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Bush's appalling Iraq speech
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 13, 2007

President Bush's TV address tonight was the worst speech he's ever given on the war in Iraq, and that's saying a lot. Every premise, every proposal, nearly every substantive point was sheer fiction. The only question is whether he was being deceptive or delusional.

The biggest fiction was that because of the "success" of the surge, we can reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades to 15 by next July. Gen. David Petraeus has recommended this step, and President George W. Bush will order it so. [complete article]

Comment -- President Bush's basic problem as he addressed the nation last night was that his position has become untenable: he is a president who needs a front man. If General Patraeus could have given a presidential address, Bush seemed like he would happily have handed over the Oval Office.

"The war of good and evil" -- phrasing that Bush would in the past have eagerly claimed as his own -- this time came instead from an email from the parents of a dead soldier, Army Specialist Brandon Stout of Michigan. Then, in the ultimate act of disownership, Bush said, "now it falls to us to finish the work they have begun."

Sorry, Mr. President, it wasn't Americans like Brandon Stout who started this war -- they simply blindly followed your lead.

Three and a half years later, faced with the consequences of their casual assent to war, many -- perhaps even most Americans -- would now support the idea that the president and this administration's top officials "have to be held accountable."

That demand also comes from elsewhere -- this time from Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Today he went on to say, "I have a firm belief that one day this current US president and the American officials will be tried in a fair international court for the atrocities committed in Iraq."

Washington's reaction would no doubt be, of course that's what America's nemesis would say. Yet as all the neocons and now the president himself each energetically pursue their own personal exit strategy for getting out of responsibility for Iraq, the judgment day they clearly fear is much closer than the hereafter. It comes in the ignominious fall that the mighty will always struggle to evade. Eventually, though, executives lose their privilege.
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Sunni world
By Marc Lynch, The American Prospect, September 13, 2007

During his visit to Iraq last week, President Bush carved out an hour to sit down with Shaykh Abd al-Sattar Abu Risha, the controversial head of the Anbar Salvation Council who had become a symbol of America's Anbar strategy. The pictures from that photo-op were likely the Shaykh's death warrant: Abu Risha was assassinated today, even as Bush prepared to use the Anbar strategy's "success" to justify our continued involvement in Iraq.

David Petraeus was quick to blame al-Qaeda for the stunning murder, a leap to judgment emblematic of all which is wrong with America's current views of the Sunnis of Iraq. In reality there are a plethora of likely suspects, reflecting the reality of an intensely factionalized and divided community which little resembles the picture offered by the administration's defenders. Leaders of other tribes deeply resented Abu Risha's prominence. Leaders of the major insurgency factions had for weeks been warning against allowing people such as Abu Risha to illegitimately reap the fruits of their jihad against the occupation. The brazen murder of America's closest Sunni ally in Iraq was as predictable as it was shocking, and carries a powerful message to both Iraqis and Americans about the real prospects for the long-term success of the American project. [complete article]

See also, Abu Risha's place in history (Badger) and Iraqi insurgents kill key U.S. ally (BBC News).
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How Bush is trying to save face in Iraq
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, September 13, 2007

Two years ago the Sunni sheiks leading the insurgency in Iraq's Anbar province approached the United States, offering to end the violence in exchange for a timetable establishing that U.S. forces would withdraw from the country, a senior official at the highest level of the British government told me. Without some sort of negotiated deal that the Sunni leaders could brandish, they explained, they would not have the essential political justification for quelling the conflict. The British believed that the Sunni offer was being made in good faith and urged that it be accepted. But according to the senior British source, President Bush rejected it out of hand, still certain that he could achieve a military victory. He saw any agreement with the Sunnis as tantamount to defeat, the British official said. And yet, even as the Sunnis were rebuffed, Bush continued to invest trust in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to forge a political conciliation.

Now, Thursday night, in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office, President Bush will announce the withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Iraq by July 2008, leaving the U.S. force at the level it was before the "surge," through the presidential election year. He will claim that he is able to withdraw these troops because of the success of his plan, as proved by the result of the turning of Sunni tribes in Anbar province against al-Qaida in Iraq. [complete article]

See also, What the president means to say... (Tony Karon).
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War against Iran and the logic of dominance
By Gareth Porter, Huffington Post, September 8, 2007

If the Bush administration launches an attack on Iran, the reason won't be that Iran was about to obtain a nuclear weapon. The real reason will be that United States, as the world's only superpower, wants to establish clearly that it -- not Iran -- is the dominant power in the Middle East. That would make us all less secure, but the insistence on asserting dominance in the Middle East is the essence of the Bush administration's policy.

That quest for dominance over all other states in the Middle East can be traced back to the 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance, drafted by Paul Wolfowitz's staff at the Pentagon -- Zalmay Khalilzad and Scooter Libby. It said, "[We] must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role".

For the neoconservatives and their allies, that has meant that Iran could not be allowed to emerge as a power center in the Middle East. Of course the Bush administration has had cover their designs in a fog of propaganda portraying Iran as the worst thing to come along since Hitler. But at least one insider in neoconservative circles has been honest enough to reveal the real problem the hawks in the administration have with Iran. [complete article]

Iran linked to Iraq rocket attack
By Jonathan Karl, ABC News, September 12, 2007

U.S. military officials in Iraq tell ABC News that a rocket used in an attack on coalition headquarters at Camp Victory Tuesday was made in Iran. Officials say the rocket, which narrowly missed its target, was fired from an area of Baghdad controlled by Shia militia leader Moqtada al Sadr.

Officials say it landed so close that it shook the windows of the al Faw Palace, which houses the operational headquarters of U.S. forces in Iraq. The top two American military officials in Iraq -- Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno -- both have offices in the building. A video teleconference of senior officers was abruptly halted as officials rushed outside to see what was hit. [complete article]
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U.S.-IRAQ: Fallon derided Petraeus, opposed the surge
By Gareth Porter, IPS, September 12, 2007

In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that", the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior. [complete article]
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Despite a backlash, many Jews are questioning Israel
By Tony Karon, TomDispatch, September 13, 2007

Many Jews are beginning to make once unthinkable criticisms of Israel's behavior. If you want to bludgeon Jewish critics with the charge of "anti-Semitism" when they challenge Israel's actions, then it's hardly helpful to have other Jews standing up and expressing the same thoughts. It undermines the sense, treasured by Israel's most fervent advocates, that they represent a cast-iron consensus among American Jews in particular.

