Archives for August 2012

U.S. scales-back military exercise with Israel, affecting potential Iran strike

(Update below)

Time reports: Seven months ago, Israel and the United States postponed a massive joint military exercise that was originally set to go forward just as concerns were brimming that Israel would launch a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The exercise was rescheduled for late October, and appears likely to go forward on the cusp of the U.S. presidential election. But it won’t be nearly the same exercise. Well-placed sources in both countries have told TIME that Washington has greatly reduced the scale of U.S. participation, slashing by more than two-thirds the number of American troops going to Israel and reducing both the number and potency of missile interception systems at the core of the joint exercise.

“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’” a senior Israeli military official tells TIME.

The reductions are striking. Instead of the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops originally trumpeted for Austere Challenge 12, as the annual exercise is called, the Pentagon will send only 1,500 service members, and perhaps as few as 1,200. Patriot anti-missile systems will arrive in Israel as planned, but the crews to operate them will not. Instead of two Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense warships being dispatched to Israeli waters, the new plan is to send one, though even the remaining vessel is listed as a “maybe,” according to officials in both militaries.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to discuss specifics of the reduced deployment, noting that planning for the exercise was classified. But in an e-mailed statement, Commander Wendy L. Snyder emphasized that the Israeli military has been kept informed of the changes. “Throughout all the planning and coordination, we’ve been lock-step with the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and will continue to do so,” Snyder said.

U.S. commanders privately revealed the scaling back to their Israeli counterparts more than two months ago. The official explanation was budget restrictions. But the American retreat coincided with growing tensions between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations on Israel’s persistent threats to launch an airstrike on Iran. [Continue reading…]

Update — Laura Rozen reports: Late last year, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to cancel the exercise, which was originally scheduled to take place this past spring, defense sources previously told Al-Monitor. Panetta agreed to the request only if the exercise was rescheduled, not canceled entirely. So the Pentagon was deeply annoyed when Israeli officials left the false impression that the US was responsible for the war game being postponed. “It was Barak,” a US official told me.

Update: The Pentagon disputed the interpretation offered by Time for the scaled back exercise in a statement late Friday afternoon, noting Austere Challenge-12 will still represent “the largest ever ballistic missile defense exercise” between the United States and Israel.

“The exercise was originally scheduled for May, however at the request of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israeli Defense Forces, the exercise was moved to late Fall of this year,” Ltn. Col. Wesley P. Miller IV, a Defense Department spokesman, told journalists in a statement sent out late Friday afternoon, several hours after guidance had been sought on the Time report. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s justice department grants final immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers

Glenn Greenwald writes: The Obama administration‘s aggressive, full-scale whitewashing of the “war on terror” crimes committed by Bush officials is now complete. Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing without charges of the only two cases under investigation relating to the US torture program: one that resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison near Kabul, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen while in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. This decision, says the New York Times Friday, “eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA”.

To see what a farce this is, it is worthwhile briefly to review the timeline of how Obama officials acted to shield Bush torturers from all accountability. During his 2008 campaign for president, Obama repeatedly vowed that, while he opposed “partisan witch-hunts”, he would instruct his attorney general to “immediately review” the evidence of criminality in these torture programs because “nobody is above the law.” Yet, almost immediately after winning the 2008 election, Obama, before he was even inaugurated, made clear that he was opposed to any such investigations, citing what he called “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards”.

Throughout the first several months of his presidency, his top political aides, such as the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, publicly – and inappropriately – pressured the justice department to refrain from any criminal investigations. Over and over, they repeated the Orwellian mantra that such investigations were objectionable because “we must look forward, not backward”. As Gibbs put it in April 2009, when asked to explain Obama’s opposition, “the president is focused on looking forward. That’s why.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. will not ‘be complicit’ in a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran

The Guardian reports: An Israeli attack on Iran would delay but probably not stop its nuclear programme, the most senior US military officer has claimed. General Martin Dempsey reinforced Washington’s opposition to unilateral Israel military action as he made clear that US military chiefs were equally wary of getting ensnared in Syria.

