The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
U.S.: Events in Gaza prove Hamas failed
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, February 2, 2007

The United States does not expect a change in the position of the Quartet toward Hamas, a senior State Department official said yesterday in light of reports of a Russian intention to raise current policy for debate in the Quartet meeting in Washington tomorrow.

A source in the State Department says there is consensus between the U.S. and the Europeans on policy.

The Americans say events of the past week in Gaza have only proved to the Palestinians that the Hamas government cannot provide them with the security they need. "Hamas is trying to shake off responsibility and give it to the international community," a source in the State Department said, "but it's their responsibility."

The American noted that in Gaza, where Hamas' control is ostensibly stronger [than in the West Bank], Hamas is unable "to deliver the Palestinians what they expect." [complete article]

Comment -- I see. So extending the same argument, I assume that the State Department will now be advocating that the U.S. withdraws its forces from Iraq and withdraws its support for the Iraqi government. Neither that government, nor American military support has been able to deliver the Iraqis what they expect. In fact, America's failure in Iraq has been of staggeringly greater proportions than Hamas' difficulties in Gaza, since Iraq has during this period received massive economic support, while Gaza has been under an economic stranglehold. America has bound and gagged Hamas, now stands with a jackboot pressed against its head, looks down and says, "You don't seem to be accomplishing much." Well, that might satisfy the sado-masochistic tendencies of a few people in Washington, but it doesn't impress the rest of the world.

This is the assessment of the International Development Committee in the British parliament:
The international community's policy of isolating a democratically elected government is questionable under conditions of ongoing conflict. We understand the reasons for this decision but doubt whether it is in fact the most effective response. Indeed, the withholding of revenues by Israel and the boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority by existing donors has led the Hamas government increasingly to look elsewhere for financial support. As a result, Hamas now has closer links to governments like that of Iran than it had two years ago. We doubt whether this is a development that the international community would have intended. The situation at the beginning of 2007, politically, economically and socially, is worse than it was in 2004. The international community is in danger of preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

While the end of occupation will provide the best opportunity for development, ways must be found now to influence the actions of the Government of Israel and to create in the territories a government capable of self-rule and peace with its neighbour. The current approach of waiting for something to turn up militates against this. ["Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories" PDF]
If the Quartet really wants to get serious, the EU, Russia, and UN, should demand that the first thing on the piece of paper (and "piece of paper" is as much as the U.S. has promised as a tangible outcome of the Quartet meeting) is a statement affirming that, differences notwithstanding, the Quartet recognizes that the Palestinian people, through a free and fair democratic process, chose Hamas to lead their government.

As Rummy could have said, you have to work with the government the Palestinians have, not the government the Americans and Israelis want.

Hamas: U.S. trying to 'colonize' the P.A.
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, January 31, 2007

Hamas on Wednesday accused the US of promoting civil war among the Palestinians by transferring $86 million to strengthen forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, the PA Ministry of Health announced that 58 Palestinians were killed in the fighting between Hamas and Fatah during January. Half of the victims were killed in armed clashes that erupted between the two parties in the Gaza Strip in the last week of the month, the ministry said. [complete article]

Fatah: 7 Iranian weapons experts arrested in Gaza
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 2, 2007

Senior Fatah sources reported late Thursday that its National Security Force arrested seven Iranian weapons experts working in the service of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Fatah, the arrests were made during a raid on the Islamic University in Gaza City. The Fatah forces apprehended some 1,400 firearms and missiles found at the site. [complete article]

Six killed in Hamas ambush on Gaza convoy
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, February 1, 2007

Hamas gunmen ambushed what the Islamist group said was a convoy carrying military equipment to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's guard unit in Gaza on Thursday and six people were killed, local residents said.

Abbas's Fatah faction said the four-truck convoy, which had crossed from Israel, was carrying medical goods and tents, and accused Hamas of seriously endangering a three-day-old ceasefire. [complete article]

Russia wants Palestinian aid freeze lifted
Reuters, January 30, 2007

Russia wants the Middle East Quartet due to meet on February 2 to lift a blockade on Western aid to Palestinians, Interfax news agency quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal envoy as saying on Tuesday.

"Russia has always opposed the blockade and we count on the quartet listening to our point of view," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said in an interview with the agency. [complete article]

Talking it over
By Ismail Patel, The Guardian, February 1, 2007

Hamas has become the backbone of Palestinian resistance and survival against a brutal and heavily armed occupier and at an international level, despite castigation as a terrorist organisation; it is hailed as a resistance movement against modern day colonialist oppression. Their victory in surviving a full one year against the forces of the superpower of the day and its allies speaks volumes of its resilience and determination. Whether Hamas remains in power or not, one thing is for certain - its central political role in liberating Palestine is here to stay and it would thus be more prudent of the European Union and the US to accept the will of the Palestinian people and demand Israel talk to Hamas. [complete article]
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Iraq in the strategic context
Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

By Zbigniew Brzezinski, United States Senate, February 1, 2007

It is time for the White House to come to terms with two central realities:
1. The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.
2. Only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and the intensifying regional tensions.
If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD's in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the "decisive ideological struggle" of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America's involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran -- though gaining in regional influence -- is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. Those in charge of U.S. diplomacy have also adopted a posture of moralistic self-ostracism toward Iran strongly reminiscent of John Foster Dulles's attitude of the early 1950's toward Chinese Communist leaders (resulting among other things in the well-known episode of the refused handshake). It took some two decades and a half before another Republican president was finally able to undo that legacy.
One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture.

* * *

It is obvious by now that the American national interest calls for a significant change of direction. There is in fact a dominant consensus in favor of a change: American public opinion now holds that the war was a mistake; that it should not be escalated, that a regional political process should be explored; and that an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation is an essential element of the needed policy alteration and should be actively pursued. It is noteworthy that profound reservations regarding the Administration's policy have been voiced by a number of leading Republicans. One need only invoke here the expressed views of the much admired President Gerald Ford, former Secretary of State James Baker, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and several leading Republican senators, John Warner, Chuck Hagel, and Gordon Smith among others.

The urgent need today is for a strategy that seeks to create a political framework for a resolution of the problems posed both by the US occupation of Iraq and by the ensuing civil and sectarian conflict. Ending the occupation and shaping a regional security dialogue should be the mutually reinforcing goals of such a strategy, but both goals will take time and require a genuinely serious U.S. commitment.

The quest for a political solution for the growing chaos in Iraq should involve four steps:
1. The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time.

Ambiguity regarding the duration of the occupation in fact encourages unwillingness to compromise and intensifies the on-going civil strife. Moreover, such a public declaration is needed to allay fears in the Middle East of a new and enduring American imperial hegemony. Right or wrong, many view the establishment of such a hegemony as the primary reason for the American intervention in a region only recently free of colonial domination. That perception should be discredited from the highest U.S. level. Perhaps the U.S. Congress could do so by a joint resolution.

2. The United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed, and the resulting setting of such a date should be announced as a joint decision. In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid military escalation.

It is necessary to engage all Iraqi leaders -- including those who do not reside within "the Green Zone" -- in a serious discussion regarding the proposed and jointly defined date for U.S. military disengagement because the very dialogue itself will help identify the authentic Iraqi leaders with the self-confidence and capacity to stand on their own legs without U.S. military protection. Only Iraqi leaders who can exercise real power beyond "the Green Zone" can eventually reach a genuine Iraqi accommodation. The painful reality is that much of the current Iraqi regime, characterized by the Bush administration as "representative of the Iraqi people," defines itself largely by its physical location: the 4 sq. miles-large U.S. fortress within Baghdad, protected by a wall in places 15 feet thick, manned by heavily armed U.S. military, popularly known as "the Green Zone."

3. The United States should issue jointly with appropriate Iraqi leaders, or perhaps let the Iraqi leaders issue, an invitation to all neighbors of Iraq (and perhaps some other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Pakistan) to engage in a dialogue regarding how best to enhance stability in Iraq in conjunction with U.S. military disengagement and to participate eventually in a conference regarding regional stability.

The United States and the Iraqi leadership need to engage Iraq's neighbors in serious discussion regarding the region's security problems, but such discussions cannot be undertaken while the U.S. is perceived as an occupier for an indefinite duration. Iran and Syria have no reason to help the United States consolidate a permanent regional hegemony. It is ironic, however, that both Iran and Syria have lately called for a regional dialogue, exploiting thereby the self-defeating character of the largely passive -- and mainly sloganeering -- U.S. diplomacy.

A serious regional dialogue, promoted directly or indirectly by the U.S., could be buttressed at some point by a wider circle of consultations involving other powers with a stake in the region's stability, such as the EU, China, Japan, India, and Russia. Members of this Committee might consider exploring informally with the states mentioned their potential interest in such a wider dialogue.

4. Concurrently, the United States should activate a credible and energetic effort to finally reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, making it clear in the process as to what the basic parameters of such a final accommodation ought to involve.

The United States needs to convince the region that the U.S. is committed both to Israel's enduring security and to fairness for the Palestinians who have waited for more than forty years now for their own separate state. Only an external and activist intervention can promote the long-delayed settlement for the record shows that the Israelis and the Palestinians will never do so on their own. Without such a settlement, both nationalist and fundamentalist passions in the region will in the longer run doom any Arab regime which is perceived as supportive of U.S. regional hegemony.
After World War II, the United States prevailed in the defense of democracy in Europe because it successfully pursued a long-term political strategy of uniting its friends and dividing its enemies, of soberly deterring aggression without initiating hostilities, all the while also exploring the possibility of negotiated arrangements. Today, America's global leadership is being tested in the Middle East. A similarly wise strategy of genuinely constructive political engagement is now urgently needed.

