The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
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The War in Context has been in operation for over three years with daily updates, news, analysis, commentary and the occasional two cents from me as I've attempted to chronicle America's post-9/11 impact on the world. The only funding for this site comes from occasional donations and less than $50 a month from Google ads and Amazon book sales.

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Meanwhile, here is a collection of extended articles on subjects ranging from democracy in the Middle East to communications intelligence, and from global warming to evangelical Protestantism ...

Is democracy in the Middle East a pipedream?
By Fawaz Gerges, YaleGlobal, April 25, 2005

From Baghdad to Beirut and from Cairo to Jerusalem, stirrings of freedom are unsettling deeply entrenched autocratic rulers, as Arab civil societies are beginning to challenge their ruling tormentors. In Egypt, for instance, one of the most populous and important Arab states, President Hosni Mubarak responded to critics of his autocratic style by agreeing to hold free elections Although it is too early to draw any definite conclusions about the nature and substance of recent developments, they point to a more assertive civil society and a real longing for political empowerment and emancipation. Careful support and nurturing by the West will be critical for their success.

Most Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East are fed up with their ruling autocrats, who had promised heaven but delivered dust and tyranny. These sentiments clearly show that there is nothing unique or intrinsic about Arab and Islamic culture that inhibits democratic governance. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Arabs and Muslims have struggled to free themselves from the shackles of political authoritarianism without much success, thanks partly to the support given by the West, particularly the United States, to powerful dictators.

This support, of course, is rooted in history. At the heart of the problem in the developing world, including Middle Eastern countries, lays the fact that the new elite that assumed power after the end of colonialism came mostly from the military-security apparatus, one that is deeply hierarchical, rigid, and authoritarian. The colonial state invested many more resources in the military-security apparatus than in other civil-legal institutions in order to maintain control over restive indigenous societies. [complete article]

See also, Middle East democracy: Who gets the credit? What are the lessons? (Washington Monthly).

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What Douglas Feith knew, and when he knew it
By Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, May 2, 2005

One day, I asked Feith to describe the importance to him of Lincoln. He admires Lincoln, he said, for many reasons, but in particular for the stalwart way that Lincoln confronted evil. When I suggested that Feith might also admire Lincoln because Lincoln shifted the rationale for his war in the middle of the fighting, Feith replied, with enthusiasm, "I never thought of that. That's right."

His answer surprised me. I had expected him to say something like "The Bush Administration has not changed the rationale for the war."

The next morning, Feith telephoned. He had evidently been thinking about his answer, because he had searched out a better one. He found it in an article by Nicholas Lemann, published in this magazine shortly before the beginning of the war, in which Feith was quoted as saying: "When you can think that if we do things right, and if we help the Iraqis, and if the Iraqis show an ability to create a humane representative government for themselves -- will that have beneficial spillover effects on the politics of the whole region? The answer, I think, is yes."

He read this to me and added, "I must say, I'm damn proud of that sentence. That was right on the nose."

Feith, though, had left out part of what he told Lemann. "Would anybody be thinking about using military power in Iraq in order to do a political experiment in Iraq in the hope that it would have positive political spillover effects throughout the region?" he asked Lemann. "The answer is no." He continued: "What we would be using military power for, if we have to, would be the goals the President has talked about, particularly the elimination of the chemical and biological weapons, and preventing Iraq from getting nuclear weapons." [complete article]

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How evangelical Protestantism came to dominate American religion
By Gary B. Nash, Boston Review, April/May, 2005

Many years ago, when I was studying the American Revolution in graduate school, I was shocked to find that the Founding Fathers were not very religious, or, rather, that they subscribed to "natural religion," or deism, which located God in trees, streams, and flowers, but not in church or the Bible. They seemed hostile to organized religion, taking the view that established Churches, particularly the Catholic but Protestant ones as well, had seldom worked for the betterment of mankind and in fact were mostly captive to the interests of kings, aristocrats, and oppressors of the common people. They ridiculed the holy trinity as an irrational idea unsuitable for a self-governing republic. "Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and [clergymen] would catch no more flies," wrote Thomas Jefferson to John Adams. "We should all, then, like the Quakers, live without an order of priests, moralize for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe." Adams agreed. He was disturbed -- as late as 1817 -- that "a Protestant Popedom" was still doing its mischief in America. Religion, both men thought, was about life, not doctrine, and it boiled down to four words: "Be just and good." [complete article]

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Armageddon in an age of entertainment
By Gene Lyons, Harper's, March 11, 2005

After living in the Bible Belt for more than thirty years, I've learned several things about our fundamentalist Christian brethren: First, theirs is an embattled faith, which requires an ever evolving list of enemies to keep its focus. It includes Satan worshipers one year, "secular humanists" the next. Panic over backward masking on phonograph records yields to fears that supermarket bar codes harbor the Mark of the Beast. Some years back, Procter & Gamble was forced to deny widespread rumors that a moon-and-stars logo on boxes of soapsuds symbolized corporate diabolism. More recently, purging school libraries of Harry Potter's witchcraft has emerged as a cause. As if the real world weren't scary enough, chimerical threats must be found. It often appears that no form of occultism is too arcane or preposterous to provoke alarm.

I've also learned that fundamentalist Christianity's spiritual entrepreneurs are never more dogmatic than when they are ignoring, if not contradicting, the essence of Jesus Christ's teachings. The basic con is to insist upon the historical and scientific accuracy of every syllable in the Bible -- then to analyze its symbolism, unveil hidden acrostics, and decode secret messages known only to initiates. The Book of Genesis is reduced to a biology text, and Daniel becomes a crystal ball. Thus are delivered the comforts of certitude and the enchantments of sorcery in a single beguiling package. [complete article]

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Aunt Kobra's Islamic democracy
By Reza Aslan, Boston Globe, April 17, 2005

In the neoconservative imagination, Iran is a deeply polarized country locked in a Manichaean struggle for the soul of its people. On one side is the Iran of the secular nationalists: young, zealous reformists who yearn for a democratic country stripped of its repressive religious ideology. On the other is the Iran of the fundamentalist mullahs who wish to sink the country deeper into the slough of Islamic theocracy.

But this conception of Iran is as crude and simplistic as the now debunked theory of a polarized America caught in a culture war between moralistic "red-state" evangelicals and godless "blue-state" liberals. Just as this fabricated dichotomy masks the wide range of religious and political thought in the United States, so does the image of a polarized Iran obscure the many shades of theo-political sentiment that make Iranian politics - and the politics of the Middle East - such a complex and often ferocious affair.

Sketched broadly, there are those in Iran who are convinced that the path to democracy must be built upon the ruins of the Islamic regime. On the other hand, there are those who are struggling to unearth the democratic ideals buried in the country's post-revolutionary constitution so as to make Islam the moral rather than the legal foundation of the state. The clerical regime is itself a fractured and disjointed group, many of whom now actively call for the clergy to return to their traditional role as the arbiters of moral behavior and leave the government in the hands of Iran's capable technocrats. [complete article]

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Understanding Islamism (PDF)
International Crisis Group Report, March 2, 2005

[From the executive summary:]
Reacting to the spectacular and violent events of 11 September 2001, many Western observers and policy-makers have tended to lump all forms of Islamism together, brand them as radical and treat them as hostile. That approach is fundamentally misconceived. Islamism -- or Islamic activism (we treat these terms as synonymous) -- has a number of very different streams, only a few of them violent and only a small minority justifying a confrontational response. The West needs a discriminating strategy that takes account of the diversity of outlooks within political Islamism; that accepts that even the most modernist of Islamists are deeply opposed to current U.S. policies and committed to renegotiating their relations with the West; and that understands that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war occupation of Iraq, and the way in which the "war against terrorism" is being waged all significantly strengthen the appeal of the most virulent and dangerous jihadi tendencies.

[From section V "Sunis on the war path: jihad":]
The ideology of al-Qaeda is not a simple affair, and it is a serious mistake to reduce it to Wahhabism. To do so is to ignore the extent to which al-Qaeda broke with the traditional geo-political outlook of Wahhabism, which had never entered into politico-military opposition to the West and was indeed in alliance with the U.S. from 1945 onwards. Far from being a straightforward product of the Wahhabi tradition, al-Qaeda's jihad is in part rather the product of the crisis and fracturing of Wahhabism and of its relationships both to the Saudi royal family and to the U.S. since the early 1990s. To focus exclusively on the Wahhabi roots of al-Qaeda is also to ignore the crucial role of Egyptian radicalism, mediated by bin Laden's lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the eventual leader of Tanzim al-Jihad, in determining the movement's vision and strategy. These exhibit the following key features:?
-- the reorientation of the traditionalist, Salafi, conception of jihad from an alliance with the West (notably against Soviet Communism but also against secular Arab nationalism) to a frontal antagonism with its former Western sponsors;
-- the reorientation of takfiri jihadi energies from "the nearer enemy" (local, insufficiently Muslim, regimes) to "the further enemy" (Israel and especially the U.S. as Israel's principal sponsor, but also other Western states allied to the U.S.);
-- the recycling of the traditional Wahhabi (and latter-day Salafi) vision of Christians and Jews as infidels to be combated, as opposed to earlier (notably
Ottoman) conceptions of them as "People of the Book" -- Ahl al-Kitab -- to be tolerated and protected;
-- the strategic reorientation of jihad from a single, geographically limited, terrain to the global level; and
-- ?the tactical reorientation from popular-based guerrilla warfare (as practiced notably by the mujahidin in Afghanistan) to highly elitist urban terrorism (the hallmark of Tanzim al-Jihad's insurgency in Egypt between 1981 and 1997).
Contemporary Western analysis, as reflected in official discourse at least, does not appear to have taken the measure of this development. Two tendencies of that discourse are especially wide of the mark.

The first lumps all forms of violent Islamic activism together as a single phenomenon, problem, threat and target: "terrorism". Quite apart from the problem of establishing a definition of terrorism on which all potential supporters of the "war against terrorism" might agree, and the difficulty (for example) of situating the Palestinian movement Hamas in this category, the main drawback is the failure to take account of the single most important feature differentiating the global jihad from both the internal and irredentist jihads -- the fact that it has no clear-cut, intelligible and in principle attainable objective.