In common with Nato’s supreme commander, US admiral James Stavridis, who wrote about Afghanistan for the Guardian on Thursday, Dempsey put a brave face on the situation there. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff was speaking to journalists in London, where he attended the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games as head of the US delegation.

Distancing himself from any Israeli plan to bomb Iran, Dempsey said such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programme”.

He added: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”

Dempsey said he did not know Iran’s nuclear intentions, as intelligence did not reveal intentions. What was clear, he said, was that the “international coalition” applying pressure on Iran “could be undone if [Iran] was attacked prematurely”. Sanctions against Iran were having an effect, and they should be given a reasonable opportunity to succeed.

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Pentagon may prosecute SEAL for revealing details on bin Laden assassination

The Associated Press reports: The Pentagon’s top lawyer has informed the former Navy SEAL who wrote a forthcoming book describing details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden that he violated agreements to not divulge military secrets and that as a result the Pentagon is considering taking legal action against him.

The general counsel of the Defense Department, Jeh Johnson, wrote in a letter transmitted Thursday to the author that he had signed two nondisclosure agreements with the Navy in 2007 that obliged him to “never divulge” classified information.

“This commitment remains in force even after you left the active duty Navy,” Johnson wrote. He said the author, Matt Bissonnette, left active duty “on or about April 20, 2012,” which was nearly one year after the May 2011 raid.

By signing the agreements, Bissonnette acknowledged his awareness, Johnson wrote, that “disclosure of classified information constitutes a violation of federal criminal law.” He said it also obliged the author to submit his manuscript for a security review by the government before it was published. The Pentagon has said the manuscript was not submitted for review, although it obtained a copy last week.

Johnson said that after reviewing a copy of the book, “No Easy Day,” the Pentagon concluded that the author is in “material breach and violation” of the agreements.

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Clint Eastwood’s message to the GOP white business convention: We own America. Time to fire the black guy.

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Video: U.S. presidential election minus foreign policy

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Turkey calls for Syria safe zones; France to send aid to ‘liberated zones’

The Associated Press reports: Turkey appealed to a reluctant U.N. Security Council Thursday for a safe haven for thousands of Syrians facing a “humanitarian disaster” as Britain and France said they would rule out no options — including a no-fly zone — to aid residents fleeing an escalating civil war.

But Turkish leaders held out little hope for the endorsement of a deeply divided council that has been paralyzed on taking action to stop the 18-month uprising that has killed more than 20,000 people.

“How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting?” asked Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “Let’s not forget that if we do not act against such a crime against humanity happening in front of our eyes, we become accomplices to the crime.”

Davutoglu, whose country is hosting more than 80,000 Syrian refugees, said he came to the council with hope that its members would take “long overdue steps” to help suffering people and establish camps inside Syria for those forced to flee their homes.

“Apparently, I was wrong about my expectations,” he told the council. “This meeting will not even end with a presidential or press statement, let alone a robust resolution.”

The path to the council’s agreement on a safe zone for Syrians is fraught with obstacles, headed by the reluctance of Russia and China, Syria’s most important allies. They have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council seeking to pressure President Bashar Assad’s government with the threat of sanctions.

Reuters reports: France plans to channel aid to rebel-held parts of Syria so that these “liberated zones” can administer themselves and staunch an outflow of refugees, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

He said France and Turkey had identified areas in the north and south that had escaped President Bashar al-Assad’s control, creating a chance for local communities to govern themselves without feeling they had to flee to neighboring countries.

“Maybe in these liberated zones Syrians who want to flee the regime will find refuge which in turn makes it less necessary to cross the border whether in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq,” Fabius said after a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday.

However, civilians in rebel-held parts of Syria have suffered frequent deadly air strikes from Assad’s forces.

It was not clear how Fabius’s promise to allocate much of its future 5 million euros ($6.25 million) aid for Syria to these areas would protect civilians and deter them from fleeing.

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Video: Did the non-alligned summit backfire on Iran?

