NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: July 2

Time for an Israeli strike?

With Iran’s hard-line mullahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unmistakably back in control, Israel’s decision of whether to use military force against Tehran’s nuclear weapons program is more urgent than ever.

Iran’s nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable. Israel is undoubtedly ratcheting forward its decision-making process. President Obama is almost certainly not. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — As John Bolton watched events unfold in Iran over the last three weeks, one thought couldn’t escape his mind — in fact it’s the only thought that seems to inhabit his mind: now’s a good time to bomb Iran.

What he somehow managed to miss was that perceptions of Iran have not only changed around the rest of the world but also inside Iran-fearful Israel. As Zvi Bar’el wrote in Haaretz recently in an article ironically headlined “Which Iran would Israel bomb?“:

Suddenly, there appears to be an Iranian people. Not just nuclear technology, extremist ayatollahs, the Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad, and an axis of evil. All of a sudden, the ears need to be conditioned to hear other names: “‘Mousawi’ or ‘Mousavi,’ how is it pronounced exactly?”; Mehdi Karroubi; Khamenei (“It’s not ‘Khomeini’?”). Reports from Iranian bloggers fill the pages of the Hebrew press. Iranian commentators – in contrast to Iranian-affairs commentators – are now the leading pundits. The hot Internet connection with Radio Ran (the Persian-language radio station in Israel) is the latest gimmick. And most interesting and important is that the commentary on what is taking place in Iran is not being brought to the public by senior intelligence officers, but via images transmitted by television.

Israel is now gaining a more intimate, accurate familiarity with the Iranian public. The demonstrations have made quite clear that there is not one Iran or even two, but rather a number of Irans. There is the Iran that belongs to those who screamed, “Death to America and to Israel,” and there is the Iran that screams, “Down with the dictator.”

So for Israelis Iran has evolved beyond pure nemesis.

Even so, let’s humor Bolton’s imagination a little and suppose that the Israeli strike he’s picturing goes stunningly well and Iran’s nuclear program is crippled with minimal loss of life. What happens then inside Iran? How much traction is Bolton’s public diplomacy campaign going to get — that is, the message that the bombs were aimed at the regime, not the people?

The answer is simple: the regime will have its own public diplomacy campaign. Do you support your nation or are you in sympathy with the Zionist-entity and its American supporters?

An are-you-for-us-or-against-us? campaign worked well enough for George Bush and Dick Cheney, even though those of us who rejected their rallying cry had little fear of being jailed, beaten up or shot for simply protesting. For Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, equipped as they are with crude but effective means to enforce the same message, its acceptance — heartfelt or otherwise — is sure to be near universal. The Iranian government will be rewarded by spectacular displays of national solidarity. The rifts that are now open wide will not be healed but they will most effectively be buried.

Whether an Israeli strike would be successful in crippling Iran’s nuclear program is debatable; that it would profoundly undermine Iran’s reformist movement should be beyond question.

And then there’s another small detail that Bolton forgot to mention: Is an Israeli government that regards itself as being under “withering pressure” and is “being driven to its knees” by the Obama administration on the issue of settlements, about to turn around and bomb Iran? Not unless it gets a green light from the White House. And that’s the one thing Bolton is realistic enough to understand is not about to happen.

Israel’s ready to bomb Iran? Only in your dreams Mr Bolton.

The irresistible illusion

We are accustomed to seeing Afghans through bars, or smeared windows, or the sight of a rifle: turbaned men carrying rockets, praying in unison, or lying in pools of blood; boys squabbling in an empty swimming-pool; women in burn wards, or begging in burqas. Kabul is a South Asian city of millions. Bollywood music blares out in its crowded spice markets and flower gardens, but it seems that images conveying colour and humour are reserved for Rajasthan.

Barack Obama, in a recent speech, set out our fears. The Afghan government

is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency . . . If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can . . . For the Afghan people, a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralysed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people – especially women and girls. The return in force of al-Qaida terrorists who would accompany the core Taliban leadership would cast Afghanistan under the shadow of perpetual violence.

When we are not presented with a dystopian vision, we are encouraged to be implausibly optimistic. ‘There can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state,’ Gordon Brown predicted in his most recent speech on the subject. Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising policy language which can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects simultaneously: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.

It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’. The path is broad enough to include Scandinavian humanitarians and American special forces; general enough to be applied to Botswana as easily as to Afghanistan; sinuous and sophisticated enough to draw in policymakers; suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted. [continued…]

Pakistan plays dangerous double game

The assassin struck shortly after morning prayers, storming into a room at the compound where Qari Zainuddin was staying and opening up with a volley of fire. The militant leader was rushed to a nearby hospital but declared dead. Meanwhile, the gunman – apparently dispatched by Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud – escaped in a waiting car.

