Archives for August 2008


No experience necessary

We all know that modern political campaigns choose their issues from the cafeteria line, after market-testing them, and then having them professionally framed. Rarely, though, are we offered such a clear and unarguable example. How could anyone truly believe that Barack Obama’s background and job history are inadequate experience for a president, and simultaneously believe that Sarah Palin’s background and job history are perfectly adequate? It’s possible to believe one or the other. But both? Simply not possible. John McCain has been—what’s the word?—lying. And so have all the pundits who rushed to defend McCain’s choice.

Obama outwits the bloviators

Stop the presses! This election isn’t about the Clintons after all. It isn’t about the Acropolis columns erected at Invesco Field. It isn’t about who is Paris Hilton and who is Hanoi Hilton. (Though it may yet be about who is Sarah Palin.) After a weeklong orgy of inane manufactured melodrama labeled “convention coverage” on television, Barack Obama descended in classic deus ex machina fashion — yes, that’s Greek too — to set the record straight. America is in too much trouble, he said, to indulge in “a big election about small things.”

As has been universally noted, Obama did what he had to do in his acceptance speech. He scrapped the messianic “Change We Can Believe In” for the more concrete policy litany of “The Change We Need.” He bared his glinting Chicago pol’s teeth to John McCain. Obama’s still a skinny guy, but the gladiatorial arena and his eagerness to stand up to bullies (foreign and Republican) made him a plausible Denver Bronco. All week long a media chorus had fretted whether he could pull off a potentially vainglorious stunt before 80,000 screaming fans. Well, yes he can, and so he did.

But was this a surprise? Hardly. No major Obama speech — each breathlessly hyped in advance as do-or-die and as the “the most important of his career” — has been a disaster; most have been triples or home runs, if not grand slams. What is most surprising is how astonished the press still is at each Groundhog Day’s replay of the identical outcome. Indeed, the disconnect between the reality of this campaign and how it is perceived and presented by the mainstream media is now a major part of the year’s story. The press dysfunction is itself a window into the unstable dynamics of Election 2008.

Agreement on U.S. withdrawal from Iraq said to be in peril as Maliki ousts negotiators

At the “make-or-break” stage of talks with the U.S. on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has swept aside his negotiating team and replaced it with three of his closest aides, a reshuffle that some Iraqi officials warn risks sabotaging the agreement.

The decision on the team negotiating the pact, which the Americans have described as the basis of a long-term strategic alliance between the United States and Iraq, remains so sensitive that it has not been announced. In disclosing the switch to the Los Angeles Times this weekend, a senior Iraqi official close to Maliki also suggested that the two sides remained deadlocked on key issues.

SAS kills hundreds of terrorists in ‘secret war’ against al-Qaeda in Iraq

More than 3,500 insurgents have been “taken off the streets of Baghdad” by the elite British force in a series of audacious “Black Ops” over the past two years.

It is understood that while the majority of the terrorists were captured, several hundred, who were mainly members of the organisation known as “al-Qa’eda in Iraq” have been killed by the SAS.

The SAS is part of a highly secretive unit called “Task Force Black” which also includes Delta Force, the US equivalent of the SAS.

Russia claims its sphere of influence in the world

President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Sunday laid out what he said would become his government’s guiding principles of foreign policy after its landmark conflict with Georgia — notably including a claim to a “privileged” sphere of influence in the world.

Speaking to Russian television in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, a day before a summit meeting in Brussels where European leaders were to reassess their relations with Russia, Mr. Medvedev said his government would adhere to five principles.

Russia, he said, would observe international law. It would reject what he called United States dominance of world affairs in a “unipolar” world. It would seek friendly relations with other nations. It would defend Russian citizens and business interests abroad. And it would claim a sphere of influence in the world.

Medvedev disappointed in Dushanbe

Moscow fell short of the diplomatic support it was looking for Thursday, as Central Asian states and China failed to back its recognition of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, offering instead only qualified praise for Russia’s actions in the Georgian conflict.

That failure, coupled with a statement by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that European Union leaders were set to consider sanctions against Russia at a special session Monday, threatened to leave Russia even further isolated diplomatically.

The hope of winning significant support from the membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security alliance Moscow has embraced as a counterbalance to NATO in Central Asia, vanished with a joint statement at a meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, calling for the respect of all countries’ territorial integrity and denouncing the use of force in local conflicts.

Russia threatens to supply Iran with top new missile system as ‘cold war’ escalates

US intelligence fears the Kremlin will supply the sophisticated S-300 system to Tehran if Washington pushes through Nato membership for its pro-Western neighbours Georgia and Ukraine.

The proposed deal is causing huge alarm in the US and Israel as the S-300 can track 100 targets at once and fire on planes up to 75 miles away.

That would make it a “game-changer”, greatly improving Iranian defences against any air strike on its nuclear sites, according to Pentagon adviser Dan Goure. “This is a system that scares every Western air force,” he said.

Pakistani city of Peshawar could fall to Taliban as fear and attacks grow

Should they let their daughters go back to lessons in the rubble of their school, blown up by the Taliban in the middle of the night, or should they keep them safe at home?

Hashim, the caretaker who was held at gunpoint by masked gunmen, was warned that they would be back if the school is rebuilt. He fears that next time they could blow it up with pupils inside.

Yet this is not Kandahar, the Taliban capital of southern Afghanistan, but Peshawar – a city of 1.4 million people in neighbouring Pakistan, once celebrated as a cultural haven for artists, musicians and intellectuals.

A year ago schools were considered safe in the city, the capital of North-West Frontier Province. But the Taliban insurgency that has been growing in the wild mountains that rise in the distance is spreading into urban Pakistan.



Bush seeks to affirm a continuing war on terror

Tucked deep into a recent proposal from the Bush administration is a provision that has received almost no public attention, yet in many ways captures one of President Bush’s defining legacies: an affirmation that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda.

Seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush’s advisers assert that many Americans may have forgotten that. So they want Congress to say so and “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”

The language, part of a proposal for hearing legal appeals from detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, goes beyond political symbolism. Echoing a measure that Congress passed just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, it carries significant legal and public policy implications for Mr. Bush, and potentially his successor, to claim the imprimatur of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy, legal and political analysts say.

Scholars question Palin credentials

John McCain was aiming to make history with his pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and historians say he succeeded.

Presidential scholars say she appears to be the least experienced, least credentialed person to join a major-party ticket in the modern era.

So unconventional was McCain’s choice that it left students of the presidency literally “stunned,” in the words of Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor and scholar of the vice presidency. “Being governor of a small state for less than two years is not consistent with the normal criteria for determining who’s of presidential caliber,” said Goldstein.

2 top Alaska newspapers question Palin’s fitness

Since yesterday’s shocking arrival of Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate there has been the usual cable news and print blathering about the pick from those who know little about her. But what about the journalists close to home — in Alaska — who know her best and have followed her career for years?

For the past 24 hours, the pages and web sites of the two leading papers up there have raised all sorts of issues surrounding Palin, from her ethics problems to general lack of readiness for this big step up. Right now the top story on the Anchorage Daily News web site looks at new info in what it calls “troopergate” and opens: “Alaska’s former commissioner of public safety says Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain’s pick to be vice president, personally talked him on two occasions about a state trooper who was locked in a bitter custody battle with the governor’s sister.

Pollsters say Americans ready to back attack on Iran if diplomacy fails

A pro-Israel organization argued Wednesday that a majority of Americans would support military action against Iran under certain circumstances, in a rare concurrence of message between some Democrats and Republicans at the Democratic National Convention.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican pollster Frank Luntz joined under the banner of the Israel Project to release data from a poll of voters in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. They aimed to make the case that a U.S. consensus exists on Iran’s regime and the need for tough measures to combat it.

The Israel Project officials say the group is pushing for a diplomatic approach to dealing with Iran. But they prominently presented data portraying that a majority of Americans could eventually get behind an Israeli or U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran warns any attack would start ‘world war’

A senior military commander warned on Saturday that any attack on Iran would start a new world war, as Tehran pressed on with its controversial nuclear drive despite the risk of further UN sanctions.

“Any aggression against Iran will start a world war,” deputy chief of staff for defence publicity, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, said in a statement carried by the state news agency IRNA.

The front against Iran is unraveling

Barring a doomsday scenario, Israel may be forced to concede to Washington at least some of its freedom to make independent decisions aimed at militarily neutralizing or even delaying the Iranian nuclear threat. In the near future, Israel is far less likely to receive American backing and support for an attack on Iran, as it might have just a few months ago.

In short, Israel and the United States may be falling out of sync regarding Iran.

In recent days we were informed that the United States had agreed to deploy an American-manned, high-power early-warning system in the Negev. By linking up to a sophisticated American radar and satellite system, Israel would increase its early-warning time against missiles launched from Iran by crucial minutes and could intercept them at a greater distance from home. The catch is that an American green light is now required before Israel can launch a preemptive attack against Iran.

In parallel, the United States reportedly refused to sell Israel sophisticated new aerial refueling tankers — the kind that could be used to extend the flight time and range of F-15s attacking Iran. Additional reports indicate that recent visits to Israel by high-level American military officers were dedicated to informing Jerusalem that the United States would not give its aircraft access to Iraqi airspace on their way to and from Iran, and to warning Israel not to preemptively attack Iran without first consulting Washington.

Iraq signs oil deal with China worth up to $3 billion

In the first major oil deal Iraq has made with a foreign country since 2003, the Iraqi government and the China National Petroleum Corporation have signed a contract in Beijing that could be worth up to $3 billion, Iraqi officials said Thursday.

Under the new contract, which must still be approved by Iraq’s cabinet, the Chinese company will provide technical advisers, oil workers and equipment to help develop the Ahdab oil field southeast of Baghdad, according to Assim Jihad, a spokesman for Iraq’s Oil Ministry. If the deal is approved, work could begin on the oil field within a few months, Mr. Jihad said.

He said that Iraq had agreed to provide security for Chinese workers and that the Chinese company would also bring its own security team.

Joint inquiry on deaths of Afghans is proposed

The American commander of the NATO force in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, expressed regret on Friday at the loss of civilian life in the airstrikes last week in western Afghanistan. He offered to conduct a joint investigation with the Afghan government and the United Nations to resolve broad discrepancies in accounts of what had happened.

The general said he did not agree with the United Nations and Afghan government reports that as many as 90 civilians had been killed in the bombardment. But he raised the military’s tally of all those killed, including militants, to up to 40, in an interview at his Kabul headquarters.

His overall estimate was slightly higher than that of an official Pentagon review released this week, which repeats the military’s earlier assessment that 5 civilians and 25 militants were killed in the raid on the night of Aug. 21 and into the early morning of Aug. 22. But General McKiernan also contended that only 5 civilians had been killed.

Afghanistan: on the cliff-edge

Many sober analysts of the war in Afghanistan expected a military offensive by the Taliban in the early months of 2008. They also suspected that Taliban paramilitaries would avoid major confrontations with foreign forces, out of awareness of the overwhelming firepower that these could launch even on quite small groups. They expected instead an extension of the use of small raids, improvised roadside-bombs and suicide-attacks.

In the event these tactics have indeed been widely used. But the increased level of Taliban activity has been expressed in many other ways as well. They have included a closely coordinated assault on a prison in Kandahar that released hundreds of Taliban detainees; an attack on the Serena international hotel in the heart of Kabul on 14 January; the bombing of the Indian embassy there on 7 July; and a major increase in attacks on transport links (see “The global economic war”, 14 August 2008).

This widening of targets is serious enough for American, British and other military commanders. What has really surprised them, however, has been the ability of Taliban and other militias to engage in significant conventional military attacks. One of these, on 13 July, killed nine United States troops in a newly established but isolated base in Kunar province; another, on 19 August, killed ten French soldiers in Sar0bi (Surobi) district, only fifty kilometres east of Kabul. The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan had even before these assaults been reflected in the redeployment of a full aircraft-carrier battle-group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln to the Indian Ocean to bring its planes within range of southern Afghanistan.



American revolutionary

Barack Obama — smiling, reassuring and firm — was the face of change. Four years after this little-known Illinois state senator delivered the keynote address at the Democratic convention, Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in a stunning testament to the pace of change. Mile High Stadium filled to the rafters with 80,000 walking-on-air Democrats was the place of change.

The Democratic Party, hungry for power after being in the wilderness for 20 of the last 28 years, could have played it safe, could have searched until it found a politically acceptable white male politician. But instead, after a spirited and historic battle against Hillary Clinton, the Democrats selected the first African-American presidential nominee in history, decades before the poets, preachers and certainly the political pragmatists dreamed that such a transformation of America was possible.

Watching Barack Obama give the most important — though not the most eloquent or boldest speech of his career — was a reminder that near miracles can happen even in this jaded decade. And, win or lose in November, America has been reshaped forever by this alliance of what Obama described as “young people who voted for the first time and the young at heart.” On a night for defying the taboos of intolerance, the Democratic nominee went out of his way to affirm that “our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve … to live lives free of discrimination,” even if Obama glided by gay marriage.

Yet the subtext of the Obama speech was an acknowledgment of how arduous the political climb to November victory remains.

Editor’s Comment — In anticipating this event, my fear was that it might reinforce the perception that this election has been reduced to a single issue: support for, or opposition to, Barack Obama. But as Obama said: “What the naysayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me, it’s about you.”

There’s a paradoxical truth in this. Obama can only be a catalyst for change in a country that is sufficiently sickened by its own recent past. At the same time, this hunger for change is not a tidal force and the status quo enjoys support from a much broader base than simply those concentrations of power who benefit most. Without Obama on the political scene, I see America all too easily continuing taking refuge in the familiar.

That this is now Obama’s moment says, I believe, more about him than it says about America.

7 years to climate midnight

The world may have only seven years to start reducing the annual buildup in greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise threatens global catastrophe within several decades. That means that between Inauguration Day in January 2009 and 2015, either John McCain or Barack Obama will face the most momentous political challenge of all time.

Reflecting a consensus of hundreds of scientists around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has affirmed that greenhouse gas emissions are raising the Earth’s temperature. The Earth is on a trajectory to warm more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit by around mid-century. Exceeding that threshold could trigger a series of phenomena: Arable land will turn into desert, higher sea levels will flood coastal areas, and changes in the convection of the oceans will alter currents, such as the Gulf Stream, that determine regional weather patterns.

Editor’s Comment — Among the many ways in which Republicans want to couch a Democratic presidency as a threat, none is more potent than that it risks the emasculation of America – that America would thereby surrender its status as the pre-eminent global power. This is what forces Democrats to repeatedly place offerings on the altar of national security. Yet the way in which America does without question continue to wield superpower status is as the world’s number one energy consumer. This is the arena in which American leadership is truly indispensable. This is where America needs to start leading the world instead of dragging it down. This is where America needs to transmute its power status and show that having accumulated great might it can now demonstrate great responsibility.

Georgia is the graveyard of America’s unipolar world

If there were any doubt that the rules of the international game have changed for good, the events of the past few days should have dispelled it. On Monday, President Bush demanded that Russia’s leaders reject their parliament’s appeal to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Within 24 hours, Bush had his response: President Medvedev announced Russia’s recognition of the two contested Georgian enclaves.

The Russian message was unmistakable: the outcome of the war triggered by Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia on August 7 is non-negotiable – and nothing the titans of the US empire do or say is going to reverse it. After that, the British foreign secretary David Miliband’s posturing yesterday in Kiev about building a “coalition against Russian aggression” merely looked foolish.

That this month’s events in the Caucasus signal an international turning point is no longer in question. The comparisons with August 1914 are of course ridiculous, and even the speculation about a new cold war overdone. For all the manoeuvres in the Black Sea and nuclear-backed threats, the standoff between Russia and the US is not remotely comparable to the events that led up to the first world war. Nor do the current tensions have anything like the ideological and global dimensions that shaped the 40-year confrontation between the west and the Soviet Union.

Only a two-page ‘note’ governs U.S. military in Afghanistan

For the past six years, military relations between the United States and Afghanistan have been governed by a two-page “diplomatic note” giving U.S. forces virtual carte blanche to conduct operations as they see fit.

