Archives for November 2010

WikiLeaks exposes Obama’s willingness to engage Iran as disingenuous

Christian Science Monitor reports:

WikiLeaks revelations that American officials were planning to raise pressure on Iran with more sanctions and a missile defense shield – even while President Obama was making high-profile public overtures to Iran – are being seen in Tehran as validation of deep skepticism from the start about Obama’s effort.

Iranians and analysts alike say the leaked diplomatic cables show a half-hearted attempt at engagement in which the US administration’s “dual track” policy of simultaneously applying pressure and negotiating was undermined by a singular focus on the pressure track and a growing assumption that engaging Iran was pointless.

“Although the [American] gestures sounded sincere and honest, according to these documents there was at least a parallel approach to keeping both options open, though they were 180 degrees apart,” says a veteran observer in Tehran who could not be named for security reasons. “WikiLeaks indicates that from the beginning [Obama] was very sharp on this issue, and some Iranian officials … were right [in their skepticism].”

Gary Sick adds:

The US undertook its engagement strategy with Iran with the clear conviction that it would fail. At the same time, it was preparing (and disseminating in private) an alternative pressure strategy. This is the most serious indictment of all.

According to the record, the Obama administration was briefing allies almost from the start — and before Iran had even had a chance to respond to offers of engagement — that we expected this initiative to fail and that we were actively preparing the pressure track that would immediately follow.

Iran could hardly have been unaware of all this, so the chance that they would respond favorably — even before the contested election in June 2009 and the brutal crackdown that followed — was essentially zero. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Obama was never sincere about his engagement strategy. It has yet to be tried.

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WikiLeaks row: China wants Korean reunification, officials confirm

The Guardian reports:

China supports the “independent and peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula” and cannot afford to give the North Korean regime the impression it has a blank cheque to act any way it wants, Chinese officials based in Europe said today.

The officials, who asked not to be identified, spoke after the Guardian revealed that senior figures in Beijing, exasperated with North Korea behaving like a “spoiled child”, had told their South Korean counterparts that China was leaning towards acceptance of reunification under Seoul’s control.

China’s moves to distance itself from the North Korean regime were revealed in the latest tranche of leaked US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published yesterday by the Guardian and four international newspapers.

One Chinese official said today reunification was not going to happen overnight and China’s first priority was to calm down the situation, restart a dialogue, and maintain stability in the region. But Beijing had always backed peaceful reunification as a longer term goal.

The officials admitted to a sense of frustration in Beijing over North Korea’s recent actions, including its nuclear and missile tests – which China opposed – and last week’s lethal artillery bombardment of a South Korean island.

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WikiLeaks: good for Israel

I didn’t come up with the headline — it’s from Israel’s pro-settler Arutz Sheva news network. And as their report makes clear, this favorable review of what has been described as a diplomatic 9/11, reflects the views of the Israeli government.

Just as Benjamin Netanyahu on September 11, 2001, said the attacks were a “good thing” for US-Israeli relations and then again in 2008 told an Israeli audience, “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon,” it’s likewise reasonable to assume that he is similarly pleased with the repercussions of “Cablegate.” If for the past few days the diplomatic world has been thrown into disarray, the one country that so far remains unscathed is Israel.

WikiLeaks, on the other hand, having placed itself at the vanguard of a movement demanding transparency in global affairs, has so far failed to live up to the standard it is setting for others. They don’t need to jeopardize the security of their own operations, but they do need to explain the inner workings of the editorial process through which by releasing some cables and withholding others they are now feeding a narrative to the global media.

I’ll leave it others to construct elaborate theories on how WikiLeaks could be seen as a Mossad or CIA operation, but whether or not either or both intelligence organizations have played a role in shaping this story, one of its central features echoes the history of Israel and its use of a strategy of “divide-and-survive” across the Middle East.

