|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Our second biggest mistake in the Middle East
By Alastair Crooke, London Review of Books, June 28, 2007
Whatever the cause, Europeans embarked on one of their greatest policy mistakes in the region -- second only to their support for the invasion of Iraq -- with their dogged determination to isolate Hamas and attempt to return Fatah to power.
Hamas had argued during the election campaign that Fatah's promise to Israel of an end to violence would bring Fatah only Israeli contempt for what it would perceive as Palestinian 'weakness'. As Hamas sees it, a just solution will emerge only when Israel comes to 'respect' its adversaries; meanwhile Fatah's pleading to be Israel's peace partner is indirectly contributing to Israel's hegemonic ambitions. Hamas therefore argues for continued resistance, and for a reversal of the Arafat doctrine, which held that Palestinian institutions should not be established until a state had been achieved. It believes that good governance now, and the unity it will bring, is the path to a Palestinian state. With its record of effective and corruption-free local government, it has been keen to put this into practice at the national level: it may now have its chance in Gaza.
The problem for Hamas is that its constituency -- the rank and file -- and the wider Islamist movement have now embarked on a period of introspection. What is apparent -- and this can be ascertained on any number of Islamist websites -- is that the mainstream Islamist strategy of pursuing an electoral path to reform is now being questioned. This will have an impact well beyond Palestine – most obviously in Egypt and Jordan. Three events have triggered this reassessment: the sanctions imposed on the Hamas government; last summer's US-backed war to destroy Hizbullah in Lebanon; and the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which raises not a peep of protest from Europeans. Continued Western hostility towards all Islamists, however moderate their policies, has also frustrated the grass-roots.
At a conference held in Beirut in April, the senior Hamas official present, Usamah Hamadan, was strongly criticised by Fathi Yakan, the leader of Jamaat Islamiyah in Lebanon, for having embarked on the electoral route in the first place. Yakan pointed to the failure – experienced by all Islamists without exception – of those who have participated in their national parliaments. No MP or deputy, from Islamabad to Cairo, or anywhere in between, has succeeded in bringing any significant change to their society. At the same time, young Egyptians in the Muslim Brotherhood have been debating whether their eighty-year-old movement has lost its way. Commentators have been arguing that for it to sit in parliament -- while its leaders are being interned, its economic base is being attacked, and legislation is being passed aimed at excluding movements with a religious basis from elections -- undermines its credibility and invites derision. The movement, it's suggested, is too big, rigid and ungainly, and needs to be rethought -- and perhaps broken up.
At issue in these discussions is whether moderate Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah will manage to retain their influence over this process of radicalisation; and whether they will survive as a cohesive, disciplined political bloc. Sunni Islamist movements are increasingly concerned at the spread of small Salafist groups that verge on the nihilistic in their disdain for political ideology and in their belief that to set fire to the remnants of colonial power is in itself enough to raise the revolutionary consciousness they hope for. Salafist groups are beginning to make inroads in Gaza, as they have already done in Iraq, Lebanon and North Africa. [complete article] The hobbled hegemon
The Economist, June 28, 2007
America is the richest country and the most sophisticated high-tech military power in the world, and is spending more on defence in real terms than at any time since the end of the second world war. Yet it is being exhausted by insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised bombs. With strong pressure on President George Bush to withdraw from Iraq, jihadist militants scent a victory as momentous as the eviction of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 -- a defeat that helped to dissolve the Soviet empire.
True, America has recovered from previous disasters, not least the Vietnam war. But its military troubles come at a time when the global strategic balance appears to be tilting away from America. Iran is filling the vacuum created in Iraq, and is accelerating its nuclear programme. China's military punch is growing along with its booming economy. Russia is more belligerent. The transatlantic relationship is loveless. Across the world, anti-Americanism has increased to the point where the United States is often regarded as a threat to world peace rather than its guarantor.
Strategists wonder whether the Iraq war has damaged America so badly as to set it on a path to "imperial decline". Is the post-Soviet "unipolar" world, established after America's first war against Saddam Hussein in 1991, coming prematurely to an end as a result of the second war to topple him? For Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a leading think-tank, "the American era in the Middle East is over" -- and because of the importance of the Middle East, American global power has also been weakened, for years if not for decades. [complete article] No one to give them back to
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, June 28, 2007
...it is clear that any talk about a "two-state solution" and the [Israeli] prime minister's declarations at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit about "new opportunities" and "accelerating the process toward a Palestinian state" are bogus. This diplomatic lip service, disassociated from reality and real expectations, is meant to assuage the Americans and the Europeans and deflect pressure on Israel.
The international community is participating in the show, and gradually is losing interest in the conflict. The postponment of the speech of President George W. Bush, meant to commemorate five years since he presented his "vision" and to offer new ideas for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, suggests that he has nothing to say. As it winds down its tenure, the Bush administration in Washington is toying with fake charms: like the "shelf agreement," proposed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or the appointment of Tony Blair as the Quartet representative "to build Palestinian institutions." Does anyone remember his predecessor in that job, James Wolfensohn?
