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White House comes to Bolton's defense
By Paul Richter and Mary Curtius, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2005

... a former subordinate of Bolton's offered to provide information to the committee about the way she said that Bolton treated her in the early 1980s, when they both worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Lynne D. Finney said Bolton had bullied her and tried to have her fired when they clashed over U.S. policy on the distribution of infant formula in developing countries -- an issue that was then highly visible and politically charged.

Finney said she was working as a USAID attorney and had developed relationships with foreign officials at the United Nations. She said that in late 1982 or early 1983, Bolton called her into his office and told her to use her influence to persuade the United Nations to ease a policy that restricted the marketing and promotion of infant formula in developing countries.

Finney objected, saying that she could not, in good conscience, push for such changes, because she believed that the improper use of formula in poor countries was jeopardizing the health of babies.

"He shouted that Nestle was an important company and that he was giving me a direct order from President Reagan," she wrote in the letter. "He yelled that if I didn't obey him he would fire me."

When she persisted, Finney said, "he yelled that I was fired."

Later Bolton learned that under a federal rule, he could not fire an employee for refusing an order that violated his or her conscience, she said.

Furious, he moved her desk from the General Counsel's office on the top floor of the State Department building in Washington "to a shabby windowless office in the basement, in order to force me to leave," she wrote.

"I find Mr. Bolton's lack of concern for the deaths of thousands of babies repugnant to basic morality and human decency," she said in her letter to Boxer. [complete article]

Delay in Bolton vote concerns White House
By John F. Harris and Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 23, 2005

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has set a vote on John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations for May 12 -- a delay that Bush administration officials acknowledged yesterday is increasing their anxieties about Bolton's prospects.

The fear, Bolton's backers said privately, is twofold. The new date will give opponents nearly three weeks to fan public reaction against him and to raise new questions about his conservative policy views and alleged bullying management style.

In addition, reports this week that former secretary of state Colin L. Powell told Republican senators his reservations about his former State Department subordinate's suitability for the post could alter the political dynamics of the Bolton battle. What had been a largely partisan quarrel could turn into a broader debate about whether Bolton's detractors have a reasonable case, a Bush administration official said. [complete article]

Another GOP senator hesitates on Bolton
MSNBC, April 22, 2005

President Bush's nomination of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was put in further peril Friday when a fourth Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed concern about him and a former Bush ambassador called his behavior "undiplomatic."

A spokeswoman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the senator felt the committee "did the right thing delaying the vote on Bolton in light of the recent information presented to the committee."

Asked if Bolton had Murkowski's support, spokeswoman Kristin Pugh said, "I can't speculate on how she would vote." [complete article]

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Kurds' leaders said to attempt to block Shiite
By Robert F. Worth and Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, April 23, 2005

Some leading Kurdish political figures are trying to stall the formation of a new Iraqi government in an effort to force out Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shiite chosen two weeks ago as prime minister, Iraqi and Western officials said.

Such an effort could further delay forming a government at a sensitive time. The past week has seen a sharp increase in insurgent violence, including the downing Thursday of a commercial helicopter that left 11 people dead. One of the victims was apparently executed by the attackers.

American officials say the continuing failure to form a new government - almost three months after elections - could be contributing to the resurgent violence.

The political momentum generated by the elections has "worn off a bit," an American official here said Friday, and that "has given the insurgents new hope. The best thing to undermine the insurgency is to maintain momentum on the political process."

A spokesman for the Kurdish alliance denied Friday evening that there was any effort to unseat Dr. Jaafari. But Kurdish leaders have never been comfortable with religious figures like Dr. Jaafari, the leader of one of Iraq's best-known Shiite religious parties. Any successful campaign against him could derail the pact between the Shiite and Kurdish alliances that emerged two months ago, opening the possibility of a new alignment that would favor more secular figures like the departing prime minister, Ayad Allawi. [complete article]

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The neocon revolution and American militarism
By Andrew J. Bacevich, TomDispatch, April 22, 2005

In our own time -- and especially since the ascendancy of George W. Bush to the presidency -- "neoconservative" has become a term of opprobrium, frequently accompanied by ad hominem attacks and charges of arrogance and hubris. But the heat generated by the term also stands as a backhanded tribute, an acknowledgment that the neoconservative impact has been substantial. It is today too soon to offer a comprehensive assessment of that impact. The discussion of neoconservatism offered here has a more modest objective, namely, to suggest that one aspect of the neoconservative legacy has been to foster the intellectual climate necessary for the emergence of the new American militarism.

As a practical matter, the task of reinventing neoconservatism for a post-Communist world -- and of spelling out an "imperial self-definition" of American purpose -- fell to a new generation. To promote that effort, leading members of that new generation created their own institutions. [complete article]

Andrew J. Bacevich's new book, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War, is available here.

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Top Army officers are cleared in abuse cases
By Josh White, Washington Post, April 23, 2005

An Army inspector general's report has cleared senior Army officers of wrongdoing in the abuse of military prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere, government officials familiar with the findings said yesterday.

The only Army general officer recommended for punishment for the failures that led to abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan is Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, who was in charge of U.S. prison facilities in Iraq as commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade in late 2003 and early 2004. Several sources said Karpinski is expected to receive an administrative reprimand for dereliction of duty.

Karpinski, who has said she would fight such a charge, did not return calls yesterday. Her attorney, Neal A. Puckett, has not seen the report but said other general officers share responsibility for shortfalls. "I don't think it's fair, and it continues to make her the scapegoat for this entire situation, which has been her feeling all along," Puckett said. [complete article]

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Questions linger on Moussaoui's role in 9/11
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, April 23, 2005

"If we thought by the end of the day we would find the holy grail as to exactly what the genesis of 9/11 was and what Moussaoui's role in it was, we have been sorely disappointed," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert who heads the Washington office of the Rand Corp. "This contradiction in his behavior raises more questions than it answers. The book still isn't closed on 9/11, I'm afraid."

The fact that Moussaoui's denial of involvement in Sept. 11 came during one of his now-familiar outbursts in federal court also served as a reminder of the significant difficulties the Justice Department faces in prosecuting complex terrorism cases. It remains uncertain whether the sentencing phase of the case will go any smoother, or whether it will divulge much new information about the plot.

"This is a resolution in some way, but in terms of answering the question of who in fact was Moussaoui and how big was the al Qaeda conspiracy, that is still up in the air," said Juliette Kayyem, head of the national security program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration. "The case has been a disaster from the beginning . . . and there's just no proof that the circus is going to end." [complete article]

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Powell playing quiet role in Bolton battle
By Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 22, 2005

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell is emerging as a behind-the-scenes player in the battle over John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, privately telling at least two key Republican lawmakers that Bolton is a smart but very problematic government official, according to Republican sources.

Powell spoke in recent days with Sens. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), two of three GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who have raised concerns about Bolton's confirmation, the sources said. Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

"General Powell has returned calls from senators who wanted to discuss specific questions that have been raised," said Margaret Cifrino, a Powell spokeswoman. "He has not reached out to senators," and considers the discussions private. [complete article]

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Democrat requests probe of changes in terrorism report
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, April 21, 2005

A senior Democratic lawmaker on Thursday asked the State Department inspector general to investigate a decision to replace a 19-year-old annual terrorism report with one stripped of statistics that show an upsurge in major terrorist attacks in 2004.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's decision "denies the public access to important information about the incidence of terrorism," charged Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in a letter to State Department Inspector General Cameron R. Hume.

Waxman, the senior Democratic member of the House Committee on Government Reform, noted that the Pentagon last week touted statistics that it claimed showed a drop in terrorist attacks in Iraq since the Jan. 30 elections for an interim national assembly. [complete article]

It's terror when we say so
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 23, 2005

The Bush administration's iron-clad spin is that it is winning the "war on terror". Then comes a problem: the recently created (by a George W Bush executive order) National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) states there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985. So what does the State Department do? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice orders the "sanitation" of this year's version of "Patterns of Global Terrorism", a report regularly issued by the State Department.

The NCTC was created on a recommendation by the 9-11 Commission. Now it has the responsibility of analyzing and integrating all US intelligence on terrorism. By law, Congress and the Senate must receive "Patterns of Global Terrorism" by April 30 every year, detailing what Washington considers terrorism activity country by country. This year, there will be not be a complete "Patterns of Global Terrorism", but a simple report without any data. The NCTC will be in charge of the details. According to US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, this data will be released, but no date has been set.

It would be naive to assume that Rice's decision on the report was disclosed by US mainstream media. Once again the information had to be found on the Internet, through Larry C Johnson, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst writing for the online journal The Counterterrorism Blog. [complete article]

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Vital nuclear parts missing
By Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2005

Critical components and specialized tools destined for Libya's nuclear weapons program disappeared before arrival in 2003 and international investigators now suspect that they were diverted to another country, according to court records and investigators.

Efforts to find the missing equipment have led to dead ends, raising what investigators said was the strong likelihood that the sophisticated material was sold to an unidentified customer by members of the international smuggling ring that had been supplying nuclear technology and weapons designs to Libya.

The equipment -- components for advanced centrifuges, along with material and precision tools to manufacture more of them -- does not constitute an immediate threat, but nuclear experts said it would cut years off an effort to enrich uranium for an atomic bomb. [complete article]

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Iraq crash survivor shot dead on video
By Thomas Wagner, AP (via Seattle Times), April 22, 2005

He lived through a missile attack and helicopter crash that killed 10 others on board, including six American bodyguards for U.S. diplomats in Iraq. But the attackers soon found the survivor, sprawled on his back in tall grass near the crash site. Within moments, he too was dead.

Insurgents had brought down the Russian-made helicopter yesterday during a commercial flight from Baghdad to Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein 100 miles north of the Iraqi capital. The chartered flight was believed to be the first civilian aircraft shot down in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago.

An Internet statement by a group identifying itself as the Islamic Army in Iraq was accompanied by a video that showed the repeated shooting of the man after he was forced to stand up and walk. The video showed burning wreckage just before the shooting. [complete article]

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Iraqi leaders may recruit ex-Saddam agents
By Katherine Shrader, AP (via Yahoo), April 22, 2005

Iraqi leaders trying to rebuild the country's government are struggling over whether to enlist some of Iraq's most experienced intelligence operatives.

The problem is that the officers' training comes from working at the fear-inspiring agencies once run by Saddam Hussein's ruling party.

Factions involved in the painstaking process of building the democratic government are voicing their reluctance to let former members of the Baath Party into the fledgling intelligence and security services.

"There is a fear among some Iraqis that I talk to that ex-Baathists are burrowing into these organizations with the express purpose of waiting for the opportune moment, such as when the U.S. leaves, to use these security organizations to make a big move," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert with the Congressional Research Service, which provides analysis to lawmakers.

