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Reengaging with the world
By John Edwards, Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2007

The "war on terror" approach has backfired, straining our military to the breaking point while allowing the threat of terrorism to grow. "War on terror" is a slogan designed for politics, not a strategy to make the United States safe. It is a bumper sticker, not a plan. Worst of all, the "war on terror" has failed. Instead of making the United States safer, it has spawned even more terrorism -- as we have seen so tragically in Iraq -- and left us with fewer allies.

There is no question that we are less safe today as a result of this administration's policies. The Bush administration has walked the United States right into the terrorists' trap. By framing this struggle against extremism as a war, it has reinforced the jihadists' narrative that we want to conquer the Muslim world and that there is a "clash of civilizations" pitting the West against Islam. From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, the "war on terror" has tragically become the recruitment poster al Qaeda wanted. Instead of reengaging with the peoples of the world, we have driven too many into the terrorists' arms. [complete article]

Comment -- The lie embedded in the conception of the "war on terrorism" was that it embodied the expression of American strength. On the contrary, what it did was capitalize on American fear by fostering the illusion that we could find safety through the might of the Bush administration. Anything that expanded that might would supposedly make us safer, while anything that diminished it would place us in jeopardy.

The goal of terrorism is and always will be to maximize the political scope and impact of isolated events. "Success" derives not from the act of violence itself but from the response that this triggers.

When Mariane Pearl was asked how the murder of her husband, Daniel Pearl, had changed her life's purpose, her response was simple and resolute:
I think the point is that it hasn't changed. That is my main achievement. Things like that happen to you, and the people that hurt you expect it to change your purpose. Part of my "revenge" was that my purpose wouldn't change--not how I live, the work that I do or my approach to the world.
Historically, this is what "standing up to terrorism" has always meant and it is the reason politicians would insist, "we will not give in to terrorism." But this is precisely what the Bush administration did -- al Qaeda hoped to provoke a massive reaction; it was given exactly what it wanted.

Suppose the administration's response had been low-key, bureaucratic, diplomatic, and political: air traffic halted for 24 hours; a comprehensive review and rapid improvement of airport and airline security procedures; likewise an overhaul of intelligence operations; a diplomatic initiative to lead an internationally coordinated response to terrorist threats; a regional political initiative drawing in support from Iran and Pakistan to apply pressure on the Taliban to shut down al Qaeda -- not a shot fired. What rational person can dispute that had the administration adopted such a strategy the Middle East and the rest of the world would now be in much better shape and America would now be much less vulnerable to another major terrorist attack?

But that didn't happen. Instead, President Bush declared a "war" and rather than performing an act of bold leadership, he capitulated to al Qaeda. A small organization that would never have the capacity to wage war was handed the greatest possible reward: it was elevated to the status of being an awesome global entity and absurdly treated as though it paralleled Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union. Al Qaeda's limited organizational reach was transcended by its being provided with unlimited ideological reach.

The iconic power and political significance of September 11 was a product not simply of the events themselves, but derived from the reaction that those events elicited from the American government and the media. That response elevated and sustained a level of public fear sufficient to short-circuit reason, marginalize dissent, and subvert the democratic process. Six years later, the political damage persists and continues to shape American politics.

For this reason, the challenge for the next president goes beyond the need to reengage the world (a goal whose importance I would not diminish in the slightest way); it is nothing short of attempting to restore democracy within what -- even before Bush and Cheney entered the picture -- was already an enfeebled political system.
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The debate America needs
By Michael Boyle, The Guardian, August 17, 2007

What is desperately needed in American foreign policy discourse is a sober discussion of the limits of American power, not a rehashing of the supposed need for renewed leadership abroad. Real leadership in American foreign policy involves a mature acceptance of the changes in the international system and a carefully calibrated effort to manage change in a way which avoids the extremes of war and suffering. What it does not require is a celebratory call for a return of American leadership of the rest of the world. Only by puncturing its cheerful faith in its own leadership can America come around to a more judicious and effective use of its power. [complete article]
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The real verdict on Jose Padilla
By Jenny S. Martinez, Washington Post, August 17, 2007

The conclusion of Jose Padilla's criminal trial in a federal court yesterday shows that waging the "war on terror" does not require giving up our constitutional values or substituting military rule for the rule of law. The jury's guilty verdict should be appealed, but the verdict on the Constitution is in: We should keep it.

Padilla is a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Chicago in May 2002, pursuant to a warrant to testify before a grand jury. He was held in civilian custody in New York for a month, but on the eve of a hearing in federal court, President Bush declared Padilla an "enemy combatant." At that point, Padilla was whisked out of the civilian justice system and imprisoned in a South Carolina military brig. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft held a news conference to announce that the government had thwarted a plot by Padilla to set off a radiological "dirty bomb" in an American city.

Anyone who has seen a cop show in recent decades knows what rights people in America usually have when arrested: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Not Padilla. [complete article]

See also, The Padilla verdict (Glenn Greenwald).

Comment -- If Padilla's appeal is unsuccessful and he's sentenced to a prison term, I wonder whether, as well as considering "time served," the sentencing judge will also take into consideration, "driven insane." To be driven insane is surely a form of punishment, even if it's not one that is enshrined in any legal statute.

It is perhaps ironic that a government that asserts a right to terminate someone's life might be reluctant to claim it has a "right" to destroy someone's mind. Nevertheless, authorities that meticulously exert control over the minutest details of a person's life and in the process of applying that control drive that person out of his mind, can hardly absolve themselves of responsibility. On the other hand, if the judicial system, the government, and the public, choose to ignore that Jose Padilla's mind was destroyed by his own government, have we not crossed the threshold beyond which abuses usually associated with totalitarian states, are increasingly woven into the fabric of American government?
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U.S. steps closer to war with Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, August 18, 2007

The Bush administration has leaped toward war with Iran by, in essence, declaring war with the main branch of Iran's military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which it plans to brand as a terrorist organization.

A logical evolution of US President George W Bush's ill-defined, boundless "war on terror", the White House's move is dangerous to the core, opening the way for open confrontation with Iran. This may begin in Iraq, where the IRGC is reportedly most active and, ironically, where the US and Iran have their largest common denominators.

A New York Times editorial has dismissed this move as "amateurish" and a mere "theatric" on the part of the lame-duck president, while at the same time admitting that it represents a concession to "conflict-obsessed administration hawks who are lobbying for military strikes". The political analysts who argue that the main impact of this initiative is "political" are plain wrong. It is a giant step toward war with Iran, irrespective of how well, or poorly, it is thought of, particularly in terms of its immediate and long-term implications, let alone the timing of it. [complete article]
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Maliki seeks a lifeline in Syria
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, August 18, 2007

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is scheduled to arrive in Damascus for a two-day visit on Monday. This will be his first visit to the Syrian capital - where he lived as a refugee in the 1990s during the Saddam Hussein years - since becoming prime minister in April 2006.

Maliki is due to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otari, Parliament Speaker Mahmud al-Abrash, Vice President Farouk al-Shara and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem. They are to discuss security and the political situation in Iraq.

Syria, which was reluctant at first to welcome the Iraqi leader, finally approved his visit, stressing that talks must deal with reconciliation, fair and balanced political representation of the Sunnis, amending the de-Ba'athification laws and articles in the Iraqi constitution that deal with federalism - a concept that the Syrians curtly refuse. [complete article]
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Are the Sunnis changing sides?
By James Dobbins, IHT, August 16, 2007

Recognizing that the United States will not support them against the Baghdad government, it seems likely that Sunni leaders will eventually shift back from fighting Al Qaeda to resisting the incursion of Shiite authority. At that point, the Sunnis will again find themselves at odds with American forces as well.

