Archives for October 2009

Goldstone vs US House of Representatives

Goldstone vs US House of Representatives

“We were disturbed by the lethality and toxicity of weapons used in Gaza, some of which have been in Western arsenals since the Cold War, such as white phosphorous, which incinerated 14 people, including several children in one attack; flechettes, small darts that are designed to tumble upon entering human flesh in order to cause maximum damage, strictly in breach of the Geneva Convention; and highly carcinogenic tungsten shrapnel and dime munitions, which contain tungsten in powder form. There is also a whole cocktail of other problematic munitions suspected to have been used.

“There are a number of other post-conflict issues in Gaza that need to be addressed. The land is dying. There are toxic deposits from all the munitions that have been dropped. There are serious issues with water—its depletion and its contamination. There is a high instance of nitrates in the soil that is especially dangerous to children. If these issues are not addressed, Gaza may not even be habitable by World Health Organization norms.” — Colonel Desmond Travers, one of the four members of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, interviewed by Ken Silverstein.


When the House of Representatives is about to pass a non-binding resolution condemning the Goldstone report [PDF] on Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and Josh Block (spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) says: “AIPAC, in concert with every mainstream pro-Israel organization in the United States, supports this important resolution,” it’s fair to conclude that AIPAC doesn’t simply support the resolution; it almost certainly had a major role in drafting the resolution.

Rabid opposition to the Goldstone report reached a hyperbolic peak this week when the Simon Wiesenthal Center referred to this serious legal finding as “the ‘Magna Carta’ of international terrorists”.

Why the hysteria?

The UN General Assembly is set to debate the report on Wednesday and in so doing will further enhance the legitimacy of what has already become a highly influential document.

As Israel has framed the issue, the legitimization of Goldstone is part of a campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. But on the contrary, in recognition of the effectiveness of Israel’s own legal system, the Goldstone report has called on Israel “to launch appropriate investigations that are independent and in conformity with international standards, into the serious violations of International humanitarian and International Human Rights Law reported by the Mission and any other serious allegations that might come to its attention.”

The Washington Post, reporting on the move in the House, said:

The resolution, co-sponsored by the two senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), charges that the report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone for the U.N. Human Rights Council is “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy,” in part because it was based on “a flawed and biased mandate,” and that the militant group Hamas was able to “significantly shape the findings of the investigation.”

Goldstone categorically rejects that assertion: “The allegation that Hamas was able to shape the findings of my report or that it pre-screened the witnesses is devoid of truth. I challenge anyone to produce evidence in support of it.”

The Post also said:

Goldstone, in a letter to Berman and Ros-Lehtinen, has complained of numerous inaccuracies in the resolution about his report. But Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for Berman, said that the chairman believes Goldstone’s letter contains “a number of points that are inaccurate” and that he will “issue a complete response” to Goldstone before the House vote.

What follows is Justice Goldstone’s letter where clause by clause he exposes the flaws in the House resolution:

The Honorable Howard Berman
Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

October 29, 2009

Dear Chairman Berman and Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen,

It has come to my attention that a resolution has been introduced in the Unites States House of
Representatives regarding the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which I
led earlier this year.

I fully respect the right of the US Congress to examine and judge my mission and the resulting
report, as well as to make its recommendations to the US Executive branch of government.
However, I have strong reservations about the text of the resolution in question – text that
includes serious factual inaccuracies and instances where information and statements are taken
grossly out of context.

I undertook this fact-finding mission in good faith, just as I undertook my responsibilities vis à
vis the South African Standing Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and
Intimidation, the International War Crimes Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Panel of the Commission of Enquiry into the
Activities of Nazism in Argentina, the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, and the
Volker Committee investigation into the UN’s Iraq oil-for-food program in 2004/5.

I hope that you, in similar good faith, will take the time to consider my comments about the
resolution and, as a result of that consideration, make the necessary corrections.

Whereas clause #1: “Whereas, on January 12, 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed Resolution A/HRC/S-9/L.1, which authorized a `fact-finding mission’ regarding Israel’s conduct of Operation Cast Lead against violent militants in the Gaza Strip between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009;”

This whereas clause ignores the fact that I and others refused this original mandate, precisely
because it only called for an investigation into violations committed by Israel. The mandate given
to and accepted by me and under which we worked and reported reads as follows:

“. . .to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian
law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that
were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether
before, during or after”.

Whereas clause #2: “Whereas the resolution pre-judged the outcome of its investigation, by one-sidedly mandating the `fact-finding mission’ to `investigate all violations of international human rights law and International Humanitarian Law by . . . Israel, against the Palestinian people . . . particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression’”

This whereas clause ignores the fact that the expanded mandate that I demanded and received
clearly included rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and as the report makes clear was so
interpreted and implemented. It was the report carried out under this broadened mandate – not the
original, rejected mandate – that was adopted by the Human Rights Council and that included the
serious findings made against Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups.

Whereas clause #3: “Whereas the mandate of the `fact-finding mission’ makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks, which numbered in the thousands and spanned a period of eight years, by Hamas and other violent militant groups in Gaza against civilian targets in Israel, that necessitated Israel’s defensive measures;”

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. As noted above, the expanded mandate clearly
included the rocket and mortar attacks. Moreover, Chapter XXIV of the Report considers in
detail the relentless rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and the terror they caused to the people
living within their range. The resulting finding made in the report is that these attacks constituted
serious war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

Whereas clause #4: “Whereas the `fact-finding mission’ included a member who, before joining the mission, had already declared Israel guilty of committing atrocities in Operation Cast Lead by signing a public letter on January 11, 2009, published in the Sunday Times, that called Israel’s actions `war crimes’;”

This whereas clause is misleading. It overlooks, or neglects to mention, that the member concerned, Professor Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics, in the same letter, together with other leading international lawyers, also condemned as war crimes the Hamas rockets fired into Israel.

Whereas clause #5: “Whereas the mission’s flawed and biased mandate gave serious concern to many United Nations Human Rights Council Member States which refused to support it,
including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;”

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. The mandate that was given to the Mission was certainly not opposed by all or even a majority of the States to which reference is made. I am happy to provide further details if necessary.

Whereas clause #6: “Whereas the mission’s flawed and biased mandate troubled many distinguished individuals who refused invitations to head the mission;”

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. The initial mandate that was rejected by others who
were invited to head the mission was the same one that I rejected. The mandate I accepted was
expanded by the President of the Human Rights Council as a result of conditions I made.

Whereas clause #8: “Whereas the report repeatedly made sweeping and unsubstantiated determinations that the Israeli military had deliberately attacked civilians during Operation Cast Lead;”

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. The findings included in the report are neither “sweeping” nor “unsubstantiated” and in effect reflect 188 individual interviews, review of more than 300 reports, 30 videos and 1200 photographs. Additionally, the body of the report contains a plethora of references to the information upon which the Commission relied for our findings.