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Syria: this may be the best chance to exit the quagmire

Wadah Khanfar writes: A crucial shift is now taking place in the Middle East towards the conflict in Syria. The Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s call for Arab-Iranian-Turkish dialogue over the crisis and a safe transfer of power in Syria – which he repeated in his speech to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran – has been well received in Turkey and Iran. All these countries have a powerful interest in making such a dialogue work, which makes the chances of success far greater than at any time previously.

The context is clear enough. The Syrian rebels have made major gains. The revolution moved to a new phase after the 18 July attack in Damascus, which took the lives of several top security officials, a huge morale boost to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It has since tried to secure a number of Syrian border crossings with Turkey and Iraq, and its fighters also established a military presence in Damascus and Aleppo, two cities which had been under the absolute control of the regime.

As for the regime, it has witnessed a collapse of morale, represented by a raft of major defections – the most important being that of the former prime minister and a number of military and security leaders. This has created considerable alarm within the Bashar al-Assad regime, provoking savage responses, as demonstrated by the unprecedented use of air power to bomb population centres. The outcome has been a startling rise in casualties and an unprecedented flow of refugees to neighbouring countries. Assad’s interview this week asking for more time to defeat the rebels suggests the bloodshed will get even worse.

Iran recognises now that it is just a matter of time before the Assad regime falls, and its realisation that unlimited support for him will be a disaster has led Tehran to search for an exit from this Syrian quagmire.

Syria represented the cornerstone of the so-called “axis of resistance”. The exit of Sunni Hamas from Damascus last year, following the regime’s crackdown, was a huge blow to this axis, exposing a sectarian divide. Most regional parties who now support the Alawite regime in Damascus are Shia, from Tehran to the Maliki regime in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This has alienated Iran from the Sunni majority in the region and worldwide, at a time when the US and Israel threaten a military strike against its nuclear facilities.

Hence the Egyptian initiative gave Iran an important opportunity which it seized immediately. The participation of Morsi in the non-aligned alliance in Tehran offers an important diplomatic opportunity for Iran. [Continue reading…]

A report in Al Ahram notes: On Syria, Morsi’s speech all but equated the Assad regime with the Israeli occupation of Palestine when he referred to “the struggle for freedom by the Palestinian and Syrian peoples.”

Furthermore, Morsi said the Assad regime “had lost all legitimacy” and it was not enough to show sympathy towards the Syrian people, but the time had come to act upon this sympathy.

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Israel and Iran’s contest in incompetence

Trita Parsi writes: Two weeks ago, Netanyahu launched a public campaign to persuade Ki-Moon not to go to Tehran. Attending the international summit in Tehran would be “a big mistake,” he told Ki-Moon. Later he issued a statement, telling the Secretary General that “you do not belong in Tehran.” A visit by the UN Secretary General would undermine the efforts to isolate Tehran, the Israeli cabinet figured.

And Washington agreed. At a time when Tehran’s isolation has increased significantly, a visit by the Secretary General could send the wrong signal.

Problem is, the likelihood of Ban Ki-Moon agreeing not attending the NAM meeting was minimal to begin with. NAM countries represent a majority of the world’s population and given the tradition of UN Secretary General’s attending such meetings, it was almost inevitable that Ki Moon would go. With this campaign, Bibi was jeopardizing his own standing in pursuit of an almost impossible goal.

But perhaps more importantly, Bibi’s folly in getting personally involved in the campaign to prevent Ki-Moon from going to Tehran presented the Iranian government with a PR coup. Bibi had significantly increased the importance and media interest in the NAM summit, and by Ki-Moon rejecting Netanyahu’s pressure and going to Tehran, the Iranian regime could declare victory and draw much more credit from the Secretary General’s visit than if Netanyahu had not bothered with summit in the first place.

But when it comes to self-inflected wounds, Netanyahu has his match in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While both Iran’s conflict with the West and the current nuclear quarrel precede Ahmadinejad’s emergence on the Iranian political scene, his reckless, venomous rhetoric—particularly against Israel—has made him politically toxic and lent significant support to Israel’s efforts to isolate Iran. Had it not been for Ahmadinejad’s never-ending ability to insult, it is not clear if the current international consensus against Iran could have formed. No wonder Israeli diplomats in the US expressed their desire for Ahmadinejad to be re-elected in 2009. [Continue reading…]

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Iran said to send troops to bolster Syria

The Wall Street Journal Reports: Iran is sending commanders from its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and hundreds of foot soldiers to Syria, according to current and former members of the corps.