Perhaps this renewed U.S.-Sunni confrontation can be postponed long enough to see some reconciliation at the national level between Shiite and Sunni leaders. Unfortunately, there has been precious little evidence of movement in that direction of late. In fact, the movement is going the other way.

Even as the Sunnis in Anbar enter an alliance of convenience with the United States, their representatives in Baghdad are distancing themselves further from the national government. The two developments are not necessarily connected, but to the extent they are, Sunni-American cooperation in Anbar may actually be working against Sunni-Shiite accommodation in Baghdad. [complete article]
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The new Shi'a-Kurdish alliance
Iraqslogger, August 16, 2007

Four ruling Iraqi parties have agreed to a "new" political alliance and set of principles after intense deliberation. As reported earlier, the Shi'a Islamic Da'wa Party and Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council have signed an agreement with the two principal Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Notably absent from the "new" agreement are any Sunni Arab political forces. The Iraqi Islamic Party of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi left the negotiations. Also absent are any other opposition groups, including the secular Iraqi National List of former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and the Shi'a groups that have most harshly criticized the government of the Islamic Da'wa Party's PM Nuri al-Maliki, namely the Sadrist bloc and the Fadhila Party.

Indeed, the four signatory Shi'a and Kurdish parties already share power, and represent, respectively, the major pro-government constituents of the Shi'a and Kurdish blocs that entered into alliance to form the parliamentary majority after the December 2005 elections. [complete article]
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Entering the tough oil era
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, August 16, 2007

Since the ["peak oil"] concept burst into public consciousness several years ago, its proponents and critics have largely argued over whether or not we have reached maximum worldwide petroleum output. In a way, this is a moot argument, because the numbers involved in conventional oil output have increasingly been obscured by oil derived from "unconventional" sources -- deep-offshore fields, tar sands, and natural-gas liquids, for example -- that are being blended into petroleum feedstocks used to make gasoline and other fuels. In recent years, this has made the calculation of petroleum supplies ever more complicated. As a result, it may be years more before we can be certain of the exact timing of the global peak-oil moment.

There is, however, a second aspect to peak-oil theory, which is no less relevant when it comes to the global-supply picture -- one that is far easier to detect and assess today. Peak-oil theorists have long contended that the first half of the world's oil to be extracted and consumed will be the easy half. They are referring, of course, to the oil that's found on shore or near to shore; oil close to the surface and concentrated in large reservoirs; oil produced in friendly, safe, and welcoming places.

The other half -- what (if they are right) is left of the world's petroleum supply -- is the tough oil. They mean oil that's buried far offshore or deep underground; oil scattered in small, hard-to-find reservoirs; oil that must be obtained from unfriendly, politically dangerous, or hazardous places. An oil investor's eye-view of our energy planet today quickly reveals that we already seem to be entering the tough-oil era. [complete article]
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Yazidi sect has long been a target of persecution
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2007

To the Yazidis worldwide, Tuesday was No. 73.

Up until that day, the secretive religious sect had counted 72 campaigns against it at the hands of Turks, Arabs, Persians and Kurds throughout its long history, said Aidan Sheikh-Kalo, director of the Yazidi Cultural Center.

Yazidi society has been on the run since a spurt of religiously motivated violence began in April. Now, after a devastating attack that killed more than 250 of them, many worry about their future in Iraq.

"We left our homes in a hurry because we knew we were in danger," said Sheikh-Kalo, a 30-year-old Yazidi who was forced to move to the autonomous Kurdish region from Mosul after suspected insurgents began issuing calls to kill all members of his sect.

"Our homes have been taken over by terrorists," he said. "They've taken everything from us." [complete article]
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Security improves in Iraq despite attacks: US general
By Fanny Carrier, AFP, August 17, 2007

Security in Iraq is improving despite a wave of car bombings that include the worst single attack since the US-led invasion in 2003, said on Friday General Raymond Odierno, the number two leader of US forces in Iraq.

Odierno said that the US "surge" troop hike launched in January is "beginning to pay off" despite the massive attack in northern Iraq which killed more than 400.

Four suicide bombers packed two tonnes of explosives into their trucks and attacked members of the ancient Yazidi religious sect in the deadliest incident since the war began. [complete article]

See also, U.S. planning quick attacks on extremists in Iraq (AP) and Despite violence drop, officers see bleak future for Iraq (McClatchy).

Comment -- When General Raymond Odierno tells reporters, "security across Iraq is generally improving," what is he thinking? I must sound like an idiot, or, it's important that journalists present a positive picture of Iraq? Probably the latter, but surely he's aware that he really does sound like an idiot. To make matters worse, he goes on to say that extremists are "are on the move" and "we'll continue to aggressively target their shrinking areas of influence." New phrasing for an old message: the enemy's on the run and we're wiping out pockets of resistance.
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Iraqi leaders forge new political pact
By Steven R. Hurst, AP, August 16, 2007

Iraq's political leaders emerged Thursday from three days of crisis talks with a new alliance that seeks to save the crumbling U.S.-backed government. But the reshaped power bloc included no Sunnis and immediately raised questions about its legitimacy as a unifying force.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed the political agreement as a first step toward unblocking the paralysis that has gripped his Shiite-dominated government since it first took power in May 2006.

The new Shiite-Kurdish coalition will retain a majority in parliament -- 181 of the 275 seats -- and apparently have a clear path to pass legislation demanded by the Bush administration, including a law on sharing Iraq's oil wealth among Iraqi groups and returning some Saddam Hussein-era officials purged under earlier White House policies.

A crucial progress report by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and commander Gen. David Petraeus is due in Congress in less that a month. But a senior American Embassy official hesitated to join in al-Maliki's enthusiasm since the new alliance of Shiites and Kurds failed to bring in Sunnis, who were favored under Saddam and are now crucial to efforts for future stability. [complete article]
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Terror label for Guard Corp entrenches US-Iran enmity
By Trita Parsi, IPS, August 16, 2007

The White House's decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization could deal a double blow to efforts to utilize diplomacy with Iran to stabilize Iraq.

Not only does the designation risk undermining the important yet limited talks between the United States and Iran in Baghdad, but it may also negatively impact the next US president's ability to seek diplomacy with Iran by further entrenching US-Iran relations in a paradigm of enmity. [complete article]

As U.S. steps up pressure on Iran, aftereffects worry allies
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 16, 2007

America's allies are increasingly concerned about the Bush administration's plans to unilaterally escalate pressure on Iran, fearing that an evolving strategy may also set in motion a process that could lead to military action if Iran does not back down, according to diplomats and officials of foreign countries.

Although they share deep concern about Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions, European and Arab governments are particularly alarmed about new U.S. moves, including plans to cite Iran's entire Revolutionary Guard Corps as a "specially designated global terrorist." The move would block the elite unit's assets and pressure foreign companies doing business with its vast commercial network.

Allies are less concerned about that step than they are about the new momentum behind it, and the potential for spillover in a region reeling with multiple conflicts. "If the region is strewn with crises, then there's potential for real disaster. There's a fear that they will all merge into a super-emergency bigger than any one country can deal with," a leading Arab envoy said.

Language from the State Department yesterday triggered further alarm. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters: "We are confronting Iranian behavior across a variety of different fronts on a number of different 'battlefields,' if you will. We are confronting Iran's behavior in arming and providing material support to those groups that are going after our troops. We confront them on the ground in Iraq. Our military is doing that. We are confronting Iran diplomatically in the international arena with respect to their nuclear program."

