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The future of democracy depends on abandoning the war metaphor
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 3, 2007

If presidential candidates can't come up with some intelligent foreign policy positions, it's time that they followed State Department advice: shut up -- at least for a while.

In just three days we've heard candidates proposing sending troops into Pakistan, using nuclear weapons against al Qaeda, and threatening to bomb Mecca and Medina.

Campaign rhetoric is doing what ought to be impossible: make the Bush administration sound responsible. It is also sending a chilling message to the rest of the world: if you're hoping that George Bush is going to be replaced by a president with a more enlightened view of the world and a more sophisticated approach to politics, don't count on it.

In the latest instance of "precision bombing" gone wrong, women and children are among up to 300 civilians killed in air strikes in the Afghan province of Helmand. How many more times does the West have to be responsible for the indiscriminate killing of innocent people before it acknowledges that this is neither an effective nor legitimate means to counter terrorism?

The so-called "war on terrorism" has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Small wonder that in the Muslim world this war is regarded as a war on Islam. This perception is further reinforced by the fact that Western leaders persist in framing the struggle as one between religious extremists and secular moderates.

In a bold initiative in April, John Edwards posed a challenge to fellow Democratic candidates when he rejected the phrase "war on terror":
"This political language has created a frame that is not accurate and that Bush and his gang have used to justify anything they want to do," Edwards said in a phone interview from Everett, Wash. "It's been used to justify a whole series of things that are not justifiable, ranging from the war in Iraq, to torture, to violation of the civil liberties of Americans, to illegal spying on Americans. Anyone who speaks out against these things is treated as unpatriotic. I also think it suggests that there's a fixed enemy that we can defeat with just a military campaign. I just don't think that's true."
In 2001, the neocons rapturously applauded President Bush's "insight" (triggered by their prompting) that America was at war. What the last six years have demonstrated are the consequences of allowing "war" to become the governing metaphor in national and international affairs.

The inescapable effect of being governed by the war metaphor is that it fosters absolutist expectations. The goal of war is to crush, defeat, and eliminate the enemy.

When Bush declared that we will not discriminate between the terrorists and those who harbor them, he opened the door to a genocidal sentiment. Security analyist, Michael Vlahos notes:
I have had many "Defense World" conversations that have ended with: "the time may come when we will have to kill millions of Muslims," or, "history shows that to win over a people you have to kill at least 10 percent of them, like the Romans" (for comparison, we killed or contributed to the death of about five percent of Japan from 1944-46, while Russia has killed at least eight percent of the Chechen people). Or consider the implications of "Freeper" talk-backs to an article of mine in The American Conservative: "History shows that wars only end with a totally defeated enemy otherwise they go on ... Either Islam or us will quit in total destruction."
Even if the majority of Americans might not believe that America is engaged in a war on Islam, Muslims have solid grounds for thinking otherwise. Images of the dead are not erased by empty rhetoric from American politicians who express their support for "moderate, peaceful Muslims."

If the 2008 presidential elections are to going to open the possibility for a change of lasting political consequence then they should be focused on a campaign between those who support and those who reject the "war" metaphor.

George Bush declared his to be a "war presidency." Because he faced no political challenge in doing so, America blindly submitted itself to being governed by war. The real wars in which the United States is now embroiled were not entered into in response to real acts of war. Terrorists can commit atrocities but they cannot start war; only nations can enter war. Not only the war in Iraq, but also the war on terrorism itself, were wars we embarked on by choice. We didn't choose to be attacked on 9/11 but we did choose to turn a political challenge into a military one.

As Zbigniew Brzezinski eloquently stated in his seminal Washington Post op-ed earlier this year, "Terrorized by 'war on terror'":
The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves.
The 2008 presidential race is still in its early days. There is still time for Democratic candidates to follow John Edward's lead (something they are clearly already eager to do in other ways). But if by the time it comes to election day we have no better choice than between candidates who are competing for the role of "strongest leader in the war on terrorism", we might as well burn our ballot papers rather than vote.
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Blackwater: The rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army
By James Meek, London Review of Books, August 2, 2007

Even in this privatisation-hardened age, even in the United States, the notion that military installations are a monopoly of government remains so ingrained that in 2003, when the Chilean-American arms go-between Jose Miguel Pizarro Ovalle first saw the real-world mercenary processing centre run by the private firm Blackwater in North Carolina, he had to reach for the imagery of Cubby Broccoli. 'It's a private army in the 21st century,' he gushed to Jeremy Scahill.
It was like out of a Dr No movie ... It's a gigantic facility with a military urban terrain. It's a mock city where you can train with real-life ammunition or paintball, with vehicles, with helicopters. Gosh, impressive, very impressive ... I saw people from all over the world training there – civilians, military personnel ... Wow, it was like a private military base.
It is a private military base, spread over seven thousand acres, near the town of Moyock and the Great Dismal Swamp, with firing ranges, tactical exercise areas and an armoury (containing more than a thousand weapons, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the local newspaper, though there is no law preventing Blackwater stocking as many as it wants). There are also the 21st-century equivalent of barracks (convention-style hotel rooms), an office block in which the door handles are fashioned from machine-gun barrels, and a memorial rock garden to the 25 Blackwater employees and one Blackwater dog killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The centrepiece of the memorial is a bronze sculpture of a pensive boy hugging a folded American flag to his breast. Since Pizarro visited (he later recruited hundreds of Chilean mercenaries to work in Iraq for Blackwater, some of them amnestied for their deeds under the Pinochet regime), construction has continued apace. Blackwater is building a 6000-foot airstrip and facilities to house its aviation wing of 20 transport planes and helicopters, as well as a large hangar for the construction of airships and a plant to make an armoured vehicle called the Grizzly.
[The founder and owner of Blackwater, Erik] Prince -- who declined to be interviewed by Scahill for his book -- set up Blackwater in 1998 with the stated aim of offering bespoke firearms training to government agencies. Al Clark, an early mentor of Prince's in the navy who collaborated with him in establishing the centre, told Scahill that the concept had, in fact, been his, and added: 'One of the things that started happening was Erik wanted it to be a playground for his rich friends.' One of the other things that started happening, however, was that each time there was a terrible event in which large numbers of people were killed, Erik Prince saw a way to apply guns to the problem, and so to make money. After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Blackwater built a mocked-up high school for police SWAT teams to practise in. It was called R U Ready High. Loudspeakers relayed a soundtrack of students screaming. It was a commercial success (though more than 70 students and teachers have died in shootings at American schools and colleges since). When Arab jihadis in a fibreglass fishing boat nearly sank the guided-missile destroyer Cole in Aden in 2000, Blackwater won a $35.7 million contract from the US Navy to train sailors to defend their Cold War behemoths with small-calibre weapons.

But it was the al-Qaida attacks of 11 September 2001, and the subsequent US intervention in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq, that turned the taxpayer cash flow from a dribble to a high-pressure jet of dollars. It also gave Blackwater the chance to transform itself from a company that trained government employees to shoot into a company that supplied its own, private shooters for service anywhere in the world. The colloquial term is 'mercenary' -- one who fights for money. Practitioners prefer the cleaner-sounding acronym 'PMC', or private military contractor. Which means the same thing. [complete article]
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Clinton demurs on Obama's nuclear stance
By Anne E. Kornblut, Washington Post, August 3, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton drew another distinction between herself and Sen. Barack Obama yesterday, refusing to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against Osama bin Laden or other terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Clinton's comments came in response to Obama's remarks earlier in the day that nuclear weapons are "not on the table" in dealing with ungoverned territories in the two countries, and they continued a steady tug of war among the Democratic presidential candidates over foreign policy. [complete article]

Comment -- Obama's ready to launch attacks on Pakistan and Clinton's ready to use nuclear weapons. The GOP has to be loving this.
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Good news from Baghdad at last: the oil law has stalled
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, August 3, 2007

Glad tidings from Baghdad at last. The Iraqi parliament has gone into summer recess without passing the oil law that Washington was pressing it to adopt. For the Bush administration this is irritating, since passage of the law was billed as a "benchmark" in its battle to get Congress not to set a timetable for US troop withdrawals. The political hoops through which the government of Nouri al-Maliki has been asked to jump were meant to be a companion piece to the US "surge". Just as General David Petraeus, the current US commander, is due to give his report on military progress next month, George Bush is supposed to tell Congress in mid-September how the Maliki government is moving forward on reform.

The signs are that, on both fronts, the administration will carry on playing for time. Bush and his officials are already suggesting they will maintain the surge for another year, and that Petraeus's report will merely be an interim score card. It will not use the fateful Vietnam-era language of light at the end of the tunnel, but it will say progress is under way and therefore more congressional patience is needed. [complete article]
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Maliki's impact blunted by own party's fears
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, August 3, 2007

As the U.S. military attempts to pacify Iraq so its leaders can pursue political reconciliation, Iraqi and Western observers say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his inner circle appear increasingly unable to pull the government out of its paralysis.

At times consumed by conspiracy theories, Maliki and his Dawa party elite operate much as they did when they plotted to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- covertly and concerned more about their community's survival than with building consensus among Iraq's warring groups, say Iraqi politicians and analysts and Western diplomats.

In recent weeks, those suspicions have deepened as U.S. military commanders have begun to work with Sunni insurgents, longtime foes of the Shiite-led government, who have agreed to battle the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"The level of mutual trust is so low that you really have to not just rebuild trust, you have to build trust in the first place, and that is still very much a work in progress right now," said Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the top U.N. envoy to Iraq. [complete article]
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Tillman tribulations
By Kay Steiger, The American Prospect, August 2, 2007

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is one of the many administration officials benefiting from the "I do not recall" defense. On Wednesday, as Congress rushed to finish the summer session before the August break, the House Oversight Committee gathered to question Rumsfeld and three high-level generals about Corporal Patrick Tillman's death.