Although President Bush pledged in a 2005 declaration signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to “develop appropriate arrangements and agreements” formally spelling out the terms of the U.S. troop presence and other bilateral ties, no such agreements were drawn up.

But after a U.S.-led airstrike last week that United Nations and Afghan officials have said killed up to 90 civilians — most of them children — Karzai has publicly called for a review of all foreign forces in Afghanistan and a formal “status of forces agreement,” along the lines of an accord being negotiated between the United States and Iraq.

The prospect of codifying the ad hoc rules under which U.S. forces have operated in Afghanistan since late 2001 sends shudders through the Bush administration, which has struggled to finalize its agreement with Baghdad. “It’s never been done because the issues have been too big to surmount,” said one U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the subject on the record. “The most diplomatic way of saying it is that there are just a lot of moving parts,” the official said.



Friends across the divide

For Plato the art of music was so firmly anchored in moral and political reality that any alteration to the musical system would necessarily require a corresponding political shift. Two and a half millennia later, when classical music is generally seen as a high-class lifestyle accessory, Plato’s conception seems outlandish, even absurd. To be sure, most people involved in classical music today consider their art to be of profound cultural importance, but there are very few who are able to articulate this convincingly.

One such, however, is the Argentine-born, Israeli and Palestinian passport-wielding conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. Since founding the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 with the late Edward Said, Mr Barenboim’s advocacy for music and music-making as forces for social and political good has grown in prominence and force. Invited to give both the BBC Reith lectures and the Harvard Norton lectures in 2006, he chose the same topic for each—the power of music—and it is from these lectures that the current volume is shaped.

The basic thesis of “Everything is Connected” is simple and powerful. We live in a world in which different voices—different expressions of political will and behavioural norms—collide and compete. Some struggle to be heard; others seem to be continuously present. In music we have the perfect model of contrasting voices working together harmoniously.

Editor’s Comment — Music is the quintessential expression of multiculturalism; the proof that there is no such thing as cultural purity; the language that animates language; the promise of the possibility of one world.

Wrong on Russia

In the wake of Russia’s military incursion into Georgia, too many current, former, and aspiring U.S. officials are caricaturing the Russian state that was shaped and is still guided by Vladimir Putin as a revisionist aggressor. For Robert Kagan, John McCain’s neoconservative foreign policy adviser, as well as for long-time Democratic foreign policy hands Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus, Russia’s actions in Georgia are comparable to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. For Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russia’s actions are more reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But, in reality, today’s Russia is not a resurgent imperial power. In the post-Cold War period, it was Washington, not Moscow, which started the game of acting outside the United Nations Security Council to pursue coercive regime change in problem states and redraw the borders of nominally sovereign countries. In Russian eyes, America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, including arresting and presiding over the execution of its deposed President, undermined Washington’s standing to criticize others for taking military action in response to perceived threats. And American unilateralism in the Balkans, along with planned deployments of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe and support for “color revolutions” in former Soviet republics, trampled clearly stated Russian redlines.

Georgia after war: the political landscape

As the dust from Russia’s tank-tracks settles again over Georgia, the accounting inside the country has begun. For the moment, the accent is on damage- assessment and reconstruction but the focus is already slowly shifting to the role in starting the conflict of Mikheil Saakashvili. Georgia’s young president will soon find himself in the spotlight again and it will not be a comfortable place.

So far, the criticism has been muted. I spent two weeks in Georgia in the immediate wake of the Russian attack and found few ready to publicly condemn Saakashvili’s decision on the night of 7 August 2008 to launch an offensive against South Ossetian positions. But Saakashvili should not mistake that for acquiescence.

Across the country – from occupied Poti on the Black Sea coast to Tbilisi in the east – the murmur of complaint is growing louder. Why, people are asking, did he allow himself to be dragged into a fight that Georgia could not possibly win?

US-Russian deal on nuclear access may be shelved

A key civil nuclear agreement between Russia and the U.S. looks likely to be shelved until next year at the earliest amid mounting tensions over the fate of Georgia’s breakaway republics.

The nuclear pact — signed last May — set the framework to give the U.S. access to Russian state-of-the-art nuclear technologies, while helping Russia establish an international nuclear fuel storage facility for spent fuel. Russia cannot achieve that goal without the deal, since the U.S. controls the vast majority of the world’s nuclear fuel.

US tax breaks help Jewish settlers in West Bank

The United States says Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank threaten any peace between Israel and the Palestinians — yet it also encourages Americans to help support settlers by offering tax breaks on donations.

As Condoleezza Rice flew in on Monday for another round of peace talks, Israeli and American supporters of settlements defended the tax incentives, which benefit West Bank enclaves deemed illegal by the World Court and which the U.S. secretary of state has said are an obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Pro-settler groups say they are entitled to the tax breaks because their work is “humanitarian”, not political, and reject any comparison to Palestinian charities, some of which face U.S. sanctions over suspected links to Islamist groups like Hamas.

Taliban gain new foothold in Kandahar

The Taliban bomber calmly parked a white fuel tanker near the prison gates of this city one evening in June, then jumped down from the cab and let out a laugh. Prison guards fired on the bomber as he ran off, but they missed, instead killing the son of a local shopkeeper, Muhammad Daoud, who watched the scene unfold from across the street.

Seconds later, the Taliban fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the tanker, setting off an explosion that killed the prison guards, destroyed nearby buildings, and opened a breach in the prison walls as wide as a highway. Nearly 900 prisoners escaped, 350 of them members of the Taliban, in one of the worst security lapses in Afghanistan in the six years since the United States intervention here.

The prison break, on June 13, was a spectacular propaganda coup for the Taliban not only in freeing their comrades and flaunting their strength, but also in exposing the catastrophic weakness of the Afghan government, its army and the police, as well as the international forces trying to secure Kandahar.

U.S. killed 90, including 60 children, in Afghan village, U.N. finds

A United Nations human rights team has found “convincing evidence” that 90 civilians — among them 60 children — were killed in airstrikes on a village in western Afghanistan on Friday, according to the United Nations mission in Kabul.

If the assertion proves to be correct, this would almost certainly be the deadliest case of civilian casualties caused by any United States military operation in Afghanistan since 2001.

The United Nations statement adds pressure to the United States military, which maintains that 25 militants and 5 civilians were killed in the airstrikes, but has ordered an investigation after Afghan officials reported the higher civilian death toll.

A Syrian-Israeli breakthrough?

Of all the wild cards in the Middle East deck, this one may be the most intriguing: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears ready for direct peace talks with Israel, if the United States will join France as a co-sponsor.

That’s the word from senior advisers to Assad, who spoke with me here this week. The same assessment comes from top French officials in Paris. A direct meeting would raise the Syrian-Israeli dialogue to a new level; so far, it has been conducted indirectly, through Turkey.

The Syrians would like to see a clear signal from the Bush administration that it supports the peace process and that the United States is prepared to join the French as “godfather” of the talks. But Syrian officials are pessimistic and say they doubt that the administration, which has sought to isolate and punish Syria, will change its policy in the few months it has left. That would disappoint some of Assad’s advisers, who prefer to move quickly, rather than wait for a new U.S. administration to organize its foreign policy priorities.



Russia: we are ready for a new cold war

Russia’s relations with the west plunged to their most critical point in a generation today when the Kremlin built on its military rout of Georgia by recognising the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Declaring that if his decision meant a new cold war, then so be it, President Dmitri Medvedev signed a decree conferring Russian recognition on Georgia’s two secessionist regions. The move flouted UN Security Council resolutions and dismissed western insistence during the crisis of the past three weeks on respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity and international borders.

Tonight, Medvedev accused Washington of shipping arms to Georgia under the guise of humanitarian aid.

Russian threat to Nato supply route in Afghanistan

Russia played a trump card in its strategic poker game with the West yesterday by threatening to suspend an agreement allowing Nato to take supplies and equipment to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia.

The agreement was struck at a Nato summit in April to provide an alternative supply route to the road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistani border, which has come under attack from militants on both sides of the frontier this year.

Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan, told The Times in an interview that he believed the deal was no longer valid because Russia suspended military cooperation with Nato last week over its support for Georgia.

Why Georgia matters [LRB Archives 1992]

In the wire services of the world, the Georgian ‘story’ blips in and out of the schedules, usually with some mention of Eduard Shevardnadze, for the past month the elected head of Georgia’s Parliament. In the scale of what matters to those who believe foreign affairs matter to their lives, Georgia seems minor: self-contained, complex, resistant to solutions. The argument for it mattering is not the so far relatively small loss of life, but the fact that it is an extreme but not wayward example of the particularist and defensive ethno-nationalism which is now becoming the dominant political principle throughout Eastern Europe and beyond.

That Abkhazians are killing and being killed by Georgians stems directly from the collapse of Soviet power. Until quite recently it was generally believed, by me among others, that the rapid dismantling of the Empire was a good thing which would allow the suppressed nations to recover an identity from whose search they had always been deflected by force or the threat of force. It is hard to hold onto that belief now, especially in the Caucasus and Transcaucasus.

Doubts cast on Zardari’s state of mental health

Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.

The widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhuttowas diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.

Mr Zardari, the co-chair of the Pakistan People’s party, and its candidate to succeed president Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down last week, spent 11 of the past 20 years in Pakistani prisons fighting corruption allegations, during which he claims to have been tortured.

Peace Now settlement watch report

Despite the Israeli government’s renewed commitment during the Annapolis Summit to freeze all settlement activity, the construction has continued and almost doubled in all of the settlements and outposts on both sides of the Separation Barrier. No outpost had been evacuated, and instead, many outposts were expanded. In East Jerusalem the construction increased dramatically.

It seems that the government of Israel repeats the mistakes of the past, by on the one hand negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians and in parallel constructing in the settlements. This construction undermines the Palestinian partners and creating facts on the ground that might prevent the possibility of a peace agreement.

Israeli outposts seal death of Palestinian state

Long-established Palestinian villages are instantly identifiable by their homes’ flat roofs and the prominence of the tall minarets of the local mosques. Interspersed among them, however, are a growing number of much newer, fortified communities of luxury villas topped by distinctive red-tiled roofs.

These are the Jewish settlements that now form an almost complete ring around Palestinian East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank and destroying any hope that the city will one day become the capital of a Palestinian state.

“These settlements are supposed to be the nail in the coffin of any future peace agreement with the Palestinians,” said Dror Etkes, a veteran observer of the settlements who works for the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din. “Their purpose is to make a Palestinian state unviable.”

The majority of the half a million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Mr Etkes, are “economic opportunists”, drawn to life in the occupied territories less by ideological or religious convictions than economic incentives. The homes, municipal services and schools there are heavily subsidised by the government.

Afghans want a deal on foreign troops

The Afghan Council of Ministers decided Monday to review the presence of international forces and agreements with foreign allies, including NATO and the United States, after a series of military operations that have caused mounting civilian losses.

The ministers demanded a status of forces agreement, which would stipulate that the authority and responsibilities of international forces be negotiated, and they said that aerial bombing, illegal detentions and house raids by international forces must be stopped.

The declaration came after several military operations involving American forces resulted in heavy civilian casualties, most recently airstrikes in western Afghanistan on Friday that killed more than 90 people, most of them women and children, according to a government commission. The United States military is investigating the latest episode; it earlier said the airstrikes had killed 5 civilians and 25 militants.

Baghdad’s misguided crackdown on the Sons of Iraq

There is a gathering storm on Iraq’s horizon. Over the last several weeks, its central government has embarked on what appears to be an effort to arrest, drive away or otherwise intimidate tens of thousands of Sunni security volunteers — the so-called Sons of Iraq — whose contributions have been crucial to recent security gains. After returning from a trip to Iraq last month at the invitation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, we are convinced that if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his advisors persist in this sectarian agenda, the country may spiral back into chaos.

Much of Iraq’s dramatic security progress can be traced to a series of decisions made by Sunni tribal leaders in late 2006 to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq and cooperate with American forces in Anbar province. These leaders, outraged by Al Qaeda’s brutality against their people, approached the U.S. military with an offer it couldn’t refuse: Enter into an alliance with the tribes, and they would turn their weapons against Al Qaeda rather than American troops.

The 21st-century man

At the core, Obama’s best message has always been this: He is unconnected with the tired old fights that constrict our politics. He is in tune with a new era. He has very little experience but a lot of potential. He does not have big achievements, but he is authentically the sort of person who emerges in a multicultural, globalized age. He is therefore naturally in step with the problems that will confront us in the years to come.

So as I’m trying to measure the effectiveness of this convention, I’ll be jotting down a little minus mark every time I hear a theme that muddies that image. I’ll jot down a minus every time I hear the old class conflict, and the old culture war themes. I’ll jot down a minus when I see the old Bush obsession rearing its head, which is not part of his natural persona. I’ll write a demerit every time I hear the rich played off against the poor, undercutting Obama’s One America dream.

I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that McCain is a good man who happens to be out of step with the times. I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that a multipolar world demands a softer international touch. I’ll put a plus down when a speaker says the old free market policies worked fine in the 20th century, but no longer seem to be working today. These are arguments that reinforce Obama’s identity as a 21st-century man.

Barack’s big night

More than any politician in recent history, Barack Obama’s national career began with a speech–his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. On the eve of the convention that caps the journey begun that night, it’s remarkable how little is understood about how he obtained his historic break–and who really deserves credit for it.

In his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote, “The process by which I was selected as the keynote speaker remains something of a mystery to me.” Today, the process remains shrouded in competing versions of events. A slew of top Kerry aides (understandably) take credit for putting Obama on the campaign’s radar. “I knew about him in the Illinois senate primary. I knew about what he had done on the war before the war,” says Kerry’s top strategist, Bob Shrum, who learned about Obama from his friend Laurence Tribe, the Harvard professor for whom Obama had served as a research assistant during his years in law school. Jack Corrigan, who managed Kerry’s convention operations and closely follows Illinois politics, told me that he had contemplated hiring Obama to work on voter outreach months before the convention. “I thought, ‘This guy’s going to lose in a month,'” Corrigan recalled, referring to the grim odds Obama faced in February 2004. “We should go after him.”



In nuclear net’s undoing, a web of shadowy deals

The president of Switzerland stepped to a podium in Bern last May and read a statement confirming rumors that had swirled through the capital for months. The government, he acknowledged, had indeed destroyed a huge trove of computer files and other material documenting the business dealings of a family of Swiss engineers suspected of helping smuggle nuclear technology to Libya and Iran.

The files were of particular interest not only to Swiss prosecutors but to international atomic inspectors working to unwind the activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani bomb pioneer-turned-nuclear black marketeer. The Swiss engineers, Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, were accused of having deep associations with Dr. Khan, acting as middlemen in his dealings with rogue nations seeking nuclear equipment and expertise.

The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, took no questions. But he asserted that the files — which included an array of plans for nuclear arms and technologies, among them a highly sophisticated Pakistani bomb design — had been destroyed so that they would never fall into terrorist hands.

Behind that official explanation, though, is a far more intriguing tale of spies, moles and the compromises that governments make in the name of national security.

The United States had urged that the files be destroyed, according to interviews with five current and former Bush administration officials. The purpose, the officials said, was less to thwart terrorists than to hide evidence of a clandestine relationship between the Tinners and the C.I.A.

Editor’s Comment — “CIA Used AQ Khan Network to Sabotage Iran’s Nuclear Program.”

That could have been the headline. Instead we get “In Nuclear Net’s Undoing, a Web of Shadowy Deals” with a subheadline: “3 Swiss Engineers Are Tied to CIA Efforts to Take Down Global Black Market.” And even though this “intriguing tale” made the front page, it will surely get buried under a week’s saturation coverage of the Democratic Convention.

It’s long been asked why the AQ Khan network took so long to be dismantled. This report suggests — even if it refrains from fully spelling it out — an answer: the CIA had not merely penetrated the network but was actively using it. The network was allowed to continue in operation because it provided a possible means to sabotage the nuclear programs that it was ostensibly facilitating.

If the CIA doesn’t want to see the Tinners go on trial, perhaps it has a similar desire not to see AQ Khan face questioning. This is a story that has barely begun to be told.