It is also time for the Congress to assert itself.
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Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study
By Ian Sample, The Guardian, February 2, 2007

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.

The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

Climate scientists described the move yesterday as an attempt to cast doubt over the "overwhelming scientific evidence" on global warming. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. [complete article]

Panel says warming caused by humans
By Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times, February 2, 2007

The world is already committed to centuries of warming, shifting weather patterns and rising seas from the atmospheric buildup of gases that trap heat, but the warming can be substantially blunted by prompt action, an international network of climate experts said today.

The report released here represented the fourth assessment since 1990 by the group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, of the causes and consequences of climate change. But for the first time the group asserted with near certainty -- more than 90 percent confidence -- that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities were the main drivers of warming since 1950.

In its last report, in 2001, the panel, consisting of hundreds of scientists and reviewers, put the confidence level at between 66 and 90 percent. Both reports are online at [complete article]

Comment -- The nexus of corporate and political interest groups who are working to undermine efforts to increase public awareness about global warming, constitutes one of the greatest threats to humanity of this era. Individuals with immense resources, unparalleled political access and influence, and not the slightest compunction in placing their own narrow-minded interests above the well-being of others, would sooner risk the future of the planet than risk putting short-term profits in jeopardy.

The threat from Islamic extremists is trivial by comparison.
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As U.S. power fades, it can't find friends to take on Iran
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, February 2, 2007

The shadowy outlines of a new US strategy towards Iran are exercising diplomats and experts around the Middle East and in the west. The US says Iranian personnel are training and arming anti-US forces inside Iraq, and it will not hesitate to kill them. It is sending a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf, doubling its force projection there. It is calling on Europeans to tighten sanctions on Iran until Tehran suspends its uranium enrichment programme.

Is the US rattling the sabre in advance of an attack on Iran? Or is it merely rattling its cage, as it pretends still to be a power in the region in spite of being locked into an unwinnable war in Iraq? The only certainty is that Bush's strategy of calling for democratisation in the Middle East is over. Washington has had to abandon the neocon dream of turning Iraq into a beacon of secular liberal democracy. It is no longer pressing for reform in other Arab states. [complete article]

See also, Hillary Clinton laps up AIPAC support by calling Iran a threat to U.S., Israel (AP).
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The 'axis of fear' is born
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, February 2, 2007

The Bush administration, in a sense, is getting what it wants in the wider Middle East. To battle a fictitious Shi'ite crescent (a construct by Jordan's King Abdullah), it has emboldened even more a reactionary Sunni crescent (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates), thus exacerbating to a paroxysm the "strategy" it has already applied in Iraq: sectarianism as the golden parameter of imperial divide and rule. Historically, Sunnis and Shi'ites have co-existed amid social tensions. But never have these tensions been so cynically exploited - by Washington - as in post-invasion Iraq and the wider Middle East.

The administration of US President George W Bush was forced to acknowledge that the monumental disaster of occupied Iraq had to be blamed on a new scapegoat. Thus the umpteenth twist in the "war on terror": exit al-Qaeda, enter Iran.

The Sunni Arab "axis of fear" is merrily playing along. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia even complained in a Kuwaiti newspaper that Iran is trying to convert Sunni Arabs to Shi'ism. Even Israel is now by all means allied with Saudi Arabia against Iran - Mecca/Jerusalem against Qom; Muslims and Jews battling Muslims.

It's enlightening to compare this development with how Iran's ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, sees it - as nothing other than a replay of the British Empire's divide-and-rule. Washington is once again sowing the seeds of discord among Muslims: "Bush and his allies are in favor of further unrest, turmoil and crises so that they can justify deployment of their troops in the region." [complete article]
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The Bush administration's cockeyed strategy to promote sectarian conflict in the Middle East
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, January 31, 2007

The Iranians are expanding their presence in Iraq, the Saudis are cutting a separate deal with them to contain the strife in Lebanon, and who can blame either party?

Yes, as the AP reported Tuesday, this surge of Saudi-Iranian cooperation "could complicate Washington's efforts to isolate Tehran." But it is Bush's abandonment of diplomacy that has left the vacuum that the Saudis and Iranians are now trying to fill. And given the alternative of mayhem and anarchy, their new rapprochement might not be a bad thing. [complete article]
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Turkey weighs cross-border attack on PKK
By Vincen Boland, Financial Times, February 1, 2007

Turkey made a decisive contribution to the Iraq war nearly four years ago when the parliament in Ankara rejected a US request to allow an invasion from the north.

The diplomatic fallout is still casting a shadow over the US-Turkish relationship. Now Turkey could be about to make a second dramatic contribution.

Amid constant bloody clashes between Turkish troops and PKK Kurdish separatist guerrillas operating out of northern Iraq, Ankara is weighing up a cross-border incursion to attack PKK bases. Turkey, its political leaders insist, has the right and the determination to eliminate threats to its territory wherever they come from.

General Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the general staff, is expected to set out Turkey's concerns over Iraq when he visits Washington later this month. One possible outcome intended to guard against a unilateral Turkish intervention would be a joint anti-PKK military operation with US and Iraqi forces, says an analyst who asked not to be named.

Turkey is also becoming alarmed by what it claims is electoral and demographic gerrymandering by Iraqi Kurds in Kirkuk, the oil capital of Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Ankara fears that Kurdish control of Kirkuk would give the Iraqi Kurds the economic basis for independence if Iraq were to break up. [complete article]

Northern Iraq seen as next front in war
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2007

American officials, regional leaders and residents are increasingly worried that this northern oil-rich city could develop into a third front in the country's civil war just as additional U.S. troops arrive in Baghdad and Al Anbar province as reinforcements for battles there.

Al Qaeda-linked fighters recently have surfaced here, launching a wave of lethal attacks, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. The attacks come amid a rise in communal tensions in the months before a referendum on the status of the city and the surrounding province.

Elsewhere in Iraq, Shiite and Sunni Arab Muslims are locked in a bitter civil war. Here, the two groups have a common cause against the Kurds, a non-Arab minority that dominates Iraq's far-northern provinces. [complete article]
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Iraq commander: Only half of troop 'surge' needed
AP, February 1, 2007

The top U.S. commander in Iraq told a Senate panel Thursday that he believed it would take fewer than half as many extra troops to improve security in Baghdad as President George W. Bush chose to commit.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey said he had asked for two additional Army brigades, based on recommendations of his subordinate commanders. Bush announced January 10 that he would send five extra brigades as part of a buildup that would total 21,500 soldiers and Marines.

Asked by Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, why he had not requested the full five extra brigades that Bush is sending, Casey said, "I did not want to bring one more American soldier into Iraq than was necessary to accomplish the mission." [complete article]

General: Shiite militia leaders leaving Baghdad strongholds
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, February 1, 2007

Shiite militia leaders already appear to be leaving their strongholds in Baghdad in anticipation of the U.S. and Iraqi plan to increase the troop presence in the Iraqi capital, according to the top U.S. commander in the country.

"We have seen numerous indications Shia militia leaders will leave, or already have left, Sadr City to avoid capture by Iraqi and coalition security forces," Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said in a written statement submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his confirmation hearing today to be Army chief of staff. [complete article]

Double the troops in "surge"
Defense Tech, February 1, 2007

President Bush and his new military chiefs have been saying for nearly a month that they would "surge" an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, in a last, grand push to quell the violence in Baghdad and in Anbar Province. But a new study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the real troop increase could be as high as 48,000 -- more than double the number the President initially said. [complete article]

Senators unite on challenge to Bush's troop plan
By Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, February 1, 2007

Democratic and Republican opponents of President Bush's troop-buildup plan joined forces last night behind the nonbinding resolution with the broadest bipartisan backing: a Republican measure from Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced the shift, hoping to unite a large majority of the Senate and thwart efforts by the White House and GOP leaders to derail any congressional resolution of disapproval of Bush's decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500.

Although the original Democratic language was popular within the party, it had little appeal among Republicans. Warner's proposal drew support from both sides, and it was retooled last night to maximize both Democratic and Republican votes. [complete article]
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Upping the anti
By Edward Pierce, The Guardian, February 1, 2007

The charge of anti-Americanism made by new right British journalists against critics of the Bush government is in itself a nonsense, not more grown-up than the charge of anti-semitism thrown at people opposed to the Israeli government bombing Lebanese hill villages and the people in them. But, indeed, people here, and in continental Europe, are coming to candidly dislike America.

That dislike co-exists with a wide affection, among those who have travelled in that country, for so many Americans. The ones we met were kind, friendly, civil, good to know, yet they are the subjects of so much power held in such dreadful hands and seem most of the time so submissive to it. They recall Orwell's definition of England in the thirties as "a family with the wrong members in control". But his charge against the Baldwin people was weakness; anxiety at the American elite concerns an over-blown strength. Distaste for the United States is directed not only at what its politicians and military do, but, in part, at what the American state and society have become.

That nation is, for a start, absurdly militarised. It is a fearful thought that the US should hold nine times the total nuclear weapons reserve of all the other nuclear powers combined. Clearly, General Eisenhower's remarking, in his 1961 farewell address, of "a military-industrial complex" was the plain truth, and the truth has deepened across 46 years.