After more than three years and six separate investigations (the most recent of which concluded Tuesday) within the Army and the Department of Defense, the story that Tillman died as the result of valor against the enemy changed to a story that he was the victim of fratricide. Now, no one is quite sure about the circumstances surrounding Tillman's death. His mother, Mary Tillman, said in an interview with National Public Radio, "They could have told us the truth. And if they didn't want to tell us the truth, they could have said that we don't know, we're doing an investigation. But what they did is they made up a story."

In the latest investigation report released this week, that there's some evidence suggesting that Tillman's death in Afghanistan may not have even been accidental. Army medical examiners said the three bullet holes in his forehead appear to have been fired from an M-16 about 10 feet away. At that distance, it would be nearly impossible to mistake Tillman for anything other than a fellow officer. His fellow soldier, Spc. Bryan O'Neal, is reported to have testified that he heard Tillman say, "Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat fucking Tillman, damn it!" many times during the conflict. [complete article]
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The rendition of Abu Omar
By John Foot, London Review of Books, August 2, 2007

On 17 February 2003, a 39-year-old Egyptian man was walking down a quiet street in suburban Milan on his way to daily prayers. His real name was Osama Nasr, but he was known as Abu Omar. He was a cleric and political militant, an opponent of the Mubarak regime, and had refugee status in Italy (which is very hard to get). A man in police uniform came up to him and asked in Italian to see his documents. As he reached for his passport, Omar was bundled into a white van and driven away at high speed. He was threatened, blindfolded, bound hand and foot, punched, forced onto the floor of the van, and taken to the US air base at Aviano near Brescia – about five hours' drive away. The next day, he was put on a plane to Ramstein in Germany, where he boarded another plane, this time for Egypt. Journalists and Milanese magistrates investigating the case later discovered that Omar had been transferred to Cairo on a Gulfstream jet used for CIA operations.

Omar was taken to the Torah prison compound in Cairo, where he was tortured. He was stripped and placed in a room 'so cold it felt that my bones would snap', then moved to a boiling hot cell. Electric shocks were applied to his whole body – afterwards he found it difficult to walk. This went on for more than a year. In April 2004 he was released, with the proviso that he keep quiet about what had happened to him. Omar, however, phoned his wife and friends in Milan. They had had no idea whether or not he was still alive. Omar was worried and cagey, but confirmed that he had been kidnapped. This was too much for the Egyptians, who were probably tapping his phone. They immediately arrested him and sent him back to prison in Cairo. In November last year, an 11-page document written by Omar somehow reached magistrates in Milan and journalists on the Corriere della Sera. 'I am writing this ... from the inside of my tomb. I have lost weight ... my condition is critical ... my face has changed thanks to the tortures I have received ... cockroaches and rats walk over my body ... my hair and my beard have become white ... I have lost my hearing in one ear.' On 11 February this year Omar was finally released, but remains in Egypt.

Thanks to the policy of 'extraordinary rendition' hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been treated like Omar, taken across national borders to various kinds of prison, secret and otherwise, with the full knowledge of the Bush administration. The Omar case is different in two important respects. First, he had refugee status in Italy, on the grounds that he would be ill-treated if he returned to Egypt. And second, a great deal is now known about this rendition. [complete article]
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Empty-hearted secularism
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, August 2, 2007

Modern Turkey has never experienced as extended a period of stability and economic growth as it has under the last government. This government was led by the Justice and Development Party, which just scored another major electoral triumph in the Turkish general elections. In its victory speeches, the Islamist party pledged to safeguard the constitution of Turkey's secular republic. As I recall, in the trial over the murder of the Egyptian writer Farag Fouda, some mainstream members of the Muslim Brotherhood testified on the behalf of the accused that the killers had been rightfully motivated by religious zeal, because the secularism that Fouda advocated was heresy. What a striking difference! One Islamist party swears to uphold the state's secularist system while another rules that secularism is anathema and justifiable grounds for murder. Not that this kept mainstream Islamist movements from jubilation, in turn, over the victory of a party whose position on secularism they would roundly condemn if that party had declared it openly in their own countries.

The Justice and Development Party is far from a leftist or liberal democratic party. But it has certainly governed Turkey better than any other Turkish party that I know of, leftist, liberal, republican or otherwise. Even so, it did not have any easy ride. At one point it had to dissolve and change its name. More recently, it was the victim of a massive hate campaign waged by the left and right in concert in the name of secularism.

Many factors combined to propel this mainstream Islamist movement to embrace parliamentary life. For one, the military establishment certainly put a cap on its ambitions. Undoubtedly, too, Turkish cultural and national identity, the conflicting ramifications and repercussions of globalisation, and economic progress and development also played a part. Whatever these factors were, the party retained its equilibrium, adjusted to present limitations, and decided to play by the rules of the game. [complete article]
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Rice asks focus on core Mideast issues
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2007

Scrambling to shape an agenda for an autumn peace conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Israeli and Palestinian leaders Thursday to start tackling the core issues impeding settlement of their decades-old conflict.

But Israeli officials told Rice that it was too soon to discuss "final status" issues, in part because their negotiating partner, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, had yet to prove capable of stopping attacks on Israel by armed Palestinian groups.

With Israel balking, the best Rice could achieve during her visit to the region this week was an understanding that the parties would first try to reach an "agreement of principles" about the nature of a future Palestinian state. [complete article]
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Threats to Lebanon risk fiscal stress
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, August 3, 2007

President Bush authorized the Treasury Department yesterday to freeze the financial assets of anyone undermining the fragile government of Lebanon -- the latest White House move to raise pressure on Syria and its Lebanese allies.

Lebanon has been plagued by instability and violence recently, and its pro-Western government is being challenged by opposition parties linked to Syria, whose troops occupied Lebanon until spring 2005.

In signing the executive order for Lebanon, the president is employing a pressure tactic he has previously employed with some success against other countries, including Iran. Instead of targeting just a government, as sanctions have traditionally operated, the United States is now targeting individuals and companies as a way of bringing pressure on recalcitrant governments. [complete article]
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Why the latest good news from Iraq doesn't matter
By Philip Carter, Slate, August 1, 2007

In 1975, Army Col. Harry Summers went to Hanoi as chief of the U.S. delegation's negotiation team for the four-party military talks that followed the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. While there, he spent some time chatting with his North Vietnamese counterpart, Col. Tu, an old soldier who had fought against the United States and lived to tell his tale. With a tinge of bitterness about the war's outcome, Summers told Tu, "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield." Tu replied, in a phrase that perfectly captured the American misunderstanding of the Vietnam War, "That may be so, but it is also irrelevant."

Today, in Iraq, we face a similar conundrum. Our vaunted military has won every battle against insurgents and militias—from the march up to the "thunder runs" that took Baghdad; the assaults on Fallujah to the battles for Sadr City. And yet we still find ourselves stuck in the sands of Mesopotamia. In a New York Times op-ed published Monday, Brookings Institution scholars Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack argue that "[w]e are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms." They go on to describe the myriad ways the surge is succeeding on the security front. But in emphasizing this aspect of current operations, they downplay the more critical questions relating to political progress and the ability of Iraq's national government to actually govern. Security is not an end in itself. It is just one component, albeit an important one, of a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Unless it is paired with a successful political strategy that consolidates military gains and translates increased security into support from the Iraqi people, these security improvements will, over time, be irrelevant. [complete article]
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What if Israel talked to Hamas?
By Cam Simpson, Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2007

Efraim Halevy, former chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, spent three decades in clandestine service, sworn to defend the Jewish state against enemies such as Hamas, the Islamist group that overran the Gaza Strip in June.

Now Mr. Halevy is speaking the unspeakable about Hamas: It is time, he says, to negotiate with the movement's leaders -- the same men his former agency and his nation have targeted for assassination.

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returns here today for the first time since the Gaza rout complicated American ambitions to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Bush administration remains opposed to anyone engaging with the Islamist group. Among Israelis, Mr. Halevy's words amount to political heresy. Most mainstream politicians don't speak of negotiating with the group.

But Mr. Halevy, 73 years old, is part of a small band of public figures who now say that, because of Hamas's growing clout, it is becoming impossible to avoid such a dialogue. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell joined the group in a recent interview with National Public Radio. [complete article]
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The Iran attack that wasn't
By Gareth Porter, The American Prospect, August 2, 2007

On July 2-3, The New York Times and the Associated Press, among other media outlets, came out with sensational stories saying that either Iranians or Iranian agents had played an important role in planning the operation in Karbala, Iraq last January that resulted in the deaths of five Americans. Michael R. Gordon and John F. Burns of The New York Times wrote that "agents of Iran" had been identified by the military spokesman as having "helped plan a January raid in the Shiite holy city of Karbala in Iraq in which five American soldiers were killed by Islamic militants …"

Lee Keath of the Associated Press wrote an even more lurid lead, asserting that U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner had accused "Iran's elite Quds force" of having "helped militants carry out a January attack in Karbala that killed five Americans."

The story was a big break for the war-with-Iran faction in Washington. Within hours, Sen. Joe Lieberman issued a press release saying that the Iranian government "has declared war on us." That set the stage for the unanimous passage the following week of his amendment stating that "the murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable act of hostility against the United States," and demanding the government of Iran "take immediate action" to end all forms of support it is providing to Iraqi militias and insurgents. [complete article]
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Our un-American government
By Joanne Mariner, August 1, 2007

What one considers un-American depends on what one views as characteristically American. Was slavery American or un-American? What was more American: the Civil Rights Movement or Jim Crow? Can anyone truly rank the following on a scale of American to un-American: the Marshall Plan, the Enola Gay, the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the First Amendment?

Given U.S. history and its vicissitudes, one has a choice: either recognize that the term is malleable and essentially meaningless, or use it to claim what is best in the country's heritage, and to firmly reject what is not.

The real questions are what do we want to be as Americans, and what do we want our country to represent?

A coalition of groups -- the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch,, and others -- have started a campaign that provides a hopeful answer to these questions. The American Freedom Campaign, launched yesterday, is an online and offline effort to build grassroots support to strengthen American democracy, restore constitutional checks and balances, and remedy abuses of power.