That much has been clear in the response to the publication of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt's controversial new book The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which challenges the wisdom and morality of the unashamed and absolute bias in U.S. foreign policy towards Israel. In an exchange on the NPR show Fresh Air, Walt was at pains to stress, as in his book, that the Israel Lobby, as he sees it, is not a Jewish lobby, but rather an association of groupings with a right-wing political agenda often at odds with majority American-Jewish opinion,

Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, argued exactly the opposite: Walt and Mearsheimer, he claimed, were effectively promoting anti-Semitism, because the Israel lobby is nothing more (or less) than the collective will of the American Jewish community. Which, of course, it isn't. In fact, in the American Jewish community you can increasingly hear open echoes of Mearsheimer and Walt's skepticism over whether the lobby's efforts are good for Israel.

But Foxman's case is undercut by something far broader -- an emerging Jewish glasnost. Of course, like any break with a long-established nationalist consensus, the burgeoning of dissent has provoked a backlash. Norman Finkelstein -- the noted Holocaust scholar and fierce critic of Zionism recently hounded out of De Paul University in a campaign of vilification based precisely on the idea that fierce criticism of Israel is the equivalent of "hate speech" -- could be forgiven for being skeptical of the idea that the grip of the ultranationalists is weakening.

So, too, could Joel Kovel. After all, he found his important book Overcoming Zionism pulled by his American publisher, the University of Michigan Press, also on the "hate speech" charge.

Jimmy Carter -- who was called a "Holocaust denier" (yes, a Holocaust denier!) for using the apartheid analogy in his book on Israel -- and Mearsheimer and Walt might have reason for skepticism as well. But I'd argue that the renewed ferocity of recent attacks on those who have strayed from the nationalist straight and narrow has been a product of panic in the Jewish establishment -- a panic born of the fact that its losing its grip. As in the former Soviet Union with the actual glasnost moment, this is a process, once started, that's only likely to be accelerated by such witch-hunting. [complete article]
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Prisoners speak after five and a half years, and "9/11 hijacker" recants his tortured confession
By Andy Worthington, Counterpunch, September 13, 2007

In another resounding demonstration of the importance of legally constituted checks and balances on executive power in the United States, the Associated Press, after filing a request to the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act, has secured 58 transcripts from the latest round of annual Administrative Review Boards at Guantanamo, convened to assess whether the detainees still pose a threat to the US, or if they are still presumed to have ongoing "intelligence value."

This is just the latest in a series of important actions undertaken by the AP with regard to Guantanamo. Previously, the agency secured the right to reproduce 60 habeas petitions, and obtained the 517 Summaries of Evidence for the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) held at Guantanamo. Used to assess whether the detainees had been correctly designated as "enemy combatants," these documents were analyzed by Mark and Joshua Denbeaux of Seton Hall Law School to produce a ground-breaking report in February 2006, which demonstrated that, according to the government's own allegations, only 8 percent of the detainees were accused of having any kind of affiliation with al-Qaeda, 55 percent were not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the US or its allies, and 86 percent were not captured by US forces, but by their Pakistan and Afghan allies, at a time when the Americans were making bounty payments, equivalent to an average worker’s lifetime salary, for the delivery of al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. [complete article]
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Spy master admits error
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, September 12, 2007

In a new embarrassment for the Bush administration's top spymaster, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is withdrawing an assertion he made to Congress this week that a recently passed electronic-surveillance law helped U.S. authorities foil a major terror plot in Germany.

The temporary measure, signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 5, gave the U.S. intelligence community broad new powers to eavesdrop on telephone and e-mail communications overseas without seeking warrants from the surveillance court. The law expires in six months and is expected to be the subject of intense debate in the months ahead. On Monday, McConnell -- questioned by Sen. Joe Lieberman -- claimed the law, intended to remedy what the White House said was an intelligence gap, had helped to “facilitate” the arrest of three suspects believed to be planning massive car bombings against American targets in Germany. Other U.S. intelligence-community officials questioned the accuracy of McConnell's testimony and urged his office to correct it. Four intelligence-community officials, who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive material, said the new law, dubbed the "Protect America Act," played little if any role in the unraveling of the German plot. The U.S. military initially provided information that helped the Germans uncover the plot. But that exchange of information took place months before the new "Protect America" law was passed. [complete article]

Senate intelligence panel seeks CIA nominee's withdrawal
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, September 13, 2007

Members of the Senate intelligence committee have requested the withdrawal of the Bush administration's choice for CIA general counsel, acknowledging that John Rizzo's nomination has stalled because of concerns about his views on the treatment of terrorism suspects.

The decision followed a private meeting this week in which committee leaders concluded that the troubled nomination could not overcome opposition among Democratic members. It comes less than a month after a key member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), announced his intention to block the nomination indefinitely.

Rizzo, a career CIA lawyer, has drawn fire from Democrats and human rights groups because of his support for Bush administration legal doctrines permitting "enhanced interrogation" of terrorism detainees in CIA custody. [complete article]
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Al-Qaida has revived, spread and is capable of a spectacular
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, September 13, 2007

Al-Qaida has revived, extended its influence, and has the capacity to carry out a spectacular strike similar to the September 11 attacks on America, one of the world's leading security thinktanks warned yesterday.

There is increasing evidence "that 'core' al-Qaida is proving adaptable and resilient, and has retained an ability to plan and coordinate large-scale attacks in the western world despite the attrition it has suffered", said the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). "The threat from Islamist terrorism remains as high as ever, and looks set to get worse," it added.

"The US and its allies have failed to deal a death blow to al-Qaida; the organisation's ideology appears to have taken root to such a degree that it will require decades to eradicate," it continued. [complete article]

See also, Bin Laden's new image (Fawaz A. Gerges).
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As Israel bombs Syria, the United States prepares to attack Iran
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, September 12, 2007

With contradictory statements coming from unnamed Bush administration officials, there continues to be speculation around the purpose and significance of Israel's incursion into Syrian airspace last week. The New York Times reports that:
One Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea. The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria.
While Associated Press says that:
Israeli warplanes targeted weapons destined for Hezbollah in a strike last week in northeastern Syria, a U.S. government official said Wednesday, even as Syria and Israel remained silent on the incident. [...] U.S. officials have declined to comment on whether the suspected weapons targeted might have originated in North Korea, whether the aircraft passed over Turkey on their way into or out of Syria or whether Israel had used weapons from the United States in the airstrike.
Given that North Korea has just opened up its nuclear facilities to American inspectors and it recently entered into a bilateral agreement with the U.S. saying it will disable its nuclear facilities by the end of this year, the North Korean angle to the Syrian story looks to me like a smokescreen.