European envoys expressed alarm at the use of "battlefield" in describing policy on Iran. [complete article]
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The surge's short shelf life
By Bobby Ghosh, August 15, 2007

Hospital officials in northwestern Iraq have told TIME that the death toll from Tuesday's blasts in Qahataniya may exceed 300, making the multiple suicide bombings the deadliest terrorist operation in the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein. One hospital is saying that there are at least 500 bodies and that 375 people are injured. That report, however, cannot yet be verified. The only previous occasion when the toll from concerted attacks has exceeded 200 was last November, when six car-bombs in Baghdad's Sadr City killed 215 people. If the toll in the Qataniya incident grows, it could become the worst terrorist incident since al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S. (The Beslan massacre in Russia in September 2004 came to approximately 330, about half of the total children).

Since then, the massive "surge" of U.S. and Iraqi troops in and around Baghdad has made the Iraqi capital safer than before from such bombings — but terrorist groups have stepped up attacks elsewhere. There have been a number of attacks in northern Iraq, which had enjoyed a long spell of peace before the start of the "surge."

Tuesday's bombings were also a reminder that even successful U.S. military operations can have a short shelf life — a sobering thought for Bush Administration officials and independent analysts who have recently been talking up the successes of the "surge." After all, the area around Qahataniya was the scene of a major anti-insurgent operation barely two years ago. In the fall of 2005, some 8,000 American and Iraqi troops flushed a terrorist group out of the nearby town of Tal Afar in an operation that was a precursor to the "clear, hold and build" strategy that underpins the current "surge." A few months later, President Bush cited Tal Afar as a success story for the U.S. enterprise in Iraq. [complete article]

See also, Who are the Yazidis? (Reuters).
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Shiite militia infiltrates Iraqi forces with ease
By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2007

Abu Mohammed is a policeman by day, patrolling the Shiite Muslim district of Sadr City. Come sundown, however, Abu Mohammed commands a platoon of Jaish al Mahdi, or the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia associated with radical cleric Muqtada Sadr that is widely accused of sectarian killings.

Abu Mohammed is not alone in this double life. By his account and those of U.S. military and Iraqi sources, Mahdi militia members have infiltrated much of the country's security apparatus, including the army, where they reportedly intimidate and bribe troops and commanders to look the other way as militants execute their brutal sectarian "cleansing" agenda.

"There is a Mahdi Army member in every family and in every home across Iraq and the military is not exempt," said Abu Mohammed, leaning nonchalantly in a Sadr City alley, as children played in the street. "The army wouldn't go after the Mahdi Army because many elements in the army are Mahdi Army. Here in Sadr City for example, there is one company and 35 of them are Mahdi Army."

Abu Mohammed, who insisted on identifying himself only by his battle name, represents one of the challenges U.S. strategists face in Iraq. While U.S. forces search out militia fighters and try to build a nonsectarian police force and army, men such as Abu Mohammed are surreptitiously undoing their work.

In addition to infiltrating Baghdad army units in Shiite neighborhoods, the Mahdi Army has been able to bring political pressure on commanders, and on at least one occasion, to create its own army units packed with its fighters. [complete article]

Comment -- Ever since foreigners invaded Iraq, one of the most durable ironies has been that the "enemies" that those foreigners find themselves in conflict with are viewed as foreign or tainted by foreign influence.

Consider then the definition of infiltrate -- as in "Shiite militia infiltrates Iraq forces":
1) a.To pass (troops, for example) surreptitiously into enemy-held territory.
b.To penetrate with hostile intent: infiltrate enemy lines; terrorists that had infiltrated the country.
2) To enter or take up positions in gradually or surreptitiously, as for purposes of espionage or takeover: infiltrated key government agencies with spies.
If the Madhi Army is engaged in infiltration, can the same be said about right-wing evangelical Christians in America?

For at least two decades, the Christian right have been engaged in an effort to penetrate all levels of government in the United States, as well as exert an increasingly expanding influence in the media and across all dimensions of public life. Are the evangelicals infiltrators? No, because whether we like them or not, they represent an enormous American constituency.

Why then should the Madhi Army not be regarded the same way? Moqtada al-Sadr might not have a large fan base in America, but we have to concede him this: he and his army are Iraqis. It's the Americans in Iraq who are the unwelcome foreigners.
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Learn from the fall of Rome, U.S. warned
By Jeremy Grant, Financial Times, August 14, 2007

The US government is on a 'burning platform' of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country's top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country's future in a report that lays out what he called "chilling long-term simulations".

These include "dramatic" tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were "striking similarities" between America's current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including "declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government".

"Sound familiar?" Mr Walker said. "In my view, it's time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time." [complete article]
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U.S. terror interrogation went too far, experts say
By Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 2007

Jose Padilla had no history of mental illness when President Bush ordered him detained in 2002 as a suspected Al Qaeda operative. But he does now.

The Muslim convert was subjected to prison conditions and interrogation techniques that took him past the breaking point, mental health experts say.

Two psychiatrists and a psychologist who conducted detailed personal examinations of Mr. Padilla on behalf of his defense lawyers say his extended detention and interrogation at the US Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., left him with severe mental disabilities. All three say he may never recover. [complete article]
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The Middle East's nuclear surge
By Joseph Cirincione and Uri Leventer, IHT, August 15, 2007

...the main message to the West from these moderate Arab and Muslim leaders [from a dozen Muslim nations that have declared their interest in nuclear energy programs in the past year,] is political, not industrial. "We can't trust you," they are saying, "You are failing to contain Iran and we need to prepare." It is not too late to prove them wrong.

Instead of seeing this nuclear surge as a new market, the countries with nuclear technology to sell have a moral and strategic obligation to ensure that their business does not result in the Middle East going from a region with one nuclear weapon state - Israel - to one with three, four, or five nuclear nations.

If the existing territorial, ethnic, and political disputes continue unresolved, this is a recipe for nuclear war. [complete article]

Comment -- This is a good hook for liberals who aren't sufficiently alarmed about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran: a "surge" of proliferation across the region would be a recipe for nuclear war.

But hold on a minute. Why should the destabilizing influence be pinned exclusively on Iran and not be shared by Israel? General Moshe Dayan once said, 'Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.' Only a year ago as bombs fell across Lebanon we witnessed the Jewish state's enduring attachment to this image. So what exactly is it that's supposed to legitimize the nuclear status of a state that refuses to submit itself to any international scrutiny?

That said, to understand why nuclear weapons must seem so attractive to the Middle East's "moderate" leaders, we probably need to look beyond Israel and Iran, further to the east: to Pakistan.

If you're unpopular among the people you govern without consent and you want to appear indispensable to your Western friends, then present yourself as a trusted gatekeeper -- the only person that stands in the way of the Islamist bomb. Is there any other reason that General Pervez Musharraf still retains power?

This nuclear arms race has less to do with preparing for war than it has to do with protecting power. Everyone's playing the same game.

Perhaps we should be giving more attention to the explosive power of the words "regime change" and recognize that threatening behavior often yields unintended consequences.
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U.S. 'surges', soldiers die. Blame Iran
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, August 16, 2007

When a top US commander in Iraq reported last week that attacks by Shi'ite militias with links to Iran had risen to 73% of all July attacks that had killed or wounded US forces in Baghdad, he claimed it was because of an effort by Iran to oust the United States from Iraq, referring to "intelligence reports" of a "surge" in Iranian assistance.

But the obvious reason for the rise in Shi'ite-related US casualties - ignored in US media coverage of Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno's charge - is that the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr was defending itself against a rising tempo of attacks by US forces at the same time attacks by al-Qaeda forces had fallen. [complete article]
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Iranian unit to be labeled 'terrorist'
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 15, 2007

The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group's business operations and finances.