Whereas clause #9: “Whereas the authors of the report, in the body of the report itself, admit that `we did not deal with the issues . . . regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas and second-guessing decisions made by soldiers and their commanding officers `in the fog of war.’;”

This whereas clause is misleading. The words quoted relate to the decision we made that it would have been unfair to investigate and make finding on situations where decisions had been made by Israeli soldiers “in the fog of battle”. This was a decision made in favor of, and not against, the interests of Israel.

Whereas clause #10: “Whereas in the October 16th edition of the Jewish Daily Forward, Richard Goldstone, the head of the `United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’, is quoted as saying, with respect to the mission’s evidence-collection methods, `If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.’”

The remark as quoted is both inaccurate and taken completely out of context. What I had explained to The Forward was that the Report itself would not constitute evidence admissible in court of law. It is my view, as jurist, that investigators would have to investigate which allegations they considered relevant. That, too, was why we recommended domestic investigations into the allegations.

Whereas clause #11: “Whereas the report, in effect, denied the State of Israel the right to self- defense, and never noted the fact that Israel had the right to defend its citizens from the repeated violent attacks committed against civilian targets in southern Israel by Hamas and other Foreign Terrorist Organizations operating from Gaza;”

It is factually incorrect to state that the Report denied Israel the right of self-defense. The report examined how that right was implemented by the standards of international law. What is commonly called ius ad bellum, the right to use military force was not considered to fall within our mandate. Israel’s right to use military force was not questioned.

Whereas clause #12: “Whereas the report largely ignored the culpability of the Government of Iran and the Government of Syria, both of whom sponsor Hamas and other Foreign Terrorist Organizations;”

This whereas clause is misleading. Nowhere that I know of has it ever been suggested that the Mission should have investigated the provenance of the rockets. Such an investigation was never on the agenda, and in any event, we would not have had the facilities or capability of investigating these allegations. If the Government of Israel has requested us to investigate that issue I have no doubt that we have done our best to do so.

Whereas clause #14: “Whereas, notwithstanding a great body of evidence that Hamas and other violent Islamist groups committed war crimes by using civilians and civilian institutions, such as mosques, schools, and hospitals, as shields, the report repeatedly downplayed or cast doubt upon that claim;”

This is a sweeping and unfair characterization of the Report. I hope that the Report will be read by those tasked with considering the resolution. I note that the House resolution fails to mention that notwithstanding my repeated personal pleas to the Government of Israel, Israel refused all cooperation with the Mission. Among other things, I requested the views of Israel with regard to the implementation of the mandate and details of any issues that the Government of Israel might wish us to investigate.

This refusal meant that Israel did not offer any information or evidence it may have collected regarding actions by Hamas or other Palestinian groups in Gaza. Any omission of such information and evidence in the report is regrettable, but is the result of Israel’s decision not to cooperate with the Fact-Finding mission, not a decision by the mission to downplay or cast doubt on such information and evidence.

Whereas clause #15: “Whereas in one notable instance, the report stated that it did not consider the admission of a Hamas official that Hamas often `created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the mujahideen, against [the Israeli military]’ specifically to `constitute evidence that Hamas forced Palestinian civilians to shield military objectives against attack.’;”

This whereas clause is misleading, since the quotation is taken out of context. The quotation is
part of a section of the report dealing with the very narrow allegation that Hamas compelled
civilians, against their will, to act as human shields. The statement by the Hamas official is
repugnant and demonstrates an apparent disregard for the safety of civilians, but it is not evidence
that Hamas forced civilians to remain in their homes in order to act as human shields. Indeed,
while the Government of Israel has alleged publicly that Hamas used Palestinian civilians as
human shields, it has not identified any cases where it claims that civilians were doing so under
threat of force by Hamas or any other party.

Whereas clause #16: “Whereas Hamas was able to significantly shape the findings of the investigation mission’s report by selecting and prescreening some of the witnesses and intimidating others, as the report acknowledges when it notes that `those interviewed in Gaza appeared reluctant to speak about the presence of or conduct of hostilities by the Palestinian armed groups . . . from a fear of reprisals’;”

The allegation that Hamas was able to shape the findings of my report or that it pre-screened the
witnesses is devoid of truth. I challenge anyone to produce evidence in support of it.


Justice Richard J. Goldstone


Palestinian equal rights joins the progressive agenda on ‘The Daily Show’

Palestinian equal rights joins the progressive agenda on ‘The Daily Show’

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Throughout the day I had been hearing on the grapevine that The Daily Show was having second thoughts about doing the show as they had been getting pressure to cancel it. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — During a week in which J Street — an organization that is attempting to break AIPAC’s stranglehold on the issue of US-Israeli relations — held its first national conference in Washington DC, it’s interesting that Jon Stewart took the opportunity to turn to the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not by inviting J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami onto the show but instead, as Adam Horowitz notes, “a Palestinian leader demanding equal rights and an anti-Zionist Jew calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel towards peace.”

One of the disappointing features of the way the interview got edited for broadcast was that by cutting out much of the applause, the editors took out one of the most significant messages: the Palestinian issue, framed as one of freedom and human rights, resonated well with Jon Stewart’s audience.

While Stewart himself tended to stick to the well-worn tracks that this is a seemingly intractable conflict, that the Palestinians need to stop anti-Semitic incitement, that the Arabs need to do their bit, Barghouti’s constant refrain was that the core issue here is freedom.

That’s a message the J Street and its mainstream two-state-solution supporters really don’t want to see placed at the center of the conversation. They seem to view the conflict not in terms primarily of human rights but in terms of the need to preserve the Jewish state — a state in relation to which Palestinians pose a “demographic threat”. The urgency of implementing a two-state solution is that unless it can be done fast, Palestinians will demand equal rights in a single state — a state in which (thanks to the Greater Israel project that has been in motion for the last 42 years) Jews will be in a minority. That possibility is in the eyes of some, “horrific“.

Squaring the circle and erasing the margins

The mission to move US policy through reforming the Jewish community’s debate over Israel/Palestine has clear political implications. Ben-Ami ended the opening evening by saying the movement J Street is a part of is a “movement rooted in love of Israel,” and while all are welcomed to join J Street in its work, “the heart of this movement has to be in the Jewish community.” From this perspective, it was telling that Gaza was not mentioned once the entire evening (except by Rabbi Andy Bachman who said it was no longer occupied). There was only one panel during the entire conference dedicated to “Palestinian perspectives,” and even the closing panel called “Why Two States? Why Now?” only included speakers to explain Israeli interests and American interests in promoting two states. Two of the most moving parts of the conference for me was hearing Laila El-Haddad, from the Gaza Mom blog, describe life in still occupied Gaza on the unofficial blogger’s panel. She told a story about how her family was almost unable to leave Gaza to visit her in the US and she is totally unable to enter her homeland. Later, Bassim Khoury, the ex-Minister of National Economy for the Palestinian Authority who recently quit in protest to their reaction to the Goldstone report, demonstrated “Israeli apartheid” in Jerusalem through a power point presentation outlining the gross discrepancies in municipal funding between Jews and Palestinians in the city. Both presentation injected an intense dose of reality into a proceeding that seems to be chugging along more on vision and hope.

