|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Finding a place for 9/11 in American history
By Joseph J. Ellis, New York Times, January 28, 2006
In recent weeks, President Bush and his administration have mounted a spirited defense of his Iraq policy, the Patriot Act and, especially, a program to wiretap civilians, often reaching back into American history for precedents to justify these actions. It is clear that the president believes that he is acting to protect the security of the American people. It is equally clear that both his belief and the executive authority he claims to justify its use derive from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
A myriad of contested questions are obviously at issue here -- foreign policy questions about the danger posed by Iraq, constitutional questions about the proper limits on executive authority, even political questions about the president's motives in attacking Iraq. But all of those debates are playing out under the shadow of Sept. 11 and the tremendous changes that it prompted in both foreign and domestic policy.
Whether or not we can regard Sept. 11 as history, I would like to raise two historical questions about the terrorist attacks of that horrific day. My goal is not to offer definitive answers but rather to invite a serious debate about whether Sept. 11 deserves the historical significance it has achieved. [complete article]
Democracy's double standard
By Hossein Derakhshan, New York Times, January 28, 2006
The day before Iran's ninth presidential elections last June, President Bush sent a discouraging message to potential voters. Iran's electoral process "ignores the basic requirements of democracy," Mr. Bush declared, and these elections would be "sadly consistent" with the country's "oppressive record." For Iranians, there was no mistaking the American president's point: he was tacitly sanctioning the call that some Iranian exiles and activists had issued for an election boycott, based on exactly this logic.
An American administration that had called on other Middle Eastern populaces to vote in flawed elections greeted the Iranian electoral process with nothing but open disdain. It is worth revisiting this odd judgment call at a time when Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections has raised even more questions about Washington's confused strategy of democracy promotion. [complete article]
Call for Gulf states to aid Iraq's political process
By Krishna Guha, Financial Times, January 28, 2006
The US would like Arab Gulf states to play a prominent role in helping Iraq's political parties shape the structure and programme of a new Iraqi government, Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state, said on Saturday.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Zoellick said he wanted the Arab world "including some of the Gulf states" to engage with the Iraqi political process. He said it was essential that "external participants help emphasise key steps that have to be taken."
Meanwhile Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said it would convene a "grand conference" in Baghdad as early as February or March in a bid to draw all Iraqis, including the disaffected Sunnis who form the core of the Iraqi insurgency, deeper into the political process. [complete article]
Iraqi Sunni and secular parties form united bloc
By Mariam Karouny, Reuters, January 28, 2006
Iraqi Sunni Arab and secular groups have agreed to form a single bloc in talks with Kurds and Shi'ites on a new coalition government, in a bid to strengthen their negotiating position, officials said on Saturday.
The main Sunni Arab political grouping, the Iraqi Accordance Front, and the Iraqi National list led by secular former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi have joined the Iraqi Unified Front of Sunni politician Salih Mutlak, the officials said. [complete article]
U.S. troops in Iraq held insurgents' wives to get husbands to surrender
Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2006
U.S. forces in at least two cases have detained wives of suspected insurgents in Iraq in an attempt to pressure the men into surrendering, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union confirm.
"This is not an acceptable tactic," ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said Friday.
In one instance, members of a military task force seized a mother of three young children "in order to leverage" her husband's surrender, according to an account by a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency officer.
In the other, an e-mail exchange includes a U.S. military officer asking, "Have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?" [complete article]
Comment -- So next time someone gets kidnapped in Iraq should we expect a jihadist web site to be announcing that so-and-so has been "detained" in order to "leverage" the desired outcome?
The samurai of Zionism
Interview with Haaretz' columnist, Ari Shavit, The New Yorker, January 23, 2006
[Ariel Sharon's] life was about the aggressive and combative elements of the Zionist directive. This man has affected the lives of all Israelis and Palestinians, in many episodes over several decades, but I think that, at the end of the day, what was most important was the settlements. In this sense, Arik the Settler is the one who, unfortunately, had more influence than all the others. He changed the reality on the ground in a fundamental way. Ironically, toward the end of his life, he began undoing some of what he did during most of the previous quarter of a century, while still trying to save other parts. The drama of creating the settlements -- which I think was a pitiful project and absurd in many ways—and the drama of the undoing are what will remain with us in the years following the Sharon era. This is not history; it is still history in the making, and it will shape our future here in the next decade. [complete article]
Hamas 'will seek to mend relationships'
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, January 27, 2006
Hamas will set about mending fences with an international community that regards it as a terrorist organisation following its landslide victory in Palestinian elections, a leading moderate close to the Islamic movement said on Thursday. [complete article]
Meshal: Hamas ready to merge armed factions to form PA army
Haarezt, January 27, 2006
Hamas is ready to merge armed factions including its military wing to form an army to defend the Palestinian people, the group's political leader Khaled Meshal said on Saturday. [complete article]
Comment -- This is in line with what I predicted yesterday. While the Bush administration has expressed few qualms about the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia Badr Brigade being intergrated into Iraqi security forces, it's hard to imagine that they'll have such a sanguine view when it comes to Hamas' militia becoming a Palestinian Authority army.
Hamas stands its ground as West demands change
Interview with Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, The Times, January 28, 2006
"Negotiation is not a goal in itself. It is a method; it is not an objective. If Israel has anything to offer on the issues of halting attacks, withdrawal, releasing prisoners ... then one thousand means can be found.
"Negotiation is not taboo. The political crime is when we sit with the Israelis and then come out with a wide smile to tell the Palestinian people that there is progress, when in fact, there is not." [complete article]
U.S. threat to Hamas over $400m aid
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 28, 2006
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, will meet Hamas leaders in Gaza next week to negotiate terms for a power-sharing government that could win international acceptance and stave off threats to the $1bn (£565m) in annual foreign aid keeping the Palestinian Authority afloat.
Mr Abbas, who heads the Fatah party defeated in this week's landslide victory by Hamas, has told the Islamist party he is prepared to remain president only if there is a power-sharing government that has foreign recognition. [complete article]
U.S. policy seen as big loser in Palestinian vote
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 28, 2006
The election outcome signals a dramatic failure in the administration's strategy for Middle East peace, according to analysts and some U.S. officials. Since the United States cannot deal with an organization labeled a terrorist organization by the State Department, Hamas's victory is likely to curtail U.S. aid, limit official U.S. contacts with the Palestinian government and stall efforts to create an independent Palestinian state.
More broadly, Hamas's victory is seen as a setback in the administration's campaign for greater democracy in the Middle East. Elections in Iran, Iraq, Egypt and now the Palestinian territories have resulted in the defeat of secular and moderate parties and the rise of Islamic parties hostile to U.S. interests. [complete article]
Now begins an experiment in Arab politics
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2006
The triumph of Hamas in this week's Palestinian elections was widely seen in the Middle East as a historic test not only for the Palestinians, but for Islamist parties across the Arab world as they reap the benefits of democratic openings.
In the wake of the militant group's victory, many Arab political analysts, including secular observers, urged American and European leaders to give Hamas a chance. A true commitment to democracy, they argued, will not work without a softened stance toward Islamist parties. Like it or not, they pointed out, Islamists increasingly are migrating into governing roles. [complete article]
'We have taken ... bold steps'
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 27, 2006
The victory of Hamas in Wednesday's Palestinian legislative elections sent a shock through the region, and not only because of its implications for the peace process with Israel. Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by the United States, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. This militant Islamist organization has been struggling to gain power in many Arab states—including Egypt, where it was founded—since the early part of the 20th century. In an exclusive interview with Newsweek's Christopher Dickey at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif talked about the implications of the Hamas victory and the parallels with recent elections in Egypt. Acknowledging the lack of effective secular opposition forces in the Arab world after so many generations of dictatorship, Nazif also addressed the case of Egyptian presidential challenger Ayman Nour, now serving a five-year prison term for allegedly forging signatures on the petitions to legalize his Ghad Party. [complete article]
Could victory be undoing of Hamas?
By Yassin Musharbash, Der Spiegel, January 27, 2006
The Islamist winners of Wednesday's election are woefully unprepared to assume power. Two days after the election, the Hamas Party's weaknesses have become increasingly clear. With its intellectual leader in exile and many key cadres of the movement sitting in Israeli jails, Hamas is suffering from a power vacuum. [complete article]
End of The Road Map
By Robert Dreyfuss, TomPaine.com, January 27, 2006
Does the Hamas vote indicate that Palestinian voters have suddenly become religious extremists? Certainly not. Like the Christian right in the United States, the Islamic right in Palestine has a core support bloc -- but it is far smaller than the 58 percent of the total seats secured by Hamas. Many Palestinians voted for Hamas because they believed that the PA had failed to deliver social and economic benefits or to make progress toward peace. Or because Fatah, since the death of Yasser Arafat, seemed divided and rudderless. Or because the Palestinian old guard was hopelessly corrupt. Whatever the reasons, however, the vote for Hamas empowers a dangerously radical movement. [complete article]
Comment -- Robert Dreyfuss suffers from a rectally compromised way of thinking that seems to afflict many "progressives" when they attempt to grapple with Middle East politics. Hamas didn't simply win support by presenting itself as the alternative to Fatah or by being the loudest voice of militancy. Dreyfuss might as well have written, "Pitty the poor Palestinians. They know not what they do."
A much more telling explanation of the election result comes not from TomPaine, The Nation or The American Prospect, but that home base of the liberal elite, The New York Times (a paper I have mocked on many occasions, but will here give credit because credit is due). This is Ian Fisher's conclusion from a visit to the West Bank village and Fatah stronghold, Deir Ghassana:
The interviews here seemed to belie suggestions that Palestinians did not really think through their vote for Hamas, that it was an angry and instinctive vote to punish Fatah.The calculus that says Palestinians shot themselves in the foot by supporting Hamas might make sense from Washington where governance and the rewards of governance are so tightly entwined, yet if Hamas is as uncorrupt as it is portrayed, who's to say whether the loss of Western aid will be quite as crippling as anticipated.
The challenge Hamas faces now is whether its unprepared leaders can quickly enough learn and accept the responsibilities of national representative government. While most outside observers peer down from a mountain of scepticism, we might all benefit from giving them the benefit of the doubt. And why should some of the tolerance that Washington now extends towards Baghdad as it takes its first democratic steps not also be offered in some measure to Ramallah?
Can Hamas bring peace?
By Tony Karon, Time.com, January 27, 2006
Hamas and Israel will not negotiate now, or in the near future, although Hamas has given every indication that it plans to maintain their truce with Israel as it undertakes a wholesale cleansing and rebuilding of the corrupt and weakened Palestinian institutions. But when the two sides inevitably meet over a bargaining table -- and history's lesson is that when national conflicts are solved in negotiations, those deemed terrorists eventually end up at that table -- Israel will find Hamas a far tougher, but also far more credible interlocutor than Arafat ever was. Just as the hard liner Sharon was widely held to be the best Israeli leader to uproot settlements -- not unlike Nixon going to China -- so may Hamas well turn out to be the best bet for enforcing a truce. Its ascendancy may finally produce the accountable, transparent government willing to rein in militias that Washington for so long demanded of Yasser Arafat. [complete article]
Hamas and the new Palestinian reality
Editorial, Financial Times, January 27, 2006
The shock and the scale of the Hamas victory in yesterday's Palestinian elections was well nigh universal, beginning with the Islamist movement itself, which had not anticipated such an embarrassment of political riches. Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the rest of the world, should react with caution and measure to this new reality and try to shape it.