The Bush administration has chosen to move against the Revolutionary Guard Corps because of what U.S. officials have described as its growing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle East, the sources said. The decision follows congressional pressure on the administration to toughen its stance against Tehran, as well as U.S. frustration with the ineffectiveness of U.N. resolutions against Iran's nuclear program, officials said.

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch included on the list, U.S. officials said -- a highly unusual move because it is part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization. [complete article]

Comment -- As Helene Cooper in the New York Times notes, this move "would serve at least two purposes for Ms. Rice: to pacify, for a while, administration hawks who are pushing for possible military action, and to further press America's allies to ratchet up sanctions against Iran in the Security Council." It will also, as Joseph Ciricione suggests "convince many in Iran's elite that there's no point in talking with us and that the only thing that will satisfy us is regime change."

What seems to be an essentially bureaucratic move might satisfy a few legislators in Congress but somehow I doubt that the vice president will be too impressed. He wants airstrikes, not frozen bank accounts. So, as time runs out for this administration, if Cheney lets Condoleezza Rice stand in his way, it will indeed only be "for a while."
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Abbas considering changes to electoral law
By Nasser Abu Bakr, AFP, August 15, 2007

President Mahmud Abbas is mulling changes to Palestinian electoral law that would effectively exclude the rival Hamas movement ruling Gaza from future elections, officials said on Wednesday.

The Islamists slammed any such moves as illegal, and said elections cannot take place without the participation of their movement, which had swept to power after the last legislative poll a year and a half ago. [complete article]
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Giuliani: No Palestinian state now
AP, August15 , 2007

Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani said he opposes creation of a Palestinian state at this time and would take a tough stand with Iran, including destroying its nuclear infrastructure "should all else fail." [complete article]

Comment -- Here's what Giuliani wrote:
America has a clear interest in helping to establish good governance throughout the world. Democracy is a noble ideal, and promoting it abroad is the right long-term goal of U.S. policy. But democracy cannot be achieved rapidly or sustained unless it is built on sound legal, institutional, and cultural foundations. It can only work if people have a reasonable degree of safety and security. Elections are necessary but not sufficient to establish genuine democracy. Aspiring dictators sometimes win elections, and elected leaders sometimes govern badly and threaten their neighbors. History demonstrates that democracy usually follows good governance, not the reverse. U.S. assistance can do much to set nations on the road to democracy, but we must be realistic about how much we can accomplish alone and how long it will take to achieve lasting progress.

The election of Hamas in the Palestinian-controlled territories is a case in point. The problem there is not the lack of statehood but corrupt and unaccountable governance. The Palestinian people need decent governance first, as a prerequisite for statehood. Too much emphasis has been placed on brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- negotiations that bring up the same issues again and again. It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism. Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel. America's commitment to Israel's security is a permanent feature of our foreign policy.
Presumably Giuliani thinks that democracy came to America prematurely and he would have supported George III had the king admonished revolutionary America's, telling them, first you must demonstrate your ability to govern yourselves -- only then can you be granted independence.

It's really a Kafkaesque notion -- the idea that a people must first demonstrate that they will use their freedom responsibly before it can be granted.

Giuliani bemoans the "corrupt and unaccountable governance" in the Palestinian territories yet this is the governance (under Fatah) that the United States has supported and that Palestinian voters rejected when they elected Hamas. And if Giuliani is such a big fan of stateless governance, why would he not have supported Hamas demonstrating (or failing to demonstrate) that it was capable of governing in spite of their being no Palestinian state?
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Livni calls int'l attempts to mend Hamas-Fatah rift 'huge mistake'
Haaretz, August 15, 2007

Israel said on Tuesday it would be a "big mistake" for the international community to try to bridge differences between Hamas Islamists and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' secular Fatah faction.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was responding to calls from Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and British parliamentarians for dialogue with Hamas, whose fighters routed Fatah and seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

"I know that it looks tempting and I know that the international community is eager to see a kind of an understanding between Hamas and Fatah," Livni told a news conference with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.

"This is wrong. This is a mistake. Big mistake. Huge," Livni said, tapping the table for emphasis. [complete article]
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Nasrallah: Hezbollah doesn't want another war with Israel
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, August 15, 2007

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Tuesday that his organization is not interested in another war in the region, and expressed hope that such a scenario would be avoided.

Addressing a rally that marked the end of the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah said Hezbollah was nonetheless continuing to prepare for the possibility of a war, and added his organization would not "rest on its laurels."

"If you the Zionists are thinking of attacking Lebanon ... I promise great surprises that could alter the fate of the war and the region, G-d willing," he said.

Nasrallah said he is interested in achieving a balance of power with Israel, and therefore decided to declare that Hezbollah has the capability to strike anywhere in Israel. [complete article]
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200 massacred in Iraq suicide truck bombings
By Mujahed Mohammed, AFP, August 15, 2007

Rescuers dug through the rubble of devastated Iraqi communities Wednesday after suicide bombers killed more than 200 members of a minority sect in the bloodiest spate of attacks of the war.

Whole families were wiped out after suicide bombers blew up four lorries packed with explosives late on Tuesday in two northeastern Iraqi villages inhabited by the ancient Yazidi religious sect.

"It was like a nuclear explosion. The second blast was even stronger," said army Captain Jalal Mohammed, who rushed to the village of Qataniyah with his unit only to find scenes of grief and devastation. [complete article]
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The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam
By Henry Siegman, London Review of Books, August 16, 2007

The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well before it, Israel's interest in a peace process -- other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international acceptance of the status quo -- has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, is 'to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people'. In his reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and his distaste for the settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been the exception to this, but even he did not entertain a return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called Allon Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.

Anyone familiar with Israel's relentless confiscations of Palestinian territory -- based on a plan devised, overseen and implemented by Ariel Sharon -- knows that the objective of its settlement enterprise in the West Bank has been largely achieved. Gaza, the evacuation of whose settlements was so naively hailed by the international community as the heroic achievement of a man newly committed to an honourable peace with the Palestinians, was intended to serve as the first in a series of Palestinian bantustans. Gaza's situation shows us what these bantustans will look like if their residents do not behave as Israel wants. [complete article]
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Middle East already planning for Bush's departure
By Mark Seibel, McClatchy, August 11, 2007

One recent Friday morning, Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a Palestinian human-rights activist, offered this assessment of what the future holds for the Gaza Strip now that the Islamist group Hamas has taken control:

"For two years, Gaza will suffer even more," said Sarraj, a British-trained psychiatrist who founded Gaza's mental-health system. Then, he said, President Bush and his advisers will be gone. A new U.S. administration will talk to Hamas, and so will the Israelis.

"They'll have to," he said, "because they'll have seen that Hamas can deliver."

That calculus — that the end of the Bush administration is approaching and things will be different afterward -- now underpins political thought throughout much of the Middle East. [complete article]
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Rove's imprint is deep, but is it lasting?
By Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2007

In nearly a decade as the guiding political strategist for George W. Bush and the Republican Party, Karl Rove was often hailed as a genius. He masterminded Bush's rise to national prominence, directed his two winning presidential campaigns and wrote a campaign playbook for GOP success in Congress and statehouses across the country.

Some Republican strategists, including Rove himself, even dreamed that the system Rove created would make the party invincible, able to dominate American politics for decades. [complete article]

See also, Rove's departure signals beginning of end of Bush presidency (McClatchy).