The internal jihad has posited objectives -- the revolutionary overthrow of impious regimes and the constitution of properly Islamic states -- which the Iranian experience demonstrated to be, at least under certain conditions, theoretically attainable. Equally, irredentist jihads by their very nature posit what are in principle specific, measurable and attainable ends: the liberation from non-Muslim rule of the territories in question. The global jihad instigated by al-Qaeda is another matter. While its discourse intermittently invokes the desirability of re-establishing the political unity of the Muslim world under a restored Caliphate, little or no thought has been given to how this might actually be done or to defining other, more easily realisable, political objectives at the global level. As a result, it tends to feed on local, primarily irredentist but also occasionally internal, struggles in the Muslim world and on the discourse at least, does not appear to have taken the emergence of identity politics among disaffected elements of the Muslim populations in the West, in Europe above all. Likewise, it tends to retreat from or at least qualify its global political objectives and ambitions.

The second declares respect for Islam as a religion of peace and suggests by implication that Islamic activism in general is un-Islamic, a perverse exploitation of religion for political ends, and that jihadi activism in particular -- conceived as merely the extremist end of the Islamist spectrum -- is simply evil. But while it is rooted in the understandable concern of Western governments to make clear that "the war against terrorism" is not a war of religion, this approach renders jihadi activism inexplicable in terms of cause and effect. However reassuring to certain (mainly Western) audiences, this discourse is wholly inappropriate to prosecuting, let alone winning, the battle of ideas in the Muslim world, for two reasons.

First, since Islam is above all a religion of law, all forms of Islamic activism -- including the government-sponsored activism of "official Islam" -- are naturally
political to a degree. Secondly, to suggest that Islam is a religion of peace that has been "hijacked" by jihadis is in effect to imply that jihad has no place in the Islamic tradition, whereas it has a very clear and time-honoured -- but also rule-bound -- place. For the U.S. president or the British prime minister to deny this is for them to claim to be the arbiters of what true Islam is, a remarkable claim by any standard, and one which ensures that official Western discourse can have little or no purchase on the reflexes of the populations of the Muslim world.

What is at issue in key debates in the Muslim world since the rise of al-Qaeda is whether particular conceptions of jihad are licit in terms of Islamic law. By suggesting that all jihadis are inexplicably evil, by equating all forms of armed struggle with "terrorism" and by denying that any jihad can be licit, Western policy-makers send the clear message that such discussions are futile and can have no effect whatsoever on their policies, thereby undermining a crucial debate. The danger is that, in doing so, the West may convert "the war against terrorism" into precisely what it claims it is not, a war against Islam -- that is, to make a gift of the defence of Islam to the extreme, global variety of jihadism exemplified by al-Qaeda, at the expense of all non-jihadi varieties of Islamic activism, including those of friendly Muslim governments and modernist and democratically inclined Islamic political movements.

To brand all armed struggle by Muslims -- even that arising out of opposition to foreign occupation -- as terrorism is to strengthen the arguments of al-Qaeda that the problem is "the further enemy", i.e., the U.S. and its allies, with whom it is useless to argue or try to negotiate and who only understand the language of brute force. [complete report (PDF)]

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Hizbullah's new face
By Helena Cobban, Boston Review, April/May, 2005

In a war-torn country in the Middle East, there is a political party that for 15 years has led an increasingly effective drive to democratize national political life. This party has competed in three rounds of parliamentary elections since 1992, winning and retaining nearly ten percent of the seats. In the mid-1990s, it spearheaded a successful campaign to reintroduce democratic governance to the country's municipalities, where no elections had been held since 1963. When municipal elections were held in 1998 this party won control of about 15 percent of contested municipalities. With a proven track record by the second round of elections, in spring 2004, the party won control of 21 percent of the municipalities.

Though formally democratic since the 1940s, this country has always faced deep sectarian schisms and the debilitating influence of local clan chiefs. In such an environment, political organizations whose officials not only talk the democratic talk but also walk the walk are very rare. Indeed, given the Bush administration's goal of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East, you might think American officials would be trying to learn from the leaders of this party.

Think again. The country is Lebanon and the party is Hizbullah, a majority-Shiite organization banned by the U.S. government as a "foreign terrorist organization" and known to most Americans only for its hostilities against Israeli and American targets. But Hizbullah is also an explicitly Islamist political party that participates cannily and effectively in Lebanon's democratic processes. [complete article]

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From all sides
By Mariah Blake, CJR, March/April, 2005

Over the last decade, Middle Eastern history has happened, in large part, on Al Jazeera.

The Qatar-based satellite channel had the only foreign reporters inside Iraq when U.S. forces launched a four-day assault, known as Operation Desert Fox, in 1998. In October 2001 its cameras -- the only ones inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan -- captured exclusive footage of the American-led bombardment. When bombs started hitting Baghdad in March 2003, all the American networks, and many European crews, had abandoned the city. Al Jazeera stayed for a close-up view.

History is still being made in Iraq as the country struggles toward independence. But Al Jazeera isn't there to watch it unfold. Last August Iraqi officials closed the station's Baghdad bureau and barred it from operating in the country. Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera's closest competitor, drastically cut its Iraqi operations after insurgents bombed its offices there in October, killing five employees and injuring fourteen. And Asharq Al-Awsat, one of the two largest pan-Arab dailies, shuttered its Baghdad bureau in December after insurgents threatened to blow it up. A number of Arab journalists have also been detained, some even killed, by jittery American troops.

In a war where the various factions seem to want everyone -- including the press -- to choose sides, the Arab media have found themselves under attack from every direction. That has far-reaching implications. Western reporters, faced with the threat of death, began retreating to fortified compounds months ago. Now, with pressure mounting, Arab journalists, along with Arab translators and fixers employed by international news organizations, are retreating, too. The result is that firsthand reporting is getting squeezed out. When it comes to covering the Iraq conflict -- one of the most important stories of our time -- even the Arab media are finding themselves increasingly reliant on secondhand accounts and official reports from Washington and Baghdad, and less able to gauge how events are playing out in the lives of ordinary Iraqis. [complete article]

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What's the matter with liberals?
By Thomas Frank, New York Review of Books, May 12, 2005

For more than thirty-five years, American politics has followed a populist pattern as predictable as a Punch and Judy show and as conducive to enlightened statesmanship as the cycles of a noisy washing machine. The antagonists of this familiar melodrama are instantly recognizable: the average American, humble, long-suffering, working hard, and paying his taxes; and the liberal elite, the know-it-alls of Manhattan and Malibu, sipping their lattes as they lord it over the peasantry with their fancy college degrees and their friends in the judiciary.

Conservatives generally regard class as an unacceptable topic when the subject is economics -- trade, deregulation, shifting the tax burden, expressing worshipful awe for the microchip, etc. But define politics as culture, and class instantly becomes for them the very blood and bone of public discourse. Indeed, from George Wallace to George W. Bush, a class-based backlash against the perceived arrogance of liberalism has been one of their most powerful weapons. Workerist in its rhetoric but royalist in its economic effects, this backlash is in no way embarrassed by its contradictions. It understands itself as an uprising of the little people even when its leaders, in control of all three branches of government, cut taxes on stock dividends and turn the screws on the bankrupt. It mobilizes angry voters by the millions, despite the patent unwinnability of many of its crusades. And from the busing riots of the Seventies to the culture wars of our own time, the backlash has been ignored, downplayed, or misunderstood by liberals.

The 2004 presidential campaign provides a near-perfect demonstration of the persistent power of backlash -- as well as another disheartening example of liberalism's continuing inability to confront it in an effective manner. So perfect, in fact, that it deserves to be studied by political enthusiasts for decades to come, in the manner that West Point cadets study remarkable infantry exploits and MBAs study branding campaigns that conjured up billions out of nothing but a catchy jingle. [complete article]

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Where is liberal passion?
By Michael P. Lynch, The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 22, 2005

The day after the presidential inauguration, a coalition of progressives carried a 70-foot replica of a human backbone to the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington. Their point was well taken. The self-appointed party of the American left could learn from the opposition: Be more upright, less spineless.

Yet you might think that the backbone metaphor begs a question. You can't find the courage of your convictions if you lack real conviction in the first place. And as a group, blue-staters have been accused by friendly and not-so-friendly critics alike of being less than red-hot. They typically prize reason and deliberation; they are not gung-ho. They don't shout "bring it on"; they are suspicious of the blind emotion of tent revivals and military parades. They encourage thinking things through, getting a second opinion, and acknowledging the possibility that one can always be wrong. And that, some liberals worry, is just the problem. [complete article]

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American salvation
By Albert J. Raboteau, Boston Review, April/May, 2005

G.K. Chesterton once called America "a nation with the soul of a church." He was referring, in part, to the habitual tendency of Americans to cast political and social events as scenes in the drama of salvation. From the start America's story was a religious story. In the 1630s English Puritans represented their journey across the Atlantic to America as the exodus of a New Israel out of Old World slavery into a promised land of milk and honey. And through the centuries, the story of the American Israel would serve as our nation's most powerful and long-lasting myth.

But to black Americans the nation was not a New Israel but the old Egypt, condemned to sure destruction unless she let God's people go. The existence of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and racism contradicted the mythic identity of Americans as a chosen people.

African-American Christianity has continuously confronted the nation with troubling questions about American exceptionalism. Perhaps the most troubling was this: "If Christ came as the Suffering Servant, who resembled Him more, the master or the slave?" Suffering-slave Christianity stood as a prophetic condemnation of America's obsession with power, status, and possessions. African-American Christians perceived in American exceptionalism a dangerous tendency to turn the nation into an idol and Christianity into a clan religion. Divine election brings not preeminence, elevation, and glory, but -- as black Christians know all too well -- humiliation, suffering, and rejection. Chosenness, as reflected in the life of Jesus, led to a cross. The lives of his disciples have been signed with that cross. To be chosen, in this perspective, means joining company not with the powerful and the rich but with those who suffer: the outcast, the poor, and the despised.
[complete article]

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Disappearing islands, thawing permafrost, melting polar ice. How the earth is changing
By Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, April 18, 2005

The National Academy of Sciences undertook its first rigorous study of global warming in 1979. At that point, climate modelling was still in its infancy, and only a few groups, one led by Syukuro Manabe, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and another by James Hansen, at nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, had considered in any detail the effects of adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Still, the results of their work were alarming enough that President Jimmy Carter called on the academy to investigate. A nine-member panel was appointed, led by the distinguished meteorologist Jule Charney, of M.I.T.

The Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate, or the Charney panel, as it became known, met for five days at the National Academy of Sciences' summer study center, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Its conclusions were unequivocal. Panel members had looked for flaws in the modellers' work but had been unable to find any. "If carbon dioxide continues to increase, the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible," the scientists wrote. For a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels, they put the likely global temperature rise at between two and a half and eight degrees Fahrenheit. The panel members weren't sure how long it would take for changes already set in motion to become manifest, mainly because the climate system has a built-in time delay. It could take "several decades," they noted. For this reason, what might seem like the most conservative approach -- waiting for evidence of warming in order to assess the models' accuracy -- actually amounted to the riskiest possible strategy: "We may not be given a warning until the CO2 loading is such that an appreciable climate change is inevitable."

It is now twenty-five years since the Charney panel issued its report, and, in that period, Americans have been alerted to the dangers of global warming so many times that volumes have been written just on the history of efforts to draw attention to the problem. (The National Academy of Sciences alone has issued nearly two hundred reports on global warming; the most recent, "Radiative Forcing of Climate Change," was published just last month.) During this same period, worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions have continued to increase, from five billion billion metric tons a year to seven billion, and the earth's temperature, much as predicted by Manabe's and Hansen's models, has steadily risen. The year 1990 was the warmest year on record until 1991, which was equally hot. Almost every subsequent year has been warmer still. The year 1998 ranks as the hottest year since the instrumental temperature record began, but it is closely followed by 2002 and 2003, which are tied for second; 2001, which is third; and 2004, which is fourth. Since climate is innately changeable, it's difficult to say when, exactly, in this sequence natural variation could be ruled out as the sole cause. The American Geophysical Union, one of the nation's largest and most respected scientific organizations, decided in 2003 that the matter had been settled. At the group's annual meeting that year, it issued a consensus statement declaring, "Natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase in global near-surface temperatures." As best as can be determined, the world is now warmer than it has been at any point in the last two millennia, and, if current trends continue, by the end of the century it will likely be hotter than at any point in the last two million years. [complete article]

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If you could teach the world just one thing
Spiked Magazine, April 28, 2005

2005 - announced as Einstein Year - marks the centenary of the publication of Albert Einstein's equation E = mc2. To mark this occasion, Sandy Starr at spiked and science communicator Alom Shaha have conducted a survey of over 250 renowned scientists, science communicators, and educators - including 11 Nobel laureates - asking what they would teach the world about science and why, if they could pick just one thing. [complete article]

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Different ways of thinking and thinking in different ways
By Paula Bourges-Waldegg, Butterflies and Wheels, April 22, 2005

We all have different ways of thinking but do we actually think in different ways? In other words, is cognition universal? The question of what is universal and what culturally specific is a classic issue in the nature vs. nurture debate. Those on the side of nature tend to see everything as universal and those on the side of nurture think that people from different cultures are fundamentally distinct. However, beyond this already tedious and sometimes artificial polarization, the reality is that both nature and nurture have some bearing on most of the things we do and the extent to which a phenomenon is universal or culturally specific can often just depend on how you define it. [complete article]

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The right to life
By Hilary Mantel, New York Review of Books, May 12, 2005

The trial of Dobie Williams lasted one week, from selection of jury to guilty verdict to death sentence. Dobie was a Louisiana man, poor and black and with an IQ of sixty-five. He was convicted of the murder of a forty-three- year-old white woman who was stabbed to death in her bathroom. According to the prosecution, this lady called out helpfully, while being attacked, "A black man has killed me," and when her husband rushed into the bathroom, she indicated, while dying, that the black man had gone out through a window so small and high up that the family had never bothered to put a lock on it. Betty Williams, the mother of the accused, commented, "That sounds like somebody in a murder mystery book."

Dobie was on weekend leave from a detention center where he was serving a term for burglary. He seems to have been arrested because he was in the neighborhood. No motive was alleged for the crime, other than that Dobie had been drinking that evening. None of the blood of the dead woman was found on his person or his clothes. To explain this, the police suggested that Dobie had stripped naked to commit the murder. Because the victim's clothes were pulled down -- she was, after all, in the bathroom -- it was insinuated that the accused had been attempting rape, though the victim had not in fact been raped and no such charge was brought. But the insinuation may have contributed to the jury's speedy verdict.

Dobie was said to have confessed on tape, but the recording was missing by the time the case came to court, and the police officers who had overheard this "confession" gave conflicting evidence about it. Dobie was defended by an attorney later disbarred for unethical conduct, and as Sister Helen Prejean follows him on the long road to the execution chamber she explains how the failures and blunders at the original trial made it impossible for his later defenders to recover the ground lost. [complete article]

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Black arts
By Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books, May 12, 2005

"Chatter" seems too casual a word for what is arguably the most important single product of the mammoth American cyber-industrial establishment which gathers "communications intelligence," commonly abbreviated as Comint. Intelligence professionals use "chatter" to describe the miscellany they acquire of the personal and operational communications of "persons of interest," another term of art meaning people who may know or be planning something the United States wants or needs to know about. For the last three years the people at the top of the American list of persons of interest have included Osama bin Laden, his lieutenants, associates, and supporters in al-Qaeda, and the widening circles of Islamic fundamentalists who share or know or have heard rumors about Osama's goals and plans. In the absence of agents reporting from al-Qaeda's innermost sanctum, American intelligence professionals must depend on chatter to keep track of whatever devastating attacks al-Qaeda's terrorist cells may be planning next.

Over the spring and summer of 2001 intercepts of terrorist chatter rose to dramatic levels but were shrugged off by the White House and the President's then national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. The destruction of the World Trade Center ended that; now the nation's electronic ears strain for every terrorist whisper. Periodic official warnings of new attacks on tunnels and bridges, on major sports events, on commercial airliners arriving from France, and on the New York City subway system have all been identified as prompted by chatter, often described as reaching levels not seen since just before September 11 -- shorthand for "listen up, this is serious." In the case of New York's subways some 16,000 law enforcement per-sonnel in and out of uniform were mobilized after Comint analysts lifted a single worrying word from the chatter -- "underground." What did it mean? No one knew, but responsible officials were not about to wait and see. [complete article]

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Occupational hazards
By John Prados, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June, 2005

John Negroponte will face some significant obstacles as the nation's first director of national intelligence (DNI), an important job strewn with pitfalls. Negroponte, however, is familiar with booby traps, both figurative and literal; it was on his watch as ambassador to Iraq that improvised explosive devices made the road between the Baghdad airport and his embassy impassable, forcing him to hop on a helicopter to get to his plane. What the DNI may soon discover is that the booby traps lurking within the U.S. intelligence community dwarf those he faced in Iraq.

One pitfall that Negroponte keeps stepping into harks back to his days as U.S. ambassador to Honduras, from late 1981 through 1986. Known then as "the Proconsul" because of his imperious efforts to implement the Reagan administration's anti-Sandinista policy (in which Honduras served as a base for CIA-backed rebels), Negroponte turned a blind eye to Honduran human rights abuses. During the Proconsul's reign, embassy reports were doctored to ensure that Honduras met congressional conditions for foreign aid and to make the country look better in annual State Department human rights reports. Notices of human rights violations had to be double-and triple-checked before Negroponte let them be sent to Washington. Many of the violations involved torture. (During Negroponte's time in Honduras the CIA formally prohibited the approval of or participation in torture and instructed officers to try to dissuade torturers. One wonders what became of those orders.)

A 1982 Honduran military operation--in which an American priest, among others, was executed on the orders of Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, the country's military strongman--was made possible by U.S.-provided air support that Negroponte denied having furnished. The next year, an intelligence report revealing that General Alvarez had given the orders never made it out of Negroponte's embassy. Negroponte's defenders say he was under tremendous pressure from the Reagan White House. But that does not excuse his actions, and any evidence of his positive interventions in Honduras, by contrast, is noticeably weak. [complete article]

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Pentagon analyst accused of disclosing secrets
By David Johnston and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, May 4, 2005

Federal agents arrested a Pentagon analyst today, accusing him of illegally disclosing a highly classified document about possible attacks on American forces in Iraq to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group.

The military analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, turned himself in to authorities this morning and was scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va., later in the afternoon. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison.

The investigation into a midlevel career employee at the Pentagon has stirred anxious debate in some political circles in the capital. The investigation has cast a cloud over Aipac, which has close ties to senior policymakers in the Bush administration, among them Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is expected to appear later this month at the group's annual meeting.

Moreover, the case has proven awkward for a group of conservative Republicans in civilian jobs at the Pentagon who were also close to Aipac. They were led by Paul D. Wolfowitz, formerly the deputy defense secretary, who is soon to become president of the World Bank. Mr. Franklin once worked in the office of one of Mr. Wolfowitz's allies, Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary for policy at the Pentagon, who is also expected to be leaving soon. [complete article]

A rare peek at what really happened in AIPAC affair
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, May 4, 2005

FBI investigators go to great lengths in the indictment to explain that Franklin clearly told the two that the information was "highly classified" and that he asked them not to use it. If the FBI has proof of this, it will make it very difficult for the AIPAC officials to defend themselves, as they cannot claim that they did not know what type of information they were receiving.

Rosen and Weissman have already been questioned by the FBI, but they have not yet appeared before the grand jury investigating the affair, reinforcing the impression that the investigation has not yet been completed. [complete article]

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Disarray as Iraq's new government is sworn in
By Andrew England and Awad al-Taee, Financial Times, May 3, 2005

Iraq's new government was finally sworn in yesterday, but five outstanding positions in the cabinet, including the key posts of defence and oil, remained unfilled.

Parliament approved a partial cabinet last Thursday, but the Shia, Kurdish and Sunni parties have been unable to agree whoshould head those ministries along with those ofelectricity, industryand human rights, despiteweeks of damaging political wrangling.