The personnel moves come on top of what these people say are Tehran’s stepped-up efforts to aid the military of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with cash and arms. That would indicate that regional capitals are being drawn deeper into Syria’s conflict—and undergird a growing perception among Mr. Assad’s opponents that the regime’s military is increasingly strained.

A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, appeared to offer Iran’s first open acknowledgment of its military involvement in Syria.

“Today we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military one in Syria and a cultural one as well,” Gen. Salar Abnoush, commander of IRGC’s Saheb al-Amr unit, told volunteer trainees in a speech Monday. The comments, reported by the Daneshjoo news agency, which is run by regime-aligned students, couldn’t be independently verified. Top Iranian officials had previously said the country isn’t involved in the conflict.

Iran has long trained members of the Syrian security apparatus in cybersecurity and spying on dissidents, U.S. officials and Syrian opposition members have said. The decision to send Iranian personnel comes after rebel attacks this summer in Syria’s biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, in particular an explosion in July that killed four members of Mr. Assad’s inner circle, according to the people familiar with the IRGC.

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French probe deepens confusion over Arafat death

The Associated Press reports: A French murder probe into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat prompted an Israeli denial of responsibility on Wednesday and renewed doubts that Palestinians would stick to a halfhearted pledge to exhume Arafat’s body.

Arafat’s death eight years ago in a French hospital has remained a long-running mystery for many, driven by murky but persistent conspiracy theories that he had cancer, AIDS or was poisoned.

His successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reluctantly agreed to exhume the former leader’s remains for an autopsy this summer after new evidence prompted Arafat’s widow to seek a criminal investigation. Any finding of wrongdoing would be an embarrassment to Palestinians, who were most in contact with Arafat before he fell ill.

Officials say Abbas went forward under public pressure, despite hesitation about the public spectacle of digging up the body from the massive mausoleum outside Palestinian headquarters in the West Bank. But the autopsy has been on hold while authorities seek Suha Arafat’s approval.

Arafat, who was 75, died at a French military hospital in November 2004, two weeks after he was rushed there from his West Bank headquarters with a mysterious illness. He died of a stroke, but the underlying reasons for his condition have been constantly debated.

The theory that he was poisoned by Israelis —a charge the Israelis vociferously deny — has been popular in the Arab world. The idea gained steam in July after a Swiss lab found traces of Polonium-210, a rare and lethal radioactive isotope, on Arafat’s clothing.

“Israel did not have any hand in this,” Dov Weisglass, a senior Israeli official at the time of Arafat’s death, said in a radio interview Wednesday, even while calling Arafat “one of Israel’s worst enemies.”

Suha Arafat, who is a French citizen, asked for an investigation after the new findings; a French court announced the probe this week. She declined to comment on details of the case when reached Wednesday at her home in Malta, saying only “It’s in the hands of the judiciary.”

The office of her lawyer, Pierre Olivier Sur, said Suha Arafat wants the probe to be completely independent, though it said it did not see how any inquiry could proceed without an exhumation and autopsy.

The lab that discovered the polonium and which is expected to conduct the autopsy, the Institute of Radiation Physics, confirmed that the autopsy plans are now on hold.

“We are ready to move and can therefore respond quickly to the confirmed invitation of the Palestinian National Authority,” said spokesman Darcy Christen. “Mrs. Arafat wishes, however, that any act of investigation is done in collaboration with the French courts. However, the French procedure has just begun.”

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Daraya: the defiance that led to the massacre of hundreds near Damascus

Phil Sands reports: For a rather non-descript town of drab cement block buildings on the southern outskirts of Damascus, Daraya in two short months acquired a significance far exceeding its size or the apparent ordinariness of its neighbourhoods.