J Street represents a very important rupture and opportunity in the supposed American Jewish consensus over Israel/Palestine which should be celebrated. Pushing this wedge into the heart of the community could only be a good thing. But, the tenor and message of the J Street conference would seem to indicate that the struggle to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be lead by Jews, after we conquer our own internal issues to reform our community, and on our agenda. Meanwhile, Palestinians will have to continue to catch the brunt of the Israel everyone loves so much. [continued…]

Elie Wiesel’s shocking stage appearance with mad preacher and anti-Semite John Hagee

On October 25, while an overflow crowd of 1,500 poured into the first convention of the progressive-leaning Israel-oriented lobbying organization J Street, Elie Wiesel addressed a crowd of 6,000 Christian Zionists at Pastor John Hagee’s “Night To Honor Israel.” According to the San Antonio Express News, while Wiesel sat by his side, Hagee trashed President Barack Obama, baselessly accusing him of “being tougher on Israel than on Russia, Iran, China and North Korea.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who appeared at Hagee’s Christians United for Israel summit earlier this year, rejected J Street’s request to speak at their convention, instead dispatching a low-level embassy official to “observe” the event. Oren then accused J Street of “impair[ing] Israel’s interests.”

In blessing Hagee while damning J Street, Wiesel and Oren chose an anti-Semitic group led by a far-right End Times theology preacher over a fledgling progressive organization that bills itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” And both Wiesel and Oren seem to be embroiled in yet another controversy over involvement with the extremist preacher. [continued…]


Israel accused of rationing water to Palestinians

Israel accused of rationing water to Palestinians

Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Israel of denying Palestinians adequate access to water while allowing Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank almost unlimited supplies.

Israel, the human rights group said, restricts availability of water in the Palestinian territories “by maintaining total control over the shared resources and pursuing discriminatory policies.”

“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies,” Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera said in a report.

Israel consumes four times more water than Palestinians, who use an average of 70 litres (16 gallons) a day per person, according to the report entitled: “Troubled waters – Palestinians denied fair access to water.” [continued…]


Turkish PM Erdoğan tries to cool Israeli rift

Turkish PM Erdoğan tries to cool Israeli rift

Turkey would continue relations with Israel on an equitable basis despite the growing diplomatic tensions between the two countries, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during the second day of his official visit to Iran.

Referring to his public row with Israeli President Shimon Peres over the deadly Gaza offensive at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Turkish prime minister said that his reaction was not planned beforehand and added that it was spontaneous. “It would be wrong to assume that my reaction in Davos was a stance against the West,” Erdoğan said. “One side of Turkey’s face is turned to the West while the other is to the East,” he added. [continued…]

Erdoğan rejects claims Turkey diverging from West

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday ruled out any shift in Turkey’s foreign policy orientation in the wake of a crisis with Israel over Gaza and increasing rapprochement with neighboring Iran, accused by the West of harboring aspirations to develop nuclear weapons.

Erdoğan, speaking during a visit to Tehran, said Turkey will not sacrifice its relations with the West for the sake of building alliances with the East. Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran, during which he defended Iran’s nuclear program as peaceful and Turkish officials announced a deal to explore natural gas in Iran’s South Pars basin, has added to Western concerns that Turkey might be forsaking its alliance with the West to pursue a leadership role in its neighborhood. [continued…]


EU lawyers join drive to indict Israeli officers

EU lawyers join drive to indict Israeli officers

Israeli military officers who took part in Israel’s incursion of the Gaza Strip last winter may need to think twice before travelling to Europe.

Israeli media reported yesterday that human rights lawyers in the European Union are drawing up lists of names of Israeli military commanders alleged to be linked to war crimes committed in Gaza. The lawyers are hoping that the evidence they are collecting, including testimonies from Palestinians, will prompt countries such as Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway to arrest those Israelis linked to possible war violations who arrive on their soil.

The reports come as Israel is forging a battle against international efforts to bring it before a war crimes tribunal for its actions during the 22-day assault in the Gaza Strip in December and January. [continued…]

Israelis targeting grassroots activists

Israeli authorities are increasingly targeting and intimidating nonviolent Palestinian grassroots activists involved in anti-occupation activities who are drawing increased support from the international community.

Several weeks ago masked Israeli soldiers stormed the home of Ehab Jallad from the Jerusalem Popular Committee for the Celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009.

“Around 3 a.m. the soldiers started kicking and banging on the door and threatened to break it down if I didn’t open immediately. My young daughters were terrified as they didn’t know what was happening,” recalled Jallad, a young Palestinian architect from Jerusalem. [continued…]


Why Iran will push back on the West’s nuclear offer

Why Iran will push back on the West’s nuclear offer

As the world has waited for Iran’s response to the latest nuclear deal offered by the West, conventional wisdom has held that Tehran has been playing for time, testing the limits of international political resolve, and hamstrung by internal political divisions. There’s a measure of truth to all three claims, as official sources in Tehran have begun to indicate that Iran will accept the framework of the deal, but demand important changes. But the root of the problem may be that while the agreement is envisaged as a first step, the two sides don’t share a common destination.

The draft agreement discussed at talks in Vienna last week would have Iran ship 2,645 pounds of its low-enriched uranium (some three quarters of the stockpile enriched at its Natanz facility) to Russia by the end of this year. There it would be enriched to a higher grade and converted into fuel plates in France, after which it would be shipped back to Iran to power the Tehran medical research reactor. Western governments, which fear that Iran has already stockpiled enough enriched uranium to be reprocessed it into a single bomb, like that the deal would remove most of Tehran’s stockpile, and return it in a state difficult for Iran to weaponize. Though there are no signs that Iran is currently working on a turning its uranium into an actual bomb, the West wants the material moved out of Iran in a single shipment, and by the end of this year. That way, they say, it will take Tehran another year to replenish its stockpile to current levels, setting back the supposed “ticking clock” of a potential Iranian bomb, and allowing more time to negotiate an end to Iran’s enrichment program.