Since then a wave of attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere has killed more than 100 people, and authorities fear a political vacuum is emboldening the insurgents. [complete article]

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Old brutality among new Iraqi forces
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 2005

Iraqi special forces soldiers Ali Jabbar and Mohammed Ali insist they mete out justice fairly. They beat only the prisoners they know did something wrong, not the innocent ones.

In March, when a rocket attack on one of their bases missed the target but angered the soldiers, they searched the area and found two suspects.

"You want to know the truth? My arms are still tired from hitting those guys," laughs Mr. Jabbar in an interview along with Mr. Ali in Baghdad.

Throughout the war in Iraq, the brutality of the battlefield has occasionally spilled into interrogation rooms and prisons. The central figure in the Abu Ghraib prison-abuse scandal, Pfc. Lynndie England, pleaded guilty Monday to seven counts of mistreating prisoners.

But with Iraqis taking a greater role in battling the insurgency and patrolling their own streets as the new government begins work, accusations of human rights abuses are shifting away from the Americans and onto Iraqi police officers and soldiers. [complete article]

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Suicide bomber kills 60 in Iraqi Kurd city
By Shamal Aqrawi and Seb Walker, Reuters, May 4, 2005

A suicide bomber struck the offices of a Kurdish party in northern Iraq on Wednesday, killing at least 60 people in the bloodiest attack since a new government promising stability was formed a week ago.

Witnesses said a crowd had gathered outside the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) office, which also served as a police recruiting center, when the bomber hit.

A health ministry official in Arbil said 150 people were wounded. Hospitals said they were overwhelmed with casualties. [complete article]

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Poll: Most Americans say Iraq war not worth it
Reuters (via MSNBC), May 4, 2005

A majority of Americans do not think it was worth going to war in Iraq with support at the lowest level since the United States launched the invasion in 2003, according to a CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll released on Tuesday.

Fifty-seven percent of those polled said it was not worth going to war compared to 41 percent who thought it was. In a February poll, 48 percent said the war was worth it and half said it was not.

A poll in April 2003, shortly after the war began, found that 73 percent of Americans held the view that the war was worth fighting. The new poll results had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points. [complete article]

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Pakistan 'catches al-Qaeda chief'
BBC News, May 4, 2005

Senior Libyan al-Qaeda suspect Abu Faraj al-Libbi has been arrested in Pakistan, the government says.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that Libbi had been captured in the past few days.

He was held with at least five other foreign al-Qaeda suspects in a clash in Waziristan in North-West Frontier Province, security sources said. [complete article]

See also, 'Bring me the head of Bin Laden' (BBC) and Taliban profit from US largesse (Asia Times).

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Interview with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, May 3, 2005

"[The Bush administration has] come to understand what we have done in Saudi Arabia," said Prince Saud, "and what we have done is no small thing. We have combated terrorism. We are committed to that. We are fighting those who support it and those who condone its actions. We've killed 23 of the 26 most-wanted terrorists in Saudi Arabia. We've shut off their money supply. We have practically stopped their recruitment. We have controlled what is being said in mosques. So we are winning the war. I think that the United States and the government in particular understand."

Really? I wondered. If they are winning the war is it a good sign that a couple of weeks ago there was a three-day gun battle with Al Qaeda terrorists in the middle of the country?

"It was not in the middle of Saudi Arabia, it was on the outskirts of Mecca and there were no citizens put in immediate danger," Saud said evenly. "We are in the business of saving lives, not destroying lives. We are not going to play their game -- the game of the terrorists. We will do what we need to do in the time that we need to do it."

The Bush administration maintains the war in Iraq is helping to curb international terrorism, but the Saudis don't see it that way.

"The war in Iraq, and this is admitted by the U.S. generals there, is creating terrorism rather than resolving terrorism," said Saud. [complete article]

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Air Force to probe religious climate at Colorado academy
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, May 4, 2005

The Air Force said yesterday it is creating a task force to address the religious climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy, following allegations that its faculty and staff have pressured cadets to convert to evangelical Christianity.

The acting secretary of the Air Force, Michael L. Dominguez, ordered the task force to make a preliminary assessment by May 23 of the religious atmosphere on the Colorado Springs campus and its "relevance ... to the entire Air Force." He named Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel, to head the effort.

The investigation is the second major probe of the academy in two years. In 2003, dozens of former female cadets came forward to say they had been sexually assaulted at the academy, prompting an overhaul of its policies toward women.

Alumni also have played a key role in raising the complaints of religious intolerance. Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, a White House attorney in the Reagan administration who graduated from the academy in 1977 and has sent two sons there, said yesterday that "a colossal failure of leadership is resulting in a constitutional train wreck" at the school. [complete article]

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Speaking truth to Rumsfeld
By Michael O'Hanlon, Washington Post, May 3, 2005

When the White House nominated Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace last week to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, many observers said they hoped he would be able to stand up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They were implying, not so subtly, that he and most of the nation's other top military leaders had not done so in the past. As Congress prepares for Pace's confirmation hearings, it is important to explore this issue.

Civil-military relations are always complicated in a constitutional democracy -- and always critical to the nation's security in times of war. The questions about Pace derive, of course, from his role as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Iraq events. The post-invasion phase of the operation ("Phase IV") there has been the most poorly planned U.S. military mission since Somalia in 1993 -- if not Lebanon in 1983 -- with greater consequences for national security than any use of force since Vietnam. [complete article]

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A few good words of bad news
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2005

The admission by the nation's top general that the demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are hurting U.S. military readiness indicates that common sense continues to have its place. The blunt honesty of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, is a bracing change from repeated claims by Pentagon civilians and President Bush that everything is fine.

Myers reported to Congress this week that the armed forces would have more trouble this year than last in quickly winning a new major combat operation and would suffer higher casualties. That's a realistic reflection of the cost of tying up 140,000 troops, more than 10% of U.S. active-duty forces, in Iraq even as recruiting lags substantially. It also contrasts with Bush's statement at his press conference last week that when he asks Myers about strains on readiness the general says he "doesn't feel we're limited" and the military has "plenty of capacity."

The troops are having problems. The proposed Pentagon budget for the next fiscal year is $420 billion. Add in supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan and it's about half a trillion dollars. Such enormous amounts of money have not bought security for the road from the Baghdad airport to downtown or information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or his acolyte in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi. [complete article]

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Army breaking rules to get more recruits
By Damien Cave, New York Times (IHT), May 4, 2005

It was late September when the 21-year-old man, fresh from a three-week commitment in a psychiatric ward, showed up at an army recruiting station in southern Ohio.

The two recruiters there quickly signed him up, and even after the man's parents told them he had bipolar disorder - a diagnosis that would disqualify him - he was set to go to training camp before senior officers found out and canceled the enlistment. Despite an army investigation, the recruiters were not punished and were still working in the area late last month.

In northern Ohio, another recruiter said the incident hardly surprised him. He has been bending or breaking enlistment rules for months, he said, hiding police records and medical histories of potential recruits. His commanders have encouraged such deception, he said, because they know there is no other way to meet the army's recruitment quotas.

"The problem is that no one wants to join," the recruiter said. "We have to play fast and loose with the rules just to get by." [complete article]

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Bolton criticized by top ex-officials
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times (IHT), May 4, 2005

Three former senior U.S. government officials have provided new accounts of what they described as bullying and intolerance by John Bolton, the nominee for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, toward subordinates and other officials who disagreed with his views on policy and intelligence matters.

The three officials provided the accounts in interviews with the staff of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is reviewing Bolton's nomination, according to transcripts of the conversations.

The firsthand accounts came from a former ambassador to South Korea, a former assistant secretary of state and the former head of the CIA's weapons proliferation center. All three described Bolton as unwilling to listen to alternative views, the transcripts show, and two provided new details about episodes in which he sought to punish those who challenged his positions. [complete article]

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The real nuclear option
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, May 3, 2005

The worldwide review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which takes place at the United Nations every five years, is usually a boring business: diplomatic boilerplate, capped by vague resolutions. This year's session, which got under way Monday, could—and should—have been an exception: a vital forum for a frightening time.

The NPT—in effect for 35 years and signed by 189 countries (every country in the world but three)—is teetering in crisis, possibly on the edge of obsolescence. One country, North Korea, has abrogated the treaty, the first signatory ever to do so, and has since reprocessed enough plutonium to build at least a half-dozen bombs. Another, Iran, is poised to go down the same road via enriched uranium.

More broadly, vast loopholes in the treaty, which have long been noticed, are finally being exploited. It is increasingly doubtful whether the NPT, in its current form, can remain a useful tool for constraining nuclear ambitions.

It desperately needs repair, yet the Bush administration has sent only a midlevel State Department official as its delegate to the review session. Not just Iran, but also the United States, France, and Japan have rejected—for commercial reasons—a proposal by Mohamed ElBaradei, the U.N.'s chief atomic-weapons inspector, to freeze uranium-enrichment for five years. Nobody in a position of power seems willing to take any new steps to avert a crisis that everyone sees as looming and dangerous. [complete article]

Comment -- I suspect that the fundamental problem here is not the terms of this particular treaty, but rather it is George Bush's lack of faith in treaties of any kind. This is what he said about arms control back in November, 2001:
I think it's interesting to note that a new relationship based upon trust and cooperation is one that doesn't need endless hours of arms control discussions. I can remember watching the news, years ago, and seeing that people would sit at tables for hours and hours and hours trying to reach reduced levels of nuclear armament.

My attitude is, here's what we can live with. And so I've announced a level that we're going to -- that we'll stick by. To me, that's how you approach a relationship that is changed, and different. And we'd be glad to -- and I looked the man in the eye and shook his hand, and if we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I'll be glad to do that. But that's what our government is going to do over the next 10 years.

And we don't need an arms control agreement or an arms control -- let me say this -- we don't need arms control negotiations to reduce our weaponry in a significant way.
The basic philosophy is, friends can make an agreement with a handshake, while enemies will find ways of breaking or circumventing a treaty. So who needs treaties? The problem is, George Bush isn't the chairman of the board. He's the president and took an oath to uphold the US Constitution, Article VI of which states: all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.