He said he believes the fears are well founded. [complete article]

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Many corpses, but few details
By Raheem Salman and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2005

The young woman clad head-to-toe in black glanced through dozens of police mug shots of slain victims Thursday looking for signs of her husband, missing now for six days.

"We do not know what happened to him," said the woman, Fatima Radi, 28. "He is the father of two children."

Like others, she had come to a police station here where local authorities were trying to determine the identity of corpses found nearby in the Tigris River in recent weeks, a discovery that has elevated sectarian tensions and shaken the new Iraqi government even before it has finished forming.

Ferreting fact from rumor is never easy in the incendiary climate of contemporary Iraq, where political leaders on all sides have endeavored to use gruesome events for partisan advantage. [complete article]

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Iraq's rising industry: domestic kidnapping
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 2005

Abu Mohammed was chatting with a friend in an auto repair shop in Salman Pak two months ago when masked gunmen surrounded him and stuffed his 260-pound frame in their trunk and sped away.

He spent the next 10 days locked in a bathroom with a hood over his head, marking the passage of time by listening to his captors' prayers.

A wealthy businessman who traveled daily from Baghdad to Salman Pak for more than 20 years, Mr. Mohammed survived after paying $60,000 to the kidnappers that he says were extremist Sunnis. "When I asked for a cigarette they said 'why do you want a cigarette?' It's haram," he says, using the Arabic word for something forbidden by Islam.

Mohammed and local residents say a raft of insurgents have flooded the Salman Pak area, located about 18 miles south of Baghdad and inside the Sunni stronghold known as the "Triangle of Death," since January, just over a month after the US Marine siege on Fallujah sent insurgents scattering to find new havens. In Salman Pak the result is a spate of violence and kidnappings that are stoking ethnic tensions. [complete article]

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Sharon vows to defy Bush over expansion of Israeli settlements
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, April 22, 2005

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, vowed to continue expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank despite his admitted differences with President George Bush on the issue.

In his most uncompromising comments yet on the settler question, Mr Sharon depicted the planned withdrawal from Gaza as the only way of preserving the largest settlement blocks on the Palestinian side of the pre-1967 border with Israel. "I am doing everything I can to preserve as much [of the West Bank settlements] as I can," he said.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, which will be published in full today, Mr Sharon acknowledged that the US and Israel did not, in the paper's words, "necessarily see eye to eye" on settlement expansion. [complete article]

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Territories sealed as most settlers say set for Gaza exit
AFP (via Yahoo), April 22, 2005

Israel stepped up security measures ahead of the Jewish Passover festival, sealing off the Palestinian territories, as an opinion poll shows that most settlers will not oppose the Gaza pullout.

The entire West Bank was closed off until Sunday in a bid to avert the threat of attacks during Israel's most popular holiday, which begins Saturday, with extra police deployed at markets and synagogues. [complete article]

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If the settlers want to stay, let them
By Yossi Alpher, Daily Star, April 22, 2005

The only recorded instance of Israeli settler leaders and Palestinian leaders discussing the possibility of settlers remaining on Palestinian territory after an Israeli withdrawal took place 10 years ago in talks I organized in Jerusalem. The discussion of the issue is recorded in a Hebrew-language book I published four years ago titled "And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf: The Settlers and the Palestinians." Some of the statements made then have only now become truly relevant.

Hassan Asfour, the chief Palestinian negotiator at the time, remarked: "We want a democratic country. The presence of Jews will help us ensure democracy, and will also enable us to serve as a bridge between Israel and the Arab world. As for the settlements per se, they are a consequence of occupation.

Where their location doesn't constitute a problem for us, we'll consider the possibility of leaving them in place. But not before a Palestinian state comes into being in Gaza and the West Bank ... [A] settler can remain ... as an individual ..." [complete article]

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Hopes dim as Palestinian president struggles to maintain control
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, April 20, 2005

To many Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas is an invisible president.

Some say they know their media-shy leader's in town only when his motorcade whizzes past en route to the presidential compound. His high-profile foreign trips have tapered off, as have his news conferences.

Young Palestinians, who'd hoped that Abbas' victory in the Jan. 9 presidential election would infuse new blood into his Fatah political faction, rarely talk about him these days. During a pre-election rally on Saturday at Al Quds Open University in Ramallah, students hung posters of his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, not of Abbas, whom Palestinians call Abu Mazen.

"He will never be a president like Arafat used to be," said Mohammed Abu Mishrif, 26, a senior majoring in management who heads the university's Fatah Youth League. "Abu Mazen is only walking in the shadow of Arafat." [complete article]

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Koizumi apologizes for past, to meet Hu on Sat
By George Nishiyama and Benjamin Kang Lim, Reuters, April 22, 2005

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized on Friday for Japan's wartime atrocities and said he would meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in a bid to repair ties that are at their worst in over three decades.

Koizumi, speaking after making the apology in front of world leaders at a multilateral forum, said he would meet Hu on Saturday on the sidelines of the Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta. [complete article]

Sorry from Japan PM not enough for many in China
Reuters, April 22, 2005

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's apology on Friday for the wartime suffering Japan inflicted may have unlocked the door to talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, but to many Chinese it's still not enough. [complete article]

Japan's unfinished business in China
By George Zhibin Gu, Asia Times, April 23, 2005

Japan Inc has been the third-most important investor in China, after "Overseas Chinese Inc" and "US Inc". By 2004, Japan had invested US$66.6 billion in equity into China. Japanese banks are leading international lenders to China. In addition, the booming Chinese economy has become an engine for Japan's economic recovery. Of late, 50% or more of the total increase in Japanese exports has been attributable to China.

Japan Inc's investments in mainland China have come in three waves. The first wave, which really only tested the water, came in the 1980s. Japanese investors of that period felt that Chinese lacked sufficient buying power to make the investments worthwhile. In 1993-95, as Chinese growth began to accelerate, the second wave arrived. Still, however, Japanese investments remained limited in scope and reach. China was treated as a factory, not a market. Goods made in China by Japanese manufacturers were largely sent to overseas markets. But by the late 1990s, seemingly all of Japan Inc rushed in - the third wave. By 2005, not only giant Japanese multinationals, but also countless small and medium-size firms had arrived. Shanghai alone has more than 40,000 Japanese residents. Japanese schools are operating in major cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai. In 2004, the number of people traveling between the two nations reached 4.35 million, a new record. [complete article]

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Saudi democratic experiment ends on a flat note
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 2005

As Saudis watched the winds of free speech and democracy gust through Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt in recent months, the first elections here in 60 years ended Thursday with barely a stir.

Small numbers of Saudi men turned out to cast their ballots Thursday in the third and final elections for 179 municipal councils nationwide. Women were not allowed to participate in this cautious experiment in political reform by the world's largest oil exporter.

Apart from minority Shiites in the Eastern Province, and Islamist supporters of popular conservative clerics, the majority of the country's eligible voters showed little interest in the elections that began in February and were carried out in stages. [complete article]

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Lincoln Chafee is now doing the right thing: Going to wage a full force investigation of Bolton
By Steven C. Clemons, Washington Note, April 21, 2005

I spoke with Senator Chafee's Chief Spokesman, Steve Hourahan, yesterday and was very pleased with the discussion. I think Senator Chafee is now moving from the 'passive' and 'reactive' in this matter on John Bolton -- to 'proactive' and 'aggressive' in trying to get to the truth about the many allegations about Bolton.

Hourahan said that yesterday morning, Wednesday, Chafee met with staff and said that he planned to get actively involved in pursuing the totality of questions and evidence on John Bolton. Hourahan stated that the Senator and his staff would now become aggressively involved in the investigation.

Hourahan stated "Senator Chafee intends to get out in front of this -- to see where the evidence on Mr. Bolton takes us. It will either remove the cloud over the nomination, or the evidence and investigation will end the matter." [complete article]

Bush urges Senate to confirm Bolton
By Douglas Jehl and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, April 21, 2005

... Mr. Bolton's prospects may hinge on calculations made by the nominee himself, or by the White House, and particularly Vice President Cheney, who is regarded as his main patron. For now, President Bush and his team appear to see the battle as a test of wills, but new information, or the potential for another bruising hearing, may turn his cause into an unacceptable political liability. Mr. Chafee told CNN that the committee's Republicans might consider whether to recommend that the nomination be withdrawn.

"I think Republicans, we ought to get together and talk about this," Mr. Chafee said.

In interviews on Wednesday, some Senate aides said they would not be surprised if the nomination was ultimately withdrawn. But many Republican senators continued to voice their support for Mr. Bolton. [complete article]

'He was very angry'
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, April 20, 2005

President George W. Bush's former ambassador to South Korea has contacted the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to report two confrontations he had with United Nations Ambassador-designate John Bolton, Newsweek has learned. And Senate investigators are raising more questions about how Bolton and his staff handled sensitive intelligence matters while serving as under-secretary of state for arms control and international security. [complete article]

Bolton in jeopardy, the White House lashes out
By Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, April 21, 2005

As Democrats accused Republicans of seeking to ram the nomination through, a few Republicans agreed that more time was needed. The chairman, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, finally relented. The panel's staff will spend at least three more weeks examining allegations that Bolton bullied subordinates and misled the panel about his use of classified materials.

A third allegation says that, while in the private sector, he hounded and threatened a female government contractor. "The nomination is very troubled, very troubled," said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. But he said President George W. Bush was unlikely to withdraw it, lest he face the wrath of Bolton's conservative supporters. "They would be pummeled from the right," he said. [complete article]

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Personal responsibility waning, experts say
By Steven Thomma, Knight Ridder, April 12, 2005

Simple and direct like the man who put it there, it was a bold statement that summed up his approach to leadership and represented a value of the generation that helped him build a new America after World War II.

"The Buck Stops Here," said the no-nonsense sign on President Harry Truman's desk. Today, it sits in a Missouri museum. And with it perhaps the sentiment it represented.

It was more than a slogan. The notion of accepting responsibility without passing the buck or blaming others when things went wrong was central to the work ethic and moral tone of the time.

By contrast today, almost none of the leaders of the country's great institutions ever step forward and take responsibility for failure or even honest mistakes. It is sometimes imposed by others, notably juries, but less so by the broader American society and virtually never invoked voluntarily in politics, business, religion or popular culture. [complete article]

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Europe's pursuit of a long-term counterterrorism strategy in the post-al-Qaeda era (PDF)
By Rik Coolsaet, Royal Institute for International Relations, May, 2005

The War on Terrorism does not provide for hope, or dignity. It only expresses anger and fear. What is most needed today is a perspective that will help neutralize the feeling of marginalization felt in "that vast and populous section of the world, stretching from the Maghreb through the Middle East and Central Asia into South and South-East Asia and beyond to the Philippines: overpopulated, underdeveloped, being dragged headlong by the West into the post-modern age before they have come to terms with modernity", as Sir Michael Howard, President-Emeritus of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, depicted it.