But symbols often speak darker things than statistics. John Kerry, candidate of the more liberal and humane party, wearing his military cap to the Democratic convention, saluting and proclaiming name and number and reporting for duty, was more American than can surely be good for America. There are too many ex-marines trying to become president. The early civilian republic, served by civilian militias to win independence, has taken on Prussian qualities - qualities reinforced by bullying and manipulative populism: Prussia served by Fox TV. [complete article]
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Follow the money -- to Tel Aviv
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, February 1, 2007

As the "cash-for-honors" scandal continues to rock the British government, here's a priceless line of spin that the White House press secretary might want to note. Back in July, the day after Tony Blair's chief fundraiser, Lord Levy, was arrested (the first time), Blair's press secretary (PMOS) was asked whether Blair believed his government was "whiter than white." He responded by saying that "the Prime Minister believed that it was important that everyone upheld standards in public life. However, that also meant not commenting on an on-going police investigation." In order to uphold the standards of public life we must refrain from speaking -- what a beautifully wrapped piece of bullshit!

Now that Levy has been arrested again, the PMOS is again getting a grilling:
Asked whether the Prime Minister considered Lord Levy to be an "individual of the highest integrity" as he had said about Ruth Turner in a statement following her arrest, the PMOS referred the journalist to the Prime Minister's comments in Ramallah. [Ruth Turner is Blair's Director of Government Relations who was arrested on January 19 during the same investigation that has snared Levy.]
In December, while visiting Ramallah, Blair was asked bluntly, "what has Lord Levy done for you?":
He has performed an excellent job as my Envoy in very difficult circumstances where we desperately want to make progress. And the whole reason I am here is because of the importance I attach to this process and anything and anyone who can help that is someone who is immensely helpful to me.
And back in July, when the PMOS was:
Asked what precise role Lord Levy was playing in the Middle East crisis, the PMOS said he was not able to comment as part of the success of Lord Levy's role was because it was behind the scenes.
To sum up, Downing Street won't confirm that Levy is an individual of the highest integrity, but he is doing "an excellent job" and in order for him to be successful in that job, the less said, the better. The PMOS is however forthcoming enough to assert that Levy has an important mediating role in the Middle East and the Middle East Peace Process. "As the Prime Minister had said in Ramallah, in a very difficult situation we relied on people who could talk to all sides. Lord Levy was one of those people."

Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to Washington, paints a different picture. He wrote in his memoir:
I was warned on separate occasions by members of the Saudi and Jordanian royal families that Levy was not terribly welcome in their countries; and that he was received only out of friendship for Tony Blair.
So even though Blair says he relies on Levy because he can "talk to all sides," it seems that not all sides are interested in talking to Levy.

As Downing Street now appears to be cautiously backing away from a man whose integrity they won't vouch for, the question arises, if Levy goes down, who is he going to pull with him?

Back in July, Guardian columnist, Jonathan Freedland wrote that Levy:
has reportedly warned that he will not play the fall guy, that if he is taken down, he will tell the truth of others' role. Put succinctly, there is no way that Lord Levy could have been selling honours without the clear blessing of his boss, the prime minister.

It is an old tradition in British politics, going back at least to Tudor times, to refrain from accusing the king, preferring to charge his "evil ministers" instead. Some close to the prime minister might think that doctrine will still hold. But it may not - and it should not.
This might all end up being just another chapter in the never-ending story of power and corruption, yet its international political implications should not be overlooked.

There are those, such as David Ignatius in today's Washington Post, who regard Tony Blair as an inexplicably tragic figure, who had the "brilliant political gifts that might have made him a truly great prime minister and the defining politician of his era." Indeed, Blair has repeatedly expressed his desire to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet he has also repeatedly failed to follow through. Lord Levy might know why.

In 2002, Blair rewarded his leading fundraiser and confident by making him his personal envoy to the Middle East, yet as a leading international Zionist, Levy could not possibly be seen as playing an even-handed role. All his appointment confirmed was that the Labour Party was now well and truly inside the pocket of Britain's own Israel Lobby and that Labour Friends of Israel would have an even greater say in shaping Britain's Middle East policy. The Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch fills in some of the key details in a story that some of us on this side of the Atlantic have been remiss in telling:
While Labour originally carried a reputation for having more voices sympathetic to the Palestinians -- especially during the Thatcher years -- the New Labour government of Tony Blair has reversed this orientation. Although one of Tony Blair's first acts after becoming an MP in 1983 was joining LFI [Labour Friends of Israel], the relationship truly developed in the early 90s, when as shadow Home Secretary, Tony Blair met Michael Levy at a private meeting at the latter's house. Michael Abraham Levy is a former chairman of the Jewish Care Community Foundation, a member of the Jewish Agency World Board of Governors, and a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust. According to Andrew Porter of The Business, Levy expressed his willingness "to raise large sums of money for the party" which led to a "tacit understanding that Labour would never again, while Blair was leader, be anti-Israel".

The partnership proceeded as Levy started inviting potential donors for tennis at his palatial home where Tony Blair would join them for a set or two. Levy would then proceed to ask the guests for donations after Blair had left. The genius of Levy's fundraising strategy ensured that most of Labour's election funds came from private sources, rather than its traditional source -- the trade unions, thereby weakening their say over policy. Levy's investment eventually paid off, with Blair's accession to power. The reward was not long in coming as Levy was ennobled and subsequently retained as a "special envoy" to the Middle-East, leading predictably to the development of a strong pro-Israel line. Given the fact that Levy has both a business and a house in Israel and his son Daniel used to work for Yossi Beilin -- the former Justice Minister of Israel -- speaks of a serious conflict of interest, especially when he is the man assigned by Blair to negotiate impartially with Palestinians and Israelis. The fact that Levy acted as a fundraiser for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak casts further doubt on his capacity for impartiality.
While many eyes in Washington are now focussed on the Libby trial, by the end of the day a much larger political scandal may unravel in London. (And my instincts tell me another key member of the all-star cast will be Britain's leading defense contractor, BAE, the only foreign contractor with open-door access to the Pentagon.)
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U.S. 'has lost ability' to impose global agenda
By Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, January 31, 2007

The US risks being pulled into Iraq's raging sectarian conflict and has lost the ability to impose its global agenda, one of Britain's leading think tanks said on Wednesday.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies said that President George W Bush's push to regain the initiative in Iraq had too few troops and too little support from the government of Nouri al-Maliki.

"We can't control a government that wants ethnic cleansing and we don't have enough troops on the ground to enforce a peace," said Patrick Cronin, director of studies at the institute. "That's an extraordinarily uphill battle."

Presenting The Military Balance, its annual survey of the world's armed forces, the institute's staff added that pressure would build for a US strike on Iran if Tehran expanded its nuclear facilities as expected later this year and that Nato's fight in Afghanistan was entering a critical phase.

"US power is strong enough to establish an agenda for international activity but is too weak effectively to implement that agenda globally," said John Chipman, the institute’s chairman. He added that the rest of the world was "strong enough to resist an American agenda" but not to establish an alternative. [complete article]

See also, Europeans fear US attack on Iran as nuclear row intensifies (The Guardian).
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Centcom pick warns of Iran influence in gulf region
By Ann Scott Tyson and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 31, 2007

Iran is positioning its military to deny U.S. access to the Persian Gulf while acting as a "destabilizing" influence in the region, President Bush's nominee to command U.S. forces in the Middle East told the Senate yesterday. Adm. William J. Fallon said he favors using what one senator called "battleship diplomacy" to deter Iran.

"Iranian support for terrorism and sectarian violence beyond its borders, and its pursuit of nuclear capability, is destabilizing and troubling," Fallon said in an opening statement at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He warned specifically that Iranian activity "has not been helpful" in Iraq, where he said "time is running out" for action to curb the escalation of violence. [complete article]

Comment -- The administration will be unrelenting in pushing its line that Iran is a "destabilizing" influence in the Middle East. Yet though this is a view that will rest unchallenged by most Americans, across the region inside many so-called "moderate" regimes, it must now be an open question: Will our long-term interests be served by pleasing out American friends, or is it more important that we get along with our neighbors? And from that perspective, it must seem far from clear whether it is Iran or the United States itself that constitutes the region's pre-eminent destabilizing influence.

Whatever is uncertain, the one thing the Middle East can rely on is that America -- electoral campaign slogans notwithstanding -- will not any time soon lose its appetite for oil. And reliable customers don't have to be good friends.

As for Senator Warner and Admiral Falcon's wistful hope that Europe might provide a ship or two to secure a "ring of deterrence" around Iran, I suggest they ask Albania.
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Iran threat? Nobody told the Iraqis...
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 31, 2007

The frontline of Washington's new aggressive posture towards Iran, of course, is in Iraq. Bush has issued what Juan Cole has archly described as a 'fatwa' allowing U.S. troops to kill Iranian operatives, and warns that this provocative position could touch of a much wider and more tragic conflict. Cole also highlights what I think is the most important reality that is largely overlooked in U.S. media discussions over "Iranian meddling" in Iraq -- the fact that Iran's presence and influence in Iran is actually welcomed by the political leaders democratically elected by the majority of Iraqis. Both the Shiite and Kurdish leadership are longtime friends of Tehran, having cooperated actively against Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

See also, Al-Maliki: Iraq won't be battleground for U.S., Iran (CNN).
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Iran may have trained attackers that killed 5 American soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis say
By James Glanz and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, January 31, 2007

Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry.

The officials said the sophistication of the attack astonished investigators, who doubt that Iraqis could have carried it out on their own -- one reason a connection to Iran is being closely examined. Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection.

A senior Iraqi official said the attackers had carried forged American identity cards and American-style M-4 rifles and had thrown stun grenades of a kind used only by American forces here. [complete article]

Air Force's role in Iraq could grow
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2007

The Air Force is preparing for an expanded role in Iraq that could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants, senior Pentagon officials said.

The efforts could include more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran, a senior Pentagon official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing future military plans.

Such missions also could position the Air Force to strike suspected bomb suppliers inside Iraq to deter Iranian agents that U.S. officials say are assisting Iraqi militias, outside military experts said.