In The American Interest earlier this year, Benjamin E Schwartz described this policy:

When American diplomats talk about the road to peace, few Israelis dare articulate one awkward truth. The truth is that Israelis have managed their conflict with the Arabs and the Palestinians for half a century not by working to unite them all, but either by deliberately and effectively dividing them, or by playing off existing divisions. By approaching matters in this way, Israelis have achieved de facto peace during various periods of their country’s history—and even two examples of de jure peace. It is because of divisions among Palestinians that Israelis survived and thrived strategically in 1947–48, and because of divisions among the Arab states that Israel won its 1948–49 war for independence. Divisions among the Arabs and divided competition for influence over the Palestinians allowed Israelis to build a strong state between 1949 and 1967 without having to contend with a serious threat of pan-Arab attack. It was because of divisions and the strength of Egypt amid those divisions that Anwar Sadat decided to make a separate peace in 1979. It was because of another set of divisions that King Hussein was able to do the same in 1994.

The results of Israeli statecraft did not produce an American-style comprehensive peace, and it did not produce peace with the Palestinians. It may not even have produced a lasting peace with Egypt and Jordan—time will tell. But it did produce peace in its most basic and tangible form: an absence of violence and the establishment of relative security. This is what peace means for the vast majority of Israelis, most of whom do not believe that their Arab neighbors will ever accept, let alone respect as legitimate, a Jewish state in geographical Palestine. And the way Israelis have achieved this peace is, in essence, through a policy of divide and survive.

Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, we see the Saudi king insulting the president of Pakistan, Egypt insulting Iran, America’s fear of Turkey — suspicions, fear and hostility pushed from the background into the foreground with no consequence more predictable than that these expressions of candor will be divisive and further erode the political authority of every player, except for one: Israel.

Meanwhile, if Israeli officials are discreet enough not to openly celebrate the divisions exposed by WikiLeaks, they have no hesitation in trumpeting their sense of vindication arising from the public display of hostility towards Iran expressed by so many of the region’s autocratic leaders.

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Wikileaks on Israel, Iraq and the Iranian specter

Juan Cole writes:

A 2007 cable from then US ambassador to Israel to Secretary of State Condi Rice shows a) that the Israeli leadership did not want the US to withdraw from Iraq and b) that Israeli politicians think that even if Iran never used a nuclear weapon, just for it to have one would doom Israel.

Since the US is in fact withdrawing from Iraq, and will be mostly out by next year this time, we may conclude that the Israeli leadership is very nervous about Tel Aviv – Baghdad relations. That the new government being formed by Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki depends deeply on the support of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sadrist movement, the most anti-Israel political force in Shiite Iraq, must petrify Prime Minister Netanyahu and his security cabinet. The likelihood of the Sadrists further coordinating with Lebanon’s Hizbullah party-militia is high. So the fall of Saddam did not in fact take away the Iraq file from consideration in Israel’s future.

As for Iran, US intelligence still cannot find evidence of a nuclear weapons program, and the UN inspectors again certified spring, 2010, that no nuclear material has been diverted from the Natanz facility to non-civilian purposes.

But the cable shed light on the thinking of high Israeli officials about why Israel cannot, as many US analysts have suggested, just live with an Iranian bomb if one is achieved. They believe that such a development would create a psychological nervousness in the Israeli public that would likely doom it as a Jewish state.

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WikiLeaks v the imperial presidency’s poodle

Pratap Chatterjee writes:

Anticipating Sunday’s release of classified US embassy cables, Harold Koh, the top lawyer to the US state department, fired off a letter to Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, on Saturday morning accusing him of having “endangered the lives of countless individuals”. Thus Koh pre-emptively made himself the figurehead for the US government’s reaction to the WikiLeaks release; the White House’s subsequent statement has echoed his attack.

Koh, a former dean of Yale law school, is also the man who authored a legal opinion for the Obama administration this past March stating that the president had the right to authorise “lethal operations” to target and kill alleged terrorists anywhere in the world without judicial review. This is in spite of the fact that other respected law professors and human rights organisations from Amnesty to Human Rights Watch have expressed grave worries that such actions also endanger the lives of countless individuals.

Koh – and another famous White House legal adviser named John Yoo – were both once fierce critics of what they believed were executive abuses by the president of US interests and standards of conduct overseas. Yet, once they themselves ascended to become acolytes of the highest office in the land, they both came to believe that the president alone had the right to determine what was right and what was wrong.