No democrat can deny this was a fair contest. It was, moreover, the first time a ruling Arab party has been removed from power by peaceful electoral means. That is not a small thing. While pondering its meaning, we should also remember that a clear majority of Palestinians want peace with Israel, and that they are the same people who voted in Hamas, an organisation pledged to its destruction. Israelis should recognise the syndrome: most of them want to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians yet they regularly vote for leaders who make this impossible.
Nor is there any mystery why Fatah, the national liberation movement that flew the flag of Palestinian statehood for four decades, was repudiated with such disgust. Too many of its leaders had become bywords for corruption and incompetence, scrabbling for spoils amid the despair of their people.
Hamas, by contrast, is widely seen as honest and dedicated, with the courage of its rejectionist convictions. But would the Islamists have won if there were now a Palestinian state stretching across the West Bank with Arab east Jerusalem as its capital, rather than an Israeli occupation with expanding settlements and 400 checkpoints in an area the size of Delaware? No. Hamas has exceeded by far its natural constituency because of this deadly impasse.
That said, Palestinians are looking to the new government for jobs and schools, healthcare and rubbish collection, and for security instead of the lawless factionalism indulged by Fatah. Hamas until now has enjoyed the luxury of opposition and the aura of martyrdom; now it has to govern.
It is likely to try to do so in partnership with independent figures of stature. Fatah will probably be too busy imploding to join them, but Mahmoud Abbas should remain as president. He won his mandate separately a year ago and retains considerable power in a presidentialist system. While Hamas will recoil from formal dealings with Israel, it appears willing to leave diplomacy to President Abbas.
In the short term, the US, European Union and Arab League countries should open contact with Hamas only if it extends its truce with Israel and pledges to end all attacks on civilians. An Israel that would not treat with Mr Abbas is, on the face of it, unlikely to do so with Hamas. But it should recognise that the increasingly pragmatic Islamists can deliver a stability Fatah never could - but not if Israel continues with its project to fix unilaterally new borders for an enlarged Israeli state at Palestinian expense. [complete article]
The Palestinians' democratic choice must be respected
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, January 26, 2006
Hamas's triumph in Wednesday's Palestinian elections is the best news from the Middle East for a long time. The poll was a more impressive display of democracy than any other in the region, outstripping last year's votes in Lebanon and Iraq both in turnout and the range of views that candidates represented.
Whereas in Iraq parties that opposed the occupation had to downplay or even obscure their views, Palestinian supporters of armed resistance to Israel's expansionist strategies were able to run openly. It is true that Hamas candidates did not make relations with Israel the centrepiece of their campaign. They focused on reform in the Palestinian Authority. But few voters were unaware of Hamas's uncompromising hostility to occupation and its record in fighting it.
Wednesday's election was remarkable also in owing nothing to Washington's (selective) efforts to promote democracy in the Arab world. Instead, it was further proof that civil society in Palestine is more vibrant than anywhere else in the region and that Palestinian politics has its own dynamics, dictated not by outside pressure but the social and economic demands of ordinary people in appalling conditions. Providing a forum to freely express hopes and fears, debate policy and seek agreed solutions is, after all, what democracy is about. [complete article]
How do you like your democracy now, Mr. Bush?
By Juan Cole, Salon, January 27, 2006
Their embrace of Hamas does not indicate that most Palestinians are dedicated to destroying Israel; polls show that most support a two-state solution and are weary of the endless violence. Rather, they are sick of the Palestinian Authority and believe that Hamas will be more effective negotiating partners with the Israelis. As a Saudi political talk show host told the Associated Press, "They [Hamas] will be the Arab Sharon. They will be tough, but only a tough group can snatch concessions from Israel."
In a mystifying self-contradiction, Bush trumpeted that "the Palestinians had an election yesterday, the results of which remind me about the power of democracy." If elections were really the same as democracy, and if Bush was so happy about the process, then we might expect him to pledge to work with the results, which by his lights would be intrinsically good. But then he suddenly swerved away from this line of thought, reverting to boilerplate and saying, "On the other hand, I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an armed wing."
So Bush is saying that even though elections are democracy and democracy is good and powerful, it has produced unacceptable results in this case, and so the resulting Hamas government will lack the legitimacy necessary to allow the United States to deal with it or go forward in any peace process. Bush's double standard is clear in his diction, since he was perfectly happy to deal with Israel's Likud Party, which is dedicated to the destruction of the budding Palestinian state, and which used the Israeli military and security services for its party platform in destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority throughout the early years of this century. As Orwell reminded us in "Animal Farm," some are more equal than others. [complete article]
Comment -- If Hamas decides to make some political overtures to Israel, I suspect these might include following the example of Iraq's SCIRI which "disarmed" its Badr Brigade by changing its name to the Badr Organization and integrating its members into the "state" security services.
Will Hamas turn moderate?
By Orly Halpern, Jerusalem Post, January 27, 2006
Only one precedent of an Islamist government winning democratically exists: in Turkey. After being overthrown time and again by the fiercely secular military, an Islamist government eventually came to power and shocked everyone. Instead of turning the country more conservative, Islamic, and isolated, the Islamist government in Ankara has made every effort possible to satisfy the European Union so that Turkey would be accepted as a member.
"The question that needs to be asked is if Hamas will act as the Islamists in Turkey and change their agenda to adapt to the people's agenda," remarked Dr. Yoram Meital, Chair of the Middle East Studies Department at Ben-Gurion University.
"I think there is a big chance that a large and important part of Hamas will show more pragmatism," said Meital, adding that the militant elements of Hamas will insist on continuing the war against Israel, and end up breaking off from Hamas and joining the Islamic Jihad - which refuses to participate in the elections or in any negotiations. [complete article]
See also, Interview with Hamas leader Dr Mahmoud al-Zahar and Hamas supreme leader 'returning from exile' (The Times).
Hamas at the helm
By Fotini Christia and Screemati Mitter, New York Times, January 27, 2006
The crescent has risen. The militant Islamic group Hamas won an astonishing 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian legislative elections this week. The United States and the European Union must finally recognize Hamas's ascendance as a fait accompli.
Until now, these key third parties have equivocated: they pressed Israel to allow Hamas to participate in the elections but threatened to cut aid and ties to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority. The practical reality, however, is that Hamas is a pivotal player in Palestinian politics, and no peace process can succeed without at least the tacit acceptance of its leaders. Moreover, Hamas's participation in Palestinian politics is not necessarily a bad thing, and resisting it will very likely do more harm than good. [complete article]
Bush is conciliatory in accepting victory of Hamas
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 27, 2006
President Bush accepted the stunning election results in the Palestinian territories yesterday with a conciliatory tone, saying the landslide victory of the militant Islamic group Hamas was rejection of the "status quo" and a repudiation of the "old guard" that had failed to provide honest government and services.
The upbeat rhetoric belied the fact that the election outcome was the opposite of what the administration had hoped would happen. Behind the scenes, U.S. officials scrambled to survey the wreckage of their Middle East policy. [complete article]
Rumsfeld's roadmap to propaganda
National Security Archive, January 26, 2006
A secret Pentagon "roadmap" on war propaganda, personally approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in October 2003, calls for "boundaries" between information operations abroad and the news media at home, but provides for no such limits and claims that as long as the American public is not "targeted," any leakage of PSYOP to the American public does not matter.
Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and posted on the Web today, the 74-page "Information Operations Roadmap" admits that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa," but argues that "the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices."
The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, amended in 1972 and 1998, prohibits the U.S. government from propagandizing the American public with information and psychological operations directed at foreign audiences; and several presidential directives, including Reagan's NSD-77 in 1983, Clinton's PDD-68 in 1999, and Bush's NSPD-16 in July 2002 (the latter two still classified), have set up specific structures to carry out public diplomacy and information operations. These and other documents relating to U.S. PSYOP programs were posted today as part of a new Archive Electronic Breifing Book.
Several press accounts have referred to the 2003 Pentagon document but today's posting is the first time the text has been publicly available. [complete article]
Varied rationales muddle issue of NSA eavesdropping
By Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, January 27, 2006
President Bush said yesterday that he didn't seek congressional approval for a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program for one simple reason: He didn't need it.
"We believe there's a constitutional power granted to presidents as well as, this case, a statutory power," Bush said. "And I'm intending to use that power."
It is one of several explanations on the topic from Bush and his aides, who have provided at least two separate rationales for why they did not ask for statutory authority for the program. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the administration had considered seeking legislation but determined it would be impossible to get, adding later in the same news conference that authorities did not want to expose the program's existence. White House spokesman Scott McClellan has echoed the latter point, saying the administration feared that details of the classified program would be exposed publicly.
The subject is one of several elements in the NSA spying debate that have been clouded by apparent contradictions and mixed messages from the government since the program was revealed last month. The confusion has cleared up little in recent days, as the White House has embarked on a multi-pronged campaign to defend the legality of the controversial program. [complete article]
57% back a hit on Iran if defiance persists
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2006
Despite persistent disillusionment with the war in Iraq, a majority of Americans supports taking military action against Iran if that country continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.
The poll, conducted Sunday through Wednesday, found that 57% of Americans favor military intervention if Iran's Islamic government pursues a program that could enable it to build nuclear arms. [complete article]
Bush and China endorse Russia's nuclear plan for Iran
By David E. Sanger and Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, January 27, 2006
President Bush and the Chinese government both declared their full support on Thursday for a Russian proposal to allow Iran to operate civilian nuclear facilities as long as Russia and international nuclear inspectors are in full control of the fuel.
Mr. Bush's explicit public endorsement puts all of the major powers on record supporting the proposal, even as most acknowledge that it is a significant concession to Iran and runs the risk that the country will drag out the negotiations while continuing to produce nuclear material. Yet officials say they believe it is the best face-saving strategy to pursue a negotiated settlement with Iran. [complete article]
Fueling sectarian violence in Iraq
By Gareth Porter, TomDispatch, January 27, 2006
Since last summer, the ad-jingle-style centerpiece of the U.S. mission in Iraq, as defined by George Bush, has been: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." In recent months, that "standing up" of Iraqi security forces to gradually replace American occupation troops has become even more important in administration pronouncements on the war. The objective is now accepted as self-evident wisdom in the mainstream media and among the punditocracy, the only question being whether it can be successfully accomplished. The Democratic Party leadership has not challenged this goal in any way, even as Democrats complain that it is simply not being done fast enough or effectively enough.
Given Iraq's well documented descent into sectarian violence in 2005, however, the question that should be asked is not whether the United States can put enough Iraqi troops into the field with enough training; it is whether, in arming and deploying Shiites and Kurds to fight Sunnis, it is actually stoking the fires of sectarian and ethnic civil war. [complete article]
Netanyahu: 'Hamastan' has been created before our eyes
By Aluf Benn, Lilach Weissman, Yoav Stern, Haaretz, January 26, 2006
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday evening that a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas is "not a partner" in peace.
"If a government led by Hamas or in which Hamas is a coalition partner is established, the Palestinian Authority will be turned into an authority that supports terror. Israel and the world will ignore it and make it irrelevant," Olmert said.