The heightened role of U.S. air power in the volatile region is the latest sign of tension between President Bush and Iran's leaders. [complete article]

Bush 'spoiling for a fight' with Iran
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, January 31, 2007

US officials in Baghdad and Washington are expected to unveil a secret intelligence "dossier" this week detailing evidence of Iran's alleged complicity in attacks on American troops in Iraq. The move, uncomfortably echoing Downing Street's dossier debacle in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, is one more sign that the Bush administration is building a case for war.

Nicholas Burns, the senior US diplomat in charge of Iran policy, says Washington "is not looking for a fight" with Tehran. The official line is that Washington has made a conscious decision to "push back" against Iran on a range of fronts where the two countries' interests clash. Primarily that means Tehran's perceived meddling in Iraq, where its influence with the Shia-led government and Shia majority population appears to be increasing as Washington's weakens. [complete article]
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Going for broke
By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, January 29, 2007

Nothing so clearly reveals the impoverished state of American political discourse as the ongoing debate over finding "a way forward" in Iraq. Broadly speaking, that debate pits a resurgent foreign-policy establishment, led by James Baker, against embattled neoconservatives, with Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute their improbable champion. On the surface, Baker and Kagan represent irreconcilable views. Beneath the surface, they are engaged in a common enterprise: deflecting attention from the contradictions that beset U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Baker, the trusted Bush family factotum, resurfaced most recently as co-chair, along with former Congressman Lee Hamilton, of the Iraq Study Group. Almost without fail, media references to the Baker-Hamilton commission emphasize its bipartisan composition as if that alone were enough to win a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Yet to imagine that bipartisanship signifies wisdom or reflects a concern for the common good is to misunderstand the reality of present-day politics. The true purpose of bipartisanship is to protect the interests of the Washington Party, the conglomeration of politicians, hustlers, and bureaucrats who benefit from the concentration of wealth and power in the federal city. A "bipartisan" solution to any problem is one that produces marginal change while preserving or restoring the underlying status quo. [complete article]
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The Najaf story
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 31, 2007

When it comes to the story of several hundred deaths outside Najaf, lack of information has fueled a lot of speculation. Today's storytellers are Patrick Cockburn (basing his account on) Healing Iraq, along with Juan Cole and "Badger."

The Los Angeles Times provides some firsthand battlefield reporting. From that account, the description of the Mahdist cult as being "dug in" sounds altogether misleading. 30 concrete-block buildings, lots of signs of institutional organization, and a 6-foot dirt berm around their 50-acre compound, makes this sound like a defensive, insular community, rather than some kind of insurgent launch pad. That insularity no doubt bred suspicion and hostility from outside

At some point if the real story emerges, I suspect that the most salient information will not come from any blogger but from the mouths of some of the 400 people who were arrested -- that is, if they are allowed to talk and there is anyone who takes the trouble to listen to what they have to say.
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Where's the contrition for rendition?
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2007

Maher Arar, a software engineer who was wrongly deported by the United States to his native Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured for a year, has received an apology and an offer of $8.9 million from the government.

Before you think that the Bush administration has repented for mistreating Maher, we should add that the apology and the settlement offer came from the Canadian government, whose police force supplied the U.S. with faulty intelligence identifying Maher as an Islamic terrorist. The U.S. government, far from apologizing to Maher for seizing him at John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 and sending him to Syria, refuses to remove his name from a terrorist watch list. [complete article]

See also, Germany may indict U.S. agents in 2004 abduction (LAT).

Comment -- Whether anyone in the administration regrets what happened to Maher, there are multiple reasons why we're not likely to hear any such expression. Pre-eminent among those reasons will be the fear that such an admission will be used in court when administation officials, no longer protected by immunity, face criminal charges -- we can at least hope that that day will come.
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Palestinian Authority: Decision to move W. Bank fence undermines peace efforts
By Meron Rapoport, Haaretz, January 31, 2007

The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday condemned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to approve moving the separation barrier near Modi'in Ilit away from the Green Line in order to take in two settlements, as was first revealed by security sources and a brief submitted by the state to the High Court of Justice.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel, said the Israeli move "undermines everything we're doing to revive the peace process."

"The wall is the continuation of unilateralism and dictation, and destroys the prospects of any real negotiations," he added. [complete article]
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Despite violations, Hamas-Fatah cease-fire holds
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, January 30, 2007

Hamas and Fatah signed a cease-fire on Monday night bringing the latest round of internecine fighting in the Palestinian Authority to an end. The agreement, which was mediated by Egyptian representatives in Gaza, seemed to be holding yesterday in spite of a few violations.

A Hamas militant, who was both a member of the Iz al-Din al-Qassam (Hamas' military brigade) and an officer in the Palestinian Coast Guard, was killed yesterday in Khan Yunis when unknown persons shot him, a few hours after the cease-fire agreement was signed.

The killing brought to 34 the number of dead in the latest round of internecine fighting which began on Thursday. [complete article]
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Stateless in Mogadishu
By Alex Perry, Time, January 30, 2007

Downtown Mogadishu is a tropical Stalingrad, a bullet-raked, mortar-pounded, artillery-shelled canvas of Roman arches and Italian colonnades that that testifies to man's capacity for creation and also for destruction. Not the sort of place, in other words, that you'd expect to find a $30 million telecommunications concern doing a roaring trade in an ultra-competitive market. Yet, as Mustafa Sheikh, deputy managing director of Telcom Somalia says, the absence of a functioning government for 16 years has been a boon for private enterprise. His firm is one of three in Somalia that provides fixed-line and mobile phones, creating competition so fierce that rates are among the lowest in the world. And business is excellent. Telcom boasts an annual average return of 35% on investment since its founding in the midst of the civil war in 1994. Last December, Sheikh secured $14 million from his Chinese partners, Shenzhen-based Huawei, to upgrade his service. In total, the Somalian telecoms industry employs 65,000 people. "No taxes, no regulation, no bureaucrats -- a total free market where we can do whatever we want when we want," says Sheikh. "Somalia is Adam Smith's dream."

But Somalia is also a libertarian nightmare. Private enterprise built schools, universities, postal services and a thriving export trade to the Middle East in watermelons, mangoes and camels. But it also strengthened the hand of the warlords who maintain private armies, private tax regimes and personal interpretations of the law. And without a government to enforce a monopoly of legal interpretation and sanction, Somalia has atomized into its ancient form -- a collection of hundreds of clans, sub-clans and sub-sub-clans, making Mogadishu less a city than a collection of tribal neighborhoods. As a 22-year-old Berkeley political science graduate who joined the family firm 10 months ago, Sheikh is keenly aware of what his homeland is missing. "Somalia," he says, "is why you need government." [complete article]
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With Iran ascendant, U.S. is seen at fault
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 30, 2007

Kuwait rarely rebuffs its ally, the United States, partly out of gratitude for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But in October it reneged on a pledge to send three military observers to an American-led naval exercise in the Gulf, according to U.S. officials and Kuwaiti analysts.

"We understood," a State Department official said. "The Kuwaitis were being careful not to antagonize the Iranians."

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

Iran has deepened its relationship with Palestinian Islamic groups, assuming a financial role once filled by Gulf Arab states, in moves it sees as defensive and the United States views as aggressive. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran is fighting proxy battles against the United States with funds, arms and ideology. And in the vacuum created by the U.S. overthrow of Iranian foes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is exerting a power and prestige that recalls the heady days of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Iranian clerics led the toppling of a U.S.-backed government.

"The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. "There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region." [complete article]

See also Europe resists U.S. push to curb Iran ties (NYT).
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Manifest destiny: A new direction for America
By William Pfaff, New York Review of Books, January 18, 2007

President George Bush has decided to disregard both the political message of the 2006 midterm election and congressional pressure for an early end to America's Iraq involvement, as well as the Baker-Hamilton proposals. These decisions are meeting much opposition, which is likely to fail. Bush's opponents have been unable to propose a course of withdrawal that is not a politically prohibited concession of American defeat and that does not risk still more destructive consequences in Iraq and probably the region -- even though the result of delayed withdrawal could be worse in all respects. Most of Bush's critics in Congress, in the press and television, and in the foreign policy community are hostage to past support of his policy and to their failure to question the political and ideological assumptions upon which it was built.

This followed from a larger intellectual failure. For years there has been little or no critical reexamination of how and why the limited, specific, and ultimately successful postwar American policy of "patient but firm and vigilant containment of Soviet expansionist tendencies...and pressure against the free institutions of the Western world" (as George Kennan formulated it at the time) has over six decades turned into a vast project for "ending tyranny in the world."

The Bush administration defends its pursuit of this unlikely goal by means of internationally illegal, unilateralist, and preemptive attacks on other countries, accompanied by arbitrary imprisonments and the practice of torture, and by making the claim that the United States possesses an exceptional status among nations that confers upon it special international responsibilities, and exceptional privileges in meeting those responsibilities.

This is where the problem lies. Other American leaders before George Bush have made the same claim in matters of less moment. It is something like a national heresy to suggest that the United States does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations, and therefore in the affairs of the contemporary world. In fact it does not. [complete article]
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Putting 9/11 into perspective
By David A. Bell, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2007

Imagine that on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism.

It also raises several questions. Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction? Is the widespread belief that 9/11 plunged us into one of the deadliest struggles of our time simply wrong? If we did overreact, why did we do so? Does history provide any insight? [complete article]
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Former FM says Israel a captive of Holocaust memories
By Itamar Eichner, Ynet, January 30, 2007

It's time for Israeli Jews to leave behind the mentality of the victim and the ghetto, and stop making comparisons between Hitler and Arafat, Saddam Hussein or even Ahmadinejad, said former Foreign Minister Shlomi Ben-Ami in a speech to the Spanish Parliament Sunday.