From Israel's point of view, freezing the situation in the territories is the default option, freeing the government from internal disputes. But it comes at a cost - in growing calls for an academic and economic boycott of Israel, in perpetuating the conflict with the Arabs, and in a growing gap between declarations and actions. If the government considers control over the Palestinians as inevitable and not as a temporary situation, it must prepare accordingly: through the correct public relations abroad, through building task-specific security forces, and through fair treatment of the residents of the West Bank. The current approach - in which there is a surprise with every development, in which there are measures announced to ameliorate the lives of the Palestinians only to be withdrawn a day later, and mostly, in which we believe that time is in our favor - does not bode well. [complete article]
Comment -- Just as Israel employs a policy of nuclear "ambiguity" and thereby sidesteps its international obligations, it has likewise embraced a policy of territorial ambiguity which it sustains through a pretense in which the United States and Europe are complicit. The bargain is that so long as Israel pays lip service to the goal of a two-state solution, the West will pretend that Israel is genuinely committed to that goal, irrespective of all evidence to the contrary. However, if Israel was to come clean and acknowledge that it has no intention of allowing the Palestinians their own state, the West would then be in a bind. It would either have to side unambiguously with Israel and thereby create an irrevocable rift with the rest of the Middle East, or it would have to distance itself from Israel and thence contend with the fallout from the Israel lobby. What's the solution? Bring in the ultimate master of charade -- a man fixated on possibility, while divorced from reality: Tony Blair. With the circus master proudly positioned at the ringside, a parade of clowns and illusionists are already in line eager for yet another performance in the never-ending show, "The Peace Process." In West Bank, Hamas is silent but never ignored
By Ian fisher, New York Times, June 28, 2007
A new code was born here overnight. No one, it seems, belongs to Hamas in the West Bank anymore. Everyone now is an "Islamist," a word that neatly, and maybe more safely, shears the religious from party affiliation amid the uncertainty of a Palestinian people newly divided.
"I don't want to spend my life in jail!" a 35-year-old restaurant owner said, refusing to give his name after expressing pro-Hamas sentiments in an interview here.
Hamas, shrewd as it is deadly, has gone to ground in the West Bank, which is controlled now by its secular rival Fatah and supported by the United States, Europe and Israel as the territory with the only workable Palestinian government. [complete article] Israel fights Fatah militants in West Bank city
By Atef Sa'ad, Reuters, June 28, 2007
An Israeli raid into a West Bank city dominated by Fatah gunmen drew accusations from Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that Israel was trying to undermine his new government shorn of Hamas Islamists.
The operation in Nablus indicated that Israel would continue to pursue Fatah militants in the occupied West Bank despite Israeli pledges to bolster the faction's leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, after Hamas seized Gaza two weeks ago. [complete article]
Comment -- That Israel would undermine the sparkling new emergency Palestinian government -- goodness me, it's unthinkable, unimaginable; at least if you're trying to pretend to be the new prime minister. Legal expert: White House stonewalling may force Congress to charge president with criminal offenses
By David Edwards and Muriel Kane, Raw Story, June 27, 2007
Keith Olbermann announced on Wednesday's Countdown that the White House is refusing on grounds of executive privilege to honor Senate subpoenas and release documents relating to its warrantless wiretapping. In addition, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, has sent a letter to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) saying Cheney's office will not comply with oversight by the National Archives because it is not "an agency."
Olbermann then turned to law professor Joanathan Turley, who agreed tentatively that the administration might move slowly enough to "run out the clock" on its time in office. "But there is one thing that might concern them about the court," Turley said, "and that is, you know, for many years, since we first found out about this program, some of us have said that this was a clearly criminal act that the president called for. ... If we're right, not only did he order that crime, but it would be, in fact, an impeachable offense." [complete article] Bush won't supply subpoenaed documents
By William Branigin and Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, June 28, 2007
The White House said today it would not comply with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony relating to the firings of federal prosecutors last year, setting up a potential constitutional confrontation over its claim of executive privilege.
In a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, President Bush's counsel, Fred F. Fielding, said the White House refuses to turn over documents that were subpoenaed by the two committees on June 13. The deadline for handing over most of them was today. [complete article] Report: 'shadow goverment' of private contractors explodes under Bush
Think Progress, June 27, 2007
A new report by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concludes that, under the Bush administration, the "shadow government of private companies working under federal contract has exploded in size. Between 2000 and 2005, procurement spending increased by over $175 billion dollars, making federal contracts the fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending." [complete article] World crisis of confidence in Bush
By Tom Baldwin, The Times, June 28, 2007
Global trust in America has plummeted over the past five years during President Bush's war on terror, according to the world's most comprehensive poll of international opinion.
The Pew Institute's survey of 45,239 people across 47 nations showed that the image of the US suffered a sharp drop among traditional allies in the West, including Britain, as well as substantial decline in Latin America, Eastern Europe, China and the Middle East.
Mr Bush sought to reach out to Muslims yesterday with a speech at Washington's Islamic Centre in which he expressed despair over how the Middle East "became an incubator for terrorism". "We need to rally the voices of Muslims who can speak most directly to millions in the Arab world left behind in the global movement towards prosperity and freedom," he said. "I have invested the heart of my presidency in helping Muslims fight terrorism and claim their liberty."
But the Pew Global Attitudes study, published yesterday, showed that there was a global crisis of confidence over Mr Bush's handling of world affairs among Middle East Muslims, many of whom expressed more faith in Osama bin Laden. [complete article] Leaving no tracks
By Jo Becker and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, June 27, 2007
Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the 19th-ranking Interior Department official, arrived at her desk in Room 6140 a few months after Inauguration Day 2001. A phone message awaited her.
"This is Dick Cheney," said the man on her voice mail, Wooldridge recalled in an interview. "I understand you are the person handling this Klamath situation. Please call me at -- hmm, I guess I don't know my own number. I'm over at the White House."