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Europeans seek U.S. help in Iran talks
By Tyler Marshall and Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2005

European countries seeking to negotiate an end to Iran's nuclear enrichment program are asking the Bush administration for more help, saying the United States should offer Tehran new incentives to revive foundering talks, U.S. officials said.

The request for a new U.S. overture, made last week, was viewed as another sign that the talks between Iran and European Union representatives had made little headway since the two sides renewed efforts last fall to reach an agreement.

A U.S. official said the request was vague. Several European governments have argued that successful negotiations with Iran hinge on greater American involvement, including an offer to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic and an assurance that the U.S. will not attack Iran. [complete article]

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Tehran to resume nuclear program
By David E. Sanger and Warren Hoge, New York Times (IHT), May 4, 2005

Iran on Tuesday told a conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that Tehran was determined to press ahead with uranium enrichment and accused the United States and Europe of trying to keep an exclusive hold on technological advancement.

"It is unacceptable that some tend to limit the access to peaceful nuclear technology to an exclusive club of technologically advanced states under the pretext of nonproliferation," Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian foreign minister, said from the podium of the General Assembly, where the monthlong gathering was in its second day.

Iran, he said, would pursue "all legal areas of nuclear technology, including enrichment, exclusively for peaceful purposes." He said that the terms of the treaty permitted it to do so. [complete article]

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For Abbas, a crisis of perception
By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, May 4, 2005

The entryway of the Nablus police headquarters is plastered with posters memorializing dead comrades. Some were killed by Israeli tank fire. Others were picked off by Israeli army sharpshooters. In addition to being police officers, most were members of Palestinian militant organizations.

In the drab hallways of the Nablus station house, the policemen on the posters are considered heroes, resistance fighters who died defending their homeland against an occupation army.

For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, no issue is more pivotal to his support from the outside world -- or more treacherous to his stature with his own people -- than Israeli and U.S. demands that he reform Palestinian security forces and disarm and disband militant groups. His key plan for accomplishing those tasks is to integrate the fighters into official Palestinian security agencies, with the ultimate aim, Abbas says, of creating "one law, one authority, one weapon." [complete article]

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Brazil spurns U.S. terms for Aids help
By Sarah Boseley and Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, May 4, 2005

Brazil yesterday became the first country to take a public stand against the Bush administration's massive Aids programme which is seen by many as seeking increasingly to press its anti-abortion, pro-abstinence sexual agenda on poorer countries.

Campaigners applauded Brazil's rejection of $40m for its Aids programmes because it refuses to agree to a declaration condemning prostitution.

The government and many Aids organisations believe such a declaration would be a serious barrier to helping sex workers protect themselves and their clients from infection.

The demand from the US administration, heavily influenced by the religious right, follows what is known as the "global gag" - a ban on US government funds to any foreign-based organisation which has links to abortion. This has resulted in the removal of millions of dollars of funding from family planning clinics worldwide. [complete article]

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Foggy Bottom's case of the missing memo
US News and World Report, May 9, 2005

As the Senate inquiry into President Bush's U.N. ambassador nominee John Bolton rages on, new tales are surfacing about his aggressive management style. Senate staffers are now said to be looking into how Bolton, as under secretary of state for arms control, handled a State Department review of a July 2002 missile strike on a Gaza City building that killed the military leader of the Palestinian extremist group Hamas and 14 others. Several offices of the State Department, including the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the legal office, believed Israel may have violated U.S. arms-export laws by using an American-made F-16 jet in the attack. Bolton disagreed, and officials drafted a "split memo" for Secretary of State Colin Powell, laying out both positions. But late one evening, sources say, just before the memo went to Powell's office, Bolton recalled it and allegedly replaced it with a new memo, omitting the assessment that Israel may have violated the law. Powell never learned that some of his staffers took a different view, according to officials. "After that, anytime Bolton was involved, we made sure that someone stayed until 10:30 or 11," said one official. "Fool me once ... " [complete article]

Comment -- When journalists refer to John Bolton's "aggressive management style", they position the debate about his nomination exactly where the White House wants it placed: as a debate on strength versus weakness. The implication is that anyone who would fail to assert themselves as vigorously as Bolton does is necessarily weak. America needs a strong representative at the U.N. who can spearhead essential reforms - so the argument goes.

Fair enough, but all the evidence seems to indicate that John Bolton is not strong. He throws tantrums, is underhand when he's afraid of not getting his way and from everything that has been reported he is singularly lacking in powers of persuasion. Does an effective diplomat not need the skill to win people over? Is this not a good diplomat's fundamental strength and a strength that Bolton clearly lacks?

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On leaving the superpower orbit
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 3, 2005

With no end in sight, the draining Iraq War has already trumped much of the rest of the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy (especially in Asia) and has left the administration thoroughly distracted when it comes to whole regions of the world. As Chris Nelson of the Washington-insider Nelson Report put matters this week:
"All this by way of saying that we can now see even more clearly than before the import of Secretary of State Condi Rice's extraordinary interview last week in the Wall Street Journal. The former Soviet expert repeatedly made clear that the entire focus of Bush Administration policy is and will continue to be on the Middle East. All responsibility for coming up with a solution to the North Korea problem Rice cheerfully consigned to China."
The war in Iraq has also left the Middle East increasingly destabilized; oil prices on the rise; the dollar undermined; and the U.S. military desperately overstretched, if not incapable of dealing with other major global challenges. No wonder the President clutched the hand of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah the other day down in Crawford. He needs whatever help he can get.

This, in turn, has opened a remarkable space for experimentation and change in, of all places, the little attended to "near abroad" of the winning superpower -- a space Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has recently been playing with for all he's worth. A former military man with his own shadowy past of coup d'etats, Chavez, the twice elected and popular president of Venezuela, is the sort of figure that American administrations once dealt with decisively. But Chavez, who finds himself in control of the third largest source of U.S. imported oil (to the tune of 15% of all our oil imports, almost as much as Saudi Arabia), has in the last months managed to: make energy deals with super-competitor China and super-hated Iran (Hey, that's our energy!); form a thumb-your-nose informal economic alliance with super-hated Cuban leader Fidel Castro, part of an attempt to create an alternative to the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas (from which Cuba is excluded); buy arms from Russia and Spain; threaten to cut off Venezuelan oil supplies to the U.S. if his government should be endangered or blockaded by Washington; and last week -- in the ultimate insult to the Bush administration (for whom foreign policy and military policy are almost the same thing) -- throw the U.S. military out of Venezuela. [complete article]

See also, Setback for U.S. as Chilean takes OAS helm (FT).

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U.S. called unprepared for nuclear terrorism
By John Mintz, Washington Post, May 3, 2005

When asked during the campaign debates to name the gravest danger facing the United States, President Bush and challenger Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) gave the same answer: a nuclear device in the hands of terrorists.

But more than 3 1/2 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has failed to adequately prepare first responders and the public for a nuclear strike, according to emergency preparedness and nuclear experts and federal reports. [complete article]

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Annan urges concessions on nuclear arms
By Charles J. Hanley, AP (via Boston Globe), May 3, 2005

Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the United States and Russia yesterday to slash their nuclear arsenals irreversibly to just hundreds of warheads, and urged nonweapons states like Iran to give up potential bomb technology in return for international guarantees of nuclear fuel.

The UN atomic energy chief followed with an offer to begin work on a system of international fuel supplies.

The two spoke at the opening of a monthlong conference to review the workings of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT. The session comes at a time of mounting nuclear tensions over North Korea's withdrawal from the 189-nation pact and Iran's program to enrich uranium, a possible step toward a bomb. [complete article]

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Insurgents using U.S. techniques
By Bradley Graham and Dana Priest, Washington Post, May 3, 2005

In 1965, the U.S. Army published a detailed manual on how to build and hide booby traps, complete with detailed diagrams illustrating various means of wiring detonators to explosives, and advising on the best locations for concealing the deadly bombs along roadways and elsewhere.

Two decades later, the Iraqi military issued its troops an Arabic version of the same manual, copying not only the wording but also many of the drawings. Dated March 1987 and stamped "confidential," the manual includes a message from Saddam Hussein, then Iraq's supreme ruler, underscoring the importance of perpetual learning.

The existence of the Iraqi copy highlights the degree to which U.S. military techniques and technology found their way into Hussein's military even as relations between the Iraqi leader and Washington eventually deteriorated into all-out war. With members of Hussein's former military and security groups now powering much of the insurgency in Iraq, U.S. forces find themselves confronting an enemy trained, at least in part, in U.S. military methods. [complete article]

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Conference aimed at Sunnis leave some feeling alienated
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, May 3, 2005

Several hundred Sunni Muslims from Iraq's angriest and most violent areas traveled yesterday to Baghdad to join the political process they've so far shunned, responding to calls for Sunnis to help draft the country's all-important new constitution.

Yet some felt more alienated than ever from Iraq's increasingly polarized political scene when they found the meeting was led by a Shi'ite official who enthusiastically backs the state policies they most despise, from purging Ba'ath Party members to last year's invasion of Fallujah.

The conference kicked off a crucial effort to draw Sunnis into writing the constitution, one of the most urgent tasks facing the new government as it seeks to win over disaffected Sunnis who fuel the insurgency.

Mistrust on both sides was on display when the conference broke for lunch and a phalanx of guards, machine guns bristling, whisked away the organizer, National Security Adviser Mowaffak Rubaie -- apparently deeming it unsafe for him to gladhand a room full of tribal leaders from unruly cities like Mosul, Ramadi, and Samarra. [complete article]

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From 'gook' to 'raghead'
By Bob Herbert, New York Times (IHT), May 3, 2005

I spent some time recently with Aidan Delgado, 23, a religion major at New College of Florida, a small, highly selective school in Sarasota.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, before hearing anything about the terror attacks that would change the direction of American history, Delgado enlisted as a private in the army reserve. Suddenly, in ways he had never anticipated, the military took over his life. He was trained as a mechanic and assigned to the 320th Military Police Company in St. Petersburg, Florida. By the spring of 2003, he was in Iraq. Eventually he would be stationed at the prison compound in Abu Ghraib.