Iran, needless to say, sees things very differently. It has no intention of relinquishing its uranium-enrichment program, which it insists is for the peaceful purposes of a civilian energy program and is its right as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And what it likes most about the Vienna deal is that it can be read as tacit acceptance of Iranian enrichment; the stockpile at the heart of the deal, after all, was enriched in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. But Iran doesn’t trust the intentions of some of its interlocutors, particularly France, which has adopted the most hawkish position among the Western powers against any Iranian enrichment. In other words, the very thing that Western powers like about the proposal — that it separates Iran from its uranium stockpile — is precisely what the Iranians fear as a prelude to moves to end all of its enrichment. [continued…]

Iran hints at uranium plan changes

A high-ranking Iranian official said Tuesday that even if the country agreed to a United Nations-sponsored plan to ship its enriched uranium abroad for further processing, it would not ship it all at once, Iranian news media reported.

That position, if maintained, could undermine the entire plan. The French government, a party to the deal, has made it clear that the uranium must be shipped all at once before the end of the year.

Iran has said it will formally respond on Friday to the proposal, which is intended to delay the country’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon for about a year and buy time for a broader diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff. [continued…]

Weapons of mass distraction

If Iranian negotiators haven’t read Avner Cohen’s book Israel and the Bomb, they should. They’d find out that Oct. 30 is the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the series of negotiations that culminated in American recognition of Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity.” They might learn some useful lessons.

As the worldwide media weighs and critiques Iran’s dilatory response (or lack of satisfactory response) to western pressures over its nuclear program, Israeli diplomats and pundits are reiterating that, no matter what Iran says, it is nonetheless trying to exploit the pretext of a peaceful nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapons program.

After all, Israelis know how the game is played. They wrote the rules.

On Oct. 30, 1968, US Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Warnke began a series of negotiations with then-Israeli Ambassador Yitzchak Rabin, who would become Israel’s fifth Prime Minister in 1974. [Awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for shaking hands with Yassir Arafat, Rabin was assassinated by a right wing Jewish fanatic at a Jerusalem peace rally a year later.] Although Warnke had not been provided with the CIA’s assessment of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, he nevertheless suspected that Israel had the capability of producing a nuclear bomb and quite possibly had already done so. He proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that linked Israel’s signature on the NPT not only to the sale of the Phantom jets Israel wanted from the U.S. but to the transformation of the U.S. into Israel’s main arms supplier, a role that had, until the 1967 “Six Day” war, been filled by France.

As reconstructed and recounted by Avner Cohen in his 1998 book (pp. 307-318), based on once-classified documents, Warnke met with Rabin on Nov. 12, and attempted to clarify the assertion, “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area.” Rabin replied that it meant, “We would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons.” [continued…]

Iranian-American dual loyalty?

The campaign against J Street has contained a fairly amount of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry, epitomized by former AIPAC staffer Lenny Ben-David’s attack on any J Street donors unfortunate enough to have Arab names. Now comes a new and equally unseemly line of attack, centering on an Iran panel at the recent J Street conference that featured National Iranian American Council (NIAC) president Trita Parsi. Parsi, Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard claims, is “the Iranian regime’s man in Washington.” Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic similarly accuses Parsi of “doing a lot of leg-work for the Iranian regime.”

To begin with, it’s worth noting the inaccuracy of the charge. NIAC was harshly critical of the Iranian government’s crackdown on protesters following the disputed elections in June, issuing a June 20 statement “strongly condemn[ing] the government of Iran’s escalating violence against demonstrators” and calling for new elections. A later statement urged the Obama administration not to neglect human rights issues in the course of its diplomacy with Iran. Anyone who followed the post-election crisis closely — no matter where they came from on the ideological spectrum — soon came to rely on NIAC’s blog as an indispensabe source of news and analysis about the protests. And Parsi (who has in the past written for IPS) became the most prominent proponent of engagement to change his stance in the wake of the elections, calling for a “tactical pause” in U.S. diplomacy while the political situation within Iran developed. [continued…]

Pragmatists in Tehran

Direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations in Geneva and Vienna this month over Iran’s nuclear program demonstrate something very positive about the prospects for U.S. diplomacy with Iran: When given the chance to engage directly with the United States, Iran will take that chance and pursue negotiations in an active and constructive way.

This does not mean that Iran will automatically give the United States what it wants. But it does mean that Iran will approach negotiations with the United States in a rational manner grounded in Iranian national security interests. This should not come as a surprise: It is how Iran has approached previous episodes of engagement with the United States — including two years of extremely constructive official talks between the U.S. and Iran over Afghanistan and al Qaeda, following the 9/11 attacks (talks in which I directly participated).

Now that Tehran has asked for an extension of the deadline for its response to a proposal to ship most of Iran’s low enriched uranium out of the country for fabrication into fuel rods, it is important to remember Tehran’s history of pragmatic cooperation and avoid distorting events or overreacting. [continued…]

House panel approves bill to punish Iran

A House committee, seeking to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, approved a bill Wednesday aimed at punishing Tehran by cutting off its access to gasoline and other refined petroleum products.

The measure, which would give the president powers to take action against foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, is popular on Capitol Hill, and three-quarters of House members have cosponsored the legislation.

But the measure could undermine Obama administration efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear development program. If talks fail and further sanctions become necessary, administration officials prefer to enact measures supported by many countries, rather than just one. [continued…]


Afghanistan doesn’t need more troops

Afghanistan doesn’t need more troops

From the beginning of 2007 to March 2008, the 82nd Airborne Division’s strategy in Khost proved that 250 paratroopers could secure a province of a million people in the Pashtun belt. The key to success in Khost—which shares a 184 kilometer-long border with Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas—was working within the Afghan system. By partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces and a competent governor and subgovernors, U.S. forces were able to win the support of Khost’s 13 tribes.

Today, 2,400 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Khost. But the province is more dangerous.

Mohammed Aiaz, a 32-year-old Khosti advising the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team, puts it plainly: “The answer is not more troops, which will put Afghans in more danger.” If troops don’t understand Afghan culture and fail to work within the tribal system, they will only fuel the insurgency. When we get the tribes on our side, that will change. When a tribe says no, it means no. IEDs will be reported and no insurgent fighters will be allowed to operate in or across their area.

Khost once had security forces with tribal links. Between 1988 and 1991, the Soviet client government in Kabul was able to secure much of eastern and southern Afghanistan by paying the tribal militias. Khost was secured by the 25th Division of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which incorporated militias with more than 400 fighters from five of Khost’s 13 major tribes. The mujahedeen were not able to take Khost until internal rifts among Pashtuns in then-President Mohammed Najibullah’s government resulted in a loss of support for the militias in Khost and, eventually, the defection of the 25th Division in April 1991. [continued…]

Obama seeks study on local leaders for troop decision

President Obama has asked senior officials for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle.

Obama made the request in a meeting Monday with Vice President Biden and a small group of senior advisers helping him decide whether to expand the war. The detail he is now seeking also reflects the administration’s turn toward Afghanistan’s provincial governors, tribal leaders and local militias as potentially more effective partners in the effort than a historically weak central government that is confronting questions of legitimacy after the flawed Aug. 20 presidential election. [continued…]

More schools, not troops

Dispatching more troops to Afghanistan would be a monumental bet and probably a bad one, most likely a waste of lives and resources that might simply empower the Taliban. In particular, one of the most compelling arguments against more troops rests on this stunning trade-off: For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.

