NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: April 27

Iran’s President ‘would support two-state solution’ for Israel

Asked if he would support an agreement between the Palestinians and Tehran’s arch enemy, he said: “Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that.

“We think that is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to do so as well.”

Given his frequently stated hostility to Israel’s existence – calling more than once for its “annihilation” – and his habit of capriciously offering threat and promises of friendship within the space of a few days, Mr Ahmadinejad’s words will not treated by Western diplomats as a permanent shift in policy. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — It’s often said that Iranian politics is a subject so complex that it often baffles the leading experts. Even so, there is one utterly predictable and dependable rule when it comes to the interpretation of statements from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: If he says something extreme and inflammatory then his words should be taken literally and treated with the utmost seriousness. If he says something reasonable and conciliatory then he obviously doesn’t mean what he’s saying and his words can be dismissed.

There you have it: Iran-watching made simple!

Israel’s secret plan for West Bank expansion

Israel has taken a step towards expanding the largest settlement in the West Bank, a move Palestinians warn will leave their future state unviable and further isolate its future capital, East Jerusalem

The Israeli Peace Now group, which monitors settlement growth, said it had obtained plans drawn up by experts that the interior ministry had commissioned which call for expanding the sprawling Maale Adumim settlement near Jerusalem southward by 1200 hectares, placing what is now the separate smaller settlement of Kedar within Maale Adumim’s boundaries.

The expansion is on a highly sensitive piece of real estate that both sides see as holding the key to whether the Palestinians will have a viable state with their own corridor between the north and south parts of the West Bank. [continued…]

Clinton’s Mideast pirouette

The sparring between the United States and Israel has begun, and that’s a good thing. Israel’s interests are not served by an uncritical American administration. The Jewish state emerged less secure and less loved from Washington’s post-9/11 Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy.

The criticism of the center-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come from an unlikely source: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s transitioned with aplomb from the calculation of her interests that she made as a senator from New York to a cool assessment of U.S. interests. These do not always coincide with Israel’s. [continued…]

Lieberman: Israel will not attack Iran – even if sanctions fail

Israel will not attack Iran even if the international sanctions against Tehran fail to convince President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to give up his country’s nuclear program, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Austrian daily Kleine Zeitung. In an interview published this weekend, Lieberman was asked whether Israel planned to strike Iran as a last resort.

“We are not talking about a military attack. Israel cannot resolve militarily the entire world’s problem. I propose that the United States, as the largest power in the world, take responsibility for resolving the Iranian question,” Lieberman told the paper. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — According to Jeffrey Goldberg, in an interview late in March, “Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and quickly—or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.” Subsequently, President Shimon Peres has said that Israel will not go it alone in a military confrontation with Iran. And now Lieberman echoes Peres.

What are we to make of this? Is it Israeli tactical ambiguity whose purpose is to keep its enemies (and allies) guessing? Or is possible that Netanyahu simply dug himself into a rhetorical hole. Once you’ve presented yourself as a Churchillian figure ready to stand up to Hitler II, it’s hard to reposition yourself without appearing to swing in the direction of Chamberlain. The only alternative is to let the president and foreign minister say what the prime minister knows but daren’t utter.

‘Obama’s rabbi’: Support for Israel doesn’t mean blanket approval

After Rabbi David Saperstein was appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to a White House volunteer advisory council of religious and secular leaders and scholars, some called him “Obama’s rabbi.”

Saperstein, however, is more cautious with definitions. Named America’s top rabbi by Newsweek, Rabbi David Saperstein is quick to supply a disclaimer: “They have my mother on the committee.”

Saperstein has served for more than 30 years as a leader of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center and is the leader of the Washington D.C.-based lobbying arm of the North American Reform movement.

This week, he sat down to speak with Haaretz on Israel, the peace process, Iran, gay marriage and spirituality.

While he stressed the importance of the connection between U.S. Jews and Israel, the rabbi said he didn’t feel support for the country necessarily meant blanket approval of its actions.

“If I see my brother or sister doing something that I believe is truly harmful to them – I’m going to say something even if they are adults that make their own decisions,” he said. [continued…]

My country, caving to the Taliban

The day after Pakistan’s government signed a peace deal with the Taliban allowing them to implement their own version of sharia in the Swat Valley, there was a traffic jam at a square in downtown Mingora, the main town in the region. The square, Green Chowk, has acquired the nickname Khooni Chowk, or Bloody Square, because the Taliban used to string up their victims there. “Look at this.” A shopkeeper pointed to the hubbub. “This is what people wanted, to get out and do business. Take the security forces away, take the Taliban away, and we can get on with our lives.” He, like many Pakistanis, believed that the deal with the Taliban was the only way to stop bullet-riddled bodies from turning up at Khooni Chowk.