Wooldridge wrote off the message as a prank. It was not. Cheney had reached far down the chain of command, on so unexpected a point of vice presidential concern, because he had spotted a political threat arriving on Wooldridge's desk.
In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.
Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.
First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.
Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River. [complete article]
Comment -- Everyone likes to say that opinion polls prove nothing, but to my mind, they are invariably constrained by the fact that pollsters prefer to ask dumb questions, like, "Do you think it's important to defend America?"
Since the real polls don't ask the questions I'd like answered, I have to conduct imaginary polls and then guess how they would be answered. For instance, I'd like to show photographs of ten internationally-known individuals including Dick Cheney and Osama bin Laden to a random sample of Americans and then ask, "Which, if any, among these individuals best fits the description, 'the personification of evil'?"
Five years ago, there would have been no contest, but I have a feeling that the vice president would now be a strong contender. Indeed, if the question was further refined by excluding religious connotations attached to the concept of "evil" so that it was understood strictly to mean "that which causes harm, misfortune, or destruction," then who could dispute that Dick Cheney, well-intentioned as he may on occasions be, has over the last seven years acted as an evil force in the world? Lugar calls for withdrawal, opens door for other Republicans
By Renee Schoof and Margaret Talev, McClatchy , June 26, 2007
Some Senate Republicans are suddenly pushing the White House to begin withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq, apparently deciding that they can't wait for a September report to call for changing course.
A day after Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, bluntly declared that President Bush's Iraq plan isn't working and called for withdrawing most American forces, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he was writing Bush on Tuesday to urge him to embrace a Plan E (for exit).
Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Lugar's comments would carry weight with fellow Republicans. [complete article]
See also, Centrists finally give up on Iraq (Joe Conason). Marty blasts CIA jail silence, says truth will out
By Gilbert Reilhac, Reuters, June 27, 2007
European governments have built a "wall of silence" surrounding their complicity with a CIA program that included holding terrorist suspects in secret jails, a Swiss investigator said on Wednesday.
But Dick Marty said he was certain the truth about alleged CIA abuses, including kidnappings and secret transfers of detainees, would emerge before long in the United States itself.
"State secrecy is unacceptable when there are violations of human rights," Marty told the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights forum. [complete article]
Comment -- If the CIA shared responsibility for a massive intelligence failure six years ago, it has since demonstrated an extraordinary talent for damage control. Even while its operatives have been on the frontlines applying the administration's national security policies through a global program involving torture and kidnapping, the agency has successfully cast itself as a seemingly innocent pawn that got forced to act against its better judgement by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush. But as those CIA officers who are now fugitives know only too well, "I was just following orders" is never an adequate justification for criminal actions. Files on illegal spying show CIA skeletons from Cold War
By Mark Mazzetti and Tim Weiner, New York Times, June 27, 2007
Long-secret documents released Tuesday provide new details about how the Central Intelligence Agency illegally spied on Americans decades ago, including trying to bug a Las Vegas hotel room for evidence of infidelity and tracking down an expert lock-picker for a Watergate conspirator.
Known inside the agency as the "family jewels," the 702 pages of documents released Tuesday catalog domestic wiretapping operations, failed assassination plots, mind-control experiments and spying on journalists from the early years of the C.I.A.
The papers provide evidence of paranoia and occasional incompetence as the agency began a string of illegal spying operations in the 1960s and 1970s, often to hunt links between Communist governments and the domestic protests that roiled the nation in that period. [complete article] Warnings from Gaza
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 26, 2007
The warning from Gaza is that the West is losing World War IV (the Cold War being WW3) -- at least that's how Newt Gingrich reads the current situation. And he's in no doubt where blame for this crisis rests. "The source of failure," he says, "is not to be found in the American people but in the inarticulate and unimaginative leaders all across government who now preside instead of lead."
"Inarticulateness" is something that clearly vexes Gingrich, so he's eager to articulate his own vision of the predicament facing the world and suggest how it can be solved. (He recently conceded that if current GOP presidential candidates take up his ideas, he won't need to run for president.)
According to Newt, if the West is going to defeat its enemies, this is what it will need to do:
"First, terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah will have to be rooted out and destroyed."
"Root out and destroy" is a testosterone-laced phrase that has become standard in the rhetoric of the post 9/11 era, though it's not clear how this type of formulation adds substance to the "new energy, new drive and new determination" that Gingrich is trying to awaken. But let's take him at his word and try to imagine what the former Speaker is actually suggesting.
If "root out and destroy" is just a figure of speech then it could mean efforts to "decapitate the leadership" of these organizations. ("Decapitate" is of course also a figure of speech since civilized nations prefer to incinerate their enemies in a missile blast.) But the Israelis tried this. They assassinated Hamas' spiritual leader, Sheikh Yassin, along with numerous other Hamas leaders, and yet Hamas itself has not been destroyed.
Newt Gingrich is a tough-minded, no-nonsense guy who speaks his mind and so when he recommends that Hamas and Hezbollah -- organizations whose ranks include tens of thousands of men and women -- must be destroyed, it's worth trying to understand exactly what this would mean. Israel knows that assassinations aren't enough and last summer in their effort to root out and destroy Hezbollah they also found that carpet bombing wasn't enough, so what are we actually talking about? Rounding up tens of thousands of Muslims and shipping them off to mass prison camps where they can either be "re-educated" or permanently interned? (Again, keep in mind that Israel already holds thousands of Palestinians in detention many of whom have neither been charged or convicted of any crime.)