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How China lost patience with North Korea

The Guardian reports:

China’s willingness to accept Korean reunification, revealed in private conversations between senior Communist party officials and US and South Korean diplomats, reflects Beijing’s deep, previously concealed exasperation with its wayward ally North Korea.

But the leaked US diplomatic cables suggest there is no consensus on how to proceed towards this goal, with Beijing and Washington looking to each other to take the lead.

China’s reluctance to confront its ally was highlighted last week after the North launched a one-hour artillery bombardment of a South Korean island, plunging the peninsula into one of its worst crises since the Korean war. The White House swiftly deplored what it called an “outrageous” act and pledged military solidarity with South Korea. But Beijing declined to condemn Pyongyang, instead calling for calm and a resumption of talks on the North’s nuclear programme.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, was among several American officials who subsequently demanded China take a stand. US pressure seems to have yielded limited results, with Beijing today inviting a North Korean official for talks in an apparent mediation effort. A senior Chinese diplomat has also travelled to Seoul as part of what China is calling “emergency consultations”.

It was reported last night that US, Japanese and South Korean officials will meet in Washington on 6 December to discuss the crisis with North Korea.

But China’s immediate Korea priorities continue unchanged: maintaining stability, a benign economic environment, and if possible, a peaceful dialogue. Notwithstanding its openness in the longer term to the idea of reconciliation and reunification, Beijing remains unwilling to do anything that could force the North Korea into a corner and increase the possibility that it might lash out unpredictably.

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Wikileaks, Israel and assassins in Iran

With only 220 out of 251,287 cables released so far, who knows what surprises lie ahead, but it seems striking and noteworthy that Israel has managed to be the subject of so little attention. Considering the tensions between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government that have been so widely reported, it’s strange that in the first collection of cables we would see little or no evidence of this discord. At the same time there is an abundance of ammunition provided to those who want to push for war against Iran.

At face value, Wikileaks if not serving can at least be said to have been very obliging in advancing Israel’s agenda — and giving the neocons cause for celebration.

Meanwhile, as the media’s attention is riveted by Wikileaks, assassins — presumably operating under the direction of Mossad — have been active on the streets of Tehran, murdering one nuclear scientist and injuring another.

The Guardian reports:

Assassins on motorbikes have killed an Iranian nuclear scientist and wounded another in identical attacks this morning. They drove up to the scientists’ cars as they were leaving for work and attached a bomb to each vehicle which detonated seconds later.

The man who was killed was Majid Shahriari, a member of the engineering faculty at the Shahid Beheshti in Tehran. His wife was wounded. The second attack wounded Fereidoun Abbasi, who is also a professor at Shahid Besheshti University, and his wife.

They are senior figures in Iranian nuclear science. Abbasi was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, or Pasdaran, and once taught at the Pasdaran-run Imam Hossein University. He was hailed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad three years ago as Iran’s academic of the year.

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Wikileaks fallout in the Middle East

With one of the most significant revelations from Cablegate being the enthusiasm several Arab leaders express in favor of military strikes against Iran, it will be interesting to see what if any are the repercussions.

Marc Lynch writes:

The Arab media thus far is clearly struggling to figure out how to report them, something I’ll be following over the next week. One of the points which I’ve made over and over again is that Arab leaders routinely say different things in private and in public, but that their public rhetoric is often a better guide to what they will actually do since that reflects their calculation of what they can get away with politically. Arab leaders urged the U.S. to go after Saddam privately for years, but wouldn’t back it publicly for fear of the public reaction. It’s the same thing with Iran over the last few years, or with their views of the Palestinian factions and Israel. But now those private conversations are being made public, undeniably and with names attached.