The central focus of the campaign is to reassert the notion that the United States is a nation of laws, and that even the President is not above the law. [complete article]

Comment -- America is what it is. It is not what most Americans imagine it to be.

Most Americans want to believe that this thing called "America" can somehow be separated from its shadow; that those dimensions of this nation's nature that offend America's hallowed image of itself can be divorced from its identity.

The Bush presidency might be less popular than ever; even so, a third of Americans view the president favorably. Does that make a third of Americans un-American?

Nations that come into being by driving an indigenous population off its land, rounding them up into concentration camps and starving them into submission, always find it easier to frame their identity around a sacred vision of the future than through ugly memories of the past. But we don't free ourselves from the past by forgetting it; we merely fail to recognize the ways in which the past shapes the present and conditions the future.

Before America cranks up the re-branding machine in yet another effort to reinvent itself, perhaps it should pause for a while and consider more deeply what it has already become. An America that wants to see itself as the victim of an "un-American" government is reluctant to see how willingly it gave that government its power.
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Democrats scrambling to expand eavesdropping
By James Risen, New York Times, August 1, 2007

Under pressure from President Bush, Democratic leaders in Congress are scrambling to pass legislation this week to expand the government’s electronic wiretapping powers.

Democratic leaders have expressed a new willingness to work with the White House to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it easier for the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some purely foreign telephone calls and e-mail. Such a step now requires court approval.

It would be the first change in the law since the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants became public in December 2005.

In the past few days, Mr. Bush and Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, have publicly called on Congress to make the change before its August recess, which could begin this weekend. Democrats appear to be worried that if they block such legislation, the White House will depict them as being weak on terrorism. [complete article]

NSA spying part of broader effort
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, August 1, 2007

The Bush administration's chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.

The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush's order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005. [complete article]
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The American military's lose-lose dilemma in Iraq
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, August 1, 2007

Why then has the surge failed? And so quickly at that?

This only makes sense when you explore the strategy utilized by the U.S. military to reduce the number of suicide bombers and the "multiple fatality bombings" they perpetrate. Terrorist attacks of this sort need four elements for success: an organization capable of creating such bombs; a pool of individuals willing to risk or sacrifice their lives to deliver the explosives; a host community willing to hide the preparations; and a target community unable to prevent the delivery of these deadly, indiscriminate weapons of massive destruction.

Virtually all of these attacks are organized by Sunni jihadists and, while the Brookings database shows that many of them are aimed at military or government targets, the majority of deaths occur in spectacular bombings of public gathering spots -- "soft targets" -- in Shia neighborhoods. It might then have seemed logical for U.S. commanders to concentrate their increased troop strength on these obvious delivery areas, setting up checkpoints and guard posts that would scrutinize car and truck traffic entering highly vulnerable areas.

This strategy might indeed have worked if the U.S. were willing to form an alliance with local Shia neighborhood defense forces. As it happens though, the Shia communities in Baghdad are already well patrolled by the Mahdi army, whose street fighters have proven effective in either spotting alien vehicles or responding to reports from local residents about suspicious cars or people. However, enormous public spaces, filled with large numbers of non-residents and outside vehicles, require dense patrolling practices. The Mahdis have been able to generate such patrol "density" only in their headquarters community, Sadr City -- the vast Shia slum in the eastern part of Baghdad. There, where the Mahdis have a huge presence, there were almost no suicide attacks until late 2006 when the U.S. military began sending patrols into the community aimed at disarming, disrupting, or destroying the Sadrist militia. This forced them off the streets, opening the way for suicide bombers to reach their targets. [complete article]
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U.S. officials: Militias main threat to Iraq
By Mark Seibel and Leila Fadel, McClatchy, July 31, 2007

Despite President Bush's recent insistence that al Qaida in Iraq is the principal cause of this country's violence, senior American military officers here say Shiite Muslim militias are a bigger problem, and one that will persist even if al Qaida is defeated.

"The longer-term threat to Iraq is potentially the Shiite militias," one senior military officer said, echoing concerns that other American officials raised in recent interviews with McClatchy Newspapers.

Military officers hail the fact that violence is down as evidence that their campaign against al Qaida in Iraq is succeeding. But there's no sign of reconciliation between Sunni Muslims and Shiites, the rationale the Bush administration cites for increasing the number of U.S. troops in the country. [complete article]
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The wrong kind of surge
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, August 2, 2007

The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, appeared on CNN the other night, insisting that the military surge in Iraq is working. He claimed that the plan "is in fact producing results" and, overall, detected signs of "significant progress" (a full transcript is here).

Mr Cheney may not be the most reliable judge of these matters - in 2005 he announced that the insurgency was "in its last throes" - but he has been backed up by some officially-spun figures from the Pentagon which the New York Times cheerfully headlined: US death toll in Iraq in July expected to be lowest in '07.

The 74 US military deaths reported in July (since revised upwards to 78) were indeed the lowest since November. According to a high-ranking commander quoted by the New York Times, this is a "positive sign". Viewed in another way, though, the figure is alarming. [complete article]
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Iraq a little easier to occupy from the air
By Ali al-Fadhily, IPS, August 1, 2007

Many Iraqis believe the dramatic escalation in the U.S. military's use of air power is a sign of defeat for the occupation forces on the ground.

U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped five times as many bombs in Iraq during the first six months of this year as over the first half of 2006, according to official information.

They dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first half of 2007, compared to 86 in the first half of 2006. This is also three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. [complete article]
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Iraq role to last years, cost more: officials
By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan, Reuters, August 1, 2007

President George W. Bush's nominee to be top military adviser said on Tuesday the United States would be in Iraq for "years not months" and a Pentagon official said the war was costing even more than expected.

Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, picked as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned U.S. lawmakers unhappy with the conflict against seeking a rapid pullout from Iraq, saying it could turn the country into a "caldron."

While prudence dictated planning for an eventual pullout, Mullen said that under one scenario it could take three to four years just to halve the 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. Many Democrats want to pull out combat troops by April. [complete article]
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UN resolution on bigger Iraq role
BBC News, August 2, 2007

The US and the UK have circulated a new draft resolution to United Nations Security Council members proposing a bigger role for the UN in Iraq.

Under the plan, the UN would get a wider mandate, to help promote political reconciliation in Iraq.

The UN has had a low-key presence in Iraq since a truck bomb devastated its headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003. Diplomats say a vote on any resolution will happen by 10 August, when the UN's existing mandate in Iraq expires. [complete article]
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Gates, Rice try to woo Sunni nations
By Peter Spiegel and Noha El Hennawy, Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Tuesday pleaded with Arab allies to shore up beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, though the Sunni Muslim regimes have accused his Shiite-dominated government of pursuing a sectarian agenda targeting Iraq's Sunnis.

On the first stop of a rare joint visit, the two senior Bush administration officials sought to assure leaders from several Persian Gulf countries gathered at this Red Sea resort that it was in their interest to see Maliki succeed, arguing that Iraq could serve as a bulwark against Shiite-led Iran.
Still, officials acknowledged that the Saudis continue to view Maliki's government as highly susceptible to Iranian influence and that the U.S. had a long way to go to convince them and other Sunni Arab allies that Baghdad's leadership could be trusted.

"I think their concern is that it's more of a bridge than a bulwark" against Iran, the Defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "One of the challenges that I think the two secretaries have is to make the case that in fact [Maliki] is more an obstacle [to the Iranians] than perhaps the Saudis believe." [complete article]

Comment -- With Rice and Gates pushing such an unpersuasive argument, I can't help wondering what they actually have in their rhetorical arsenal to counter the skepticism that they are obviously meeting? The idea that Saddam was a bulwark against Iran -- that was easy for everyone to understand, but Maliki? And once this bulwark-Iraqi-government is up on its feet, does the U.S. plan on providing weapons deals similar to what Saudi Arabia has been offered? Wouldn't that make Iraq a stronger bulwark? Or -- much more likely -- a more dangerous neighbor for Saudi Arabia? In which case Iraq's "bulwark" status requires that it remains weak -- a weak bulwark. Perhaps "badly constructed levee" would be a better metaphor.

I guess the debate doesn't get this complex -- probably just Rice and Gates making a simple request: Say something nice and we'll give you some weapons.

These few days have resulted in some of the most expensive and most worthless photo opportunities in this administration's tawdry history.
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Behind the Mansour Hotel bombing
Baghdad correspondent, Conflicts Forum, August 1, 2007

The noontime bombing that killed a dozen Iraqis at Baghdad's Mansour Melia Hotel on June 25 continues to reverberate through Iraq -- and through the American military high command. This was not a "typical" bombing (if there is such a thing in Iraq): it was well-planned and executed and the bomber was required to penetrate three levels of security, which included armed guards deployed by Iraq's Defense Ministry. The bomb's detonation was so powerful that it blew the doors off the Mansour's heavily enforced dining room and caved in the dining room ceiling, according to a hotel employee.

Among the 12 dead were six members of the Anbar Salvation Council, including Sheik Fassal al-Gaood (a council leader and a former governor of Anbar and Sheik of the al-Bu Nimir tribe), Sheik Abdul-Aziz al-Fahdawi of the Fahad tribe, Sheik Tariq Saleh al-Assafi and Colonel Fadil al-Nimrawi, both from the al-Bu Nimr tribe and aides to al-Gaood. In the wake of the blast, an Iraqi police source identified two more assassinated leaders: Iraqi General Aziz al-Yasari and Sheik Husayn Sha'lan al-Khaza'i of the Khaza'a tribe. Rahim al-Maliki, a well-known Iraqi poet and television producer was also killed at the hotel, as well as three of al-Gaood's bodyguards. Several other sheiks were injured in the blast, including Sheik Ali Khalifa, Sheik Ribah al-'Alawani and Shaykh Diham al-'Abidi.