Gingrich says it's time to stop "propping up corrupt dictatorships" and he favors instead "direct people-to-people help, securing private-property rights [though presumably no 'right of return'] and direct financial assistance so we can improve their families' lives and they can be empowered to defend their neighborhoods from evil men." All well and good, except it's hard to understand how this can be done for a people who are also being deprived of the right to have their own state or operate their own government. Then again, Gingrich did say "neighborhoods." Maybe he thinks that Palestinian aspirations for self-governance could be accomplished through Palestinian townships rather than a state?
Third, the U.N. camp system of socialism with unearned anti-humanitarian charity has to be replaced with a totally new system of earned income and earned property rights to restore dignity and hope to every Palestinian.It's hard to picture Mahmoud Abbas as the enforcer for this Contract with the Palestinians. It would require the muscle of a tough Palestinian leader who knows how to whip his people into shape. Mohammad Dahlan is, in the eyes of Washington, such a man.
But there's a problem -- beyond the fact that Dahlan is despised by so many Palestinians. There are suggestions that he and his allies have been working with al Qaida associates. Does this explain why Ayman Al-Zawahri this week made an implausible expression of solidarity with Hamas? And why the White House followed with an altogether redundant caution that Hamas not provide al Qaeda with a safe haven?
Only two months ago al Qaeda was saying that Hamas had betrayed God and the Palestinian people and was indeed "part of the conspiracy against the Palestinians." For Zawahri to now speak up in support of Hamas, irrespective of his intentions, must -- for Hamas' opponents -- seem like a timely intervention. It reinforces an article of faith that rests behind Newt Gingrich's World-War rhetoric: the idea that Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other groups less well-known, collectively constitute a global confederation of Islamic extremists.
Nevertheless, there is a real warning from Gaza that should be taken seriously in Israel and Washington. Zawahri surely knows that Hamas' leaders have no interest in an alliance. His appeal is an effort to split the ranks and call out to those who were always skeptical about Hamas entering the democratic process.
If al Qaeda affiliated groups now find a foothold in Gaza it won't be because Hamas provided them with a safe haven. It will be because the message from the West came across only too loud and clear: Islamists -- even those who have demonstrated a desire and aptitude to engage in democracy -- are not welcome in the democratic system. Report: Top official recommends halting arrests of Fatah militants
Haaretz, June 26, 2007
A senior Israeli official Tuesday was quoted as saying that Israel should consider revising its policy of arresting wanted Fatah militants if Fatah stops receiving funding from Iran and refrains from attacking Israel.
Israel Radio reported that the official said Fatah's militants, including the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, have become the most resolute armed force in the struggle against Hamas.
The official said that Israel should consider a policy change that would enable wanted Fatah militants to come out of hiding and openly join the ranks of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' security forces. [complete article]
Comment -- So while Hamas has an interest in reining in Islamic Jihad, there are officials in Israel who'd like to unleash the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades even though they are designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., E.U., Canada, Japan, and Israel itself. The real Iraq debate
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, June 26, 2007
In one of its inaugural reports, CNAS suggests reducing the American presence in Iraq by 100,000 troops between now and the beginning of 2009. But it would keep 60,000 troops in Iraq for four years beyond that, not only to train the army but also to work with "tribal, local and provincial leaders" who are fighting al-Qaeda.
It is not clear to me that a lengthy commitment of that sort is either possible or desirable. But the report, written by James Miller and Shawn Brimley, has the virtue of defining three sensible goals for American policy: to prevent the establishment of al-Qaeda havens in Iraq; to prevent a regional war; and to prevent genocide. Miller defines the right objective for those who want to end the war: "There should be a much better plan for withdrawal than there was for entry." Indeed. [complete article]
See also, Lugar urges Bush to change course soon in Iraq (CNN).
Comment -- In other words, the goal of American policy in Iraq should be to attempt to make it as safe as it was under Saddam. Thinktank berates Iraq policy and warns of country's collapse
By Ian Black, The Guardian, June 25, 2007
Iraq can only survive if a functional and legitimate state is rebuilt from the ruins of war and occupation, drawing on the lessons of the collapse of British-ruled Basra, an influential thinktank warns today.
Overall, says the International Crisis Group, it is not enough just to resolve the confrontation between Sunni Arabs, Shia and Kurds. And if the US and Britain continue backing the same Shia political actors, the likely outcome will be the country's break-up into myriad fiefdoms. "Far from building a new state," their Iraqi partners "are tirelessly working to tear it down". [complete article] Report blasts U.S. for failures in fighting terrorism
CNN, June 25, 2007
A just-released report slams the federal government for failing to coordinate the work of U.S. law enforcement agencies overseas to fight terrorism.
The Government Accountability Office found that in one country a lack of clarity about the roles and responsibilities of the FBI and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency may have compromised several investigations intended to identify and disrupt potential terrorist activities. [complete article] Don't privatize our spies
By Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times, June 26, 2007
Shortly after 9/11, Senator Bob Graham, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for "a symbiotic relationship between the intelligence community and the private sector." They say you should be careful what you wish for.
In the intervening years a huge espionage-industrial complex has developed, as government spymasters outsourced everything from designing surveillance technology to managing case officers overseas. Today less than half of the staff at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington are actual government employees, The Los Angeles Times reports; at the C.I.A. station in Islamabad, Pakistan, contractors sometimes outnumber employees by three to one.