The following day, in a cemetery of Muslim and Christian graves encircled by fields of maize, the 26-year-old, who in recent months had pitched himself against Mr Mehsud, was buried. The militant leader’s funeral was notable for two things. Firstly the town was filled with checkposts manned by both Taliban and Pakistani security personnel. Secondly, when the dead man’s brother, Misabhuddin, vowed to reporters that he would take revenge against Mr Mehsud, he also let slip something else. “Jihad against America and its allies in Afghanistan will continue as well,” he said.

The killing last week of Mr Zainuddin, who had been staying in a compound provided by the country’s ISI security agency, has opened a window on a complicated, controversial and perilous element of the battle against militants inside Pakistan. Mr Zainuddin, himself a Taliban leader who supported al-Qa’ida and jihad against Western troops in Afghanistan, had recently been recruited by the Pakistani authorities to join their battle to kill Baitullah Mehsud, who has emerged as the country’s deadliest militant. In essence, Islamabad is recruiting anti-American fighters to bolster a joint US-Pakistani operation.

The arrangement underlines the competing strategic priorities in the region for Pakistan and the US, even as their leaders opt in public for the language of common interests and shared enemies. “Pakistan just wants to concentrate on the Pakistani Taliban. They do not want to go after the Afghan Taliban,” said Giles Dorronosoro, a regional expert at the Carnegie Endowment. “The US wants to put the Pakistan-Afghanistan border under control. They have totally different goals. And the issue is not resolvable.” [continued…]

Growing gulf between U.S. and Israeli Jews on Obama

He swept to power with the support of 78% of American Jews. But has Barack Obama become the bane of Israeli Jews?

A gulf between American and Israeli Jews was evident even before Obama moved into the White House. Just a third of Israelis would have endorsed him had they been allowed to vote, polling indicated, while almost half would have chosen John McCain.

In recent weeks, several public opinion surveys have suggested that Obama’s popularity has dropped far below this already low point. A Jerusalem Post-commissioned poll released on June 19 reported that only 6% of Jewish Israelis consider his views pro-Israel.

To Rafi Smith, head of the polling firm that conducted the survey, it is clear what is happening. Israelis, he said, see Obama “as the opposite of George Bush, who was perceived as the biggest friend of Israel. Obama is seen as a 180-degree turn.” [continued…]

Hussein pointed to Iranian threat

Saddam Hussein told an FBI interviewer before he was hanged that he allowed the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he was worried about appearing weak to Iran, according to declassified accounts of the interviews released yesterday. The former Iraqi president also denounced Osama bin Laden as “a zealot” and said he had no dealings with al-Qaeda.

Hussein, in fact, said he felt so vulnerable to the perceived threat from “fanatic” leaders in Tehran that he would have been prepared to seek a “security agreement with the United States to protect [Iraq] from threats in the region.”

Former president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq six years ago on the grounds that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to international security. Administration officials at the time also strongly suggested Iraq had significant links to al-Qaeda, which carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. [continued…]

How to deal with America’s empire of bases

The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad. The State Department was also reportedly planning to buy the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel (complete with pool) in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, to use as a consulate and living quarters for its staff there.

Unfortunately for such plans, on June 9th Pakistani militants rammed a truck filled with explosives into the hotel, killing 18 occupants, wounding at least 55, and collapsing one entire wing of the structure. There has been no news since about whether the State Department is still going ahead with the purchase.

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways. [continued…]

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Comments

  1. DE Teodoru says:

    On a recent St. Louis radio interview President Jimmy Carter was asked why he only got 45% of the Jewish vote in his 1980 attempt at re-election. Carter pointed out that he was the only Democrat President who did not get a majority of the Jewish vote. He attributed that to the opposition of Jewish leaders to his return of the Sinai to Egypt, they insisting that Israel must keep it. This raises again the symbolism of the Israeli flag: a Jewish star between two lines, representing the Jewish land between the two great rivers, Nile and Euphrates, suggesting that according to the original Zionist ideology the goal of Israeli expansion included from half of Egypt to half of Iraq. It is this lebensraum thesis that has put the US at odds with the Muslim World. Given America’s dire situation, isn’t it time for US Jewish leaders to remember that they are Americans first– as American as apple pie like all American Jews– and that these leaders should avoid serving a foreign state causing the deaths of many young Americans in combat?

  2. Jo Houston says:

    On Bolton’s call for an Israeli strike on Iran. It is interesting to read the comments on this article in the Washington Post, the vast majority deploring the man and his ideas, and consigning him to the dust-bin of history – where he belongs. Your editorial says it all Mr.Editor.