Responding to Hamas' victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that, "The state of 'Hamastan' has been created before our eyes - an Iranian satellite state in the image of the Taliban. It was created in close proximity to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion International Airport. We need to do some soul-searching, because the writing was on the wall. A policy of unilateral withdrawal rewarded Hamas terror." [complete article]
Hamas: A reality Israelis, Americans and Europeans will have to accept
Editorial, Daily Star, January 27, 2006
The elections mark a new beginning, one in which Hamas will take another step in its transformation from a popular liberation movement into a legitimate political party. It is a fresh start - both for the party and for the Palestinians - and marks the beginning of a new reality on the ground. The sooner Israelis, Americans and Europeans accept this reality, the sooner we can move toward resolving differences, and avoiding further conflagration. [complete article]
Comment -- While the political consequences of Hamas' victory have yet to emerge, one thing is already clear: the quantity of hot air generated inside Israel between now and the end of March is sure to increase global warming. Once the Israeli elections are over, perhaps there's reason to hope that reasoned and pragmatic voices will re-emerge.
In the eye of the spying storm
By James Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2006
President Bush made a rare visit Wednesday to the National Security Agency, the office at the center of the controversy over warrantless eavesdropping, telling employees there: "When terrorist operatives are here in America communicating with someone overseas, we must understand what's going on."
And he urged Americans to take seriously the words of Osama bin Laden, likely the NSA's No. 1 target, in an audiotape released last week.
"When he says he's going to hurt the American people again, or try to, he means it," Bush said. "I take it seriously, and the people of the NSA take it seriously." [complete article]
See also, In 2002, Justice Department said eavesdropping law working well (Knight Ridder) and Is Bush turning America into an elective dictatorship? (Jacob Weisberg).
Comment -- How come there were no headlines today quoting Bush: TERRORIST OPERATIVES ARE HERE IN AMERICA!!!? I know he attached a somewhat conditional "when", but the surveillance he authorized has actually been taking place. So when Bush says "when terrorist operatives are here in America," I'd say that that's a really big deal. It would mean that the idea that "we're fighting them over there, so we won't have to fight them here" gets flushed down the toilet. They are here! Bush said so.
But maybe there's another way of interpreting what Bush said and maybe this gets to the nub of a principle in the war on terrorism that has always seemed implicit but never gets officially enunciated. When Bush talks about "terrorists" this is really shorthand. What he means is "terrorists/terrorist suspects." And this gets to the principle; a principle that dovetails into the idea that Bush made explicit right at the get-go: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts [on 9/11] and those who harbor them." So the counterpart to that idea seems to be: we will make no distinction between terrorists and terrorist suspects.
Kurd's writings land him in jail: A critic of party corruption, or a reckless defamer?
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, January 26, 2006
Kamal Sayid Qadir had just returned here from Austria in late October when two trusted former students invited him for coffee at the Hotel Avista.
For Mr. Qadir, the meeting held the promise of a reunion of kindred spirits from Salahaddin University where, as a faculty member a few years back, he had clashed with administrators allied with the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. From Austria he had written articles accusing Mr. Barzani's all-powerful Kurdistan Democratic Party of corruption while calling members of its intelligence service, the Parastin, criminals and its chief -- Mr. Barzani's son -- a "pimp."
But Mr. Qadir said he never made it home from the hotel that night. Betrayed by his former students, who unknown to him had joined the Parastin, he says he was abducted after he left the hotel. He is now imprisoned here, sentenced last month to 30 years for defaming the Parastin and Kurdish political leaders after a trial that he said had lasted 15 minutes. [complete article]
Growing complaints of police brutality heard in Egypt
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, January 26, 2006
Despite a widely publicized campaign to loosen the grip of authoritarian rule, Egypt's vast and secretive security forces appear to have stepped up retaliation against political activists who challenge the status quo.
President Hosni Mubarak's government, one of America's closest allies in the Arab world and the recipient of some $2 billion annually in U.S. aid, earned praise last fall for holding the country's first contested presidential elections. But political activists say reports of police attacks continue to pour in from a wide variety of groups, including opposition political figures, Islamist organizers, journalists and voters.
The complaints raise questions about the likelihood of success for the Bush administration's high-profile campaign to promote democracy, civil liberties and human rights in the Arab world. Egypt, long a center of Arab and Sunni Muslim thought, is the most populous Arab nation and enjoys an image as a tourist-friendly, benign regime with a flourishing opposition press and frequent anti-government demonstrations. [complete article]
In Iraq, the reporter learns you go into battle alone
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, January 26, 2006
In our 34 years, Jenny and I had never been apart for more than a few months at a time. She was always my identity, the other half of the Spinner twins who grew up in a blue-collar town in the Midwest, chasing lightning bugs and a sense that the world extended beyond the corn and soybean fields surrounding us.
For 13 months in 2004 and 2005, my half was in Baghdad, dodging mortar rounds, roadside bombs and potential kidnappers, while Jenny worried from home that I would not be able to keep my promise to my nephew, her young son. "Aunt Jackie always comes back," I told him each time I returned to Baghdad, to a place that began to feel more like home the longer I stayed.
Although I had tucked Jenny's warning words deep inside of me when I left, I realize now that on this journey of a lifetime, I had gone alone. And I was alone that day outside Abu Ghraib prison, when a stranger grabbed my arm and began dragging me toward a car. [complete article]
Jackie Spinner's new book (from which the passage above has been taken), Tell Them I Didn't Cry: A Young Journalist's Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq, is available here.
Iraqi women to be freed from U.S. custody
AP (via Military.com), January 26, 2006
The U.S. military said Thursday it would release five Iraqi women detainees, a move demanded by the kidnappers of an American reporter to spare her life. A U.S. official said the release had nothing to do with the kidnappers' demand. [complete article]
British arrests of police strain relations in Basra
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2006
Tensions continued to simmer Wednesday between local Iraqi officials and British troops in the Shiite-dominated southern city of Basra, where the British this week arrested 14 law enforcement officials, including two senior police intelligence officers, allegedly linked to political corruption and assassinations.
The British released several of the men Wednesday, but a spokesman for the Basra provincial council said that eight remained in custody, including three who had been transferred to a prison facility after British authorities said they had bomb-making materials in their possession. [complete article]
New PAC to back antiwar veterans
By Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2006
An organization of veterans disillusioned with President Bush's handling of the Iraq war plans to launch a political action committee today dedicated to electing antiwar veterans to Congress.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America PAC hopes to raise as much as $10 million this year to support veterans seeking House and Senate seats on platforms promoting a change of strategy in Iraq, said Jon Soltz, the group's executive director. [complete article]
The real Osama
Interview with Peter Bergen, The American Prospect, January 19, 2006
What influence does bin Laden have now personally?
Bin Laden's tapes are the most widely distributed political tapes in history. So the notion that bin Laden doesn't have any operational command over al-Qaeda is just nonsense. And his speeches persuade people: He now has a 65 percent approval rating in Pakistan. This charisma is due in part to a great back story. He's a billionaire who could have been partying in St. Tropez, but instead he went off to fight the Soviets. That shouldn't be misunderestimated, as the president might say. So bin Laden is still now giving broad, strategic guidance to jihadists. He's pumping up the base. It's still "al-Qaeda the organization," and not just "al-Qaeda the ideology" that makes a difference. Take Mohammad Siddique Khan, one of the July 2005 London bombers, who left behind a videotaped message. He talks about bin Laden as being a leader. He also talks about the situation in Iraq. That tape was made in Pakistan, not in Leeds. It was made by al-Sabah, or "the Clouds," which is the al-Qaeda production company. It has al-Zawahiri spliced in, talking about the al-Qaeda offer of a truce to European countries. So, although we don't know all the facts yet, it seems that the London operation was an example of "al-Qaeda classic," rather than just the al-Qaeda ideology at work, as happened in Madrid in 2003. [complete article]
Nuclear energy plan would use spent fuel
By Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, January 26, 2006
The Bush administration is preparing a plan to expand civilian nuclear energy at home and abroad while taking spent fuel from foreign countries and reprocessing it, in a break with decades of U.S. policy, according to U.S. and foreign officials briefed on the initiative.
The United States has adamantly opposed reprocessing spent fuel from civilian reactors since the 1970s because it would produce material that could be used in nuclear weapons. But the Bush program, envisioned as a multi-decade effort dubbed the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, would invest research money to develop technologies intended to avoid any such risk, the officials said.
The program has been the subject of intense debate within the administration, and although a consensus has been reached about the direction, a senior official said it will not be ready for Bush to announce in his State of the Union address Tuesday. Even the discussion has stirred concerns among nuclear specialists and some members of Congress who consider it an expensive venture that relies on unproven concepts and could increase the danger of proliferation. [complete article]
See also, The limited proliferation-resistance benefits of the nuclear fuel cycles being researched by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, June 8, 2005).
Hamas: tests acoming
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, January 26, 2006
It is an article of faith among virtually all Arabs and Muslims that in 1992 the United States and Europe green lighted the Algerian military coup after the Islamist FIS stood on the brink of electoral victory. This has been taken for a decade and a half as the definitive evidence that the American and European commitment to democracy was a hypocritical farce: democracy only if our allies won.
The Bush administration has talked a lot about democracy, about past mistakes in American policy towards democracy in the region, and so forth, but I think it's fair to say that most Arabs remain deeply suspicious. Recent Arab elections haven't really tested whether this has changed. Iraq under American military occupation is sui generis. In Egypt there was never any chance that the Muslim Brotherhood would be allowed to actually win, and even if it somehow had Mubarak would have remained in control over a relatively impotent Parliament. Jordan's Parliamentary elections have been sufficiently gerrymandered (via electoral law) to ensure a strict ceiling on Islamist seats. Sudanese Islamists arrived on the back of a military coup.
Hamas winning and presumably moving to form a government is the first real instance of an Islamist movement on the brink of winning power democratically since 1992. If they take power, we are going to see some major political science propositions put to the test: does power moderate or radicalize Islamist groups? Will they be willing and able to work with non-Islamist parties in a coalition? Will they use their democratic victory to abolish democracy? Will Islamist groups concentrate on the pragmatics of rule or resort to foreign policy grandstanding? Will they use their position of power to pursue terrorism? Will they be willing to set aside doctrine and work pragmatically with Israelis and Americans? Will they use government power to impose unpopular sharia rule over their people? Will they oppress Christian and non-Islamist Muslims? Most academic and policy analysis of these questions has remained counterfactual and hypothetical, since there have been no actual examples of an elected Islamist group in power. That could now change. [complete article]
Comment -- Hamas now has a mandate that is stronger than President Bush's. At the same time, a Hamas-led Palestinian government will ultimately only be able to wield as much power as Israel is willing to yield. If Hamas remains true to its reputation as being uncorrupt and if the Palestinian political scene does not become mired in internal conflicts, yet Hamas fails in delivering real improvements in the lives of ordinary Palestinians, democracy is unlikely to be given a second chance.
Bush likes to portray himself as a man of faith. Now we are going to find out whether he really has faith in democracy. The problem is, Bush has been picturing soft democratic tulips, while the Middle East produces thorny democratic roses.
Hamas sweeps to election victory
BBC News, January 26, 2006
Islamic militant group Hamas has won a stunning victory in Wednesday's Palestinian parliamentary elections.
According to preliminary results, Hamas won 76 seats to 43 for the ruling Fatah party, giving them a majority in the 132-seat chamber. The turnout was 77%. [complete article]
Arab world jubliant at 'earthquake' of Hamas victory
AP (via Haaretz, January 26, 2006
The victory of Hamas in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council was greeted with jubilation Thursday across the Muslim world.