So here’s the million dollar question: were their fears of expressing these views in public justified? Let’s assume that their efforts to keep the stories out of the mainstream Arab media will be only partially successful — and watch al-Jazeera here, since it would traditionally relish this kind of story but may fear revelations about the Qatari royal family. Extremely important questions follow. Will Arab leaders pay any significant political price for these positions, as they clearly feared? Or will it turn out that in this era of authoritarian retrenchment they really can get away with whatever diplomatic heresies they like even if it outrages public opinion? Will the publication of their private views lead them to become less forthcoming in their behavior in order to prove their bona fides — i.e. less supportive of containing or attacking Iran, or less willing to deal with Israel? Or will a limited public response to revelations about their private positions lead them to become bolder in acting on their true feelings? Will this great transgression of the private/public divide in Arab politics create a moment of reckoning in which the Arab public finally asserts itself… or will it be one in which Arab leaders finally stop deferring to Arab public opinion and start acting out on their private beliefs?

Now those are interesting questions.

UPDATE: thus far, most of the mainstream Arab media seems to be either ignoring the Wikileaks revelations or else reporting it in generalities, i.e. reporting that it’s happening but not the details in the cables. I imagine there are some pretty tense scenes in Arab newsrooms right now, as they try to figure out how to cover the news within their political constraints. Al-Jazeera may feel the heat the most, since not covering it (presumably to protect the Qatari royal family) could shatter its reputation for being independent and in tune with the “Arab street”. So far, the only real story I’ve seen in the mainstream Arab media is in the populist Arab nationalist paper al-Quds al-Arabi, which covers the front page with a detailed expose focused on its bete noir Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the details are all over Arabic social media like Facebook and Twitter, blogs, forums, and online-only news sites like Jordan’s Ammon News. This may be a critical test of the real impact of Arabic social media and the internet: can it break through a wall of silence and reach mass publics if the mass media doesn’t pick up the story?

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s The News reports:

Relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two of the most important Islamic countries, appeared headed towards a serious crisis as secret cables unveiled by Wikileaks on Sunday quoted Saudi King Abdullah calling President Asif Ali Zardari as “the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress”.
As part of millions of documents dumped on the Internet, Wikileaks put one cable, which gave details of what King Abdullah really thought about President Zardari.Talking to an Iraqi official about the Iraqi PM Nuri Al-Maliki, King Abdullah said: “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is not.”
“That man” was Asif Zardari. The king called the Pakistani president as “the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body.”The scathing remarks by the Saudi King explain why relations between Pakistan and the Saudi kingdom have remained cool and almost frozen during the current rule of the PPP.

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One of Egypt’s most enthusiastic voters in Sunday’s election

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Wikileaks reveal Palestinian Authority’s complicity in the war on Gaza

“Israel is not the center of international attention,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted shortly before the Wikileaks released a cache of 250,000 American diplomatic cables.

If he was confident that that was the case, why would Bibi draw attention to the fact? Perhaps because he knew that some of the leaks would serve his interests in multiple ways, not the least of which being that they further damage the credibility Mahmoud Abbas as top political representative of the Palestinian people. In other words, they would help reinforce Abbas’ position as a leader possessing enough authority to negotiate but not enough to make a deal.

It has long been claimed that Abbas supported Israel’s effort to topple Hamas through the war on Gaza. Wikileaks now provides hard evidence that the Palestinian Authority was indeed given advance notice of Operation Cast Lead.

At the end of May, 2009, Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak met a Congressional delegation from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs led by Congressman Ackerman. In that meeting, Barak “explained that the GOI [Government of Israel] had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas.” Naturally both parties declined, but the point is that they were then in a position to intercede and try and prevent the war — or, sit back and wait to see whether Israel would succeed in dislodging their common nemesis.

Having colluded with Israel in this way, the Palestinian Authority then put itself in a position to be blackmailed and subsequent reports suggest that this is indeed what happened when Israel later wanted to see the Goldstone Report blocked in the UN.

In October 2009, it was reported:

The Shaliab news agency quoted informed sources in Washington as saying that a meeting between PA representatives and an Israeli delegation took place in Washington last week to persuade the PA to withdraw its support for the Goldstone Report. This report could not be confirmed by TAAN.