Mingora is not a backwater, not part of the Wild West that foreign journalists invoke whenever they talk about the Taliban. It’s bursting with aspiration; it has law schools, a medical college, a nurses’ training institute. There is even a heritage museum. Yet when peace arrived on Feb. 16, all the women vanished. They were not in the streets or in the offices, not even in the bazaar, which sells nothing but fabric, bags, shoes and fashion accessories.

The music market vanished, too. All 400 shops. The owner of one had converted it into a kebab joint. “This is sharia,” he spat at his grill, which hissed with more smoke than fire. Across from his stand, a barber had hung the obligatory “No un-Islamic haircuts, no shaves” sign and was taking an early morning nap, his face covered with a newspaper.

This, I was told, was the price of peace. [continued…]

Taliban advance: is Pakistan nearing collapse?

The move by Taliban-backed militants into the Buner district of northwestern Pakistan, closer than ever to Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, have prompted concerns both within the country and abroad that the nuclear-armed nation of 165 million is on the verge of inexorable collapse. [continued…]

Taliban seize vital Pakistan area closer to the capital

Pushing deeper into Pakistan, Taliban militants have established effective control of a strategically important district just 70 miles from the capital, Islamabad, officials and residents said Wednesday.

The fall of the district, Buner, did not mean that the Taliban could imminently threaten Islamabad. But it was another indication of the gathering strength of the insurgency and it raised new alarm about the ability of the government to fend off an unrelenting Taliban advance toward the heart of Pakistan.

Buner, home to about one million people, is a gateway to a major Pakistani city, Mardan, the second largest in North-West Frontier Province, after Peshawar. [continued…]

U.S. questions Pakistan’s will to stop Taliban

As the Taliban tightened their hold over newly won territory, Pakistani politicians and American officials on Thursday sharply questioned the government’s willingness to deal with the insurgents and the Pakistani military’s decision to remain on the sidelines.

Some 400 to 500 insurgents consolidated control of their new prize, a strategic district called Buner, just 70 miles from the capital, Islamabad, setting up checkpoints and negotiating a truce similar to the one that allowed the Taliban to impose Islamic law in the neighboring Swat Valley. [continued…]

Obama’s sins of omission

The history of American liberalism is one of promoting substantively modest if superficially radical reforms in order to refurbish and sustain the status quo. From Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to Bill Clinton’s New Covenant, liberals have specialized in jettisoning the redundant to preserve what they see as essential. In this sense, modern liberalism’s great achievement has been to deflect or neutralize calls for more fundamental change – a judgment that applies to President Obama, especially on national security.

Granted, Obama has acted with dispatch to repudiate several of George W. Bush’s most egregious blunders and for this he deserves credit. In abrogating torture, ordering the Guantanamo prison camp closed, and setting a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, Obama is turning the page on a dark chapter in American statecraft. After the hectoring and posturing that figured so prominently in his predecessor’s style, the president’s preference for dialogue rather than preaching is refreshing.

But however much Obama may differ from Bush on particulars, he appears intent on sustaining the essentials on which the Bush policies were grounded. Put simply, Obama’s pragmatism poses no threat to the reigning national security consensus. Consistent with the tradition of American liberalism, he appears intent on salvaging that consensus.

For decades now, that consensus has centered on what we might call the Sacred Trinity of global power projection, global military presence, and global activism – the concrete expression of what politicians commonly refer to as “American global leadership.” The United States configures its armed forces not for defense but for overseas “contingencies.” To facilitate the deployment of these forces it maintains a vast network of foreign bases, complemented by various access and overflight agreements. Capabilities and bases mesh with and foster a penchant for meddling in the affairs of others, sometimes revealed to the public, but often concealed. [continued…]

The big sleep

On March 28, clashes erupted in Baghdad’s Fadhil district after Iraqi troops arrested the leader of the local Awakening Council, Adil al Mashhadani, one of many former Sunni insurgents who had allied with American forces in the fight against al Qaeda-inspired Salafi militants in Iraq. Mashhadani’s men staged a two-day uprising, which was put down by Iraqis with considerable help from American troops fighting against their former allies.

In Baghdad Mashhadani was a notorious figure, one of many Awakenings men suspected of serious crimes before he went on the American payroll and of continuing them afterwards. I had heard complaints about him since 2007 from Shiites, and especially from supporters of Muqtada al Sadr, who were outraged that a man they accused of the indiscriminate slaughter of Shiite civilians had been empowered by the Americans. An American intelligence officer in Washington told me that the US had possessed incriminating information on Mashhadani for several years – but that he had been one of the first insurgents to see which way the wind was blowing and sign on with the Americans.