State-run radio in Iran opened its afternoon news broadcast with the report of Hamas' victory, saying the vote showed that Palestinians support resistance against Israel. [complete article]
World reaction to the Hamas victory: 'Fasten your seatbelts'
By Simon Freeman, The Times, January 26, 2006
The European Union said today that it was reviewing the hundreds of millions of euros in aid that it sends to the Palestinian Authority after the triumph of Hamas in parliamentary elections.
Western leaders lined up to express their concern at the political earthquake, but in the Arab world, the apparent landslide was greeted with jubilation as a triumph which would inspire other Islamist militant groups committed to fighting Israel and America's influence in the Middle East. [complete article]
Rice and European leaders urge Hamas to renounce violence
By John O'Neil, New York Times, January 26, 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that Hamas should react to its apparent victory in the Palestinian elections by laying down its weapons and accepting Israel's right to exist.
Speaking by videophone to a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Ms. Rice declared that "democracy and terrorism are incompatible." [complete article]
Vote complicates area's diplomacy
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 26, 2006
The Bush administration has strongly urged Palestinian leaders not to permit any Hamas members into the Palestinian cabinet, so yesterday's apparent electoral triumph by a group labeled a terrorist organization by the United States greatly complicated the administration's diplomacy in the region, U.S. officials said yesterday. [complete article]
Living with Hamas
Editorial, Chicago Tribune, January 26, 2006
Some leaders in Israel and the United States opposed allowing Hamas on the ballot. But the reality is that Hamas inside the political process is better than Hamas outside, working to undermine the process. One of the encouraging developments Wednesday was that the various militant factions in the Palestinian territories did not attempt to disrupt the voting.
Hamas leaders now have to worry about what voters think. They now have to consider the political consequences of leading the Palestinian people on a doomed path--because the Palestinian people now have the power to remove those who fail. [complete article]
Hamas, from violence to votes
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, January 26, 2006
The Islamic Resistance Movement - Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya - is aptly named. For 15 years the group, whose acronym, Hamas, spells out the Arabic word for "zeal, has been a wellspring of Islamic radicalism, defining itself by its opposition both to Israeli occupation and to what it portrays as the flawed theory and corrupt practice of Yassir Arafat's secular nationalism.
Born during the first Palestinian intifada in February 1988, its roots lie in the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement of political Islam founded in Egypt 60 years earlier by Hassan al-Banna.
Its early leaders, including the late Sheikh Yassin, assassinated by Israel in 2004, believed that their pro-Islamic agenda could be achieved only by setting up a network of mosques and charities through which their message could be delivered, building up strength and support until they were ready to take on Israel. [complete article]
Who's who in Hamas?
By Sam Knight, The Times, January 26, 2006
The stunning victory for Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections has catapulted the organisation's leadership, until recently a closely-kept secret, into a pivotal role in international politics.
The Islamist group was decapitated by two Israeli airstrikes in the spring of 2004, when its leader, Ahmed Yassin, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, were assassinated within a month of each other.
Since then, a handful of lower-profile leaders have emerged to add a pragmatic side to the party that has launched at least 60 suicide bomb attacks and still officially calls for the destruction of Israel. [complete article]
Comment -- Hamas' electoral victory presents the Bush administration with its biggest challenge thus far in its campaign to spread democracy across the Middle East. An administration that often seems much more interested in rhetoric than reality is probably now punch-drunk after a blow that anyone should have been able to see coming. In Bush-talk "democracy" is supposed to mean "vehicle of peace and antidote to terrorism." In reality, democracy is simply the best system devised so far for measuring and exercising the will of the people.
As Israel and the rest of the world now attempts to digest the result of the free expression of the will of the Palestinian people, we would all be best served by recognizing that Hamas' rise to power has much more to do with reality than rhetoric. The daily reality of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory is of far greater consequence to most Palestinians than any debate about Israel's right to exist.
The realities of exporting democracy
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, January 25, 2006
In the year since Bush redefined U.S. foreign policy in his second inaugural address to make the spread of democracy the nation's primary mission, the clarion-call language has resonated in the dungeons and desolate corners of the world. But soaring rhetoric has often clashed with geopolitical reality and competing U.S. priorities.
While the administration has enjoyed notable success in promoting liberty in some places, it has applied the speech's principles inconsistently in others, according to analysts, activists, diplomats and officials. Beyond its focus on Iraq, Washington has stepped up pressure on repressive regimes in countries such as Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe -- where the costs of a confrontation are minimal -- while still gingerly dealing with China, Pakistan, Russia and other countries with strategic and trade significance.
In the Middle East, where the administration has centered its attention, it has promoted elections in the Palestinian territories such as today's balloting for parliament, even as it directed money aimed at clandestinely preventing the radical Islamic group Hamas from winning. And although it has now suspended trade negotiations with Egypt, it did not publicly announce the move, nor has it cut the traditionally generous U.S. aid to Cairo. [complete article]
The Administration's new FISA defense is factually false
By Glenn Greenwald, Unclaimed Territory, January 24, 2006
In light of Gen. Hayden's new claim yesterday that the reason the Bush Administration decided to eavesdrop outside of FISA is because the "probable cause" standard for obtaining a FISA warrant was too onerous (and prevented them from obtaining warrants they needed to eavesdrop), there is a fact which I have not seen discussed anywhere but which now appears extremely significant, at least to me.
In June, 2002, Republican Sen. Michael DeWine of Ohio introduced legislation (S. 2659) which would have eliminated the exact barrier to FISA which Gen. Hayden yesterday said is what necessitated the Administration bypassing FISA. Specifically, DeWine's legislation proposed:
to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to modify the standard of proof for issuance of orders regarding non-United States persons from probable cause to reasonable suspicion...In other words, DeWine's bill, had it become law, would have eliminated the "probable cause" barrier (at least for non-U.S. persons) which the Administration is now pointing to as the reason why it had to circumvent FISA. [complete article]
The new security: cameras that never forget your face
By Noah Shachtman, New York Times, January 25, 2006
Management at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco had been suspicious for weeks. A houseman on the graveyard shift was not the most productive worker, and trying to reach him on his walkie-talkie was usually a lost cause. So when the employee could not be found one summer night, his bosses went to their new video surveillance system.
The camera network - using software from 3VR Security Inc., a San Francisco company that makes surveillance technology - already knew what the houseman looked like; facial recognition algorithms had built a profile of him over time. With a couple of mouse clicks, managers combed through hours of videotape taken that night by the hotel's 16 cameras, and found every place he had been - including the back entrance he slipped out of, three hours into his shift. He became 1 of 10 employees dismissed from the hotel since 3VR's surveillance package was installed last June.
Until recently, the only place where an employee could have been caught that easily was in a Hollywood script. [complete article]
See also, A growing web of watchers builds a surveillance society (NYT).
Report: U.S. arms helped Indonesia attack East Timor
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, January 25, 2006
U.S. political and military support for Indonesia was vital to its ability to invade East Timor in December 1975 and to sustain a brutal 24-year occupation that cost the lives of at least 100,000 people, parts of a Timorese inquiry made public Tuesday show.
East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation contended that the Ford administration "turned a blind eye" to the Indonesian invasion even though it knew that U.S.-supplied arms would be used to carry it out. The report called on the United States, France, Britain and other military backers of Indonesia to pay reparations to victims of Indonesian oppression.
The commission relied on more than 4,500 pages of recently declassified documents collected by the Washington-based National Security Archive, a nonprofit research group, which posted a 119-page portion of the commission's 2,500-page report on its Web site Tuesday. The rest is expected to be made public in the coming weeks. [complete article]
Hamas poised to become insiders
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, January 25, 2006
Mahmoud Zahar is a relatively well-off thyroid surgeon who wears his thinning gray hair in a comb-over that shakes loose when he is angry, which is often. On his forehead is the dime-size bruise of a devout Muslim, the result of many hours spent praying in the mosque across the dirt street from his house here.
He is also among the most obdurate leaders of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, and will almost certainly be among those who emerge victorious as Palestinians vote Wednesday for parliament for the first time in a decade. Often described by those who know him as severe and short-tempered, Zahar is ebullient as the movement makes its first bid for power in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
"We are feeling victory," Zahar, 60, said during an interview earlier this week in the sunny courtyard of his home. "The people are going to vote for the project of the resistance. Israel should know that a new political and moral atmosphere is going to appear." [complete article]
See also, Enter Hamas: The challenges of political integration (ICG Middle East Report).
The obligation of the occupied
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, January 25, 2006
The elections taking place today in the Palestinian Authority are fluctuating between two poles: The Israeli occupation and its tremendous involvement in Palestinian lives, and the responsibility that the occupied have for their own lives. The world, led by Israel, loves to forget that the Palestinian parliament and government, despite their respectable name, are not state institutions, and that the PA enclaves are not independent.
The Palestinian parliament and government lack the authority and rights their counterparts have in sovereign states. They have no control over the external and internal borders that Israel draws between the various Palestinian districts, to the point where they are cut off from each other.
Sixty percent of West Bank land, the primary physical resource of the Palestinian people, are under total Israeli control, and no Palestinian government will be able to do with them what sovereign entities do in their territory: sow and plant, build, develop, maintain. Israel controls the water sources in Israel and in effect sets quotas for the Palestinians. Israel's control of the Palestinian population registry and freedom of movement means that it intervenes in personal decisions like family ties, place of residence, work and study. Through its control of the external and internal borders, Israel also determines how the Palestinian economy will look - the rate of unemployment, the salary cap, the types of economic activity, the location of the factories. And that is only a partial list. [complete article]
Israel's Olmert ready to give up parts of occupied West Bank
By Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder, January 24, 2006
Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said Tuesday that he was prepared to give up parts of the occupied West Bank in order to secure peace with the Palestinians and ensure his nation's status as a Jewish state.
Speaking on the eve of Wednesday's Palestinian election, in which Islamist militants are expected to be elected to the Palestinian parliament for the first time, Olmert said Israel could not hang on to all of the West Bank. Israel has occupied the territory since 1967. [complete article]
The rise of political Islam
By Dilip Hiro, TomDipatch, January 24, 2006
Last year began with Islamist candidates winning most of the seats in the first very limited municipal polls in Saudi Arabia and ended with the Iraqi religious parties -- both Shiite and Sunni -- performing handsomely in the December parliamentary elections. The official Iraqi results, announced on January 21, showed the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance winning almost 80% of the seats that should go to the majority Shiite community. Likewise the Islamic Iraq Party won 80% of the places to which the Sunni minority is entitled.
In between these polls, in a general election held last summer, Hizbollah emerged as the preeminent representative of Lebanese Shiites, the country's largest sectarian group (which is grossly underrepresented in parliament). And in the first election for the legislative assembly not flagrantly rigged by Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood registered a nearly 60% success rate by winning 88 out of the 150 seats it contested. The Brotherhood certainly could have won many more, but its leadership deliberately decided to contest only a minority of seats in order not to provoke the regime of Egypt's pro-American president and so create a situation in which he might be likely to strike out indiscriminately against the opposition.
Put all of this together and you have what looks like a single phenomenon sweeping the region. However, focus on these developments one by one and what you see is that the reasons for Islamist advances are not only different in each case but particular to each country. [complete article]
Top ten mistakes of the Bush Administration in reacting to al-Qaeda
By Juan Cole, January 24, 2006
The Bush administration and the American Right generally has refused to acknowledge what we now know. Al-Qaeda is dangerous. All small terrorist groups can do damage. But it is not an epochal threat to the United States or its allies of the sort the Soviet Union was (and that threat was consistently exaggerated, as well).