Since outside intervention rarely produces genuine political change within countries, the main contribution the West can make is helping to create a global environment that facilitates domestic reform and economic growth in the world, thus helping to neutralise the widespread image of a conquering or indifferent West.

Terrorism and security concerns are distracting Western policymakers in the rich countries from long-term development goals and from paying sufficient attention to the sources of insecurity which many outside the West perceive as a greater threat to their own survival than terrorism: civil wars, poverty, disease, organised crime or environmental degradation. Inequitable responses to threats further the perception that what passes for international security is the security of the rich and powerful ... [complete article (PDF)]

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Army reservist witnesses war crimes
Paul Rockwell interviews Aiden Delgado, Online Journal, April 1, 2005

Aiden Delgado, an Army Reservist in the 320th Military Police Company, served in Iraq from April 1, 2003 through April 1, 2004. After spending six months in Nasiriyah in Southern Iraq, he spent six months helping to run the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad.

DELGADO: The worst incident that I was privy to was in late November [2003]. The prisoners [held in Abu Graib] were protesting nightly because of their living conditions. They protested the cold, the lack of clothing, the rotting food that was causing dysentery. And they wanted cigarettes. They tore up pieces of clothing, made banners and signs. One demonstration became intense and got unruly. The prisoners picked up stones, pieces of wood, and threw them at the guards. One of my buddies got hit in the face. He got a bloody nose. But he wasn't hurt. The guards asked permission to use lethal force. They got it. They opened fire on the prisoners with the machine guns. They shot twelve and killed three. I know because I talked to the guy who did the killing. He showed me these grisly photographs, and he bragged about the results. "Oh," he said, "I shot this guy in the face. See, his head is split open." He talked like the Terminator. "I shot this guy in the groin, he took three days to bleed to death." I was shocked. This was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. He was a family man, a really courteous guy, a devout Christian. I was stunned and said to him: "You shot an unarmed man behind barbed wire for throwing a stone." He said, "Well, I knelt down. I said a prayer, stood up and gunned them all down." There was a complete disconnect between what he had done and his own morality.

Q: Commanders permitted use of lethal force against unarmed detainees. What was their response to the carnage?

DELGADO: Our Command took the grisly photos and posted them up in the headquarters. It was a big, macho thing for our company to shoot more prisoners than any other unit.

Q: When did all this happen?

DELGADO: November 24th. The event was actually mentioned in the Taguba Report, under Protocol Golden Spike. And there's more. Before our company transported the bodies, the soldiers stopped and posed with the bodies and mutilated them further. I got photos from the guy who was there, my friend. I have a photo of a member of my unit scooping out the prisoner's brains with an MRE [meals-ready-to-eat] spoon. Four people are looking on; two are taking photographs. If you remember the Abu Ghraib stuff that came out on CNN, this kind of stuff was common. You see guys posing with bodies, or toying with corpses. It was a real common thing in the military, all because the guys thought Arabs are terrorists, the scum of the earth. Anything we do to them is all right. [complete article]

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The girl blogger from Iraq
Lakshmi Chaudhry interviews "Riverbend", AlterNet, April 20, 2005

I think the occupation and war has made me more aware of the world. I think the average Iraqi has begun to look differently at certain world situations -- for example the tsunami. Before, it would have been difficult to empathize with the thousands of people who were living in fear and without the basic necessities. Now, seeing them without homes and running water and schools, etc. reminds us of our own refugees who come from cities and villages being bombed or evacuated.

Personally, I think it has hardened me in some aspects. We're accustomed now to hearing explosions and sirens. It becomes less frightening and shocking with time.

It has helped me realize that the many people all over the world (but especially in the U.S. and UK) are quite naive and uninformed. It was disturbing to see their emails making claims that simply weren't true. For example, the Western perception of women in Iraq prior to the war. Until I began writing the blog, I had no idea that many Americans thought Iraqi women were like Afghani women or Saudi women. I had no idea that many Americans thought their military had brought computers and internet into Iraq. It has been disturbing and frustrating to know that so many people who supported the war supported it for the wrongest reasons. [complete article]

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Who forged the Niger Documents?
Ian Masters interviews Vincent Cannistaro, AlterNet, April 7, 2005

Q: Do we know who produced those documents? Because there's some suspicion ...

Vincent Cannistaro [former CIA head of counterterrorism operations and intelligence director at the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan]: I think I do, but I'd rather not speak about it right now, because I don't think it's a proven case ...

Q: If I said "Michael Ledeen"?

Cannistaro: You'd be very close ... [complete interview]

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Iraq govt seen delayed; violence hits Baghdad
By Luke Baker, Reuters, April 21, 2005

Last-minute disagreements appeared to have derailed Iraq's hopes of unveiling a government on Thursday, nearly three months after elections, with negotiations also strained by a surge in violence.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told Turkish television he did not think a deal could be reached, reversing hopes he expressed on Wednesday. Disagreement remained evident among the main factions -- Shi'ite Muslims, Kurds and Sunnis.

"I think the government will not be announced today ... We want to see the Sunni Arabs represented as well ... Negotiations also continue over the allocation of some posts," the Kurdish leader told Turkey's CNN Turk television in an interview.

Disputes surfaced at a meeting late on Wednesday, with caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who narrowly escaped assassination shortly after the talks, rejecting an offer to join the cabinet, sources involved in the negotiations said. [complete article]

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Bodies of 50 'Shia hostages' claimed found in the Tigris
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 21, 2005

Iraq slid towards deepening sectarian violence yesterday after the President announced that the bodies of 50 people, believed to be Shia hostages, had been found in the river Tigris.

"More than 50 bodies have been brought out from the Tigris and we have the full names of those were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes," President Jalal Talabani said.

"We will give you details in the coming days ... terrorists committed crimes there. It is not true that there were no hostages. There were but they were killed and thrown into the Tigris.''

His statement, even if it is not confirmed, will infuriate Shias who have been the victims of repeated bomb attacks by Sunni fanatics. Shia leaders have been restraining their followers from seeking revenge. [complete article]

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Iraq interim prime minister escapes assassination bid
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, April 21, 2005

Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, last night escaped a suicide bomb assassination attempt, hours after officials said dozens had been killed in two separate massacres, raising fears of an escalation in the insurgency.

Mr Allawi's convoy was attacked as he headed to his home in the Iraqi capital after talks on the formation of the new government, which is likely to be unveiled today, a government spokesman said. [complete article]

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U.S., allies upset by delay of U.N. report
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 20, 2005

In a new spat with the U.N. leadership, the United States, France and Britain have expressed alarm at a decision by Secretary General Kofi Annan to delay a final report on whether Syria is fully complying with a Security Council resolution calling for its withdrawal from Lebanon, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French President Jacques Chirac telephoned Annan on Monday to urge him not to agree to a request from Syrian President Bashar Assad to delay the report, arguing Damascus will think it can manipulate or delay the final phase of its pullout, the sources said. [complete article]

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U.N. rejects bid to probe Gitmo treatment
By Alexander G. Higgins, AP (via Yahoo), April 21, 2005

The U.N. Human Rights Commission rejected Cuba's attempt Thursday to force an investigation into the treatment of detainees at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay.

The vote on Cuba's resolution was 22-8, with 23 other nations abstaining. The other nations supporting the failed effort by Cuba were China, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sudan, Malaysia, Guatemala and Mexico. [complete article]

17 Afghans freed from Guantanamo prison
By Carolotta Gall, New York Times, April 20, 2005

Seventeen Afghan detainees released from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were formally handed over to Afghan authorities here on Tuesday. Some of the men publicly denounced their imprisonment as unjust and condemned the American and Afghan governments for a system that is holding hundreds of prisoners in limbo outside their home countries.

In a brief ceremony, Chief Justice Fazil Hadi Shinwari told the 17 men that they were free to return home and he tried to reconcile them to the idea their imprisonment was something sent from God. Some prisoners in Guantánamo were guilty and deserved to be imprisoned, he said, but others were innocent victims of false accusations or military mistakes, or were duped into supporting terrorism.

The Pentagon said the Afghans were released after a tribunal review determined they should no longer be considered enemy combatants. In addition, a Turkish detainee was released to his government. [complete article]

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The normalization of war
By Andrew J. Bacevich, TomDispatch, April 20, 2005

At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might.

The ensuing affair had and continues to have a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue. Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America's drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature. [complete article]

Andrew J. Bacevich's new book, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War, is available here.

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U.S. weighs its role in weapons development
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2005

Are some US nuclear weapons so old and finicky they need to be rebuilt into simpler, sturdier bombs?

Should scientists at the nation's nuclear labs study new kinds of weapons specifically intended to frighten rogue dictators?

Right now the US is observing a moratorium on nuclear tests. Should it spend a little cash and improve the readiness level of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site - just in case?

As Washington worries about possible proliferation in Iran and North Korea, the administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are involved in concerted debate about what actions - if any - are needed to maintain and modernize the nuclear stockpile of the US. [complete article]

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Big market for fighters
By Leslie Wayne, New York Times (IHT), April 18, 2005

On the same day last month that the United States said that it would sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, President George W. Bush called the prime minister of India, Pakistan's archrival, with a message intended to soften the blow.

Washington, Bush confided, had decided to allow fighter jet sales to India as well. Newspapers around the world put the Pakistani deal in headlines. But it was the phone call that was heard loud and clear by U.S. military contractors.

The jet sales to Pakistan have high symbolic value but little in the way of business promise. Two dozen new F-16s will be made available to Pakistan as a reward for its help in the U.S. campaign against terrorism and will strengthen a fleet of about 40 F-16s acquired before the U.S. Congress halted sales in 1990 to protest Pakistan's nuclear ambitions.

But the decision to open up the Indian market means that contractors now have the chance to sell as many as 126 fighter jets - with prices starting at $35 million each - to a country with an aging military fleet of 800 jets, none of them made in America. [complete article]

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India and Pakistan: A peace payoff
Business Week, April 20, 2005

After decades of frosty, and sometimes overtly hostile, relations between India and Pakistan, a warming trend appears to be moving across the subcontinent. Recent dramatic improvement in relations between the two countries promises distinct benefits for the two nuclear-armed neighbors, if the thaw can last and ultimately translates into peaceful relations.