Until the start of last week’s all-out assault by regime loyalists, which culminated with the alleged massacre of at least 300 people, the community took up the task of governing themselves – a highly emblematic piece of defiance against a regime that has long warned chaos and Islamic extremism would engulf areas outside of its strict control.

Rather than sliding into anarchy after security forces withdrew entirely from the town this summer, Daraya had instead been run with a certain quiet efficiency by opposition activists and volunteers drawn from the town’s 200,000 or so population.

There was no state police in the area, but traffic flowed freely and residents reported little crime. Modest rebuilding projects to repair damage from previous army operations had been carried out, paid for by local donations.

Stores and wood workshops were open, an independent community newspaper was being published and volunteer street cleaners swept and washed down roads. People even queued politely at the local petrol station.

With no security forces on hand to make arrests, activists would stand at major intersections and hand out leaflets designed to educate residents on the key principles of the revolution, as drawn up by committees of local men and women.

The leaflets said there must be equality between all religious and ethnic groups in the new Syria and stressed the importance of ensuring justice and rejecting revenge in dealing with regime officials. They also spelt out that with new freedoms would come enormous responsibilities and duties for every citizen, including caring for the environment and conserving scarce water resources.

Daraya was one of a growing number of places living on the fraying edge of central authority in Syria, but its slide out of the government’s grasp was made all the more remarkable by its proximity to the very centre of power.

Rather than being some outlying village far from Damascus, the town is little more than 5 kilometres away from the capital’s upmarket Mezze embassy district.

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) sought to keep a low profile in the area. It did not set up checkpoints, fearing it would only bring about a quick, violent response from regime forces. Still, it grew in strength, boasting hundreds of fighters and according to one local activist, perhaps up to 3,000.

That force had proven capable of pushing out police and more lightly armed regime security units earlier this year. Afterwards, the Daraya police station lay ransacked and abandoned, the municipal offices shut.

Without government security forces present in Daraya, the town was poised to become a key staging ground for a renewed assault on Damascus by rebel groups after their attempt last month was beaten down.

Free to move inside Daraya’s urban centre and through the farmland at its edges – Daraya was once famed for its grapes – the insurgents established ties with the residents of the densely populated, working class sprawl that forms southern Damascus and reaches in to the very heart of the capital. [Continue reading…]

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The perfect crime: Is Wiper malware connected to Stuxnet, Duqu?

Ars Technica reports: Mysterious malware that reportedly attacked Iran’s oil ministry in April shared a file-naming convention almost identical to those used by the state-sponsored Stuxnet and Duqu operations, an indication it may have been related, security researchers said.

The highly destructive malware known as Wiper has never been recovered, but its devastating effects are confirmed in a report published on Wednesday from researchers at Russia-based antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab. It struck as early as last December and used an advanced algorithm to permanently purge large portions of hard drives from computers it infected. Because it struck the same geographic region targeted by Stuxnet, researchers have spent months searching for evidence that links Wiper to the operation, which reportedly was sponsored by the US and Israeli militaries to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.

Researchers have also looked for links between Wiper and the malware titles dubbed Flame, Duqu, and Gauss, which more recently were found to be spawned by the same software developers as Stuxnet. Flame was discovered by Kaspersky researchers only after they were asked by the International Telecommunications Union to look into incidents involving Wiper. During the course of the investigation, they soon zeroed in on Flame. They’re only now returning their attention to the original probe. [Continue reading…]

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One man’s targeted strike is another man’s state-sanctioned murder

Rosa Brooks writes: In 1999, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, both colonels in China’s People’s Liberation Army, published a slender book called Unrestricted Warfare. The two officers predicted that technological innovations and globalization would change warfare almost beyond recognition. In a world of cyberattacks, asymmetric warfare, and transnational terrorism, they wrote, “the three indispensable ‘hardware’ elements of any war … soldiers, weapons and a battlefield … have changed so that it is impossible to get a firm grip on them.… [I]s the war god’s face still distinct?”