So just how much of the intelligence budget goes to private contracts? Because that budget is highly classified, and many intelligence contracts are allocated without oversight or competitive bidding, it seemed we would never know. Until last month, that is: a procurement executive from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence gave a PowerPoint presentation at a conference in Colorado and let slip a staggering statistic -- private contracts now account for 70 percent of the intelligence budget. [complete article] A strong push from backstage
By Jo Becker and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, June 26, 2007
It is well known that Cheney is usually the last to speak to the president before Bush makes a decision. Less so is his role, to a degree unmatched by his predecessors, in steering debate by weighing in at the lower-level meetings where proposals are born and die.
Cheney, Bolten said, is a vocal participant at a weekly luncheon meeting of Bush's economic team, which gathers without the president. As the most senior official in the room, Cheney receives great deference from Bush's advisers.
Wise officials vet their proposals in advance. White House budget director Rob Portman, for instance, sought Cheney's counsel as he was putting together the budget for the upcoming year, using him as a "sounding board" on issues as varied as defense spending and tax reform.
"He never, ever has said to me, 'Do this.' Never. Which is interesting, because that might be the perception of how he operates," Portman said. "But it is 'What do you think of this?' Well, he's the vice president of the United States -- and obviously I'm interested in his point of view."
Perhaps more important than Cheney's influence in pushing policies is his power to stop them before they reach the Oval Office.
When Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, broached the idea of limiting the popular mortgage tax deduction, he said he quickly dropped it after Cheney told him it would never fly with Congress. "He's a big timesaver for us in that he takes off the table a lot of things he knows aren't going to go anywhere," Lazear said.
Lazear, who is otherwise known as a fierce advocate for his views, said that he may argue a point with Cheney "for 10 minutes or so" but that in the end he is always convinced. "I can't think of a time when I have thought I was right and the vice president was wrong." [complete article] Olmert's summit gesture to Abbas was more insult than overture
Editorial, Daily Star, June 26, 2007
Israeli officials worked hard to play down expectations ahead of Monday's four-way summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert worked just as hard to meet them by sharply limiting what were unconvincingly advertised as his efforts to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II on hand to lend credibility as Arab "moderates," the best Olmert had to offer was a commitment to put a proposal before his Cabinet to free 250 members of Abbas' Fatah faction held in Israeli jails.
Given the fact that approximately 10,000 Palestinians - including hundreds of women and children - are currently languishing in Israeli custody, many of them without charge, no one should be fooled into thinking that Olmert is serious about peace.
It is true that Olmert's domestic political position is a weak one, but that is because of past failures to understand the direct causal relationship between his country's continued occupation of Arab land and his people's inability to live in peace and security. He will not, therefore, improve his dismal performance in opinion surveys by subjecting Palestinians (and other Arabs) to the insulting spectacle of tangential "concessions" that would be hollow even if he made good on them. On the contrary, by refusing to accept the evidence of the past 40 years that the Arabs will not be beaten into submission, he can only guarantee further conflict.
As Abdullah has repeatedly warned, the time to make a full and fair peace is not limitless. The longer Israel substitutes brute force for diplomacy, disguises insult as overture, and treats would-be interlocutors like lesser beings entitled to fewer rights, the more it weakens those Palestinians and other Arabs who believe in a negotiated solution. By refusing to abide by international law and plain common sense, the Jewish state has consistently reduced the number of those willing to risk their credibility by working with it diplomatically.
Now Olmert has only made matters worse, and at precisely the wrong moment. Abbas needed desperately to show that his strategy of engagement has a better chance of achieving Palestinian statehood than the confrontation recommended by his rivals from Hamas. He needed to come home with a trophy for his championing of a two-state solution arrived at by mutual agreement, some kind of evidence that Israel's leaders finally see the errors of their ways. Instead, Abbas returned with a flimsy Israeli undertaking to pursue an almost meaningless gesture. As a result, the Palestinian people received only confirmation that Olmert views their flexibility as weakness, their patience as gullibility, and their suffering as irrelevant. How much longer can this continue before they, in turn, conclude that negotiation with the Jewish state is a fool's errand that can only end in additional frustration and heartache? [complete article]
See also, Hamas is 'ready to talk' to Fatah (BBC). Bombing strikes at Iraqi sheiks allied to U.S.
By John Elsen, New York Times, June 25, 2007
A suicide bomber assassinated several Sunni Aran sheiks who were cooperating with Americans to fight Al Qaeda.
Witnesses said the bomber sneaked through security checkpoints, strode into the lobby of a large Baghdad hotel and ignited an explosive belt just before lunchtime on Monday. The blast killed a dozen people, including four sheiks drinking tea and discussing how to reconcile hostile Sunni and Shiite factions in Anbar Province.
The bombing struck the heart of one of the rare bright spots for the American military. Just last year some senior military officers had all but given up on Anbar, a sprawling western province. But Sunni sheiks banded together to fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and provide young men for the police, bringing a significant turnabout. Anbar has enabled the American military to claim some success in its long-held ambition of splitting Sunnis away from the sway of Al Qaeda. [complete article] Pushing the envelope on presidential power
By Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, Washington Post, June 25, 2007
Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney's lawyer, who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby. The meeting marked "the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up" among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. "The CIA guys said, 'We're going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'" if interrogators confined themselves to humane techniques allowed by the Geneva Conventions.
From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive's will to resist. The vice president's office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion of prisoners in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials.
Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a novel distinction between forbidden "torture" and permitted use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" methods of questioning. They did not originate every idea to rewrite or reinterpret the law, but fresh accounts from participants show that they translated muscular theories, from Yoo and others, into the operational language of government.
