “the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages.”

“America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions,” Bush said. “Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — This article requires careful reading. Here’s why I’d say it’s bullshit:

1. The headline. The statement is in quotes but the “quote” gets paraphrased in the article. If you’ve got a killer quote – even one from a nameless senior official – you don’t turn it into a paraphrase.

2. Straight after leading with the quoteless quote, the article pushes back by saying that Bush and Cheney are of “the opinion that military action is called for.” Being of the opinion its called for is not the same as saying its going to happen.

3. Is Ed Gillespie (or whoever this senior member of Bush’s entourage was) really going to say to the Israelis, “Bush and Cheney want to attack, but right now their hands are tied by Rice and Gates”? If that was the case, it sounds more like someone saying, “You know, we really want to help you, but we can’t.” More likely, the statement took a form something like this: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney are fully aware that military action may be called for before they leave office, but right now there’s a lot of debate going on between the White House and State and Defense on whether this is the right time to move ahead.”

4. When Bush stands up in front of the Knesset and says, “the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he’s making it pretty clear that the US is not going to act unilaterally.

5. When Bush spoke directly to the Jerusalem Post a few days ago, he told them that “before leaving office he wants a structure in place for dealing with Iran.” That does not sound like a coded way of saying the US is going to attack Iran. It sounds very much like he saying that he’s going to make sure that the next president is hemmed in by the policies that the Bush administration has set.



Gaza cease-fire could take effect later this week

The cease-fire (tahdiyeh) being negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip is expected to go into effect in a number of days, following developments at the end of meetings held by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday with the Egyptian leadership.

The Egyptian Chief of Intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, who has been mediating between the parties, is scheduled to meet Tueday with the heads of the Palestinian factions in the Strip.

Israel is waiting to learn from Suleiman whether the Palestinian groups, headed by Hamas, will agree to an unofficial deal on a cessation of terrorist activities in the strip, in return for an end to IDF attacks. Israel does not intend to officially announce that it has accepted the tahdiyeh deal, but will let the situation unfold gradually – and evaluate the indirect accord with Hamas on the basis of results on the ground.

Tuesday’s meeting between Suleiman and a Hamas-led delegation from the Gaza Strip headed by the deputy head of the group’s politburo, Mussa Abu Marzouk, is critical to whether the cease-fire deal will be closed.

France admits contacts with Hamas

France confirmed Monday that it had been engaged in contacts with the leaders of Hamas, the radical Islamic group that is running Gaza, for several months to try to better understand its positions.

The Bush administration, which recently likened talks with Hamas and other groups to appeasement of the Nazis, criticized the French for the contacts, calling them unhelpful. There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who has said he will not talk to Hamas, which he accuses of carrying out a bloody coup in Gaza last June.

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said there had been no negotiations with Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and the European Union.

“These are not relations; they are contacts,” Mr. Kouchner said on Europe 1 radio. “We are not the only ones to have them. We must be able to talk if we want to play a role.”

Ramon: Negotiations with Hamas defy government policy

Israel officially admitted to holding talks with Hamas for the first time on Monday, with Vice Premier Haim Ramon saying that “the negations we are conducting with Hamas are in direct defiance of the government’s resolution, according to which Israel would agree to talk to the Islamist group only after it accepts the conditions set by the Quartet.”

The Quartet – US, Russia, EU and the UN – demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and ratify past agreements and the road Map.

Up until now the cabinet claimed that the talks on a possible ceasefire and on the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit have all been conducted with Egyptian mediation so as not to breach the ‘political siege’ imposed on Ismail Haniyeh’s government, since Hamas’ violent takeover of the Strip in July 2007.

If I were Sheldon

When Sheldon Adelson gave his speech on the podium of the International Convention Center two days ago, I looked at Shimon Peres.

I was happy for him. The impressive, sparkling conference that he convened will warm his heart on the cold evenings when he is stuck alone, he and his security guards, in the desolate cage on Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem. Many important, highly-respected people. An excellent organization. Well done.

As a citizen of the country, I was less happy. I saw a gambling tycoon from Las Vegas who bought my country’s birthday with three million dollars. I thought with sorrow: Is the country worth so very little? Were the champagne and the wine and the sushi that were given out for free in the lobby, unlike what is conventional for such events, worth the humiliation?

Adelson is a Jew who loves Israel. Like some other Jews who live at a safe distance from here, his love is great, passionate, smothering. It is important to him that he influence the policies, decisions and compositions of Israeli governments. He is not alone in this, either: even back in the days of Baron Rothschild, wealthy Jews from the Diaspora felt that this country lay in their pocket, alongside their wallet. Regrettably, in the latest generation, we are being led by politicians who look at these millionaires with calf’s eyes.

Blacklisted by the Bush government

One day in March 2004, Soliman Hamd Al-Buthe, a former member of Saudi Arabia’s national basketball team and a government official in the city of Riyadh, picked up his phone for an urgent call with two American lawyers in Washington, D.C. Most of the call concerned a growing confrontation between the U.S. government and the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Ashland, Ore., the U.S. branch of a global Saudi Arabian charity organization under investigation for possible links to terrorism. Al-Buthe had been an advisor to Al-Haramain from 1995 to 2002 and was a member of the Oregon foundation’s board of directors. Just weeks prior to the call, the foundation — a respected fixture in the Ashland community run for years by an Iranian-American Muslim named Pete Seda — had been raided by U.S. law enforcement agents.

Because of their involvement with Al-Haramain, Al-Buthe and Seda were also entangled in a lawsuit filed against dozens of prominent Saudis by families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During the call, Al-Buthe and his attorneys talked about the funds needed for his legal defense. “We had a problem of transferring money,” he says, “so we were thinking of new ways” of getting funds to Washington.

The phone call proved fateful. Unknown to its three participants, the conversation, and at least one other between them in April 2004, was monitored by officials from the National Security Agency at the behest of senior Bush administration officials. The surveillance that day — apparently conducted without a warrant and later exposed when the government accidentally released a highly classified document to Al-Haramain’s attorneys — would become a key piece in the sprawling debate over extrajudicial spying inside the United States after 9/11. The surveillance would also have profound consequences for Al-Buthe — who is considered a terrorist supporter by the Bush administration — and others connected with the Al-Haramain Foundation in Oregon.

Keeping secrets: In presidential memo, a new designation for classifying information

Sometime in the next few years, if a memorandum signed by President Bush this month ever goes into effect, one government official talking to another about information on terrorists will have to begin by saying: “What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination.”

That would mean, according to the memo, that the information requires safeguarding because “the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure would create risk of substantial harm.”

Bush’s memorandum, signed on the eve of his daughter Jenna’s wedding, introduced “Controlled Unclassified Information” as a new government category that will replace “Sensitive but Unclassified.”