The souls of young Muslim folk

The question posed by W.E.B. DuBois in his classic “The Souls of Black Folk” cut to the marrow of what it was like to be black under Jim Crow. Now, more than a century after DuBois penned his query, Moustafa Bayoumi thinks it is appropriate to ask it again. The associate professor of English at Brooklyn College argues in his new book, “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” that young Arabs and Muslims are America’s latest “problem.”

In a few destructive hours on Sept. 11, he writes, the groups went from being just another set of minorities in our multicultural patchwork to “dangerous outsiders” in many Americans’ eyes. Hate crimes spiked 1,700 percent against Arabs and Muslims in the months after the terrorist attacks and thousands were detained, questioned and deported. A 2006 USA Today/Gallup poll found 39 percent of Americans believed all Muslims –including U.S. citizens — should carry special IDs.

“We’re the new blacks,” a Palestinian-American in his 20s tells Bayoumi as the young man puffs on apple-flavored tobacco in a hookah lounge. “You know that, right?”

Disarming the bomb in the basement

Israel’s interior minister Meir Sheetrit – who is vying to take over the reins from outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert – has struck a welcome note of caution on Iran in his campaign for the ruling Kadima party’s leadership.

On Wednesday, he said: “Israel must on no account attack Iran, speak of attacking Iran or even think about it … Israel must defend itself only if attacked by Iran, but attacking Iran on our own initiative is a megalomaniacal [and] reckless idea.”

Earlier, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy also struck alarm bells against calls to bomb Iran. He warned that an attack could hurt Israel’s interests for a century. “It will have a negative effect on public opinion in the Arab world.”

Israel’s missile shield against Iran: Three Americans in a trailer

A commander and two operators monitor missile radars in an armored trailer somewhere in Europe. Inside, they use satellite technology to track the origin and trajectory of long-range missiles. In true American fashion, each shift begins with calisthenics, followed by an intelligence briefing.

That is the envisioned routine of the U.S. team that will be responsible for protecting Israel from surface-to-surface missiles launched from Iran or Syria.

Earlier this month the U.S. and Israel agreed on the deployment of a high-powered early-warning missile radar system in the Negev, to be staffed by U.S. military personnel. The station will receive information from the U.S. team in Europe that will aid it in its work.

The deployment of the Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS) system, is widely seen as a kind of parting gift from Washington to Jerusalem as President George W. Bush prepares to leave office.

The system will protect Israel’s skies from missile attacks, but the flip side of the deal is that Israel’s freedom of action against Iran or Syria will be significantly curtailed.

U.S. to leave Iraq by 2011, Maliki says

Days after top Iraqi and American officials suggested that a draft of the security pact between the countries was close, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki toughened his language, reiterating earlier Iraqi demands for a fixed date for the withdrawal of American troops.

“It is not possible for any agreement to conclude unless it is on the basis of full sovereignty and the national interest, and that no foreign soldiers remain in Iraqi soil after a defined time ceiling,” Mr. Maliki said in a speech to Shiite tribal leaders in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

The Bush administration has consistently emphasized that the agreement — needed to legalize the presence of American forces after the United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year — is still in draft form.

Fear keeps Iraqis out of their Baghdad homes

When Jabbar, an elderly Shiite man, stormed out of his house here in June wanting to know where all his furniture had gone, the sharp look of the young Sunni standing guard on his street stopped him cold.

The young man said nothing, but his expression made things clear: Jabbar had no home here anymore.

After Iraq’s sectarian earthquake settled, his neighborhood had become a mostly Sunni area. Instead of moving back, he is trying to sell the house while staying in a rented one less than a mile away in an area that is mostly Shiite.

It is not an unusual decision. Out of the more than 151,000 families who had fled their houses in Baghdad, just 7,112 had returned to them by mid-July, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration. Many of the displaced remain in Baghdad, just in different areas. In one neighborhood alone, Amiriya, in western Baghdad, there are 8,350 displaced families, more than the total number of families who have returned to their houses in all of Baghdad.

How a Jihadist curtailed a president’s authority

When Salim Hamdan was born in 1970, the horizon of his life extended little beyond his poor Yemeni village and a life (if he was lucky) as a farmer like his father. He was anything but lucky. His mother died when he was 7, his father when he was 11, and he soon found himself living on the streets of Mukalla. He eventually found work as the driver of a dabab, a beat-up minibus stuffed with riders — making just enough to rent a mattress in a flophouse and a daily supply of the mild narcotic khat to chew away his problems.

Yet, within a few years, this dabab driver with a fourth-grade education would occupy not only a cell in Guantánamo Bay but also the minds of members of the Supreme Court and the president of the United States.

Israel has nothing to gain from a Palestinian civil war

When a bomb exploded in the Shajaiyyah district of Gaza last month, killing four Hamas operatives and a 5-year-old girl, Hamas blamed Fatah, and moved violently against its remaining Gazan enclaves. Fatah forces then pursued retribution against Hamas in the West Bank. Another round of intra-Palestinian conflict and bloodletting ensued, with the leading pro-Fatah family in Gaza, the Hilles clan, fleeing to Israel in the hopes of making it to the West Bank.

But do you think that Palestinians nearing civil war and the ongoing collapse of a central Palestinian governing entity serves Israel’s security interests? If so, think again.

Those who are taking comfort in the televised images of Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence, or in the “propaganda coup” of Human Rights Watch condemning both the Hamas government in Gaza and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), are dangerously misguided. These events neither exonerate Israel for its own violations of human rights and international law in the Occupied Territories, nor improve Israel’s own strategic environment.

U.N. envoy’s ties to Pakistani are questioned

Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to the United Nations, is facing angry questions from other senior Bush administration officials over what they describe as unauthorized contacts with Asif Ali Zardari, a contender to succeed Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan.

Mr. Khalilzad had spoken by telephone with Mr. Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorized contacts, a senior United States official said. Other officials said Mr. Khalilzad had planned to meet with Mr. Zardari privately next Tuesday while on vacation in Dubai, in a session that was canceled only after Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, learned from Mr. Zardari himself that the ambassador was providing “advice and help.”

“Can I ask what sort of ‘advice and help’ you are providing?” Mr. Boucher wrote in an angry e-mail message to Mr. Khalilzad. “What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personnel?” Copies of the message were sent to others at the highest levels of the State Department; the message was provided to The New York Times by an administration official who had received a copy.


NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: August 23-24

Last call for Change We Can Believe In

Obama should go after McCain’s supposedly biggest asset — experience — much as McCain went after Obama’s crowd-drawing celebrity.

It is, after all, not mere happenstance that so many conservative pundits — Rich Lowry, Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru — have, to McCain’s irritation, proposed that he “patriotically” declare in advance that he will selflessly serve only a single term. Whatever their lofty stated reasons for promoting this stunt, their underlying message is clear: They recognize in their heart of hearts that the shelf life of McCain’s experience has already reached its expiration date.

Is a man who is just discovering the Internet qualified to lead a restoration of America’s economic and educational infrastructures? Is the leader of a virtually all-white political party America’s best salesman and moral avatar in the age of globalization? Does a bellicose Vietnam veteran who rushed to hitch his star to the self-immolating overreaches of Ahmad Chalabi, Pervez Musharraf and Mikheil Saakashvili have the judgment to keep America safe?

R.I.P., “Change We Can Believe In.” The fierce urgency of the 21st century demands Change Before It’s Too Late.

How Obama reconciles dueling views on economy

As Barack Obama prepares to accept the Democratic nomination this week, it is clear that the economic policies of the next president are going to be hugely important. Ever since Wall Street bankers were called back from their vacations last summer to deal with the convulsions in the mortgage market, the economy has been lurching from one crisis to the next. The International Monetary Fund has described the situation as “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression.” The details are too technical for most of us to understand. (They’re too technical for many bankers to understand, which is part of the problem.) But the root cause is simple enough. In some fundamental ways, the American economy has stopped working.

Obama fatigue? (NYT)

Racism is the only reason Obama might lose (Slate)

We tilt at windmills as world war looms

Might it be that a raging seven-year obsession with Osama Bin Laden and his tiny Al-Qaeda organisation has blinded strategists to the old verities? Wars are rarely “clashes of civilisation”, but rather clashes of interest. They are usually the result of careless policy, of misread signals and of mission creep closing options for peace.

Terrorists, wherever located and trained, can certainly capture headlines and cause overnight mayhem, but they cannot project power. They cannot conquer countries or peoples, only manipulate democratic regimes into espousing illiberal policies, as in America and Britain. By grossly overstating the significance of terrorism, western leaders have distracted foreign policy from what should be its prime concern: securing world peace by holding a balance of interest – and pride – among the great powers.

To any who lived through the cold war, recent events along Russia’s western and southern borders are deeply ominous. Moscow initially spent the 17 years since the fall of the Soviet Union flirting with the West. It had been defeated and had good reason for disarming and putting out feelers to join Nato and the European Union. It took part in such proto-capitalist entities as the G8.

In the case of Nato and the EU it was arrogantly rebuffed, while its former Warsaw Pact allies were accepted. Moscow was told it would be foolish to worry about encirclement. A nation that had never enjoyed democracy should content itself with basking in its delights. Russians in the Baltic states and in Ukraine should make their peace with emerging governments. The political clutter of the cold war should be decontaminated.

Suddenly this has not worked. The world is showing alarming parallels with the 1930s. Lights are turning to red as the world again approaches depression. The credit crunch and the collapse of world trade talks are making nations introverted. Meanwhile, the defeated power of the last war, Russia, is flexing its muscles and finding them in good working order.

Georgia and the push for cold war

John McCain said it first: “In the 21st century nations don’t invade other nations.” George W. Bush said it, too: Russia’s way is not the “way to conduct foreign policy in the 21st Century”. And Condoleezza Rice on August 19 said it: “Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool that it has always used whenever it wishes to deliver a message and that’s its military power. That’s not the way to deal in the 21st century.” Outside of the United States, these utterances are greeted with laughter, for they betoken a hypocrisy so ingrained it suggests insanity. The United States looks in the mirror and what do we see? Russia. And what do we say? “That is no way to do things in the 21st century!” And then we go back to reading the interview with General Petraeus on the occupation of Baghdad.

But these statements are a sideshow. The Georgia debacle started on May 4, 2006, with a longer and more considered statement, by Vice President Cheney, in Vilnius, Lithuania. Cheney there threatened Russia with a new Cold War if Russia did not capitulate to American demands of cheap oil for Russia’s pro-American neighbors. “Russia has a choice,” he said. The same curious locution, with its undertone of parental menace — the parent who stops payments and knows when to use the whip — was employed by President Bush addressing Iran in 2007. “Iran has a choice.” Has a nation ever talked to another nation in this style? But then, has there ever been a nation that sees itself as America sees itself in the 21st century? “Russia has a choice” — the language of a man with his hand on his gun, very sure of his moral as well as physical superiority. This is the language of omnipotence, barely disguised. It is ill-adapted for the purposes of social intercourse, yet finely adapted to threats that have a quality at once intimate and public; threats, indeed, part of whose function is to abort diplomacy.

What Russia’s moves on Georgia could mean for Iran

…the new Great Game, like the old one, will be a long narrative of intrigue and confrontation in which there is no sudden or decisive resolution. Realism will dictate efforts to improve relations with states on Russia’s periphery whether or not their ideologies are compatible with American democratic ideals. Another Iran scholar, Gary Sick at Columbia University, believes the policymakers remaining in the Bush administration have actually come to understand this, albeit very late. “After 9/11 their world view was that the United States had limitless power,” says Sick. “I don’t think they believe that anymore. And if you really believe you have to husband your power in ways that are more cost effective, you have to change our approach to Iran.” It won’t be easy. The Iranians are hard bargainers with regional ambitions of their own, but they are not irrational, and their primary interest is security. Oddly enough, Washington may find that the U.S. benefits by helping them feel safer, not more threatened.

Russia’s oil boom may be running on empty

The Russian oil boom, which has produced a gusher of cash, political power and an opulent elite — and has helped fuel the country’s renewed assertiveness in Georgia and elsewhere — is on shakier ground than officials in Moscow would like to admit.

Most of the oil produced after the country’s 1998 financial collapse has come from drilling and re-drilling old Soviet oil fields with more advanced equipment — squeezing more black gold out of the same ground — and efforts to develop new fields have been slow or non-existent.

After pullout, Russia envisions long-term shift

As the Russian Army withdrew most of its forces from Georgia, it was becoming ever more clear on Friday that Moscow had no intention of restoring what once was — either on the ground or diplomatically.

The West wants a return to early August, before an obscure territorial dispute on the fringes of the old Soviet empire erupted into an international crisis. But Russia’s forces are digging in and seizing ribbons of Georgian land that abut two breakaway enclaves allied with Moscow, effectively extending its zone of influence.

At the same time, the Kremlin is nearing formal recognition of the independence of the enclaves, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, possibly as early as next week.

Afghan leader assails airstrike he says killed 95 (NYT)

Rockets, guile and the lessons of history: the Taleban besiege Kabul (The Times)

Behind the Taliban surge (Time)

Pakistan turns tables on militants (The Australian)

Is the Iraq war winding down? (Time)

Iraq seeks breakup of U.S.-funded Sunni fighters (LAT)

Iraqi stance led to Bush shift on pullout (WP)

Iraq cleric Muqtada Sadr critical of draft plan on U.S. troop withdrawal (LAT)



What Israel lost in the Georgia war

“It is important that the entire world understands that what is happening in Georgia now will affect the entire world order,” Georgian Cabinet Minister Temur Yakobashvili said last weekend. “It’s not just Georgia’s business, but the entire world’s business.” Such sentiments would have been unremarkable but for the fact that Yakobashvili was expressing himself in fluent Hebrew, telling Israeli Army Radio that “Israel should be proud of its military, which trained Georgian soldiers.”

However, the impression that Israel had helped bolster the Georgian military was one the Israeli Foreign Ministry was anxious to avoid. Last Saturday it reportedly recommended a freeze on the further supply of equipment and expertise to Georgia by Israeli defense contractors. (Israel doesn’t supply foreign militaries directly, but its private contractors must get Defense Ministry approval for such deals.) The Israelis decided to refrain from authorizing new defense contracts, although those currently in effect will be fulfilled. Israel stressed that the contracts are to provide equipment for defensive purposes. But if the Israelis were looking to downplay the significance of military ties, they weren’t helped by comments like Yakobashvili’s — or by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s enthusing at a press conference earlier this week that “the Israeli weapons have been very effective.”

Nor did the Russians fail to notice. “Israel armed the Georgian army,” grumbled General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of staff of the Russian military, at a press conference in Moscow earlier this week. An Israeli paper had, last weekend, quoted an unnamed official warning that Israel needed “to be very careful and sensitive these days. The Russians are selling many arms to Iran and Syria, and there is no need to offer them an excuse to sell even more advanced weapons.” As if on cue, on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Moscow hoping to persuade Russia to sell him sophisticated air-defense systems — and reportedly offering the Russian navy the use of one of its Mediterranean ports. Late on Wednesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had spoken on the phone to clear the air over the Georgia conflict and Russian arms sales to Syria.

Investors quit Russia after Georgia war

Investors pulled their money out of Russia in the wake of the Georgia conflict at the fastest rate since the 1998 rouble crisis, new figures showed on Thursday.

Russian debt and equity markets have also suffered sharp falls since the conflict began on August 8, with yields on domestic rouble bonds increasing by up to 150 basis points in the last month.

The moves come as President Dmitry Medvedev faces pressure from business leaders concerned that the impact of the global credit crisis is starting to be felt in Russia.

U.S. sees much to fear in a hostile Russia

The president of Syria spent two days this week in Russia with a shopping list of sophisticated weapons he wanted to buy. The visit may prove a worrisome preview of things to come.

If Russia’s invasion of Georgia ushers in a sustained period of renewed animosity with the West, Washington fears that a newly emboldened but estranged Moscow could use its influence, money, energy resources, United Nations Security Council veto and, yes, its arms industry to undermine American interests around the world.

Although Russia has long supplied arms to Syria, it has held back until now on providing the next generation of surface-to-surface missiles. But the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, made clear that he was hoping to capitalize on rising tensions between Moscow and the West when he rushed to the resort city of Sochi to meet with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev.