It’s hard to do the calculation precisely, but for the cost of 40,000 troops over a few years — well, we could just about turn every Afghan into a Ph.D.

The hawks respond: It’s naïve to think that you can sprinkle a bit of education on a war-torn society. It’s impossible to build schools now because the Taliban will blow them up.

In fact, it’s still quite possible to operate schools in Afghanistan — particularly when there’s a strong “buy-in” from the local community.

Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea,” has now built 39 schools in Afghanistan and 92 in Pakistan — and not one has been burned down or closed. The aid organization CARE has 295 schools educating 50,000 girls in Afghanistan, and not a single one has been closed or burned by the Taliban. The Afghan Institute of Learning, another aid group, has 32 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with none closed by the Taliban (although local communities have temporarily suspended three for security reasons). [continued…]

Reported ties from CIA to a Karzai spur rebukes

Senior lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday criticized what American officials said were financial ties between the Central Intelligence Agency and Ahmed Wali Karzai, a brother of the Afghan president, with one top Democrat suggesting that intelligence officials had misled him about Mr. Karzai’s role in Afghanistan’s opium trade.

The Democrat, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, demanded that members of Congress receive “untainted” information about Mr. Karzai’s drug connections in light of a news report that Mr. Karzai was on the C.I.A. payroll. [continued…]


Deadly Pakistan attack hits market filled with women

Deadly Pakistan attack hits market filled with women

The locale of the latest spasm of violence to strike Pakistan — a car bomb attack that killed 100 people — wasn’t surprising. Perched on the fringe of the Taliban-infested badlands along the Afghan border, Peshawar has been hit several times by bombings that have claimed scores of lives this year.

But the target Wednesday marked a disturbing twist in the Islamic militants’ agenda: a bustling market that catered to women, many of them with children in tow. [continued…]

Doubts abound among people of S. Waziristan

As Pakistan’s army battles with guns and jets to wrest control of the restive South Waziristan region from the Taliban, it remains unclear whether the military will have another kind of ammunition it desperately needs: the support of people who have lived in the militants’ grip for years.

Among refugees who were jostling for donated blankets last week in this dusty town in North-West Frontier Province, few dared to discuss the Taliban fighters controlling their villages. Several whispered that there was no graver offense than speaking against the Taliban and seemed fearful that breaching that rule would cost them once the offensive — which several referred to as an artificial “drama” cooked up to satisfy the United States — was over.

“The operation is a joke just to please the foreign masters,” said Saidalam Mehsud, 59, a burly driver. “Whenever the dollars are floating into Pakistan, such operations are carried out.”

In the past week, refugees said, their doubts about the offensive have intensified because they have seen little evidence of the ground operation that Pakistan’s military says has killed nearly 200 insurgents. Although many said shells and bombs had been raining on the hilly terrain all week, some hitting houses of civilians, none said they had seen government soldiers in the area. [continued…]


Young Afghan struggles to adapt after Guantanamo

Young Afghan struggles to adapt after Guantanamo

At family gatherings, the young Afghan with the scraggly beard instinctively sits with the children, before others remind him that he is a man now.

Old friends he last saw when they were flying kites are now in college, married with children, enjoying their careers. He’s happy for them, but he feels like he’s watching life flash by and he’s not a part of it.

These are the shadows of the lost youth of Mohammed Jawad, the Afghan who many believe was Guantanamo’s youngest prisoner.

“There are such huge changes I need to catch up with,” he says. “I’ve missed a lot.”

Six inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than when he left his country nearly seven years ago, Jawad alternately smiles shyly, tenses with anger, then smiles again, the mood swings of someone trying to figure out how he lost a third of his life. [continued…]


Brother of Afghan leader is said to be on CIA payroll

Brother of Afghan leader is said to be on CIA payroll

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

More broadly, some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful figure in a large area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, undermines the American push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan. [continued…]

Editor’s CommentAndrew Exum says this is the most important article on Afghanistan you’ll read this week:

Why, you ask? Because if this is true, and if the CIA is empowering Ahmed Wali Karzai at the same time in which NATO/ISAF is saying abusive local power-brokers are a threat to mission success, then this is yet another example of NATO/ISAF carrying out one campaign in Afghanistan while the CIA carries out another — with both campaigns operating at cross purposes to one another. I should say here that I am in no position to confirm or deny this report. I can, however, say that numerous military officials in southern Afghanistan with whom I have spoken identify AWK and his activities as the biggest problem they face — bigger than the lack of government services or even the Taliban. And so if AWK is “the agency’s guy”, that leads to a huge point of friction between NATO/ISAF and the CIA.

At some point, the CIA’s Congressional overseers — who’ve already complained that they have been misled by the agency on multiple occasions — should start asking some fundamental questions about the institution.

In this decade the CIA has had a central role in the biggest intelligence failure the US has ever had; it has implemented a torture program; operated ghost prisons; conducted kidnapping operations; and provided support for drug warlords. The list could I’m sure be made much longer. At what point will the conclusion be drawn that this Cold War anachronism does more to threaten than protect America’s national security?

Gunmen attack UN workers in Kabul

Taliban gunmen stormed a guest house in central Kabul on Wednesday morning, killing six United Nations employees and two Afghan security officials, according to U.N. officials, the police and the Afghan Interior Ministry.

One of those killed was an American security guard who battled the attackers as they came through the front gate in the predawn hours, according to an American who was staying in the guest house and who joined in the gun battle before shepherding 25 other residents to safety.

The police said one of the victims, a woman, had been shot in the head, and another burned to death. A cellphone video taken by a security official and seen by a reporter showed just the head and torso of a third victim, apparently cut in half when one of the attackers detonated his suicide vest. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — While the Taliban say this attack is intended to deter people from assisting in the November 7 runoff election it clearly also challenges the concept of a strategy based on protecting the most populated parts of Afghanistan. Reinforce the perception that the center of Kabul is unsafe and it gets hard to promote the idea that anywhere can be made safe.

Add to that the fact that the Taliban has the upper hand even when outnumbered by 12 to 1 and the argument that tens of thousands more American troops will enhance security becomes increasingly implausible.

A crash course in democracy

The decision by both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, to accept a runoff election is a welcome development that provides the Afghan government with an opportunity to restore its damaged credibility. The runoff election now faces two main challenges: making the process more credible and ensuring the election actually contributes to security. Setting Nov. 7 as the date for the election makes both impossible.

