Once again, the US weakens its allies and strengthens its enemies

One of the adages popular in the treatment of recovering alcoholics in America is the notion that repeating the same behaviour and expecting a different result is insanity. President George W Bush, however, appears to have recovered from his own youthful drinking problem without digesting that particular lesson. Last week’s events in Lebanon suggest that his administration remains intent to the very end on repeating the strategies that have failed in Gaza and Basra and Sadr City, expecting that the result in Beirut would somehow be different.

“But what if nobody takes notice?”

But what if nobody takes notice?” is the question posed by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha in an article in the recent New York Review of Books concerning the putative ‘shelf agreement’ being discussed between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert. A ‘shelf agreement’ is an exercise in outlining some principles for the settlement of the Palestinian issue, rather than to attempt a full solution. It is a document, the culmination of the Annapolis process, intended not for implementation; but rather immediately to be set aside — on the ‘shelf’ — whilst all parties, Bush, Abbas and Olmert declare the document to represent a huge triumph — whilst shamelessly waving this Chamberlinesque ‘peace in out time’ paper before their electorates in order to ‘help’ in their respective elections, or to cement legacies.

Forget the two-state solution

There is no longer a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Forget the endless arguments about who offered what and who spurned whom and whether the Oslo peace process died when Yasser Arafat walked away from the bargaining table or whether it was Ariel Sharon’s stroll through the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem that did it in.

All that matters are the facts on the ground, of which the most important is that — after four decades of intensive Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories it occupied during the 1967 war — Israel has irreversibly cemented its grip on the land on which a Palestinian state might have been created.

Hillary Clinton’s suicidal gamble with race poison

From the very beginning, the premise and the promise of Barack Obama’s campaign was that it would transcend race. And last autumn the Obama team also knew this was the only way it could win.

The Clinton brand among black voters was so strong, so unbreakable, so resilient a force that even the first credible black candidate for the presidency remained stuck 20-30% behind Hillary Clinton among African-American voters. She was, after all, the wife of the “first black president”, as the author Toni Morrison called Bill.

How to end a presidential campaign

There are 50 ways to leave your lover, 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, and at least six ways to drop out of a presidential race. With Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign running on empty with little hope of victory, the New York senator’s allies and independent observers alike have begun to consider which one she’ll choose.

Clinton is balancing a range of considerations: her bank account; her political future and the party’s; her need to win back Obama’s supporters, particularly African-Americans; and her need to keep faith with voters in her own (nearly) half of the party, many of whom have grown to dislike her rival.

Clinton team acknowledges $20 million debt

With her campaign falling ever deeper into debt, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton spent a rainy Mother’s Day seeking votes ahead of Tuesday’s primary here, turning a deaf ear to calls for her to leave a Democratic presidential contest she has little hope of winning.

Clinton aides continued to insist that she will remain in the race even while confirming that she is $20 million in debt. “The voters are going to decide this,” senior adviser Howard Wolfson said on “Fox News Sunday,” acknowledging the $20 million figure. “There is no reason for her not to continue this process.” Wolfson said he has seen “no evidence of her interest” in pursuing the second-place spot on the Democratic ticket, contrary to rumors that she is staying in the race to leverage a bid for the vice presidential nomination.

Mr Cool’s intensity

Barack Obama called himself an “imperfect messenger” in his victory speech in North Carolina last Tuesday. That was a refreshing touch of humility, but it was also a fact. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is far from perfect. But he has demonstrated the most mysterious and precious gift in politics, which is grace under pressure.

Obama has remained “Mr. Cool,” even when his campaign seemed to be blowing up around him. He didn’t do the politically expedient things: He didn’t wear his patriotism on his lapel with an American flag pin; he didn’t promptly disown his race-baiting former pastor, Jeremiah Wright; he didn’t apologize for comments by his wife, Michelle, that many Americans found unpatriotic. You can say what you like about the substance of these positions, but the interesting fact is that Obama didn’t flinch.

As losses mount, GOP begins looking in the mirror

Since losing 30 seats and their 12-year stranglehold on power in 2006, House Republicans have kept asking themselves the same question: Can it get any worse?

On Tuesday, they may get another answer they won’t like.

With lots of help from Washington — including more than $1.3 million in campaign cash and a last-minute visit by Vice President Cheney — Mississippi Republicans are desperately trying to retain a congressional seat in one of the most reliably conservative districts in the nation.

The rise of the Muslim terrorists

In Sageman’s view the appeal of jihad is not so much narrowly religious as broadly romantic and consonant with the aspirations of youth everywhere. The young Moroccans with whom he spoke outside the mosque where the Madrid bombers used to worship equated Osama bin Laden with the soccer superstars they most admired. Their utopian aspirations are inspired as much by iconography as ideology. The images of Sheikh Osama, the rich civil engineer, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, once a promising physician from an elite Cairo family—both of whom are seen to have sacrificed everything for the sake of their beliefs—send powerful messages to aspirants far removed from the grimy realities of tribal Waziristan.

Sadr City residents fear a cease-fire means more violence

One day after an agreement between followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and the Iraqi government to end more than six weeks of fighting, the streets in parts of the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City were deserted, amidst signs of a battle. Wires snaked out of potholes and from underneath tires – signs of past or future roadside bombs; abandoned pickup trucks, destroyed by airstrikes, littered the streets, and bullets or shrapnel scarred the houses.

Hussein Abd Sakran walked three hours, holding up a white flag, to escape southeast Sadr City, where U.S. and Iraqi forces battled Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, and took refuge inside the home of his brother-in-law, Raheem Abdul Hassan.

He arrived Saturday after most other residents had fled, in fear that the agreement that would allow Iraqi security Forces into the northeast district would bring more violence. It was a long route in order to get past the barricade the U.S. military is building to isolate the southern edge from the rest of the slum and avoid the gun battles in the southern parts of the area, he said.

‘Ghost city’ Mosul braces for assault on last bastion of al-Qa’ida in Iraq

Mosul looks like a city of the dead. American and Iraqi troops have launched an attack aimed at crushing the last bastion of al- Qa’ida in Iraq and in doing so have turned the country’s northern capital into a ghost town.

Soldiers shoot at any civilian vehicle on the streets in defiance of a strict curfew. Two men, a woman and child in one car which failed to stop were shot dead yesterday by US troops, who issued a statement saying the men were armed and one made “threatening movements”.

Mosul, on the Tigris river, is inhabited by 1.4 million people, but has been sealed off from the outside world by hundreds of police and army checkpoints since the Iraqi government offensive against al-Qa’ida began at 4am on Saturday. The operation is a critical part of an attempt to reassert military control over Iraq which has led to heavy fighting in Baghdad and Basra.

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