In fact, the United States invaded a major Muslim country, occupied it militarily, tortured its citizens, killed tens of thousands, tinkered with the economy-- did all those things that Muslim nationalists had feared and warned against, and there hasn't even been much of a reaction from the Muslim world. Only a few thousand volunteers went to fight. Most people just seem worried that the US will destabilize their region and leave a lot of trouble behind them. People are used to seeing Great Powers do as they will. A Syrian official before the war told a journalist friend of mine that people in the Middle East had been seeing these sorts of invasions since Napoleon took Egypt in 1798. "Well," he shrugged, "usually they leave behind a few good things when they finally leave."
Because they exaggerate the scale of the conflict, and because they use it cynically, Bush and Cheney have grossly mismanaged the struggle against al-Qaeda and Muslim radicalism after September 11. Here are their chief errors: [complete article]
U.S. could pull out of nuke deal if India backs Iran: envoy
AFP (via Yahoo), January 25, 2006
India could lose out on a historic nuclear deal with the United States if it does not vote against Iran at a key meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, the US ambassador to India warned.
Ambassador David Mulford also warned that Washington was not convinced by India's statements on separation of its civilian and military nuclear programmes, a key pre-condition for the bilateral deal.
If India decides not to back an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution against Iran, "the effect on members of the US Congress with regard to (India-US) civil nuclear initiative will be devastating," Mulford told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
"I think the Congress will simply stop considering the matter. I think the initiative will die in the Congress not because the US administration would want it to," he said. [complete article]
Iran eyes Russia nuclear proposal
BBC News, January 25, 2006
Iran is "positive" about a plan to enrich uranium in Russia as a way of easing controversy over its nuclear programme, its nuclear negotiator says.
Ali Larijani made the statement after meeting Russia's security chief, Igor Ivanov, and other officials in Moscow.
But Mr Larijani warned Iran would begin enriching uranium on its own territory if Western countries referred it to the UN Security Council for sanctions. [complete article]
Countdown to a showdown: Part II
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 25, 2006
The Iranians, who have studied the United States and the world economy for many decades, know their gasoline imports are a vulnerability. But they also know perfectly well that they have the rest of us, as it were, over a barrel. "There are no sanctions on the oil sector in Iran that will not hurt the whole world at the same time," says [Pierre] Terzian, [from the Petrostrategies group of oil-industry analysts in Paris.]
What the Iranians also know -- and this is critical -- is that the lock they have on the global market isn't going to last. Saudi Arabia and other countries profiting from the high oil prices of the last two years are investing hundreds of billions of dollars expanding their production. Eventually they will be able to absorb the shock if Iran turns off the tap. [complete article]
Why US doesn't trust Iran on nukes
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2006
Asked why they're suspicious of Iran's nuclear intentions, US officials point to Natanz.
Iran's Natanz nuclear site is in a remote area 200 miles south of Tehran. Key facilities are buried, with vehicle entrance ramps hidden beneath dummy buildings. Construction there has continued in recent months despite Iran's nuclear negotiations with the West - recent satellite photos revealed at least seven new buildings.
Iran's leaders have long said they are conducting nuclear research for peaceful purposes. They claim they want only to learn how to produce fissionable fuel for power plants, as they're allowed to do under terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
That explanation makes no sense for a nation with 10 percent of the world's known oil reserves, US officials and some outside experts say. They claim that the concrete and steel of Iran's nuclear infrastructure shows Tehran's true intentions. [complete article]
Sunni leaders urge followers to defend homes in wake of raids
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, January 24, 2006
Iraq's top Sunni Muslim political party called on its followers Tuesday to use any means necessary to defend their homes, saying the government is too weak to protect Sunni neighborhoods from violent raids by the Shiite Muslim-dominated police.
The call marked a major departure from the Iraqi Islamic Party's previous position backing restraint and revealed a new level of Sunni frustration with the Shiite-led security forces.
U.S. officials have frequently cited the party's participation in the Dec. 15 national elections as evidence that many Sunnis might be willing to abandon support for the Sunni-led insurgency in favor of working with the government.
But Tuesday's call suggested growing concern that Sunnis can't depend on the Shiite-led government to protect their interests. [complete article]
America's message to Iraq
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 25, 2006
America's agile envoy in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, is working these days to cajole Iraqi political leaders to put aside narrow interests in favor of a government of national unity. But behind the political dickering lies a stark message: If the Iraqis can't agree on a broad-based government of reconciliation, the United States may have to reduce its military and economic support. America won't bankroll one side in a civil war.
I spoke with Khalilzad by telephone this week about his efforts to coax a compromise from the Iraqis. By most accounts, the Afghan-born diplomat has been a brilliant ringmaster of the Baghdad political circus. But even he can't soften the dilemma facing the Iraqis: They must find a way to work together or the fragile Iraqi state will unravel.
The American envoy is deploying a weapon the United States hasn't used much in Iraq -- the word "no." He said he is arguing that the new government must give the two security ministries -- Interior and Defense -- to people who have broad national support and aren't linked to sectarian militias. Otherwise, America may have to adjust its massive effort to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. [complete article]
Comment -- David Ignatius' sanguine tone obscures the implications of what he is describing. If Khalilzad fails to bridge the divide between the Sunnis and the new Iraqi government, America will not be merely "adjusting" its effort to build up Iraqi forces; President Bush's "we can stand down as Iraqis stand up"-strategy will be finished. In that event, failure won't be an option; it will be an indisputable fact.
It makes me wonder: Does the administration perversely see a silver lining in the looming Iranian cloud? As Iran increasingly dominates the headlines, perhaps the US can tiptoe out of Iraq as it becomes a country, a people, and a war that would for most Americans gladly be forgotten.
Political deadlock paralyses Iraq
By Ahmed Janabi, Aljazeera, January 25, 2006
The US occupation and political meddling has left Iraq in a chaotic deadlock, a leading analyst says.
Haroun Muhamad, an Iraqi political analyst, says inept and inexperienced leaders have locked Iraq into a political crisis.
"The US occupation has created an incurable situation in Iraq, by letting unqualified and sectarian politicians rise to power," he told Aljazeera.net.
"With the current amount of unqualified statesmen in Iraq, it is very difficult even for the US to rectify the situation and bring to the limelight some responsible officials." [complete article]
Army stretched to breaking point
AP (via Military.com), January 25, 2006
Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.
Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended. [complete article]
Audit describes misuse of funds in Iraq projects
By James Glanz, New York Times, January 25, 2006
A new audit of American financial practices in Iraq has uncovered irregularities including millions of reconstruction dollars stuffed casually into footlockers and filing cabinets, an American soldier in the Philippines who gambled away cash belonging to Iraq, and three Iraqis who plunged to their deaths in a rebuilt hospital elevator that had been improperly certified as safe.
The audit, released yesterday by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, expands on its previous findings of fraud, incompetence and confusion as the American occupation poured money into training and rebuilding programs in 2003 and 2004. The audit uncovers problems in an area that includes half the land mass in Iraq, with new findings in the southern and central provinces of Anbar, Karbala, Najaf, Wasit, Babil, and Qadisiya. The special inspector reports to the secretary of defense and the secretary of state.
Agents from the inspector general's office found that the living and working quarters of American occupation officials were awash in shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills, colloquially known as bricks.
One official kept $2 million in a bathroom safe, another more than half a million dollars in an unlocked footlocker. One contractor received more than $100,000 to completely refurbish an Olympic pool but only polished the pumps; even so, local American officials certified the work as completed. More than 2,000 contracts ranging in value from a few thousand dollars to more than half a million, some $88 million in all, were examined by agents from the inspector general's office. The report says that in some cases the agents found clear indications of potential fraud and that investigations into those cases are continuing. [complete article]
Comment -- If Arthur Miller was still alive, he could have based a latterday sequel to All My Sons on conflicting American visions of Iraq. To naive young soldiers it was a country where they risked losing life and limb in the name of bringing freedom, while to some of their cynical compatriots it was just a country ripe for looting.
Decline in oil output dims Iraq's recovery
By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2006
Iraqi oil production fell by 8% last year, calling into question the nation's ability to support itself and fund reconstruction efforts as U.S. assistance is scaled back.
A sharp decline near year's end left average daily production at half the 3 million barrels envisaged by U.S. officials at the outset of the war in 2003. Prospects for improvement this year are slim, many experts say. [complete article]
Mild penalties in military abuse cases
By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2006
Soldiers prosecuted in the abuse or even deaths of detainees rarely have paid a heavy price, an indication of the difficulties the U.S. military has had sorting out right from wrong during the war on terrorism, human rights groups and military lawyers say.
A report to be released next week by Human Rights First has found that service members were disciplined in 12 of the 33 cases in which detainees' deaths were ruled homicides. Often that punishment was relatively mild, as was the case for Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. [complete article]
See also, Sentence in death of Iraqi angers son (WP).
Bush will visit India and Pakistan in March
By William Branigin, Washington Post, January 24, 2006
President Bush announced today that he will visit India and Pakistan in March, traveling to a sometimes tense region that lately has been roiled by a U.S. airstrike on Pakistani territory and resulting civilian deaths.
The trip was announced after Bush met with visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at the White House and hailed Pakistan as a vital ally in the war on terrorism. [complete article]
Comment -- American journalists accompanying President Bush on his jaunt to Pakistan might pause to consider the fate of their less fortunate counterparts there who have discovered that Pakistan's war on terrorism also apparently targets journalists. Yesterday the Committee to Protect Journalists appealed to Pakistani authorities:
...to answer inquiries about the fate of abducted reporter Hayatullah Khan and to stop harassing journalists in the tribal areas.On January 16, Reporters Without Borders:
... condemned the arrest of Haroon Rashid of the BBC World Service's Urdu-language section and Iqbal Khattak of Pakistan's Daily Times in the Bajaur Agency part of the Tribal Areas on 14 January while covering reactions to a US airstrike on a village that was supposedly being visited by Al-Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.Pakistan's intelligence and security forces are conducting operations in the tribal areas in close consultation with their American counterparts. Does this collaboration also include an "understanding" about the necessity of suppressing news coverage?
Pakistan on the spot over Iran nuclear secrets
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, January 25, 2006
Reverberations continue from the attack by a US Predator drone on the village of Damadola in Pakistan's Bajur tribal area last week. The raid was designed to root out al-Qaeda operatives believed to be in the area, but larger forces are at play.
On the one hand, some call the strike, in which 18 people were killed, a calculated risk by the US in the "war on terror". Others claim that it was a part of President General Pervez Musharraf's delicate tightrope walk to balance his image at home with that of the face he projects abroad as a US ally.
President Shaukat Aziz, on a visit to the United States, has categorically denied on US television that Pakistan was told in advance of the raid, and also rejected US claims that a few senior al-Qaeda figures died in the attack. However, Asia Times Online has reported that Islamabad definitely knew of the attack. [complete article]
The gulf between us
By Flynt Leverett, New York Times, January 24, 2006
As the United States and its European partners consider their next steps to contain the Iranian nuclear threat, let's recall how poorly the Bush administration has handled this issue. During its five years in office, the administration has turned away from every opportunity to put relations with Iran on a more positive trajectory. Three examples stand out.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan. But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an "axis of evil," thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.
In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A conversation I had shortly after leaving the government with a senior conservative Iranian official strongly suggested that this was the case. Unfortunately, the administration's response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line. [complete article]
See also, Countdown to showdown (Christopher Dickey) and West's push to refer Iran to U.N. hits snags(NYT).