The list of ways a more hostile Russia could cause problems for the United States extends far beyond Syria and the mountains of Georgia. In addition to escalated arms sales to other anti-American states like Iran and Venezuela, policy makers and specialists in Washington envision a freeze on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation cooperation, manipulation of oil and natural gas supplies, pressure against United States military bases in Central Asia and the collapse of efforts to extend cold war-era arms control treaties.

Hoping it’s Biden

Barack Obama has decided upon a vice-presidential running mate. And while I don’t know who it is as I write, for the good of the country, I hope he picked Joe Biden.

Biden’s weaknesses are on the surface. He has said a number of idiotic things over the years and, in the days following his selection, those snippets would be aired again and again.

But that won’t hurt all that much because voters are smart enough to forgive the genuine flaws of genuine people. And over the long haul, Biden provides what Obama needs:

Working-Class Roots. Biden is a lunch-bucket Democrat. His father was rich when he was young — played polo, cavorted on yachts, drove luxury cars. But through a series of bad personal and business decisions, he was broke by the time Joe Jr. came along. They lived with their in-laws in Scranton, Pa., then moved to a dingy working-class area in Wilmington, Del. At one point, the elder Biden cleaned boilers during the week and sold pennants and knickknacks at a farmer’s market on the weekends.

U.S., Iraqi negotiators agree on 2011 withdrawal

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011, and Iraqi officials said they are “very close” to resolving the remaining issues blocking a final accord that governs the future American military presence here.

Iraqi and U.S. officials said several difficult issues remain, including whether U.S. troops will be subject to Iraqi law if accused of committing crimes. But the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the agreement publicly, said key elements of a timetable for troop withdrawal once resisted by President Bush had been reached.

“We have a text,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after a day-long visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Iraq takes aim at leaders of U.S.-tied Sunni groups

The Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is driving out many leaders of Sunni citizen patrols, the groups of former insurgents who joined the American payroll and have been a major pillar in the decline in violence around the nation.

In restive Diyala Province, United States and Iraqi military officials say there were orders to arrest hundreds of members of what is known as the Awakening movement as part of large security operations by the Iraqi military. At least five senior members have been arrested there in recent weeks, leaders of the groups say.

West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.

Militants ready for Pakistan’s war

Pakistan has two options. The country can give in to militancy or it can conduct military operations against it, influential advisor to the Interior Ministry, Rahman Malik, said on Thursday. And the government is not going to negotiate with militants, he added.

His remarks follow a suicide bomb attack outside the country’s main defense industry complex at Wah, 30 kilometers northwest of the capital Islamabad, which killed as many as 100 people. The Pakistani Taliban immediately claimed responsibility, saying the attack was in response to the military’s recent air bombardment of Bajaur Agency, which led to the displacement of 250,000 people.

Rahman’s comments amount to a declaration of war on growing Islamic militancy, but it could be that the new civilian Pakistani leadership is steering the “war on terror” in the wrong direction.

Rahman’s remarks cannot be dismissed as a knee-jerk reaction in the heat of the moment. Only a few hours before the suicide attack, the chief minister of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Amir Haider Khan Hoti, announced in a policy statement that even if militants shunned violence and laid down their weapons, they would not be pardoned.

64 in Pakistan die in bombing at arms plant

Two suicide bombers killed at least 64 people outside Pakistan’s biggest weapons factory complex on Thursday, in the deadliest attack by the Taliban since they began hitting Pakistani government sites with suicide bombers more than 18 months ago.

The Taliban said the bombings were in response to a fierce Pakistani military campaign, including fighter jets and helicopter gunships, that has unfolded over the past two weeks in the tribal region of Bajaur.

The insurgents warned of more attacks if the government continued its campaign, which the military says has led 200,000 people to flee their homes.



McCain unsure how many houses he owns

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own.

“I think — I’ll have my staff get to you,” McCain told Politico in Las Cruces, N.M. “It’s condominiums where — I’ll have them get to you.”

The correct answer is at least four, located in Arizona, California and Virginia, according to his staff. Newsweek estimated this summer that the couple owns at least seven properties.

Where’s Obama’s passion?

A few days before Barack Obama was to announce his choice for Vice President, he was asked at a North Carolina town meeting what qualities he wanted in a running mate. He wandered through a derisive, if desultory, critique of Dick Cheney, then switched gears. “I want somebody … who shares with me a passion to make the lives of the American people better than they are right now,” he said. “I want somebody who is mad right now that people are losing their jobs.” And I immediately thought, Uh-oh.

Memories of John Kerry in 2004 came flooding back, of how he tended to describe his feelings rather than experience them, of how he suddenly—and unconvincingly—started to say he was “angry” about this or that when his consultants told him that Howard Dean’s anger about the war in Iraq was hitting home with voters. And then, in the general election, Kerry kept repeating the word strength rather than demonstrating it. Clearly, Obama’s consultants have given him similar advice, that he was on the short end of a passion gap—that it was time for emo. A day earlier, he had said wage disparities between genders made his “blood boil.”

One of the great strengths of the Obama candidacy has been the sense that this is a guy whose blood doesn’t boil, who carefully considers the options before he reacts—and that his reaction is always measured and rational. But that’s also a weakness: sometimes the most rational response is to rip your opponent’s lungs out.

Editor’s Comment — It’s interesting to contrast these two tableaux of the candidates. On one side we have a man who’s so stinking rich he doesn’t know how many houses he owns. On the other side a whose calm and thoughtfulness seemingly constrain the all-important passion needed for connecting with the voters.

The greater liability is Obama’s — not McCain’s. Why?

Firstly, no one in America is stinking rich. It’s called success or good fortune. Secondly, McCain will (like George Bush) be judged much more by his persona than his assets and he has the universally popular image of a regular guy. (Just happens to be one of those regular guys who — aw-shucks — just happened to forget how many houses he owns. “I’ll get back to you just as soon as I’ve found my glasses.”)

His failings are as much a part of his appeal as they are potential liabilities. In a word, McCain scores points just for being himself.

Obama — and the Obama campaign — on the other hand, seem to think that the Democratic candidate lacks the same advantage. They seem to think that his appeal needs to be packaged. In other words they think his success hinges on the effectiveness of the Obama marketing campaign.

In their assuming this I would venture to say that they are completely wrong and that contrary to the conventional wisdom the marketing of Obama has been a miserable failure. If the marketing was really working, shouldn’t he be soaring ahead in the polls by now?

Obama is different. Instead of running a campaign that’s trying to convince Americans that he’s a low-risk choice, he needs to challenge voters to take a leap. And the only way he can inspire the confidence of the electorate is by showing that he has the courage to be himself. He isn’t a typical American. He should stop trying to pretend he is.

Afghanistan on fire

Washington must finally make clear to Pakistan’s leaders the mortal threat they face. The Army must turn its attention from India to the fight against the Taliban. Civilian leaders must realize that there can be no separate peace with the extremists. Sending American troops or warplanes into Pakistani territory will only feed anti-American furies. That should be the job of Pakistan’s army, with intelligence help and carefully monitored financial support from the United States.

More American ground troops will have to be sent to Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s over-reliance on airstrikes — which have led to high levels of civilian casualties — has dangerously antagonized the Afghan population. This may require an accelerated timetable for shifting American forces from Iraq, where the security situation has grown somewhat less desperate.

Editor’s Comment — One of the most under-reported stories of recent weeks is that Pakistani military action in the tribal areas has resulted in an exodus of as many as 300,000 civilians, as Bruce Loudon reports for The Australian.

If, as the New York Times editorial board and many in Washington seem to think, the key problem was the reluctance of the Pakistani government to confront extremists, then, supposedly, we are now seeing the implementation of the solution. What seems clear though is this is a “solution” destined to produce yet another generational problem.

What’s curious though is that with success in Iraq being so widely hailed, the one lesson that would seem so obviously applicable to Afghanistan and Pakistan is that the lynch pin consists of winning over support from the indigenous enemy and turning them against al Qaeda. Instead, al Qaeda and the Taliban are becoming progressively more integrated. This strategic failure derives from the kernel of insanity upon which the war on terrorism was conceived: we will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them.

Afghan numbers don’t add up

The United States plans to bolster the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan with an additional 12,000 to 15,000 troops to confront the Taliban-led insurgency. Influential European and American think-tanks, such as the Senlis Council, also favor urgent extra deployment to Afghanistan.

The nature of the war in Afghanistan is changing, though, and it is not the sheer numbers that count. NATO has approximately 45,000 troops, including 15,000 American troops, while an additional 19,000 US forces operate separately. It has also been reported that the Pentagon plans to spend US$20 billion on doubling the size of the Afghanistan National Army to 120,000 troops.

Beyond the Taliban, local alliances between warlords and former mujahideen commanders against NATO have added a fresh dimension to the insurgency, in addition to spreading resistance to many new parts of Afghanistan.

It is this extension of the battlefield that alarms NATO, and its dilemma is that if it pumps more troops into the country, they will have to be widely spread and more open to attack. The alternative is to cede territory to the resistance groups.

Musharraf not the problem, or solution

The “war on terror”, as it winds down and begins heading for the exit tunnel, has secured its fifth and, possibly final victim – Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. It is hard not to recall that the flamboyant general and president was doomed from the day he hitched his star to George W Bush’s war wagon almost seven years ago.

Equally, it must be recalled that he had no real choices in the matter. In that sense, his ultimate fate was more poignant than that of the other four political “victims” in the Bush era – Spain’s Jose-Maria Aznar, Australia’s John Howard, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Britain’s Tony Blair.

Therefore, Musharraf’s political epitaph cannot be written without recalling that if he finally found himself left with no supportive domestic civilian constituency, it was primarily because in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, including the Westernized sections of the middle class, their president was a “burnt out case”.

He demeaned Pakistan by being subservient to foreign masters and in the common perception, rightly or wrongly, he compromised the country’s sovereignty. Alas, no one remembers that each time a US aircraft fired missiles violating Pakistani territorial integrity and killed innocent Pakistani civilians, the country felt humiliated. Its national pride took a relentless beating. And no self-respecting people in any country would forgive their president for allowing that to happen.

The Afghan fire looks set to spread, but there is a way out

This is the conflict western politicians have convinced themselves is the “good war”, in contrast to the shame of Iraq. Britain’s defence secretary, Des Browne, recently declared it “the noble cause of the 21st century”. Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces a similar level of domestic opposition to the Afghan imbroglio as in Britain, insists that France is fighting for “democracy and freedom”. Barack Obama calls it the “central front” in the war on terror and, like Gordon Brown, is committed to transferring troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to bolster the fight.

That will certainly jack up the killing and suffering still further. As Zbigniew Brzezinski – the former US national security adviser who masterminded the early stages of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan – argues, putting more troops in is not the solution: “We run the risk that our military presence will gradually turn the Afghan population entirely against us.”

The original aims of the invasion, it will be recalled, were the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, and the destruction of al-Qaida in the aftermath of 9/11. None of those aims has been achieved. Instead, the US and its friends brought back to power an alliance of brutal and corrupt warlords, gave them new identities as democrats with phoney elections, and drove the Taliban and al-Qaida leaderships over the border into Pakistan.

New guidelines would give FBI broader powers

A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion, Democratic lawmakers briefed on the details said Wednesday.

The plan, which could be made public next month, has already generated intense interest and speculation. Little is known about its precise language, but civil liberties advocates say they fear it could give the government even broader license to open terrorism investigations.

Congressional staff members got a glimpse of some of the details in closed briefings this month, and four Democratic senators told Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey in a letter on Wednesday that they were troubled by what they heard.

The senators said the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to open an investigation of an American, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps “without any basis for suspicion.” The plan “might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities,” the letter said. It was signed by Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

U.N. readies ‘grand deal’ to resolve Iraq’s dispute over Kirkuk

The United Nations said Wednesday it would present a list of proposals to resolve the conflict over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other disputed regions in northern Iraq.

Staffan de Mistura, the United Nation’s special representative for Iraq, said that its assistance mission for Iraq would present proposals by the end of October. The objective, he said, was “a grand deal” among the Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Yazidis, and other groups now passionately pressing their claims in the area.

The proposals will reflect months of research by a diverse team of 15 lawyers, negotiators, academics, diplomats and historians, some with experience in Bosnia, Israel and the Palestinian territories. They will center on Kirkuk, “the hottest issue in Iraq these days,” Mr. de Mistura said.

The strategic lessons of Georgia

The Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force has just been used effectively — and not by the U.S., which tried to prevail on the cheap with its 2003 invasion of Iraq. This time around, it might as well be rechristened the Putin Doctrine, given what the Russian military has done to Georgia over the past two weeks. In the aftermath, assorted soldiers and graybeards in the Pentagon, the National Security Council and government warrens around the world are evaluating the military lessons of Moscow’s move into the Caucasus. Just what does it mean for the way war is waged in the 21st century?

Military strategists see it as vindication for their continued calls for heavy, armor-centric warfare, while geo-strategists take it as a lesson in the dangers of a small country baiting a bigger and nearer foe when its key ally packs little more than rhetorical firepower, at least in the short term.

Despite U.S. embarrassment at the humiliation of its Georgian ally, the U.S. Army’s tankers and artillerymen at Fort Knox’s armor school have been encouraged by the success of the Russian army’s blitzkrieg. Moscow’s triumph suggests that there is wisdom behind Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ insistence that the U.S. be prepared to wage “full-spectrum operations” — not just the past five years of irregular warfare that America has been engaged in, with small units of soldiers patrolling Baghdad streets and Afghan mountains.

Editor’s Comment — Yep, there’s no doubt that Vladamir Putin must be the discreetly-toasted darling of the defense industry right now. The successful invasion of Georgia was the best news for General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, BAE, and Boeing in over a decade.



How America is squandering its wealth and power

Andrew Bacevich is no fan of George W. Bush. The conservative historian and former military officer lost a son fighting in Iraq and has publicly called the administration’s foreign policy record one of “substantial, if almost malignant, achievement.”

Yet in his new book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, he argues that the country’s foreign policy is a direct result of the American way of life. The only way of changing that policy, he contends, is changing the way Americans live.

In 1995, Bacevich wrote presciently that “to cope with a world in which terrorists and warlords pose as great a challenge as massed armies, a radical revision of military thinking is essential,” arguing that the lessons of Vietnam had largely been forgotten. With those lessons still forgotten, he now says, the country’s problems are of its own making. Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, recently spoke with U.S. News.

Editor’s Comment — Andrew Bacevich points to a reality upon which no one is likely to be able to build a popular cause: the need for changes so profound that they would change everyone’s lives.

Generally speaking, political rallying cries all apply the same socio-psychological gimmick: posit an external entity (Bush and Cheney, Republicans, Democrats, government, corporations, immigrants, Muslims, foreigners, the West, Washington, the military-industrial complex, etc) and then fire up a sense of solidarity that comes from standing in opposition to whatever it is that one sees as the problem. Self-righteously, we can come together, stand up and speak out, confident that it is the “other” that must change. And if — because that other is too powerful or vast — it is unrealistic for us to have any hope of being agents of change, then we can at least find comfort in the idea that we remained true to our principles.

In Europe, as in Asia, Nato leaves a trail of catastrophe

Nato is useless. It has failed to bring stability to Afghanistan, as it failed to bring it to Serbia. It just breaks crockery. Nato has proved a rotten fighting force, which in Kabul is on the brink of being sidelined by exasperated Americans. Nor is it any better at diplomacy: witness its hamfisted handling of east Europe. As the custodian of the west’s postwar resistance to the Soviet Union’s nuclear threat it served a purpose. Now it has become a diplomats’ Olympics, irrelevant but with bursts of extravagant self-importance.

Yesterday’s Nato ministerial meeting in Brussels was a fig leaf over the latest fiasco, the failure to counter the predictable Russian intervention in Georgia. Ostensibly to save Russian nationals in South Ossetia, the intervention was, in truth, to tell Georgia and Ukraine that they must not play games with the west along Russia’s frontier. Nato, which Russia would (and should) have joined after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is now a running provocation along the eastern rim of Europe.