Mashhadani’s men and their allies complained that the Americans had betrayed them, and threatened to renew their insurgency unless their leader was released; the clashes in Fadhil provoked new speculation that the failure to integrate the Awakenings into the Iraqi security forces would lead to renewed sectarian strife, if not a return to full-scale civil war. But the brief uprising was quickly put down, and Mashhadani’s arrest demonstrated quite clearly that the civil war is over: there is no organised force in Iraq today capable of challenging, or attempting to overthrow, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. [continued…]

How the horrors of war nearly destroyed me

War’s most dreadful secret, banal and terrible at the same time, is not that men kill – that much is obvious – or even that many men enjoy their killing. That, too, has been well documented. It is more insidious than that. There exists a widespread envy of those who kill, and especially those who kill and kill again. There is a bitter resentment among men when others claim their kills, or their kills are denied. That deems some men “luckier” to have the opportunity to kill more than others.

Soldiers bitching. Another outpost, infested with rats that crawl across useless ceiling ducts that are connected to nothing in a former police station half-ruined by a bomb. The talk is about the young Texan lieutenant who has just left to lead a Small Kill Team on an overnight ambush, palefaced and tired. Top of his class at school, the soldiers say with pride. From what they say it is evident he likes killing and is motivated by opportunities to kill. His men like and respect him, admire his bravery, but sitting on their cots they resent him grabbing all the opportunities to rack up his kills. An activity so full of paradoxes, its meanings are hard to mine and even more difficult to understand. Killing, as Joanna Bourke explains in her study of combat, An Intimate History of Killing, for very many men is an exciting and pleasurable activity as well as a taboo. Being exciting, it is hidden on return to a civilian life that regards permissive killing, even in the high heat of conflict, as something “to be done”, an experience to be endured. But it is different in proximity to the battlefield – among your “buddies” – where all ordinary rules are deliberately suspended. There it becomes obvious that the business of killing is easily assimilated into the story-worlds that define men’s lives. It is integrated into all the other stories that I hear when the men are sitting in their hooches, or round their Saturday night barbecue pits with their cigars, drinking non-alcoholic beer or Gatorade with a shot of illicit spirits occasionally mixed in, after smoking a discreet bowl of hash. Then they talk about sex and cars and films; holidays and children. And sometimes combat and killing. [continued…]

A pirate in the dock, and the US in murky waters

There’s nothing new about the United States making tragically misguided judgement calls in Somalia: think of the ill-fated attempt to arrest the Mogadishu warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid in 1993 that turned into the Blackhawk Down bloodbath and prompted a US withdrawal.

Then there was the decision to back an Ethiopian proxy invasion in late 2006 to topple the Islamic Courts Union that had taken control of Mogadishu. That the ICU had restored a modicum of stability and security to a city long plagued by fighting among rival warlords and had managed to tamp down on offshore piracy was less important than one faction of the movement giving shelter to a handful of wanted al Qa’eda men. And of course, once the Islamists were scattered, piracy became a multimillion dollar industry that plagued global shipping.

Which brings us to what may be the latest misguided judgement call: the arraignment in a Manhattan court of Abduwali Abdulkhadir Muse, a Somali teenager captured in the course of a US military operation to free a hostage captured from the US-flagged freighter Maersk Alabama. Most Somalis captured by western navies in the course of anti-piracy operations are handed over for trial in Kenya; even if Muse is guilty as charged, staging his trial in New York is likely to turn him into a hero or martyr in his own community. Somalis tend to take a dim view of the United States to begin with, and many of the pirates that raid shipping off its shores are not viewed by their own communities as criminals. [continued…]

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3 thoughts on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: April 27

  1. DE Teodoru

    We are trapped in South Asia with our best Special Forces picked off by the Taliban, assisted by Pakistan whom we lavishly support. In the Middle East Israel is spendinbg our lavish aid on lebensraum at the expense of Arabs. We are exsaguinating our tax base on crooked bankers devoid of any decency. If the United States are worth saving it is time we divorce Afghnaistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel, leaving them to their regions, and learn to say “no” to our bankers. Are not deterrence and border control cheaper and better at stopping both terrorists and viruses?

  2. Jo Houston

    You have an absolutely brilliant web-site Mr.Woodward, but your comments on statements made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are disappointing. Backed by the might of the USA, Israel has been threatening to attack Iran for many years and given her previous history of attacks on countries and peoples in the region, this is no idle threat. The West too, has done Iran no favours in the past and some bellicosity from Iran vis-a-vis the West is to be expected.Perhaps if we concentrate on statements from Ahmadinejad that are conciliatory and reasonable instead of dismissing them out of hand, we may be pleasantly surprised.One thing is for sure-Iran watching is not simple, but it may be made simpler if we keep an open mind.

  3. Paul Woodward

    Even though I’ve now lived in the United States for over 20 years, there are certain ways in which I’m loathe to adapt to American norms. One of these is an odd requirement that irony or satire should always be clearly labeled. To my mind, an ironic statement ceases to be ironic if I first say, “don’t take me literally.” But I guess this is the cross that every Brit in America has to bear: deadpan humor often turns out to be a source of confusion instead of mirth.

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