The source told Shahab that the PA officials initially rejected the Israeli request, until Israeli officer Eli Ofarham showed up and displayed on his laptop a videotaped file showing Mahmoud Abbas urging Israel war minister Ehud Barak to continue the war on Gaza.

The sources also revealed that the PA official also listened to a recorded telephone conversation between director of the general staff office Dov Weissglas and Abbas’s aide Tayeb Abdelrahim in which the latter called on Israel to invade the refugee camps of Jabaliya and Al-Shati and said that the fall of those camps would end the rule of Hamas.

Weissglas, according to the record, said that this would lead to thousands of casualties among citizens, but Abdelrahim stressed that they all elected Hamas and chose their own destiny.

The comfort Netanyahu is drawing from the Wikileaks revelations goes much further. The Israeli claim that it belongs to a de facto alliance with so-called moderate Arab states with whom it shares an equal fear of a nuclear-armed Iran, is now clearly substantiated.

The Guardian reports:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.

The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war.

The Saudi king was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”, one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.

Wikileaks has at this point (Sunday evening) released just 220 out of 251,287 leaked cables. They say the remaining cables will be released over the next few months. “The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.”

This will no doubt be an effective media strategy that serves to extend the story, but in the name of transparency, Wikileaks should explain how exactly they’ve arrived at their own cherry-picking process. As every news editor knows, picking and choosing what to highlight and when has as much if not more impact in shaping the news than the reporting itself.

If getting all this information into the public domain really serves the greatest interest, why the delay?

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Transparency will be the first casualty of the latest WikiLeaks revelations

Christopher Dickey writes:

The first and most lasting casualty of this massive avalanche of documents classified “confidential,” “secret” and “noforn” (not for foreign governments to see) is going to be precisely the “transparency” that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he advocates. “Transparent government tends to produce just government,” he opined in July after an earlier dump of military dispatches about Afghanistan. But the fact is, transparent diplomacy is nothing but press releases.

The problem the State Department faces now is not just the difficulty of having frank conversations with allies or secret negotiations with enemies who think—who know—it leaks like a sieve. It will also be harder to have frank exchanges within the United States government itself. To avoid this kind of massive leak in the future, documents will get higher classification and less distribution, and a lot of the most important stuff may not be committed to the keyboard at all.

As a former US ambassador in some of the Middle East’s most sensitive posts wrote me (privately) this morning: “The consequence will be even less written reporting and communication—a disaster if you ever want to reconstruct what happened. It is already bad and now will be even worse. Everyone (or those in the know) will be passing info verbally. Ever play that whisper game as a kid?” He means the one where you pass a message from mouth to ear and discover it’s utterly distorted at the end of the chain. “Yep!” he wrote, that’s what internal communications are going to be like.

For everyone who believes that the truth will set you free (and I do), transparency is something that has the flavor of being inherently good. But to understand that diplomacy and transparency mix together as well as oil and water, one merely has to remember that diplomacy hinges on negotiations.

If you’re buying a car, do you want the seller to know what you earn or how much money you have in the bank? Haggling — and that’s what every negotiation ultimately is — is all about being able to control what you want to reveal and what you want to conceal. Walk into a negotiation as an open book and there won’t be any negotiation.

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US diplomats spied on UN leadership

The Guardian reports:

Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations, including the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.

A classified directive which appears to blur the line between diplomacy and spying was issued to US diplomats under Hillary Clinton’s name in July 2009, demanding forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.

It called for detailed biometric information “on key UN officials, to include undersecretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers, top SYG [secretary general] aides, heads of peace operations and political field missions, including force commanders” as well as intelligence on Ban’s “management and decision-making style and his influence on the secretariat”. A parallel intelligence directive sent to diplomats in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi said biometric data included DNA, fingerprints and iris scans.

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The FBI successfully thwarts its own terrorist plot

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The FBI is obviously quite pleased with itself over its arrest of a 19-year-old Somali-American, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who — with months of encouragement, support and money from the FBI’s own undercover agents — allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event in Portland, Oregon. Media accounts are almost uniformly trumpeting this event exactly as the FBI describes it. Loyalists of both parties are doing the same, with Democratic Party commentators proclaiming that this proves how great and effective Democrats are at stopping The Evil Terrorists, while right-wing polemicists point to this arrest as yet more proof that those menacing Muslims sure are violent and dangerous.