There was no strategic need for Nato to proselytise for members, and consequent security guarantees, among the Baltic republics and border states to the south. Nor is there any strategic need for the US to place missile sites in Poland or the Czech Republic. This was mere Nato self-aggrandisement reinforcing the lobbying of the Pentagon hawks.

Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap

Europe has entered the new 19th century. The Russia-Georgia war of 8-12 August 2008 has acted as a time-machine, vaporising the “end of history” sentiment that shaped European politics in the 1990s and replacing it with an older geopolitical calculus in modern form.

An older calculus – but not a cold-war one. Indeed, though the conflict over South Ossetia has generated heady rhetoric of the cold-war’s return, the real constellation of power and ideology it has revealed is different from the days of superpower confrontation in the four decades after 1945. This is indeed time-travel, not a mere reversal of gears.

It is the singular element of a power-confrontation not accompanied by developed ideological polarisation that makes the Russia-Georgia war the first 19th-century war in 21st-century Europe. The near-coincidence of the fortieth anniversary of the Red Army’s invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague spring” in August 1968 makes the point. The punitive incursion into Georgia is not a remake; its conditions, motives, driving certainties and governing justifications are different. Russia’s military expedition – and victory – in Georgia marks Moscow’s attempt to return to the centre of European power-politics. It signals the resurgence of Russia as a born-again 19th-century power eager to challenge the early-21st century post-cold-war European order.

We’re not all Friedmanites now

Once upon a time there was a master narrative, and a neater little theory-of-everything you never did see. In its 19th century heyday it rationalized the having of the haves and commanded the deference of the have-nots; it spoke from the pulpit, the newspaper and the professor’s chair.

Its name was market, and to slight it in even the smallest way was to take your professional life into your hands. In 1895, the economist Edward Bemis found this out when he was dismissed from John D. Rockefeller’s University of Chicago thanks to his “attitude on public utility and labor questions,” as he put it in a letter to Upton Sinclair. Professors elsewhere paid the same price for intellectual independence.

But the orthodoxy lost its power of life and death. Academia developed protections for scholars who pursued unpopular ideas. Rockefeller’s University of Chicago went on to become the pre-eminent research university in the land, a temple of free inquiry and a magnet for Nobel prizes. I studied there and loved its atmosphere of endless debate.

Today, though, that old master narrative is back in a softer form. The market doesn’t so much intimidate scholars as bend them in particular, profitable directions. For example, a contract between Virginia Commonwealth University and Philip Morris reportedly gives that company the right to veto publication of certain research done by VCU professors. The New York Times tells of a prominent Harvard child psychologist, a powerful advocate for certain drugs, who received large consulting fees from drug manufacturers. Further examples could be piled up by the dozen.

Citizens’ U.S. border crossings tracked

The federal government has been using its system of border checkpoints to greatly expand a database on travelers entering the country by collecting information on all U.S. citizens crossing by land, compiling data that will be stored for 15 years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations.

Officials say the Border Crossing Information system, disclosed last month by the Department of Homeland Security in a Federal Register notice, is part of a broader effort to guard against terrorist threats. It also reflects the growing number of government systems containing personal information on Americans that can be shared for a broad range of law enforcement and intelligence purposes, some of which are exempt from some Privacy Act protections.

While international air passenger data has long been captured this way, Customs and Border Protection agents only this year began to log the arrivals of all U.S. citizens across land borders, through which about three-quarters of border entries occur.



The Limits of Power

Andrew Bacevich: Our foreign policy is not something simply concocted by people in Washington D.C. and imposed on us. Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington D.C., but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we want, we the people want. And what we want, by and large – I mean, one could point to many individual exceptions – but, what we want, by and large is, we want this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods.

We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they may happen to be, in order to be able to drive wherever we want to be able to drive. And we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the book’s balanced at the end of the month, or the end of the fiscal year. And therefore, we want this unending line of credit.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution

The torrent of media commentary on the Georgia-Russia war has been characterised by near-obsessive geopolitical calculation, which – as so often where Georgia and the region is concerned – tends by default to view Georgia’s “lost” territories (if they are viewed at all) as nothing more than inconsiderate and irritating pawns on a global chessboard. For this reason – but mainly because Abkhazia and South Ossetia matter in themselves and are central to any resolution of the issues underlying the August 2008 war – it is useful to consider the arguments for taking them and their claims seriously.

A striking feature of the Georgian political landscape even in these desperate days of Mikheil Saakashvili’s humiliation is that there is very little recognition in the country of how deep are the scars inflicted by Georgia’s invasions of South Ossetia (1990-92) and Abkhazia (1992-93). It is only when Georgia can at an official level come to take responsibility for its own role in this period that progress in resolving these now so-called “frozen conflicts” can be made.

One vital ingredient of this rethinking is to recognise the longstanding residency-claims of South Ossetians and Abkhazians to their respective territories.

The US missile defence system is the magic pudding that will never run out

It’s a novel way to take your own life. Just as Russia demonstrates what happens to former minions that annoy it, Poland agrees to host a US missile defence base. The Russians, as Poland expected, respond to this proposal by offering to turn the country into a parking lot. This proves that the missile defence system is necessary after all: it will stop the missiles Russia will now aim at Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK in response to, er, their involvement in the missile defence system.

The American government insists that the interceptors, which will be stationed on the Baltic coast, have nothing to do with Russia: their purpose is to defend Europe and the US against the intercontinental ballistic missiles Iran and North Korea don’t possess. This is why they are being placed in Poland, which, as every geography student in Texas knows, shares a border with both rogue states.

They permit us to look forward to a glowing future, in which missile defence, according to the Pentagon, will “protect our homeland … and our friends and allies from ballistic missile attack”; as long as the Russians wait until it’s working before they nuke us. The good news is that, at the present rate of progress, reliable missile defence is only 50 years away. The bad news is that it has been 50 years away for the past six decades.

Russia and the Middle East

Some have said that the Kremlin is unpredictable. I always found the Soviet (Russian) leadership more predictable than the White House.

According to Vladimir Putin, the breakdown of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century. If so, one ought to undo (or reduce) the damage, and Moscow is now in a position to do so.

In his view, this does not necessarily mean physical occupation. The Central Asian governments need Russian political and economic help in facing many internal problems; they have every interest to keep close relations with the Kremlin. The same is true with regard to Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Baltic republics on the other hand are weak but indigestible; military occupation is ruled out, the game is not worth the candle. Ukraine and Moldova will be more careful not to antagonize Russia following the events in Georgia.

The Terrorism Index 2008

For the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, issues of national security no longer dominate political discourse. Rising energy costs, the subprime mortgage implosion, and other domestic imperatives now monopolize the national conversation. In a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Americans ranked terrorism as the country’s 10th-most important priority—behind healthcare, education, and the federal budget deficit. But even as attentions shift, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become the longest U.S. military engagements in a century, with the exception of Vietnam. Around the world, terrorists have continued to strike with deadly effect—from Athens and Paris to Beirut and Baghdad. The upcoming presidential election presents the United States with a choice about how it will seek to combat this threat, even as, somewhere, terrorists might be plotting their next attack. Wherever the war on terror may exist in the public’s consciousness, there is no doubt that it rages on.

Six questions about the anthrax case

Oh, the spectacle of it all — and don’t think I’m referring to those opening ceremonies in Beijing, where North Korean-style synchronization seemed to fuse with smiley-faced Walt Disney, or Michael Phelp’s thrilling hunt for eight gold medals and Speedo’s one million dollar “bonus,” a modernized tribute to the ancient Greek tradition of amateurism in action. No, I’m thinking of the blitz of media coverage after Dr. Bruce Ivins, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, committed suicide by Tylenol on July 29th and the FBI promptly accused him of the anthrax attacks of September and October 2001.

You remember them: the powder that, innocuously enough, arrived by envelope — giving going postal a new meaning — accompanied by hair-raising letters ominously dated “09-11-01” that said, “Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.” Five Americans would die from anthrax inhalation and 17 would be injured. The Hart Senate Office Building, along with various postal facilities, would be shut down for months of clean-up, while media companies that received the envelopes were thrown into chaos.

For a nation already terrified by the attacks of September 11, 2001, the thought that a brutal dictator with weapons of mass destruction (who might even have turned the anthrax over to the terrorists) was ready to do us greater harm undoubtedly helped pave the way for an invasion of Iraq. The President would even claim that Saddam Hussein had the ability to send unmanned aerial vehicles to spray biological or chemical weapons over the east coast of the United States (drones that, like Saddam’s nuclear program, would turn out not to exist).

Today, it’s hard even to recall just how terrifying those anthrax attacks were. According to a LexisNexis search, between Oct. 4 and Dec. 4, 2001, 389 stories appeared in the New York Times with “anthrax” in the headline. In that same period, 238 such stories appeared in the Washington Post. That’s the news equivalent of an unending, high-pitched scream of horror — and from those attacks would emerge an American world of hysteria involving orange alerts and duct tape, smallpox vaccinations, and finally a war, lest any of this stuff, or anything faintly like it, fall into the hands of terrorists.


NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: August 15-18

Six days that broke one country – and reshaped the world order

If Georgia and Nato are the principal casualties of this week’s ruthless display of brute power by Vladimir Putin, the consequences are bigger still, the fallout immense, if uncertain. The regional and the global balance of power looks to have tilted, against the west and in favour of the rising or resurgent players of the east.

In a seminal speech in Munich last year, Putin confidently warned the west that he would not tolerate the age of American hyperpower. Seven years in office at the time and at the height of his powers, he delivered his most anti-western tirade.

To an audience that included John McCain, the White House contender, and Robert Gates, the US defence secretary and ex-Kremlinologist, he served notice: “What is a unipolar world? It refers to one type of situation, one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making. It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. This is pernicious … unacceptable … impossible.”

This week, he turned those words into action, demonstrating the limits of US power with his rout of Georgia. His forces roamed at will along the roads of the Southern Caucasus, beyond Russia’s borders for the first time since the disastrous Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

As the Russian officers sat on the American stockpiles of machine guns, ammunition, and equipment in Gori, they were savouring a highly unusual scenario. Not since the Afghan war had the Russians seized vast caches of US weaponry. “People are sick to the stomach in Washington,” said a former Pentagon official. And the Russians are giddy with success.

Russia has stopped retreating: that’s the message for America

President George W Bush has long proclaimed Teddy Roosevelt as one of his heroes, but he seems to have missed a crucial piece of advice bequeathed by the swashbuckling president of a century ago: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

All of last week, Mr Bush loudly berated Russia, accusing it of bullying little Georgia and demanding that it withdraw its forces. “The people of Georgia have cast their lot with the free world,” Bush intoned, “and we will not cast them aside.” He promised a “robust and ongoing” military mission to deliver aid in Georgia, implicitly warning the Russians to stay out of their way. He repeatedly used the phrase “We expect Russia…” as if to convey authority. Russia, added his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday, would face “consequences” for its action.

Despite the tenor of his statements, it was plain to see that there was no stick in Bush’s hand. No answer to an “or else what?”. In case anyone got the wrong idea – as did the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, pouncing on Bush’s aid announcement to boast that the US military was coming to take charge of Georgia’s air and sea ports – the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates made clear that the aid mission was far more limited than Bush’s language had suggested, and that the US military had no intention of putting itself between Russian and Georgian forces.

China seeks Caucasian crisis windfall

A geopolitical convulsion measuring six points on the Richter scale is bound to produce aftershocks. The reverberations of the conflict in the Caucasus are beginning to be felt. We may be unwittingly bidding farewell to the “war on terror”. In any case, the international community has lost interest in Osama bin Laden.

The United States has spotted a promising new enemy on the horizon and an engrossing war may be offering itself, with infinite possibilities.

Needed: a new war doctrine. As often enough, Britain may be putting it all together. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in Churchillian tones, “The aggressive Russian force beyond South Ossetian borders has been something that really shocked many people … The sight of Russian tanks in Gori, Russian tanks in Senaki, the Russian blockade of the Georgian port of Poti, is a chilling reminder of times that I think we had hoped had gone by.” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, promptly echoed Miliband, recalling the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

U.S. watched as a squabble turned into a showdown

Five months ago, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, long a darling of this city’s diplomatic dinner party circuit, came to town to push for America to muscle his tiny country of four million into NATO.

On Capitol Hill, at the State Department and at the Pentagon, Mr. Saakashvili, brash and hyperkinetic, urged the West not to appease Russia by rejecting his country’s NATO ambitions.

At the White House, President Bush bantered with the Georgian president about his prowess as a dancer. Laura Bush, the first lady, took Mr. Saakashvili’s wife to lunch. Mr. Bush promised him to push hard for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. After the meeting, Mr. Saakashvili pronounced his visit “one of the most successful visits during my presidency,” and said he did not know of any other leader of a small country with the access to the administration that he had.

Three weeks later, Mr. Bush went to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, at the invitation of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. There, he received a message from the Russian: the push to offer Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership was crossing Russia’s “red lines,” according to an administration official close to the talks.

A dirty little war

Russia’s war in Georgia is about more than just punishing Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s pro-American President, whose doomed military incursion into South Ossetia 10 days ago caused the most serious crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

The objectives of Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, are much bigger: to create a new global order in which the US and Russia are equal partners again. Putin has frequently lamented the demise of the Soviet Union. He has described it as the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century. For Putin, the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin was a period of national humiliation in which a weakened Russia was forced to accept Western economic help and which saw former members of the Warsaw Pact embrace Nato, the West’s military club.

Over the past two years, Putin has given ample warning of his intentions to overturn the status quo in international affairs. Last year in Munich he launched a vituperative attack on America, denouncing its ‘unilateralism’. The Kremlin has criticised Nato’s westward expansion and the Bush administration’s deal with Warsaw last week to site missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Nato membership for Ukraine and Georgia would, Putin made clear, be the final straw.

Putin’s aim, it appears, is to rewrite history, in particular the narrative that suggests that Russia lost the Cold War. Over the previous eight years as President, he has fashioned Russia into an advanced post-modern authoritarian state, governed by former KGB officers whose attitudes to the West were forged under communism. Putin has apparently never been reconciled to Russia’s new boundaries, which left millions of ethnic Russians living outside the borders of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic states and Central Asia.

President Musharraf of Pakistan resigns

Under pressure over impending impeachment charges, President Pervez Musharraf announced he would resign Monday, ending nearly nine years as one of the United States’ most important allies in the campaign against terrorism.

Speaking on television from his presidential office here at 1 p.m., Mr. Musharraf, dressed in a gray suit and tie, said that after consulting with his aides, “I have decided to resign today.” He said he was putting national interest above “personal bravado.”

“Whether I win or lose the impeachment, the nation will lose,” he said, adding that he was not prepared to put the office of the presidency through the impeachment process.

300,000 flee as jihadis attacked

A human tide of more than 300,000 civilians has fled the al-Qa’ida badlands, amid indications that the fighting there has reached unprecedented levels, with the Pakistani army using massive firepower to attack jihadi militant strongholds.

Helicopter gunships, fixed-wing strike aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery have been used in the onslaught that followed the visit last month by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to Washington, where he was berated for Pakistan’s failure to wipe out the militants.

The offensive runs counter to perceptions that Pakistan’s new civilian Government is “soft” on Islamic extremism.

This will reassure Washington, whose ally in the war in terror for the past nine years, President Pervez Musharraf, was given by the Coalition Government until midnight last night (4am today AEST) to resign or face impeachment proceedings beginning tonight in the National Assembly.

Pakistani television showed thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire streaming out of the Bajaur, Mohmand and Kurrum agencies during the fighting estimated to have killed more than 500 militants. Tens of thousands of people are camping on the perimeter of Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, and some have reached Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjoining Islamabad.