Nationwide elections in any country are logistically difficult. In Afghanistan, they’re a nightmare. Funds need to be mobilized (the last elections cost more than $500 million), new poll workers need to be hired (or fired), observers have to be recruited, voters reassured, and security forces redeployed. Because ballots are often transported by donkey, it could take weeks to distribute them to Afghanistan’s remotest areas. A mad rush will be the only way to get all of this done, and such haste will not contribute to a credible process.

The first step in ensuring a credible election, therefore, is to postpone the date for the runoff. [continued…]


Who decided to go to war in Gaza (WHEN) and why?

Who decided to go to war in Gaza (WHEN) and why?

I want to know how and why it was decided to embark on Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and to expand it into a ground offensive. I want to know if the decisions were affected by the Israeli election campaign then underway and the change in U.S. presidents. I want to know if the leaders who launched the operation correctly judged the political damage it would cause Israel and what they did to minimize it. I want to know if those who gave orders to the Israel Defense Forces assumed that hundreds of Palestinian civilians would be killed, and how they tried to prevent this.

These questions should be at the center of an investigation into Operation Cast Lead. An investigation is necessary because of the political complexities that resulted from the operation, the serious harm to Palestinian civilians, the Goldstone report and its claims of war crimes, and the limits that will be imposed on the IDF’s freedom of operation in the future. There is no room to argue that the government should be allowed to govern without interference and investigations, with the public passing judgment at the ballot box. The government changed after the Gaza operation and the questions remain troublesome.

The investigations by the army and Military Police are meant to examine soldiers’ behavior on the battlefield. They are no substitute for a comprehensive examination of the activities of the political leadership and senior command, who are responsible for an operation and its results. It’s not the company or battalion commanders who need to be investigated, but former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and the heads of the intelligence chiefs and Foreign Ministry, who were party to the decisions. It is also important to investigate Barak and Livni’s election campaign advisers to find out if and how the campaign affected the military and diplomatic efforts. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Aluf Benn raises lots of important questions. One that he leaves out is this: Did Israel’s preparations for a war on Gaza in the first half of 2008 indicate that the truce with Hamas that began on June 18 last year was accepted by Israel in bad faith?

At the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, Haaretz reported:

Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas. According to the sources, Barak maintained that although the lull would allow Hamas to prepare for a showdown with Israel, the Israeli army needed time to prepare, as well.

The political line has always been “we had no choice,” but the truth might be that Israel’s leaders had made their choice for war well before it became “inevitable”.

Benn asks: “Who decided to bomb the flour mill and sewage treatment center in Gaza, and why?” Again, the question of when such facilities were added to a target list is extremely important. If the preparations that Barak referred to included drawing up target lists of this type then Israel would appear to have knowingly planned and committed war crimes, breaking the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits collective punishment.

One of the “lessons” of the 2006 war on Lebanon was that Israel didn’t have carefully developed target lists — that it quickly ran out of military targets and thereafter capriciously sought new and ill-conceived targets. That would imply that most of the targets in Gaza had been selected well before a single missile had been fired.


A letter from Afghanistan that every American must read

A letter from Afghanistan that every American must read

“… I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures or resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.” From Matthew P Hoh, Senior Civilian Representative, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in his letter of resignation to the State Department.

For weeks, President Obama and his advisers in the White House and from the Pentagon have been wrestling over the formulation of a revised strategy for Afghanistan. Central to that debate has been the question of how to respond to Gen Stanley McChrystal’s request for tens of thousands more American troops.

But perhaps the most important question — one which the president and his advisers have no doubt studiously avoided asking — is whether this war is worth fighting.

Matthew Hoh, a former US Marine captain who fought in Iraq, and who later served as a civilian State Department representative in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, in a letter of resignation submitted in early September, provided a definitive statement on the war’s failure — in its conception, its execution, and its aims. Rarely, if ever, has such an damning indictment of this war been so clearly and powerfully expressed.

The Washington Post reported:

The reaction to Hoh’s letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer,” Holbrooke said in an interview. “We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him.”

The Post has published Hoh’s letter in a printable format [PDF] which is likely to result in the whole letter not being widely read. In order to encourage readers to absorb the full force of this testimony, I’ve reproduced the letter in full below — the only place (as far as I’m aware) that it can currently be found on the web in a user-friendly format.

“We are spending ourselves into oblivion”

Dear Ambassador Powell,

It is with great regret and disappointment I submit my resignation from my appointment as a Political Officer in the Foreign Service and my post as the Senior Civilian Representative for the U.S. Government in Zabul Province. I have served six of the previous ten years in service to our country overseas, to include deployment as a U.S. Marine officer and Department of Defense civilian in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. I did not enter into this position lightly or with any undue expectations nor did I believe my assignment would be without sacrifice hardship or difficulty. However, in the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan, in both Regional Commands East and South, I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end. To put simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures or resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war.

This fall will mark the eighth year of U.S. combat, governance and development operations within Afghanistan. Next fall, the United States’ occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union’s own physical involvement in Afghanistan. Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.

If the history or Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah’s reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modem of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.

The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people. The Afghan government’s failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic:

• Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
• A President whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
• A system of provincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and
• The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government’s military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.

Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency’s true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation’s own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.

I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan. More so, the September 11th attacks, as well as the Madrid and London bombings, were primarily planned and organized in Western Europe; a point that highlights the threat is not one tied to traditional geographic or political boundaries. Finally, if our concern is for a failed state crippled by corruption and poverty and under assault from criminal and drug lords, then if we bear our military and financial contributions to Afghanistan, we must reevaluate our commitment to and involvement in Mexico.

Eight years into war, no nation has ever known a more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the U.S. Armed Forces. I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II, but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed, civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannaish misadventure. Similarly, the United States has a dedicated and talented cadre of civilians, both U.S. government employees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, D.C. than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.

“We are spending ourselves into oblivion” a very talented and intelligent commander, one of America’s best, briefs every visitor, staff delegation and senior officer. We are mortgaging our Nation’s economy on a war, which, even with increased commitment, will remain a draw for years to come. Success and victory, whatever they may be, will be realized not in years, after billions more spent, but in decades and generations. The United States does not enjoy a national treasury for such success and victory.

I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask you excuse any ill temper. I trust you understand the nature of this war and the sacrifices made by so many thousands of families who have been separated from loved ones deployed in defense of our Nation and whose homes bear the fractures, upheavals and scars of multiple and compounded deployments. Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, l submit my resignation.


Matthew P. Hoh
Senior Civilian Representative
Zabul Province, Afghanistan

Mr. Frank Ruggiero
Ms. Dawn Liberi
Ambassador Anthony Wayne
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

This letter was addressed to:
Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW


‘Iran is our friend,’ says Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan

‘Iran is our friend,’ says Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan

With its stunning vistas and former Ottoman palaces, the banks of the Bosphorus – the strategic waterway that cuts Istanbul in half and divides Europe from Asia – may be the perfect place to distinguish friend from foe and establish where your country’s interests lie.