Comment -- Perhaps the only significant question about the Rove "legacy" is this: will it be possible to repair the damage? Beyond that, this is a man who would best be described as a political soldier of fortune. His mastery was in tactics bereft of principle. He could have been the central character in an entertaining movie -- if only it had remained fiction. The narrative would have revolved around a bet: Is it possible to coach a miserable failure and not only install him in the White House but get him re-elected? Rove won -- we lost. Once out of Washington, his greatest ambition (I predict) will be to find refuge in oblivion.
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Hamas expresses willingness to engage in dialogue with Europe
DPA and Haaretz, August 14, 2007

Hamas expressed readiness Monday to open dialogue with the West after calls by Italy's prime minister for it to do so.

Romano Prodi suggested in an address that Hamas' existence was a fact and that the group must be integrated into the political process rather than excluded.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded by saying "Prodi's statements coincide with other positive European officials' statements." [complete article]

Hamas boycott criticised in UK
By Ben Hall and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, August 12, 2007

The refusal of Britain and the European Union to engage with Hamas in the Palestinian territories has been strongly criticised by a UK parliamentary inquiry.

In a stinging indictment of the west's approach to the Middle East peace process, a committee of MPs concluded that the international community was partly responsible for the violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas militants in the Gaza strip in June.

The isolation of Hamas, even after it agreed to form a national unity government with Fatah in February, had been "counterproductive" and the EU's unwillingness to provide direct aid for the Palestinian Authority "very damaging", the Commons foreign affairs select committee said in a report published on Sunday. [complete article]

Time to talk to Hamas
By Mike Gapes, The Guardian, August 13, 2007

[Tony Blair's] appointment was warmly welcomed in both Israel and the US. Just as the ardently anti-communist Richard Nixon was best placed to restart America's relationship with China in the 1970s, Blair may well be in the ideal political position to make a bold move by talking to Hamas. But Blair's current mandate, of focusing on Palestinian institution-building, makes it difficult for him to do this. It should be broadened to include explicitly the tough political issues facing Israel and the Palestinians, the most fundamental being progress towards the goal of a two-state solution: an independent, democratic and viable Palestine living alongside a secure Israel. [complete article]

Comment -- Nixon was president when he went to China -- not a former British prime minister. He also had some dogged independence. I guess, out-of-office, Blair might discover some courage he lacked while he had his eye on the polls, but I wouldn't bet on it. He'd have to shed his psychological need to please the powerful, but if he doesn't he's just going to serve as a smiling face used to divert attention away from the formaldehyde.

Israeli ambassador slams British MPs' call to end Hamas boycott
Reuters, August 13, 2007

Israel's ambassador to Britain Zvi Heifetz on Monday condemned comments by a British parliamentary committee, which said that the boycott of the extremist Palestinian Hamas was counterproductive.

"It is saddening that a UK Parliamentary Committee is suggesting rewarding an extremist group, committed to destroying any hope for peace in the Middle East, by granting it international legitimacy" said Heifetz in a statement released by the Israeli mission in London. [complete article]

Hamas and Fatah disagree on whether they're talking
By Isabel Kershner, New York Times, August 13, 2007

A Hamas official in Gaza said Sunday that his organization was holding unofficial talks with representatives from the rival Fatah movement, as tension between the factions continued to simmer on the ground. Fatah officials denied that any such dialogue was taking place.

Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to Ismail Haniya of Hamas, the dismissed Palestinian prime minister, said that the talks had been authorized by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, but that so far they had not led to any breakthrough. Mr. Youssef also assailed Mr. Abbas, saying that he had a "very weak personality" and that he easily caved in to pressure. [complete article]
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Democrats say leaving Iraq may take years
By Jeff Zeleny and Marc Santora, New York Times, August 12, 2007

Among the challenges the next president could face in Iraq, three seem to be resonating the most: What to do if there is a genocide? What to do if chaos in Iraq threatens to engulf the region in a wider war? And what to do if Iraq descends into further lawlessness and becomes the staging ground for terrorist attacks elsewhere, including in the United States?

"While the overwhelming majority of Americans want to bring the troops home, the question is what is the plan beyond that?" said Gov. Chet Culver of Iowa, a Democrat. "The first candidate running for president, I think on either side, who can best articulate that will win." [complete article]

Comment -- Presidential candidates have a luxury that presidents don't have: they can articulate broad policy goals without having to make hard decisions or struggle with the mechanics of implementation. Ending the war (which is to say, America's participation in the war) is a plan, not a policy, and assuming President Bush has made no significant advances in that direction before he leaves office, it's very hard to predict whether in 2009 it will be possible to implement a plan conceived in 2007. What the candidates should be doing right now instead of posturing as military planners is seizing the policy initiative; if they don't, the post-Bush era is going to be the haunted-by-Bush era.

Seizing the policy initiative means reframing it in terms other than those that this administration currently dictates, those terms being: Terrorism, Iraq, terrorism, Iran, and terrorism. It means redefining the context within which an end to the war will become possible.

The extraordinary reality after six years in which the Middle East has remained resolutely at the center of America's foreign policy considerations is that the current administration does not have anything resembling a coherent Middle East policy. The closest it came was with its Greater Middle East Initiative -- an initiative so ill-conceived that it was quickly abandoned and has been quietly forgotten.

For opponents of the administration who have intelligence, imagination, and courage, the Middle East policy vacuum presents a tremendous opportunity.

Popular sentiment, nationally and internationally, suggests that the best thing the U.S. can do in the Middle East is to beat a hasty retreat. Unable to help, it should now focus its efforts on avoiding doing greater harm to a region that it has already ripped apart.

Even so, the success of the fear-mongers in Washington means that a rapid withdrawal from Iraq is not going to happen. At the same time, the administration's increasingly belligerent posture towards Iran risks pushing the U.S. into an even more intractable position.

American fear and insecurity is and is likely to remain the prism through which all foreign policy questions get filtered -- unless, that is, a presidential candidate has the guts to champion a new perspective.

What might such a perspective look like?

The starting point would be the recognition that every government and the vast majority of the people in the region have an interest in stability. The division of the region into stabilizing and destabilizing forces has been hugely overstated and ignores the possibility that -- if presented with the right formula -- all states, including Iran and Syria, might be willing to be parties to a treaty that would guarantee the security of every signatory state. The terms of such an agreement would need to be determined by all those involved -- without American interference -- but the United States could act as facilitator and guarantor by offering the promise of a non-aggression treaty to every member state. If a security arrangement of this nature came into place, the U.S. could then provide a subsequent reinforcing role by making the protection of the security pact a commitment that took precedence above commitments to individual states. While the U.S. could not and should not attempt to engineer such an initiative, the fact that it can so easily prevent something like this working means that its support is indispensable. (For more detailed considerations of a regional security initiative see these articles by Ali Allawi and Patrick Seale.)

Instead of asking what is good for Israel and the United States, the next president needs to ask what is good for the Middle East. Instead of perpetuating the politics of fear, the next president needs to demonstrate and inspire political courage. Instead of promoting a regional security initiative to counter Iran, the next president needs to envisage supporting a Middle East security initiative that includes Iran.
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The problem with partitions
By Yasmin Khan, Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2007

In the 20th century, the great powers devised a new method for solving entrenched conflicts in faraway countries The tool kit was simple; it required only maps and pens. It appealed because it could be carried out relatively quickly by departing imperialists from their airy colonial offices, and it could be imposed from above on the peoples they formerly governed.

The method was known as partition, and it was the chosen solution in Ireland in 1922, South Asia in 1947, Palestine in 1948 and Cyprus in 1974. It was revived as a strategy in the Balkans in the 1990s. And today, it is being promoted again in some quarters as a way out of the morass in Iraq. If Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can't get along, the thinking goes, then why not just cut the country in three?