Indeed, the benefits that flow from trade and cooperation can serve to reinforce the peace process, and the tone of recent high-level exchanges suggests that both sides are inclined to embrace this approach, even without a final resolution of the territorial dispute over Kashmir. The likely rewards for Pakistan can be largely defined in concrete economic terms. For India, however, the benefits are of a less tangible nature, and would accrue more to Delhi's international standing.

For Pakistan, the key benefit is the possible reduction in its military spending, which currently takes 25% of the total government budget. Money previously spent on equipping and maintaining its half-million-strong standing army could be funneled toward social needs that would improve the population's living standard and economic productivity. Savings could also be applied toward attaining better fiscal balances, in turn accelerating the reduction of Pakistan's substantial debt burden. [complete article]

India proposes transcontinental pipeline to Chinese
By Anand Giridharadas, International Herald Tribune, April 19, 2005

An Indian cabinet minister has proposed to Chinese officials to extend to China a controversial, and as yet unbuilt, transcontinental pipeline in an attempt to serve both countries' energy needs and to foster a wider Asian community spanning the Caspian and South China Seas.

On the sidelines of a recent visit to India by China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, the countries initiated talks on a pipeline that would begin in Iran's natural gas fields; cross Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Myanmar; and end in Yunnan Province, in southwestern China, India's petroleum minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, said Monday in an interview. [complete article]

Where U.S.'s Iran fixation is out of place
By George Perkovich and Revati Prasad, New York Times, April 19, 2005

India's foreign minister visited Washington last week and met with President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top officials to discuss a range of mutual interests, from countering China's strategic clout to promoting economic growth and resolving tensions between India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Bush administration's obsession with Iran threatens to block a major initiative that could advance many of those goals.

India and Pakistan are trying to overcome decades of mistrust by cooperating on a pipeline that would bring natural gas from Iran through Pakistan to India. It is the sort of economically necessary, environmentally friendly and security-enhancing initiative that the United States has long advocated. Yet the Bush administration and Congress are so fixated on pressuring Iran that they would threaten sanctions against any foreign entity that participates in this win-win project between two bitter antagonists. [complete article]

A sequel for India and Pakistan
Editorial, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2005

One touching scene went largely unnoticed at this week's groundbreaking summit between India and Pakistan.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was born in what is today Pakistan, was given a photo of his home village. And Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf received a painting of his childhood home in Delhi.

The scene was not only a reminder of the wrenching partition of British India in 1947 but a signal that the two nations, which have had five decades of enmity and three wars, are beginning to realize closer ties are inevitable. [complete article]

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Hero of church's conservative wing becomes Pope Benedict XVI
By John L. Allen, Jr., National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2005

Ratzinger is that rare individual among Vatican officials, a celebrity among men who normally move in the shadows. He had a run-away bestseller in 1986 with The Ratzinger Report, a book-length interview with Italian journalist Vittorio Messori. He is probably the lone official of the Roman Curia that most Catholics could actually identify, and a man about whom many of them hold strong opinions.

He is a hero to the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, a man who had the toughness to articulate the traditional truths of the faith in a time of dissent and doubt. To Catholic liberals, on the other hand, he is something of a Darth Vader figure, someone who looms as a formidable opponent of many of the reforms of which they have long dreamed. [complete article]

In selection of new pope, Third World loses out
By Larry Rohter, New York Times, April 20, 2005

Not this time, not yet. Though a majority of Roman Catholics now live in Latin America, Africa and Asia, those among the faithful who were openly hoping for a pope from the developing world were disappointed.

But that sense of popular disappointment stood in contrast to the notable enthusiasm for the selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger among the episcopal conferences in every country in this region, which speak in the name of Latin America's hundreds of bishops.

Dominated by theological conservatives whom Pope John Paul II appointed, the conferences can now expect increased Vatican support in their efforts to counter two important challenges: evangelical Protestantism and the remnants of liberation theology. [complete article]

Benedict's two great challenges
By Rabbi Moshe Reiss, Asia Times, April 21, 2005

If there had been a Cardinal-Patriarch of Jerusalem and if I had been given his vote on John Paul II's successor, I would have chosen Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria as the first black pope in a millennium and a half. His country is composed of significant numbers of Muslims and of Christians; he is head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and of the Congregation for Divine Worship. I expect he would appreciate that Muslims are not the "Other" but Jews' and Christians' (younger) siblings. And as the highest prelate in a continent where AIDS is decimating the population, he would, I hope, recognize that early death, poverty and orphanhood are not requested by our merciful God, who is also his Lord and the Muslim's Allah.

But Cardinal Arinze is not the new pope, and I am not the Cardinal-Patriarch of Jerusalem, but an Orthodox Jewish rabbi residing in Israel. How, then, am I to react to the death of the first ever Polish pope, who reigned for 27 years, or ponder the challenges facing his successor, Pope Benedict XVI? [complete article]

Jewish groups mostly praise Pope as a partner
By Andy Newman, New York Times, April 20, 2005

Despite his wartime membership in the Hitler Youth movement, the German now known as Pope Benedict XVI won strong praise from Jewish leaders yesterday for his role in helping Pope John Paul II mend fences between Catholics and Jews.

"I view him as our most serious partner in the Catholic Church, and he has been for the last 26 years," said Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, which has led the fight for reparations for Holocaust survivors as well as the Jewish community's dialogue with the Vatican.

As head of the Vatican office that enforced church doctrine under John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a leading force behind the Vatican's recognition of Israel in 1993 and John Paul II's atonement at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, Rabbi Singer said. [complete article]

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Dangerous democracy
By David Hirst, The Guardian, April 20, 2005

At last month's anti-war conference in Cairo, Egyptian delegate Kamal Khalil excoriated President Mubarak's regime over "torture, poverty, unemployment, corruption, tyranny and despotism" - then added that the "liberation of Jerusalem starts here with the liberation of the people in Cairo". This linkage of domestic reform with the external foe dramatised the quandary lying in wait for President Bush's crusade for "freedom and democracy". God-given rights of all peoples are the panacea that will, among other things, end international terror and induce the Arabs to make their peace with Israel. So what, in this era of American-sponsored diplomacy and reconciliation, could this self-styled democrat possibly have meant by this reversion to the militant rhetoric of yesteryear?

The extent to which Bush is contributing to the winds of change now blowing across the world's last monolithically tyrannical region is passionately debated by the Arabs, perplexingly confronted, as they feel themselves to be, by two Americas, the new missionary one of Bush's second term and the old unrepentant superpower. The US as a promoter of democracy is a far from new idea. But the scope, fervour and lofty expectations Bush has invested in it are new. Yet, at the same time, never has imperial America, with which the missionary one is inextricably intertwined, been as rampant and detested as it is today. [complete article]

See also, EU weighs talking to 'moderate' Islamists (Reuters).

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The waxing of the Shi'ite crescent
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, April 21, 2005

Since the Islamic revolution took place in Iran in 1979, one of its prime objectives was to strengthen Shi'ites all over the Muslim world. Before that revolution, they were a disinherited, underprivileged and neglected community in Lebanon and Iraq.

This "Shi'ite emancipation" was first done in Lebanon, through the charismatic cleric Musa al-Sadr, who was funded and supported by the mullahs of Tehran in his "Movement of the Dispossessed" and its military branch, Amal, created in 1974 and 1975, respectively.

They later supported Hezbollah, a pure Iranian creation, that strove at first to establish a theocracy in Lebanon, similar to the one in Iran. In time, the role of Hezbollah became to defend the Shi'ite community in Lebanon, rather than bring them to power in Beirut, and safeguard their political rights in the complex confessional system of Lebanon.

In Iraq, the mullahs began to fund, train, protect and harbor Shi'ite dissidents opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein, where they were oppressed by the Sunni minority. Ibrahim Jaafari, the new prime minister, who is the de facto ruler of the new Iraq, spent the years 1980-89 as a fugitive in Iran.

After 25 years of underground struggle, this community succeeded in toppling Saddam, ironically, with the help of the US. The overthrow of Saddam, the newfound status of the Shi'ites in Iraq, their victory in the January 2005 elections, and the election of Jaafari were all well received in Tehran. They summed up what Iran had wanted in Iraq since 1979. [complete article]

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The shadow Iraqi government
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 21, 2005

The ideal White House/Pentagon script for Iraq calls for a pro-American government, total control of at least 12% of the world's known oil reserves and 14 military bases to make it happen. Reality has been churning up other ideas.

Whenever there is a so-called "transfer of power" in Mesopotamia, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, like clockwork, steps on a plane to Baghdad. On his latest trip designed to issue orders for the new, supposedly sovereign Iraqi government, Rumsfeld, in a splendid Freudian slip, let it be known on the record the US "does not have an exit strategy" in Iraq: only a "victory strategy". This is code for "we're not going anywhere".

Reality had intervened two days before Rumsfeld arrived, when about 300,000 Shi'ite nationalists occupied the same Firdaws Square of "liberation day", April 9, 2003, but this time with no Saddam-toppling photo-op intent. Their messages were clear: out with the occupation; and Bush equals Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Iraq's new parliament demands apology after legislator says he was roughed up at American checkpoint
By Thomas Wagner, AP (via Boston Globe), April 19, 2005

Iraqi lawmakers adjourned in protest Tuesday and demanded an apology after a Shiite legislator linked to a radical anti-American cleric tearfully said he was handcuffed and humiliated at a U.S. checkpoint.

It was the third consecutive day that Iraq's interim parliament was sidetracked from its job of setting up a government and writing a constitution. [complete article]

See also, U.S. military regrets incident with Iraq lawmaker (Reuters).

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Is John Bolton going down?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 19, 2005

An extended investigation can only make things worse. Every time there's been a delay, more and more bad stuff has come out about this guy; more and more officials, present and former, have mustered the courage to come forth and tell more. Beyond that, Bolton faces possible charges of perjury. In his day of hearings earlier this month, he made statements to the committee -- under oath -- that, given what has been learned since, can only be called lies. If he goes back to the committee two weeks from now, he will be asked about those statements; they will be contrasted with statements, also made under oath, by a half-dozen other people. How do you reconcile these contradictions, Mr. Secretary? The thing is, he can't. [complete article]

Comment -- A few senators on the Foreign Relations Committee are probably quietly praying that delaying the vote will end up meaning that Bolton bows out and the vote never takes place. The only way Bush can save face is for the White House to be able to say that it's Bolton's choice and regretable, etc., etc. Problem is, if Bolton is as unemployable in the private sector as Jason Vest reported last week, there's no reason to assume he'll be willing to go quietly.

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Senate panel postpones vote on Bolton
By David Stout, New York Times, April 19, 2005

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee postponed a vote today on the nomination of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations after a Republican expressed reservations and Democrats demanded more time to look into what they said were serious questions about his fitness.