The tribal leaders were coming to the hotel to meet with a delegation of government representatives including Ahmad Chalabi, none of whom had yet arrived, according to Iraqi government officials. "The bombing was a devastating loss for our efforts in Anbar," an American official in Iraq says. "We are still trying to piece together what happened." The official confirms that the tribal sheiks had been brought together at the Mansour Hotel at the suggestion of General David Patraeus who, along with a number of civilian Defense Department officials, had been working to forge an alliance of anti-al Qaeda tribal leaders in the western province. This was not the first time the group had met, but it was to be an important meeting -- the last in a series that included serious negotiations about what steps the tribal leaders would take in ending the al-Anbar insurgency. "The meeting at the Mansour was to be a culmination of years of work," an Iraqi official confirms. [complete article]
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Violence rages in Iraq as Sunni bloc leaves cabinet
By Jon Elsen and Stephen Farrell, New York Times, August 1, 2007

Three bomb attacks in Baghdad today killed more than 65 people, as sectarian and militant violence continued to rage in Iraq.

The Shiite-led government that is trying to cope with the violence, meanwhile, suffered a political setback today, when the largest Sunni Arab political bloc in the parliament followed through on a threat to walk out of the coalition cabinet that is trying to unify the country. [complete article]
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Behind the Saudis' conciliatory talk
By Tony Karon, Time, July 31, 2007

Despite the Bush Administration's plan to provide $20 billion worth of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's latest visit there to reiterate common purpose on Iraq, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, relations between Washington and Riyadh are troubled. The two countries still share the same goals, but the Saudis are hanging tough on issues where they believe the current U.S. administration, with only 18 months left in office, is pursuing policies that are unlikely to achieve those shared goals. Even the show of unity Wednesday between Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and Secretary Rice could not hide the differences: The Saudis vowed only to "consider" opening full diplomatic relations with the Iraqi government, for example, and while they backed the Bush Administration's plan to hold a Middle East peace conference in the fall, the Saudis declined to indicate that they would attend such an event, and made clear their participation would come only when Israel was ready to discuss the "final status" issues that it wants deferred. [complete article]

Comment -- In a sarcastic commentary in Haaretz, Zvi Bar'el says that "Saudi Arabia has become the fantasy of Israeli policymakers." Why?
...with near genius, Israel is succeeding in convincing everyone that the Saudi initiative, which is full of demands of Israel, must be implemented by Saudi Arabia rather than by Israel. As though Saudi Arabia has to withdraw from the territories and deal with the right of return or peace with the Palestinians. As though Saudi Arabia has to make peace with Syria or remove the settlements.
Indeed, only last week, the Israeli government's cynicism was out on full display when an official was quoted in Haaretz, saying that Israel is "not far from a photo op with the Saudis." But -- surprise, surprise -- the Saudis aren't interested in being suckers in an Israeli-US PR exercise. The New York Times reports,
Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabian officials will consider attending President Bush's planned Israeli-Palestinian peace conference this fall only if they are assured that the conference tackles "substantive" issues, and isn't "just a photo op."
The problem is, how do you discuss substantive issues while at the same time making sure that the resolution of those issues comes no closer than the horizon?

As for the "secure the borders" issue, this has become an equal-opportunity charade. The Saudis acknowledge that they have porous borders when Prince Saud al-Faisal says, "The traffic of terrorists is, I can assure you, more concerning to us coming from Iraq, and this is one of the worries our government has."

Every state bears the responsibility to secure its own side of its borders, so while fingers get pointed at Syria and now Saudi Arabia, it is the military and civil authorities inside Iraq that are failing to protect Iraq's borders. At the same time, in a region where most of the borders were determined by English and French colonialists casually pushing a ruler across a map -- rather than being shaped by topographical constraints (rivers and steep valleys that provide easily defensible boundaries) -- it should go without saying that the borders are porous.
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Why oblivion looms for Abbas
By Mark Perry, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 31, 2007

Those of us who know and understand something of Palestinian society were saddened by June's Gaza troubles -- the flickering YouTube films of Palestinian gunmen being dragged willy-nilly through the streets of the Strip seemed a talisman of lines crossed so many times they no longer existed. Palestinians have fought each other before -- most notably in the Palestinian Civil War that raged in northern Lebanon in 1983 -- but nothing like this. Palestinians themselves seemed to draw back, even recoil, from the violence. "Both sides made mistakes," Hamas official Usamah Hamdan told me in Beirut in late June and there was sadness in his voice. "We are sorry for that."

In the wake of these troubles, Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) cut ties with Hamas, declared an emergency government, suspended the workings of the Palestinian Legislative Council, arrested dozens of Hamas legislative members, clamped down on anti-government protests, purged critics in his own Fatah movement, and announced he would begin immediate talks with the Olmert government. The U.S reciprocated: it urged Israel to release hundreds of millions of dollars in tax monies, said it would work towards the creation of a Palestinian state, pressured Israel to ease travel restrictions in the West Bank, awarded the Abu Mazen government tens of millions of dollars in economic and security aid, urged Arab nations to support Abu Mazen's political program, called on the EU to take similar actions, dispatched a team of experts to assess Palestinian needs, called for an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and conducted high-level talks with Arab nations to make certain their support for these programs was assured. The actions were breathtaking in their scope. They provided, for the first time in nearly a decade, the prospect for a political resolution of the daunting Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

And they have absolutely no prospect of success. [complete article]

See also, European hypocrisy: A Palestinian view (Saifedean Ammous).
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The ballot or the bullet
By Dion Nissenbaum, Checkpoint Jerusalem, McClatchy, August 1, 2007

In two interviews last week, one brief chat at his office and a second, more lengthy, talk on a Rafah beach not far from the Egyptian border, [Ahmed] Yousef [, political adviser to deposed PA PM Ismail Haniyeh] revealed both his pragmatic side and his ideological underpinnings.

His moderate message for Israel and the Bush adminstration is essentially: There are pragmatists within Hamas who can -- and should -- be empowered.

"You can actually deal with Hamas and work with them to moderate them," Yousef said. "Don't make them your enemy. We should try these things before blocking the road."

Ever since Hamas took control of the PA in free elections last January, the U.N., U.S. Israel, Russia and the E.U. have all demanded that the group meet three conditions before being accepted as a political player:

1. Renunciation of violence

2. Acceptance of past agreements, including the Road Map

3. Recognition of Israel

Yousef said Hamas is now prepared to accept the first two, but not the third.

Needless to say, that's not enough to meet the demands.

Even though much of the world, including key players in the Middle East, continues to shun Hamas, the group is patient. Its leaders take a long view of history. Like the Soviet Union, Yousef said, one day the American empire will crumble, leaving Israel without its most important ally.

"They will find themselves alone, and having a nuclear weapon will not help them," said Yousef. "It's better for them to negotiate now...Israel must realize that its a small island in a big ocean, surrounded by Arabs and Muslims. The Israelis should think about their future." [complete article]
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Shopkeepers to join W. Bank struggle
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2007

When Palestinians speak of standing up to Israel, they generally use the word mukawamah, or resistance. In Arabic, this is understood to mean armed opposition, which most Palestinians regard as a legitimate right in confronting Israel's occupation of land they want for their state.

But for the first time since Palestinians began voting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1996, they have a government whose official program does not endorse or even mention resistance — a pointed omission aimed at advancing negotiations with Israel.

Instead, the agenda unveiled last week by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad highlights the word "steadfastness."

It promises to work for a healthy economy, strong public institutions and a just legal order to "reinforce the steadfastness of the Palestinian citizens on their land" while their leaders try to liberate it through peace talks. [complete article]

Comment -- This is a vision of "resistance" that sounds like it was dreamed up on Madison Avenue. "When kids go to school despite the roadblocks, that's resistance. When people brave the soldiers to open their shops, that's resistance: peaceful, civic resistance." That's what Riyad Maliki, Salam Fayyad's minister of information says. Sorry, but that sounds more like living under occupation and feeling nostalgic about the 1970s. Resistance can be non-violent but it can't be painless for the occupying power.

What did the Israelis say to Fayyad? "We don't might if you continue with your resistance -- so long as it doesn't cause us any trouble."
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Amid war, passion for TV chefs, soaps and idols
By Barry Bearak, New York Times, August 1, 2007

Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, Afghanistan has been developing in fits and starts. Among the unchanging circumstances that still leave people fitful: continuing war, inept leaders, corrupt police officers and woeful living conditions. According to the government's latest surveys, only 43 percent of all households have nonleaking windows and roofs, 31 percent have safe drinking water and 7 percent have sanitary toilets.

But television is off to a phenomenal start, with Afghans now engrossed, for better or worse, in much of the same escapist fare that seduces the rest of the world: soap operas that pit the unbearably conniving against the implausibly virtuous, chefs preparing meals that most people would never eat in kitchens they could never afford, talk show hosts wheedling secrets from those too shameless to keep their troubles to themselves.

The latest national survey, which dates from 2005, shows that 19 percent of Afghan households own a television, a remarkable total considering not only that owning a TV was a crime under the Taliban but that a mere 14 percent of the population has access to public electricity. In a study this year of Afghanistan's five most urban provinces, two-thirds of all people said they watched TV every day or almost every day.

"Maybe Afghanistan is not so different from other places," said Muhammad Qaseem Akhgar, a prominent social analyst and newspaper editor. "People watch television because there is nothing else to do." [complete article]

Comment -- If Karl Marx had been alive today, he might not have declared that religion is the opiate of the people. The more likely candidate would be television, and in particular the styles of broadcasting manufactured in America that are now reproduced all over the globe.

Consider the political impact of the "idol" phenomenon. The phantasm of personal glorification that this fuels comes at the expense of a strong collective identity. Around every star hang a million others shrouded in darkness. Their dreams are cocoons that insulate them from the harsh realities of their existence and do far more to perpetuate those realities than change them.