Iran & the bomb (part three): strike options
By Jeffrey Lewis, ArmsControlWonk, January 23, 2006
In this post, I outline the parameters, challenges and prospects for a strike designed to eliminate just Iran's nuclear programs. Overall, I think the prospects for a strike are mixed—a properly timed strike might delay Iran's program by a few years, although there are good reasons to think that the long-term result of a strike would be to worsen America's security. [complete article]
Skyrocketing oil costs feared in nuke standoff
By John Zarocostas, Washington Times, January 24, 2006
The price of crude oil could reach $131 a barrel if Iran stopped production amid the standoff over Tehran's decision to resume uranium enrichment, a global market study predicts.
Oil prices topped $69 a barrel yesterday on supply fears over the nuclear standoff.
Iran supplies about 4 million barrels a day, or 5 percent of the world's oil supply, said William F. Browder, chief executive officer of Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management.
The former Wall Street investment banker said the market-scenario study -- based on an analysis that factored in seven supply shocks in the past 35 years -- had an 81 percent accuracy in predicting the price. [complete article]
Iraqi Shiite cleric pledges to defend Iran
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, January 24, 2006
An Iraqi Muslim cleric who leads a major Shiite militia pledged to come to the defense of neighboring Iran if it were attacked, aides to the cleric, Moqtada Sadr, said Monday.
The commitment, made Sunday in Tehran during a visit by Sadr, came in response to a senior Iranian official's query about what the cleric would do in the event of an attack on Iran. It marked the first open indication that Iraq's Shiite neighbor is preparing for a military response if attacked in a showdown with the West over its nuclear program.
The pledge was also one of the strongest signs yet that Iraq could become a battleground in any Western conflict with Iran, raising the specter of Iraqi Shiite militias -- or perhaps even the U.S.-trained Shiite-dominated military -- taking on American troops here in sympathy with Iran.
Sadr is a top leader of the Shiite coalition that leads Iraq and dominates its security forces. His pledge might be seen as an indicator of how the Iraqi government may respond to a potential attack on its neighbor. [complete article]
Presidential power a key issue in debate over eavesdropping
By Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, January 23, 2006
The dispute over President Bush's domestic spying program hinges on the same tough question that vexed the nation's founders: How much power does a president have?
Bush and his legal advisers argue that the Constitution and federal law give him the right to authorize domestic eavesdropping without a warrant from a court or specific approval from Congress. The electronic surveillance, conducted by the super-secret National Security Agency, is aimed at communications between the United States and suspected terrorists overseas.
Bush's critics, citing the same legal sources, charge that he exceeded his legal and constitutional authority and could be impeached for breaking the law. [complete article]
See also, Defending spy program, general reveals shaky grip on 4th Amendment (E&P).
Pentagon planning document leaves Iraq out of equation
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2006
The U.S. military has long been accused of always planning to fight its last war. But as the Pentagon assesses threats to national security over the next four years, a major blueprint being completed in the shadow of the Iraq war will do largely the opposite.
The military went into Iraq with a vision that a small, agile, and lightly armored force could win a quick preemptive war. Although the U.S. easily crushed Saddam Hussein's army, the subsequent occupation has proven far costlier in lives, money and international standing than most expected.
As a result, the U.S. military has no appetite for another lengthy war of "regime change." [complete article]
Iraq rebuilding badly hobbled, U.S. report finds
By James Glanz, New York Times, January 24, 2006
The first official history of the $25 billion American reconstruction effort in Iraq depicts a program hobbled from the outset by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting, secrecy and constantly increasing security costs, according to a preliminary draft.
The document, which begins with the secret prewar planning for reconstruction and touches on nearly every phase of the program through 2005, was assembled by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and debated last month in a closed forum by roughly two dozen experts from outside the office.
A person at the forum provided a copy of the document, dated December 2005, to The New York Times. The inspector general's office, whose agents and auditors have been examining and reporting on various aspects of the rebuilding since early 2004, declined to comment on the report other than to say it was highly preliminary. [complete article]
Militants pledge to ensure smooth Palestinian vote
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, January 24, 2006
Militant groups pledged on the eve of Palestinian elections to prevent any attempt to disrupt voting in the poll, which could usher the powerful Hamas movement into government for the first time.
A statement issued by seven militant groups, including Hamas and two armed wings of Fatah, said they had reached "an agreement of honour" to send unarmed observers to assist Palestinian police protecting polling stations.
But the groups said the militants' weapons would not be far away. "We will sever the hands that attempt to touch any ballot box in order to sabotage the vote," said Abu Abir, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of militants. [complete article]
Comment -- Sounds like Abu Abir needs to fine-tune his PR skills.
Makeover of Hamas: shift or smoke screeen?
By Matthew Kalman, SF Chronicle, January 24, 2006
Can a sunflower replace a Kalashnikov assault rifle? Can the stern face of a holy martyr brandishing a gun be replaced by the yearning gaze of a young girl with flowers in her hair?
Wednesday's election for a Palestinian parliament could mark a dramatic new direction for the Palestinian people, and nowhere is that possibility more evident than on the walls of the West Bank and Gaza. [complete article]
On the campaign trail with Hamas
By James Reynolds, BBCNews, January 24, 2006
Mona Mansour drives round Nablus in an old white car, without any bodyguards. She's well-known in the city as the widow of a famous Hamas gunman, killed by Israel. Now she has found a way to carry on his fight - by running for parliament for Hamas.
"Nablus has been forgotten. The Palestinian people need us," she tells a small crowd of supporters. "Conditions are terrible. There's corruption and nepotism. There's no security." [complete article]
Palestinian candidates condemn U.S. program
By Scott Wilson and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 24, 2006
The Bush administration's effort to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority and its governing Fatah party before critical parliamentary elections this week came under intense criticism Monday from a number of candidates, some of whom charged that the program amounted to illegal interference in the democratic process.
A leader of Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, called for an investigation into whether the $2 million program violated the prohibition against parties receiving funds from foreign sources. U.S. officials involved in the program said it was not meant to favor one party, but the Palestinian public closely identifies the Palestinian Authority with the Fatah movement that runs it.
Candidates from several other parties said the program was an attempt to undermine Hamas in voting scheduled for Wednesday and predicted that it would backfire.
"Every time the United States says it doesn't want Hamas, they boost Hamas," said Mustafa Barghouti, a former presidential candidate who is heading the Independent Palestine candidate list. "Let us do our elections entirely on our own. These interventions run counter to our efforts, and they hurt the Palestinian people. This effort was completely counterproductive." [complete article]
Comment -- Let's suppose that USAID's efforts pay off and Fatah does better than expected. Will the Bush administration then be pushing the Israeli government for the early release of the democratically-elected but still-imprisoned Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti? (That's a rhetorical question!)
E.U. countries 'knew about CIA torture flights'
By Geoff Meade, PA (via The Independent), January 24, 2006
European governments probably knew that the CIA was flying prisoners across their territory for interrogation and torture in other countries, a report claimed today.
Allegations that special American flights transported terrorist suspects to Europe to be questioned were first raised in the Washington Post last November.
Now an interim report from the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe confirms the "rendition" of more than 100 prisoners "affecting Europe" . [complete article]
Judge orders U.S. to supply prisoner names
By Julia Preston, New York Times, January 24, 2006
A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to release the names and nationalities of hundreds of prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rejecting the government's argument that it would be a violation of their privacy and expose them to retaliation by terrorist groups. [complete article]
Comment -- Is Franz Kafka required reading for Pentagon lawyers or simply a popular source of inspiration?
Campaign to justify spying intensifies
By Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, January 24, 2006
A senior U.S. intelligence official offered a wide-ranging and detailed defense of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program yesterday, kicking off a White House campaign aimed at convincing the public that the effort is both legal and necessary to combat al Qaeda terrorists.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former NSA chief who is now deputy director of national intelligence, told reporters in Washington that the warrantless eavesdropping on calls and e-mails between the United States and overseas was "targeted and focused" and did not constitute a "driftnet" over U.S. cities. [complete article]
Comment -- If the NSA's domestic surveillance program is really as narrowly focused as Hayden claims, it's far from clear that it could really be that useful. The key issue is: what exactly does the administration mean when it refers to "al Qaeda"? If a terrorist cell with ideological connections yet no communications connections with Osama bin Laden's organization was plotting a terrorist attack, would intercepting the communications of such a group fall outside the scope of the NSA program?
I'm inclined to think that the administration is really using "al Qaeda" as a figure of speech, but if they are, the program probably isn't quite as narrowly focused as they're suggesting. I don't doubt that it's focused on terrorist suspects. The question is: on the basis of what criteria do suspects come under suspicion? Needless to say, for operational reasons we'll almost certainly never know the answer.
The necessary secrecy of the program is being used as a means to manipulate trust. Yet if in this case trust is meant to supplant the need for a clear legal framework, why do we need any laws limiting executive power?
In Iran, power written in stone
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, January 23, 2006
Wearing a stocking cap and an air of indignation, Mohammad Ahmadi pointed to the wall in front of him. It bore a splendid frieze dating from early in the millennia-long span of Iran's existence -- as a nation, an empire or simply a group of people who speak the same language.
"These are Armenians," Ahmadi said of three figures carved in vivid profile, one leading a horse. "They were bringing gifts to the king of Iran 2,500 years ago. And now they have a nuclear power plant.
"Do you want to see the Indians?" he said, indicating a lower column. "They didn't have shoes. Now they have nine nuclear plants.
"I am not a political person. I only finished high school, and I do not have much knowledge. But if I think like this, imagine how the others think."
If any doubt remains that Iranians support their government in its quest to harness the atom, the answer comes quickly and emphatically in Persepolis, the magnificent ruins that symbolize the ancient pride and fading glory bound up with the nuclear issue here. [complete article]
Bush's Iran options limited by Iraq, perils of military action
Bloomberg, January 23, 2006
"Grave threat" is how U.S. President George W. Bush described Iraq three years ago. Today he uses that same phrase -- to characterize Iran.
The resemblance between these two standoffs ends with the rhetoric, analysts say. Iran and its nuclear program today are far more dangerous than Iraq's was, and U.S. options are far more limited.
As a result, the Bush administration is pursuing a markedly different approach than it did in 2003, when its diplomacy was aimed at lining up allies for a war. This time, U.S. diplomats are seeking an international consensus on how to proceed.
"This administration is forced to follow this route because of the failures of Iraq," says Joseph Cirincione, director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based policy-study group.
Cirincione says there "was a lot of talk" among supporters of the Iraq war in the spring of 2003 about "moving on to Tehran" after the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein. Now, because of the "bloody quagmire" in Iraq, "we have no really tough option with Iran, certainly none that could be implemented unilaterally," he says. [complete article]
Iran's nuclear talisman
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 23, 2006
[Last week, in a column in Slate, Fred Kaplan asked: If there's no deal that the US could realistically make with Iran that would compel it to abandon its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, then what's the next step? He invited readers to respond. This is my response.]
What to do about Iran? First off, let's not act like baboons. Remember, we're high ranking hominids. We like to pride ourselves on being endowed with the gift of a little more sophistication.
So, let's start by reconsidering the question (as Fred Kaplan states it): How can Iran be prevented from realizing its dream of possessing nuclear weapons? Clear evidence that they have a weapons development program not withstanding, I question whether this really is their dream.
Iran's pursuit might be better characterized as neither a desire to harness nuclear energy nor a lust to wield nuclear weapons. Their dream is to possess a nuclear talisman. This is a quest for a symbol of power rather than an instrument of destruction.