The potential difficulties are obvious. Determining the natural boundaries of nation-states is always a tricky business. As we learned in the last century -- and are learning again today -- getting out of an imperial commitment is substantially harder than getting into one. All too often, there is no neat fit between those making land claims, those appealing to ideas of nationhood and those calling for ethnic solidarity.

And even after partition, conflict and bloodletting often follow as ethnic or religious groups continue to pit themselves against each other. Think of Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East; Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

Nevertheless, the strategy of carving up peoples and land has been applied regularly and with gusto since 1922, for better or worse, generally presented as a way of solving competing claims to land by rival groups when alternative power-sharing ideas have floundered. [complete article]

Comment -- Partition is invariably most appealing to those who envisage being able to witness the carving and the carnage from a convenient distance. It's worth noting that one of the highest profile proponents of partition, Michael O'Hanlon, recently expressed another form of contrived optimism when Cheney-like he came back from a Pentagon-guided tour of Iraq with news of progress.
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Delaying the inevitable
By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, August 12, 2007

Gen. David Petraeus is doing an excellent job, but the surge isn't about making streets safe. Rather its aim is to create political space for reconciliation -- and in that respect the surge has failed.

Even in the Bush administration, everybody seems to recognize that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is incapable of achieving a reconciliation. So there's talk of engineering a replacement of Mr. Maliki -- but we tried that in Vietnam in 1963, and the Soviets tried that in Afghanistan in 1986. It didn’t work either time.

In the absence of realistic hope for reconciliation, let's not drag things along as the Soviets did in the 1980s but bite the bullet as Mikhail Gorbachev did in 1987 and announce that we are headed for the exits. [complete article]
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U.S. prepares to plug hole left by British troops
By Sean Rayment and Philip Sherwell, Sunday Telegraph, August 12, 2007

America is preparing to pour thousands of extra troops into southern Iraq amid fears that Gordon Brown is committed to withdrawing British troops from the region early next year.

The White House and the Pentagon are understood to have drawn up detailed plans to secure the vital "umbilical cord" link road between Baghdad and Kuwait when the British depart.

Washington is also concerned that a British pull-out will leave the border with Iran undefended, as well as undermining US operations at a time when political pressure is mounting for an American withdrawal.

Tensions are understood to have deepened between London and Washington after Mr Brown's recent visit to the US, amid fears the Prime Minister is distancing himself from the Bush regime and its military objectives. [complete article]
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Bush to bolster Iraq troop surge as antiwar lobby gives ground
By Tim Reid, The Times, August 13, 2007

President Bush plans to continue his Iraq troop surge well into next year after a string of positive reports left Democrats increasingly powerless to end the war.

Mr Bush, bolstered by growing public support for the surge and recent admissions from war critics that military gains have been made, has begun a campaign to talk up the strategy before General David Petraeus's critical progress report next month.

General Petraeus, the US ground commander in Iraq, is expected to tell Congress that military progress is being made and that the surge should be given more time. Mr Bush used his weekly radio address to capitalise on a palpable shift in attitude on Capitol Hill about the war in recent days to state: "Our new strategy is delivering good results, and our commanders recently reported more good news." [complete article]
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What "progress" in Iraq really means
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, August 13, 2007 is the second Tomdispatch "by the numbers" report on Iraq. Consider it an attempt to put the Iraqi quagmire-cum-nightmare -- two classic Vietnam-era words -- in perspective.

Few numbers out of Iraq can be trusted. Counting accurately amid widespread disruption, mayhem, and bloodshed, under a failing occupation, in a land essentially lacking a central government, in a U.S. media landscape still dizzy from the endless spin of the Bush administration and its military commanders is probably next to impossible. But however approximate the figures that follow, they still offer an all-too-vivid picture of what the President's much-desired invasion let loose. No country could suffer such uprooting, destruction, death, loss, and deprivation, yet remain collectively sane. [complete article]
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Iraqi PM calls for crisis summit
BBC News, August 13, 2007

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, has called for a summit of the nation's main political factions in an attempt to break Iraq's political paralysis.

In recent weeks almost all Sunni members of the cabinet have quit. Others are boycotting meetings, leaving at least 17 cabinet seats empty. [complete article]

Iraqi Sunni claims 'genocide campaign'
By Steven R. Hurst, AP, August 13, 2007

Iraq's most senior Sunni politician issued a desperate appeal Sunday for Arab nations to help stop what he called an "unprecedented genocide campaign" by Shiite militias armed, trained and controlled by Iran. The U.S. military reported five American soldiers were killed, apparently lured into an al-Qaida trap.

Adnan al-Dulaimi said "Persians" and "Safawis," Sunni terms for Iranian Shiites, were on the brink of total control in Baghdad and soon would threaten Sunni Arab regimes which predominate in the Mideast.

"It is a war that has started in Baghdad and they will not stop there but will expand it to all Arab lands," al-Dulaimi wrote in an impassioned e-mail to The Associated Press. [complete article]

Trouble grows in Iraq's Shiite south
By Sam Dagher, Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 2007

The Shiite-on-Shiite struggle for Iraq's economically important south has taken a violent turn.

Qadisiyah Province's governor was killed by a roadside bomb over the weekend, clashes in Basra Province killed at least three, and tensions are rising in Najaf as figures close to the senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have been targeted in a wave of assassinations.

"We are going to witness an escalation of this conflict ... the Shiites were never united, the question now is who's going to represent the Shiites," says Mustafa al-Ani, an analyst with the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. [complete article]

Iraq pullout could create chaos
By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, August 12, 2007

U.S. troops could withdraw from Iraq within months, but if Iraq's government remains politically deadlocked, it probably would collapse and the nation would descend into chaos, a war game organized by the U.S. Army concluded earlier this month.

The war gamers, following a scenario created by their Army hosts, determined that U.S. troops would secure the exit route to Kuwait through largely Shiite Muslim southern Iraq and face little fighting as they drove their equipment out. Any attacks, the panel judged, would be "harassment attacks," likely by a few Sunni members of al Qaida in Iraq who wanted to attack American troops one last time. [complete article]
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Fatigue cripples U.S. army in Iraq
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, August 12, 2007

Lieutenant Clay Hanna looks sick and white. Like his colleagues he does not seem to sleep. Hanna says he catches up by napping on a cot between operations in the command centre, amid the noise of radio. He is up at 6am and tries to go to sleep by 2am or 3am. But there are operations to go on, planning to be done and after-action reports that need to be written. And war interposes its own deadly agenda that requires his attention and wakes him up.

When he emerges from his naps there is something old and paper-thin about his skin, something sketchy about his movements as the days go by.

The Americans he commands, like the other men at Sullivan - a combat outpost in Zafraniya, south east Baghdad - hit their cots when they get in from operations. But even when they wake up there is something tired and groggy about them. They are on duty for five days at a time and off for two days. When they get back to the forward operating base, they do their laundry and sleep and count the days until they will get home. It is an exhaustion that accumulates over the patrols and the rotations, over the multiple deployments, until it all joins up, wiping out any memory of leave or time at home. Until life is nothing but Iraq.

Hanna and his men are not alone in being tired most of the time. A whole army is exhausted and worn out. You see the young soldiers washed up like driftwood at Baghdad's international airport, waiting to go on leave or returning to their units, sleeping on their body armour on floors and in the dust.