Such comparisons are an obstacle to Israel's relationship with the international community and, even worse, "Give legitimacy to some Palestinian comparisons between Israel and the Nazis," he said.

In his speech, the keynote event in a Spanish ceremony in honor of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ben-Ami also censured Europe and Spain's left-wing, whom he claimed lead a campaign of anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Zionism.

In particular, he condemned Nobel prizewinner Jose Saramago, who referred to Jenin as "Auschwitz".

Nonetheless, he concluded his speech with criticism of Israel and Jews in general, saying "if the strongest nation in the Middle East refers to every war and every threat as a threat of Holocaust, we ourselves are making the Holocaust banal." [complete article]

Jimmy Carter's Lipstadt problem
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, January 27, 2007

Writing in the Washington Post on January 20, Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt joins the growing chorus of critics of former President Jimmy Carter, whose book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created a minor public firestorm. It is not as if we need to hear more. Carter's book -- "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" -- has been eviscerated by a community of critics (including Alan Dershowitz, David Horowitz and Abraham Foxman), all of whom take issue with Carter's use of the "A" word to criticize Israel. Even the Boston Globe weighed in, calling Carter's use of the word "irresponsibly provocative."

What's important about the Lipstadt commentary is that it presents a line of anti-Carter criticism we have not heard before. Lipstadt accuses Carter of ignoring the "a legacy of mistreatment, expulsion and murder committed against Jews" and says that "by almost ignoring the Holocaust, Carter gives inadvertent comfort to those who deny its importance or even its historical reality." Lipstadt comes itchy close to accusing Carter of being a Holocaust denier. [complete article]
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Israel will think twice before getting mixed up in Gaza
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, January 30, 2007

The suicide bombing in Eilat on Monday will not lead to a large military
operation in the Gaza Strip. The suicide bomber came from Gaza via Sinai, but current events in Gaza are so complex that Israel will think twice before getting mixed up in them.

In other words, the internecine Palestinian conflict is now Gaza's best bulwark against any Israeli operation. When Fatah and Hamas are so good at killing each other, why should Israel intervene and spur them to close ranks against the common enemy? [complete article]

Omert: We will maintain cease-fire
By Aluf Benn, Amos Harel and Revital Levy-Stein, Haaretz, January 30, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to maintain the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, and will not respond to yesterday's suicide bombing in Eilat with a broad military offensive, aides said last night. The attack in the southern resort town claimed the lives of three Israelis.

Olmert met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and senior security officials yesterday in order to evaluate the ways in which Israel might respond following the attack. The bombing was carried out by an Islamic Jihad terrorist who crossed into Israel from Sinai. [complete article]
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Hezbollah leader Nasrallah attacks Bush
By Yara Bayoumy, Reuters, January 30, 2007

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused President Bush on Tuesday of creating chaos in Lebanon, rejecting his charge that the militant group and its allies were causing the violence.

Sectarian clashes in Beirut last week between pro- and anti-government supporters left seven people killed, bringing back memories of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

Addressing hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Lebanese gathered in Beirut's southern suburb for the climax of the annual Ashura religious ceremony, Nasrallah challenged Bush's latest attack against the group and said the U.S. had ordered Israel to launch last year's war against Hezbollah guerrillas. [complete article]

U.S. ally and foe are trying to avert war in Lebanon
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 30, 2007

In an unusual collaboration that could complicate American policy in the region, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been mediating an agreement to end Lebanon's violent political crisis.

Leaders of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed party trying to overthrow Lebanon's government, have recently visited the Saudi king in Riyadh, according to officials who attended the meeting. And Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi chief security adviser, has met with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larijani, in Riyadh and Tehran to try to stop Lebanon's slide into civil war.

"The only hope is for the Iranians and Saudis to go further in easing the situation and bringing people back to the negotiating table," said Radwan Sayyed, an adviser to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The Saudi-Iranian efforts have put Washington in an awkward position, since it is trying to reduce Iran's regional influence. But since a stable Lebanon is also an American priority, American officials have watched the efforts without interfering. [complete article]

Comment -- A stable Lebanon is an American priority? I suppose the American bombs dropped on Southern Lebanon last summer were all part of the "stabilization" program.
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How the Lebanese town of Aita al Shaab won the war and lost almost everything
By Nir Rosen, Mother Jones, January/February, 2007

By the third week of august, Beirut's trendy Gemmayzeh Cafe was once more full of revelers. It was the first time live music had been back since the war, and as the beers were poured and narghiles lit, an oud player finished tuning his instrument and began strumming. "God be with you, oh steadfast south," he wailed in a low voice, and the crowd of 200 or so cheered at the tribute—an old song, by the famed Wadi al-Safi, for this was not the first war southern Lebanon had endured. Then the music turned to Fairuz, songs of love and pain, and the squat old manager danced and encouraged the young women to do the same, which they did, waists shaking and arms waving and hands twisting as onlookers raised their glasses and clapped. It was almost as if life were back to normal, for indeed here in east Beirut it had barely been disrupted and there were even those in the Sunni and Christian neighborhoods who had initially hoped Israel would succeed in its war to destroy Hezbollah, a war in fact to crush the will of the mostly Shia steadfast people of the south.

The 60-mile trip from Beirut south to the Israeli border might have taken a couple of hours in the past, but now it could take a day or more to navigate around roads and bridges that had been destroyed in what the Lebanese called the "July War." Beyond Tyre, the biggest city in southern Lebanon, every village I could see from the road lay in ruins. Finally, at the southernmost tip of Lebanon, past a sign spray-painted "We will be back" by Israeli soldiers, I arrived in the town of Aita al Shaab. [complete article]
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Equipment for added troops is lacking
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, January 30, 2007

Boosting U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500 would create major logistical hurdles for the Army and Marine Corps, which are short thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply the extra forces, U.S. officials said.

The increase would also further degrade the readiness of U.S.-based ground forces, hampering their ability to respond quickly, fully trained and well equipped in the case of other military contingencies around the world and increasing the risk of U.S. casualties, according to Army and Marine Corps leaders.

"The response would be slower than we might like, we would not have all of the equipment sets that ordinarily would be the case, and there is certainly risk associated with that," the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, told the House Armed Services Committee last week. [complete article]
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French report: Former U.N. envoy Bolton says U.S. has 'no strategic interest' in united Iraq
AP, January 30, 2007

Former U.S. envoy to the United Nations John Bolton said in an interview published in France that the United States has "no strategic interest" in a united Iraq.

Bolton, who resigned last month from his temporary appointment as U.N. ambassador, also told the French daily Le Monde that U.S. President George W. Bush's administration acted too slowly to hand power over to Iraqis after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"We did a disservice to Iraqis by depriving them of political leaders," Bolton was quoted as saying, adding that the Coalition Provisional Authority that initially ran Iraq allowed terrorists to regroup. Bolton was speaking in English, and the interview was published in French. An English-language copy of the interview was not available.

Bolton suggested in the interview that the United States shouldn't necessarily keep Iraq from splitting up. The Bush administration and the Iraqi government have said they don't want Iraq divided.

"The United States has no strategic interest in the fact that there's one Iraq, or three Iraqs," he was quoted as saying. "We have a strategic interest in the fact of ensuring that what emerges is not a state in complete collapse, which could become a refuge for terrorists or a terrorist state."

The comments marked the second time in less than a week that Bolton had criticized the Bush administration's policy. On Fox News last week, he said the United States may not be able to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons because it was following a flawed diplomatic strategy.
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Uighurs' detention conditions condemned
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Julie Tate, Washington Post, January 30, 2007

Chinese Uighurs who have been imprisoned for the past month at a new state-of-the-art detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being held around the clock in near-total isolation, a circumstance their lawyers say is rapidly degrading their mental health, according to an affidavit filed in federal court yesterday.

The lawyers' complaint is the latest step in their efforts to force an expedited review of the Uighurs' confinement by the U.S. Court of Appeals, a review that the Bush administration opposes and that Congress made more difficult in legislation it passed late last year.

The Uighurs' (pronounced weegurs) detention by the U.S. military, after being sold for bounty by Pakistanis in early 2002, has long attracted controversy. The men had just arrived from Afghanistan, where, they said, they had received limited military training because they opposed Chinese government control of their native region. But they said they never were allied with the Taliban or opposed to the United States, and had fled to Pakistan only to escape the U.S. bombing campaign.

By 2005, U.S. military review panels determined that five of the 18 captured Uighurs were "no longer enemy combatants," but they continued to be held at the Guantanamo Bay prison until their release last year. The panels did not reach that conclusion about the other 13, though all had given similar accounts of their activities during the reviews, according to declassified transcripts of the sessions.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled in December 2005 that the government was unlawfully imprisoning the Uighurs who were found not to be combatants.

Because China views Uighurs as members of a rebellious ethnic minority, the U.S. government declined to return the five men to China, where they faced retribution, and dozens of other nations refused to accept them. Ultimately they were sent last year from Guantanamo Bay to Albania, where they are housed in a compound run by the United Nations.

Lawyers for the remaining 13 Uighurs say the men were moved in December to Guantanamo Bay's Camp 6, a high-security facility at the base completed last August at a cost of $37.9 million. The lawyers say the government provided no explanation for the move, which came shortly after they filed a court petition in Washington seeking the expedited review.