Were the people of Afghanistan "liberated" so that with nothing else to do they could sit and watch television?
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Beware of Americans bearing gifts
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 31, 2007

In suggesting how ... a brand strategy might be applied to the United States, Business for Diplomatic Action's chair, advertising guru Keith Reinhard, suggests a simple yet elegant promise: "We will help you."
This little gem comes from, "Enlisting Madison Avenue - The marketing approach to earning popular support in theaters of operation," a RAND Corporation report [PDF] for which the Pentagon recently paid a handsome $400,000.

My guess is that someone dropped a copy on Karl Rove's desk and he passed it along to Frank Luntz with a simple request: Please distill these 211 pages into a message we can use. Word came back: Get Bush and Rice to use the word "help" as often as possible.

So, when Bush recently made a half-baked effort to warm up the Middle East peace process, he managed five helps in five sentences. Quite impressive!
... all responsible nations have a duty to help clarify the way forward. By supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, we can help them show the world what a Palestinian state would look like -- and act like. We can help them prove to the world, the region, and Israel that a Palestinian state would be a partner -- not a danger. We can help them make clear to all Palestinians that rejecting violence is the surest path to security and a better life. And we can help them demonstrate to the extremists once and for all that terror will have no place in a Palestinian state.
Now, in the same spirit, Condi is touring the region and she's intent on showing what a reliable helper the U.S. wants to be by handing out weapons like Christmas gifts.

What the administration is demonstrating -- for the umpteenth time -- is that the abuse of language has an effect: In short order your words come to mean nothing.

The only unambiguous message that this administration has managed to convey is that its word carries no weight. "Help," "democracy," "peace," "progress," -- these have as much substance as bubbles floating in a breeze. They glisten, then vanish.
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A green light to oppression
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, July 31, 2007

If the Bush administration's goal was to inflame Sunni-Shia tensions across the region and to spread the sectarian strife in Iraq to neighbouring countries, it would be hard to imagine a more effective way of going about it.

Although Iran is the worldwide centre of Shia Islam, there's an important distinction to be made between Shia Muslims and the Iranian regime. The question is how many people will actually make it. Marginalised Shia communities in the Gulf states and Egypt will undoubtedly feel more threatened, while others will interpret the American move as a green light to oppress them further. [complete article]

Arab bloggers pay toll for truth
By Stephen Franklin, Chicago Tribune, July 22, 2007

When Egyptian officials denied reports of a disturbance in downtown Cairo last year, Wael Abbas showed the truth: A political protest had turned ugly, and a group of young men had gone on a rampage.

Amid widespread allegations of police abuse, Abbas turned up a video of a police beating. He applied his sleuthing to stories about government-paid thugs beating up demonstrators.

Abbas regularly does what any good reporter does. He hunts down rumors, then spreads what he knows to be true. He strives to be as credible as possible.

"We are establishing a new school of journalism," he said.

But Abbas is not a conventional reporter. He is one of a small but uniquely influential group of Arab bloggers who have opened doors, raised questions never before asked and, in the process, unnerved officials across the Arab world. [complete article]

Inside Story - Muslim Brotherhood
Inside Story, Al Jazeera, July 29, 2007

Egyptian authorities have arrested 18 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group for holding an unauthorised meeting. Inside Story asks why the Brotherhood is so popular and what the government's reaction says about the Egyptian regime? [YouTube video]
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U.S. escalates Middle East arms race
By Dr Dominic Moran, International Relations and Security Network, July 31, 2007

A high-level US delegation will hold talks with foreign ministers from allied Arab states in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday on a planned military package for allied Middle East states.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is being joined for two legs of her Middle East tour by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told reporters that the proffered package was a continuation of pre-existing relationships and was designed to bolster US allies in the Persian Gulf.

From Sharm, Gates and Rice fly to Jeddah for talks with Saudi officials on the package. Saudi forces are expected to receive the bulk of the arms package with subsidized purchases, projected to top US$20 billion. Egypt is also expected to receive US$13 billion over the next decade.

Despite Rice's efforts to paint the intended arms sales as a bid to maintain a "balance" of forces in the region, it is clear that the US grant is intended to bolster the US arms industry. [complete article]

Comment -- How do promote stability in a war-torn region? Pour in billions of dollars of weapons. That might seem like a plan bereft of logic -- unless that is you happen to be a weapons manufacturer.

After their fifty-year love affair with communism fizzled out in the nineties, America's defense executives faced a bleak future. How could the Soviet menace (ie. a justification for massive defense budgets) ever be replaced? It turned out that all that was required was a little patience before a new cash cow would emerge.

The Global War on Terrorism has of course turned out to be an excellent enterprise, but in so many ways, elevating the Iranian threat is even better. Instability in the Middle East has created an economic dynamo driving the growth of the defense industry. Instability drives up oil prices, enriching weapons buyers whose purchases further increase instability, push up oil prices even higher, enabling the oil states to buy even more weapons. And just in case any of the oil sheiks get distracted by the notion that there might be better ways of spending their money, as BAE has shown, US$2 billion can be used very effectively for redirecting attention.

For anyone sitting in the boardrooms of Lockheed Martin, Boeing or Northrop Grumman, the only disturbing prospect on the horizon is that some day Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might be replaced by a less antagonistic Iranian leader.

Meanwhile, as the defense industry's minions from the Bush administration trot off to the Middle East, their mission has been elegantly streamlined. Outside Israel, America has no friends in the region (just a few fragile alliances with isolated, nervous autocratic leaders), it has very little political influence, and so the U.S. is reduced to focusing on the only thing it seems to be good at: manufacturing and selling incredibly expensive weapons systems.

The Iranians appear to be unfazed. As AFP reports:
... the Islamic republic's Defence Minister, Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, accused the US of "trying to create a false arms race, in order to keep their weapon factories up and running."

But he also said it was up to individual Muslim states to decide which weapons to purchase, which in any case would simply bolster the Islamic world.

"Iran is absolutely not worried about any friendly and brotherly Muslim nation consolidating their defence abilities, and it sees their increasing their defence abilities as a part of the Islamic world's defence capabilities."
Najjar probably has in the mind the prospect that eventually, most of Iran's neighbors will be equally hobbled by hard-to-maintain air forces, while Iran remains -- as it always has been -- the regional giant.
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The death of this crackpot creed is nothing to mourn
By John Gray, The Guardian, July 31, 2007

The most important - as well as most often neglected - feature of the conflict shaping up around Iraq is that the US no longer has the ability to mould events. Whatever it does, there will be decades of bloodshed in the region. Another large blunder - such as bombing Iran, as Dick Cheney seems to want, or launching military operations against Pakistan, as some in Washington appear to propose - would make matters even worse.

The chaos that has engulfed Iraq is only the start of a longer and larger upheaval, but it would be useful if we learned a few lessons from it. There is a stupefying cliche which says regime change went wrong because there was not enough thought about what to do after the invasion. The truth is that if there had been sufficient forethought the invasion would not have been launched. After the overthrow of Saddam - a secular despot in a European tradition that includes Lenin and Stalin - there was never any prospect of imposing a western type of government. Grotesque errors were made such as the disbanding of the Iraqi army, but they only accelerated a process of fragmentation that would have happened anyway. Forcible democratisation undid not only the regime but also the state.

Liberal interventionists who supported regime change as part of a global crusade for human rights overlooked the fact that the result of toppling tyranny in divided countries is usually civil war and ethnic cleansing. Equally they failed to perceive the rapidly dwindling leverage on events of the western powers that led the crusade. If anyone stands to gain long term it is Russia and China, which have stood patiently aside and now watch the upheaval with quiet satisfaction. Neoconservatives spurned stability in international relations and preached the virtues of creative destruction. Liberal internationalists declared history had entered a new stage in which pre-emptive war would be used to construct a new world order where democracy and peace thrived. The result of these delusions is what we see today: a world of rising authoritarian regimes and collapsed states no one knows how to govern. [complete article]
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Britain will take troops out of Iraq regardless of U.S., says Brown
By Andrew Grice, The Independent, July 31, 2007

Gordon Brown has paved the way for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq by telling George Bush he would not delay their exit in order to show unity with the United States.

After four hours of one-to-one talks with the US President at his Camp David retreat, Mr Brown told a joint press conference he would make a Commons statement in October on the future of the 5,500 British troops in the Basra region.

The Bush administration, under mounting domestic pressure to produce an exit strategy from Iraq, has been nervous that a full British withdrawal would add to the criticism. But Mr Brown made clear - and President Bush accepted - that Britain would go its own way, even if that gave the impression the two countries were diverging. [complete article]

Mr Brown goes to Washington
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, July 30, 2007

Gordon Brown got what he wanted from Washington. Brown has established the kind of ambiguity in the relationship that did not exist between Tony Blair and George W Bush. The various hints and comments from his government so far - from Douglas Alexander and Lord Malloch Brown - have created a sense that Brown is establishing distance from the Bush administration.

At the same time, at Camp David today, he and Bush exchanged compliments and warm words about the continuing close relationship between the US and Britain. So Brown has got it both ways. [complete article]

It's not Blair
By Ian Williams, The Guardian, July 30, 2007

One of the consequences of the federal system is that American politicians have difficulties getting name recognition on a national scale. That is one of the reasons why they have to spend so many millions to get their names imprinted in voters' minds, and why dynastic names do so well in the electoral market place, with Kennedy, Bush and Clinton being good examples.

If so many Americans have difficulty recognising, for example, Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson - despite his distinguished career as congressman, UN ambassador, energy secretary, negotiator with North Korea, and currently governor of New Mexico - it is understandable that Gordon Brown, currently on his first visit to the US since becoming prime minister, has not been on everyone's mind.

But he will be, whether through acts of omission or commission. Despite former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum that "all politics is local", at the moment all politics is Iraq, and Brown's silence on the subject has been masterful. [complete article]
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Pakistan ripe for regime change
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, August 1, 2007

A civilian president with the power to handle national security and foreign affairs and a prime minister as chief executive is the new Washington and London formula for regime change in Pakistan.