Pakistan looks to life without the general (The Observer)

Pakistan weak as militancy surges (CSM)

Al Qaeda at 20 dead or alive? (Peter Bergen)

Response to 9/11 offers outline of McCain doctrine (NYT)

The candidate we still don’t know (Frank Rich)

The great illusion (Paul Krugman)

Russia vows pullout as troops dig in (WP)

Georgia-Russia conflict a blow to Bush foreign policy (LAT)

‘We are all Georgians’? Not so fast. (Michael Dobbs)

U.S.’ Gates scoffs at Russian warnings to Poland (Reuters)

Russia in nuclear threat to Poland (The Times)

Attack on Georgia gives boost to big U.S. weapons programs (WSJ)

War casts cloud over pipeline route (Moscow Times)

Arab world sees Bush’s response to Georgia-Russia crisis as hypocritical (LAT)

Russia has called our bluff over countries we can’t defend (Neal Ascherson)

Fear of Russian ‘protection’ spreads to Ukraine and the Baltic (The Observer)

Psychologists clash on aiding interrogations (NYT)

US worries as Maliki gets ‘difficult’ (Gareth Porter)



Staring down the Russians

The end of the cold war was supposed to usher in a new age in which the major powers would no longer dictate to their neighbors how to run their affairs. That is why Russia’s invasion of Georgia is so tragic and so potentially ominous. Russia is now on watch: Will it continue to rely on coercion to achieve its imperial aims, or is it willing to work within the emerging international system that values cooperation and consensus?

Editor’s Comment — Zbigniew Brzezinski eptomizes the coming end of the anti-Bush alliance. While he has in recent years been one of the most clear-eyed critics of the administration’s Middle East policies and its misconceived War on Terrorism, when it comes to Georgia, Brzezinski speaks as an old Cold Warrior.

Instead of heeding a call to form a bipartisan approach in pushing back against Russia’s imperial ambitions, now would be a good time to reflect upon the fact that the strategic blunder that laid the foundations for the current crisis was the Clinton administration’s squandering of an opportunity to bring Russia in from the cold. The failure of America and Europe to embrace Russia when it was weak has fed enduring resentment. It suggested that what had been cast as an ideological struggle was a mask for much more deeply rooted antagonisms and cultural prejudices.

At a time when people are talking about the end of the post-Cold War era, we should be considering how that era failed by allowing a Cold War assumption to endure: that strategic alliances need to be based on shared hostility rather than a mutual desire for cooperation.

Russia’s big Caucasus win

In less than a week of military operations sparked by Georgia’s assault on its breakaway province of South Ossetia, Moscow is emerging as the immediate winner. A still-stunned West is looking for ways to censure Russia for its “disproportionate” incursion into Georgia that has reshaped the strategic game in the Caucasus and beyond to Russia’s great advantage.

“If the Russians stop hostilities now, they will have redrawn the whole strategic situation in the Caucasus, to the detriment of the Americans,” says François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “No one will invest in Georgia, in oil pipelines, in new ventures [there] now…. The game is over. In the new version of the Great Game, the Russians can cash in.” The scope of the “victory” is substantial: Moscow controls territory and leverage, has incapacitated the Georgian military, denied Tblisi its much-hoped-for NATO status, and put the Georgian leader it despises – Mikheil Saakashvili – into a tough position.

After warnings to Moscow, U.S. has few options

The Bush administration mixed strong rhetoric with modest action yesterday in response to Russia’s continued military incursion in Georgia, warning that Moscow’s international aspirations are threatened if it does not honor a negotiated cease-fire in the conflict.

President Bush announced the start of a humanitarian aid program for Georgia using U.S. military airplanes and ships, although officials said the effort so far includes only two scheduled flights. One shipment arrived later yesterday and another is to land today. He also dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a diplomatic trip that will take her to Paris and then to Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi to show “America’s unwavering support.”

“The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia,” Bush said during an appearance at the White House. “We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.”

Yet Bush’s statement, along with the moderate measures that came with it, served to underscore the limited options available to the United States, which has neither the wherewithal nor the willingness to enter into a military conflict with Russia on its territorial border.

Peace plan offers Russia a rationale to advance

It was nearly 2 a.m. on Wednesday when President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced he had accomplished what seemed virtually impossible: Persuading the leaders of Georgia and Russia to agree to a set of principles that would stop the war.

Handshakes and congratulations were offered all around. But by the time the sun was up, Russian tanks were advancing again, this time taking positions around the strategically important city of Gori, in central Georgia.

It soon became clear that the six-point deal not only failed to slow the Russian advance, but it also allowed Russia to claim that it could push deeper into Georgia as part of so-called additional security measures it was granted in the agreement. Mr. Sarkozy, according to a senior Georgian official who witnessed the negotiations, also failed to persuade the Russians to agree to any time limit on their military action.

Rejuvenated Georgian president cites U.S. ties as ‘turning point’ in conflict

On Monday, President Mikheil Saakashvili, his army in retreat and his Western allies still surprised by the intensity of the Russian attack, was the very picture of vulnerability, dodging Russian military jets.

By Wednesday he seemed an almost preternaturally reinvigorated man, once again raising the temperature in Georgia’s bitter disagreements with Russia, and invoking special ties with American democracy and freedom.

Moments after President Bush appeared at the Rose Garden to say that the Pentagon would begin a humanitarian aid mission to support Georgia, Mr. Saakashvili was on the phone with a Western reporter, talking fast. “This is a turning point,” he said. Soon he appeared on national television, his tousled hair combed back flat and wearing a freshly pressed suit, assuring his country that the worst had passed.

No matter that Russian troops were 30 miles away, milling on the road outside the capital, meeting no resistance. Mr. Saakashvili was in cocky form in an interview later in the evening with reporters, expounding on Nazi propaganda, Orwell and the film “Dr. Strangelove.”

Russia working to destroy Georgia’s wounded military

Russian troops, in clear violation of a cease-fire agreement set only on Tuesday, embarked Wednesday on what Georgian officials called a deliberate and systematic attempt to demolish what remains of the Georgian military.

The actions ignited an angry response from the United States, with President Bush demanding that Moscow withdraw its forces from Georgia.

The president also announced that U.S. military aircraft and ships would begin delivering humanitarian aid to the former Soviet republic in a “vigorous and ongoing” operation and that U.S. officials would expect unfettered access to Georgia’s ports and highways.

Georgia: a blow to U.S. energy

The sudden war in the Caucasus brought Georgia to heel, reasserted Russia’s claim as the dominant force in the region, and dealt a blow to U.S. prestige. But in this part of the world, diplomacy and war are about oil and gas as much as they are about hegemony and the tragic loss of human life. Victory in Georgia now gives Russia the edge in the struggle over access to the Caspian’s 35 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas. The probable losers: the U.S. and those Western oil companies that have bet heavily on the Caspian as one of the few regions where they could still operate with relative freedom.

At the core of the struggle is a vast network of actual and planned pipelines for shipping Caspian Sea oil to the world market from countries that were once part of the Soviet empire. American policymakers working with a BP-led consortium had already helped build oil and natural gas pipelines across Georgia to the Turkish coast. Next on the drawing board: another pipeline through Georgia to carry natural gas from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Austria—offering an alternate supply to Western Europe, which now depends on Russia for a third of its energy.

Conflict narrows oil options for West

Then the main pipeline that carries oil through Georgia was completed in 2005, it was hailed as a major success in the United States policy to diversify its energy supply. Not only did the pipeline transport oil produced in Central Asia, helping move the West away from its dependence on the Middle East, but it also accomplished another American goal: it bypassed Russia.

American policy makers hoped that diverting oil around Russia would keep the country from reasserting control over Central Asia and its enormous oil and gas wealth and would provide a safer alternative to Moscow’s control over export routes that it had inherited from Soviet days. The tug-of-war with Moscow was the latest version of the Great Game, the 19th-century contest for dominance in the region.

A bumper sticker that American diplomats distributed around Central Asia in the 1990s as the United States was working hard to make friends there summed up Washington’s strategic thinking: “Happiness is multiple pipelines.”

Now energy experts say that the hostilities between Russia and Georgia could threaten American plans to gain access to more of Central Asia’s energy resources at a time when booming demand in Asia and tight supplies helped push the price of oil to record highs.

Iraq minister: US combat troops to pull out in three years under new deal

American soldiers will withdraw from cities across Iraq next summer and all US combat troops will leave the country within three years, provided the violence remains low, under the terms of a draft agreement with the Iraqi Government.

In one of the most detailed insights yet into the content of the deal, Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, has also told The Times that the US military would be barred from unilaterally mounting attacks inside Iraq from next year.

In addition, the power of arrest for US soldiers would be curbed by the need to hand over any detainee to a new, US-Iraqi committee. Troops would require the green light from this joint command before conducting any operation.



Russia’s strike shows the power of the pipeline

It was surely not lost on Russia’s bully in chief, Vladimir Putin, that the oil giant BP decided to shut down the pipeline that runs through parts of Georgia controlled by Russian troops. Indeed, that was one of the aims of the cross-border incursion.

Putin understands better than anyone that oil and gas are the source of Russia’s resurgence as a military and economic power and his own control over the Russian government and key sectors of its economy. It is oil and gas that provide the money to maintain Russia’s powerful military, along with a vast internal security apparatus and network of government-controlled enterprises that allow the president-turned-premier to maintain his iron grip on the levers of political and economic power.

Editor’s Comment — For those who see American power as wholly dependent on its military strength, the Georgia War will have come as a breath of fresh air. Russia demonstrated the incontestable power of military hardware and an old-fashioned army and the perfect justification for revving up an ideologically-lite New Cold War.

The real lesson here should however be about energy. The world’s second-largest oil producer is enfeebled by its flagrantly excessive oil consumption. Were it not for that, America would now be reaping the rewards of being an oil-rich nation while Russia’s power would correspondingly be diluted. What will it take for America to realize that it’s long past time for it to stop pigging itself?

Georgia: Mikheil Saakashvili, the man who lost it all

When he burst on to television screens across the world last week, speaking perfect English, Mikheil Saakashvili looked every inch the charismatic New York-trained lawyer that he is.

Known to friends as “Misha” the cosmopolitan 40-year-old is unquestionably brilliant, speaks half a dozen languages and has a Dutch wife he met in Paris.

But Mr Saakashvili has handed Russia a victory it could scarcely have dreamed of – his decision to invade South Ossetia has left his army humiliated and he could soon be fighting for his political life with no prospect of any meaningful help from his Western allies.

Editor’s Comment — An emerging conspiracy theory is that Georgia would not have triggered a war with Russia without having Americans — such as the McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann — egging them on. There might be a grain of truth to this idea, but I suspect that the sad truth is disastrous political judgments can too often be attributed to the psychological flaws of the individuals who make them. By most accounts, Mikheil Saakashvili is a man in whose hands power has always rested like a bomb waiting to explode.

Georgia President Saakashvili accepts Russia’s truce proposal

Bowing to the reality of vastly superior military might, the Georgian president said Tuesday that he would accept a Russian cease-fire agreement to end a five-day conflict, despite terms that some described as humiliating to his small, proud nation.

President Mikheil Saakashvili, while at times seeming defiant, appears to have all but given up his bid to reclaim two disputed regions on the Russian border. Russia, which said it had suspended a campaign that routed Georgia’s U.S.-trained military, continued bombing sites deep in the country hours later.

At a rally attended by thousands of people in Tbilisi, Saakashvili pledged that one day Georgia would beat Russia.

While aide advised McCain, his firm lobbied for Georgia

Sen. John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser prepped his boss for an April 17 phone call with the president of Georgia and then helped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepare a strong statement of support for the fledgling republic.

The day of the call, a lobbying firm partly owned by the adviser, Randy Scheunemann, signed a $200,000 contract to continue providing strategic advice to the Georgian government in Washington.

The McCain campaign said Georgia’s lobbying contract with Orion Strategies had no bearing on the candidate’s decision to speak with President Mikheil Saakashvili and did not influence his statement. “The Embassy of Georgia requested the call,” said campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.

But ethics experts have raised concerns about former lobbyists for foreign governments providing advice to presidential candidates about those same countries. “The question is, who is the client? Is the adviser loyal to income from a foreign client, or is he loyal to the candidate he is working for now?” said James Thurber, a lobbying expert at American University. “It’s dangerous if you’re getting advice from people who are very close to countries on one side or another of a conflict.”

War puts focus on McCain’s hard line on Russia

The intensifying warfare in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has put a new focus on the increasingly hard line that Senator John McCain has taken against Russia in recent years, with stances that have often gone well beyond those of the Bush administration and its focus on engagement.

Mr. McCain has called for expelling what he has called a “revanchist Russia” from meetings of the Group of 8, the organization of leading industrialized nations. He urged President Bush — in vain — to boycott the group’s meeting in St. Petersburg in 2006. And he has often mocked the president’s assertion that he got a sense of the soul of Vladimir V. Putin, who was then Russia’s president and is now its prime minister, by looking into his eyes. “I looked into his eyes,” Mr. McCain said, “and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B.”

His hard line has been derided as provocative, and possibly dangerous, by some so-called realist foreign policy experts, who warn that isolating Russia would do little to encourage it to change. But others, including neoconservatives who deem promoting democracy a paramount goal, see Mr. McCain’s position as principled, and prescient. Now, with Russia moving forcefully into Georgia as Mr. McCain seeks the presidency, his views are being scrutinized as never before through the prism of Russia’s invasion.

After mixed U.S. messages, a war erupted in Georgia

One month ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a high-profile visit that was planned to accomplish two very different goals.

During a private dinner on July 9, Ms. Rice’s aides say, she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win. “She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,” according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital.

But publicly, Ms. Rice struck a different tone, one of defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure. “I’m going to visit a friend and I don’t expect much comment about the United States going to visit a friend,” she told reporters just before arriving in Tbilisi, even as Russian jets were conducting intimidating maneuvers over South Ossetia.

U.S. puts brakes on Israeli plan for attack on Iran nuclear facilities

The American administration has rejected an Israeli request for military equipment and support that would improve Israel’s ability to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

A report published last week by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) states that military strikes are unlikely to destroy Iran’s centrifuge program for enriching uranium.

The Americans viewed the request, which was transmitted (and rejected) at the highest level, as a sign that Israel is in the advanced stages of preparations to attack Iran. They therefore warned Israel against attacking, saying such a strike would undermine American interests. They also demanded that Israel give them prior notice if it nevertheless decided to strike Iran.

As compensation for the requests it rejected, Washington offered to improve Israel’s defenses against surface-to-surface missiles.

How the United States did not reinvent war… but thought it did

“War is the great auditor of institutions,” the historian Corelli Barnett once observed. Since 9/11, the United States has undergone such an audit and been found wanting. That adverse judgment applies in full to America’s armed forces.

Valor does not offer the measure of an army’s greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Bush conceived of a bold, offensive strategy, vowing to “take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” The military offered the principal means for undertaking this offensive, and U.S. forces soon found themselves engaged on several fronts.

Two of those fronts — Afghanistan and Iraq — commanded priority attention. In each case, the assigned task was to deliver a knockout blow, leading to a quick, decisive, economical, politically meaningful victory. In each case, despite impressive displays of valor, fortitude, durability, and technological sophistication, America’s military came up short. The problem lay not with the level of exertion but with the results achieved.

U.S. analyst depicts Al Qaeda as secure in Pakistan and more potent than last year

Al Qaeda’s success in forging close ties to Pakistani militant groups has given it an increasingly secure haven in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan, the American government’s senior terrorism analyst said Tuesday.

Al Qaeda is more capable of attacking inside the United States than it was last year, and its cadre of senior leaders has recruited and trained “dozens” of militants capable of blending into Western society to carry out attacks, the analyst said.

The remarks Tuesday by the intelligence analyst, Ted Gistaro, were the most comprehensive assessment of the Qaeda threat by an American official since the National Intelligence Estimate issued last summer, which concluded that Al Qaeda had largely rebuilt its haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas.



Russia bids to rid Georgia of its folly

One word explains why the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union have obliged themselves to sit on their hands, while Russia’s defends its citizens, and national interests, in the Caucasus, and liberates Georgians from the folly of their unpopular president, Mikheil Saakashvili. That word is Kosovo.

Russia sent troops into the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia to take on Georgian troops that had advanced into the territory. Four days of heavy fighting have seen thousands of casualties and the Georgian forces withdrawing. Russian troops were reported on Monday to be continuing fighting in parts of Georgia, including around the capital Tbilisi.