And sitting in his grandiose headquarters beside the strait, long the symbol of Turkey’s supposed role as bridge between east and west, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had little doubt about who was a friend and who wasn’t.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s radical president whose fiery rhetoric has made him a bête noire of the west? “There is no doubt he is our friend,” said Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister for the last six years. “As a friend so far we have very good relations and have had no difficulty at all.”

What about Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, who has led European opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the EU and, coincidentally, adopted a belligerent tone towards Iran’s nuclear programme? Not a friend?

“Among leaders in Europe there are those who have prejudices against Turkey, like France and Germany. Previously under Mr Chirac, we had excellent relations [with France] and he was very positive towards Turkey. But during the time of Mr Sarkozy, this is not the case. It is an unfair attitude. The European Union is violating its own rules.

“Being in the European Union we would be building bridges between the 1.5bn people of Muslim world to the non-Muslim world. They have to see this. If they ignore it, it brings weakness to the EU.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — When President Obama addressed the Turkish parliament on April 6, he said: “Turkey’s greatness lies in your ability to be at the center of things. This is not where East and West divide – this is where they come together.”

Turkey has since been making great strides with its “zero problems with neighbors” policy as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutuoğlu engages erstwhile adversaries emphasising “a common history, a common fate and a common future.”

Meanwhile, at the hub of America’s active and violent engagement with the Muslim world, in Kabul, American flags and effigies of Obama are being burned in protest.

The White House should be asking: how come the Turks are having so much more success in practicing what we preach?

In the aftermath of the war on Gaza, Turkey has been uncompromising and principled in its criticisms of Israel. When asked whether he fears that this might risk harming Turkish-US relations, Erdogan dismisses the suggestion, saying: “I don’t think there is any possibility of that. America’s policy in this region is not dictated by Israel.”

Is that wishful thinking, or is it a polite and indirect way of telling Obama that it’s time to stiffen his backbone?


Where have all Israel’s friends gone?

“Where have all the friendships gone…”

Among all the members of our political, military and media establishments who are now suggesting an “inquiry”, there is no one – literally not one – who means by that a real investigation. The aim is to deceive the Goyim and get them to shut up.

Actually, Israeli law lays down clear guidelines for such investigations. The government decides to set up a commission of investigation. The president of the Supreme Court then appoints the members of the commission. The commission can compel witnesses to testify. Anybody who may be damaged by its conclusions must be warned and given the opportunity to defend themself. Its conclusions are binding.

This law has an interesting history. Sometime in the 50s, David Ben-Gurion demanded the appointment of a “judicial committee of inquiry” to decide who gave the orders for the 1954 “security mishap”, also known as the Lavon Affair. (A false flag operation where an espionage network composed of local Jews was activated to bomb American and British offices in Egypt, in order to cause friction between Egypt and the Western powers. The perpetrators were caught.)

Ben-Gurion’s request was denied, under the pretext that there was no law for such a procedure. Furious, Ben-Gurion resigned from the government and left his party. In one of the stormy party sessions, the Minister of Justice, Yaakov Shimshon Shapira, called Ben-Gurion a “fascist”. But Shapira, an old Russian Jew, regretted his outburst later. He drafted a special law for the appointment of Commissions of Investigation in the future. After lengthy deliberations in the Knesset (in which I took an active part) the law was adopted and has since been applied, notably in the case of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. [continued…]

Jordan’s ties with Israel turn cold

Jordan and Israel mark 15 years of peace today, but ties between both countries are cooler than ever.

Since the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netenyahu took office in May, Jordan has been left further disappointed with its neighbour.

“Our relation is getting colder,” King Abdullah told Israel’s daily Haaretz newspaper this month. “Let’s remember that the peace treaty was signed as part of a process to achieve comprehensive peace. And the full potential of not just Jordanian-Israeli relations, but the whole region, will not be realised unless comprehensive peace is achieved.” [continued…]


Rory Stewart: The T. E. Lawrence of Afghanistan – UPDATED

Rory Stewart: The T. E. Lawrence of Afghanistan

What would [Rory] Stewart’s version of muddling through in Afghanistan look like? While General Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan calls for more than 100,000 American troops, and Joe Biden’s bare-bones counterterrorism proposal reportedly keeps troop numbers around their current level of 68,000, Stewart believes the foreign-troop presence in Afghanistan should actually be reduced–all the way down to 20,000. Those troops would then be used exclusively to fight Al Qaeda terrorists; the Taliban would no longer be an enemy. At the same time, while Stewart’s plan envisions continued aid to Afghans to support electricity, water, health, education, and agriculture development, the United States would cease with its state-building project and essentially leave the Kabul government to its own devices.

Stewart’s plan stems from his strange mixture of pessimism and optimism. On the one hand, he argues that the Afghan central government lacks the strength or legitimacy to actually run the country, nor does he have much faith in the ability of the United States to help it on those counts. “I have some friends in Afghanistan who will say, ‘If the U.S. government is infinitely flexible, capable, superbly informed, able to deliver programs precisely in every rural area, and its soldiers are able to avoid killing anybody and can identify exactly which tribal chief at the sub-district level to deal with, everything will be fine,’” Stewart says. “To which my answer is, ‘That’s a big if, and that’s not how our bureaucracies and administrations work.'” But Stewart also believes that things in Afghanistan aren’t as precarious as some fear. “There’s a certain kind of worst-case scenario view that Afghanistan is like this horrendous nightmare and, if we don’t get in there and sort it out, we’ll have global jihad, we’ll have a completely destabilized region, terrorists will have their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, American credibility will be finished forever,” Stewart says. “And these are not really, I think, fully developed positions.”

Under a “muddling through” plan, Stewart concedes that the Taliban might take some provincial capitals in Southern Afghanistan, but he believes that the Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek populations are stronger than they were in 1996 and, thus, would be able to keep the Taliban out of their areas. He also thinks it would take a minimal foreign military presence to prevent the Taliban from marching into Kabul. With the Taliban confined to certain parts of Afghanistan and its ability to exploit the ideology of religious resistance lessened due to the absence of a substantial foreign military presence, the rest of the country would, with substantial foreign assistance, be able to develop. Although his walk across Afghanistan led Stewart to believe that the country is, in some respects, ungovernable, it also gave him great faith in individual Afghans, on whom he depended for food, lodging, and frequently directions. (He didn’t carry a detailed map on his trek, since it might have made people think he was a British spy.) “We do consistently overestimate our own capacity and underestimate the capacity of others,” he says. “In every case, Afghans are more competent, more canny, more capable than we acknowledge, and we are less so.” [continued…]

UPDATE: Editor’s Comment — Readers who have been following the extraordinary career of Rory Stewart may be interested to hear that yesterday he took the first step in the next chapter: he was selected as the Conservative Party candidate for the English constituency of Penrith and The Border. This is a safe Conservative seat and with the Labour Party struggling in the polls, Stewart stands a good chance of not only entering Parliament after the next general election in Britain but quite likely gaining a position in the next British government. Talent is no guarantee of success in politics, but it will be interesting to see how far Stewart advances and what he might accomplish.