In World Politics Review, Frida Ghitis points out that:
Israel is undoubtedly developing contingency plans in case it decides it must stop Iran's nuclear program. If it decides to bomb Iran's nuclear installations, a possible flight route could take it over the Syria-Turkey border, along Northern Iraq's friendly Kurdish region, and into Iran. Flying safely over Syria would be key to the success of the mission against Iran.
It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that Israel will not need to follow through with such plans. Fox News reports that:
Political and military officers, as well as weapons of mass destruction specialists at the State Department, are now advising Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the diplomatic approach [to Iran] favored by [Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas] Burns has failed and the administration must actively prepare for military intervention of some kind. Among those advising Rice along these lines are John Rood, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation; and a number of Mideast experts, including Ambassador James Jeffrey, deputy White House national security adviser under Stephen Hadley and formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs.

Consequently, according to a well-placed Bush administration source, "everyone in town" is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely timeframe for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months, after the presidential primaries have probably been decided, but well before the November 2008 elections.

The discussions are now focused on two basic options: less invasive scenarios under which the U.S. might blockade Iranian imports of gasoline or exports of oil, actions generally thought to exact too high a cost on the Iranian people but not enough on the regime in Tehran; and full-scale aerial bombardment.

On the latter course, active consideration is being given as to how long it would take to degrade Iranian air defenses before American air superiority could be established and U.S. fighter jets could then begin a systematic attack on Iran's known nuclear targets.

Most relevant parties have concluded such a comprehensive attack plan would require at least a week of sustained bombing runs, and would at best set the Iranian nuclear program back a number of years -- but not destroy it forever. Other considerations include the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against Tel Aviv and other Israeli population centers; and the effects on American troops in Iraq. There, officials have concluded that the Iranians are unlikely to do much more damage than they already have been able to inflict through their supply of explosives and training of insurgents in Iraq.
That is a mind-boggling assertion. Do these officials regard IEDs to be as powerful as Iranian missiles or that the latter are no more dangerous than an IED? The Iranians themselves have been quite blunt in their warnings:
[Former head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard,] General Rahim Yahya Safavi, Jaafari's predecessor and now special military advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had warned last week that the United States did not appreciate how at risk its troops were.

"It can not evaluate the vulnerability of its 200,000 troops in the region since we have accurately identified all of their camps," said Safavi.
It's hard not to believe that at the beginning of a war with Iran, the United States might lose more troops than it has over the course of four and a half years in Iraq.

But if anyone thinks that General Petraeus seems like far too prudent a commander to allow his forces to become so vulnerable, his comments in an interview given to The Independent on Monday offer no reassurance:
General Petraeus strongly implied that it would soon be necessary to obtain authorisation to take action against Iran within its own borders, rather than just inside Iraq. "There is a pretty hard look ongoing at that particular situation" he said.

See also, N. Korea: Israeli invasion of Syrian airspace 'dangerous provocation' (Ynet) and Nuclear? Chemical? Missiles? What was hit? (Joshua Landis).
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9/11 linked to Iraq, in politics if not in fact
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, September 12, 2007

The television commercial is grim and gripping: A soldier who lost both legs in an explosion near Fallujah explains why he thinks U.S. forces need to stay in Iraq.

"They attacked us," he says as the screen turns to an image of the second hijacked airplane heading toward the smoking World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. "And they will again. They won't stop in Iraq."

Every investigation has shown that Iraq did not, in fact, have anything to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. But the ad, part of a new $15 million media blitz launched by an advocacy group allied with the White House, may be the most overt attempt during the current debate in Congress over the war to link the attacks with Iraq.

Six years later, the Sept. 11 attacks remain the touchstone of American politics, the most powerful force that can be summoned on behalf of an argument even as a nation united in their aftermath today stands divided on their meaning. While Washington spent yesterday's anniversary debating the U.S. involvement in Iraq, it struggled to define the relationship between the war there and the worldwide battle with al-Qaeda and other extremists. [complete article]

Comment -- In the name of honoring those who died, 9/11 has for some Americans been turned into a fetish. Just as Benjamin Netanyahu's immediate response to the event was to say, "It's very good," those who want to see September 11, 2001, as the defining moment in American history, are in effect saying: We needed al Qaeda in order for us to express who we are.

A question that any would-be leader of the United States should be demanded to answer is this: Do you regret that 9/11 ever happened?

Although it's hard to imagine that anyone would be stupid enough to say no, the test would be to see how sincerely and unequivocally they express their regret. Anyone who came to see 9/11 as an instrument for revealing America's destiny would surely betray at least a hint of Netanyahu's celebratory tone.

A new international counter-terrorism organization makes good sense
By Victor Comras, Counterterrorism Blog, September 9, 2007

John Edwards' proposal for a new international Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization (CITO) deserve serious consideration. Edwards has put his finger on the single most important shortcoming in the war on terrorism – the serious lack of international cooperation and coordination in efforts to grapple with terrorism on a world wide scale. The United Nations, and the various terrorism related committees established by the Security Council, have simply failed to carry out this important function. This has left a void that the United States and certain other countries have sought to fill by establishing various ad hoc bilateral arrangements, and this process has produced only limited, and very uneven, success.

While intelligence sharing and cooperation between the United States and certain European countries, directly, and under the auspices of the Roma-Lyon Group, has borne some fruit, other bilateral cooperative arrangements have proved sterile, and in some cases, even counter-productive. Numerous countries have complained that counter terrorism intelligence cooperation with the United States is too often a one way street, with US intelligence agencies proving overly reluctant to provide detailed intelligence to overseas agencies. Most acknowledge that the US has acted quickly to help foreign governments thwart imminent terrorist attacks, but, they complain that follow-up information upon which to base prosecution and continued incarceration, is frequently lacking. And US intelligence officers have also often complained of the spottiness and unreliability of information flowing to the US from foreign intelligence agencies. Without an ability to pool information, and compare notes, terrorist activists, including those recruiting and funding terrorists, and planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, often escape prosecution, or otherwise fall through the cracks. [complete article]

Comment -- John Edwards maintains a consistent trend of injecting intelligence into the presidential campaign. At the same time, a smart international approach to combating terrorism will not appeal to those who insist on treating this issue as a prism through which America's global preeminence must be allowed to shine.