Eight hundred years of Caucasian history explain why Saakashvili has brought such destruction and ignominy on his countrymen over the past few days. Queen Tamar, the greatest of the Georgian sovereigns (1184-1213), is responsible for the habit Georgian rulers have displayed for the past millennium of treating neighboring Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ossetia and the Black Sea coast of Turkey as protectorates. But as Tamar also taught her countrymen, Georgian ambition always runs out of gas when the neighbors prove to be just as ambitious, richer or tougher.

In Georgia and Russia, a perfect brew for a blowup

As the bloody military mismatch between Russia and Georgia unfolded over the past three days, even the main players were surprised by how quickly small border skirmishes slipped into a conflict that threatened the Georgian government and perhaps the country itself.

Several American and Georgian officials said that unlike when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, a move in which Soviet forces were massed before the attack, the nation had not appeared poised for an invasion last week. As late as Wednesday, they said, Russian diplomats had been pressing for negotiations between Georgia and South Ossetia, the breakaway region where the combat flared and then escalated into full-scale war.

“It doesn’t look like this was premeditated, with a massive staging of equipment,” one senior American official said. “Until the night before the fighting, Russia seemed to be playing a constructive role.”

A path to peace in the Caucasus

The past week’s events in South Ossetia are bound to shock and pain anyone. Already, thousands of people have died, tens of thousands have been turned into refugees, and towns and villages lie in ruins. Nothing can justify this loss of life and destruction. It is a warning to all.

The roots of this tragedy lie in the decision of Georgia’s separatist leaders in 1991 to abolish South Ossetian autonomy. This turned out to be a time bomb for Georgia’s territorial integrity. Each time successive Georgian leaders tried to impose their will by force — both in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, where the issues of autonomy are similar — it only made the situation worse. New wounds aggravated old injuries.

Nevertheless, it was still possible to find a political solution. For some time, relative calm was maintained in South Ossetia. The peacekeeping force composed of Russians, Georgians and Ossetians fulfilled its mission, and ordinary Ossetians and Georgians, who live close to each other, found at least some common ground.

Pakistani Taliban repel government offensive

Taliban fighters forced Pakistani soldiers to retreat from a militants’ stronghold near the border with Afghanistan over the weekend, after a three-day battle sent civilians fleeing from government airstrikes.

The pullback from Bajaur, an area of Pakistan’s tribal region where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have forged particularly close ties, came after the military began an offensive there late last week.

Military spokesmen said 6 soldiers had been killed, though the Pakistani Taliban put the number at 22. It was unclear how many civilians had died.

Iraq demands ‘clear timeline’ for U.S. withdrawal

Iraq’s foreign minister insisted Sunday that any security deal with the United States must contain a “very clear timeline” for the departure of U.S. troops. A suicide bomber struck north of Baghdad, killing at least five people including an American soldier.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters that American and Iraqi negotiators were “very close” to reaching a long-term security agreement that will set the rules for U.S. troops in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

Zebari said the Iraqis were insisting that the agreement include a “very clear timeline” for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces, but he refused to talk about specific dates.

After setbacks, Sadr redirects Mahdi Army

Moqtada al-Sadr has taken yet another step in an attempt to transform his Mahdi Army militia from a force intent on battling US soldiers into a much broader social and political network that can still hold sway in the shifting landscape of Iraq.

During Friday prayers in Sadr City, clerics read instructions from the young anti-American leader ordering his militiamen to join a new religious and cultural wing of the movement that he is calling the Momahidoun, or “those who pave the way.”

The move comes just months after Mr. Sadr’s movement was dealt a serious blow in springtime battles with both American and Iraqi forces in Baghdad and Basra that ended when Sadr called off his fighters after the deaths of hundreds of his followers and innocent Iraqis.

“The Mahdi Army is in a real crisis,” says Abdul Kareem al-Mohmedawi, a native of Sadr City and deputy editor of Al-Jamaher, a liberal newspaper in Baghdad. “There is a weapons shortage and a shortage of volunteers.”

Palestinian ‘gambit’ could be prophetic

For the second time in four years, Ahmed Qurei, the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel and a former prime minister, has wielded what can best be described as the bi-national weapon.

In a closed-door meeting on Sunday night with top Fatah leaders, Mr Qurei, a stalwart of the PLO, told those assembled that while the current round of negotiations was serious this did not mean that agreement was in sight.

In fact, he said, in remarks that were repeated in a subsequent statement issued by his office, “if Israel will not support our choice of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem, then the alternative demand of the Palestinian people and leadership will be a bi-national state”.

His remarks would appear to be a bargaining gambit as Palestinian-Israeli negotiations perhaps enter a crucial phase.



In Georgia clash, a lesson on U.S. need for Russia

The image of President Bush smiling and chatting with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia from the stands of the Beijing Olympics even as Russian aircraft were shelling Georgia outlines the reality of America’s Russia policy. While America considers Georgia its strongest ally in the bloc of former Soviet countries, Washington needs Russia too much on big issues like Iran to risk it all to defend Georgia.

And State Department officials made it clear on Saturday that there was no chance the United States would intervene militarily.

Mr. Bush did use tough language, demanding that Russia stop bombing. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded that Russia “respect Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

What did Mr. Putin do? First, he repudiated President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Beijing, refusing to budge when Mr. Sarkozy tried to dissuade Russia from its military operation. “It was a very, very tough meeting,” a senior Western official said afterward. “Putin was saying, ‘We are going to make them pay. We are going to make justice.’ ”

Georgia-Russia clash: American culpability and the Kosovo connection

When Kosovo declared independence and the US and other European states recognized it — thus sidestepping Russia’s veto in the United Nations Security Council — many of us believed that the price for Russian cooperation in other major global problems just went much higher and that the chance of a clash over Georgia’s breakaway border provinces increased dramatically.

By pushing Kosovo the way the US did and aggravating nationalist sensitivities, Russia could in reaction be rationally expected to further integrate and cultivate South Ossetia and Abkhazia under de facto Russian control and pull these provinces that border Russia away from the state of Georgia.

At the time, there was word from senior level sources that Russia had asked the US to stretch an independence process for Kosovo over a longer stretch of time — and tie to it some process of independence for the two autonomous Georgia provinces. In exchange, Russia would not veto the creation of a new state of Kosovo at the Security Council. The U.S. rejected Russia’s secret entreaties and instead rushed recognition of Kosovo and said damn the consequences.

Now thousands are dead. The fact is that a combination of American recklessness, serious miscalculation and over-reach by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, as well as Russia’s forceful reassertion of its regional national interests and status as an oil and gas rich, tough international player means America and Europe have yet again helped generate a crisis that tests US global credibility.

Georgia: Russia demands to be regarded as number one

Russia’s regional objectives are therefore straightforward. It aims to show its neighbours, by means of the Georgian example, that Russia is “glavniy”: that its contentment is the key to “stability and security”, and that if Russia expresses its discontent, Nato will be unwilling and unable to help. It aims to show Nato that its newest aspirant members are divided, divisible and, in the case of Georgia, reckless. It aims to show both sets of actors that Russia has (in Putin’s words) “earned a right to be self-interested” and that in its own “zone”, it will defend these interests irrespective of what others think about them. For Russia, the broader implications are also becoming straightforward. To its political establishment, to the heads of Gazprom and Rosneft, to its armed forces and security services and to their advisors and “ideologists”, the key point is that the era of Western dominance is over.

Far from rejecting “globalisation”, as Westerners might suppose, their view, in Foreign Minister Lavrov’s words, is that the West is “losing its monopoly over the globalisation process”. The Beijing Olympics are reminder enough that the cresting of what Russians call Western “democratic messianism” and the rise of “sovereign democracies” is not purely a Russia-driven process. But the West needs to know that Russia is determined to play a significant part in that process and that it is now able to do so.

Georgia’s volatile risk-taker has gone over the brink

The Caucasus is the kind of place where, when the guns start firing, it’s hard to stop them. That is the brutal reality of South Ossetia, where a small conflict is beginning to spread exponentially.

Leave aside the geopolitics for the moment and have pity for the people who will suffer most from this, the citizens – mostly ethnic Ossetians but also Georgians – who have already died in their hundreds. It is a tiny and vulnerable place, with no more than 75,000 inhabitants of both nationalities mixed up in a patchwork of villages and one sleepy provincial town in the foothills of the Caucasus.

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili seems to care less about these people than about asserting that they live in Georgian territory. Otherwise he would not on the night of 7-8 August have launched a massive artillery assault on the town of Tskhinvali, which has no purely military targets and whose residents, the Georgians say, lest we forget, are their own citizens. This is a blatant breach of international humanitarian law.

War in Georgia: The Israeli connection

Israel began selling arms to Georgia about seven years ago following an initiative by Georgian citizens who immigrated to Israel and became businesspeople.

“They contacted defense industry officials and arms dealers and told them that Georgia had relatively large budgets and could be interested in purchasing Israeli weapons,” says a source involved in arms exports.

The military cooperation between the countries developed swiftly. The fact that Georgia’s defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation.

“His door was always open to the Israelis who came and offered his country arms systems made in Israel,” the source said. “Compared to countries in Eastern Europe, the deals in this country were conducted fast, mainly due to the defense minister’s personal involvement.”

Make diplomacy, not war

Iraq and Afghanistan are the messes getting attention today, but they are only symptoms of a much broader cancer in American foreign policy.

A few glimpses of this larger affliction:

¶The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats.

¶This year alone, the United States Army will add about 7,000 soldiers to its total; that’s more people than in the entire American Foreign Service.

¶More than 1,000 American diplomatic positions are vacant because the Foreign Service is so short-staffed, but a myopic Congress is refusing to finance even modest new hiring. Some 1,100 could be hired for the cost of a single C-17 military cargo plane.

Washington rushes to adjust to Maliki’s rising credibility

US and Iraqi negotiators are days away from agreeing on an “aspirational” date for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq. Barack Obama and John McCain will find language in the accord to allow each to take credit on the campaign trail for shaping that outcome.

But the big political winner from this slimmed-down, vague agreement on US forces will be Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – whom the Bush administration seriously considered pushing out of office last year but has learned to accommodate.

Something surprising is happening to the once rigid, self-centered George W. Bush presidency. The administration is adjusting policy to reflect the changing political landscape of the United States – and of Iraq, where Maliki has emerged as the center of gravity in Shiite politics as other leaders fail physically and politically.

U.S., Iraq remain unresolved on dates for U.S. troop pullout

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed on most elements of a framework under which U.S. combat troops would withdraw from Iraqi cities sometime next year, but dates have not yet been settled and Iraqi political approval of the draft accord remains uncertain, according to Bush administration officials.

“What makes this complicated is that, until the whole package is done, it’s not done,” one official said, adding, “Yes, we have things on the table that we’ve agreed to,” but they await high-level Iraq agreement that may be weeks away, if not longer.

Several officials close to the negotiations traced a long and potentially perilous path through Iraq’s fractious political landscape that could delay the deal or derail certain elements. Once the text is finalized, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must gain approval from his multiparty executive and national security councils and his Council of Ministers.

Mystery shrouds assassination of Syria’s top security adviser

A blanket of secrecy shrouds the assassination of Brigadier General Muhammad Suleiman, the security adviser of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

An informed Syrian source has told Asharq Al-Awsat that Brigadier General Muhammad Suleiman, the Syrian president’s “right-hand man” and security adviser, was assassinated amid mysterious circumstances at dawn Friday/Saturday [2 August] by a sniper that opened fire at him from the sea opposite the shore of the city of Tartus northwest of Syria.

The source said the Suleiman was the officer in charge of sensitive security files in the Syrian president’s office and was also in charge of financing and arming the Syrian army. Syrian sources have said that in addition to his other tasks, Suleiman was the liaison officer between Syria and Hezbollah. However, in a statement to the Agence France Presse, a Hezbollah official denied that the party knew Suleiman or knew about his killing. The assassination of Suleiman – who was one of the Syrian officials that Detlev Mehlis, the former head of the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, wished to investigate – comes about six months after the assassination in the center of Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, the official in charge of Hezbollah security operations.

The United States v. the Driver

Last week was hardly the first time that we have found ourselves scratching our heads in anguished confusion about what, exactly, President Bush is trying to achieve by trashing the Constitution at Guantánamo Bay. But the sentencing of Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, to five and a half years in prison is a good moment to stop and reflect.

For years, Mr. Bush and his supporters have been telling the world that it is necessary to hold prisoners without charges, to abuse them in ways most civilized nations consider torture, and to deny them basic human rights because of the serious threat they pose to America. These are “dangerous terrorists captured on the battlefield,” Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The administration considered Mr. Hamdan such a priority that it took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, insisting Mr. Bush had the power to hold anyone he deemed an enemy combatant for as long as he wanted under any conditions he wanted. Mr. Hamdan’s trial was the first by a military commission in Guantánamo.

We use the word “trial” loosely. The proceedings were marked by secret testimony by secret witnesses. The former chief prosecutor in Guantánamo testified that he quit after being told that these trials could not produce acquittals. In the end, Mr. Hamdan was found guilty only of providing material support to terrorists and was sentenced to five and half years — a term he might complete before year’s end. Still, in the twisted world of Mr. Bush’s prison camps, it is unclear if Mr. Hamdan will be released after serving his sentence.

An Israeli strike on Iran, a plan that just doesn’t fly

Leave aside the possibility that the threat of an Israeli attack may be designed to give leverage to U.S. and European diplomats pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear efforts. Leave aside the question of whether, if you believed that such a strike was truly imminent, you’d predict it in a major newspaper. Leave aside the fact that no Israeli strike could happen without a U.S. green light and permission to fly over Iraq. And leave aside the perennial suspicions that Israel’s military elite, which sees the Jewish state as the West’s foremost strategic asset in the region, also tends to see the Middle East through the prism of the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. Could Israeli threats be serious?

We hope not, because we don’t buy the underlying premises. Here’s the argument one hears almost daily in Israel: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a jihadist fanatic; he is bent on (as he put it) wiping Israel “off the map,” and his insistence on denying the Holocaust shows that he may be vile enough to perpetrate another one; the Iranian regime is on the fast track to developing a nuclear weapon. So the West — and if not the West, then Israel alone — must treat Iran as though it were the national equivalent of a suicide bomber. It must strike now, without hesitation, before it’s too late.



Old media dethroned

When John Edwards admitted Friday that he lied about his affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter, a former employee of his campaign, he may have ended his public life but he certainly ratified an end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism.

From the start, the Edwards scandal has belonged entirely to the alternative and new media. The tabloid National Enquirer has done all the significant reporting on it — reporting that turns out to be largely correct — and bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion.

Editor’s Comment — That John Edwards finally had no choice but to engage in what has become a pro forma act of “coming clean” – the up-close-and-personal prime-time confession – was really among the least interesting of the ways in which he could have revealed himself. What would have been far more telling would have been for him to share the calculations he must have been making in late 2006.

Did he really believe he could make it all the way through a presidential campaign without this story coming out? Or was he holding in reserve a Clintonian back-up plan to engage in the kind of damage control that helped Bill and Hillary save their first run for the White House?

Ironically, confessing to his infidelity seems like the lesser of the confessions Edwards could have made.

Reticence of mainstream media becomes a story itself

For almost 10 months, the story of John Edwards’s affair remained the nearly exclusive province of the National Enquirer — through reports, denials, news of a pregnancy, questions about paternity and, finally, a slapstick chase through a hotel in Beverly Hills.

Political blogs, some cable networks and a few newspapers reported on it — or, more accurately, reported on The Enquirer reporting on it. Jay Leno and David Letterman made Mr. Edwards the butt of jokes on their late-night shows, but their own networks declined to report on the rumors surrounding him on the evening news. Why?

A number of news organizations with resources far greater than The Enquirer’s, like The New York Times, say they looked into the Edwards matter and found nothing solid enough to report, while others did not look at all.

New evidence suggests Ron Suskind is right

If Ron Suskind’s sensational charge that the White House and CIA colluded in forging evidence to justify the Iraq invasion isn’t proved conclusively in his new book, “The Way of the World,” then the sorry record of the Bush administration offers no basis to dismiss his allegation. Setting aside the relative credibility of the author and the government, the relevant question is whether the available facts demand a full investigation by a congressional committee, with testimony under oath.