In Camp 6, the Uighurs are alone in metal cells throughout the day, are prohibited for the most part from conversing with others, and take all their meals through a metal slot in the door, lawyer P. Sabin Willett said in his affidavit, which was based on what he was told during his visit Jan. 15-18. They have little or no access to sunlight or fresh air, have had nothing new to read in their native language for the past several years, and are sometimes told to undertake solitary recreation at night, he said. [complete article]
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Discarding an Afghan opportunity
By Selig S. Harrison, Washington Post, January 30, 2007

The British Raj learned the hard way a century ago that the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest and historically dominant ethnic group, will unite to fight a foreign occupation force simply because it is foreign. Applying this lesson to the Afghan crisis today, British generals have been attempting in vain to change a high-profile U.S.-NATO military strategy that is helping the Taliban consolidate Pashtun support in southern Afghanistan.

Bombing and strafing attacks on suspected Taliban hideouts killed at least 4,643 Afghan civilian noncombatants from October 2001 to Oct. 1, 2006, according to an exhaustive study by University of New Hampshire economist Marc W. Herold. The result has been the steady growth of anti-American sentiment focused on the U.S.-backed regime of President Hamid Karzai.

"The cruelty is too much," Karzai declared last month. In tears, Karzai said that the coalition forces are "killing our children. We can't prevent the terrorists from coming from Pakistan, we can't stop the coalition from bombing the terrorists, and our children are dying because of this." [complete article]
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Twisting arms isn't as easy as dropping bombs
By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, January 29, 2007

Whenever the United States goes to war, pro-war and antiwar advocates immediately reach for different history books. Hawks always equate the situation to a Hitler-Chamberlain standoff to show why hesitation can be fatal. Doves invariably pull the Vietnam War off the shelf to argue that plunging ahead can be foolhardy.

Two wars that the United States has launched against Iraq perfectly illustrate the problem with cherry-picking your history. Hawks and doves made their usual arguments before the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Antiwar advocates who predicted that forcing Saddam Hussein to retreat from Kuwait would result in thousands of U.S. casualties were proved wrong by Operation Desert Storm. And the neoconservatives who warned that ignoring Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was like appeasing Hitler now have egg yolk dribbling down their faces.

The history book getting the most attention right now is about the 1954-1962 French colonial war in Algeria. Hundreds of thousands of people died in that conflict before Algerian guerrillas handed the French army a humiliating defeat. President Bush said he is reading Alistair Horne's account of the conflict, "A Savage War for Peace," to glean insights about the U.S. predicament in Iraq. Horne, a British historian, recently told PBS's Charlie Rose that he sees similarities and differences between the U.S. war in Iraq and the French war in Algeria -- and hopes his book will help Bush find a way to succeed in Iraq.

Political scientist Patricia Sullivan recently decided to take a different tack than the political pundits. Rather than look for a single war to provide insight, Sullivan decided to look at all post-World War II conflicts between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and weaker nations. [complete article]
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What happened outside Najaf?
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 30, 2007

Comb through reports from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post, along with analysis from the BBC and Juan Cole, and it becomes apparent that so far, no one has really got a handle on this story. As usual, "Badger" helps peel back some of the confusion by revealing more of the complexity.

And what does President Bush make of all this? "So my first reaction on this report from the battlefield is that the Iraqis are beginning to show me something." Hundreds of dead bodies. Not sure who they are, but our bullets and bombs killed them. How much more does this president need to know?
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Cheney says U.S. is sending 'strong signal' to Iran
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, January 29, 2007

Vice President Cheney said the deployment this month of a second aircraft-carrier task force to the Persian Gulf delivered a "strong signal" of the United States' commitment to confront Iran's growing influence in the region.

Countries in the Middle East "want us to have a major presence there," Cheney said in a Newsweek interview published online yesterday. Referring to the deployment of the carrier USS John C. Stennis, Cheney said, "That sends a very strong signal to everybody in the region that the United States is here to stay, that we clearly have significant capabilities, and that we are working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat." [complete article]

Comment -- When Cheney says that the United States is sending a "strong signal", he seems to think this will make America look strong. On the contrary, the need to send a strong signal is a reflection of the fact that the U.S. is generally perceived as being in a weak position. Signaling that the U.S. is "here to stay" reflects the extent to which its presence is unwelcome. The real signal that comes across loud and clear is that the Bush administration seriously fears that America may lose its foothold in the Middle East.

Cheney probably still believes in the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." But although invading countries like Grenada might have served as a tonic for conservatives desperate to exorcise the demon of Vietnam, these exercises didn't so much show the world that America means business as much as that it is afraid of a fair fight. Iraq was meant to be another war in which the asymmetry of power would serve in America's favor -- but it didn't work out that way.

Iran's immediate response to the strong signal of an invasion next door was to reach out and try and make a deal. But the Bush administration tossed away that opportunity and instead treated the regime in Tehran to a showcase of the limits of American power. Now we see the results: Iran is not afraid.
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Iranian reveals plan to expand role in Iraq
By James Glanz, New York Times, January 29, 2007

Iran's ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq -- including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital -- just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran's plan, as outlined by the ambassador, carries the potential to bring Iran into further conflict here with the United States, which has detained a number of Iranian operatives in recent weeks and says it has proof of Iranian complicity in attacks on American and Iraqi forces.

The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called "the security fight." In the economic area, Mr. Qumi said, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for Iraq reconstruction, an area of failure on the part of the United States since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago.

"We have experience of reconstruction after war," Mr. Qumi said, referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "We are ready to transfer this experience in terms of reconstruction to the Iraqis."

Mr. Qumi also acknowledged, for the first time, that two Iranians seized and later released by American forces last month were security officials, as the United States had claimed. But he said that they were engaged in legitimate discussions with the Iraqi government and should not have been detained.

Mr. Qumi's remarks, in a 90-minute interview over tea and large pistachio nuts at the Iranian Embassy here, amounted to the most authoritative and substantive response the Iranians have made yet to increasingly belligerent accusations by the Bush administration that Iran is acting against American interests in Iraq. [complete article]
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Saddam is dead, long live SADDAM
By Issandr El Amrani, The Arabist, January 26, 2007

Making a renewed appearance in the State of the Union address this year was Iran. Bush set out an agenda that puts the U.S. on a path of confrontation with Iran—the latest installment in the haphazard collection of ideological fads that passes as Middle East policy in Washington these days.

Having made a mess of Iraq, continuing to refuse to play a constructive and even-handed role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and having gotten bored with democracy promotion, the Bush administration now appears to be fanning the flames of sectarian strife region-wide. Since September 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials have made trips to the Middle East to rally the support of what Rice has described as the "moderate mainstream" Arab states against Iran. This group has now been formalized as the "GCC + 2," meaning the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman) as well as Egypt and Jordan.

I suggest that this new coalition be renamed to something less technocratic: the Sunni Arab-Dominated Dictatorships Against the Mullahs, or SADDAM. [complete article]
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Exclusive: Israeli Air Force to buy U.S. smart bombs
By Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2007

In one of the largest weapons deals since the war in Lebanon, the Israel Air Force intends to purchase thousands of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) missiles from the United States for an estimated $100 million, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

During the war this past summer, the IAF used JDAM missiles extensively and even received emergency shipments from the US. The aerial shipments caused an international uproar after one of the planes destined for Israel was routed through Glasgow's Prestwick Airport and reportedly did not fly according to safety and security procedures established by the British Civil Aviation Authority.

The Post has also learned of ongoing negotiations between the IAF and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) concerning the purchase of LORA ground-to-ground ballistic tactical missiles. Accurate to less than 10 meters, equal to that of a JDAM, the LORA missile can eliminate targets without risking expensive fighter jets. It can be equipped with a 400-kilogram high-explosive warhead and can penetrate enemy territory more than 1,000 kilometers away. [complete article]
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Three people killed in suicide bombing at Eilat bakery
By Revital Levy-Stein, Avi Issacharoff, Nir Hasson, and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz, January 29, 2007

An Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed at least three people Monday morning, when he blew himself up in a bakery in the southern resort city of Eilat. [complete article]

EU slams Eilat bombing, calls it bid to derail peace process
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, January 29, 2007

The European Union issued a statement condemning the suicide bombing that killed three people in Eilat on Monday, and criticized it as a bid to derail the fragile Middle East peace process.

Palestinian leaders must "put an end to terror and bring to justice those who support terror," Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency said in a statement. [complete article]

Suicide bombing legitimate resistance, terror group says
By Ali Waked, Ynet, January 29, 2007

Monday’s suicide bombing attack in Eilat, which left three civilians dead, "underscored the Palestinian resistance's intent to continue the Jihad (holy war) until all Palestinian lands are freed," an Islamic Jihad spokesman said.

"This is a message to the world saying that the Palestinian resistance has the right to choose the time and the place for their actions," he said.

A high ranking official from one of the Palestinian organizations told Ynet that the terrorist attack in Eilat was an operation coordinated between Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades and al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah's military wing. [complete article]
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Two dozen die as Hamas and Fatah battle in Gaza
By Ibrahim Barzak, The Independent, January 29, 2007

Hamas and Fatah gunmen battled each other in the streets of the Gaza Strip yesterday, in an increasingly bloody power struggle that left more than two dozen Palestinians dead over the weekend.

An explosion early yesterday rocked the Gaza City home of a bodyguard to Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah official, but no casualties were reported. Separately, gunmen took at least 11 hostages, including one in view of news crews.

The latest round of fighting began late on Thursday after a Hamas activist was killed in a bombing. By Saturday night, 25 Palestinians - including two boys aged two and 12 - had been killed and at least 76 wounded. A threat by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, of Fatah, to call early elections preceded the violence. [complete article]

PA source: Abbas security aides amassing arms to bolster forces
Reuters, January 29, 2007

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's security advisers have been amassing weapons in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to build up a wider range of forces than just the presidential guard, Palestinian security sources said.