The decision to postpone, made by general agreement at the end of a contentious session, means the nomination will not be considered again until the week of May 9, after the Senate returns from a recess that will begin April 28 or 29.

The postponement guarantees that Mr. Bolton's nomination will be hotly argued before the committee again in May, perhaps with the nominee himself present, and on the floor of the Senate - assuming that the committee sends the nomination to the floor.

The delay was decided upon after a heated debate over accusations that Mr. Bolton, acknowledged by friends and critics alike to use sharp and sometimes fiery language, had acted abusively toward subordinates and others, going so far as to try to punish people for giving him intelligence assessments he did not like.

Since Republicans have a 10-to-8 advantage on the Foreign Relations Committee, it would not have been surprising if the panel had endorsed Mr. Bolton today, even if all Democrats had voted "no," as expected. But when a Republican, Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, said he "just did not feel comfortable" voting until he had more information, the committee chairman, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, and senior Democrats agreed to put the matter off. [complete article]

Comment -- Here's a question that committee members and other members of the Senate might care to reflect on (even if the answer may never be revealed): What has changed in President Bush's mind or at the UN such that a position that less than a year ago could be ably filled by Senator John Danforth, should now be filled by John Bolton? Of Danforth, Bush said: "He is a man of calm and judicious temperament who goes about his work with deliberation and a goodwill that draws others to his cause." Could a similar description honestly be applied to Bolton? If a calm and judicious temperament was what was called for in a US ambassador to the UN less than a year ago, why not now?

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Soldiers' 'wish lists' of detainee tactics cited
By Josh White, Washington Post, April 19, 2005

Army intelligence officials in Iraq developed and circulated "wish lists" of harsh interrogation techniques they hoped to use on detainees in August 2003, including tactics such as low-voltage electrocution, blows with phone books and using dogs and snakes -- suggestions that some soldiers believed spawned abuse and illegal interrogations.

The discussions, which took place in e-mail messages between interrogators and Army officials in Baghdad, were used in part to develop the interrogation rules of engagement approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then commander of U.S. troops in Iraq. Two specific cases of abuse in Iraq occurred soon after.

Army investigative documents released yesterday, as well as court records and files, suggest that the tactics were used on two detainees: One died during an interrogation in November 2003 while stuffed into a sleeping bag, and another was badly beaten by inexperienced interrogators using a police baton in September 2003. The documents indicate confusion over what tactics were legal in Iraq, a belief that most detainees were not covered by Geneva Conventions protections and alleged abuse by interrogators who had tacit approval to "turn it up a notch." [complete article]

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Dispute escalates between Shiites, Sunnis
By Jim Michaels and Rick Jervis, USA Today, April 19, 2005

Iraq's Shiite Muslim-dominated National Assembly again delayed appointing a Cabinet on Monday amid a growing political dispute between Shiites and Sunnis.

The squabble is centered on the interim government's response to reports of a crisis south of Baghdad, where Shiite leaders claim Sunni terrorists have taken hostages. Shiite leaders also say they want to remove members of the former ruling Baath Party, which was predominantly Sunni, from positions of power in the Defense and Interior ministries.

Jalal al-Saqheer, a member of the assembly's majority Shiite alliance, said a number of people holding security jobs will have to be replaced. He claimed some former Baath Party members have leaked information to insurgents.

Al-Saqheer claimed he wasn't planning a purge of government ministries. "We are about the good and the bad," said al-Saqheer, who spoke during a break in the National Assembly session. "Not about Sunni and Shiite." [complete article]

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Violence is 'off the chart' in area on Iraq border
By Elliot Blair Smith, USA Today, April 19, 2005

Uprooting the criminal gangs that control this violent border town and defeating a small but well-trained insurgent force here may be left to new Iraqi security forces when they begin moving into the western desert this year, Marine Maj. John Reed says.

Until Iraqi forces can be deployed to this remote outpost, a small contingent of Marines is focused on stopping foreign religious warriors, or jihadis, from entering Iraq, and rounding up insurgents that launch attacks here.

Untamed even by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the area has been a haven for insurgents, smugglers and thieves who wage daily battles among themselves in the city, Reed says.

Almost as frequently, he says, the combatants turn their automatic weapons, grenades and mortar blasts on Marines camped at the town's edge. [complete article]

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A disarming presence in a dangerous world
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, April 19, 2005

It was an especially bleak moment on a frozen night in Afghanistan, just before Thanksgiving in 2001. An assortment of grizzled correspondents was crammed into a filthy hotel. That week four of our colleagues had been ambushed and killed by gunmen on the highway to Kabul, and we were all in shock. One evening several of us were lingering over coffee in the dining room, too depressed to head back to our rooms to work.

Out of nowhere, a perky blond apparition materialized at the table. She looked about 16, and she was wearing pajamas with cartoon animals under an Afghan robe. She introduced herself as Marla and started chirping about how she had just come from California to work on human rights issues.

We all stared at each other in disbelief. She seemed so young and vulnerable that we were seized with the identical, protective thought: Marla, go home.

But Marla Ruzicka stayed on, working to bring public awareness and official help to the plight of war victims in Afghanistan. Later she moved her one-woman human rights crusade to Iraq, where she was killed Saturday in a suicide bombing at age 28. [complete article]

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Increased security in Fallujah slows efforts to rebuild
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, April 19, 2005

In last November's U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah, dozens of U.S. troops, hundreds of insurgents and an unknown number of civilians were killed. Now, curfews, checkpoints and other stringent security measures are being used to prevent the city from falling back into insurgent hands. But enhancing security is hampering efforts to rebuild. Checkpoints choke the influx of supplies and business, ultimately slowing the creation of jobs needed to give young people an alternative to joining the insurgency for money.

"If you don't have enough people flowing in to sustain commerce, you will stunt growth," said Capt. Rudy Quiles, a Marine civil affairs officer here. Letting more people and goods into Fallujah "is a risk we're going to have to take at some point for the good of the city." He estimated that 85 percent of people in Fallujah were unemployed or underemployed. [complete article]

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The grim reaper, riding a firetruck in Iraq
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, April 19, 2005

Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Butler shook himself from the rubble of a suicide truck bombing. He staggered to the ledge of his three-story guard tower and stared into a cloud of white smoke.

Butler, 21, of Altoona, Pa., was temporarily deafened by the blast, but he recalled what came next with cinematic clarity. The white smoke parted to reveal a clean red fire engine. It sped past a mural bidding travelers "Goodbye From Free Iraq" and hurtled directly toward Butler, who shot at the fire engine until it exploded about 40 yards away from him.

This true-life nightmare occurred on Monday last week. The attack on this remote Marine outpost abutting the Syrian border caused only minor injuries, but it signaled a dramatic change in the methods of the insurgents, who have staged mostly guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks against the U.S. military for two years. [complete article]

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Israel, on its own, is shaping the borders of the West Bank
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, April 19, 2005

They're building away here in Israel's largest settlement, with Palestinian workers laboring on new apartment houses overlooking the red-brown hills of the West Bank.

Israel's intentions to keep building next to this suburb about three miles from Jerusalem have set off a small furor with the Bush administration, which is putting pressure on Israel to keep a commitment to freeze settlement growth.

But the construction and planning at Maale Adumim and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull 9,000 Israeli settlers out of the Gaza Strip this summer are only parts of a far larger and more complex transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian landscape, and of Mr. Sharon's policies themselves.

In effect, Israel under Mr. Sharon is unilaterally moving to define its future borders with a Palestinian state - with the scheduled withdrawal from Gaza and from four small settlements in the northern West Bank, with the "thickening" of settlements near Jerusalem and the Israeli border, and with a new route for the Israeli separation barrier approved by the cabinet on Feb. 20. [complete article]

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Israel to add to West Bank settlement
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2005

Brushing aside an explicit U.S. call to refrain from expanding Jewish settlements, Israel on Monday disclosed plans to build 50 new homes in the northern West Bank.

Although the planned addition to the community of Elkana is relatively small, the disclosure came only one week after President Bush met at his Texas ranch with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and publicly urged Israel to avoid any new settlement activity.

Expansion of settlements is banned under the peace plan supported by the United States and known as the "road map," though the two countries differ on what constitutes improper activity on Israel's part. [complete article]

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Sharon wants delay in settler pullout
By Mark Lavie, AP (via Boston Globe), April 19, 2005

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that he favors a three-week delay in Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer, ostensibly because of a Jewish mourning period marking the destruction of the biblical temples.

A postponement could give the ill-prepared government more time to plan for the withdrawal, but would also give Jewish extremists more time to organize resistance.

"I'm positively inclined toward this. We simply have to make it as easy as possible," Sharon said told reporters during a train ride yesterday. [complete article]

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Hamas wants power, Hezbollah has already won
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, April 19, 2005

Ever since he had to bid good-bye to his many acquaintances in Israel and the territories, including the heads of Fatah and Hamas, and senior people in the Israeli defense establishment, Alistair Crooke, former European Union envoy to the Palestinian Authority, has been devoting his considerable energies to promoting coexistence with Islam through education.

A veteran of MI6, Britain's secret security service, he was asked a year and a half ago to return the keys to his boss, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Crooke founded a modest organization for conflict resolution and is now busy writing articles and taking pains to provide Islamic organizations positive exposure in the West. Critics say he suffers from naivete, and there are those who attribute to him the romanticism of Lawrence of Arabia. No one accuses Crooke of evil intentions.

Naivete, romanticism and evil intentions did not characterize the group of Americans who accompanied Crooke on his latest trip to Lebanon. In late March, with a certain amount of self-effacement, the group came to a hotel in Beirut for a series of meetings with senior people from Islamic organizations in the Middle East and East Asia. According to one participant, most of the Americans present would not have set foot on Lebanese soil without the permission, if not the blessing, from U.S. President George W. Bush's administration. [complete article]

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Facing global sanctions, Iran uses oil fields to seek alliances
By Jad Mouawad, New York Times, April 19, 2005

As it faces the threat of global sanctions from the United States and Europe because of suspicions that it is turning its nuclear program to weapons production, Iran is fighting back with a powerful weapon of its own: its vast oil and gas resources.

Iran's ruling clerics are meticulously arranging energy sales and building partnerships with influential countries, including China and India, as a way to win stronger friendships around the world.

The rising price of oil, nervousness in the energy markets and the scramble by fast-growing countries to secure their own access to oil supplies has lately played into Tehran's hand.

This renewed push to turn underground riches into political power complicates the Bush administration's attempt to isolate Iran, which holds 10 percent of the world's oil deposits and has the second-largest gas reserves. [complete article]

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Iran bans al-Jazeera after riots
BBC News, April 19, 2005

Iran has suspended operations by the al-Jazeera television network, accusing it of inflaming violent protests by the country's Arab minority.