With nuclear-armed states west (Israel), north (Russia) and east (Pakistan and India), as well as American troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, along with battleships in the Gulf, Iran clearly has the military justification for wanting to possess the ultimate deterrent.
At the same time, a much deeper aspiration - rooted in Persian culture and history - is to reclaim lost status. Iranians long to reassert their authority as a regional power. (Ironically, the current regime's domestically tenuous claim to legitimacy is now only being strengthened by Western hostility. Moreover, what from the vantage point of the US and Europe looks like Ahmadinejad's recklessness, to many in the rest of the world must surely look like America's comeupance.)
In 1953, Iran's brave attempt to establish itself as a modern secular democratic state under the leadership of Mohammad Mosaddeq was cynically crushed by the US and Britain who then supported Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi's brutal dictatorship until he was toppled in the 1979 revolution. As one of the CIA's own historians concedes, "Operation Ajax" and subsequent efforts at regime change, brought the Agency and the United States "more political ill will, and ... more untoward results, than any other of its activities." Small wonder that the Islamic regime that took the Shah's place would do everything it could to harness popular hostility to Western powers.
The Bush administration, while opposing the current regime, claims it holds the interests of the Iranian people at heart, yet history speaks much louder than anything George Bush or Condoleezza Rice might say.
So, what to do now?
Firstly, stick to international law and back away from the current cycle of posturing in which each move risks becoming more crude and inflexible than its precursor.
If Iran has exposed the weakness of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the solution is not to try and make Iran compliant with terms that don't exist in the treaty; it is to modify the treaty. Until such a time, Iran cannot be expected and should not be required to do more than maintain its existing compliance.
Secondly, the strength of the NPT in its conception was that it rested on three pillars: nonproliferation, the right to peacefully use nuclear technology, and disarmament.
While disarmament might have seemed like an unattainable goal during the Cold War, arguments against disarmament now seem much less realistic than those in favor. At the same time, the goal of disarmament cannot be effectively pursued if there are nuclear states (Israel, Pakistan, and India) who refuse to sign the treaty. That all nuclear states be bound by the treaty and that global disarmament be collectively pursued should be interlocking objectives.
Thirdly, the Bush administration should enter into direct negotiations with Iran and hold out the prospect of renewing full diplomatic relations. If the United States and the Soviet Union could maintain diplomatic relations for the duration of the Cold War, it surely requires no great leap of imagination for America to starting talking to Iran. Come on guys, show some courage!
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is only one player - and certainly not the most powerful - in a complex regime. American engagement with the regime, rather than legitimizing tyranny, could in fact have the opposite effect. The more Iranian officials there are engaged in meaningful dialogue with US officials, the more power will be diffused inside the regime. Given the opportunity, pragmatists will always have an operational advantage over ideologues. The only way the US can empower Iranian pragmatists is by talking to them. (Note to Bush and Cheney: It's the decentralization of power that makes democracies less inclined to start wars.)
Would all of these moves require boldness and imagination thus far unheard of coming out of Washington? Obviously. Could anything be accomplished? Maybe not. But if two years from now we ended up back in a situation as intractable as the current one seems, then at least we wouldn't have spent two years digging ourselves deeper into a hole that is already way too deep.
Iran & the bomb (part two): Iran's missiles
By Jeffrey Lewis, ArmsControlWonk, January 22, 2006
How far could Iran launch a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile?
The answer really depends on two things: The size of Iran's missiles and the size of Iran's warheads.
Iran's missiles aren't that big, and its warheads aren't that small. Without more testing of both, I think Iran would be hard pressed to deliver a missile to Israel, let alone Europe or the United States. [complete article]
Iran warns against UN referral
By Roula Khalaf and Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, January 22, 2006
Iran's top nuclear official on Sunday warned Tehran would resume efforts to enrich uranium on an industrial scale if its case was reported to the UN Security Council, further raising the stakes in the crisis over its nuclear programme.
Tehran earlier this month moved to resume nuclear research, including some small-scale enrichment. But Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, which handles the nuclear issue, said in an interview with the Financial Times that a referral to the United Nations would force Tehran to broaden significantly the scale of such work.
"If the case goes to the Security Council, we're obliged?.?.?.?to lift all voluntary measures," he said, specifying that this included industrial-scale uranium enrichment. [complete article]
See also, transcript of interview with Ali Larijani and Iran mocks west over 'N-weapon design' request (FT).
Iran sanctions could drive oil past $100
By Brad Foss and George Jahn, AP (via SF Chronicle), January 22, 2006
A surge in oil prices last week to almost $70 a barrel on concerns about the restart of Iran's nuclear program only hints at what may lie ahead.
Prices could soar past $100 a barrel, experts say, if the U.N. Security Council authorizes trade sanctions against the Middle Eastern nation, which the West accuses of trying to make nuclear bombs, and Iran curbs oil exports in retaliation. A sharp global economic slowdown could follow.
That's the dilemma the United States and European nations face as they decide whether to act. But Iran would also pay a hefty price if the petro-dollars that now represent 80 percent of export revenues are reduced, potentially stirring civil unrest in a nation with a 14 percent unemployment rate. [complete article]
Iraqi cleric: Militia would defend Iran
By Al Akbar Dareini, AP (via Seattle P-I), January 22, 2006
The Iraqi cleric who once led two uprisings against U.S. forces said Sunday that his militia would help to defend Iran if it is attacked, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Muqtada al-Sadr, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, said his Mahdi Army was formed to defend Islam.
"If neighboring Islamic countries, including Iran, become the target of attacks, we will support them," al-Sadr was quoted as saying. "The Mahdi Army is beyond the Iraqi army. It was established to defend Islam." [complete article]
Iraq Shias launch coalition drive
BBC News, January 22, 2006
The Shia bloc that took the most votes in last month's Iraqi election says it has begun moves to form a government of national unity.
The United Iraqi Alliance has set up committees to hold talks with Kurdish and Sunni groups in the new parliament.
It says it will form a coalition with Sunni factions but only if they do more to combat the insurgency. [complete article]
Sunnis must have security, leader says
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2006
A leader of Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc said Sunday that he would shun any government that included officials responsible for police brutality against his minority sect, a stand aimed at removing the powerful Shiite interior minister.
Tariq Hashimi of the Iraqi Accordance Front spelled out its conditions for entering a "national unity" administration after most Iraqi leaders called for such an outcome in order to quell the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency. [complete article]
See also, Iraq's next big hurdle: unity government (CSM) and Iraqis urging unity, but rifts may be too deep (NYT).
Shiite-Kurd goals stymie U.S.
By Borzou Daragahi and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2006
They are the orphans of Iraqi history, grown up and remaking the country's political and social order. But the formidable alliance between the long-marginalized Shiite Muslims and Kurds, a union nurtured by Washington, now threatens to undermine U.S. goals in the new Iraq.
The aim of U.S. policymakers has been a united Iraqi state with secular leanings in which the Kurds, who have been strong American allies, would promote a government aligned with the West. Instead, the Kurds appear poised to accept alliances that guarantee them a secular state in Kurdistan in exchange for their acceptance of a more religious order in the rest of Iraq. [complete article]
Larry Diamond on Iraq
Interview with Larry Dimaond, Foreign Policy, January, 2006
Larry Diamond: President Bush says victory will come in Iraq "when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation." But what if the threats to democracy in Iraq come from the political parties we helped empower? What if the Iraqi citizens are threatened by the very security forces we have helped stand up? What if a Shiite Islamic government in Iraq's south quietly allies with Iran's militant Islamic government, which is hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons? What if it remains the case for years to come that the only force capable of containing the slide to full-scale civil war is the American military-- a force that cannot stay and cannot leave? The Bush administration has no clear answers to any of these questions, only the fervent hope that its quest for victory is not again squandered. [complete article]
Professionals fleeing Iraq as violence, threats persist
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, January 23, 2006
The office of Iraq's most eminent cardiologist is padlocked. A handwritten sign is taped on his wooden door in the private clinic in Baghdad: Patients of Dr. Omar Kubasi should call him in Amman, Jordan.
There, Kubasi, 63, spends his days sitting at a cafe with other physicians and professionals from Iraq. Frustrated, he watches from afar as the medical education system he helped set up during his 36-year career slowly disintegrates. His teaching doctors are fleeing the country in fear. Younger physicians are looking for other countries to train in. Even patients are leaving, no longer confident in the care they can get in Iraq.
"I think it's part of the plan for the country's destruction," Kubasi said by telephone. "The situation in the last six months has gotten so bad, we couldn't continue." [complete article]
Iraq's oil bust
By Scott Johnson and Michael Hastings, Newsweek, January 30, 2006
Guarding the Fatah oil refinery used to be a pretty straightforward job. Insurgents hit the complex only sporadically, at night, and usually missed important targets. But by early last year, attackers were using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine guns in brazen daylight assaults. They seemed to know about everything and everybody in the refinery. Ambushes were common. "We were afraid to even take vacation and go home," says 26-year-old Saif Mohammed, an Iraqi security guard assigned to help protect the vast network of blackened pipes and smokestacks. "The people who worked with us used to tip off the fighters. They wanted to play both sides -- to keep their jobs and be informants for the terrorists."
When insurgents killed the man Mohammed shared duty with last April, then threatened Mohammed with the same, he quit. In the past year, there have been close to 20 large-scale assaults on or around Fatah, part of Iraq's largest oil-production complex in Bayji, deep in the Sunni Triangle northwest of Baghdad. Last month the Bayji site shut down completely for two weeks. It reopened with the New Year, but three days later insurgents pinned down a 60-truck fuel convoy there in an hourlong gun battle. Across the country, insurgents mount a major attack on oil facilities about once every three days, and the situation is getting worse. [complete article]
Jill Carroll: chorus of support from Muslim leaders
Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2006
A delegation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations arrived in Baghdad Saturday, adding its voice to what is described as an unprecedented outpouring of Muslim support for the release of American reporter Jill Carroll.
"The kidnapping of Jill Carroll does not benefit the kidnappers," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based group that represents US mosques and Islamic associations. "She has been friendly and respectful of the Iraqi people, not an enemy," he added.
At press time Sunday, David Cook, the Monitor's Washington bureau chief, said that there has been no new information about Ms. Carroll. "We are continuing to watch developments in Iraq and doing all we can to speed Jill's release, unharmed, to her family." [complete article]
See also, Fear and loathing in Baghdad (Salon) and Abduction of U.S. reporter underscores risks in Iraq (NYT).
Struggling back from war's once-deadly wounds
By Denise Grady, New York Times, January 22, 2006
It has taken hundreds of hours of therapy, but Jason Poole, a 23-year old Marine corporal, has learned all over again to speak and to walk. At times, though, words still elude him. He can read barely 16 words a minute. His memory can be fickle, his thinking delayed. Injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, he is blind in his left eye, deaf in his left ear, weak on his right side and still getting used to his new face, which was rebuilt with skin and bone grafts and 75 to 100 titanium screws and plates.
Even so, those who know Corporal Poole say his personality - gregarious, kind and funny - has remained intact. Wounded on patrol near the Syrian border on June 30, 2004, he considers himself lucky to be alive. So do his doctors. "Basically I want to get my life back," he said. "I'm really trying."