The sources said several thousand assault rifles and other weapons have been set aside in storehouses for members of Preventive Security and other services that are dominated by Abbas's Fatah faction and are locked in an increasingly violent power struggle with the ruling Hamas movement.

Previous arms shipments were earmarked solely for Abbas's presidential guard with U.S. and Israeli backing. Up to $170 million, including U.S. funds and Palestinian tax revenues released by Israel, will provide training, equipment and other support to the guard, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. [complete article]

Palestinian families exert their clout amid factional fighting
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, January 28, 2007

Saed Dweikat's phone flashes every few minutes, bringing him updates on the latest outbreak of Palestinian infighting. Two Hamas members killed in Gaza. Six Fatah members kidnapped. Nine Hamas members kidnapped. Shots fired at the Palestinian foreign minister's home.

It is this constant flow of bad news and ominous warnings that prompted Dweikat and his prominent Nablus family to take matters into their own hands. With no end to the infighting in sight, hundreds of Dweikat family leaders allied with the rival forces recently gathered in Nablus to draft a manifesto of sorts that they posted on city mosques, shops and refugee camp walls.

The statement called for Palestinian unity and an end to the violence. But it also sent a clear warning: "The Dweikat family will not be part of this internal struggle," the poster warns. "We will not allow anybody to attack any member of our tribe, regardless of his or her political affiliation." [complete article]
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US soldiers in Iraq kill 250 men from 'apocalyptic cult'
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 29, 2007

American and Iraqi troops killed about 250 armed men alleged to belong to an apocalyptic Islamic cult who were planning to attack the religious leadership of the Shia in the holy city of Najaf, according to Iraqi political, military and police sources.

The battle took place in the orchards around Najaf and a US helicopter was shot down during the fighting, killing two crewmen. Hundreds of fighters drawn from the Sunni and Shia communities who gathered amid the date palms were followers of Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni who claims to be the vanguard of the Messiah according to Iraqi politicians. His office in Najaf had been closed 10 days ago. [complete article]

Battle for Baghdad: City braces itself for US surge
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 28, 2007

Lina Massufi, a 32-year-old Iraqi laboratory assistant with two children, is a widow - her husband was killed by US troops when he accidentally drove down a closed road in 2003. In the past three months she has seen her house raided and her furniture smashed 12 times.

"Every time they raid my house, they break down the door," she told a UN official. When she asked them why they did not ring the bell "they laughed at me and called me an idiot". Her brother Fae'ek, a pharmacy student, was arrested and held in prison for a week. "He returned with signs of torture on his body, and was crying like a baby because of the pain."

Her story shows why the odds are against what may be President George Bush's final gamble in Iraq: the attempt by US troops, now receiving 17,500 reinforcements, to regain control of Baghdad. The plan is for US forces, along with Iraqi army and police, to enter Sunni and Shia districts in the capital, cleanse them of insurgents and militia and then stay put, preventing their return. In his State of the Union speech last week Mr Bush told Congress: "With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down the terrorists, insurgents, and the roaming death squads."

But the failings of this strategy become more obvious the further one gets from Washington and the closer to Baghdad. The insurgents and militiamen, both Sunni and Shia, usually have more credibility in their districts than Iraqi government forces. As for the heavily Shia police commandos, they are seen by Sunni in Baghdad as licensed death squads. [complete article]

Samarra mosque is again a catalyst
By Borzou Daragahi and Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2007

The Iraqi government plans to establish a military unit to safeguard efforts in Samarra to rebuild one of Shiite Islam's most important shrines, a move criticized by Sunni Arabs as provocative and by some U.S. officials here as ill-conceived.

The Samarra Brigade -- or the Brigade of the Two Saints, as it has been nicknamed -- was the idea of Shiite lawmakers hoping to hasten the reconstruction of the Golden Mosque, which was blown up last February in an attack that served as a tipping point in Iraq's burgeoning civil war. [complete article]
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Last warning: 10 years to save world
By Jonathan Leake, The Sunday Times, January 28, 2007

The world has just 10 years to reverse surging greenhouse gas emissions or risk runaway climate change that could make many parts of the planet uninhabitable.

The stark warning comes from scientists who are working on the final draft of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report, due to be published this week, will draw together the work of thousands of scientists from around the world who have been studying changes in the world's climate and predicting how they might accelerate.

They conclude that unless mankind rapidly stabilises greenhouse gas emissions and starts reducing them, it will have little chance of keeping global warming within manageable limits.

The results could include the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, the forced migration of hundreds of millions of people from equatorial regions, and the loss of vast tracts of land under rising seas as the ice caps melt. [complete article]

Comment -- For almost six years we've been told that we need to defend ourselves against those who are intent on destroying our way of life. Yet we have a way of life that is destroying the planet. There is no terrorist threat -- not even the threat from a nuclear devise -- that is as great as the threat we pose to ourselves (and everyone else) by holding sacred this rapacious activity called "the American way of life." If we don't change -- and change fast -- nothing else matters.
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Rural America pays the president's price in Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDipatch, January 26, 2007

Just over 3,000 Americans have died in Iraq. If the U.S. population is 300 million, then that's just 0.001% of it. Add into this the fact that the American dead come disproportionately from the most forgotten, least attended to parts of our country, from places that often have lost their job bases; consider that many of them were under or unemployed as well as undereducated, that they generally come from struggling, low-income, low-skills areas. Given that we have an all-volunteer military (so that not even the threat of a draft touches other young Americans), you could certainly say that the President's war in Iraq -- and its harm -- has been disproportionately felt. If you live in a rural area, you are simply far more likely to know a casualty of the war than in most major metropolitan areas of the country.

No wonder it's been easy for so many Americans to ignore such a catastrophic war until relatively recently. This might, in a sense, be considered part of a long-term White House strategy, finally faltering, of essentially fighting two significant wars abroad while demobilizing the population at home. When, for instance, soon after the 9/11 attacks the President urged Americans to go to Disney World or, in December 2006, to go "shopping more" to help the economy, he meant it. We were to go on with our normal lives, untouched by his war.

In an interview this week, the Newshour's Jim Lehrer asked the President the following:
"If it is as important as you've just said -- and you've said it many times -- as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military -- the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point."
And here was the President's pathetic but indicative answer:
"Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war."
In other words, our President wants -- has always wanted -- most of us to do nothing whatsoever. [complete article]

See also, Protest focuses on Iraq troop increase (NYT).

Comment -- As one sage once put it, "pleasure puts you to sleep and pain wakes you up." Yet so far, nothing has happened that was sufficiently disturbing to shake most of us out of our comfort-induced torpor. The war in Iraq has, as Bush says, disturbed the nation's "peace of mind" yet that "peace" is and always was resting on a cushion of ignorance -- a lack of concern that comes from our being well-shielded from unwelcome intrusions. As disturbing as the war often becomes, all the effort required to reduce our discomfort is the gentle flex of a finger as we flip the channel.
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It has unraveled so quickly
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, January 28, 2007

A painful measure of just how much Iraq has changed in the four years since I started coming here is contained in my cellphone. Many numbers in the address book are for Iraqis who have either fled the country or been killed. One of the first Sunni politicians: gunned down. A Shiite baker: missing. A Sunni family: moved to Syria.

I first came to Iraq in April 2003, at the end of the looting several weeks after the American invasion. In all, I have spent 22 months here, time enough for the place, its people and their ever-evolving tragedy to fix itself firmly in my heart.

Now, as I am leaving Iraq, a new American plan is unfolding in the capital. It feels as if we have come back to the beginning. Boots are on the ground again. Boxy Humvees move in the streets. Baghdad fell in 2003 and we are still trying to pick it back up. But Iraq is a different country now.

The moderates are mostly gone. My phone includes at least a dozen entries for middle-class families who have given up and moved away. They were supposed to build democracy here. Instead they work odd jobs in Syria and Jordan. Even the moderate political leaders have left. I have three numbers for Adnan Pachachi, the distinguished Iraqi statesman; none have Iraqi country codes. [complete article]

See also, Seven U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq over three days (WP).

Death squad chieftains flee to beat Baghdad surge
By Hala Jaber, Amman and Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, January 28, 2007

Death squad leaders have fled Baghdad to evade capture or killing by American and Iraqi forces before the start of the troop "surge" and security crackdown in the capital.

A former senior Iraqi minister said most of the leaders loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, had gone into hiding in Iran.

Among those said to have fled is Abu Deraa, the Shi'ite militia leader whose appetite for sectarian savagery has been compared to that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed last year. [complete article]
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Nuclear plans in chaos as Iran leader flounders
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, January 28, 2007

Iran's efforts to produce highly enriched uranium, the material used to make nuclear bombs, are in chaos and the country is still years from mastering the required technology.

Iran's uranium enrichment programme has been plagued by constant technical problems, lack of access to outside technology and knowhow, and a failure to master the complex production-engineering processes involved. The country denies developing weapons, saying its pursuit of uranium enrichment is for energy purposes.

Despite Iran being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world peace - in particular by an increasingly bellicose Israel and its closest ally, the US - a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian programme have told The Observer it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the materials for industrial-scale production.

The disclosures come as Iran has told the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], that it plans to install a new 'cascade' of 3,000 high-speed centrifuges at its controversial underground facility at Natanz in central Iran next month. [complete article]

On Iran, Bush faces haunting echoes of Iraq
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 28, 2007

To many in Washington, especially Mr. Bush's Democratic critics, the new approach to Iran has all the hallmarks of an administration once again spoiling for a fight.