A backlash beginning in 2004, after reports of abuse leaked out of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay, brought what appeared to be sharp reversals in courts and Congress -- for both Cheney's claims of executive supremacy and his unyielding defense of what he called "robust interrogation."
But a more careful look at the results suggests that Cheney won far more than he lost. Many of the harsh measures he championed, and some of the broadest principles undergirding them, have survived intact but out of public view. [complete article] Neo-cons spinning hearts and minds
By Khody Akhavi, IPS, June 24, 2007
As the George W. Bush administration struggles through its last two years in office, it appears that the agenda of neoconservative ideologues has finally lost its appeal among strategic parts of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus.
But as their influence has waned at the Pentagon and State Department, neo-conservative hawks have taken charge on the battlefield of public diplomacy.
Intent on fixing what American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow Joshua Muravchik termed Bush's "public diplomacy mess," right-wing hawks have gained control of the weapons in the "war of ideas" -- U.S. government-funded and supported media outlets such as Voice of America (VOA), Al-Hurra, and Radio Farda, which broadcast to the Middle East and aim to offer an alternative view of the news. [complete article] Poll: More Than 4 in 10 Americans still believe Saddam involved with 9/11
E&P, June 25, 2007
Nearly six years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., better than 4 in 10 Americans still wrongly believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in planning or carrying out the actions. Surprisingly, that number has even risen in the past two years, according to a Newsweek poll. [complete article]
Comment -- Now if the pollsters had wanted to make this a bit more interesting, they should have asked how many of these 4 in 10 are also among the 6 in 10 Americans who think the world was created in six days. Cracks in the anti-Hamas facade
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 25, 2007
In the fashion that has come to exemplify its strategic and tactical ineptitude, the Bush Administration has responded to Hamas's ouster of Fatah security forces from Gaza by madly rushing to cobble together an anti-Hamas alliance through a series of high profile gestures -- the high-point of which was Monday's Sharm el-Sheikh summit between the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Palestinian Authoirity president Mahmoud Abbas. The purpose is for these parties to demonstrate their common resolve to strengthen President Abbas in the face of the challenge from Hamas. The U.S. made sure that Israel showed up with some concrete offers of "help" for Abbas, while the Arab states signaling their support for the Fatah leader -- and the idea that gathering this crowd around a table would give some impetus to restarting talks towards a final-status peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians — would leave Hamas isolated and weakened.
But to anyone paying even cursory attention, the fault line that runs through the middle of this plan is patently obvious: Bluntly put, Israel and the U.S. on the one hand, and the Arab regimes and Fatah on the other, want very different outcomes in the Palestinian territories, and bringing them together in this way only highlights those differences. [complete article]
See also, Dagmoush jumpy after Hamas threats (The Times), Abducted BBC reporter pleads for talks (AP), Olmert at Sharm summit: Israel to free 250 Fatah prisoners (Haaretz), Hamas airs 'first Shalit message' (BBC), and Aid trickles into Gaza but basic shortages grow (Reuters). Blair set for Mideast envoy role
By James Blitz, Financial Times, June 24, 2007
Tony Blair's appointment as an international envoy for the Middle East looks set to be formally agreed on Tuesday -- a day before he leaves office -- amid signs that the move is causing deep unease in some quarters.
Representatives of the four parties that comprise the "Quartet" on the Middle East – the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States –- will gather in Jerusalem on Tuesday at a specially convened meeting that will confirm Mr Blair as the Quartet's new envoy, the FT has learnt.
"Blair's appointment has been 150 per cent approved," said a figure close to negotiations over his new role. "The Jerusalem meeting is all about arranging logistics, making final arrangements and getting the announcement out." [complete article] The rise and rise of Robert Gates
By Roger Morris, TomDispatch, June 25, 2007
...seven months into his tenure at the Pentagon, he has brought to bear his long-honed bureaucratic infighting skills, at every opportunity replacing senior commanders associated with Don Rumsfeld with his own choices from the military bureaucracy. He's brought with him as well his own rhetoric and style which, in any other Washington, would be unexceptional, but in the angry wake of Rumsfeld, seems somehow encouragingly fresh and benevolent.
Some who know the record, or at least part of it, see him now as Gates Unbound -- the bureaucrat, if not sycophant, as his own man at last. He is looked to longingly by an unnerved, older-line Washington establishment as the man who might bring a wayward regime back to its senses. Never mind genuine sensibility about the world of the twenty-first century; what's at stake now is just surviving the Bush era.
The challenges facing him, of course, involve far more than simply damage control (as if he were back at Texas A & M dealing, as he did, with the unfortunate aftermath of a traditional bonfire that got out of hand and killed some of the faithful). After Rumsfeld, but also after nearly half-a-century of high-tech decadence, America's cannibalized military may well be at its lowest point ever; while, in Gabriel Kolko's simple, if memorable, observation, the United States now faces the "most dangerous period in mankind's entire history." [complete article]
See also, part one in this three-part series, Robert Gates and the tortured world of American intelligence, and part two, The CIA and the politics of counterrevolution. Fatah vows to wipe Hamas from West Bank
By Charles Levinson, Sunday Telegraph, June 24, 2007
In the past week, Hamas-controlled city councils, including that in Nablus, have been disbanded by decree of militant Fatah members.
Hundreds of Hamas activists have been rounded up - some arrested by official Palestinian security services, others bundled off by shadowy militias. Masked gunmen kidnapped Ahmed al-Khaldi, the justice minister in the Hamas-dominated government, as he left a mosque after prayers in Nablus on Friday.