Three people have died in ethnic clashes in Iran's south-west Khuzestan province over the past few days.

The riots are thought to have been sparked by alleged plans - which the government denies - to change the area's ethnic makeup. [complete article]

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Lebanon, a house divided
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2005

They catch sight of each other sometimes, at funerals or weddings back in the village, but they haven't had a conversation in years. The two men share the same blood and the same last name, but in today's Lebanon they belong to enemy camps, squaring off against each other as a political crisis shudders through the nation.

Suleiman Franjieh is Lebanon's outgoing interior minister, a dapper 40-year-old who dreamed, they say, of becoming president. He was a teenage war orphan when he knitted his fate with that of the Syrian regime. He did favors. He rose fast. But now the government has fallen, and his name has been cursed by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Beirut.

His cousin Samir Franjieh is a slight man, a leftist intellectual with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Samir, 59, helped found the opposition movement bent on pushing Syria out of his homeland, long under Damascus' control. Now he is riding high as one of the opposition's most visible spokesmen, draped in the flag and heady with the cheers of the crowds.

The story of the Franjieh cousins stands as a reminder of everything that has changed in Lebanon since its civil war ground to an exhausted halt 15 years ago — and all that hasn't. [complete article]

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Annual terror report won't include numbers
By Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, April 19, 2005

The State Department announced yesterday that it will no longer publish annual statistics for international terrorism, a year after it was forced to withdraw its study and correct its assertion that terrorist acts had declined in 2003 when in fact they were at their highest level in years.

Critics said the decision would leave the public without an official assessment of progress in fighting terrorism, as the State Department tries to avoid a repeat of what then-Secretary Colin L. Powell called "a big mistake" in how the statistics on terrorist acts were compiled last year. [complete article]

Comment -- "Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's memo on the war on terror, October 16, 2003.

Eighteen months later, they're still working on the numbers. Does this mean that almost four years into a so-called "war on terrorism," the US government still hasn't figured out what terrorism is?

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Panel sets vote today on Bolton nomination to U.N.
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, April 19, 2005

Senate Republicans rejected Democrats' request yesterday for more time to review allegations against John R. Bolton, President Bush's choice to be United Nations ambassador, and they scheduled a Foreign Relations Committee vote today on the nomination.

Although two committee Republicans have not ruled out voting against Bolton, GOP and Democratic leaders said he appeared on track to win a straight party-line vote from the panel, which Republicans control 10 to 8. The nomination would then go to the full GOP-controlled Senate. [complete article]

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Bolton often blocked information, officials say
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, April 18, 2005

John R. Bolton -- who is seeking confirmation as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- often blocked then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and, on one occasion, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, from receiving information vital to U.S. strategies on Iran, according to current and former officials who have worked with Bolton.

In some cases, career officials found back channels to Powell or his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, who encouraged assistant secretaries to bring information directly to him. In other cases, the information was delayed for weeks or simply did not get through. The officials, who would discuss the incidents only on the condition of anonymity because some continue to deal with Bolton on other issues, cited a dozen examples of memos or information that Bolton refused to forward during his four years as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Two officials described a memo that had been prepared for Powell at the end of October 2003, ahead of a critical international meeting on Iran, informing him that the United States was losing support for efforts to have the U.N. Security Council investigate Iran's nuclear program. Bolton allegedly argued that it would be premature to throw in the towel. "When Armitage's staff asked for information about what other countries were thinking, Bolton said that information couldn't be collected," according to one official with firsthand knowledge of the exchange. [complete article]

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Wanted: Complete asshole for U.N. ambassador
By Jason Vest, Village Voice, April 14, 2005

After his stint at USAID [as general counsel and then assistant administrator for policy and programs], Bolton went in 1985 to Ed Meese's Justice Department as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs -- in effect, Justice's lobbyist in Congress. By 1988, according to Washington lawyers and published accounts, Bolton was itching to leave government service for the world of high-priced lobbying. Yet Bolton stayed on at Justice, moving laterally to head the department's civil division, for a reason almost unheard of in a town that worships at the altar of the revolving door: No one would hire him to work as a lobbyist.

Why? According to a March 1988 Legal Times article, while many of the dozen-plus lobbying firms Bolton interviewed with acknowledged his formidable intellect, they nonetheless saw him as a liability on account of an "abrasive and combative tone [that has] cost him friends on Capitol Hill." As one source told the paper, "There's a demeanor that's required, and he doesn't have it." Or, as a longtime member of the D.C. bar puts it: "You can take up for your administration and toe its line before Congress without being an asshole. Bolton seemed to think being an asshole was essential to his job. And the fact that he was an asshole on a number of issues that would have made anyone advocating them seem like an asshole to begin with didn't help." [complete article]

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The rise of disaster capitalism
By Naomi Klein, The Nation, April 14, 2005

Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration's doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate "post-conflict" plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries "at the same time," each lasting "five to seven years."

Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.

Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, Pascual's office keeps "high risk" countries on a "watch list" and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to "mobilize and deploy quickly" after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks--some, Pascual told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October, will have "pre-completed" contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken. Doing this paperwork in advance could "cut off three to six months in your response time." [complete article]

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U.S. outreach to Islamic world gets slow start, minus leaders
By Robin Wright and Al Kamen, Washington Post, April 18, 2005

The Bush administration's outreach to the Islamic world is in no hurry. And it includes no Muslims.

Karen Hughes, who was appointed a month ago to craft a bold new approach for U.S. public diplomacy, is not expected to take the job until as late as the fall, according to administration and congressional sources. The delay is already undermining U.S. credibility, with a well-placed U.S. official warning about "the gap between rhetoric and reality."

Dina Powell, the new No. 2 official in charge of public diplomacy, is also not expected to take the job for at least two more months, administration sources say.

The delay comes as a Government Accountability Office report released this month criticized the administration for failing to develop a strategy to improve the image of the United States as "recent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world." [complete article]

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Iraqi alliance seeks to oust top officials of Hussein era
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 18, 2005

The Shiite Muslim bloc leading the new Iraqi government will demand the removal of all top officials left over from the era of former president Saddam Hussein, a top official said. The move would be part of a purge that U.S. officials fear could oust thousands of the most capable Iraqis from military and intelligence forces the United States has spent more than $5 billion rebuilding.

The Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance also will insist on trials for every former official, soldier or worker suspected of wrongdoing during that time, Hussain Shahristani, who helped form the Shiite alliance, said in an interview that outlined plans for handling members of Hussein's Baath Party in the armed forces and intelligence services. [complete article]

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Iraqi leaders flexing muscles
By Paul Richter and Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2005

For the last two years, U.S. authorities have had firm control of the mission in Iraq. They have set rules for military operations and worked with Iraqi leaders blessed by Washington. But the arrival of an elected government this month will take the partnership in new directions that the Americans may find difficult to control.

The ambitious new Iraqi leaders have their own ideas and, with elections ahead, are sensitive to grass-roots pressure. And with the Americans increasingly reluctant to be seen running the country, the Iraqis have taken the initiative in the relationship. [complete article]

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Security vs. rebuilding: Kurdish town loses out
By James Glanz, New York Times, April 16, 2005

For years Nuradeen Ghreeb has dreamed of bringing clean drinking water to his hometown. That town happens to be Halabja, where 17 years ago he and his parents cowered in a basement as Saddam Hussein's airplanes attacked with chemical weapons, killing at least 5,000 people.

But on Sunday, Mr. Nuradeen learned that his dream was over, because the United States had canceled the water project it had planned here as part of a vast effort to rebuild Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Ordinarily a quiet and reserved civil engineer, he sat on one of his beloved water pipes on hearing the news and wept, his tears glistening in the afternoon sun.

"If the Americans think that training the Iraqi Army comes before clean drinking water for the people of Halabja," he said quietly, "then we can't expect anything from them." [complete article]

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Rethinking reconstruction: Grand U.S. plan fractures again
By Eric Eckholm, New York Times, April 17, 2005

For the third time in nine months, the Bush administration has redrafted its project to rebuild Iraq, forcing planners to cancel more of the water, sewage and power plants that were part of the grand American design to transform the shattered country.

Many of the halted projects are now described by American officials as "noncritical" and "long term" because they are scheduled to start two years from now.

The need for the reallocation of money grew not only from unanticipated security costs but also from what many experts said were flawed assumptions by Pentagon planners and Congress when they set out to pepper Iraq with large infrastructure projects built by American companies. The latest changes mean less money being spent on building new facilities and more on training and maintenance, with less reliance on expensive Western firms and more on smaller local firms.

The redirected funds, together with previous shifts, account for $4.8 billion of the $18.4 billion in aid approved by Congress. [complete article]

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Iraqi kidnapping tale combines perilous mix of fact and rumor
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, April 18, 2005

Anyone in Baghdad on Sunday morning could have been forgiven for thinking the country was on the verge of civil war.

Three Iraqi Army battalions had surrounded the town of Madaen, just south of the capital, where Sunni kidnappers were said to be threatening to kill hundreds of Shiite hostages unless all Shiites left the town. As the National Assembly met, Iraq's top political figures warned of a grave sectarian crisis between the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis.

Even Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric and its most notorious terrorist fugitive weighed in on the matter with statements. And the departing prime minister released a statement denouncing the "savage, filthy and dirty atrocities" in Madaen.

But as the army battalions arrived there, they saw streets full of people calmly going about their business. There were no armed Sunni mobs, no cowering Shiite victims. After hours of careful searches, the soldiers - assisted by air surveillance - arrested some people suspected of being insurgents, but found no evidence of any kidnappings. [complete article]

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An American activist who dared to help Iraqi victims
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2005

Californian Marla Ruzicka was the head of an NGO whose blend of tenacity and optimism kept her in Iraq long after almost every other humanitarian aid organization had left.

Marla and her Iraqi driver died Saturday when their car was tragically caught between a suicide car bomber and a US military convoy.

Marla was more than a source for a story, she was one of those quiet cheerleaders that kept me - and the Iraqis she touched - going almost from the moment that I arrived here three years ago. [complete article]

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Think tank's ideas shifted as Malaysia ties grew
By Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post, April 17, 2005

For years, the Heritage Foundation sharply criticized the autocratic rule of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, denouncing his anti-Semitism, his jailing of political opponents and his "anti-free market currency controls."

Then, late in the summer of 2001, the conservative nonprofit Washington think tank began to change its assessment: Heritage financed an Aug. 30-Sept. 4, 2001, trip to Malaysia for three House members and their spouses. Heritage put on briefings for the congressional delegation titled "Malaysia: Standing Up for Democracy" and "U.S. and Malaysia: Ways to Cooperate in Order to Influence Peace and Stability in Southeast Asia."