But he knows the life ahead of him is unlikely to match the one he had planned, in which he was going to attend college and become a teacher, get married and have children. Now, he hopes to volunteer in a school. His girlfriend from before he went to war is now just a friend. Before he left, they had agreed they might talk about getting married when he got back. [complete article]
Interrogator convicted in Iraqi's death
By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2006
A military jury late Saturday convicted an Army interrogator of negligent homicide in the death of an Iraqi general who had been stuffed face-first into a sleeping bag.
After seven hours of deliberations, the six-officer panel found Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. guilty of the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in military prison. Had he been convicted of murder, he could have been given a life sentence.
The panel also found Welshofer guilty of dereliction of duty.
Welshofer, 43, is the highest-ranking officer tried on murder charges in a case of detainee abuse in the Bush administration's war on terrorism, human rights monitors say. [complete article]
Sympathy for al-Qaida Surges in Pakistan
By Riaz Khan, AP (via Yahoo), January 22, 2006
Sympathy for al-Qaida has surged after a U.S. airstrike devastated this remote mountain hamlet in a region sometimes as hostile toward the Pakistani government as it is to the United States.
A week after the attack, villagers insist no members of the terror network were anywhere near the border village when it was hit. But thousands of protesters flooded a nearby town chanting, "Long live Osama bin Laden!"
Pakistan's army, in charge of hunting militants, was nowhere to be seen. [complete article]
Pakistan's push in border areas is said to falter
By Carlotta Gall and Mohammad Khan, New York Times, January 22, 2006
Two years after the Pakistani Army began operations in border tribal areas to root out members of Al Qaeda and other foreign militants, Pakistani officials who know the area say the military campaign is bogged down, the local political administration is powerless and the militants are stronger than ever.
Both Osama bin Laden, who released a new audiotape of threats against the United States this week, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are believed to be living somewhere in the seven districts that make up these tribal areas, which run for more than 500 miles along the rugged Afghan border and have been hit by several American missile strikes in recent weeks.
The officials said they had been joined by possibly hundreds of foreign militants from Arab countries, Central Asia and the Caucasus, who present a continuing threat to the authorities within the region. [complete article]
See also, Pakistan warns U.S. against airstrikes (AP) and New al-Qaeda phase begins (Asia Times).
Voter discontent boosts Hamas
By Ken Ellingwood and Laura King, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2006
Arafa Ayyash wears a pained expression as he recounts how his expectations soared when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority a year ago.
"We had hope that he would bring peace and stability, and that borders would open and we would have better business," said Ayyash, 55, who fixes and resells automotive parts in a shop no bigger than some walk-in closets. "But none of that happened."
Instead, Ayyash and other impoverished residents of this ramshackle camp on the edge of Gaza City have watched prices for propane and other household essentials rise, and some of those lucky enough to have jobs say earnings have fallen further as the Palestinian economy struggles to recover after more than five years of conflict with Israel. [complete article]
U.S. tells Israel it will shun PA gov't that includes Hamas
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, January 23, 2006
The American administration has promised Israel that the United States will not recognize any Palestinian government in which Hamas participates, government sources in Jerusalem have said.
The sources said that American envoys who visited here about 10 days ago told Israeli officials that recognizing such a government would violate American law.
Israel has also received similar messages from Javier Solana, the European Union's top foreign policy official, and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, who visited Israel last week, the sources said. [complete article]
Comment -- Although the US and EU are putting out these warnings that they won't work with Hamas, I suspect this has more to do with trying to manipulate the outcome of the election than anything else. The price of democracy is that you have to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of an electorate's choice.
Delicate dance for Bush in depicting spy program as asset
By Adam Nagourney, New York Times, January 23, 2006
With a campaign of high-profile national security events set for the next three days, following Karl Rove's blistering speech to Republicans on Friday, the White House has effectively declared that it views its controversial secret surveillance program not as a political liability but as an asset, a way to attack Democrats and re-establish President Bush's standing after a difficult year.
Whether the White House can succeed depends very much, members of both parties say, on its success in framing a complicated debate when the country is torn between its historic aversion to governmental intrusion and its recent fear of terrorist attacks at home. [complete article]
Comics to battle for truth, justice and the Islamic way
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, January 22, 2006
For comic book readers in Arab countries, the world often looks like this: superheroes save American cities, battle beasts in Tokyo and even on occasion solve crimes in the French countryside. But few care about saving the Arab world.
If Naif al-Mutawa has his way, that is about to change. Young Arabs will soon be poring over a new group - and new genre - of superheroes like Jabbar, Mumita and Ramzi Razem, all aimed specifically at young Muslim readers and focusing on Muslim virtues. [complete article]
THE BEST DEMOCRACY MONEY CAN BUY
U.S. funds enter fray in Palestinian elections
By Scott Wilson and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 22, 2006
The Bush administration is spending foreign aid money to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group Hamas.
The approximately $2 million program is being led by a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development. But no U.S. government logos appear with the projects or events being undertaken as part of the campaign, which bears no evidence of U.S. involvement and does not fall within the definitions of traditional development work.
U.S. officials say their low profile is meant to ensure that the Palestinian Authority receives public credit for a collection of small, popular projects and events to be unveiled before Palestinians select their first parliament in a decade. Internal documents outlining the program describe the effort as "a temporary paradigm shift" in the way the aid agency operates. The plan was designed with the help of a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer who worked in postwar Afghanistan on democracy-building projects. [complete article]
Barghuthi courts Hamas in unity call
Aljazeera, January 22, 2006
Marwan al-Barghuthi, the jailed Palestinian leader, has extended a hand to Hamas and called for all parties to join in a broad national coalition after the Palestinian election this week.
Al-Barghuthi, who was speaking to Aljazeera from an Israeli prison, heads the candidate list of the mainstream Fatah faction.
Fatah, the party of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, faces a strong challenge from its Islamist rival, Hamas, which is running in a parliamentary election for the first time on Wednesday. [complete article]
Hamas set to break through in polls
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, January 22, 2006
The first votes were cast yesterday in an election which could propel the militant Hamas faction into a decisive role in the Palestinian parliament for the first time, taking the Middle East into uncharted territory.
A new opinion poll shows Hamas, the organisation behind the biggest proportion of Israeli deaths in suicide bombings over the last five years, and Fatah, the organisation which has dominated the Palestinian Authority since it was formed a decade ago, effectively heading for a dead heat. [complete article]
Israeli hints at preparation to stop Iran
By Joseph Federman, AP (via Yahoo), January 22, 2006
Israel's defense minister hinted Saturday that the Jewish state is preparing for military action to stop Iran's nuclear program, but said international diplomacy must be the first course of action.
"Israel will not be able to accept an Iranian nuclear capability and it must have the capability to defend itself, with all that that implies, and this we are preparing," Shaul Mofaz said. [complete article]
Iran: Israeli military strike against nuclear program would be 'fatal mistake'
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, January 22, 2006
Iran on Sunday said Israel would be making a "fatal mistake" if it resorted to military action against Tehran's nuclear program, and dismissed comments on the issue made by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as a "childish game." [complete article]
Why not a strike on Iran?
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 22, 2006
If diplomacy [with Iran] fails, does America have a military option? And what if it doesn't?
"It's a kind of nonsense statement to say there is no military solution to this," said W. Patrick Lang, the former head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "It may not be a desirable solution, but there is a military solution."
Mr. Lang was piercing to the heart of a conundrum the Bush administration recognizes: Iran could become a case study for pre-emptive military action against a gathering threat, under a policy Mr. Bush promulgated in 2002. But even if taking out Iran's facilities delay the day the country goes nuclear, it would alienate allies and probably make firm enemies out of many Iranians who have come to dislike their theocratic government. And Iran simply has too many ways of striking back, in the oil markets, in the Persian Gulf, through Hezbollah.
"Could we do it?" one administration official who was deeply involved in planning the Iraq invasion said recently. "Sure. Could we manage the aftermath? I doubt it." [complete article]
See also, U.S. still short in Iran Security Council push (WP).
The animal self
By Charles Siebert, New York Times, January 22, 2006
Scientists are not typically disposed to wielding a word like "personality" when talking about animals. Doing so borders on the scientific heresy of anthropomorphism. And yet for a growing number of researchers from a broad range of disciplines - psychology, evolutionary biology and ecology, animal behavior and welfare - it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid that term when trying to describe the variety of behaviors that they are now observing in an equally broad and expanding array of creatures, everything from nonhuman primates to hyenas and numerous species of birds to water striders and stickleback fish and, of course, giant Pacific octopuses. [complete article]
Comment -- Some (or perhaps many) readers might find it strange that I occasionally include an article like this on a site that focuses on America's fraught relationship with the Middle East. I do so for a simple reason. I hold the conviction that human strife springs out of our inclination to pay more attention to our differences than our similarities. The discovery that we have quite a few things in common with octopuses suggests that within the confines of our species we are all far more alike than we generally dare to imagine!
Witch hunt at UCLA
By Saree Makdisi, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2006
'UCLA Students: Do you have a professor who just can't stop talking about President Bush, about the war in Iraq, about the Republican Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter? It doesn't matter whether this is a past class, or your class from this coming winter quarter. If you help expose the professor, we'll pay you for your work."
This grotesque offer appeared last week on a new website taking aim at members of the UCLA faculty. The site, created by the Bruin Alumni Assn., a group founded by 2003 UCLA graduate Andrew Jones, offers differing bounties for class notes, handouts and illicit recordings of lectures ($100 for all three).
A glance at the profiles of the "targeted professors," however, reveals that they have been singled out, in most cases, not for what goes on in their courses, but for the positions they have taken outside the classroom -- and outside the university. [complete article]
The other Big Brother
By Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, January 30, 2006
[The] activities [of the U.S. Army's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA)] are the latest in a series of disclosures about secret government programs that spy on Americans in the name of national security. In December, the ACLU obtained documents showing the FBI had investigated several activist groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace, supposedly in an effort to discover possible ecoterror connections. At the same time, the White House has spent weeks in damage-control mode, defending the controversial program that allowed the National Security Agency to monitor the telephone conversations of U.S. persons suspected of terror links, without obtaining warrants.
Last Thursday, Cheney called the program "vital" to the country's defense against Al Qaeda. "Either we are serious about fighting this war on terror or not," he said in a speech to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. But as the new information about CIFA shows, the scope of the U.S. government's spying on Americans may be far more extensive than the public realizes. [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
The west has picked a fight with Iran that it cannot win
By Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, January 20, 2006
Iran & the bomb (part one): How close is Iran?
By Jeffrey Lewis, ArmsControlWonk, January 19, 2006
Defusing Iran with democracy
By Shirin Ebadi and Muhammad Sahimi, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2006
U.S. goals adapt to new Iraq
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2006
The results are in: now the real struggle for power begins
By James Hider, The Times, January 21, 2006
Statement - James Bamford, NSA lawsuit client
By James Bamsford, ACLU, January 17, 2006
We could be ignoring the biggest story in our history
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 17, 2006
(My posting includes a link to a series of articles that Ignatius references but didn't himself bother linking to.)
U.S. policy of abuse undermines rights worldwide
Human Rights Watch, January 18, 2006
U.S. raid killed Qaeda leaders, Pakistanis say
By Carlotta Gall and Douglas Jehl, New York Times, January 19, 2006
Musharraf's al-Qaeda hunt crisis
By Zaffar Abbas, BBC News, January 16, 2006
Push for Middle East democracy benefiting Islamists
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, January 13, 2006
"People are so fearful that if you disagree with the government on one thing it makes you a terrorist"
By Michael Powell and Michelle Garcia, Washington Post, January 16, 2006
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