This has been agreed to in principle by President General Pervez Musharraf and former premier Benazir Bhutto, Asia Times Online has confirmed. The arrangement for the United States' key ally in the "war on terror" is intended to lead to a jacking up of the fight against terror with zero tolerance.

Musharraf and Bhutto met last week in the United Arab Emirates - where Bhutto lives in exile - and agreed on the most important issues for a new political setup. This includes lifting a ban on a person serving a third term as premier (Bhutto has served twice - 1988-90 and 1993-96) and allowing her to return to Pakistan without threat of legal action - she faces corruption charges. [complete article]
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Awaiting key bills, Iraq's Parliament adjourns
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP, July 31, 2007

Iraq's Parliament shrugged off US criticism and adjourned yesterday for a month, as key lawmakers declared there was no point waiting any longer for the prime minister to deliver benchmark legislation that Washington has demanded be put to a vote.

Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani closed the final three-hour session without a quorum present and declared that lawmakers will not reconvene until Sept. 4. That is just 11 days before the top US military and political officials in Iraq must report to Congress on American progress in taming violence and organizing conditions for sectarian reconciliation.

The recess, coupled with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to get the key draft laws before legislators, may nourish growing opposition to the war among US lawmakers, who could refuse to fund it. Critics have questioned how Iraqi legislators could take a summer break while US forces are fighting and dying to create conditions under which important laws could be passed in the service of ending sectarian political divisions and bloodshed. [complete article]
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Soldiers hope the enemy of their enemy is their friend
By Mike Drummond and Hussein Khalifa, McClatchy, July 31, 2007

Several months ago, Abu Haider was aiming his weather-beaten AK-47 rifle at American soldiers. Now it pointed to the floor.

At a makeshift police station that once served as a farmer's union hall in Baqouba, the U.S. effort to enlist former Sunni Muslim insurgents in the battle against al Qaida in Iraq coalesced this week into an uneasy truce.

Abu Haider, as he called himself, and about 80 other mostly Sunni residents -- some of them former members of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a fiercely nationalistic insurgent group -- had arrived to register as security volunteers. An American soldier photographed and cataloged the recruits. The result: a neighborhood watch program with ammo.

Working with the Shiite Muslim-dominated Iraqi army, the volunteers will patrol neighborhoods and ask residents for tips on where to find insurgents. U.S. forces want to take advantage of the enmity that al Qaida in Iraq has generated among Shiites and Sunnis here and elsewhere in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

"We have a truce with the unbelievers," said Abu Haider, glancing at about a dozen American soldiers from the 520th Infantry Battalion of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. "Now, we're going to fight khawraj," the name he calls al Qaida in Iraq. The Khawraj, members of a sect who claimed to be true Muslims, fought Muslims after the Prophet Muhammad died. [complete article]
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Prominent hard-line cleric dies in Iran
By Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2007

A Shiite Muslim cleric heading a powerful religious committee died Monday, paving the way for a potentially divisive succession battle between the clique surrounding conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and more moderate political factions.

Ayatollah Ali Akbar Faiz Meshkini died at the age of 86, state media reported. He headed the Assembly of Experts, a popularly elected but tightly controlled clerical organization that chooses and monitors Iran's supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The 86-member assembly will conduct an internal poll to pick a leader, probably later this summer.

Moderates hope that Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, will ascend to the head of the assembly and steer Iran toward more restrained domestic and international policies.

He faces a likely challenge from Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a right-wing cleric who is Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor. [complete article]
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Misunderstanding Muqtada al-Sadr
By Matt Duss, Foreign Policy in Focus, July 27, 2007

In a July 11 Wall Street Journal op-ed, writer Kimberly Kagan touted the success of the Iraq surge strategy. Kagan noted, among other supposed triumphs, that the Maliki government had "confronted Muqtada al-Sadr for promoting illegal militia activity, and has apparently prompted this so-called Iraqi nationalist to leave for Iran for the second time since January." While one can perhaps excuse Kagan's sunny defense of the surge, (the plan was partly devised, after all, by her husband, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, a fact which the Wall Street Journal did not reveal to readers) the repeated attempts by conservative defenders of Bush's Iraq policy to dispute Sadr's nationalist credentials and treat him as an Iranian puppet indicate a real and troubling lack of knowledge of the Iraqi political scene, and of Sadr's place within it.

It's almost comical how many times Muqtada, after provoking a reaction from U.S. forces, has gone to into hiding, and been declared irrelevant by wishful thinkers, only to return later, with his organization intact, drawing bigger crowds than before. True to form, less than a week after Kagan's dismissive aside, Muqtada returned to Iraq, (if indeed he had even left) to great acclaim, with his political base, his Mahdi militia, and social services network, more evident than ever. [complete article]

Comment -- Back in the ancient history of a mere four years ago, Ahmad Chalabi was presented as the anointed leader of Iraq. The suave businessman who knew exactly how to fleece a neocon and managed to rise all the way to the position of deputy prime minister.

A couple of weeks ago he was the target of an assassination attempt -- it didn't even merit more than a wire service headline. In his current government position, tasked with building popular support for the "surge," it's fair to say that Chalabi is on a fast track to oblivion.

While Chalabi turned out to be a has-been who never was, Muqtada al-Sadr remains a political presence in Iraq, as constant as the moon. His power waxes and wanes but never goes away. The man upon whom Western reporters were initially reluctant to confer the respect of simply acknowledging his adulthood, has turned out to wield greater political authority than anyone else -- even the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, upon whom so many vain hopes of peace and stability were projected for so long.

For an administration that long ago cast aside most of the principles it claimed to hold, wouldn't it make sense -- simply from a betting point of view -- to foster a less antagonistic relationship with the one figure in Iraq who has so resolutely kept his eyes on the prize? If Tehran's friend, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, can be received in the White House, is it really that difficult for Washington to acknowledge that Muqtada al Sadr is an authentic Iraqi nationalist leader?
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Third of Iraqis 'need urgent aid'
BBC News, July 30, 2007

Nearly a third of the population of Iraq is in need of immediate emergency aid, according to a new report from Oxfam [PDF] and a coalition of Iraqi NGOs.

The report said the government was failing to provide basics such as food and shelter for eight million people.

It warned of a humanitarian crisis that had escalated since the 2003 invasion. [complete article]

Iraq: One in seven joins human tide spilling into neighbouring countries
By Patrick Cockburn, The Indepenent, July 30, 2007

Two thousand Iraqis are fleeing their homes every day. It is the greatest mass exodus of people ever in the Middle East and dwarfs anything seen in Europe since the Second World War. Four million people, one in seven Iraqis, have run away, because if they do not they will be killed. Two million have left Iraq, mainly for Syria and Jordan, and the same number have fled within the country.

Yet, while the US and Britain express sympathy for the plight of refugees in Africa, they are ignoring - or playing down- a far greater tragedy which is largely of their own making.

The US and Britain may not want to dwell on the disasters that have befallen Iraq during their occupation but the shanty towns crammed with refugees springing up in Iraq and neighbouring countries are becoming impossible to ignore. [complete article]
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When is an accidental civilian death not an accident?
By Mark Benjamin, Salon, July 30, 2007

At the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, there was one number that was crucial to American military officials as they planned airstrikes.

"The magic number was 30," said Marc Garlasco, who was the Pentagon's chief of high-value targeting at the start of the war. "That means that if you hit 30 as the anticipated number of civilians killed, the airstrike had to go to Rumsfeld or Bush personally to sign off." If the expected number of civilian deaths was less than 30, however, neither the president nor the secretary of defense needed to know.

Four years later, the U.S. military still has rules in place that permit the killing of civilians in airstrikes. In fact, the number of anticipated civilian deaths is carefully appraised beforehand in a calculation known as the collateral damage estimate, which is then reviewed by commanders and military attorneys who must decide if the benefits of the strike outweigh the cost in innocent civilian lives. The military's goal is to reconcile precision-bombing technology with the web of international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions, designed to protect civilians during wartime under a legal rubric called the Law of Armed Conflict.

But what these rules mean is that killing civilians is legal -- as long as the deaths are the result of a strike at a legitimate military target. And it also means that some unknown percentage of civilian deaths from airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan are not accidents. [complete article]
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The cost of 'enduring' in Iraq
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, July 30, 2007

The House passed a bill on Wednesday barring the Defense Department from building any military installation or base that could serve as a permanent station for U.S. forces in Iraq.

Similar prohibitions are already on the books, and their practical effect has been to "limit the use of concrete structures and emphasize building of relocatable units" as a way to show that U.S. facilities in Iraq are not "permanent," according to a recent study by the Congressional Research Service.

So, what exactly is the Defense Department building in Iraq with the billions in military construction dollars it has received over the past five years? Congress approved $1.7 billion for military construction in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, according to CRS, but offered no breakdown of how the money was spent. [complete article]
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Bush's Turkish gamble
By Robert D. Novak, Washington Post, July 30, 2007

The morass in Iraq and deepening difficulties in Afghanistan have not deterred the Bush administration from taking on a dangerous and questionable new secret operation. High-level U.S. officials are working with their Turkish counterparts on a joint military operation to suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture their leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to forestall Turkey from invading Iraq.

While detailed operational plans are necessarily concealed, the broad outlines have been presented to select members of Congress as required by law. U.S. Special Forces are to work with the Turkish army to suppress the Kurds' guerrilla campaign. The Bush administration is trying to prevent another front from opening in Iraq, which would have disastrous consequences. But this gamble risks major exposure and failure. [complete article]

Comment -- Novak, the messenger, might be skeptical about the wisdom of this purported military operation (and of course no one should be encouraged by reports that the cowboy president is back on his horse), but it doesn't sound like this secret briefing was really leaked to Novak -- he's broadcasting its content with the administration's approval. The intended audience is sitting impatiently in Ankara.

How else are we to account for the fact that only yesterday, The Sunday Telegraph reported that:
Egemen Bagis, foreign policy advisor to [Turkish Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkish forces were prepared to mount operations against Kurdish PKK fighters who had taken refuge in Iraq, because the US had failed to intervene.

