NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: March 16

How to discourage the speaking of truth to power

The aborted appointment of Charles “Chas” Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council inflicts multiple costs on the U.S. national interest, some of which Freeman enumerated in characteristically lucid fashion in his withdrawal statement (reproduced at The Cable). The affair demonstrates anew the strength of the taboo against open and candid discussion in the United States of policy involving Israel. It thus perpetuates damage from U.S. policies in the Middle East formed without benefit of such discussion. It also perpetuates damage to the ultimate interests of Israel itself, where, ironically, no comparable taboo prevails. Not least, the Freeman matter demonstrates the power of calumny and misrepresentation to kill something as desirable as the appointment of an experienced and insightful public servant.

Less immediately apparent but also serious is the damage to objectivity and professionalism in the U.S. intelligence community. Intelligence officers can see through the smoke screens thrown up by Freeman’s attackers, involving Saudi donations or out-of-context comments about China, and perceive the affair as exactly what it is: the enforcement of political orthodoxy about U.S. policy toward Israel. (If any intelligence officers could not perceive this, they would be abysmally poor analysts.) The message to intelligence officers is clear: Their work will be acceptable only if it conforms to dominant policy views. This standard is exactly the opposite of what a professional and impartial intelligence service should provide. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — There’s another political dimension to this that hasn’t received much attention. The administration and the Democratic-ruled Congress might want to pretend to be one big happy family but the capitulation here wasn’t simply a matter of the administration rolling over when pressured by the Israel lobby. An appointment that did not require Congressional approval ended up effectively getting vetoed by a group of senators. The administration’s authority has been diminished and its point man on intelligence will hereafter, whenever it is politically useful, be treated as suspect. “That’s what DNI Blair says — but this is the guy who picked Chas Freeman…”

Is the Israel lobby running scared?

Is the Israel lobby in Washington an all-powerful force? Or is it, perhaps, running scared?

Judging by the outcome of the Charles W. (“Chas”) Freeman affair this week, it might seem as if the Israeli lobby is fearsome indeed. Seen more broadly, however, the controversy over Freeman could be the Israel lobby’s Waterloo. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — While I agree with Dreyfuss’ conclusion that the Israel lobby may end of suffering from a self-inflicted wound as a result of going after Freeman, I don’t see the risk to the lobby coming from within the Obama administration. I hope I’m wrong about this but the evidence so far suggests that, as members of the lobby have already declared, the administration’s a pushover. Will Obama directly challenge Netanyahu even when Leiberman is one of his chief ministers? I’m not holding my breath.

The real plus to come out of this affair is that the lobby is now in the open and the more exposed it is that less effectively it can accomplish its principle objective: to exclude Israel and the Israel lobby’s activities from political scrutiny and public debate. The lobby isn’t in the business of promoting Israel as an attractive product. It’s not about advocacy; it’s about enforcing a code of silence.

Tales from torture’s dark world

On a bright sunny day two years ago, President George W. Bush strode into the East Room of the White House and informed the world that the United States had created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists.

“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo,” the president said, “a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

At these places, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures.” He added: “These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.” This speech will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most important: perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence that they were “lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic of torture, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still. [continued…]

Red Cross described ‘torture’ at CIA jails

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration’s treatment of al-Qaeda captives “constituted torture,” a finding that strongly implied that CIA interrogation methods violated international law, according to newly published excerpts from the long-concealed 2007 document.

The report, an account alleging physical and psychological brutality inside CIA “black site” prisons, also states that some U.S. practices amounted to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Such maltreatment of detainees is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

The findings were based on an investigation by ICRC officials, who were granted exclusive access to the CIA’s “high-value” detainees after they were transferred in 2006 to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 14 detainees, who had been kept in isolation in CIA prisons overseas, gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding, or simulating drowning. [continued…]

Obama braces for a backlash over Wall Street bailouts

The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda.

The administration’s sharp rebuke of the American International Group on Sunday for handing out $165 million in executive bonuses — Lawrence H. Summers, director of the president’s National Economic Council, described it as “outrageous” on “This Week” on ABC — marks the latest effort by the White House to distance itself from abuses that could feed potentially disruptive public anger.

“We’ve got enormous problems that need to be addressed,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said in an interview. “And it’s hard to address because there’s a lot of anger about the irresponsibility that led us to this point.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Although the concept of treason is usually applied to actions that threaten governments and involve foreign powers, the core of the idea is a recognition that the actions of individuals can seriously injure the nation in which those individuals hold citizenship. It might seem like a stretch when the individuals in question here have not only not been charged with any crime but are instead still receiving fat bonuses, but cannot the harm they have done been placed on the same level as a treasonable offense?

A continent adrift

I’m concerned about Europe. Actually, I’m concerned about the whole world — there are no safe havens from the global economic storm. But the situation in Europe worries me even more than the situation in America.

Just to be clear, I’m not about to rehash the standard American complaint that Europe’s taxes are too high and its benefits too generous. Big welfare states aren’t the cause of Europe’s current crisis. In fact, as I’ll explain shortly, they’re actually a mitigating factor.

The clear and present danger to Europe right now comes from a different direction — the continent’s failure to respond effectively to the financial crisis. [continued…]

Lingering colonial habits

The news this past week was a sign of the times, and of the days ahead: The British government said it was resuming contacts with the civilian wing of Hezbollah, and the American government said it was interested in exploring contacts with “moderates” among the Taliban in Afghanistan who might be separated from the more extremist faction allied with Al-Qaida.

This highlights a phenomenon that will surely prove to be a central issue in the months and years ahead: How do Western and other governments who see themselves as law-abiding, God-fearing, and all-around righteous connect with, or even negotiate with, armed and militant movements that defy, challenge and occasionally attack their local allies and surrogates?