What’s missing from all of these celebrations is an iota of questioning or skepticism. All of the information about this episode — all of it — comes exclusively from an FBI affidavit filed in connection with a Criminal Complaint against Mohamud. As shocking and upsetting as this may be to some, FBI claims are sometimes one-sided, unreliable and even untrue, especially when such claims — as here — are uncorroborated and unexamined. That’s why we have what we call “trials” before assuming guilt or even before believing that we know what happened: because the government doesn’t always tell the complete truth, because they often skew reality, because things often look much different once the accused is permitted to present his own facts and subject the government’s claims to scrutiny. The FBI affidavit — as well as whatever its agents are whispering into the ears of reporters — contains only those facts the FBI chose to include, but omits the ones it chose to exclude. And even the “facts” that are included are merely assertions at this point and thus may not be facts at all.

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Anarchism without anarchism: searching for progressive politics

Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and now 80, demonstrates it’s never too late in life to start a blog. In his latest post, he says “I wanted to introduce a perspective about progressive politics, and citizen engagement, at a time of fallen hopes.”

Recent explorations of the anarchist heritage are to be welcomed, bringing to a contemporary intellectual audience the politically and morally inspiring thought of such major thinkers as Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, and more recently, Harold Laski and Paul Goodman. This rich tradition reminds us strongly of the relevance of anti-state traditions of reflection and advocacy, as well as the indispensable role of cooperation, non-violence, community, small-scale social organization, and local solutions for human material needs if the aspiration for a just and sustainable society is ever to be rescued from its utopian greenhouse. There is every reason to celebrate this anarchist perspective for its own sake, although in a critical and discriminating manner. Non-violent philosophical anarchism has a surprising resonance in relation to the ongoing difficult search for a coherent and mobilizing progressive politics in the aftermath of the virtual demise of Marxist/Gramsci theorizing, as well as even socialist thought and practice.

At the same time, it should be acknowledged that this anarchist tradition has accumulated a heavy public burden of discrediting baggage, which adds to the difficulty of relying upon it to engender a new progressive mobilization within the current global setting. An immediate barrier to the wider acceptance of philosophical anarchism as a tradition of thought is its strong identification with exclusively Western societal experience, despite the existence of some affinities with strains of late Maoist praxis, especially the distrust of bureaucracies and political parties. In contrast, Gandhi’s inspiration and influence is often explicitly or implicitly evident in some recent attempts to espouse nonviolent anarchist perspectives as, for instance, in the Green Revolution that has been ongoing in Iran since their contested presidential elections of June 2009. Even within the Western framework of political thought and action there are two formidable obstacles to reliance on anarchism as political posture resulting from widespread public confusion and media manipulation.

First, is the widely endorsed stereotype of the anarchist as a sociopathetic bomb thrower, an understanding given credible cultural currency by way of Dostoyevski’s great anti-terrorist novel, The Devils. In our post-9/11 world it is unrealistic for public opinion to separate this dominant image of the anarchist from its preoccupation with terrorists and terrorism. To refer to someone as an anarchist invokes a discrediting term that is generally accepted as such without any qualifications. At best, ‘anarchists’ are popularly depicted as those seeking to turn peaceful demonstrations into violent carnivals of anti-state behavior, radical activists with no serious policy agenda. The mainstream media blamed anarchist elements for the violent disruptions that took place during the infamous ‘battle of Seattle’ at the end of 1999, which was the first massive populist expression of radical resistance to neoliberal globalization. In certain respects, by playing the anarchist card, the media and pro-globalizing forces were able to divert attention from the expanding populist resistance to non-accountable, non-transparent, anti-democratic, and hegemonic institutional actors (World Bank, IMF, and WTO). Most of those participating in Seattle neither regarded themselves as anarchists nor wanted to be portrayed as marching in step behind the black banners of anarchist militancy. The self-proclaimed anarchists at Seattle were also sharply criticized as ignorant about and indifferent toward the substantive anti-globalization concerns that motivated most of the demonstrators.