Qiao and Wang published Unrestricted Warfare two years before the 9/11 attacks, and their description of likely changes in warfare was strikingly prescient. In previous columns, I’ve described some ways these changes challenge our most basic ideas of what a military is, does, and should do, and suggested that failing to fully confront those changes and challenges is a surefire way to end up with a national security strategy that’s both incoherent and inefficient.

It’s also a surefire way to damage the rule of law.

A lot of ink has been spilled defining the rule of law (some of it by me), but at root it’s pretty simple. The rule of law requires that governments follow transparent, universally applicable, and clearly defined laws and procedures. The goal is to prevent the arbitrary exercise of power. When you’ve got the rule of law, the government can’t fine you, lock you up, or kill you on a whim — it can only do that in accordance with pre-established rules that reflect basic notions of humanity and fairness.

When you don’t have the rule of law, life can get unpleasant. Qiao and Wang, for instance, come from a country where the rule of law is only partially realized, and arbitrary detention and executions without due process remain common. Or consider the grievances enumerated in the American Declaration of Independence: Britain’s King George III, the colonists complained, deprived them of “the benefits of Trial by Jury,” refused “his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers,” transported prisoners “beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences,” and “affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

Bad stuff! Americans fought a long and bloody war over it.

Today, however, the very same changes that challenge our long-held assumptions about the military also challenge the rule of law America once fought so hard to establish both domestically and globally. (The United States was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations and the various international human rights treaties and institutions.) For when the idea of “war” loses definition — when the war god’s face grows indistinct — we lose any principled basis for deciding when the law of war applies, and when it doesn’t. [Continue reading…]

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America in an era of enemy deprivation syndrome

In a speech in Washington DC yesterday, Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.), said: The United States remains the world’s only superpower but the diffusion of wealth and power to regions beyond the North Atlantic has greatly reduced our military’s ability to shape trends and events around the world. China, in particular, is emerging as an immovable military object, if not yet an irresistible military force. Our political influence, economic clout, and self-confidence are not what they used to be. The “sequester” and the political dysfunction that led us to it promise to weaken us still more. Major adjustments in U.S. policies and diplomacy are overdue.

Global governance was once mainly a vector of the struggle between the two superpowers and the blocs they led. After Moscow defaulted on the Cold War and dropped out of the contest for worldwide dominance, Americans briefly imagined that our matchless economic strength and unchallengeable military supremacy would enable us unilaterally to shape the world to our advantage. In the first decade of this century, however, the wizards of Wall Street brought down the global economy even as they discredited the so-called “Washington consensus” and emasculated the once-robust image of American capitalism.

Meanwhile, much of the world was disappointed by the lack of U.S. leadership on other issues ranging from climate change to peace in the Middle East. People everywhere looked hopefully to worldwide institutions, like the United Nations, the G-20, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. None of them proved up to the job. Responsibility for the regulation of the planetary political economy began to devolve to its regions, if only by default.

The globally coherent worldwide order that American power configured itself to enforce after the Cold War is clearly morphing into something new. We can see the outlines of the new order even if we cannot yet make out its details and don’t know what to call it. The “post-Cold War era” is long past. The “American Century” ended eleven years ago, on 9/11. We are exiting the “age of antiterrorism.” We are uncertain against whom we should deploy our incomparable military might or to what international purposes we should bend ourselves.

Call it what you will. This is an era of enemy deprivation syndrome. There is no overarching contest to define our worldview. The international system is once again governed by multiple contentions and shifting strategic geometries. In such a world, diplomatic agility is as important as constancy of commitment – or more so.

Before the Cold War, the United States twice fought in coalition with Britain, France, Australia, Canada, and a few other countries, but we had no permanent alliances. The Soviet threat and the need to deal with the instabilities that attended the end of European empires in Asia and Africa led Americans to reverse our traditional aversion to foreign entanglements and to embrace them with a vengeance. The United States ultimately extended formal protection to about a fourth of the world’s countries and informal protection to nearly another fourth. In our usage, the word “ally” lost its original sense of “accomplice” and came to mean “protectorate,” not partner.