Bin Laden, brought to you by ...
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, September 12, 2007

Early yesterday morning, a South Carolina Web designer who works at home managed to scoop al-Qaeda by publicly unveiling its new video, a feat she has accomplished numerous times since 2002. Within hours, cable news stations were broadcasting images of Osama bin Laden commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and crediting the 50-year-old woman, who uses the pseudonym Laura Mansfield.

A similar event occurred Friday, when another group beat al-Qaeda by nearly a full day with the release of the first video images of bin Laden to appear publicly since 2004. That group, the SITE Institute, provided the tape to government agencies and news organizations at a time when many well-known jihadist Web sites had been shut down in a powerful cyberattack by unknown hackers.

It was the latest round of electronic warfare between al-Qaeda and a small community of individuals and companies that troll the Internet for messages from terrorists -- as a livelihood, a personal obsession or both. Often, the groups compete to be the first to find and post a new video or message. Frequently, they accomplish their goal several steps ahead of government agencies who turn to them for the material. [complete article]

Comment -- Al Qaeda's media operatives are probably thinking, with enemies like this, who needs friends?

See also, 5 myths about terrorism (Alan B. Krueger).
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U.S. seeks pact with Shiite militia
By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2007

U.S. diplomats and military officers have been in talks with members of the armed movement loyal to Muqtada Sadr, a sharp reversal of policy and a grudging recognition that the radical Shiite cleric holds a dominant position in much of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

The secret dialogue has been going on since at least early 2006, but appeared to yield a tangible result only in the last week -- with relative calm in an area of west Baghdad that has been among the capital's most dangerous sections.

The discussions have been complicated by divisions within Sadr's movement as well as the cleric's public vow never to meet with Iraq's occupiers. Underlying the issue's sensitivity, Sadrists publicly deny any contact with the Americans or British -- fully aware the price of acknowledging such meetings would be banishment from the movement or worse.

The dialogue represents a drastic turnaround in the U.S. approach to Sadr and his militia, the Mahdi Army. The military hopes to negotiate the same kind of marriage of convenience it has reached in other parts of Iraq with former insurgent groups, many Saddam Hussein loyalists, and the Sunni tribes that supported them. Both efforts are examples of how U.S. officials have sought to end violence by cooperating with groups they once considered intractable enemies. [complete article]
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Why we'd miss Musharraf
By Sameer Lalwani, Foreign Policy, September, 2007

When India and Pakistan parted ways in 1947, most of the British Indian Army's Muslim officers -- who constituted the bulk of the officer corps -- went to Pakistan, while the bulk of civilian expertise went to India. This set the course for the military to dominate not only decisions of national security, but also domestic policy. Much like in Egypt and Turkey, the officer corps saw itself as the vanguard of Pakistan's modernization. Under the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan, a Nasser or Ataturk of his day, Pakistan witnessed a period of successful leadership and economic growth in the 1960s. This was followed by Pakistan's most disastrous period of instability under the civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir's father.

Today, the younger Bhutto and her successor Sharif are presenting themselves as the saviors of Pakistan's beleaguered democratic institutions. This begs the question: How real were these institutions before Musharraf came to power? Pakistan has yet to form modern political parties that cut across clan and kinship lines. Instead, the country has produced one dynastic party, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, and a collection of local bosses and landowners, some of which make up various fragments of the Pakistan Muslim League.

Moreover, as foreign-policy analyst Anatol Lieven has noted, "All civilian governments have been guilty of corruption, election rigging and the imprisonment or murder of political opponents, in some cases to a worse degree than the military administrations that followed." Under the 10 years of civilian rule by Bhutto's and Sharif's constantly warring neofeudal parties, Pakistan was a democracy in name only. Far from building democratic institutions, their governments -- bereft of competence and riddled with corruption -- consistently undermined them. Bhutto was run out of the country for skimming millions off the top of government contracts; Sharif orchestrated the storming of the Supreme Court by street thugs as he was being tried for contempt. In an effort to efface their legacies, both former prime ministers are hoping to duck the legal charges that await them upon their return. [complete article]
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From finding radical Islam to losing an ideology
By Jane Perlez, New York Times, September 12, 2007

For four years, Maajid Nawaz, a British Pakistani university student, was imprisoned in Egypt, enduring months of solitary confinement and the screams of those being tortured.

Mr. Nawaz left Britain on his fateful trip to Egypt on Sept. 10, 2001, for a year abroad to study Arabic. In April 2002, he was charged and sentenced by the Egyptians for spreading the beliefs of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group that is legal in Britain but banned in Egypt and other countries because it calls for the overthrow of governments in the Muslim world.

Now, more than a year after his return to Britain, Mr. Nawaz, 29, has defected from Hizb ut-Tahrir, saying that he learned from scholars he met in jail that the ideology he so fervently espoused ran counter to the true meaning of his religion. [complete article]
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Theses on policy toward Iran
By Barnett R. Rubin, ICGA, September 5, 2007

The Bush-Cheney policy on Iran is unlikely to have any outcome but war, not because of the threat of the use of force, but because of its objective: regime change. The President and Vice-President have never echoed the disavowals of this goal by other officials. Their supporters at AEI, the Weekly Standard, and elsewhere, make it clear that the goal of the policy is destroying the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even if this were not true, the government (and not only the government) of Iran believes it is true. In repeated discussions on several continents over the past five years, Iranian officials have told me that the main obstacle to improvement in U.S.-Iran relations is the agenda of regime change – not Israel, not Iraq, nothing else. No amount of pressure or threats will force the Iranian government to negotiate its own destruction. Therefore as long as regime change is the goal, or appears to be the goal, Iran has no credible incentives to comply with any demands. Threats are useless. Sanctions are useless. In any case, sanctions will strengthen and enrich the regime, as they almost always do.

The Bush administration discarded an opportunity to expand cooperation with the government of President Muhammad Khatami after the U.S. and Iran collaborated to remove the Taliban regime and establish the Government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. I witnessed that cooperation as a member of the UN team at the Bonn conference. The Bush administration threw that chance away, declaring Iran a member of the Axis of Evil. It did so under President Khatami, who never denied the Holocaust or said that the Israeli regime, like the Soviet Union, was destined to disappear from the pages of time (which is what Ahmadinejad actually said, not that Israel should be wiped off the map). Therefore Iran does not believe that there is any genuine link between the extremist statements of President Ahmadinejad and U.S. policy, as the Bush administration had exactly the same policy toward the Government of President Khatami. Ahmadinejad has indeed called Israel the "bearer of Satan," the equivalent in Persian of calling a country a member of the "axis of evil." There is a fearful symmetry of demonization. [complete article]
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Framing the war on terror
By Dalia Mogahed, Islamica Magazine, Summer, 2007

More and more U.S. policymakers and intellectuals are drawing an analogy between the Cold War and the war on terror, and are recommending analogous strategies, since both conflicts were fought on the battlefield and over people's minds and hearts. However, recent research by The Gallup Organization on Muslim public opinion around the world points to serious flaws in the "Cold War II" paradigm and the real danger in confusing these two very different conflicts. America's trials and triumphs in its own internal "clash of cultures"-the civil rights struggle-is a more appropriate analogy.