Delgado's background is unusual. He is an American citizen, but because his father was in the diplomatic corps, he grew up overseas. He spent eight years in Egypt, speaks Arabic and knows a great deal about the various cultures of the Middle East. He wasn't happy when, even before his unit left the States, a top officer made wisecracks about the soldiers heading off to Iraq to kill some ragheads and burn some turbans. [complete article]

Delgado's experiences are described in greater length in this interview.

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Iraq, Afghanistan wars preventing proactive moves
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2005

The strains imposed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it far more difficult for the U.S. military to beat back new acts of aggression, launch a pre-emptive strike or prevent conflict in another part of the world, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded in a classified analysis presented to Congress today.

In a sober assessment of the Pentagon's ability to deal with global threats, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers concluded that the American military is at greater risk this year than last year of being unable to properly execute the missions for which it must prepare around the globe.

The assessment stated that the military is at "significant risk" of being unable to prevail against enemies abroad in the manner that Pentagon war plans mandate. [complete article]

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Republican chairman exerts pressure on PBS, alleging biases
By Stephen Labaton, Lorne Manly and Elizabeth Jensen, New York Times, May 2, 2005

The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is aggressively pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias, prompting some public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial independence.

Without the knowledge of his board, the chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, contracted last year with an outside consultant to keep track of the guests' political leanings on one program, "Now With Bill Moyers."

In late March, on the recommendation of administration officials, Mr. Tomlinson hired the director of the White House Office of Global Communications as a senior staff member, corporation officials said. While she was still on the White House staff, she helped draft guidelines governing the work of two ombudsmen whom the corporation recently appointed to review the content of public radio and television broadcasts. [complete article]

Comment -- Why doesn't the GOP stop being so whimpy about stamping out the communist homosexual tendencies that surely lurk inside the heart of every liberal? Censoring mealy-mouthed PBS and NPR isn't the solution. We need some Khmer-style thought-reform programs!

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Religious right seeks judiciary that dissolves church-state separation
By Dick Polman, Knight Ridder, April 30, 2005

Religious conservatives, emboldened by President Bush's re-election and confident of their political clout, are not interested in merely overhauling the judiciary. Ideally, they are seeking a judiciary that would remove the wall of separation between church and state.

This ambition is stated clearly in numerous legal briefs currently on file at the U.S. Supreme Court in connection with a pending case; they seek removal of "a Berlin wall" that is "out of step with this nation's religious heritage." In fact, their leaders argue in interviews that the church-state barrier is a "myth" invented by the high court in 1947, thanks to a twisted interpretation of our founding documents. [complete article]

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Past leader of chorus turns to terror
By Maamoun Youssef, AP (via Boston Globe), May 2, 2005

Once the cheerful leader of a school singing group, Ehab Yousri Yassin underwent a drastic change a few years ago, mingling with Islamic extremists, talking only about religion, and forcing his sisters to wear head-to-toe veils, say residents of this impoverished city on Cairo's northern outskirts.

The residents provided insights into the 24-year-old's life yesterday, a day after security officials said he blew himself up while jumping from a bridge in central Cairo during a police chase.

The explosion killed Yassin -- suspected of helping plan an April 7 suicide bombing in a crowded Cairo bazaar -- and injured seven others.

Less than two hours later, police say, one of Yassin's sisters and his fiancee, enraged by his death, opened fire on a tourist bus carrying Austrians before killing themselves. The tourists escaped injury, but two Egyptians in the area were wounded.

Police cracked down hard, arresting 200 people in massive security sweeps Saturday and yesterday in two areas just north of Cairo, including the neighborhood in Shubra el-Kheima where Yassin and his sisters grew up. [complete article]

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Palestinians destroy homes in anticorruption campaign
By Ibrahim Barzak, AP (via Boston Globe), May 3, 2005

A Palestinian bulldozer yesterday demolished the seaside homes of three senior officers who built illegally on public land in Gaza, the start of what the Palestinian government promises will be a relentless campaign against corruption.

Palestinians, fed up with years of corruption by security officials, hailed the move as an important sign that no one is above the law.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was elected, in part, on a pledge to overhaul the government and security services, where top officials routinely misuse their power for personal gain.

In recent weeks, he has forced top security leaders into retirement and promised to streamline and restructure the security services, which grew increasingly corrupt during the chaos of 4Æ years of fighting with Israel. [complete article]

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For U.S. troops, war becomes long, deadly fight to rebuild Iraq
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, May 1, 2005

Two years after President Bush stood under a "Mission Accomplished" banner and declared that the United States had prevailed in the lightning-swift battle of Iraq, American troops labor each day on a different mission: a slow, painstaking, and often deadly effort to rebuild the country well enough to leave it.

For the 139,000 US troops stationed in the country, Iraq has become a long-term project -- not routine like a stint at a US base in Germany or Korea, but a regular stop in their deployment rotation. They and their commanders operate on the assumption that the US military will be in Iraq for years, living with that reality more frankly than many politicians have acknowledged.

The more methodical pace comes with a steadily rising death toll; insurgent attacks that dipped after January's election are climbing again. At least 1,572 US troops have died in Iraq, and at least 12,147 have been wounded since the launch of the invasion on March 19, 2003. During the first year after Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003, a total of 598 US troops died. Over the second year, the toll was 835. [complete article]

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New Iraq leaders face violent surge
By Jill Carroll and Neil MacDonald, Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 2005

A wave of violence swept the Iraqi capital over the weekend as insurgents threw down the gauntlet to the country's new leadership. The government, formed Thursday, is now confronted with setting aside political ambitions to start making real progress to stabilize the country.

Mortars, car bombs, and other explosives shook Baghdad Friday through Sunday, killing at least 80 people, including five US soldiers. Insurgents in some instances launched multiple attacks at the same place, catching rescue workers and security forces in successive blasts.

The intensity and coordination of the attacks signals the ferocity of the Sunni Arab insurgency's intention to derail any meaningful political and reconstruction progress, US-based analysts say. [complete article]

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Iraq's hostage cabinet
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 30, 2005

"We fasted for three months; then we broke our fast with an onion." - Iraqi proverb

After fasting - or watching non-stop squabbling - for almost three months since the January 30 elections, Iraqis finally got their onion: a new cabinet no one likes (except the Kurds). Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari didn't get what he wanted. No wonder: the Washington/Green Zone is wary of him. The Sunnis are threatening to walk out of the government altogether. Approved by 180 parliamentarians against five, with a significant 90 absences, this is not even a full cabinet: Jaafari was unable t o appoint permanent ministers to the Oil, Defense, Electricity, Industry and Human Rights ministries. All posts are meant to be filled by May 7.

The crucial Oil Ministry post is expected to go to a Shi'ite. But the conflicting factions within the election-winning United Iraqi Alliance simply could not reach an agreement. Alarm bells have been ringing all over the Green Zone on the news that the Sadrists of the Fadila Party badly want the Oil Ministry. [complete article]

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Tension between devout Shiites, secular groups threaten Iraq's future
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, May 1, 2005

The significance of the new Iraqi government was plain at prayers throughout Baghdad last week, as cries of "Victory to Islam!" echoed through Shiite Muslim mosques where worshipers celebrated leaders that look, think and pray like them.

With Iraq's first Islamist-led government since the fall of the Ottoman Empire expected to formally take office this week, it's getting harder for the Bush administration to realize its dream of molding the nation into a secular, inclusive democracy. Instead, the January elections gave rise to a conservative Shiite brain trust with close ties to Iran and power enough to make its secular rivals nervous.

The tensions between Iraq's Shiite Islamists and American-backed secularists also threaten two important goals for the United States and Iraq: drafting a permanent constitution and organizing full national elections by the end of the year. One of the largest secular blocs, overseen by the caretaker Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, cited the new government's Islamist nature as one of the reasons it opted out of Cabinet positions. [complete article]

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Honing the art of mediation in divided Kirkuk
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, May 2, 2005

Back in Idaho, Lt. Col. Anthony Wickham works as the Army National Guard liaison to the state government. His primary responsibility is to develop disaster plans for emergencies such as fires, blizzards and floods.

Here in Iraq, however, Wickham, 45, of Boise, is a military liaison of a different sort. His primary responsibility is to mediate among the various ethnic factions battling for control of Kirkuk. He is working to help prevent the ultimate man-made disaster: civil war. [complete article]

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Odyssey of an Al Qaeda operative
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, May 2, 2005

In the post-Sept. 11 world, Karim Mejjati was the perfect undercover al Qaeda operative. The former medical student from Morocco could speak several languages, had many passports and excelled at building bombs. He was also good at avoiding attention as he crisscrossed four continents to organize a wave of catastrophic attacks.

On May 12, 2003, an al Qaeda network that investigators say was put together by Mejjati in Saudi Arabia blew up three residential compounds for foreign workers in Riyadh, leaving 23 dead. Less than a week later, about 3,000 miles away, suicide bombers trained by Mejjati carried out the deadliest terrorist attacks in Moroccan history, killing 45 people in Casablanca.

For the next two years, authorities in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and North America pressed a secret but intensive global manhunt for the French-schooled suspect, fearing that he had set up other al Qaeda sleeper cells that had yet to be activated. Saudi Arabia put him near the top of its list of most wanted terrorism suspects. In Morocco, he was sentenced in absentia to 20 years for the Casablanca bombings. The FBI named him in a global anti-terrorism alert, warning that he was suspected of planning attacks in the United States. [complete article]

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Some judges in Egypt lend voice to chorus for reform
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2005

The rebellion erupted last month in the sober, stolid quarters of the Alexandria Judges' Club: 1,200 magistrates publicly demanded judicial independence from an all-powerful president, and threatened to refuse to certify fall elections if they didn't get it.

The rare ultimatum has dealt an embarrassing blow to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, amounting to an institutional revolt even as he is under intense pressure to democratize.

At a time when security forces are battling to quash anti-Mubarak demonstrations across the country, an uprising in one of the cornerstones of the Egyptian regime presents a prospect more chilling than any street demonstration. The judges' demand is a symptom of a new, unpredictable energy that has seized Egyptian politics after decades of stagnation -- and of the popular discontent snowballing in the region.