Some see an attempt to create a diversion, focusing the country's attention away from a war gone bad in Iraq, and toward a country that has exploited America's troubles to expand its influence. Others suspect an effort to shift the blame for the spiraling chaos in Iraq, as a steady flow of officials, from the C.I.A. director to the new secretary of defense, cite intelligence that Iranians are smuggling into Iraq sophisticated explosive devices and detailed plans to wipe out Sunni neighborhoods. So far, they have disclosed no evidence. Next week, American military officials are expected to make their most comprehensive case — based on materials seized in recent raids — that Iran's elite Quds force is behind many of the most lethal attacks.

But as they present their evidence, some Bush administration officials concede they are confronting the bitter legacy of their prewar distortions of the intelligence in Iraq. When speaking under the condition of anonymity, they say the administration's credibility has been deeply damaged, which would cast doubt on any attempt by Mr. Bush, for example, to back up his claim that Iran's uranium enrichment program is intended for bomb production. [complete article]
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Israel may have violated arms pact, U.S. officials say
By David S. Cloud and Greg Myre, New York Times, January 28, 2007

The Bush administration will inform Congress on Monday that Israel may have violated agreements with the United States when it fired American-supplied cluster munitions into southern Lebanon during its fight with Hezbollah last summer, the State Department said Saturday.

The finding, though preliminary, has prompted a contentious debate within the administration over whether the United States should penalize Israel for its use of cluster munitions against towns and villages where Hezbollah had placed its rocket launchers.

Cluster munitions are anti-personnel weapons that scatter tiny but deadly bomblets over a wide area. The grenadelike munitions, tens of thousands of which have been found in southern Lebanon, have caused 30 deaths and 180 injuries among civilians since the end of the war, according to the United Nations Mine Action Service. [complete article]
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Yes, there is apartheid in Israel
By Shulamit Aloni, Counterpunch, January 8, 2007

Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what's right in front of our eyes. It's simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practises its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.

The US Jewish Establishment's onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practises a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp. All this is done in order to keep an eye on the population's movements and to make its life difficult. Israel even imposes a total curfew whenever the settlers, who have illegally usurped the Palestinians' land, celebrate their holidays or conduct their parades. [complete article]
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As long as we impose sanctions
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, January 28, 2007

The Israeli assumption that it would be enough to apply heavy economic pressure and arrest members of the Palestinian parliament and government ministers to overturn the election results, turned out, as expected, to be mistaken. Like in Iraq, which existed for 13 years under a regime of sanctions, or Libya, which endured 11 years of sanctions, the citizenry suffers and barely survives, yet does not take to the streets to protest against the failures of the government that represents it. Standing steadfast against sanctions imposed by an occupier is still considered national heroism. Donations, waiving salaries and a great deal of voluntary activity somehow manage to keep the health and education systems in operation. They are continuing to teach at the universities and even artistic work has not come to a halt.

But unlike other sanction regimes, Israel is setting conditions but not promising anything in return. Thus, even if Haniyeh starts wearing a skullcap and Khaled Meshal begins humming Hatikva, and even if Abbas makes it mandatory to teach the heroic story of Masada in Palestinian schools, Israel does not want and is unable to propose a diplomatic alternative that would lead to the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state. It does not want to - because any such proposal would mean a withdrawal from most of the territories and the dismantling of most of the settlements. It is unable to - because there is no government of Israel. After all, even when it appeared that there was a government in Israel, not a single measly illegal outpost was removed; this is a non-government that has transformed the disengagement from Gaza from a national trauma to a housing trauma; and in Hebron, or in Mount Hebron to be more precise, the sovereign provides free protection to a bunch of hooligans. [complete article]
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Gazans seek refuge from fierce Palestinian clashes
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, January 28, 2007

Palestinian civilians sought refuge across Gaza on Sunday from a third day of fierce clashes which have killed 22 people and brought the coastal strip closer to civil war than any time since Hamas came to power last year.

The sounds of exploding grenades and automatic weapons fire echoed in Gaza City as gunbattles raged, witnesses said, and a bomb blast damaged the Gaza home of a bodyguard of senior Fatah figure Mohammed Dahlan. [complete article]

PA source: Abbas security aides amassing arms to bolster forces
Reuters, January 28, 2007

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's security advisers have been amassing weapons in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to build up a wider range of forces than just the presidential guard, Palestinian security sources said.

The sources said several thousand assault rifles and other weapons have been set aside in storehouses for members of Preventive Security and other services that are dominated by Abbas's Fatah faction and are locked in an increasingly violent power struggle with the ruling Hamas movement.

Previous arms shipments were earmarked solely for Abbas's presidential guard with U.S. and Israeli backing. Up to $170 million, including U.S. funds and Palestinian tax revenues released by Israel, will provide training, equipment and other support to the guard, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. [complete article]

Hamas, Fatah accept Saudi offer to host unity talks in Mecca
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, January 28, 2007

Fatah and Hamas both accepted Sunday a Saudi Arabian invitation to hold unity talks in Mecca, after four days of internecine clashes in the Gaza Strip left at least 26 dead and dozens wounded.

Palestinian gunmen shot dead a member of a Hamas-led police force Sunday evening, local residents and hospital officials said, the latest fatality of the renewed clashes.

A Hamas spokesman said Nasser Shurrab, a member of the Islamist movement's "Executive Force," was "assassinated by members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of Fatah" in southern Gaza.

Al-Arabiya television reported Sunday that Saudi King Abdullah invited the factions for talks in Mecca "without foreign intervention." [complete article]

Gaza violence threatens Quartet peace talks
By Sharmila Devi, Financial Times, January 28, 2007

Factional clashes that have killed at least 22 people in the past few days in the Gaza Strip threaten to overshadow a meeting this week of the international peacemaking Quartet.

Representatives of the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations are due to meet in Washington on February 2 to discuss the stalled peace process. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Talking to Tehran
CF Report, Conflicts Forum, January 22, 2007

Iran and Iraq grow closer
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, January 26, 2007

Iran and the United States
World Public, January 24, 2007

Troops authorized to kill Iranian operatives in Iraq
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, January 26, 2007

Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link
By Alexandra Zavis and Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2007

Iran's strongman loses grip as ayatollah offers nuclear deal
By Marie Colvin and Leila Asgharzadeh, The Sunday Times, January 21, 2007

Lebanon: Shadow of civil war looms again
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, January 27, 2007

Israel on the Potomac: power under pressure
By Norman Birnbaum, Open Democracy, January 25, 2007

Taken for a ride by the Israeli Left
By Steven Friedman and Virginia Tilley, Electronic Intifada, January 26, 2007

Smears for fears: the rigged rules for discussing Israel-related issues in America
By Matthew Yglesias, The American Prospect, January 23, 2007

Israelis, Jimmy Carter and Apartheid
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 22, 2007
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Truth & Beauty (Pakistan-US)

A resource for more information about Iraq, the Middle East conflict, Afghanistan, Korea, nuclear proliferation, war, peace, and the foreign policies of the Bush Administration.

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World News:
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News Aggregators:| Watching America| RealClearPolitics|| Topix| BuzzFlash| Topix - ME| Yahoo - Iraq| Yahoo - Iran| Yahoo - Pakistan| Yahoo - Saudi Arabia| Yahoo - Lebanon| Yahoo - Syria| Yahoo - North Korea| Yahoo - Afghanistan| Yahoo - Al Qaeda| Yahoo - Nuclear Weapons| WN Afghanistan Times| WN Iraq Daily| WN Tehran| WN Lebanon Times| WN East Asia| WN Seoul Daily| WN Nuclear Guide| Arts and Letters Daily| Political Theory

Armchair Generalist| Arms and Influence| Arms Control Wonk| Belgravia Dispatch| Bradford Plumer| Counterterrorism Blog| Crooked Timber| Crooks and Liars| Cursor| Defense Tech| Democracy Arsenal| Eschaton| FP Passport|| Heretik| INTEL DUMP| Just World News| Left Coaster| Mahablog| Moderate Voice| Nuke Beat| Oxblog| Rootless Cosmopolitan| Shadowland Journal| TalkLeft| TAPPED| TomDispatch| Unclaimed Territory| War and Piece| Murray Waas| Washington Note

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American Journalism Review| Bulletin of Atomic Scientists| Columbia Journalism Review| Foreign Affairs| Foreign Policy| MERIP| New York Review of Books| Policy Review| Wilson Quarterly

Reference:| Arab Gateway| Bartleby| Brookings Institution| Cambridge Dictionaries| CIA Factbook| Corp Watch| Cryptome| Federation of American Scientists| FirstGov| GAO| Geographic Names| Global Security| Human Rights Watch| Index of Censorship| Institute for Policy Studies| International Crisis Group| Maps - Iraq| Maps - Occupied Territories| Maps - World| Media Matters| Media Transparency| National Security Archive| Nuclear Threat Initiative| Open Secrets| Pentagon| Population Database| PR Watch| Project on Defense Alternatives| Right Web| Source Watch| State Dept.| Union of Concerned Scientists| US Congress| Wayback Machine| The White House| Wikipedia| Worldwatch Institute| World Resources Institute

World News - Regional
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Budapest Sun (Hungary)| Chechnya News| Europe Daily| German Times| Guardian (UK)| Independent (UK)| Irish Times| Italia Daily| Le Monde Diplo (France)| The Prague Post (Czech)| Pravda (Russia)| Radio Netherlands| Scandinavia News| Scotsman| Telegraph (UK)| Turkey Post

Aborigine News| The Age (Australia)| New Zealand Herald| Polynesia Post
| Scoop (NZ)
| Sydney Morning Herald

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