At the heart of Cold War II is a belief that religious fanaticism fuels extremism and therefore replacing Muslims' worldview with Western liberalism is the path to victory against terrorism. To understand the danger of this diagnosis, we must first look at the factors that do and do not drive sympathy for violence.

As a starting point, Muslims hold no monopoly on extremist views. Although 6 percent of the American public thinks attacks where civilians are targets are "completely justified," in Lebanon and Iran, this figure is 2 percent, and in Saudi Arabia, 4 percent. In Europe, Muslims in Berlin, Paris and London are no more likely than their general public counterparts to believe that such attacks are justified and are at least as likely to reject violence, even for a "noble cause."

After analyzing survey data representing more than 90 percent of the global Muslim population, Gallup found that despite widespread anti-American sentiment, only a small minority sympathized with the attacks of 9/11.

Even more significant, there was no correlation between level of religiosity and extremism among Muslims. [complete article]
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Iraq in 2012: four scenarios
By Volker Perthes, Open Democracy, September 11, 2007

The United States is in the middle of an intense series of discussions, hearings and reports about the future of its military forces in Iraq. Each assessment of the current predicament carries some implication for possible ways forward. But the unfolding pattern of events in Iraq is not a matter for the US alone: whatever happens in that country will profoundly affect the lives of Iraqis themselves and people and states in the neighbouring region.

What then will happen in Iraq over the next five years? This article presents and outlines four scenarios.

Scenarios are thought-experiments of possible, contrasting futures. They are not about probabilities. Different scenarios may be more or less likely, but in principle each presents policy-makers with the same degree of challenge: thinking about how to prepare for them or how to prevent what would be regarded as the less favoured ones.

A simple scenario exercise identifies two main drivers of future development in a specific setting. In the case of Iraq, we can consider one external factor (the presence of United States troops) and an internal one (the ability of Iraqi political actors to achieve consensus on the most important constitutional distributional questions) as the most relevant drivers. Together they form a matrix with a horizontal axis that reaches from a total withdrawal of US forces to their remaining in place; and a vertical axis for the range of possibilities between no consensus among Iraqi actors at the bottom to consensus about the most important questions at the top.

Four different futures for Iraq thus become apparent: with US troops either in or out of the country, a domestic consensus either achieved or missed. With a name to each of these Iraqi futures in 2012, we can now develop a short story about the developments that could have led to this outcome since 2007. The reader is invited to gauge the plausibility of each individual story. [complete article]
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Senators take Petraeus, Crocker to task
By William Branigin, Robin Wright and Peter Baker, Washington Post, September 11, 2007

In the Armed Services Committee hearing this afternoon, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) questioned whether keeping large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq serves national security interests or limits U.S. options around the world. He asked Petraeus whether his recommended drawdown ultimately would make America safer.

"Sir, I don't know, actually," Petraeus replied. He said he was focused on "accomplishing the mission of the Multi-National Force-Iraq," although the strain on U.S. ground forces from that mission "has very much been a factor in my recommendations."

Petraeus later said he should have answered "yes" to Warner's question and that the drawdown would make the nation safer.

The two days of testimony drew sharp criticism from war opponents. Petraeus's "assertions of progress on the security front are dubious at best and deceptive at worst," said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. "There is no clear indication that overall levels of violence are down; in fact independent commissions show that violence across Iraq has increased."

Korb pointed to reports that twice as many Iraqis are now leaving the country than before the surge began and to a recent poll showing that 70 percent of Iraqis feel the troop increase has worsened security rather than improved it. [complete article]
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Looking to Anbar for Iraq's future
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2007

"There are too many unique variables," said Maj. Jeff Pool, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Anbar, when asked if what has happened in that region could be replicated.

"It's not exporting this model here that will solve Iraq's problems," Pool said. "It's local leaders elsewhere finding out what works in their areas."

That requires local leaders to join forces as Anbar's leaders have done, but this will be challenging in areas that are not as homogenous and don't face the singular threat that galvanized Anbar's sheiks: the influence of Islamic militant groups claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"It's harder for them to buy into the idea of working with the coalition in other areas because they have other threats: Shiite threats, Kurdish influence," said Maj. Ed Sullivan, who is on his second deployment in Anbar. He was first here in 2004-05.

"A lot of people look for a cookie-cutter theory -- the Anbar model. There is no Anbar model," Sullivan said. Rather, a unique combination of events ushered in change. [complete article]
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The United States is planning a new strategic command to take the global War on Terror to the Horn of Africa
By Scott Johnson, Newsweek, September 17, 2007

America is quietly expanding its fight against terror on the African front. Two years ago the United States set up the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership with nine countries in central and western Africa. There is no permanent presence, but the hope is to generate support and suppress radicalism by both sharing U.S. weapons and tactics with friendly regimes and winning friends through a vast humanitarian program assembled by USAID, including well building and vocational training. In places like Chad, American Special Forces train and arm police or border guards using what it calls a "holistic approach to counterterrorism." Sgt. Chris Rourke, a U.S. Army reservist in a 12-man American Civil Affairs unit living in Dire Dawa, in eastern Ethiopia, says it comes down to this: "It's the Peace Corps with a weapon."

Sometime in the coming months, after a vetting process to find a good partner country, the United States plans to establish a new headquarters in Africa to spearhead this armed battle for hearts, minds and the capture of terror suspects. The Pentagon says Africom—the first new U.S. strategic command established since 2002—will integrate existing diplomatic, economic and humanitarian programs into a single strategic vision for Africa, bring more attention to long-ignored American intelligence-gathering and energy concerns on the continent, and elevate African interests to the same level of importance as those of Asia and the Middle East. Africom joins 10 other commands, including CENTCOM in Florida, the now famous nerve center for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not surprisingly, the establishment of a major American base in Africa is inspiring new criticism from European and African critics of U.S. imperial overreach. [complete article]
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Syria and Israel flirt with war
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, September 12, 2007

If both countries want peace, as the official version implies, then what exactly happened on September 6? One theory says Israel wanted to test Syrian defenses, especially after reports that Damascus had received new ballistic missiles from Russia. The objectives of the intrusion would be to "feel the waters" before Israel actually engaged in war with the Syrians. This was seconded by Israeli counter-terrorism expert Boaz Ganor, who said his country was "collecting intelligence on long-range missiles" deployed by Syria in the north.