"We guess that this is our chance," said Assam Abdel Gabbar, an Alexandria judge who sits on Egypt's court of appeals, "and we don't believe it will come again anytime soon." [complete article]

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After decades as nonpersons, Syrian Kurds may soon be recognized
By Katherine Zoepf, New York Times, April 28, 2005

Saleh Osso, a Kurdish plumber, has tried to live as far outside the reach of the Syrian government apparatus as possible. Since Mr. Osso, 34, is stateless - one of perhaps 200,000 Kurds living in Syria who are denied citizenship - that has been fairly easy to accomplish.

He has no right to own property, to travel abroad or to send his four children to high school. Officially, Mr. Osso scarcely exists.

It was a surprise, therefore, when the mayor of Mr. Osso's district visited him at home two weeks ago and began to ask probing questions about his family.

"He asked how many children I had and about whether my brothers were married or not," Mr. Osso recalled. "He stayed for about half an hour, asking so many questions and writing everything down.

"I finally asked him, 'Why are you counting us?' " Mr. Osso continued. "He said, 'It's so that you people may become citizens.' " [complete article]

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Sharansky resigns Israeli cabinet post
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, May 2, 2005

Israeli cabinet member Natan Sharansky, praised by President Bush as an inspirational author, resigned Monday to protest Israel's planned removal of soldiers and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.

In a letter of resignation to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Sharansky said, "In my view, the disengagement plan is a tragic mistake that will exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians, increase terrorism and dim the prospects of forging a genuine peace." [complete article]

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'I'm here in the name of my nation. And it hurts me when a nation cuts off its hand'
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, April 30, 2005

It is a 10-minute ride by troop carrier or armoured bus from Israel's fortified border, through the swaths of shattered Palestinian homes and bulldozed land, to an island known to its few hundred residents as the village.

On the other side of a heavy steel gate, brightened up with yellow paint, lies a tranquillity not found in most of the Gaza Strip. There are rows of neat white houses, red tile roofs and tended lawns. But there are still a few clues to the location: an underground bomb shelter, blastproof shutters on the school's windows, and towering army gunposts peering into Palestinian neighbourhoods.

The Jewish settlement of Netzarim was the first of the "fingers" driven deep into the Gaza Strip by Israel to divide up and control the Palestinian territory more than 30 years ago. Other settlements followed, fattened and sprawled across different parts of Gaza. But Netzarim remains a narrow digit poking under the heart of Gaza City. [complete article]

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The secret Downing Street memo
The Sunday Times, May 1, 2005


DAVID MANNING [Blair's special foreign policy advisor]
From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary [Geoffrey Hoon], Foreign Secretary [Jack Straw], Attorney-General [Lord Goldsmith], Sir Richard Wilson [Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service], John Scarlett [chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee], Francis Richards [Director of GCHQ - British counterpart to the NSA], CDS [Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce], C [head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove], Jonathan Powell [Blair's Chief of Staff], Sally Morgan [Blair's political secretary], Alastair Campbell [Blair's director of communications]


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett [then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, currently head of MI6] summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C [head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS [Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce] said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)


(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)

[Emphases added]

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Blair hit by new leak of secret war plan
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, May 1, 2005

A secret document from the heart of government reveals today that Tony Blair privately committed Britain to war with Iraq and then set out to lure Saddam Hussein into providing the legal justification.

The Downing Street minutes, headed "Secret and strictly personal -- UK eyes only", detail one of the most important meetings ahead of the invasion.

It was chaired by the prime minister and attended by his inner circle. The document reveals Blair backed "regime change" by force from the outset, despite warnings from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, that such action could be illegal.

The minutes, published by The Sunday Times today, begins with the warning: "This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. The paper should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know." It records a meeting in July 2002, attended by military and intelligence chiefs, at which Blair discussed military options having already committed himself to supporting President George Bush's plans for ousting Saddam. [complete article]

British military chief reveals new legal fears over Iraq war
By Antony Barnett and Martin Bright, The Observer, May 1, 2005

The man who led Britain's armed forces into Iraq has said that Tony Blair and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, will join British soldiers in the dock if the military are ever prosecuted for war crimes in Iraq.

In a remarkably frank interview that goes to the heart of the political row over the Attorney General's legal advice, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, said he did not have full legal cover from prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

'If my soldiers went to jail and I did, some other people would go with me,' said Boyce.

In his most detailed explanation yet of why he demanded an unequivocal assurance from lawyers that the war was legal, he said: 'I wanted to make sure that we had this anchor which has been signed by the government law officer ...

'It may not stop us from being charged, but, by God, it would make sure other people were brought into the frame as well.'

Pressed by The Observer on whether he meant the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, Boyce replied: 'Too bloody right.' [complete article]

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U.S. recruits a rough ally to be a jailer
By Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, May 1, 2005

Seven months before Sept. 11, 2001, the State Department issued a human rights report on Uzbekistan. It was a litany of horrors.

The police repeatedly tortured prisoners, State Department officials wrote, noting that the most common techniques were "beating, often with blunt weapons, and asphyxiation with a gas mask." Separately, international human rights groups had reported that torture in Uzbek jails included boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers. Two prisoners were boiled to death, the groups reported. The February 2001 State Department report stated bluntly, "Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights."

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, however, the Bush administration turned to Uzbekistan as a partner in fighting global terrorism. The nation, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, granted the United States the use of a military base for fighting the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan. President Bush welcomed President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan to the White House, and the United States has given Uzbekistan more than $500 million for border control and other security measures.

Now there is growing evidence that the United States has sent terror suspects to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation, even as Uzbekistan's treatment of its own prisoners continues to earn it admonishments from around the world, including from the State Department. [complete article]

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Iraq to purge corrupt officers
By Patrick J. McDonnell and Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2005

Iraq's Shiite Muslim leadership, alarmed by a surge in attacks as the new government prepares to take office, plans to crack down on Sunni-led insurgents and purge suspected infiltrators and corrupt officers from the nation's security forces, officials and lawmakers say.

A likely tactic, authorities say, is unleashing well-trained Iraqi commandos in Baghdad and other trouble spots. The special forces units have a reputation for effectiveness and brutality.

Whether additional Iraqi troops can tame an insurgency that has not withered in the face of massive U.S. military might remains to be seen. But Shiite leaders express confidence that determined Iraqi forces, with U.S. backup, can use their superior knowledge of the culture, language and terrain to gather intelligence, infiltrate cells and defeat the guerrillas.

The plan for Iraqi commandos' wider deployment is indicative of how the raging guerrilla conflict here is increasingly a war pitching Iraqis against Iraqis, leading to a decline in U.S. casualty rates as the number of Iraqi dead soars. [complete article]

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The way of the commandos
By Peter Maass, New York Times, May 1, 2005

In a country of tough guys, Adnan Thabit may be the toughest of all. He was both a general and a death-row prisoner under Saddam Hussein. He favors leather jackets no matter the weather, his left index finger extends only to the knuckle (the rest was sliced off in combat) and he responds to requests from supplicants with grunts that mean "yes" or "no." Occasionally, a humble aide approaches to spray perfume on his hands, which he wipes over his rugged face.

General Adnan, as he is known, is the leader of Iraq's most fearsome counterinsurgency force. It is called the Special Police Commandos and consists of about 5,000 troops. They have fought the insurgents in Mosul, Ramadi, Baghdad and Samarra. It was in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, where, in early March, I spent a week with Adnan, himself a Sunni, and two battalions of his commandos. Samarra is Adnan's hometown, and he had come to retake it. As the offensive to drive out the insurgents got under way, the only area securely under Adnan's control was a barricaded enclave around the town hall, where he grimly presided over matters of war and peace, but mostly war, chain-smoking Royal cigarettes at a raised desk in the mayor's office. With a jowly face set in a permanent scowl, Adnan is perfectly suited to the grim realities of Iraq, and he knows it. When an admiring American colonel compared him to Marlon Brando in "The Godfather," Adnan took it as a compliment and smiled. [complete article]

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Bolton's nomination is questioned by another Powell aide
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, May 1, 2005

A fourth senior member of Colin L. Powell's team at the State Department expressed strong reservations on Friday about the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.

The official, A. Elizabeth Jones, is a veteran diplomat who stepped down in February as assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. Among those who have now voiced public concerns about Mr. Bolton, Ms. Jones joins Lawrence Wilkerson, Mr. Powell's chief of staff; Carl W. Ford, Jr., who headed the department's intelligence bureau; and John R. Wolf, who was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. Associates of Mr. Powell have said he has expressed concerns of his own in private conversations with at least two Republican senators.

"I don't know if he's incapable of negotiation, but he's unwilling," Ms. Jones said in an interview. She said she believed that "the fundamental problem," if Mr. Bolton were to become United Nations ambassador, would be a reluctance on his part to make the kinds of minor, symbolic concessions necessary to build consensus among other governments and maintain the American position. [complete article]

Bolton's a tough guy with a cause
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2005

When John R. Bolton charged into the State Department in 2001 as President Bush's top arms control official, he thought of himself as a loyal Republican soldier on a mission into hostile political territory, according to friends and colleagues.

That assessment became a self-fulfilling prophesy. In the course of the four years Bolton served as an undersecretary of State, he had a succession of ideological and personal clashes with subordinates, colleagues and superiors.

Eventually, Colin L. Powell, secretary of State at the time, ordered his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, to keep tabs on Bolton and prevent him from alienating allies, three current and former State Department officials said. One of the officials said that he was specifically assigned to "mind" Bolton and report back if the undersecretary's activities were creating problems. [complete article]

Never shy, Bolton brings a zeal to the table
By Scott Shane, New York Times, May 1, 2005

In the tumultuous days before John R. Bolton graduated from Yale University in 1970, he and his roommates leaned mattresses against the windows to keep out stray tear gas shells.

The trial of a top Black Panther in New Haven had ignited riots and set off a national uproar. The National Guard patrolled the campus in tanks. A bomb went off at the hockey rink.

At commencement, student speakers compared the United States to pre-Nazi Germany and called for an immediate end to the war in Vietnam.

But one student sounded a contrarian theme.

"The conservative underground is alive and well here," Mr. Bolton told his classmates and their parents, scorning a handful of hecklers. "If we do not make our influence felt, rest assured we will in the real world." [complete article]

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A lobbyist in full
By Michael Crowley, New York Times, May 1, 2005

"Can you smell money?!?!?!" Jack Abramoff wrote.