Taliban demand election boycott

The Taliban called on Afghans to boycott the upcoming presidential elections runoff and threatened to attack polling sites, sparking fears that thousands of voters will stay home on election day.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan urges the people of Afghanistan to not participate in the elections, and once again prove that they are true believers,” the group said in a statement emailed to the Wall Street Journal, using a name referring to the Taliban and allied groups.

“All mujahedeen are ordered to do their best to disrupt the elections and carry out attacks on enemy outposts and prevent people from going to the polling centers,” the statement continued. The group hinted that they would target election workers and voters. “If anyone, including the participants and the workers, gets harmed they have only themselves to blame, since the Islamic Emirate warned them in advance.” [continued…]

Afghan challenger considers runoff boycott

The challenger to President Hamid Karzai is considering boycotting the upcoming runoff if his demands are not met to remove the leaders of Afghanistan’s election commission who he believes are biased against him, campaign officials said Sunday.

Despite his public promises that he will participate in the Nov. 7 runoff, Abdullah Abdullah has been discussing the possibility of pulling out, an outcome that could create a new political crisis and throw the legitimacy of any new government into question. His aides argue that it would be dangerous to enter an election that might reproduce the massive fraud that discredited the vote in August.

Abdullah’s main running mate, Homayoun Shah Assefy, said that it was clear that the United States and the international community would resist such a boycott but that it might be necessary if the Independent Election Commission is not purged of its prominent Karzai supporters. [continued…]


Iraq is safer – but by no means safe

Iraq is safer – but by no means safe

The savage suicide bombings in the heart of Baghdad yesterday show how far the violence in Iraq is from being over. It is as if those who order these bombings know that they only have to repeat these atrocities every couple of months to destabilise the country.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki makes itself even more vulnerable by boasting that it is improving security. Iraq is a safer place than it was three years ago, but it is still one of the more dangerous places in the world.

There is no need to imagine that the slaughter in Haifa Street yesterday was because American troops withdrew from the cities of Iraq three months ago. With or without US troops, the bombers have been able to get through in Baghdad ever since they destroyed the UN headquarters in 2003. [continued…]


American preeminence is disappearing fifteen years early

American preeminence is disappearing fifteen years early

Memo to the CIA: You may not be prepared for time-travel, but welcome to 2025 anyway! Your rooms may be a little small, your ability to demand better accommodations may have gone out the window, and the amenities may not be to your taste, but get used to it. It’s going to be your reality from now on.

Okay, now for the serious version of the above: In November 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), an affiliate of the Central Intelligence Agency, issued the latest in a series of futuristic publications intended to guide the incoming Obama administration. Peering into its analytic crystal ball in a report entitled Global Trends 2025, it predicted that America’s global preeminence would gradually disappear over the next 15 years — in conjunction with the rise of new global powerhouses, especially China and India. The report examined many facets of the future strategic environment, but its most startling, and news-making, finding concerned the projected long-term erosion of American dominance and the emergence of new global competitors. “Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor [in 2025],” it stated definitively, the country’s “relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained.”

That, of course, was then; this — some 11 months into the future — is now and how things have changed. Futuristic predictions will just have to catch up to the fast-shifting realities of the present moment. Although published after the onset of the global economic meltdown was underway, the report was written before the crisis reached its full proportions and so emphasized that the decline of American power would be gradual, extending over the assessment’s 15-year time horizon. But the economic crisis and attendant events have radically upset that timetable. As a result of the mammoth economic losses suffered by the United States over the past year and China’s stunning economic recovery, the global power shift the report predicted has accelerated. For all practical purposes, 2025 is here already. [continued…]


As occupier, Israel must face up to Goldstone report

As occupier, Israel must face up to Goldstone report

Goldstone was born in June 1967. I am not referring to the judge from South Africa, but to his report, or more precisely, the notion that Israel needs a synonym for the soul-searching it must carry out after 42 years of occupation. In the 575 pages of the report that is loaded with details, names, numbers, a list of weapons, interrogation methods and articles of international law, three paragraphs hide among the conclusions on pages 521 and 522, numbered 1674 to 1676. Here lies the explanation for the tragic results of Operation Cast Lead.

In those paragraphs Goldstone uses the term “continuum” to establish that the operation cannot be understood on its own without assessing it as part of a chain of events, which also includes the complete closure of the Gaza Strip for three years, the policy of razing homes, the arrests, the interrogations and torture, not only in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In short, Operation Cast Lead is not an “incident.” It is a link in a chain as old as the occupation itself.

The equation Israel is demanding – between those wounded in the Gaza operation and those wounded in Sderot, between the Qassams and the F-16s, between the mortars and the tank that killed three of Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish’s daughters, between Hamas and Israel – betrays a poor understanding of the report’s essence. Goldstone puts the symptom under the microscope and derives the illness. The result is a textbook whose title should have been “A manual for the occupier in the fifth decade.” [continued…]

Whatever Bibi wants, Bibi gets

Barack Obama is a rookie. At least, this is what the Israeli prime minister seems to think. So far, Benjamin Netanyahu has been able to maximize his gains at the expense of the U.S. president and the Palestinians while solidifying his own position in the process.

Consider last month’s trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. After months of tough and very public statements by top U.S. officials, Netanyahu was able to get the leader of the free world to concede on a settlement freeze and gave nothing in return. For Israeli hawks and their allies in the United States, this was a victory. But it did not come without costs, even leaving aside the effect on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s domestic popularity. Heads of state around the world paid attention, and surely some of them thought of Obama: This man is a pushover. [continued…]

Jordan to Israel: Temple Mount violence derails peace efforts

Jordan warned Israel Police and religious Jewish radicals on Sunday that further provocation in the compound that houses the al- Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem would “fuel violence in the region and jeopardize peace efforts”.

Clashes between Israeli police and youths armed with rocks broke out Sunday at the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount compound where the mosque is located. The confrontation was apparently sparked by calls by radical Jewish clerics to their followers to go up to the compound, and by calls by radical Muslim clerics for their followers to defend the site. [continued…]

Israel confirms settlers ramping up West Bank construction

The defense establishment confirmed that in recent weeks West Bank settlers have been making a noticeable effort to expedite construction, in an attempt to maximize the “facts on the ground” before the United States and Israel reach an agreement on a settlement freeze.

A senior security source said this week that the defense establishment’s view on the situation was reflected in reports published in Haaretz last Friday, which stated that extensive construction is currently being carried out in at least 11 settlements. [continued…]