A second theory - less credible - claims that Israel wanted to see whether its warplanes could reach Iran without being spotted by Syrian radar. This was in preparation for an upcoming war that Jerusalem expects between the US and Iran.

A third theory claims that Israel was searching for military training bases for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. A fourth claims that the operation was nothing more than a provocation aimed at showing the Syrians that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were on alert and had "recovered" from their summer war with Hezbollah last year. The Israelis wanted to see how Syria would respond. [complete article]
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Obama pulls campaign ad on page of 'Israel Lobby'
By Russell Berman, New York Sun, September 11, 2007

Wary of alienating Jewish voters, the campaign of Senator Obama has moved swiftly to remove an ad for its Web site that appeared on the page of a book critical of the Israel lobby.

A small ad for was one of a group of advertisements that rotated as "sponsored links" on the page for "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," a book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that has drawn rebuke from supporters of the Jewish state. The Illinois senator's campaign said it had bought ads on to appear with the keyword category of "politics" through a subsidiary of the popular Internet shopping site.

The placement on the "Israel Lobby" page was unintentional, a campaign spokeswoman said, and the ad was gone hours after a New York Sun reporter notified the campaign of its location. "The ad has been removed from the site because the views of the book do not reflect the views of Senator Obama on the U.S.- Israel relationship," the spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, said. [complete article]

Comment -- Barack Obama is obviously pioneering a radical approach to truth in advertising. Now I don't need to listen to any of his speeches, just look out for his online ads, confident that he agrees with every statement on every web page where his ads appear.
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The age of disaster capitalism
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, September 10, 2007

What happened in the period of mass disorientation after the attacks was, in retrospect, a domestic form of economic shock therapy. The Bush team, Friedmanite to the core, quickly moved to exploit the shock that gripped the nation to push through its radical vision of a hollow government in which everything from war fighting to disaster response was a for-profit venture.

It was a bold evolution of shock therapy. Rather than the 90s approach of selling off existing public companies, the Bush team created a whole new framework for its actions - the war on terror - built to be private from the start. This feat required two stages. First, the White House used the omnipresent sense of peril in the aftermath of 9/11 to dramatically increase the policing, surveillance, detention and war-waging powers of the executive branch - a power-grab that the military historian Andrew Bacevich has termed "a rolling coup". Then those newly enhanced and richly funded functions of security, invasion, occupation and reconstruction were immediately outsourced, handed over to the private sector to perform at a profit.

Although the stated goal was fighting terrorism, the effect was the creation of the disaster capitalism complex - a fully fledged new economy in homeland security, privatised war and disaster reconstruction tasked with nothing less than building and running a privatised security state, both at home and abroad. The economic stimulus of this sweeping initiative proved enough to pick up the slack where globalisation and the dotcom booms had left off. Just as the internet had launched the dotcom bubble, 9/11 launched the disaster capitalism bubble. [complete article]
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What Iraqis think, again
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, September 10, 2007

What do Iraqis think about the surge? The first nationwide opinion survey since February has just been released, and it provides absolutely essential context for this week's debate over Iraq. The survey should help Americans cut through the spin and get a better view of what Iraqis really think. The BBC/ABC/NHK survey, conducted in all 19 provinces during August, finds that 70% of Iraqis believe that security has deteriorated in the areas covered by the US "surge", and 11% say it has had no effect. Only 11% say that security in the country as a whole has improved in the last six months. And 70% say that the conditions for political dialogue have gotten worse in the last six months. Bottom line: Iraqis overall, and especially Sunnis, are more opposed to the American presence than ever, do not think the surge has accomplished either its military or its political goals, and have dwindling confidence in the US forces.

Has Petraeus's counter-insurgency strategy and the surge won respect for the American presence? No. Only 15% express confidence in US/UK occupation forces, down from 18% in February, with 58% expressing "no confidence at all" - the highest in any of these surveys dating back to 2003. 80% say that the US has done a bad job in Iraq. 79% oppose the presence of Coalition forces in Iraq. 72% say that the presence of US forces is making security worse.

When should US forces leave? 47% say "leave immediately" - by far the highest support for immediate departure on record (it was 35% in February). 34% say stay until security is restored, 10% say stay until the Iraqi government is stronger. Only 2% say "remain longer but leave eventually". [complete article]

Under siege: what the surge really means in Baghdad
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, September 10, 2007

A city divided by high concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints; armoured columns moving through deserted evening streets lit by the glow of searchlights and emptied by official curfew and fear. This is Baghdad, seven months into the surge, and George Bush's last throw of the dice in Iraq.

On the surface, the Iraqi capital is less overtly violent than it used to be. The number of car bombings have fallen to "only" 23 a month from 42 in the same period last year, there are fewer sounds of explosions and gunfire than in the past, and there is, generally, less tension. And some of that must be due to the presence of more troops.

But for many Iraqis, the Americans have turned their land into a prison. The barriers, which have turned Baghdad into a series of ghettos, are meant to keep the bombers out, but they also keep residents penned in. People may feel safer inside their neighbourhoods, but are more wary of venturing outside them. A short journey across the city can take hours with roads blocked off and numerous checkpoints, discouraging people from visiting relations and friends and reinforcing the sense of isolation. [complete article]
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Petraeus leaves large questions unanswered
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, September 10, 2007

The long-awaited testimony this afternoon of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, once seen as a potential turning point in war policy, seemed more like an exercise of kicking the can down the road.

Appearing before two House committees, Petraeus confirmed that 30,000 U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of next summer, but that was hardly unexpected: Officials have been forecasting for months that the so-called surge would have to end no later than April 2008 or there would be unacceptable strains on the American military.

