NEWS & VIEWS: June 2

We are all appeasers now

Of the major presidential candidates, only Obama has dared to unequivocally reject the Appeasement Paradigm. He has vowed to end not only the Iraq war but, crucially, also what he called “the mind-set that got us into war in the first place.”

The coming election is shaping up to be a referendum not just on Iraq but on that black-and-white mind-set. McCain and the GOP will relentlessly attack Obama as weak, inexperienced and cowardly, pointing to his willingness to talk to our enemies as evidence. But the fact is that what Obama is proposing is simply rational, realistic foreign policy. And the proof is that the rest of the world, including Israel, has defied the Bush administration and is talking to the “terrorists.”

If it’s appeasement to talk to “evildoers,” we are all appeasers now. Everywhere you look, our allies — or we ourselves — are negotiating with members of the “Axis of Evil” and their allies.

Americans favor president meeting with U.S. enemies

Large majorities of Democrats and independents, and even about half of Republicans, believe the president of the United States should meet with the leaders of countries that are considered enemies of the United States. Overall, 67% of Americans say this kind of diplomacy is a good idea.

US accused of holding terror suspects on prison ships

The United States is operating “floating prisons” to house those arrested in its war on terror, according to human rights lawyers, who claim there has been an attempt to conceal the numbers and whereabouts of detainees.

Details of ships where detainees have been held and sites allegedly being used in countries across the world have been compiled as the debate over detention without trial intensifies on both sides of the Atlantic. The US government was yesterday urged to list the names and whereabouts of all those detained.

Information about the operation of prison ships has emerged through a number of sources, including statements from the US military, the Council of Europe and related parliamentary bodies, and the testimonies of prisoners.

McCain’s McClellan nightmare

Americans don’t like being lied to by their leaders, especially if there are casualties involved and especially if there’s no accountability. We view it as a crime story, and we won’t be satisfied until there’s a resolution.

That’s why the original sin of the war’s conception remains a political flash point, however much we tune out Iraq as it grinds on today. Even a figure as puny as Mr. McClellan can ignite it. The Democrats portray Mr. McCain as offering a third Bush term, but it’s a third term of the war that’s his bigger problem. Even if he locks the president away in a private home, the war will keep seeping under the door, like the blood in “Sweeney Todd.”

Mr. McCain and his party are in denial about this. “Elections are about the future” is their mantra. On “Hardball” in April, Mr. McCain pooh-poohed debate about “whether we should have invaded or not” as merely “a good academic argument.” We should focus on the “victory” he magically foresees instead.

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.

Taliban leader flaunts power inside Pakistan

With great fanfare, the Pakistani Army flew journalists to a rugged corner of the nation’s lawless tribal areas in May to show how decisively it had destroyed the lairs of the Taliban, including a school for suicide bombers, in fighting early this year.

Then, just days later, the usually reclusive leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, held a news conference of his own, in the same region, to show just who was in charge.

He rolled up in an expensive-looking Toyota pickup packed with heavily armed Taliban fighters, according to the Pakistani journalists invited to attend. Squatting on the floor of a government school, Mr. Mehsud, clasping a new Kalashnikov, announced he would press his fight against the American military across the border in Afghanistan.

Bhutto dealt nuclear secrets to N. Korea, book says

Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, on a state visit to North Korea in 1993, smuggled in critical data on uranium enrichment — a route to making a nuclear weapon — to help facilitate a missile deal with Pyongyang, according to a new book by a journalist who knew the slain politician well.

The assertion is based on conversations that the author, Shyam Bhatia, had with Bhutto in 2003, in which she said she would tell him a secret “so significant that I had to promise never to reveal it, at least not during her lifetime,” Bhatia writes in “Goodbye, Shahzadi,” which was published in India last month.

Bhutto was slain in December while campaigning to win back the prime minister’s post.

The account, if verified, could advance the timeline for North Korea’s interest in uranium enrichment. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a research organization on nuclear weapons programs, said the assertion “makes sense,” because there were signs of “funny procurements” in the late 1980s by North Korea that suggested a nascent effort to assemble a uranium enrichment project.

Washington trip lets suspect be statesman

“Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s departure for the US on Monday night may well turn out to be a tour to bid farewell to his friends in Washington. But Olmert is doing his best to make the visit look like everything is under control: He even extended his stay in the US by one day,” Barak Ravid wrote for Haaretz.

“Indeed, Olmert’s entourage is comforting itself with the strong friendship struck up with US President George W Bush. Olmert is also slated to meet with presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”

Jeffrey Heller writing for Reuters saw parallels with an earlier excursion: “Denying any wrongdoing in an investigation that was gathering speed, the embattled leader set off on a foreign visit to discuss issues at the heart of US-Israeli relations and the Middle East conflict.

“Richard Nixon landed in Israel in June, 1974 at the height of the Watergate scandal to a red-carpet welcome and trumpet fanfare that struck a note far different from the political discord he left back home.

A year later, Hamas rule deepens in Gaza

A year into Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip, courts are meting out justice, police are arresting thieves, motorists are paying for licenses and authorities are blocking Internet porn sites.

At the same time, Gazans are stocking up on vegetable oil — not for cooking, but to run their cars during a severe fuel shortage. A punishing Israeli-led blockade has forced 80 percent of the people to rely on United Nations food handouts. With sanitation services collapsing, millions of gallons of raw sewage are flowing into the sea. Enemies of the regime have been silenced.

A year after Hamas militants seized power in five days of bloody fighting that included tossing rivals off high-rise rooftops, it’s become clear that Israel’s boycott of Gaza has not significantly weakened Hamas and its control is deepening.

Saudi clerics criticize Shiites for destabilizing

Hardline Sunni clerics accused Shiites Sunday of destabilizing Muslim countries and humiliating Sunnis, just days before a Muslim interfaith conference called by Saudi Arabia’s king.

The attacks on Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah — though contrary to official policy — highlight the sharp, growing distrust between Islam’s two arms, and its potential to cause more unrest.

In a strongly worded statement, the 22 clerics savaged Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants, saying the Lebanese Shiite group has tricked other Muslims into believing it is against Jews and Americans.

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