Where once the war in Iraq was defined in conversations with these men by untenable ideas - bringing democracy or defeating al-Qaeda - these days the war in Iraq is defined by different ways of expressing the idea of being weary. It is a theme that is endlessly reiterated as you travel around Iraq. 'The army is worn out. We are just keeping people in theatre who are exhausted,' says a soldier working for the US army public affairs office who is supposed to be telling me how well things have been going since the 'surge' in Baghdad began.

They are not supposed to talk like this. We are driving and another of the public affairs team adds bitterly: 'We should just be allowed to tell the media what is happening here. Let them know that people are worn out. So that their families know back home. But it's like we've become no more than numbers now.' [complete article]
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How the fight for vast new spying powers was won
By Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 12, 2007

On May 1, McConnell appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to press for action on amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The 30-year-old statute was badly behind the times, failing to take into account modern communication methods, he said. "We are actually missing a significant portion of what we should be getting," McConnell told the senators.

McConnell and other officials ultimately briefed about 250 lawmakers on the issue and encountered little resistance to their proposed repair for surveillance involving purely foreign communications. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the intelligence committee chairman, who had received some of the first detailed briefings on the surveillance program, called Vice President Cheney in late June to explore options.

"I want to move forward," he said. But Democratic leaders wanted something in return: the release of long-sought administration documents describing the controversial warrantless wiretapping program Bush had authorized in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The administration declined to release the documents, which include Bush's presidential order allowing the wiretaps, as well as the administration's legal opinions justifying the action. Administration officials described a particular showdown with key Democratic leaders -- including Rockefeller and Carl M. Levin (Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which Democrats proposed a trade of sorts.

While the exchange was not a quid pro quo, the senators essentially said, "You give us the documents we want, and we'll give you the legislation," according to an administration official present, who said the response was "no." McConnell argued that the Democrats were "looking backwards" and that he was the "forward-looking guy," a witness said.

A critical moment for the Democrats came on July 24, when McConnell met in a closed session with senators from both parties to ask for urgent approval of a slimmed-down version of his bill. Armed with new details about terrorist activity and an alarming decline in U.S. eavesdropping capabilities, he argued that Congress had days, not weeks, to act. [complete article]

Comment -- When we now know that just a couple of days ago checkpoints were put up across Lower Manhattan and hundreds of police deployed for no other reason than the appearance of some wild speculation on an infamously unreliable Israeli web site, it's hard not to wonder what was the substance and source of the "new details" about "terrorist activity" that McConnell used to scare the senators?
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Deported Canadian was no threat, report shows
By Ian Austen, New York Times, August 10, 2007

Canadian intelligence officials anticipated that the United States would ship Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was detained in New York in 2002 on suspicion of terrorism, to a third country to be tortured, declassified information released on Thursday shows.

Mr. Arar was sent by American intelligence officials in October 2002 to Syria, where he was tortured and jailed for a almost a year. Last September, an extensive Canadian inquiry concluded that the terrorism accusations against him were groundless.

Portions of the inquiry's report were originally removed for security and diplomatic reasons. But a court ruled last month that much of the editing was not justified.

The newly released sections indicate that neither the Syrian government nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation were convinced that Mr. Arar was a significant security threat. They also suggest that the investigation of Mr. Arar was prompted by the coerced confession of Ahmad Abou el-Maati, a Kuwaiti-born Canadian who was also imprisoned and tortured in Syria. And despite claims by the United States government that Mr. Arar's removal to Syria was mainly an immigration matter, the new material suggests that the Central Intelligence Agency led the action. [complete article]
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U.S. backs free elections, only to see allies lose
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, August 10, 2007

Lebanon's political spin masters have been trying in recent days to explain the results of last Sunday's pivotal by-election, which saw a relatively unknown candidate from the opposition narrowly beat a former president, Amin Gemayel.

There has been talk of the Christian vote and the Armenian vote, of history and betrayal, as each side sought to claim victory. There is one explanation, however, that has become common wisdom in the region: Mr. Gemayel's doom seems to have been sealed by his support from the Bush administration and the implied agendas behind its backing.

"It's the kiss of death," said Turki al-Rasheed, a Saudi reformer who watched last Sunday's elections closely. "The minute you are counted on or backed by the Americans, kiss it goodbye, you will never win." [complete article]

Comment -- Once George Bush leaves office and has time for reflection -- whether that be from the comfort of his ranch or the confinement of a prison cell -- he might care to consider this passage from the Tao Te Ching:
A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn't meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.
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Beilin: Gov't must reach deal with Hamas before Mideast summi
By Lisa Zilberpriver, Haaretz, August 12, 2007

Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said Thursday it is vital Israel reach an agreement with Hamas, directly or indirectly, before the Middle East summit scheduled for this coming fall, otherwise Gaza may "explode."

Beilin, speaking at a Jerusalem conference held by the Geneva Initiative and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on the Geneva Convention, said a cease-fire negotiated with Hamas would include it taking responsibility for a total cessation of Qassam fire.

"Hamas have said they are capable of stopping Qassam fire on Israel, and I believe they can," he said. [complete article]

See also, U.N. warns of dire results if main Gaza crossings stay shut (NYT).

Lantos: Early removal of roadblocks may resusciate terror attacks
AP, August 12, 2007

U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos on Sunday told journalists in Jerusalem that "premature removal of checkpoints is a guarantee of violence and terrorism erupting," on the same day that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office announced it would decide on their removal soon.

A spokesman for Olmert's office said, "Wherever and whenever possible, it is Israel's intention to ease up on the Palestinian population, while taking into account the relevant security situation at that point in time."

Israel has sometimes failed to meet promises to remove roadblocks in the past due to staunch political opposition. [complete article]

No peace with Palestinians imminent, says Barak
Reuters, August 10, 2007

A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will not be reached for at least three to five years; Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as saying.

Yedioth Ahronoth said on Friday that in private conversations, Barak said the idea of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians anytime soon was a "fantasy". [complete article]

Fatah forces infiltrating Gaza
By Ali Waked, Ynet, August 10, 2007

Two months after Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip and the consequent escape of Fatah security forces from the area, Fatah units have begun infiltrating the Strip and operating there undercover in a bid to topple the current regime.

Ynet has learned that several groups numbering five to 10 members each, have started operating in Gaza City and the southern Strip, under the name al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – Samih al-Madhoun Cells. The groups are named after the Brigades' former commander, who was executed by Hamas on the last day of the coup in Gaza.

The unit members have so far planted explosive devices near Hamas' headquarters in Gaza, and blew up a bomb near Hamas loyalists. The Fatah members also carried out several shooting attacks against outposts of Hamas' special security force in the Strip. [complete article]

Jerusalem source: 'Syria worried by Iranian bear hug'
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, August 11, 2007

A government official in Jerusalem said yesterday that Syria is still not a satellite of Iran and can be extricated from an Iranian "bear-hug."

The official told Haaretz that Syria believes that Iran provides it with security but is being careful not to become a client state. Syria is said to be particularly worried that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will find it responsible for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Jerusalem reportedly believes Syria was behind the murder, and if the ICJ rules as such, Syria's diplomatic isolation will increase. Damascus is also concerned over a possible Israeli attack, and Israel has therefore signaled to the Syrians a number of times that it does not have any belligerent intentions.

"The more the American threat against Syria grows, the more calls are heard for maqawamah - violent resistence to Israel," the official said. "Then the moment will come when Syria won't be able to extricate itself from the Iranian alliance, but we still have not reached that point. They are tightening their connections to Iran because that is the best thing they have at the moment."