Also on Friday, Mr Abbas ordered a review of all private organisations and businesses in the Palestinian territories ahead of an even broader crackdown on Hamas-affiliated groups. Dozens of Hamas-run charities, businesses and political offices have been set on fire at night. [complete article]
See also, Olmert aide: Israel not willing to enter into talks on final peace deal with Palestinians (AP), and Israel frees funds for Abbas (Reuters).
Comment -- The campaign against Hamas appears to be carefully coordinated. Paralleling the ground attack from Fatah militants in the West Bank, a full-blown media campaign is also underway in which Hamas is being accused of being a puppet of Iran; that it has an arsenal of rockets poised to strike Israel; and that it is planning suicide attacks on Israel. Although this campaign is clearly intended to isolate, undermine, and vilify Hamas, observers such as Marc Lynch, see a parallel with last summer's efforts to challenge Hezbollah. Regimes such as those in Egypt and Jordan who are clearly threatened by their own domestic Islamist movements, naturally want to demonize Hamas. Even so, early indications are that the wider audience in the Middle East isn't buying the US-Israeli-dictators' narrative. For instance, an al-Qabas survey indicates that 65% of Kuwaitis believe that Hamas, not Fatah, is the legitimate government of Palestine. At the same time, the sheer speed and efficiency with which a single narrative is being delivered by the Israeli and Arab government-approved media (and widely echoed in the Western media) suggests that everyone is being provided with the same talking points.
The fact remains, it is Hamas that continues to reach out to Fatah in search of political reconciliation, while Fatah finds its closest friends in Israel and Washington. In as much as the Palestinian cause has come to symbolize the political hopes of Muslims across the Middle East, however much Ehud Olmert or George Bush might praise Mahmoud Abbas, he will surely be known by the friends he keeps. On the other hand, the more stridently Hamas is criticized by its enemies, the more its reputation as a popular movement is likely to rise.
Hamas war chief reveals his plans for Gaza peace
By Mitchell Prothero, The Observer, June 24, 2007
At the height of the fighting 10 days ago in Gaza City, the commander of the Hamas militants laying siege to the Palestinian Authority compound received a call from his Fatah counterpart inside. 'He asked if we were going to invade and take the building,' said Abu Obieda, the top Hamas military commander for the Gaza Strip. 'He said if we entered his compound, he would kill himself.'
'Abu Obieda begged him not to commit such a sin,' interjected Abu Khalid, one of his lieutenants. 'He promised him that he and all of his men would be protected if they just surrendered. And finally they did. And all of them are still alive and free in their homes.'
Fatah officials in Gaza confirm the story but asked that the commander not be identified for fear of shaming him.
In a unique interview, Abu Obieda - not to be confused with the man of the same name who acts as a Hamas spokesman - agreed to meet The Observer to discuss the conflict that has left scores dead in Gaza over the past few weeks. Abu Obieda commands the Izzidine Qassam Brigades, the elite and secretive military branch of Hamas, and spends very little time in one place for fear of Israeli assassination. We met in an office in one of the many formerly Fatah-controlled security compounds now controlled by the Hamas Executive Force, which is now acting as public police and security. Qassam fighters also use them while maintaining a low profile during elite operations against the Israelis.
On arrival, Qassam fighters removed my mobile phones and electronic equipment but set no conditions on the interview. 'The Fatah men we fought are not my enemy,' said Abu Obieda. 'They are just soldiers like any of us here in this room. The decisions they had to follow came from outside of Gaza: from Ramallah, from the Israelis, from America. I do not hate the men of Fatah; they are our brothers.'
Abu Obieda sees the fighting as a failure by the Palestinian people on both sides of the political divide. 'We are not happy,' he said. 'I am not proud to have defeated and killed the men of Fatah. This is a shame on all Palestinians because we love each other.'
The problem, he explained, was a corrupt security regime led by the Fatah security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, who had led repeated attacks, arrests and executions of Hamas members over the past decade. Despite February's formation of a unity government of the two factions, Abu Obieda knew war between the two would come. He started planning even as the leaders tried to negotiate peace. [complete article] 'A different understanding with the president'
By Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, Washington Post, June 24, 2007
Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch.
In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, according to witnesses, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. When it returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text.
Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions."
"What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part.
The episode was a defining moment in Cheney's tenure as the 46th vice president of the United States, a post the Constitution left all but devoid of formal authority.
See also, Bush claims oversight exemption too (LAT), and The method to Cheney's madness (Dan Froomkin).
Comment -- Barton Gellman and Jo Becker claim that, "Cheney is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore," but then they go on to report that, "Before the president casts the only vote that counts, the final words of counsel nearly always come from Cheney."
This report describes how Cheney sought and Bush approved:
a mandate that gave him access to "every table and every meeting," making his voice heard in "whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in," Bolten said.If Cheney is not a "shadow president" it is simply because the term is inadequate. The breadth of power he has sought and often been able to exercise is, in a word, tyrannical. Fleeing our responsibility
By Julia Taft, Washington Post, June 24, 2007
Last month an Iraqi couple working for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad were kidnapped and executed. Their deaths were not acknowledged by the State Department, and the media made little mention of the murders. They are among the most recent of thousands of cases in which Iraqis affiliated with the United States have been forced into hiding, tortured or, often, killed.
