Kiss American security goodbye

When the history of this era is finally written… , Osama bin Laden and his scattering of followers may be credited for goading the fundamentalist leaders of the United States into using the power in their grasp so — not to put a fine point on it — stupidly and profligately as to send the planet’s “sole superpower” into decline. Above all, bin Laden and his crew of fanatics will have ensured one thing: that the real security problems of our age were ignored in Washington until far too late in favor of mad dreams and dark phantoms.

Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure

Two current and high-profile events – the crisis in and around Tibet following the Lhasa riots of 14 March 2008, and the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment on 14 May 1948 of the state of Israel – have more in common than it may first appear. Indeed, their commonalities are shared to a degree by other political and ethnic disputes across the world, to the extent that they compose a distinct phenomenon – which may be termed “the syndrome of post-colonial sequestration”.

Like father, like son: Bush pleads for Saudi help, but world oil market has changed

In April 1986, Vice President George H.W. Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia with a stern warning. Record low oil prices of $10 a barrel threatened the U.S. oil industry and U.S. national security. If prices don’t rise, he warned, perhaps a U.S. tariff on imported oil would do the job.

More than 22 years later, his son George W. Bush went on a similar mission, but with the opposite goal in mind. President Bush met Friday with Saudi King Abdullah and was politely rebuffed in his request for help in bringing down world oil prices, which have raced past $125 a barrel.

Saudis, US grapple with Iran challenge

A timeless and abstract passion, which could gain instantaneous contemporaneity and which has proven to be unfailingly useful for statecraft, was invoked in Middle Eastern politics once again this week. It is the ultimate weapon in Saudi Arabia’s arsenal of regional diplomacy. It is seductive in its appeal, yet almost embarrassingly direct.

That was how, most certainly, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal would have thought when on Tuesday he warned Tehran that its support to what he termed Hezbollah’s “coup” in Lebanon would affect Iran’s relations with Arab and Islamic countries. The Saudi prince went on to exhort all Middle East countries to respect Lebanon’s independence and to refrain from stoking “sectarian tensions” in that country.

It is extremely rare for Saudi diplomacy to blatantly use the weapon of sectarianism against Shi’ite Iran and to draw a line of divide between the Persians and the surrounding Sunni Muslim Arab world. More so as Saudi clerics are usually put to use in playing the “Shi’ite card” against Iran.

Coups and counter-coups

Back from the brink, fragile Lebanon can breathe again, thanks to the timely intervention of the Arab League which, no matter how divided and polarized, managed to pull off a big one by convincing the Lebanese government to rescind its controversial decisions that had triggered the latest crisis. This was the removal of the head of Beirut Airport and an assault on a nerve center of the Hezbollah-led resistance, its communication network.

So, as the guns begin to fall silent in Beirut, Tripoli and elsewhere in Lebanon and fractious Lebanon and the outside world reflect on what transpired this past several days on the eve of President George W Bush’s Middle East trip, it has become fairly obvious that the Saudi Arabia accusation of an Iran-inspired Hezbollah “coup” is a total misnomer. Indeed, the more apt term is a “government coup and Hezbollah’s successful counter-coup”.

Pakistan defies U.S. on halting Afghanistan raids

Pakistani officials are making it increasingly clear that they have no interest in stopping cross-border attacks by militants into Afghanistan, prompting a new level of frustration from Americans who see the infiltration as a crucial strategic priority in the war in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday night, the United States fired its fourth Predator missile strike since January, the most visible symbol of the American push for a freer hand to pursue militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban who use Pakistan’s tribal areas as a base to attack Afghanistan and plot terrorist attacks abroad. In Afghanistan, cross-border attacks have doubled over the same month last year and present an increasingly lethal challenge to American and NATO efforts to wind down the war and deny the Taliban and Al Qaeda a sanctuary.

In an unusual step during a visit to Pakistan in March, Adm. Eric T. Olson, the commander of United States Special Operations Command, held a round-table discussion with a group of civilian Pakistani leaders to sound them out on the possibility of cross-border raids by American forces. He was told in no uncertain terms that from the Pakistani point of view it was a bad idea, said one of the participants.

Hunger and food prices push Afghanistan to brink

Afghanistan is in a particularly unforgiving situation, Anthony Banbury, director for Asia with the United Nations World Food Program, said during a recent visit to Kandahar. It is not only one of the poorest countries, but it is grappling with a prolonged conflict, and all the attendant problems of lawlessness, displacement, poorly developed markets and destroyed infrastructure, which leave the population especially vulnerable to price shocks, he said.

“For millions of Afghans, the poorer segments of society, who spend up to 70 percent of their meager income on food, these food price rises put the basic necessities simply out of their reach,” Mr. Banbury said.

Six million people in Afghanistan, out of a population of about 32 million, are already receiving food aid, and the World Food Program is gearing up to help more.

It has agreed with the government to reopen an assistance plan through bakeries for the urban poor, a program that it ran during the years of the Taliban government but discontinued after the American-led invasion in late 2001. The government is also asking for help in providing food aid to 172,000 teachers countrywide, some of whom are not coming to work because they cannot make ends meet. That alone is an indication that things are getting harder, he said.

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