NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: July 23

Exposing Bush’s historic abuse of power

The last several years have brought a parade of dark revelations about the George W. Bush administration, from the manipulation of intelligence to torture to extrajudicial spying inside the United States. But there are growing indications that these known abuses of power may only be the tip of the iceberg. Now, in the twilight of the Bush presidency, a movement is stirring in Washington for a sweeping new inquiry into White House malfeasance that would be modeled after the famous Church Committee congressional investigation of the 1970s.

While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.

Salon has also uncovered further indications of far-reaching and possibly illegal surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency inside the United States under President Bush. That includes the alleged use of a top-secret, sophisticated database system for monitoring people considered to be a threat to national security. It also includes signs of the NSA’s working closely with other U.S. government agencies to track financial transactions domestically as well as globally.

US elections: Obama’s political straitjacket

Mr Obama’s schedule of meetings today also speaks volumes about the straitjacket of policy positions he has slipped into for the duration of this visit. After breakfast with the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, who has burnished his hawkish credentials as a tough and unyielding defence minister, Mr Obama went on to meet another strong contender for the premiership – the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

After that, the now compulsory visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, followed by a meeting with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres. The afternoon beckons with a helicopter tour of the “seam” between Israel and the West Bank, which ends in Sderot, the southern immigrant town that has born the brunt of rocket fire from Gaza.

In between these two sections of Mr Obama’s itinerary, he meets the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in his office in the Muqata in Ramallah. In other words, of the 36 hours Mr Obama has devoted to this visit, he will spend around 45 minutes talking to Palestinian spokesmen. This is one measure of Mr Obama’s concern to court Israeli opinion.

What Obama missed in the Middle East

When I and other Palestinian-Americans first knew Barack Obama in Chicago in the 1990s, he grasped the oppression faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. He understood that an honest broker cannot simultaneously be the main cheerleader, financier and arms supplier for one side in a conflict. He often attended Palestinian-American community events and heard about the Palestinian experience from perspectives stifled in mainstream discussion.

In recent months, Obama has sought to allay persistent concerns from pro-Israel groups by recasting himself as a stalwart backer of Israel and tacking ever closer to positions espoused by the powerful, hard-line pro-Israel lobby Aipac. He distanced himself from mainstream advisers because pro-Israel groups objected to their calls for even-handedness.

Like his Republican rival, senator John McCain, Obama gave staunch backing to Israel’s 2006 bombing of Lebanon, which killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and the blockade and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, calling them “self defence”.

Abizaid: “Iran is not a suicide state; deterrence will work”

Monday evening at a meeting of the Pacific Council, retired General John Abizaid, the former commander of the US Central Command for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003-2007, offered lots of wisdom and an impressive analysis of the Middle East. In this election season, every American, including Barack Obama and John McCain, should hear what he has to say.

ON IRAN: Although he didn’t say it outright, General Abizaid’s implicit view seemed to be that the world would not be able to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that we would have to learn to live with it. He questioned whether war with Iran to stop that eventuality would be a wise idea “at this particular time” not only because world oil flows would be shut down and turmoil would spread across the Middle East where Iran’s Shia allies hold sway, but also because the US armed forces lacked strategic flexibility, bogged down as they are in Iraq and Afghanistan with “our ground forces tapped out.”

Will deal with Iran be worked out?

Gary Sick, a longtime expert on Iran who served as the Iran officer in the National Security Councils of the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations, says there is pressure on both the Iranian and U.S. governments to accept a compromise to move negotiations forward on eventually halting Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. “Neither side wants to show that it is losing face, or that it is caving in or appeasing the other side, but both sides are interested in finding a way out of this conundrum,” he says.

There was considerable anticipation in advance of Saturday’s meeting in Geneva between the Security Council permanent five plus Germany and the Iranian nuclear negotiator. There had been reports of a softening in Iran’s position, and the United States sent its third-ranking State Department official to sit in on these talks. Are we nearing some kind of breakthrough or are we just going to keep going more or less as we’ve been going?

It’s really impossible to predict, and I don’t like to make predictions about these things. It is clear that Iran is in a good bargaining position. It has been given an offer that they certainly have not rejected straight out of hand, [namely to] stop building new centrifuges and keep your production where it is and we’ll then use that as the basis to talk. Thus far, they have not bought that, but they have shown great interest in it, and there is enough domestic pressure in Iran that it is going to be hard for them to reject it outright.

Solar power from Saharan sun could provide Europe’s electricity, says EU

A tiny rectangle superimposed on the vast expanse of the Sahara captures the seductive appeal of the audacious plan to cut Europe’s carbon emissions by harnessing the fierce power of the desert sun.

Dwarfed by any of the north African nations, it represents an area slightly smaller than Wales but scientists claimed yesterday it could one day generate enough solar energy to supply all of Europe with clean electricity.

Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona, Arnulf Jaeger-Walden of the European commission’s Institute for Energy, said it would require the capture of just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and Middle East deserts to meet all of Europe’s energy needs.

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