Heritage's new, pro-Malaysian outlook emerged at the same time a Hong Kong consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage's president, began representing Malaysian business interests. The for-profit firm, called Belle Haven Consultants, retains Feulner's wife, Linda Feulner, as a "senior adviser." And Belle Haven's chief operating officer, Ken Sheffer, is the former head of Heritage's Asia office and is still on Heritage's payroll as a $75,000-a-year consultant. [complete article]

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Terrorism tempers shift to openness
By Craig Whitlock and Steve Coll, Washington Post, April 18, 2005

They have testified in community centers, schoolhouses and municipal halls, and on live television. They have been withered mothers, grieving grandchildren, scarred old men -- a diverse parade of ordinary Moroccans bound by a common experience of political terror. This year, they have become players in a national spectacle almost unheard of in the Arab world: an official investigation into past government abuses.

"My story is that of thousands of Moroccans," said Jamal Ameziane, 52, who testified that 30 members of his family were harassed or tortured after his father was forced to flee the country in the late 1950s. "I dream of lifting the veil on the dark years."

Between Morocco's independence in 1956 and the early 1980s, known as the "years of lead," the government of King Hassan II locked up thousands of Marxists, rebellious military officers and others opposed to the monarchy without fair trials. Many were tortured and killed; others simply vanished. Now Hassan's son and successor, King Mohammed VI, has encouraged a public exhumation of these events. Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission has so far filed reports of more than 22,000 cases of repression. Its stated purpose is to ensure that such abuses never recur in Morocco.

Yet even as the hearings unfold, a new generation of aggrieved relatives and angry defendants is being born in Morocco. Alarmed by evidence that al Qaeda-inspired cells have taken root here -- a threat made plain by suicide bombings on May 16, 2003, that killed 45 and wounded scores more -- security forces have arrested more than 2,100 people. About 1,000 remain in prison, and some have leveled torture allegations. The government denies them and defends its crackdown as essential to national security. [complete article]

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A new power rises across Mideast
By Scott Wilson and Daniel Williams, Washington Post, April 17, 2005

Early this year, a small group of advertising executives, journalists and political operatives began meeting around the crowded tables of a popular cafe here to plot an opposition media strategy for Lebanon's spring parliamentary elections.

Among them was Said Francis, whose urbane crew cut and black turtleneck sweater suggested his position as the regional creative director of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Employing reams of scratch paper, cigarettes and coffee, the group members argued over color schemes and slogans.

The mission was a long, almost hopeless quest to upend years of Syrian political domination. "Like all Lebanese, we thought we were experts on politics," recalled Francis, who volunteered his time on the politically sensitive campaign. "But progress was slow."

Then a bomb exploded Feb. 14 along Beirut's waterfront, killing former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The media group immediately put its election strategy into action as tens of thousands of protesters flooded Beirut's central square demanding that Syria pull out of Lebanon. The group's choices -- the red-and-white color scheme and "Independence '05" slogan -- were broadcast across the Middle East. [complete article]

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Hizbullah ready to back Palestinian struggle against Israel
By Majdoline Hatoum, Daily Star, April 15, 2005

Hizbullah will offer whatever "material support" Palestinians need in their struggle against Israel as the group reiterated its "unconditional support" for their struggle against the Jewish State. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Star, Hizbullah's deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, also said the group plans to send its MPs to Europe to meet with politicians and promote its work as a resistance group and political party.

Qassem insisted it was Hizbullah's right to supply Palestinians with all they need to maintain their struggle against Israel.

He said: "We believe in cooperation in all possible and appropriate ways and forms, whether it be material, financial or moral support. And we consider it our obligation."

He added: "Why would some people denounce our support for the Palestinians in their struggle. Can't they see how the U.S. backs Israel with $3 billion each year, in addition to their military support and the political acceptance of daily crimes and aggression against the Palestinian people? It is only normal that countries sharing the same ideas cooperate to face alliances threatening their existence." [complete article]

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How hard will he push?
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, April 17, 2005

President Bush's meeting this last week with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ended the way such sessions always seem to, with proclamations of harmony and good feeling. But a question lingered: how much would Mr. Bush lean on Israel in the coming months to maintain the momentum toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians after the withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers from Gaza this summer?

While playing host to Mr. Sharon in Crawford, Tex., Mr. Bush gave unequivocal backing for the Gaza move. But he also repeated his desire that Israel halt expansion of settlements in key areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem suburbs, and reiterated his support for negotiating the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state. Mr. Sharon and the president essentially agreed to disagree on settlement expansion but the prime minister signaled that he would not do anything to provoke a confrontation now. The ambiguous statements in Crawford guaranteed that Arab nations, Europeans and especially Palestinians would continue to press Mr. Bush to press Israel on a full range of issues.

From instinct President Bush has always been reluctant to pressure Mr. Sharon. This is particularly true on the eve of his planned withdrawal of security forces and nearly 9,000 settlers from Gaza and a quarter of the West Bank.

And for a president famously determined to avoid the mistakes of his father, Mr. Bush need only remember what happened to President George H. W. Bush in the early 1990's when he tried to punish Israel for its policy on settlements - and suffered politically at home. [complete article]

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General predicts Taliban's demise
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, April 17, 2005

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan predicted Saturday that the Taliban militia would collapse as a viable fighting force over the next several months as rank-and-file members accept a reconciliation offer from the Afghan government.

Lt. Gen. David W. Barno warned, however, that remaining Taliban extremists financed and trained by al Qaeda allies may attempt to compensate by staging a high-profile attack in Afghanistan within the next six to nine months. [complete article]

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China-India entente shifts global balance
By Clyde Prestowitz, YaleGlobal, April 15, 2005

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has been in India this week talking peace, free trade, and technology cooperation – but the real message was the end of 600 years of Western dominance. "Together," said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, "India and China could reshape the world order."

How they might do that was spelled out in the agreements they reached. First, they made peace by moving to settle an old border dispute, and China indicated support for India's bid to become a permanent UN Security Council member. Both parties also initiated discussion of a possible bi-lateral free trade agreement. Last, and by far most important, they called for combining Indian software technology with Chinese hardware technology to achieve world leadership in the global information technology industry. Thus, India and China are inventing a new version of globalization, which is already negating Western hegemony by shifting wealth and power to Asia. [complete article]

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Violence flares as the Chinese rage at Japan
By Jonathan Watts, The Observer, April 17, 2005

The spark for the latest row was Tokyo's approval of a new history textbook that whitewashes Japan's wartime atrocities, including the massacre of tens - possibly hundreds - of thousands of civilians in Nanjing in 1937; the forced recruitment of 'comfort women' who were made to work as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels; and the infamous Unit 731's deadly tests of biological weapons on entire Chinese villages. The offending books, which are published by a right-wing nationalist group, are used in fewer than 1 per cent of Japan's schools because the vast majority of teachers agree that they distort history. But their very existence is seen by the country's neighbours as proof that Japan's leaders refuse to face up to the past.

Such claims are nothing new, but the latest dispute is about far more than history. It is the result of a tectonic shift in East Asia as China grows more powerful and Japan moves closer to the United States to protect its interests. Long-term trends, including a rise of nationalism and an increase of militarism throughout the region, are pushing the two East Asian giants further apart and raising the risk of conflict.

For the first two decades after the two countries restored diplomatic relations in 1972, Japan treated China as a pitiful backward nation in need of charity. But in the past few years this friendly-but-patronising view has been replaced by one of suspicion and fear. In the 1990s China's economy surged forward by more 9 per cent per year, while Japan's crawled along at a rate of 1 per cent. Although Japan is still far richer than its giant neighbour, the gap is closing. The two are now locked in competition for regional influence and resources. Beijing is racing Tokyo to sign free trade pacts with other Asian nations. As the world's second- and third-biggest oil consumers, they are also rivals for energy, which has led to tetchy rows over a Siberian oil pipeline and gas fields in the South China Sea. [complete article]

Comment -- To learn more about the Nanjing massacre see, Bearing witness (Orville Schell), a review of Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanjing, Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre, and Wikipedia's entry on the massacre.

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Britain 'turned blind eye' to Iraq oil smuggling
By Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, April 17, 2005

Britain made "no serious attempt" to block lucrative oil smuggling operations by Saddam Hussein because enforcement of Iraqi sanctions was not a "top priority" for the Government, a former senior British diplomat said yesterday.

Carne Ross, the Foreign Office official responsible for handling Britain's Iraq policy at the United Nations between 1998 and 2002, spoke to The Telegraph as a row escalated between London and the UN over the debacle of the oil-for-food programme.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, had earlier angrily denied claims by Kofi Annan, the beleaguered UN Secretary General, that Britain and America turned a blind eye to Iraqi oil trafficking to Turkey and Jordan, the West's allies in the region.

Mr Ross said: "We talked a great deal about stopping oil smuggling, but there was never any concerted attempt by the UK or US on the ground to prevent breaches of sanctions.

"A blind eye was, de facto, turned to the smuggling. It was not condoned, but there was a policy of drift. As a government, we did not make a sustained effort to stop it. It was not a top priority." [complete article]

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Lights, camera, armageddon
By Josh Schollmeyer, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, May/June, 2005

When the filmmakers of Thirteen Days told Graham Allison that they intended to transform President John F. Kennedy's appointments secretary, Kenny O'Donnell, into a major player during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he objected. Immediately.

"That's stupid," Allison, author of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, remembers telling them. "I don't relate to it."

"But how many people read your book?" they responded.

So begins the quandary: Experts get it right; Hollywood delivers the crowds. A happy marriage of the two qualifies as an exception. For every Thirteen Days--a film hailed by historians and critics alike--there are countless potboiler thrillers that twist and distort reality, all in the name of popcorn purchases and ticket sales.

Experts like Allison can see past the showbiz gloss--the omissions, distortions, and casual disregard for even the most basic laws of physics. On planet Hollywood, nuclear power plants melt down with the push of a button, and nuclear warheads can be disarmed with the snip of a wire. But what goes through the minds of moviegoers when Ben Affleck struts unharmed along the fringes of a nuclear explosion in The Sum of All Fears? Such scenarios linger in the public's collective consciousness. [complete article]

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Nuclear options
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 15, 2005

The nuclear gurus are staging a comeback. Their wedge of opportunity is a technical debate that's emerged inside the weapons labs, a debate so arcane that probably only a few hundred scientists can engage its issues fully. Yet the outcome of this debate could zap new jolts of life into a vast nuclear complex -- of strategic thinking, nuclear testing, warhead production, and missile deployment -- that's lain moribund for more than a decade. [complete article]

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'Diplomatic assurances' allowing torture
Human Rights Watch, April 15, 2005

Governments in Europe and North America are increasingly sending suspects to abusive states on the basis of flimsy "diplomatic assurances" that expose the detainees to serious risk of torture and ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 91-page report, Still at Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard against Torture, documents the growing practice among Western governments - including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands - of seeking assurances of humane treatment in order to transfer terrorism suspects to states with well-established records of torture. The report details a dozen cases involving actual or attempted transfers to countries where torture is commonplace. [complete article]

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The CIA's kidnapping ring
By Nat Hentoff, Village Voice, April 15, 2005

During a White House press conference on March 16, George W. Bush was asked: "Mr. President, can you explain why you've approved of and expanded the practice of what's called 'rendition' -- of transferring individuals out of U.S. custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people under custody?"