Jerusalem views Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus last month as a good example of Syrian concern over Israeli intentions. As opposed to Ahmadinejad, who resoundingly predicted a "hot summer" and spoke in favor of "defeats for the enemies of the region," Assad's tone was restrained and even his body language at their press conference conveyed distance, officials said. [complete article]

A segregated road in an already divided land
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, August , 2007

Israel is constructing a road through the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, that will allow both Israelis and Palestinians to travel along it -- separately.

There are two pairs of lanes, one for each tribe, separated by a tall wall of concrete patterned to look like Jerusalem stones, an effort at beautification indicating that the road is meant to be permanent. The Israeli side has various exits; the Palestinian side has few.

The point of the road, according to those who planned it under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is to permit Israel to build more settlements around East Jerusalem, cutting the city off from the West Bank, but allowing Palestinians to travel unimpeded north and south through Israeli-held land.

"The Americans demanded from Sharon contiguity for a Palestinian state," said Shaul Arieli, a reserve colonel in the army who participated in the 2000 Camp David negotiations and specializes in maps. "This road was Sharon's answer, to build a road for Palestinians between Ramallah and Bethlehem but not to Jerusalem. This was how to connect the West Bank while keeping Jerusalem united and not giving Palestinians any blanket permission to enter East Jerusalem." [complete article]

Comment -- The neo-McCarthyists went ballistic when Jimmy Carter had the nerve to use the word "apartheid." What is really an offense to reason and truthfulness is that anyone should object to that description when applied to Israeli treatment of Palestinians. At least the Afrikaners were honest enough to admit that they were running a segregated society.
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A new way of war
By Evan Thomas and John Barry, Newsweek, August 20, 2007

David Petraeus wrote the Army's new manual on counterinsurgency. For his forces in Iraq, he boiled it down to a series of instructions. Instruction No. 4: "Get out and walk."

Everyone -- from the Americans to the British to the Israelis, with their long experience in Lebanon -- seems to agree that better intelligence is essential to reducing the IED problem to a mere "nuisance" (Meigs's goal). But good intelligence is hard to come by. Instead, the Americans have resorted to operations like sending out convoys as bait -- while drone aircraft loiter overhead to track the bombers, and signals-intelligence teams listen for their communications -- followed by a larger force to spring a trap on the attackers. If that tactic sounds a little desperate, a senior military official, speaking anonymously about a sensitive subject, assured NEWSWEEK that such convoys use volunteer crews and very-well-armored vehicles.

The success of the insurgent tactics employed in Iraq seems to guarantee we will see them again elsewhere. In the dry jargon of military thinkers, guerrilla fighting is called "asymmetrical warfare." The asymmetries are not just physical or technological, but moral. Martin Van Creveld, a well-respected historian at Hebrew University, puts the proposition starkly: because occupying powers are automatically cast as the bully, they have to show restraint in the battle for world opinion. "You cannot be both strong and morally right at the same time," says Van Creveld. "But if you are small and weak, then you can do what-ever you want. Necessity does not have any moral bounds." [complete article]

Comment -- It's not surprising that military commanders are so fond of this argument when accounting for their lack of success: the enemy is ruthless and unprincipled but we are bound by moral standards. Journalists, however, have no moral obligation to repeat the argument.

The part of the asymmetry that here -- as is so often the case -- is ignored is simple and of overriding significance. The big guys are not constrained by moral principle as much as they are by being foreign. The little guys are not empowered by lack of principle as much as by the passion to defend their home turf.
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Iraq's arms bazaar
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, August 20, 2007

On the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2006, at a small church in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon, Father Andrea Santoro was kneeling in prayer when a bullet from an Austrian-made Glock 9mm pistol hit him in the back and pierced his heart. The soft-spoken 60-year-old Italian priest, who lived in poverty ministering to the city's tiny Christian community, slumped to the floor, and the killer squeezed off another round. "Allahu akbar!" -- "God is great" -- said the shooter, a 15-year-old boy with a grudge against the West.

In May of last year, another Muslim fanatic, guns blazing, attacked Turkey's supreme court in Ankara. Four justices were wounded and one was killed. The assassin's weapons of choice were a pair of Glock pistols.

The attacks were no mystery. What puzzled Turkish police was the weapons' origin. Glocks are high-quality sidearms, but by last year they had practically become common street weapons in Turkey. More than 1,000 had been taken from criminals, guerrillas, terrorists and assassins all over the country, and authorities believed tens of thousands more had found their way onto the black market -- but from where? The Austrian government repeatedly checked the serial numbers of the murder weapons. The manufacturer informed Ankara that the pistols were consigned originally to " 'US Mission Iraq' [formerly the Coalition Provisional Authority], address: Republican Presidential Compound, Ministry of the Interior, Baghdad, Iraq." [complete article]

Iraq contractors accused in shootings
By Deborah Hastings, AP, August 11, 2007

There are now nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are U.S. soldiers — and a large percentage of them are private security guards equipped with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bullet-proof trucks.

They operate with little or no supervision, accountable only to the firms employing them. And as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war, this private army has been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys.

Not one has faced charges or prosecution. [complete article]

Comment -- Iraq may never have been intended to become "flypaper" for jihadists, but there was never any doubt that it would serve as a honey pot attracting war profiteers and criminals. Donald Rumsfeld's commitment to minimal force size and maximal outsourcing made this possible.

Since greed has never really worked as an ideologically unifying motive, we tend not to think of the latter group in the collective -- more likely viewing them ambiguously as some variety of commonplace exception. Even so, I suspect that those individuals (mostly American) who were drawn to Iraq because they saw an irresistible opportunity for making money, far outnumber the foreign terrorists.

U.S. pays millions in cost overruns for security in Iraq
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, August 12, 2007

The U.S. military has paid $548 million over the past three years to two British security firms that protect the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on reconstruction projects, more than $200 million over the original budget, according to previously undisclosed data that show how the cost of private security in Iraq has mushroomed.

The two companies, Aegis Defence Services and Erinys Iraq, signed their original Defense Department contracts in May 2004. By July of this year, the contracts supported a private force that had grown to about 2,000 employees serving the Corps of Engineers. The force is about the size of three military battalions.

U.S. officials and company representatives attributed the overruns to the cost of protecting a largely civilian workforce amid an escalating insurgency, as Corps of Engineers commanders demanded more manpower and increasingly expensive armor to guard their field staff.

"To pay a man or a woman to come over here, put the vest on every day and escort military and civilians around the theater, knowing that people want to blow them up and kill them, you gotta pay to get that level of dedication," said Col. Douglas P. Gorgoni, senior finance officer for the Corps of Engineers in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- The guards protecting the Corps of Engineers are getting paid $15,000 a month. (Before joining the private sector, most of these guards probably received military training paid for by U.S. tax dollars.) Enlisted soldiers with less than 12 years experience on active duty earn $1200-$4100 a month. Does Col. Gorgoni believe that American soldiers are less dedicated than their private counterparts, or is security outsourcing just another name for corruption?
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

U.S. role in the world
World Public Opinion, August 6, 2007

Inside the CIA's secret interrogation program
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007

Bush still wields the threat of terrorism
By Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, August 7, 2007

'There is always something to be afraid of, because the threat is an ongoing threat'
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 11, 2007

Who's in the best position to play a constructive role in Iraq?
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 10, 2007

Sustaining culture
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 8, 2007

The road to peace runs through Jerusalem
By Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, August 6, 2007

Engaging the Palestinians means engaging Hamas; Fatah has lost its credibility
By Jeremy Greenstock, Newsweek, August 13, 2007

After Gaza
International Crisis Group, August 2, 2007

The surge
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, August 7, 2007

Getting Iraq wrong
By Michael Ignatieff, New York Times, August 5, 2007
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