Political theater seen in Israeli drill

An Israeli military exercise over the Mediterranean appears to have been less a dry run for an attack on Iran than a message that Tehran must curb its nuclear ambitions, according to officials and experts.

U.S. defense officials suggested last week that the drill was a dress rehearsal for an Israeli strike. But the Greek government, which took part in the exercise, rejected that assessment. And some observers think the disclosure of the maneuvers was aimed at getting the international community to step up diplomatic pressure on Tehran.

“The exercise has no connection with Israeli ‘preparations’ for an attack on Iran, as has been inaccurately reported,” said Greek government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. He said Israeli aircraft flew at high altitudes inconsistent with an attack, and the exercise did not simulate anti-aircraft fire.

News of the drill sent oil prices spiking. U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei warned an attack could turn the Mideast into a “ball of fire.” And Iran’s parliament speaker hinted a military strike could actually provoke the building of bombs.

Editor’s Comment — I can’t resist tooting my own trumpet on this story. While news organizations and bloggers alike were happy to run with Michael Gordon’s “attack rehearsal” Pentagon propaganda, I pointed out here and here that this was a story that shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Hamas: Continued rocket fire by Fatah armed group harms Palestinian interests

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip lashed out at rival militants after two Qassam rockets were fired at southern Israel yesterday, causing no injuries but further straining the shaky truce between Israel and Hamas that went into effect last Thursday morning.

In view of the continued rocket fire, Israel will keep the crossings into the Gaza Strip closed today, for the third straight day.

The Fatah-affiliated group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for yesterday’s rocket fire and demanded that the cease-fire be extended into the West Bank.

Editor’s Comment — Well, it’s safe to assume that we won’t be hearing any public appeals from Ehud Olmert, Tony Blair (he is still The Quartet’s star envoy, isn’t he?), George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, or Barak Obama, calling on Mahmoud Abbas to reign in the Fatah militants. Neither will there be wider support for a ceasefire covering all the Palestinian occupied territories. I guess it’s because all the peace processors are such deep believers in true peace that they can only offer tepid support for a mere truce.

Is Obama turning out to be just another politician?

From the beginning, Barack Obama’s special appeal was his vow to remain an idealistic outsider, courageous and optimistic, and never to shift his positions for political expediency, or become captive of the Inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia, or kiss up to special interests and big money donors.

In recent weeks, though, Obama has done all those things.

He abandoned public campaign financing after years of championing it. Backed a compromise on wiretap legislation that gives telecom companies retroactive immunity for helping the government conduct spying without warrants. Dumped his controversial pastor of two decades — then his church — after saying he could no more abandon the pastor than abandon his own grandmother.

He said he wouldn’t wear the U.S. flag pin because it had become a substitute for true patriotism, then started wearing it. Ramped up his courtship of unions. Shifted from a pledge to protect working-class families from tax increases to a far more expensive promise not to raise taxes on families that earn up to $250,000 a year. Turned to longtime D.C. Democratic wise men to run his vice-presidential search and staff his foreign-policy brain trust.

Editor’s Comment — I don’t subscribe to the theory that the seemingly idealistic Obama was merely a contrivance and now the “real Obama” — a cynical political opportunist — is revealing himself. But in the name of realism and so-called political necessity, it’s easy to forget your core values.

Compromise is an incremental process whose individual steps are never too egregious when viewed in isolation. But the steps aggregate and by the time the sum of the aggregation can be clearly seen, it’s too late to reverse.

There’s nothing wrong with showing that you’re a pragmatist and that you don’t fit into an ideological box, but if it comes at the expense of defining your political bedrock, then eventually no one will know whether that foundation exists.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton liked to flatter themselves with the cute claim that they were seasoned practitioners of “principled compromise.” In the end though it became clear that they honed their skill in compromise not in conjunction with but rather at the expense of their principles.

Obama’s supreme move to the center

When the Supreme Court issues rulings on hot-button issues like gun control and the death penalty in the middle of a presidential campaign, Republicans could be excused for thinking they’ll have the perfect opportunity to paint their Democratic opponent as an out-of-touch social liberal. But while Barack Obama may be ranked as one of the Senate’s most liberal members, his reactions to this week’s controversial court decisions showed yet again how he is carefully moving to the center ahead of the fall campaign.

On Wednesday, after the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional in cases of child rape, Obama surprised some observers by siding with the hardline minority of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito. At a press conference after the decision, Obama said, “I think that the rape of a small child, six or eight years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.”

Iran fights scourge of addiction in plain view, stressing treatment

More than 93 percent of the opium produced for the world’s illicit narcotics markets comes from Afghanistan, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and Iran is the main trafficking route for nearly 60 percent of the opium grown in Afghanistan.