The president: "[In] the post-9-11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. ... One way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won't be tortured. That's the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture."

Question: "As commander in chief, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in interrogating an individual that the United States can't?"

George W. Bush repeated his talking point: "We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured."

Actually, there is much that U.S. interrogators can learn from their counterparts in Uzbekistan on how to break down prisoners. One of the CIA's jet planes used to render purported terrorists to other countries -- where information is extracted by any means necessary -- made 10 trips to Uzbekistan. In a segment of CBS's 60 Minutes on these CIA torture missions (March 5), former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told of the range of advanced techniques used by Uzbek interrogators:

"drowning and suffocation, rape was used ... and also immersion of limbs in boiling liquid." [complete article]

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Your family tree is about to grow
By Simon Avery, Globe and Mail, April 13, 2005

Spencer Wells has traced his family tree back 45,000 years, to when his ancestors left Africa for the Middle East. Generations later, at the start of the last ice age, they trekked up through the grasslands of Central Asia, veered west at the foot of the ice sheet and emerged as the first "modern" Western Europeans.

Dr. Wells has been able to piece together this sketchy history because he shares pieces of mutated DNA, handed down through hundreds of generations, with indigenous groups from these regions.

The 36-year-old Texan is not an anomaly.

All humans carry genetic markers linking us back to another era, thanks to tiny mistakes in the copying process of the genome that occur between each generation.

Over the next five years, Dr. Wells, a world-renowned geneticist, and his team of researchers hope to gather one of the largest collections of human DNA, analyze it with some of the world's most powerful computers and show that humanity has taken a common journey over the past 60,000 years that leaves us all closely interconnected. [complete article]

Learn more about The Genographic Project here.

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EMAIL UPDATES -- Click here to sign up for weekly email updates -- a digest of key articles from the last seven days. (Please include your name in the message and put "subscribe" in the subject line.)
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:

Preaching the rule of law in a tribal land
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 16, 2005
Mohammed Musabah arrives at work at a different hour every day. Security precautions, the new governor of Basra explained. The political parties in the city that oppose him, some little more than armed gangs, are determined to see him fail. As many as four out of five of his policemen are loyal to his opponents. And in a land blighted by corruption, he wants to be an honest politician.

"In the beginning, for sure, it was too much pressure," he admitted.

Musabah smiled, as is his habit. After a month on the job, he said, he's learning to cope.

As Iraq negotiates the high drama of politics on a national stage, with a parliament preparing to tackle the fundamental questions of a future state -- the role of religion, federalism and women's rights -- Musabah is the point man on the more mundane task of making government actually work. His success in Iraq's second-largest city, scarred by three wars in 25 years and neglected for nearly as long, may go far in ensuring that institutionalized democracy becomes more than a promise in Iraq. His failure could suggest that Iraq's problems are simply greater than his good intentions.

Dark side of war on terror
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2005
Khaled el-Masri says his strange and violent trip into the void began with a bus ride on New Year's Eve 2003.

When he returned to this city five months later, his friends didn't believe the odyssey he recounted. Masri said he was kidnapped in Macedonia, beaten by masked men, blindfolded, injected with drugs and flown to Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned and interrogated by U.S. intelligence agents. He said he was finally dumped in the mountains of Albania.

"One person told me not to tell this story because it's so unreal, no one would listen," said Masri, a German citizen who was born in Lebanon.

A Munich prosecutor has launched an investigation and is intent on questioning U.S. officials about the unemployed car salesman's claim that he was wrongly targeted as an Islamic militant. Masri's story, if true, would offer a rare firsthand look at one man's disappearance into a hidden dimension of the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

Hamas militant adds ballot box to armoury
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, April 14, 2005
Hamas, the militant Islamic group, will not only challenge Mahmoud Abbas's moderate Fatah movement in the elections in July, but also seek to topple it from leadership of the Palestinian parliament.

Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas's senior leader in Gaza, disclosed the full extent of the group's ambitions in a rare interview. He confirmed that it will contest seats in Palestinian Legislative Council elections in the same month that Israel withdraws from Gaza, and join the Cabinet if it wins.

He made clear that Hamas intends to claim Israel's withdrawal as a retreat under fire and victory for its campaign of violence. This is exactly the image that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, is determined to avoid, knowing that it will be seized upon by his right-wing critics, who accuse him of handing the Palestinians a "dividend for terror".

Syria after Lebanon, Lebanon after Syria
ICG Middle East Report, April 12, 2005
Former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's tragic assassination capped a series of events that carry the potential of fundamentally altering not only Lebanon's future, but also Syria's and the broader regional landscape as well. For now, most international and Lebanese actors have acted with welcome wisdom; the prospect of Syria's long-overdue withdrawal from Lebanon and of Lebanese elections free from outside interference appears closer than ever. But risks of serious violence remain very real. The Syrian regime, sensing its survival at stake, may lash out using its remaining instruments and allies in Lebanon and beyond; the U.S., feeling its broader regional goals within striking distance, may well over-reach, triggering violent reactions from Syria, Hizbollah or militant Palestinian groups; Lebanon's political class, notoriously fractured, could create fresh opportunities for outside interference and pave the way for domestic chaos. What happens in Lebanon likely will have momentous regional implications -- certainly on Syria and Hizbollah, possibly on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and even Iraq. But dealing with those matters before getting the question of Lebanon right is the surest way to get it all wrong.

A new Lebanon?
By Max Rodenbeck, New York Review of Books, April 28, 2005
Lebanon is smaller than Connecticut and scarcely more populous. Its economy, still struggling to recoup the losses of the 1975–1990 civil war, hardly amounts to the annual turnover at McDonald's. What is so special about the country? The immediate answer is that this statelet, which was subtracted by French imperialists from greater Syria, has suddenly found itself to be the fine point upon which the fate of a much wider region balances.

That sounds an oversized claim, but an extraordinary passion play has been unfolding in Beirut over the last few weeks. It is a drama that happens to pit forces which, in a particularly stark fashion, seem to represent the competing narratives that will ultimately define the Arabs' vision of their recent past and soon-to-be-revealed destiny. These forces are, in many ways, similar to those that have clashed within every Arab society, and continue to do so, in what some historians describe as a struggle between the cosmopolitan Arabs of the coastal cities and those of the inward-looking hinterland. And just now, on the Arab airwaves transmitting scenes from the streets of Beirut, a turning of the tide in this struggle may be fleetingly discerned.

'Talibanization' fears in Pakistan
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, April 13, 2005
More than five years since President Pervez Musharraf's coup, religious extremists are moving to the forefront in challenging Pakistan's political order.

Last week, hundreds of extremist demonstrators armed with bamboo sticks blocked a 10K road race near the finish line to protest the participation of women runners. A gun battle with police ensued, leaving several people wounded.

In a surprise to many here, the incident took place not in the conservative tribal areas, but in the country's Punjab heartland. In reaction, protesters picketed Parliament Monday, calling on the government to "save the society from Talibanization."

Through strikes, protests, and the passage of strict local ordinances, Pakistan's religious parties have grown more brazen in their challenge to the secularization central to President Musharraf's rule. Political analysts are concerned that the sidelining of mainstream parties under may be aiding the radicals in the run-up to local elections in July.

Hezbollah signals it's open to talks with United States
By Eli Lake, New York Sun, April 11, 2005
A Hezbollah political leader told a delegation of former European and American officials last month that the Bush administration approached the organization for talks following September 11, 2001, and that the group would be open to new discussions.

According to a former CIA station chief in Islamabad who attended the meetings in Beirut, Milton Bearden, the representatives of Hezbollah, which has long been implicated in terrorist attacks, said the Bush administration approached them shortly after the Twin Towers were destroyed.

The White House denies having made an approach.

Mr. Bearden recalled that the leader of the Hezbollah delegation said: "The Americans came to us after 9/11 wanting to open a dialogue, at a political level. ... 'It came through the Israeli gate,' meaning the Israelis brokered it." Mr. Bearden added that the representative said his organization would "be open to a direct approach from the Americans."

Another former CIA operations officer who was there, Graham Fuller, told The New York Sun the message was delivered by Hezbollah's chief of international relations and top political adviser, Nawaf Mousawi.

Sharon's gamble rides on Bush
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, April 11, 2005
A year ago this week Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Washington with a bold agenda: to obtain the support of President Bush for a unilateral Israeli solution to his country's conflict with the Palestinians. Abandoning a decade of efforts at negotiations -- not to mention Bush's own "road map" for a two-state solution -- Sharon aimed to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, then impose a border of Israel's choosing in the West Bank, fortified by walls and fences. Rather than seek accord with the Palestinians, whom he knew would never accept his terms, Sharon sought to anchor his initiative in a deal with Bush, whom he asked for an endorsement of Israel's eventual annexation of West Bank territory and its determination never to accept the return of Palestinian refugees. With diplomacy at an impasse and Yasser Arafat still master of his long-suffering people, Bush signed on.

Since then a lot has happened: Arafat died and was replaced by a democratically elected president committed to ending violence and negotiating a settlement. Bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians ceased for the first time in Bush's presidency. A reelected Bush solemnly recommitted himself to the road map and its two-state negotiated settlement, which he said he wants to achieve by the end of his second term. "The world must not rest," he declared in February, "until there is a just and lasting resolution to this conflict."

Yet, as Sharon today once again huddles with the president -- this time at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. -- the unilateral solution he has pursued so relentlessly for the past 12 months remains unchanged. If all proceeds as planned, he will remove Israeli settlements from Gaza and one small part of the West Bank by the end of this summer. He will complete construction of the West Bank fence by the end of this year. Then, having effectively created a new Israel that includes all of Jerusalem and at least 7 percent of the West Bank, he will freeze the situation indefinitely. Palestinians will be left with Gaza and several West Bank enclaves separated from each other by Israeli roads and settlements; whether that is someday called a state is a secondary concern for the Israeli prime minister.

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