Secondly, our ideas about international relations often associated with Hobbes to the effect that relations among states are characterized by the absence of government, and in realist thinking that emanates from this source, the irrelevance of law and ethics to the pursuit of order and security on a global level.

Continue reading.

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Maliki confirms US troops must leave Iraq by end of 2011

The Associated Press reports:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that an agreement requiring U.S. troops to leave by the end of 2011 will stand because Iraqi forces are capable of taking care of the country’s security.

The comments are his first on the subject since being tasked with forming a new government after nearly nine months of political deadlock, and some of his strongest to date on what is expected to be a key issue facing the next government.

“The security agreement with what it included of dates and commitments will remain valid, and I do not feel the need for the presence of any other international forces to help Iraqis control the security situation,” al-Maliki told reporters during his first news conference since getting the formal request on Thursday to form the new government.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the renewed influence of Muqtada al Sadr.

In recent months, Maliki’s government has freed hundreds of controversial members of the Shiite Muslim cleric’s Mahdi Army and handed security positions to veteran commanders of the militia, which was blamed for some of the most disturbing violence in the country’s civil war and insurgency against U.S. forces.

The Mahdi Army has also in effect seized control of cellblocks at one of Iraq’s largest detention facilities, Taji prison. Within months of the U.S. hand-over of the prison in March, Mahdi Army detainees were giving orders to guards who were either loyal to or intimidated by them, Iraqi and U.S. officials say.

It marks a remarkable return to prominence for Sadr, an Iranian-backed Shiite cleric who stunned his followers in September when he delivered pivotal parliamentary votes to Maliki that helped him stay in power.

Senior Sadr supporters are being brought into the Interior Ministry at high-level positions, according to Mahdi Army members and Iraqi officers. One Sadr commander who is being given the rank of brigadier general said he knew of 50 others who were being recruited for officers’ positions.

The group has secured political gains also. Last week, the Sadr camp won the deputy speaker position in parliament, defeating Maliki’s candidate, and is said to be vying for the post of deputy prime minister too.

The Sadr movement’s prominence may make it harder for the United States to wield its waning influence in Iraq, including securing an agreement allowing it to keep forces in Iraq after the end of 2011, when the last U.S. troops are scheduled to leave.

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Israel to build internment camp for African refugees

Al Jazeera reports that Israel’s cabinet has voted to create a detention center in the Negev desert to house thousands of illegal immigrants who arrive each year, mostly from Africa.

Israeli officials have not said how many migrants already in Israel would be sent to the facility, which is expected to be built at or near the site of a former prison camp for Palestinians.

“We aren’t jailing or distancing them,” [Eyal] Gabai [the director-general of Netanyahu’s office] said. “They can have a good time, eat and drink. Not everyone who arrives in Israel must be allowed to work here.”

“Coming up with an asylum and immigration policy may mean having to absorb tens of thousands of non-Jewish refugees, threatening the character of the Jewish state”

He said Israel was seeking to avoid “unreasonable action” such as deporting migrants, which could put their lives in danger.

“This is a huge issue here and one that is getting bigger month by month,” Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said.

“On one hand, [Israel] can’t be sending refugees and asylum seekers back because of their legal obligations under international conventions.

“On the other hand, coming up with an asylum and immigration policy may mean having to absorb tens of thousands of these non-Jewish refugees, threatening the Jewish character of the state.”

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North Korea’s military-first paradigm

In a presentation to the World Affairs Council in San Francisco earlier this year, BR Myers spoke about the way North Koreans think of themselves and how their image of their own racial purity shapes their view of the world.

While Kim Il-sung’s legitimacy had rested on two pillars: economic success and military strength, Kim Jong-il’s legitimacy as a leader rests exclusively on military strength.

This country really has nothing else with which to inspire its people with pride than shows of military or nuclear strength… North Korea has enshrined the military-first principle in the constitution. It has deleted the word communism from the constitution, as well. So this regime is looking at this military-first paradigm for the long haul, in other words.