"We are hoping we will not have to do it. We are hoping that our allies will start doing something, but if they don't we don't have many options," he said.

"Our allies should help us with the threat, which is clear and present. If an ally is not helping you, you either question their integrity or their ability."
The message back from Washington is, "we're on the job -- really." Even so, if the administration was actually being as proactive and gung ho as Novak reports, it's hard to see why the Turks would be cracking the whip this loudly. It'll take more than breathless reports from Washington Post columnists to dissolve Turkish skepticism. Don't expect to see them pulling their 140-250,000 troops back from the border any time soon.
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Palestinians have right to resist, PM Fayyad says
Ynet, July 30, 2007

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said Palestinians have a legitimate right to resist Israeli occupation, even if the phrase does not appear in his new government program.

"We are certainly an occupied people and resistance is a legitimate right for the Palestinian people as an occupied people," Fayyad told reporters in Cairo, where he is leading the Palestinian delegation to an Arab League meeting on Monday.

Palestinian officials confirmed on Friday that the platform of the new government omits the phrases "armed struggle" and "resistance" against Israeli occupation.

This was a change from the platforms of the previous two Palestinian governments led by the Islamist movement Hamas, which has rebuffed US and European demands that it recognize Israel and renounce violence.

But Fayyad suggested that resistance would not always be the same as armed struggle.

He asked: "What is the essence of resistance fundamentally, especially in light of the nature of the existing occupation?

"Does it not begin by exerting every possible effort to ... reinforce the steadfastness of the Palestinian citizen on his land? This is the program of the government." [complete article]

Comment -- Is this some bold expression of independence through which Salam Fayyad is demonstrating that he is not a quisling? The mere fact that this report quotes no Israeli or American official condemning Fayyad's statement makes it perfectly clear that his words are hollow. He enjoys the privileged status of an impotent Palestinian leader whose freedom to engage in a little political theater derives from his backers' confidence that he is incapable of presenting a challenge.
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Hamas to show an improved hand
By Cam Simpson and Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2007

[Khalil al Hayya, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, who has assumed a leading role on the intelligence issue for the Islamist group,] said hundreds of the group's Hamas's operatives have been culling through and analyzing the intelligence troves since their seizure, with specialists in security, forensic accounting and administration conducting detailed assessments. Significant portions of these assessments are close to completion, Mr. Hayya said.

Some of the most potentially explosive claims from Hamas center on the alleged activities beyond the Gaza Strip of Palestinian agents loyal to Fatah. Mr. Hayya alleged the CIA utilized Palestinian agents for covert intelligence operations in other Middle Eastern countries. Hamas, he said, now possesses a roadmap detailing the names and actions of "those men whom thought were going to continue to be their hand across the region."

Some former U.S. intelligence officials who worked closely with the Palestinian Authority confirmed that such overseas spying arrangements beyond Gaza existed with the Palestinians in the past and said they likely continued, bolstering the credibility of Hamas's claims. [complete article]

Comment -- Is Deputy National Security Adviser, Elliot Abrams, now in a cold sweat? Probably not. As someone blind to his own shortcomings, he probably pins all the blame here on Mohammad Dahlan. But while the focus remains on questions about the value of this intelligence, the political fallout seems quite easy to predict. Fatah's tarnished reputation will sink even further. Who wants to vote for duplicitous and corrupt national leaders who are apparently more comfortable working with the CIA and Mossad than they are with fellow Palestinians?
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Palestinians wary of interim statehood
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, July 29, 2007

The strategy behind resurgent diplomatic activity to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beginning to emerge, pointing to the goal of interim statehood for the Palestinians before President George W. Bush's term in office runs out.

Within a year, according to some analysts, a new political entity could come into being called the State of Palestine. However, they warned of many potential pitfalls and doubted it would fulfil the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

"They want to change the name of the Palestinian Authority to the Palestinian state," said Hani al-Masri, a West Bank political analyst. "But it wouldn’t change anything on the ground. It would be a state under occupation." [complete article]
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The walls must be brought down
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, July 30, 2007

Fifteen years ago, Bassam Abu Ara from the village of Akaba near Jenin in the West Bank married a woman from East Jerusalem. He resided there with his new wife until two years ago, when he was forced to move to Ramallah. As a resident of the West Bank, he is not allowed to reside in the capital.

His wife and children stayed on in Jerusalem so the state would not revoke their official status as Jerusalemites, affording them social and medical rights in Israel. Once a week, they travel to Ramallah to see their husband/father, who works there as the sports editor of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, a daily newspaper.

As a journalist, Abu Ara travels all over the world. He covers sports events in Europe and the Middle East - but he is not able to visit his family in Jerusalem. His is not an unusual story; it's actually run-of-the-mill. The Israeli media no longer pay any attention to such phenomena. The Palestinian media have also stopped reported on them.

East Jerusalem is estimated to have roughly 20,000 such cases - of Palestinian families where parents are forced to live apart from one another on opposites sides of the fences and walls that separate the West Bank from Israel. [complete article]
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Gaza surfers find freedom in the sea
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2007

The surfer paddled out from the shore.

Lying on his battered board, he scanned the horizon. The turquoise water glittered in the midday sun.

Moments later, he caught a wave, effortlessly.

Back at the shore, Ahmed Abu Hassan, a 28-year-old Palestinian, pulled his board from the water and walked along the Gaza beach where green Hamas flags competed for space with red and yellow umbrellas. It looked as though Islamic militants and ice cream vendors had engaged in a turf war over the golden sand.

"It's a joy," said Hassan, a taciturn and graceful surfer.

If surfing is a quest for freedom, nowhere is such a pursuit more relevant than in Gaza, an overcrowded, poverty-stricken strip of land on the Mediterranean controlled by Hamas and cut off from the rest of the world by Israel. [complete article]
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Israelis recover missing soldier
BBC News, July 30, 2007

An Israeli soldier has rejoined his unit after being left behind in Gaza during a raid against Palestinian militants, army officials have said. The soldier fell asleep during the operation last Thursday, but his absence was not noticed until his colleagues returned to Israel. The unit re-entered Gaza several hours later and rescued the soldier, who had fired a flare and tracers into the air.

The Israeli military said it had launched an inquiry into the incident. Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio that similar incidents had happened "dozens of times". [complete article]

Comment -- There's no question that if this sleeping soldier had been captured by Palestinian militants, a massive IDF operation would now be underway. Gaza would be getting pounded by Israeli artillery, Israeli and Western political leaders would be condemning the Palestinians and demanding the prompt release of their "hostage." The inestimable value of one Israeli soldier would be trumpeted as justification for killing dozens if not hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians.

So how come the IDF is so incompetent when it comes to keeping count of their own troops? This is carelessness that costs lives -- they just happen to be lives that Israelis care even less about.
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A Zionist politician loses faith in the future
By David Remnick, The New Yorker, July 30, 2007

In "Defeating Hitler," [Avraham] Burg [a former Speaker of the Knesset] writes that one of the most dispiriting aspects of Israeli political conversation is the constant reference point of the slaughter of six million Jews in the nineteen-forties. "The most optimistic years in the state of Israel were 1945 to 1948," he said to me. "The farther we got from the camps and the gas chambers, the more pessimistic we became and the more untrusting we became toward the world. It was a shock to me. Didn't we, the politicians, feed the public? Didn't we cheapen the sanctity of the Holocaust by using it about everything? Some people say, 'Occupation? You call this occupation? This is nothing compared to the absolute evil of the Holocaust!' And if it is nothing compared to the Holocaust then you can continue. And since nothing, thank God, is comparable to the ultimate trauma it legitimatizes many things." Burg said that contemporary Israelis "are not at the stage to be sensitive enough to what happens to others and in many ways are too indifferent to the suffering of others. We confiscated, we monopolized, world suffering. We did not allow anybody else to call whatever suffering they have 'holocaust' or 'genocide,' be it Armenians, be it Kosovo, be it Darfur." [complete article]

Comment -- What Avraham Burg puts his finger on here is the defining attribute of brutality: the capacity to become insulated from and incapable of identifying with the suffering of others. Only within the artifice of a hierarchy of pain -- an abstract landscape within which particular instances of human agony apparently mean nothing -- is the inborn capacity to empathize stripped away. Once that has happened, building a wall and ignoring the plight of those on the other side is easy.
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Coalition of evangelicals voices support for Palestinian state
By Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, July 29, 2007

In recent years, conservative evangelicals who claim a Biblical mandate to protect Israel have built a bulwark of support for the Jewish nation -- sending donations, denouncing its critics and urging it not to evacuate settlements or forfeit territory.

Now more than 30 evangelical leaders are stepping forward to say these efforts have given the wrong impression about the stance of many, if not most, American evangelicals.

On Friday, these leaders sent a letter to President Bush saying that both Israelis and Palestinians have "legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine," and that they support the creation of a Palestinian state "that includes the vast majority of the West Bank." [complete article]
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At war, at home, at risk
By Ayub Nuri, New York Times, July 29, 2007

When the interview was finished, they asked me to be their "fixer." The word initially puzzled me. I was two years out of the Teachers' Institute in Sulaimaniya, trained to instruct children in the English alphabet and vocabulary. I would have taught those children that a "fixer" is a person who repairs broken machines. But in a war zone, a fixer is a journalist's interpreter, guide, source finder and occasional lifesaver. Every major media organization in Iraq would come to have its fixers. And fixers, it turned out, were well paid. I was offered $100 a day, about 25 times what I could make as a teacher.

I was 24, and suddenly I was the eyes and ears for some of the world's top journalists. I would spend the next three years as a fixer and watch as my country learned a painful lesson: sometimes when you try to fix something, you break it even more. [complete article]
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Hillary Clinton: Right-wing darling?
By Matt Stearns, McClatchy, July 27, 2007

Since when is Hillary Clinton the pin-up gal of conservative pundits?