When we look back at the events surrounding the emergence of the faked letter that is at the center of this controversy, a strong circumstantial case certainly can be made in support of Suskind’s story.

That story begins during the final weeks of 2003, when everyone in the White House was suffering severe embarrassment over both the origins and the consequences of the invasion of Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. No evidence of significant connections between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the al-Qaida terrorist organization had been discovered there either. Nothing in this costly misadventure was turning out as advertised by the Bush administration.

Plucky little Georgia? No, the cold war reading won’t wash

For many people the sight of Russian tanks streaming across a border in August has uncanny echoes of Prague 1968. That cold war reflex is natural enough, but after two decades of Russian retreat from those bastions it is misleading. Not every development in the former Soviet Union is a replay of Soviet history.

The clash between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, which escalated dramatically yesterday, in truth has more in common with the Falklands war of 1982 than it does with a cold war crisis. When the Argentine junta was basking in public approval for its bloodless recovery of Las Malvinas, Henry Kissinger anticipated Britain’s widely unexpected military response with the comment: “No great power retreats for ever.” Maybe today Russia has stopped the long retreat to Moscow which started under Gorbachev.

Has Georgia overreached in Ossetia?

Whether or not the effect was intended, Moscow now appears to be using Saakashvili’s strategic overreach to teach a brutal lesson not only to the Georgians, but also to other neighbors seeking to align themselves with the West against Russia. Saakashvili is appealing for Western support, based on international recognition of South Ossetia as sovereign Georgian territory. “A full-scale aggression has been launched against Georgia,” he said, calling for Western intervention. But given NATO’s previous warnings, its commitments elsewhere and the reluctance of many of its member states to antagonize Russia, it remains unlikely that Georgia will get more than verbal support from its desired Western protectors. Saakashvili appears to have both underestimated the scale of the Russian backlash, and overestimated the extent of support he could count on from the U.S. and its allies. The Georgian leader may have expected Washington to step up to his defense, particularly given his country’s centrality to the geopolitics of energy — Georgia is the only alternative to Russia as the route for a pipeline carrying oil westward from Azerbaijan. But Russia is not threatening to overrun Georgia. Moscow claims to be simply using its military to restore the secessionist boundary, which in the process would deal Saakashvili a humiliating defeat.

Although its outcome is yet to be decided, there’s no win-win outcome to the offensive launched by Georgia with the goal of recovering South Ossetia. Either Saakashvili wins, or Moscow does. Unless the U.S. and its allies demonstrate an unlikely appetite for confrontation with an angry and resurgent Russia in its own backyard, the smart money would be on Moscow.

‘Invasion of Georgia’ a ‘3 a.m. moment’

When the North Caucasus slid into war Thursday night, it presented Senators John McCain and Barack Obama with a true “3 a.m. moment,” and their responses to the crisis suggested dramatic differences in how each candidate, as president, would lead America in moments of international crisis.

While Obama offered a response largely in line with statements issued by democratically elected world leaders, including President Bush, first calling on both sides to negotiate, John McCain took a remarkably—and uniquely—more aggressive stance, siding clearly with Georgia’s pro-Western leaders and placing the blame for the conflict entirely on Russia.

The abrupt crisis in an obscure hotspot had the features of the real foreign policy situations presidents face—not the clean hypotheticals of candidates’ white papers and debating points.

Iran, the US and the post-Cold War world

The American-European-led international diplomatic minuet with Iran is the most interesting and significant political dynamic in the world today. What happens on the Iran issue will determine power relations for years to come, far beyond Iran’s immediate neighborhood, because some critical issues are captured in the Iranian nuclear question. These include global energy flows, the credibility and impact of the UN Security Council, the limits of economic and political sanctions, the capacity of determined regional powers to defy greater global powers, the interplay between Israeli, Western and global interests, the coherence of political Europe, and the spirit and letter of international law, conventions and treaties.

Domestic political posturing in Iran, the United States, Israel and Europe aside, three core issues are at stake here: Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for verifiably peaceful purposes; Israeli concerns that an Iranian nuclear bomb would be an existential threat, which Israel will never allow to happen; and Western fears of Iran’s military power, nuclear capabilities, and radicalizing political influence around the Middle East.

Pakistan army to ask Pervez Musharraf to resign

Pakistan’s all-powerful army chief will ask President Pervez Musharraf to resign from office within a week, a senior government official claimed today.

The claim was supported by a former military aide to the president who said that the army’s leadership wished Mr Musharraf to be spared the humiliation of impeachment.

The civilian government intensified an attritional, seven-month long power struggle with the presidency when it announced earlier this week that it is to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr Musharraf on Monday.

Close Musharraf allies say he has no plans to resign under pressure

President Pervez Musharraf will stage a spirited defense against impeachment charges that the governing coalition is pursuing against him, and has no intention of resigning under pressure, his key allies said Friday.

Mr. Musharraf, who has been president for nearly nine years, faces the first impeachment proceedings in Pakistani history, after the leaders of the two major political parties in the coalition announced Thursday that they would seek to remove him.

The grounds for impeachment included mismanagement of the economy, along with Mr. Musharraf’s imposition in November of emergency rule and the firing of nearly 60 judges, the party leaders said.

A US withdrawal deal with Sadr?

Shi’ite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr stepped back into Iraq’s political fray Friday with an offer that (if genuine) Washington would be hard-pressed to refuse: Set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and the Mahdi Army will begin to disband. “The main reason for the armed resistance is the American military presence,” said Sadr emissary Salah al-Ubaidi, who spoke to reporters in Najaf Friday. “If the American military begins to withdrawal, there will be no need for these armed groups.”

Sadr in the past has vowed to expand the humanitarian work of his movement but promised to maintain fighters from his Mahdi Army militia, which has fought against both the Iraqi government and U.S. forces. Al-Ubaidi’s remarks effectively offered the strongest assurances yet that the Mahdi Army is willing to stand down entirely in Iraq, if American military forces back away.

In Iraq, regional politics heats up

A growing number of Iraqi groups are choosing to pursue their agendas through politics instead of bloodshed, a trend that has helped bring down levels of violence. But as Iraqis leave behind the sectarian cataclysms of recent years, ethnic and regional political disputes in several parts of Iraq are becoming more pronounced.

In the south, ruling Shiite parties are vying for electoral power against loyalists of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Shiite tribal leaders. In the west, Sunni tribes are challenging the political control of established Sunni religious parties. And in the north, ethnic Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens are in a struggle for control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

“What we have now is people who know how to use weapons and who now want to play politics,” said Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni legislator. Even so, some leaders seem unable to decide whether to trust their fortunes to the ballot box.



Redefining the war on terror

You recently wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe that was highly critical of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. And you argued that regardless who is elected in November, moving away from the current president’s policies vis-à-vis terrorism will be difficult. Can you explain this criticism?

The real object of the exercise was less to offer a critique of the Bush administration than to suggest that the legacy of this administration, in my view at least, is really much greater than most people seem to appreciate. In my mind, so much of the debate has been focused on Iraq, narrowly and specifically. I believe that most observers have not fully appreciated the enormity of either the changes that the Bush administration has made or changes they’ve been able to prevent, in terms of both the content of our foreign policy and the apparatus that makes our foreign policy. Now there are some people who may argue that that legacy is a very positive one. If you are a neo-conservative, my guess is you think the Bush doctrine of preventative war is a good thing. If you’re a critic, you think it’s wildly reckless and stupid. But the real point is that there is this great legacy and, in my judgment, it is that larger legacy that we have to have as the focus of the tension in the presidential campaign, not simply [asking], ‘Were you for the surge or were you against the surge?’ That was really the object of the exercise.

500: Deadly U.S. milestone in Afghan war

Not long after Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Blaskowski was killed by a sniper’s bullet last Sept. 23 in eastern Afghanistan, his mother received an e-mail message with a link to a video on the Internet. A television reporter happened to have been filming a story at Sergeant Blaskowski’s small mountain outpost when it came under fire and the sergeant was shot.

Since then, Sergeant Blaskowski’s parents, Cheryl and Terry Blaskowski of Cheboygan, Mich., have watched their 27-year-old son die over and over. Ms. Blaskowski has taken breaks from work to watch it on her computer, sometimes several times a day, studying her son’s last movements.

“Anything to be closer,” she said. “To see what could have been different, how it — ” the bullet — “happened to find him.”

For months, the Blaskowskis felt alone in watching their son die in an isolated and nearly forgotten war. And then, in June, the war in Afghanistan roared back into public view when American deaths from hostilities exceeded those in Iraq. In the face of an expanding threat from the Taliban, the conflict is becoming deadlier and much more violent for American troops, who three weeks ago reached their highest deployment levels ever, at 36,000.

Bin Laden’s former driver is sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the convicted former driver for Osama bin Laden, was sentenced Thursday to 66 months in prison by the military panel that convicted him of a war crime Wednesday.

The military judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, had already said that he planned to give Mr. Hamdan credit for the 61 months he had been held, meaning that Mr. Hamdan could complete his criminal sentence in five months. After that his fate is unclear, because the Bush administration says that it can hold detainees here until the end of the war on terror.

The unexpectedly short sentence was far less than military prosecutors had sought. Through more than five years of legal proceedings against Mr. Hamdan, prosecutors had pursued a life sentence, and earlier in the day, faced with Mr. Hamdan’s acquittal on the most serious charge against him, prosecutors recommended a sentence of at least 30 years and said life may be appropriate.

Pakistan’s ruling coalition plans to impeach Musharraf

The feuding leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition said Thursday that they’ll impeach President Pervez Musharraf, a move that could trigger political upheaval in a crisis-torn nation that’s crucial to the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and to the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and the spouse of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, announced after three days of talks that an impeachment motion will be brought before parliament soon.

“The coalition leaders believe that it has become imperative to move for impeachment,” Zardari told a news conference. “We have the votes and the political will.”

Sharif the likely winner of Pakistan’s power play

The news of the potential impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf means further political instability for Pakistan – at least in the short term.

Though a deal has finally been done between the Pakistan People’s party (PPP), effectively led by the late Benazir Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), this indicates a very temporary coincidence of interest rather than a new solidarity. The beleaguered president’s decision not to go to China for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games indicates he is taking the threat seriously.

No Pakistani president has ever been impeached and the procedure laid down in the 1973 constitution is likely to mean a classic drawn-out Pakistani politico-legal wrangle. Impeachment is a political process relying on a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament deciding to remove the president from office on grounds of gross misconduct, physical or mental impairment or violation of the constitution.

Can Pakistan clean up its intelligence agency?

As Pakistan faces mounting pressure from its neighbors and the United States to clear pro-Taliban elements from its intelligence service, its weak government is struggling to respond in a convincing way.

Last week, American officials alleged that members of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had helped plan the bombing of the Indian consulate in Kabul, Afghanistan, last month. The claim echoed those lodged by both affected neighbors, India and Afghanistan.

On top of these accusations came reports that a top CIA official had confronted Pakistani leaders with evidence of the ISI’s support for militants that the Pakistani Army has been battling in the country’s restive northwest tribal areas.

Rice: US won’t tell Israel yes or no

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the US would not “say yes or no” to an Israeli military strike on Iran. In an interview with Yahoo News and Politico, she also said that Iran’s answer to the incentives package offered by world powers “is not a really serious answer”, and warned that new economic sanctions were the next likely step if the country continued to refuse to freeze its nuclear program.

“We don’t say yes or no to Israeli military operations. “Israel is its own sovereign. We are in close contact with Israel and we talk about the diplomatic track we’re on… They’ve said diplomacy can work here, and I know they’re doing their part to talk with all countries with which they have diplomatic relations to explain why it is important to have a tough edge to our diplomacy,” Rice said.

“We were basically hiring terrorists”

Donning pale yellow shirts with Iraqi flags stitched on the chest, Alah al-Janabi and Mahmoud al-Samorai stood recently in the blistering sun at the crowded entrance to the bustling Dora Market. Al-Janabi, 30, proudly displayed a shiny black pistol on his hip; al-Samorai, 25, slung his Kalashnikov assault rifle over his shoulder as he patted down a shopper entering the market. Nine months ago, the two men joined the Sons of Iraq — the U.S.-funded, mostly Sunni organization of 103,000 armed guards that functions as part neighborhood security watch and part paramilitary force, and has been instrumental in tamping down violence in Iraq.

What these men did prior to this work — when sectarian militias and Iraqi security forces fought pitched battles through the Dora neighborhood, killing and wounding scores of people — is unclear. When asked, the two looked at each other and shrugged. “There were no jobs,” al-Samorai finally said. Maybe he and his colleague hid in their homes while sectarian fighting raged outside. But it is also possible that they fought alongside the Sunni militias, as did many Sons of Iraq members, according to American forces that patrol the area.

“When the SOIs stood up, we were basically hiring terrorists,” said Lt. Justin Chabalko, using the military acronym for the Sons of Iraq. Chabalko’s 2-4 Infantry Battalion of the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division frequently patrols the Dora Market.

Iraqis fail to agree on provincial election law

Iraqi lawmakers adjourned for the summer on Wednesday without passing a crucial election law that many here hoped would solidify the recent, still fragile gains in security. The failure seemed likely to mean the postponement of provincial elections, originally set for October, until next year — polling seen as vital to reconciling the deep-seated tensions among Iraq’s political and sectarian groups.

The decision to go on vacation rather than settle the issue underscored how little progress had been made on the most important recent political question to confront Iraqi leaders, in contrast to the military strides in making Iraq safer than it had been in years. The law was seen as so important to prevent new outbreaks of violence that President Bush, eager to leave office claiming lasting progress in Iraq, had called several Iraqi lawmakers urging them to pass it.

The elections would be the first provincial balloting in almost four years. Negotiations broke down over the politically explosive issue of who controls the ethnically mixed and oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk. The last elections were boycotted by many Sunni Muslims, the minority in Iraq who held power for decades under Saddam Hussein and were the prime engine for the deadly insurgency during this war.

A glossary of Iraq euphemisms

Christopher Hitchens, critiquing his friend Martin Amis, once casually referred to “the moral offense of euphemism.” It’s a beautiful and cutting phrase. The inability to call something what it is represents an opening salvo in an assault on the truth. An early acquiescence to the moral offense of euphemism is nothing less than the first stage of surrender to corruption. Whether the rot is manifested or merely intellectual is a distinction that will erode with time.

Few governments have relied more on euphemism than the Bush administration. Euphemism is different from spin. Spin puts the best face forward on a given policy; euphemism uses its opposite to describe itself. Hence the Clear Skies Initiative to weaken the Clean Air Act; the Freedom Agenda to describe military domination of the Middle East; or Enhanced Interrogation to discuss torture.

The Iraq War has been characterized by euphemism since its inception. The name “Operation Iraqi Freedom” denotes a foreign military occupation of Iraq endlessly described as liberation — a term that, in practice, means the absolute opposite of any common-sense definition of “freedom.” For over five years, foreign troops have enjoyed the legal right to kill any Iraqi whom commanders deem fit to kill; to search any house commanders deem fit to search; and to detain any Iraqi whom commanders deem fit to detain. This is, clearly, a condition Americans would never accept for themselves. Debate can reasonably occur over whether the war is worth it or whether the rules of engagement are appropriate. But no one can responsibly call this condition “freedom” for Iraqis.

Gates’s next mission

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has been talking recently about how to rebuild America’s national security architecture so that it fits the 21st century. The next president should think about assigning Gates to fix what he rightly says is broken.

Gates is an anomaly in this lame-duck administration. He is still firing on all cylinders, working to repair the damage done at the Pentagon by his arrogant and aloof predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. Gates has restored accountability in the military services by firing the secretaries of the Army and Air Force when they failed to respond forthrightly to problems. And he has been an early and persuasive internal administration critic of U.S. military action against Iran.

Amazingly for a defense secretary, Gates has been arguing against the “creeping militarization” of foreign policy. In a speech last month, he urged more funding for the State Department and other civilian agencies, saying they have been “chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long.” In Washington, that’s almost unheard of — sticking your neck out for the other guy — and it’s one reason Gates’s reputation has been steadily rising.