But Petraeus left the larger questions -- what will be the future size and mission of the American "footprint" in Iraq -- unanswered. He offered hints that the reductions might continue beyond next summer but said he would not be able to offer a definitive judgment until March. [complete article]

Americans feel military is best at ending the war
By Stephen Lee Myers and Megan Thee, New York Times, September 10, 2007

The poll found that both Congress, whose approval rating now stands at its lowest level since Democrats took control from the Republicans last year, and Mr. Bush enter the debate with little public confidence in their ability to deal with Iraq. Only 5 percent of Americans -- a strikingly low number for a sitting president's handling of such a dominant issue -- said they most trusted the Bush administration to resolve the war, the poll found. Asked to choose among the administration, Congress and military commanders, 21 percent said they would most trust Congress and 68 percent expressed most trust in military commanders. [complete article]

Democrats' struggle to change course in Iraq has produced much debate, little action
By Shailagh Murray and Dan Balz, Washington Post, September 10, 2007

In the past eight months, there have been multiple resolutions opposing the troop increase, numerous proposals to establish timetables for withdrawal, plans to repeal the original congressional authorization that gave Bush the power to go to war and even an effort to cut off funds for the conflict. But Democrats have not succeeded in forcing a single, substantial change in the president's policy, and they have watched Congress's approval rating, as measured by the Gallup Poll, slide to the lowest recorded since Gallup began measuring in 1974.

"What we have done is made it very difficult for Republicans to continue to hide on whether they agree with the president or not on Iraq," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), describing the political gain Democrats think they have achieved since the beginning of the year. "Whether or not they'll take that final step and actually break by actually overriding a veto, if we ever get to that, or break by supporting very tough language that constricts his movement, remains to be seen."

The next and perhaps final chapter of the war debate this year will begin to play out today as Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker give a report to the House about the military and political results of the troop buildup. It is not clear what, if anything, will emerge from Congress from that debate, given the acrid partisanship that has surrounded the Iraq battle all year. [complete article]
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The bottom-up partition
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, September 10, 2007

The benchmark-centered reports on Iraq agree: The "surge" has failed to achieve its most fundamental objective, which is to catalyze a political reconciliation among Iraqis. Buried in the data, however, is plenty of evidence that Iraq is slowly moving toward a new political order. It's just not the one the Bush administration has in mind, and it's not happening on the timetable Congress wants.

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will probably concede today that the Shiite-led government hasn't delivered key legislation, such as a national oil law, and has done little to reconcile with minority Sunnis. But those benchmarks suppose a relatively centralized Iraq -- with a dominant national oil company, for example -- governed by a "unity" government in which Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds share power. They also assume that a decisive breakthrough toward this outcome will take place this year.

What's really happening is that Iraqis are slowly moving toward the solution their politicians first outlined in their constitution two years ago despite stiff American resistance. This is a loose confederation of at least three self-governing regions, each with its own government, courts and security forces; and a weak federal government whose main function will be redistributing oil revenue so that each region gets a share based roughly on its proportion of the population. [complete article]
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His toughness problem -- and ours
By Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books, September 27, 2007

If Irving Kristol is the godfather of neoconservatism, Norman Podhoretz is the patriarch. Podhoretz himself might not see all neocons as his intellectual offspring, although his son John has certainly followed in his footsteps. In fact, Podhoretz has a rather narrow definition of neoconservatism. He talks about "repentant liberals and leftists," mostly Jewish, who broke ranks with the left and "moved rightward" in the 1970s. "Strictly speaking," he says, "only those who fitted this description ought to have been called neo- (i.e., new) conservatives." Those who mimic the views of their parents (John P., say, or William Kristol) cannot be called "new." True, but simply to call them conservatives (or vieux cons, as the French would say) would not do justice to the Napoleonic radicalism of their project. [complete article]
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Iranian raises possibility of an intrusion into Iraq
By James Glanz, New York Times, September 10, 2007

In a sharp escalation of a dispute over border fighting, an official Iranian delegation at a diplomatic conference here warned Sunday that if the Iraqi government could not stop militants from crossing into Iran and carrying out attacks, the Iranian authorities would respond militarily.

The Iranian delegation, led by a deputy foreign minister, Mohammad R. Baqiri, also charged that the United States was supporting groups believed to be mounting attacks from Iraqi territory in the Kurdish north.

Mr. Baqiri did not specifically say that Iran would enter Iraq militarily, but his statements, couched in diplomatic terms, raised the clear possibility that Iranian forces could cross the border in pursuit of the militants. But however carefully phrased his statements, many of those distinctions are likely to be lost on hundreds of families on the Iraqi side who have been driven from their villages by weeks of intermittent shelling from Iran. [complete article]
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Amid civil war, reports mean little
By Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh, Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2007

The intense focus on Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker obscures the essential irrelevance of the report they will make to Congress on Monday and, in a larger sense, the irrelevance of U.S. troops to Iraqi politics. The pacification of a few pockets of resistance can scarcely reconcile Iraq's warring factions or salvage the American enterprise. The future of Iraq hinges on the outcome of its raging civil war, not on any recalibration of U.S. military strategy.

Both the White House report and a study by the Government Accountability Office released this week reveal the chasm that separates U.S. and Iraqi conceptions of reconciliation. For Americans, reconciliation is a product of bargaining, through which members of Iraq's Sunni minority participate in the governance of the state and get their fair share of the resources. Proponents of the troop "surge" had hoped that an augmented American presence would give responsible elements of Iraq's religious and ethnic factions the political space to forge a national compact.

Yet the U.S. definition of reconciliation is just one more cultural artifact that Washington has tried to force down Iraq's throat. As it turns out, Iraqis across the sectarian divide view reconciliation differently. The Shiites tend to emphasize the notion of justice and demand that their suffering under previous regimes -- not only under Saddam Hussein's -- be compensated. For this, they need not only to assume power but to subordinate Iraq's Sunni population. For the Shiite-run government, justice must precede reconciliation. [complete article]

Planning for defeat
By George Packer, The New Yorker, September 17, 2007

White House officials are determined to present the surge as a dramatic turn in the war -- as if the war could still be won. In interviews with me, they blamed the public's dissatisfaction on the Democrats, for "playing politics" with the war; on journalists, for being impervious to good news; and on the public, for having a short attention span. Peter Wehner, a former adviser to President George W. Bush who left the White House last month, acknowledged that the Administration had made many mistakes in Iraq. But he insisted that victory was still possible. Bush, he said, "has the stiffest spine in the Administration," and he described Petraeus as a man who could enter the military pantheon next to Grant, if only the American people would give him the chance. "What happens if, at the eleventh hour, we're witnessing one of the most remarkable feats in American history on the part of a general?" he said. "If that's the case, why do you want to give up now?" [complete article]

Among top officials, 'surge' has sparked dissent, infighting
By Peter Baker, Karen DeYoung, Thomas E. Ricks, Ann Scott Tyson, Joby Warrick and Robin Wright, Washington Post, September 9, 2007

For two hours, President Bush listened to contrasting visions of the U.S. future in Iraq. Gen. David H. Petraeus dominated the conversation by video link from Baghdad, making the case to keep as many troops as long as possible to cement any security progress. Adm. William J. Fallon, his superior, argued instead for accepting more risks in Iraq, officials said, in order to have enough forces available to confront other potential threats in the region.