After Clinton delivered a foreign-policy cold-cock to Barack Obama's head during a Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday:

— Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, a neo-conservative weekly, wrote that she delivered her answer to the now-famous "would-you-meet-with-despots" question "firmly and coolly."

— Rich Lowry of National Review, a conservative weekly, gushed like a schoolboy with a new crush: "She excels . . . Clinton has run a nearly flawless campaign and has done more than any other Democrat to show she's ready to be president."

— David Brooks, the conservative columnist at The New York Times, wrote that Clinton "seems to offer the perfect combination of experience and change" and said she's changing perceptions in a way that may persuade voters to give her a second look.

— Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist of The Washington Post, summed up the Clinton-Obama smackdown: "The grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie." [complete article]

Obama calls for shift in diplomacy
By Mike Glover, AP, July 28, 2007

Democrat Barack Obama cast himself Saturday as the leader the United States needs for it to stand up to and engage renegade nations such as North Korea.

'We need a president who'll have the strength and courage to go toe to toe with the leaders of rogue nations, because that's what it takes to protect our security," the Illinois senator told Democrats at a rally. "That's what I'll do as your next commander in chief."

Obama and rival Hillary Rodham Clinton have had a running argument since clashing in last week's debate over how far the United States should be willing to go in its diplomacy with countries such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

After a viewer asked the candidates if they would be willing to meet with those nations' leaders, Obama said it was a disgrace that the U.S. won't hold talks with them. For role models, he invoked late presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan for their Cold War diplomacy. [complete article]

Comment -- As far as I'm concerned, the most significant way in which the political narrative can be shifted in the presidential campaign is by opposing fear with courage. To compete with Republicans in a contest over who has the strongest "security" credentials is simply to perpetuate the Bush-Cheney fear narrative. When Obama talks about having the "strength to engage our adversaries" he's hitting the right note.

Americans were easily duped into believing that aggressive leadership is the same as courageous leadership, yet if George Bush and Dick Cheney had ever had much courage they wouldn't have spent so much time in hiding or closeting themselves with sycophants.

Courage on the campaign trail will mean working to shape, articulate, and shape a vision -- not merely mirror a national mood. Is that something any of the candidates are capable of doing? Not sure...

As for the specific issue: should an American president engage in dialogue with a rogue nation? The question needs to get unpacked.

The Bush administration's non-dialogue with those who bin misbehavin' is really a contrivance of moral high ground. In truth, the administration is merely committed to non-engagement with those states or entities that it wishes to annihilate. And why would one enter into discussions with those one intended to get rid of? For as long as this administration entertains the hope that it can destroy an adversary it refuses to engage that adversary.

The question shouldn't be whether one is willing to engage this or that adversary; it should be this: As an American president, do you believe you will be able to destroy your enemies or do you merely hope to render them harmless?

In other words, do we want another wacko in the White House who claims he can eradicate evil, or someone with a more modest but realistic measure of his or her strength?
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British pullback in Iraq presages hurdles for U.S.
By Stephen Farrell, New York Times, July 29, 2007

As American troop levels are peaking in Baghdad, British force levels are heading in the opposite direction as the troops prepare to withdraw completely from the city center of Basra, 300 miles to the south.

The British intend to pull back to an airport headquarters miles out of town, a symbolic move widely taken by Iraqis as the beginning of the end of the British military presence in southern Iraq.

The scaling down by America's largest coalition partner foreshadows many of the political and military challenges certain to face American commanders when their troops begin withdrawing.

Skepticism is widespread in Basra, as in Baghdad, about whether Iraqi forces are ready to take over. The British and the Americans will have to assuage the fears of Iraqis that they are being abandoned to gunmen and religious extremists. And each is likely to face intensified attacks from propaganda-conscious enemies trying to claim credit for driving out the Westerners.

As the British prepare for the withdrawal from the city center -- and the wider transition of handing over Basra Province to Iraqi security forces during the coming months -- Brig. James Bashall, commander of the First Mechanized Brigade, concedes that his men will almost certainly "get a lot of indirect fire as we go backward."

It is no coincidence that he is reading up on Britain's withdrawal from its former crown colony Aden in what is now Yemen, and lessons from other theaters, with the American experience in Vietnam as the "obvious parallel." [complete article]

U.S. fears that Brown wants Iraq pull-out
By Sarah Baxter and David Cracknell, The Sunday Times, July 29, 2007

A senior Downing Street aide has sounded out Washington on the possibility of an early British military withdrawal from Iraq.

Simon McDonald, the prime minister's chief foreign policy adviser, left the impression that he was "doing the groundwork" for Gordon Brown, according to one of those he consulted.

Brown, who arrives at Camp David in Maryland today to meet President George W Bush, said yesterday that "the relationship with the United States is our single most important bilateral relationship".

Downing Street remains emphatic that he will not unveil a plan to withdraw British troops, who are due to remain in southern Iraq until the Iraqi army is deemed capable of maintaining security. A spokesman said there had been no change in the government's position.

Behind the scenes, however, American officials are picking up what they believe are signals that a change of British policy on Iraq is imminent. [complete article]
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U.S. vs. Iran: Cold War, too
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 29, 2007

After three decades of festering tensions, the United States and Iran are now facing off in a full-fledged cold war.

When the first Cold War began, in 1946, Winston Churchill famously spoke of an Iron Curtain that had divided Europe. As Cold War II begins half a century later, the Bush administration is trying to drape a kind of Green Curtain dividing the Middle East between Iran's friends and foes. The new showdown may well prove to be the most enduring legacy of the Iraq conflict. The outcome will certainly shape the future of the Middle East -- not least because the administration's strategy seems so unlikely to work.

The new Cold War will take center stage this week, as President Bush dispatches Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to the Middle East for a last-ditch appeal to recalcitrant U.S. allies on Iraq. Their pitch to Sunni Arab regimes spooked by the bloc of countries and movements led by Shiite Persian Iran will be simple: Support Iraq as a buffer against Iran or face living under Tehran's growing shadow. [complete article]

Comment -- As much as the administration professes its faith in the desirability of a stable and unified Iraq, what they have nothing to say about is what kind of relations they imagine such an Iraq would have with its powerful neighbor to the east. Suppose -- against all odds -- Maliki's government stays in power and reaches a political accord with Kurds and Sunnis; Sunni insurgents drive out the foreign jihadists, and the much-feared full-blown civil war is averted. In this dream scenario, how would Iraq function as a buffer against Iran? Would an independent Iraq not inevitably have much closer relations with Iran than with the United States (or Saudi Arabia)? Would Iran not still be the winner? (And would the neocons not then be busy figuring out how to topple governments in both Tehran and Baghdad?)
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The siren song of Elliott Abrams
By Kathleen Christison, Counterpunch, July 26, 2007

"Coup" is the word being widely used to describe what happened in Gaza in June when Hamas militias defeated the armed security forces of Fatah and chased them out of Gaza. But, as so often with the manipulative language used in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, the terminology here is backward. Hamas was the legally constituted, democratically elected government of the Palestinians, so in the first place Hamas did not stage a coup but rather was the target of a coup planned against it. Furthermore, the coup -- which failed in Gaza but succeeded overall when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, acting in violation of Palestinian law, cut Gaza adrift, unseated the Palestinian unity government headed by Hamas, and named a new prime minister and cabinet -- was the handiwork of the United States and Israel. [complete article]
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Poll: 68% of Palestinians want early elections, 15% would vote for Hamas
Haaretz, July 29, 2007

An overwhelming majority of Palestinians - 68 percent - favor early legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority as a solution to the current political crisis in the Palestinian Authority, a poll published Sunday has found.

The survey, conducted by the research center of al-Najjah University in Nablus, also found that if elections were held now, the Islamic Hamas movement would receive only 15.1 percent of the vote, compared to 42 percent for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party. [complete article]

Comment -- If this poll is accurate, how come Mahmoud Abbas isn't racing to have elections as soon as possible?
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Volleys of gunfire as Iraqis celebrate soccer joy
By Paul Tait, Reuters, July 29, 2007

Volleys of gunfire rang out across Baghdad on Sunday as Iraqis celebrated their soccer team's Asian Cup victory, a rare moment of joy and unity in four years of relentless strife.

"We achieved the dream. Allahu Akbar! (God is greatest)," a crying fan told Iraqiya state television after Iraq's 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in Jakarta.

Authorities earlier imposed vehicle curfews and security forces went on heightened alert after 50 people were killed by suicide attacks against fans after Iraq's semi-final victory on Wednesday.

Iraqis ignored orders by security and religious leaders not to fire into the air. Their team, who wore black arm bands in memory of the dead, had never before made it to the Asian Cup final.

Spontaneous celebrations broke out in religiously mixed Baghdad as well as in the Shi'ite south and the Kurdish north. The team featured players from all Iraq's main communities -- Shi'ite and Sunni Arab as well as Kurdish.

Fans cried and danced in the streets, waving their shirts in the air and hugging. [complete article]
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BREAKING NEWS: Iraq wins Asian Cup Final!
War in Context, July 29, 2007

In the 71st minute, Iraq's Younis Mahmoud thumps a header into the back of the net to give Iraq victory over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup Final. Match report here.
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Understanding the many faces of Islamism and jihadism
By Fawaz A. Gerges, Nieman Report, Summer, 2007

How to win in Iraq
By William S. Lind, The American Conservative, July 30, 2007

The life and times of the CIA
By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, July 24, 2007

A trap for fools
By Uri Avnery, Middle East Online, July 23, 2007

How to talk to Iran
By James Dobbins, Washington Post, July 22, 2007

America must pull out of Iraq to contain civil war
By Samuel Berger and Bruce Riedel, Financial Times, July 23, 2007

From the ashes of abject failure rises a tiny glimmer of hope
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 22, 2007

Blair 'will fail unless he talks to Hamas'
By Tim Shipman, Sunday Telegraph, July 22, 2007

Israel's primal myth: a barrier to peace
By Barry Lando, Truthdig, July 21, 2007
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World News - Regional
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