I found myself thinking of this husband and wife last week, as World Refugee Day passed, and struggling with a terrible contradiction. The United States is the world's most generous contributor to refugee relief, and we have always taken the lead on resettling refugees. Yet our country has done the bare minimum to help these Iraqis facing death and exile. Instead of clearing the way for their resettlement, we have blocked their path to safety with bureaucratic barriers and political hurdles. [complete article]
'50,000 Iraqi refugees' forced into prostitution
By Nihal Hassan, The Independent, June 24, 2007
There are more than a million Iraqi refugees in Syria, many are women whose husbands or fathers have been killed. Banned from working legally, they have few options outside the sex trade. No one knows how many end up as prostitutes, but Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi women's group Women's Will, puts the figure at 50,000. [complete article] Partition may be the only solution
Journalists in discussion, The Guardian, June 23, 2007
Ghaith Abdul Ahad: As an Iraqi I go anywhere (not only in Iraq, but also in the Middle East), the first thing people ask me is: "Are you a Sunni or a Shia?"
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: So the sectarian genie is out of the bottle. In Iraq there was historical tension between Sunnis and Shias, but also a great deal of accommodation, right? More Sunni/Shia inter-marriages than any other Arab/Muslim country.
Ghaith: Now, an average Iraqi is still in this sort of delusion, and will tell you: "Oh, the Sunnis and the Shias; we've no problem, only militias on the street." But I think the problem we have now on the ground is a civil war. Call it whatever you want, it is a civil war.
Rajiv: We're going to see thousands and thousands more Iraqis killed. Fundamentally these internecine conflicts don't end until both sides' view of their strength is commensurate with their actual strength. [It]'ll never come to any negotiated peaceful settlement until both sides see it in their interest to compromise. And we're not there yet.
Ghaith: On the ground level, at the mid-level of the commanders, [the war] is huge business. I was talking to Sunni insurgents and Shia militiamen, and they told me: "The kidnapping process, you do it in the name of Allah, and religion, and cleansing your town from the Sunni extremists, or Shia militias, or whatever you want to call it. But at the end of the day, every person you kidnap is to get money out of him." They already call it the "spoils of war". It's a booming business. $50,000 a week for a mid-level commander who is kidnapping people inside the city.
This is what I really want to know. The Americans. What's the American psyche? How do they see it in DC?
Rajiv: Both sides in Washington are thoroughly disconnected. I think they both fundamentally misunderstand. The view in the White House is, if you send more troops to Iraq and you take more forceful action against the terrorists and the insurgents ... you'll be able to improve security. And that will then lead the political elites to come together and forge national and political compromise. And once they forge these grand compromises, ordinary Iraqis will put a degree of trust in their government; as a result, violence will attenuate, Iraq will become more stable, you'll have a strong central government.
At the same time, what Democrats say on Capitol Hill is: "We must give a clear timetable. We must tell al-Maliki we will pull out our troops within six months if you don't do X, Y and Z; if you don't pass this legislation; if you don't bring in more personnel into the military and the security forces." Well, when you put a gun to somebody's head like that, I think they will do just the opposite of what you want. Maliki won't bring in more Sunnis into his cabinet. He'll bring in his Shia cronies. He'll circle the wagons, as they would say out west.
Ghaith: Exactly. Everyone knows that at some point the Americans will have to leave, and the Shia will try to take over. [complete article] How can Blair possibly be given this job?
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, June 23, 2007
I suppose that astonishment is not the word for it. Stupefaction comes to mind. I simply could not believe my ears in Beirut when a phone call told me that Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara was going to create "Palestine". I checked the date - no, it was not 1 April - but I remain overwhelmed that this vain, deceitful man, this proven liar, a trumped-up lawyer who has the blood of thousands of Arab men, women and children on his hands is really contemplating being "our" Middle East envoy.
Can this really be true? I had always assumed that Balfour, Sykes and Picot were the epitome of Middle Eastern hubris. But Blair? That this ex-prime minister, this man who took his country into the sands of Iraq, should actually believe that he has a role in the region - he whose own preposterous envoy, Lord Levy, made so many secret trips there to absolutely no avail - is now going to sully his hands (and, I fear, our lives) in the world's last colonial war is simply overwhelming. [complete article]
Doubts over Blair Mideast role
By James Blitz and Sharmila Deviin, Financial Times, June 22, 2007
A US proposal that Tony Blair become a peace envoy for the Middle East has triggered unease in Brussels and elsewhere in the world, amid fears the move could distract from existing efforts to forge reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.
On Wednesday the White House told senior figures at the United Nations it wanted the outgoing British prime minister to represent the Quartet - comprising the US, EU United Nations and Russia.
Diplomats in Brussels and New York have since expressed concern, questioning whether Mr Blair is the right person for the role.
Israel has backed the US move, but in Brussels the proposal is said to have been badly received by Javier Solana, the EU's high representative on foreign policy. [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
What Hamas wants
By Ahmed Yousef, New York Times, June 20, 2007
Hamas acted on a very real fear of a US-sponsored coup
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, June 22, 2007
Exposing the bitter truth of Gaza carnage
By Ed O'Loughlin, The Age, June 23, 2007
The 8 fallacies of Bush's Abbastan plan
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 20, 2007
The Palestinian question: What now?
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, June 18, 2007
'West Bank First': It won't work
By Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller, Washington Post, June 19, 2007
After Rumsfeld, a new dawn?
By Mark Perry, Asia Times, June 18, 2007
The CIA's torture teachers
By Mark Benjamin, Salon, June 21, 2007
The Failed States Index 2007
Foreign Policy, July/August, 2007
How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, June 25, 2007
How war was turned into a brand
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, June 16, 2007
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, June 25, 2007
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