There have been huge changes in the global security environment since the collapse of our Soviet enemy. But, there have been no adjustments at all in our alliance and defense commitments to foreign nations – other than their enlargement. The alliance structure we built in the Cold War has long outlived the foe it was created to counter. Remarkably, however, the preservation of our prestige at the head of that alliance structure seems to have become the principal objective of our foreign policy. Carrying on with approaches that address long-disappeared realities rather than adjusting to new circumstances is patently dysfunctional behavior. It represents the triumph of complacency and inertia over reason, statesmanship, and strategy. [Continue reading…]

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Why the super-rich threaten America

Mike Lofgren writes: It was 1993, during congressional debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement. I was having lunch with a staffer for one of the rare Republican congressmen who opposed the policy of so-called free trade. To this day, I remember something my colleague said: “The rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens.”

That was only the beginning of the period when the realities of outsourced manufacturing, financialization of the economy, and growing income disparity started to seep into the public consciousness, so at the time it seemed like a striking and novel statement.

At the end of the Cold War many writers predicted the decline of the traditional nation-state. Some looked at the demise of the Soviet Union and foresaw the territorial state breaking up into statelets of different ethnic, religious, or economic compositions. This happened in the Balkans, the former Czechoslovakia, and Sudan. Others predicted a weakening of the state due to the rise of Fourth Generation warfare and the inability of national armies to adapt to it. The quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan lend credence to that theory. There have been numerous books about globalization and how it would eliminate borders. But I am unaware of a well-developed theory from that time about how the super-rich and the corporations they run would secede from the nation state.

I do not mean secession by physical withdrawal from the territory of the state, although that happens from time to time—for example, Erik Prince, who was born into a fortune, is related to the even bigger Amway fortune, and made yet another fortune as CEO of the mercenary-for-hire firm Blackwater, moved his company (renamed Xe) to the United Arab Emirates in 2011. What I mean by secession is a withdrawal into enclaves, an internal immigration, whereby the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot.

Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare? [Continue reading…]

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California state opponents of free speech try to outlaw criticism of Israel on college campuses

The Associated Press reports: An Assembly resolution urging California colleges and universities to squelch nascent anti-Semitism also encouraged educators to crack down on demonstrations against Israel, angering advocates for Muslim students.

With no debate, lawmakers on Tuesday approved a resolution that encourages university leaders to combat a wide array of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel actions.

“California schools need to recognize that anti-Semitism is still a very real issue on college campuses around the state — it did not disappear with the end of World War II,” said Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, the resolution’s author.

Most of the incidents of anti-Semitism the resolution cited are related to the Israel-Palestine debate. These include instances of protesters comparing Israeli police to Nazis and urging support for Hamas.

The resolution, which is purely symbolic and does not carry policy implications, also condemns the suggestion that Israel is a “racist” state and that Jews “wield excessive power over American foreign policy.” The resolution characterizes the student campaign to pressure the University of California system to divest from Israel as anti-Semitic, and applauds university leaders’ refusal to consider it.

The Council on American Islamic Relations said the resolution went too far and constituted an attack on students’ right to free expression.

“To be clear, genuine acts of anti-Semitism should be condemned, but this resolution goes far beyond that,” said Rachel Roberts, a spokeswoman for the group. “By characterizing pro-Palestinian speech as anti-Jewish, the Legislature sidelines those Muslim students and progressive Jewish students who often organize together to raise awareness about the Middle East.”

Roberts said the council was disappointed that the resolution was drafted and passed while California colleges were out of session.

Pro-Palestinian protests have become a regular occurrence on many University of California campuses. Students sometimes use sensational tactics including simulating checkpoints and combining swastikas with the Star of David.

In 2010, 10 Muslim students were convicted of misdemeanors for repeatedly interrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine, where students were suspected of painting swastikas in university buildings.

The Assembly’s actions also drew criticism from free speech advocates. Carlos Villarreal, director of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, called the resolution irresponsible and dangerous because it combines legitimate condemnations of acts of intimidation and hate with specific objections to tactics used to support the Palestinian people.

“In doing so, it can be seen as having no other purpose than to demonize all those who criticize the nation-state of Israel or support the rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.

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