It’s not really important [who the next leader is]… because whoever takes over is going to be faced with this same quandary really, which is: how do we go from being a military-first country, to say, a economy-first country without losing all reason to exist as a separate state. And this is why it is so unrealistic for us to expect them to trade military strength for a mere aid deal.

Let’s say we increased their standard of living by 20% over the next five years, which would be an awful lot, that would not help King Jong-il politically because North Korea would still be hopelessly behind South Korea in economic aspects, and therefore, North Korea would have no reason to exist as a separate Korean state. All that it has now, its only source of legitimacy, is the claim that it alone is standing up to the Yankee enemy — the race enemy.

So to people who are optimistic about the six-party talks or the bilateral talks or whichever talks are supposed to take place, I ask the question: where does North Korea go, if it disarms? What does it do with itself? How does it justify its existence? And none of the optimists with whom I’ve talked to has been able to give me an answer. And they may not consider this a big problem, but we can be pretty sure that Kim Jong-il realizes how big a problem it is, and this is why I am so pessimistic for the prospects for arms talks. Because you can talk a regime into doing a lot of things, but one thing you can’t make it do is commit political suicide. And this is where the left wing and the right wing and the center in America are all wrong about North Korea. The left wing is wrong because you cannot bribe or sweet talk a country into committing political suicide. The right wing is wrong because you can’t bully it into doing that either. The center is wrong for thinking that you can get the Chinese to persuade them to do it.

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How to talk to the Taliban

The intrepid Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, in his most recent series of reports from Afghanistan, describes his meeting with Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who spent three years from 2002 in Guantánamo and who, until July this year, was on the UN list of known terrorists.

Zaeef is now a prolific writer and speaks five languages fluently. According to many Taliban insiders, if there are any negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans they will go through him.

“The Americans came and sat here,” he said, pointing at one of the big sofas. “They said they needed to talk to the Taliban but couldn’t find them. They didn’t know who the Taliban were. I said go and look, they are everywhere, the Taliban have shadow governors and administrators, why don’t you go and talk to them?”

The real reason the Americans didn’t talk, he said, was that they had no respect for the Taliban.

“I told the Americans to respect their enemy. You can’t negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength, so why would the Taliban come and talk to you? If you want talks you have to treat the Taliban as equals.”

In any negotiation, the Taliban would assert that as long as their land was under occupation they would struggle to liberate it.

They would continue to fight until the foreigners left. Their argument was with the Americans, not the Afghan government. They did not want to bring down the government, they just wanted to renew it.

“The Taliban have no problem with the Afghan government. We have no problem with Karzai or the Afghans. The problem lies with the Americans,” he said.

“Why would we negotiate with Karzai if he has no say in running his government? They are under occupation and all orders come from foreigners.”

The Americans, he said, had not talked to any senior Taliban to his knowledge. However, “the government and the Taliban have been talking for two years on local matters, health-related issues, prisoner exchange, education.

“This is not a negotiation, this is a way to help and benefit our Afghan people and nation. Negotiations haven’t started yet.”

The Americans had a right to know that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for attacks against them, he said, but that was all.

“The Americans have one right only, and that is their right to be assured that Afghanistan will not be used against them and that is something the Taliban should give.

“Apart from that they have no rights, they have no right to tell us about democracy and human rights. That’s an Afghan issue and it will be decided by the Afghans.

“The Americans behave with arrogance and if they don’t want to be defeated in Afghanistan they should talk.

“They don’t belong here,” he said. “They are foreigners, outsiders.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian contradicts earlier reports which had claimed that British intelligence had been responsible for engaging an impostor negotiator.

Peace talks conducted with an impostor who posed as a Taliban leader, and which led to a meeting with Hamid Karzai in Kabul and thousands of dollars in “goodwill payments”, were started by the Afghan government and approved by the former American commander, Stanley McChrystal, the Guardian has learned.

This account sharply contradicts claims made by the Afghan presidency, which has put the entire blame on Britain, apparently supported privately by US officials.

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