With opium production skyrocketing in Afghanistan, some Iranian officials accuse the American military of ignoring poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, even though it is a major source of revenue for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

“We think the Americans want to keep this source of infection near us,” said Mr. Jahani, the Iranian antidrug official. “Because of the animosity between Iran and the U.S., this is the best way to keep our resources and forces occupied.”

The government grew so concerned about drug trafficking that it spent $6 billion in 2006 to build a wall 13 feet high, with barbed wire, and a trench 13 feet deep and 16 feet wide along a third of Iran’s border with Afghanistan. Iran seizes more illicit opiates than any other country, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said, and it burns tons of confiscated drugs in a ceremony every year.

West links drug war aid to Iranian nuclear impasse

Iranian forces have battled for years in the lonely canyons and deserts on the Afghan border against opium and heroin traffickers — winning rare praise from the United States and aid from Europe for the fight along one of the world’s busiest drug routes.

But now, international support for Iran’s drug agents could be threatened by the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear policies.

Western nations have told Iran that they could cut off any new help to Iran’s anti-drug units unless the Islamic regime halts uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be used to develop nuclear arms.

The warning was a small but potentially significant item tucked amid an array of trade and economic incentives seeking to sway Iranian leaders to strike a deal. Iran has not formally responded to the package, presented June 14 by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.

Editor’s Comment — The refrain from the Bush administration has always been that the US is at odds with the regime and not the people of Iran. However, if the West is seen as being willing to apply political leverage through controlling the flow of opium, then it can reasonably be accused of attempting to poison Iranian society. That’s no way to win friends.

Bush rebuffs hard-liners to ease North Korean curbs

Two days ago, during an off-the-record session with a group of foreign policy experts, Vice President Dick Cheney got a question he did not want to answer. “Mr. Vice President,” asked one of them, “I understand that on Wednesday or Thursday, we are going to de-list North Korea from the terrorism blacklist. Could you please set the context for this decision?”

Mr. Cheney froze, according to four participants at the Old Executive Office Building meeting. For more than 30 minutes he had been taking and answering questions, without missing a beat. But now, for several long seconds, he stared, unsmilingly, at his questioner, Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, a public policy institution. Finally, he spoke:

“I’m not going to be the one to announce this decision,” the other participants recalled Mr. Cheney saying, pointing at himself. “You need to address your interest in this to the State Department.” He then declared that he was done taking questions, and left the room.

North Korea destroys tower at nuclear site

In a gesture demonstrating its commitment to halt its nuclear weapons program, North Korea blew up the most prominent symbol of its plutonium production Friday.

The 60-foot cooling tower at the North’s main nuclear power plant collapsed in a heap of shattered concrete and twisted steel, filmed by international and regional television broadcasters invited to witness the event.

When anonymity fails, be nasty, brutish and short

Throughout the Bush presidency, he toiled in secrecy deep within the White House, a mysterious and feared presence who never stepped into the sunlight of public disclosure.

Until yesterday.

There he sat, hunched and scowling, at the witness table in front of the House Judiciary Committee: the bearded, burly form of the chief of staff and alter ego to the vice president — Cheney’s Cheney, if you will — and the man most responsible for building President Bush’s notion of an imperial presidency.

David Addington was there under subpoena. And he wasn’t happy about it.

Muslim sues over loss of security clearance

Charging violation of his constitutional rights to free speech and religion, equal protection and due process, nuclear scientist and prison imam Moniem El-Ganayni filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the Department of Energy and its acting deputy secretary, Jeffrey F. Kupfer.

The action stems from the loss of Dr. El-Ganayni’s security clearance, and hence his job, at Bettis Laboratory in West Mifflin, based on unspecified grounds of “national security.” It does not seek to overturn the revocation, but rather the right to see the alleged evidence against him — he doubts any exists — and the chance to contest the decision “before a nonpolitical, neutral arbiter, as mandated by DOE regulations.”

“The government has offered no factual details in this case. All they’ve done is to parrot boilerplate language from the DOE,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which is representing Dr. El-Ganayni along with lawyers from the Downtown offices of Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis.

Nuclear physicist/Muslim cleric fights to get back job, security clearance

(This is the Original Post-Gazette report on this story published in February.)

Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni is not the only imam to have served as a chaplain inside a state prison. But he may be the only one who is also a nuclear physicist working on classified U.S. military projects that require a security clearance.

At least, he used to do classified work at the Bettis Laboratory, an advanced naval nuclear propulsion technology lab in West Mifflin operated by Bechtel Bettis Inc. for the U.S. Department of Energy.

But in October, the two tracks of his life collided. His security clearance was suspended, barring him from the lab where he has worked for 18 years.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email