It was December 2001, and he was a kingpin of Republican Washington, one of the city's richest and best-connected lobbyists. His former personal assistant had gone to work for Karl Rove, the new president's top political adviser; he was close friends with the powerful Republican congressman from Texas, Tom DeLay, a relationship most of his competitors would kill to boast of. He was making millions on fees of up to $750 per hour; he was the proprietor of two city restaurants; and he was even a man of good works -- a charitable giver and the founder of a private religious school in the Maryland suburbs. Dressed in expensive suits, he moved around the capital in a BMW outfitted with a computer screen, often headed to one of the countless fund-raisers he gave for Republican congressmen and senators at Redskins and Orioles and Wizards games in his private sky boxes. Jack Abramoff was a man in full. [complete article]

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Iran ready to ignore U.S. nuclear countdown
By Paul Kenyon, The Observer, May 1, 2005

Across a landscape scattered with snow, we drove along silent roads, past pitted fields, until the first gun tower came into view. A whole line of them followed the contours of the mountainside. What they're defending lies beneath, a warren of rooms and tunnels the size of eight football pitches. It's home to Iran's most sensitive nuclear facility, Natanz.

Iran says it is part of a peaceful nuclear energy programme, but it has been built underground in case of air attacks. The Iranians' worries are not far fetched.

In the minibus, the United Nations' nuclear inspectors swap stories of Iran's reaction to their presence. 'Whatever we do, they're behind us trying to record our movements and it's disturbing,' says one of the most senior inspectors, Chris Charlier. 'It's all part of the game.'

Charlier is a Belgian nuclear scientist who has travelled the world inspecting nuclear installations for the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], a nuclear arm of the UN. His conclusion on Iran is this: 'I believe they've tried to conceal their programme and their activities. And may be there are other things they're doing that we couldn't find. And that's why we're getting suspicious.' [complete article]

Threats by Iran and North Korea shadow talks on nuclear arms
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 1, 2005

Just 48 hours before representatives of 189 nations meet at the United Nations to review the flaws in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran threatened Saturday to resume producing nuclear fuel, and North Korea dismissed President Bush as a "philistine whom we can never deal with."

The conference that begins Monday was meant to offer hope of closing huge loopholes in the treaty, which the United States says Iran and North Korea have exploited to pursue nuclear weapons. Instead, the session appears deadlocked even before it begins, according to senior American officials and diplomats preparing for it in New York.

Already virtually dead, the officials say, is a proposal by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that would impose a five-year moratorium on all new enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of plutonium. Those activities are the two main paths to a nuclear weapon. But the United States, Japan and France oppose the moratorium because of its potential disruption of nuclear power projects. In this case, Iran is in the same camp. [complete article]

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Damascus to resume ties with Iraq
BBC News, May 1, 2005

Syria has announced it is restoring relations with Iraq, after a break of more than two decades.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa told a regional foreign ministers' meeting in Turkey that ties would be resumed as soon as possible.

Diplomatic relations between the two states were severed in 1982 after Syria sided with Iran in its war with Iraq. [complete article]

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Italy to step up inquiry into agent's death in Iraq
Reuters (via Los Angeles Times), May 1, 2005

Italy asked its state prosecutors Saturday to step up their probe of the killing of an Italian intelligence agent by U.S. troops in Iraq, after the United States and Italy failed to agree on the conclusion of a joint investigation.

The dispute over the shooting of Nicola Calipari in Baghdad on March 4 has strained ties between the two allies and prompted fresh criticism of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's staunch support for the war in Iraq. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:

Official pariah Sudan valuable to America's war on terrorism
By Ken Silverstein, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2005
The Bush administration has forged a close intelligence partnership with the Islamic regime that once welcomed Osama bin Laden here, even though Sudan continues to come under harsh U.S. and international criticism for human rights violations.

The Sudanese government, an unlikely ally in the U.S. fight against terror, remains on the most recent U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the same time, however, it has been providing access to terrorism suspects and sharing intelligence data with the United States.

Last week, the CIA sent an executive jet here to ferry the chief of Sudan's intelligence agency to Washington for secret meetings sealing Khartoum's sensitive and previously veiled partnership with the administration, U.S. government officials confirmed.

A decade ago Bin Laden and his fledgling Al Qaeda network were based in Khartoum. After they left for Afghanistan, the regime of Sudanese strongman Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir retained ties with other groups the U.S. accuses of terrorism.

As recently as September, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell accused Sudan of committing genocide in putting down an armed rebellion in the western province of Darfur. And the administration warned that the African country's conduct posed "an extraordinary threat to the national security" of the United States.

Behind the scenes, however, Sudan was emerging as a surprisingly valuable ally of the CIA.

Cut from Cheney's cloth
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, April 28, 2005
The reason the administration nominated Bolton is that his method of operating -- the exaggeration, the bullying -- was commonplace. It was the music by which the Bush administration marched us all to war. More specifically, it was the tune played by Cheney, Bolton's chief champion. The vice president, it is both authoritatively and repeatedly said, is the one who pushed Bolton on a presumably reluctant Secretary of State Rice. (Her predecessor, Powell, refuses to endorse Bolton's nomination.)

Note that it was Cheney who belligerently told the two most important arms inspectors, the United Nations' Hans Blix and the International Atomic Energy Agency's Mohamed ElBaradei, that if the Bush administration found their judgment questionable, "we will not hesitate to discredit you" -- a Boltonesque piece of diplomacy if there ever was one. Note also that it was Cheney who applauded when he got intel he liked and growled when he was told something he didn't like.

The changing face of Jerusalem
By Matthew Price, BBC News, April 28, 2005
Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.

The Palestinians say east Jerusalem including the Old City will be the capital of their future state.

Israel says the city will remain undivided. By that it means both Jewish west Jerusalem and the east - which is mostly inhabited by Palestinians - will be inside the future final borders of Israel.

And to make sure that happens some Israelis are taking things into their own hands.

"We have four families who live here in a small enclave, amongst all these Arabs and Palestinians in east Jerusalem.

"And I really think this is the forefront of Zionism today, realising that there is a land war going on.

"And whoever wins that land war, Jews or Arabs, is going to be able to take control of the eastern side of the city.

U.S. figures show sharp global rise in terrorism
By Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, April 27, 2005
The number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week.

Overall, the number of what the U.S. government considers "significant" attacks grew to about 655 last year, up from the record of around 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides who were briefed on statistics covering incidents including the bloody school seizure in Russia and violence related to the disputed Indian territory of Kashmir.

Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year's total -- a sensitive subset of the tally, given the Bush administration's assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer.

With Syria out, Lebanon clout grows
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2005
Elite Syrian paratroops in pressed camouflage uniforms and red berets marched alongside their Lebanese counterparts at an old airfield here Tuesday in a colorful farewell ceremony that formally ended Syria's 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

The departure of the last batch of Syrian troops was a historic moment for the Lebanese and underlined just how dramatically and quickly Syria's grip on this tiny Mediterranean country has weakened after 15 years of near-total domination.

With the pro-Syrian establishment in Beirut continuing to unravel by the day, any hope that Damascus might have harbored of retaining some level of influence in Lebanon appears to be fading fast. "The question should be what influence will Lebanon have on Syria," says Michael Young, a Lebanese political analyst.

"Syria was stronger militarily but it was never stronger politically, economically, culturally ... in all the domains Syria imposed its order through force," Mr. Young says. "At this point, to my mind, Lebanon is stronger."

Syria's Ba'athists loosen the reins
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, April 26, 2005
A new Ba'ath Party law is to be created in Syria, breaking the socialist parties' monopoly over politics in that country, in place (with the exception of the years 1961-63) since 1958. The move is a calculated gamble on the part of the government, and will also challenge a US bill against Syria calling for "Assistance to Support a Transition to Democracy in Syria".

In war's name, public loses information
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, April 24, 2005
Federal agencies under the Bush administration are sweeping vast amounts of public information behind a curtain of secrecy in the name of fighting terrorism, using 50 to 60 loosely defined security designations that can be imposed by officials as low-ranking as government clerks.

No one is tracking the amount of unclassified information that is no longer accessible.

For years, a citizen who wanted to know the name and phone number of a Pentagon official could buy a copy of the Defense Department directory at a government printing office. But since 2001, the directory has been stamped "For Official Use Only," meaning the public may not have access to such basic information about the vast military bureaucracy.

U.N. human rights investigator in Afghanistan ousted under U.S. pressure
Cherif Bassiouni interviewed by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, April 28, 2005
This past week, news emerged that the U.S. forced out a top human rights investigator at the United Nations just days after he released a report criticizing the US for committing human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

The Egyptian-born law professor Cherif Bassiouni had spent a year in Afghanistan interviewing Afghans, international agency staff and the Afghan Human Rights Commission. His official title was "independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan."

In his new report, Bassiouni accused US troops of breaking into homes, arbitrarily arresting residents and torturing detainees. He estimated that around 1,000 Afghans had been detained. Bassiouni also indicated that the US-led forces had committed "sexual abuse, beatings, torture and use of force resulting in death." He wrote, "When these forces directly engage in practices that violate... international human rights and international humanitarian law, they undermine the national project of establishing a legal basis for the use of force."

Rights groups reject prison abuse findings
By Josh White, Washington Post, April 24, 2005
Human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday over the Army's findings exonerating U.S. generals of prisoner abuse in Iraq, and renewed requests for an independent probe to examine the culpability of senior military and civilian defense officials.

In a report released yesterday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called on U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the roles of all U.S. officials "who participated in, ordered, or had command responsibility for war crimes or torture." Human Rights Watch also asked Congress to launch an independent and bipartisan probe -- similar to that of the 9/11 commission -- to investigate the roles of senior leaders in abuse, including President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former CIA director George J. Tenet.

The group, along with Amnesty International, yesterday also assailed the Army's findings that top generals in Iraq should bear no official responsibility for abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison or for failures that led to widespread problems at detention facilities elsewhere in Iraq. Noting the similarities in alleged abuse at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at facilities in Afghanistan and across Iraq, the groups said the military appears incapable of investigating itself.

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