The Taliban and Hezbollah are two very different movements, reflecting diverse national contexts, aims, tactics and degrees of legitimacy. They are only two of dozens of other such groups around the Arab-Asian region that are viewed negatively and shunned by the United States, most other Western states, Israel, and many Arab countries, but enjoy substantial support in their own countries and around the region. [continued…]

Iran, Jews and pragmatism

I have, in a series of columns, and as a cautionary warning against the misguided view of Iran as nothing but a society of mad mullah terrorists bent on nukes, been examining distinctive characteristics of Persian society.

Iran — as compared with Arab countries including Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — has an old itch for representative government, evident in the 1906 Constitutional Revolution. The June presidential vote will be a genuine contest by the region’s admittedly low standards. This is the Middle East’s least undemocratic state outside Israel. [continued…]

Iran’s Khatami withdraws from presidential vote: allies

Moderate former president Mohammad Khatami withdrew from Iran’s presidential election on Monday, allies said, a move analysts say may boost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election chances.

“He has decided to withdraw … but he will back another moderate candidate who will be announced shortly in a statement by Khatami,” one close ally, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

The outcome of the June election could influence Iran’s approach in its row with the West over its nuclear program, even though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on such issues. [continued…]

Allies’ clocks tick differently on Iran

In the capitals of two staunch allies last week, top intelligence officials spoke about the nuclear threat from Tehran. Differences were clear.

“Iran has crossed the technological threshold,” the chief of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, told the cabinet in Jerusalem last Sunday, in words that were immediately leaked to the press. Now, he added, “its reaching military nuclear capabilities is a matter of adapting its strategy to the target of manufacturing a nuclear bomb.”

Days later in Washington, Adm. Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence, appeared before a Congressional committee and agreed that “there is potential for an Iran-Israeli confrontation or crisis” over reports of Iranian nuclear progress. But he said the Israelis “take more of a worst-case approach to these things.” [continued…]

Our skewed world view won’t let us see the real Pakistan

We see the country as plunged in a struggle between the frighteningly foreign and the familiar, between fanaticism and western democracy, values, our vision of the world and how it should be ordered. Yet while we are fretting about Pakistan’s imminent disintegration, we are blind to the really important change.

Recent years have seen the consolidation of a new Pakistani identity between these two extremes. It is nationalist, conservative in religious and social terms and much more aggressive in asserting what are seen, rightly or wrongly, as local “Pakistani” interests. It is a mix of patriotic chauvinism and moderate Islamism that is currently heavily informed by a distorted view of the world sadly all too familiar across the entire Muslim world. This means that for many Pakistanis, the west is rapacious and hostile. Admiration for the British and desire for holidays in London have been replaced by a view of the UK as “America’s poodle” and dreams of Dubai or Malaysia. The 9/11 attacks are seen, even by senior army officers, as a put-up job by Mossad, the CIA or both. The Indians, the old enemy, are seen as running riot in Afghanistan where the Taliban are “freedom fighters”. AQ Khan, the nuclear scientist seen as a bomb-selling criminal by the West, is a hero. Democracy is seen as the best system, but only if democracy results in governments that take decisions that reflect the sentiments of most Pakistanis, not just those of the Anglophone, westernised elite among whom western policy-makers, politicians and journalists tend to chose their interlocutors.

This view of the world is most common among the new, urban middle classes in Pakistan, much larger after a decade of fast and uneven economic growth. It is this class that provides the bulk of the country’s military officers and bureaucrats. This in part explains the Pakistani security establishment’s dogged support for elements within the Taliban. The infamous ISI spy agency is largely staffed by soldiers and the army is a reflection of society. For the ISI, as for many Pakistanis, supporting certain insurgent factions in Afghanistan is seen as the rational choice. If this trend continues, it poses us problems rather different from those posed by a failed state. Instead, you have a nuclear armed nation with a large population that is increasingly vocal and which sees the world very differently from us. [continued…]

Democracy has been revitalised by Pakistan’s Chief Justice

“It is time to fulfil our promises,” said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in a snap speech broadcast to the nation in the early hours of this morning. After a week of tense build up in the confrontation between the Pakistan government and a wide array of opposition groups, the government’s back down was greeted by a collective sigh of relief by a country, already struggling with a stagnant economy and raging Taliban insurgency, bracing for violence and civil disobedience. The international community, too, was glad to see the dispute resolved, as was the business community – the Karachi Stock Exchange rallied this morning in response to the welcome development.

In short, the Long March reached a quick resolution only after grassroots and political activists found themselves in the rare situation of being supported by local and international centres of power.

There were scenes of jubilation throughout Pakistan following the decision. In the country’s major cities like Karachi and Lahore, grown men danced the bangara in their black suits while drums blared and sweets were distributed. [continued…]

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: March 16

  1. Robert H. Consoli

    re: “Obama braces for a backlash over Wall Street bailouts”

    You question whether ‘treason’ is the appropriate category under which to describe the financial industry’s behavior. Close but I think the concept you’re looking for is really coup d’etat. This is, in fact, exactly the phrase that Karl Marx uses in Kapital where he describes the expropriation of the English commons by the gentry during the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. Christopher Lasch would have called it a ‘betrayal of the elites’. What else do you call it when one party takes everything in the Treasury, including everything the Treasury will ever contain, with no meaningful restrictions? And all this under color of law because a supine legislative is powerless to prevent it? The most ominous phrase in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall is when he’s describing first century Rome as a place where ‘the image of a free constitution was preserved with a decent reverence.’

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