The polite discussion in the White House Situation Room a week ago masked a sharper clash over the U.S. venture in Iraq, one that has been building since Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Middle East operations, sent a rear admiral to Baghdad this summer to gather information. Soon afterward, officials said, Fallon began developing plans to redefine the U.S. mission and radically draw down troops.

One of those plans, according to a Centcom officer, involved slashing U.S. combat forces in Iraq by three-quarters by 2010. In an interview, Fallon disputed that description but declined to offer details. Nonetheless, his efforts offended Petraeus's team, which saw them as unwelcome intrusion on their own long-term planning. The profoundly different views of the U.S. role in Iraq only exacerbated the schism between the two men.

"Bad relations?" said a senior civilian official with a laugh. "That's the understatement of the century.... If you think Armageddon was a riot, that's one way of looking at it." [complete article]

See also, U.S. bribe insurgents to fight Al-Qaeda (The Sunday Times).

Comment -- Ever since its original product launch in September 2002, we've been witness to the war periodically being re-branded, each re-branding couched as a "milestone" in Iraq's evolution. Before long, each new brand sinks under the weight of contradictory facts, but just before America's investors become convinced that a product recall is imminent, the product gets re-launched in a shiny new package. Re-branding season is here again but the litany of phrases such as "bottom-up reconciliation" that we will hear solemnly repeated this week will not be enough to revive Iraq's brand-value. Iraq is, in the mind's of most Americans, a defective product and in this culture if something doesn't work it gets thrown in the trash.
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America's guardian myths
By Susan Faludi, New York Times, September 7, 2007

"At length they came and beset our own house, and quickly it was the dolefulest day that ever mine eyes saw." Thus did a minister's wife, Mary Rowlandson, describe the Indian attack and immolation of her Massachusetts village, 35 miles west of Boston. "On the 10th of February 1675 came the Indians with great numbers upon Lancaster," she wrote. "Their first coming was about sun-rising. Hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to heaven."

Rowlandson was one of the fortunate that morning: she and her three children were spared and taken captive. Her youngest, a 6-year-old daughter, died in her arms on the forced march north. After 11 harrowing weeks, Rowlandson was released and a few years later wrote "A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson," which would run through four printings in its first year and become America's original best seller, the model of the captivity narrative, the foremost indigenous genre of American literature.

Huddled inside the garrison, with "the smoke ascending to heaven," Mary Rowlandson and the other villagers faced a choice that echoes grimly through the commemorations of our own "dolefulest day": whether to stay inside and burn, or plunge into certain death. The parallels between the Lancaster ordeal and the catastrophe we faced on 9/11 are not incidental. Rowlandson's story holds a key to our own experience, shedding light on not only the trauma of the day itself but our response. On a deep cultural and psychological level, our reactions as a nation to 9/11 had as much to do with Mary Rowlandson as with Mohamed Atta.

In the weeks and months after 9/11, many commentators described the "dream-like" mindset that the disaster had induced. They attributed our fugue state to the "unimaginable" unreality of the event. Nothing like this had ever happened before. But essential to our understanding of what that attack means to our national psyche is a recognition that it did happen before, over and over. And its happening was instrumental to the formation of the American character. The nation that recently imagined itself so impervious to attack at home was gestated in a time when such attacks were the prevailing reality of American life. [complete article]
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The new al-Qaeda central
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, September 9, 2007

Many U.S., Pakistani and European intelligence officials now agree that al-Qaeda's ability to launch operations around the globe didn't diminish after the invasion of Afghanistan as much as previously thought. Further investigation has shown, for example, that al-Qaeda's leadership, with bin Laden's direct blessing, made the decision to activate sleeper cells in Saudi Arabia in 2003, prompting a wave of car bombings and assassination attempts that the Saudi government has only recently brought under control.

From hideouts in Pakistan, according to court testimony and interviews, bin Laden's deputies ordered attacks on a Tunisian synagogue in 2002, a British consulate and bank in Istanbul in 2003, and the London transit system in 2005.

U.S intelligence officials also blame the al-Qaeda brain trust for orchestrating dozens of other failed plots, including a plan to blow up transatlantic flights from Britain in August 2006.

"All this business about them being isolated or cut off is whistling past the graveyard," said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who led the agency's unit assigned to track bin Laden. "We're looking at an organization that is extraordinarily adept at succession planning. They were built to survive, like the Afghans were against the Russians." [complete article]

Scarier than bin Laden
By Bruce Hoffman, Washington Post, September 9, 2007

As long ago as the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Zawahiri had explained al-Qaeda's strategy in response to what he was already decrying as a repressive U.S.-led occupation. "We thank God," he declared in September 2003, "for appeasing us with the dilemmas in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Americans are facing a delicate situation in both countries. If they withdraw, they will lose everything, and if they stay, they will continue to bleed to death."

Sure enough, what U.S. military commanders had optimistically described four years ago as the jihadist "magnet" or "flytrap" designed to capture al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq was having precisely the opposite effect, according to Zawahiri's plan: It was enmeshing the U.S. military in a debilitating war of attrition. [complete article]

Are we safer today?
By Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, Washington Post, September 9, 2007

No word is more poisonous to the reputation of the United States than Guantanamo. Fundamental justice requires a fair legal process before the U.S. government detains people for significant periods of time, and the president and Congress have not provided one. Guantanamo Bay should be closed now. The 9/11 commission recommended developing a "coalition approach" for the detention and treatment of terrorists -- a policy that would be legally sustainable, internationally viable and far better for U.S. credibility.

Moreover, no question inflames public opinion in the Muslim world more than the Arab-Israeli dispute. To empower Muslim moderates, we must take away the extremists' most potent grievance: the charge that the United States does not care about the Palestinians. A vigorous diplomatic effort, with the visible, active support of the president, would bolster America's prestige and influence -- and offer the best prospect for Israel's long-term security.

And finally, no conflict drains more time, attention, blood, treasure and support from our worldwide counterterrorism efforts than the war in Iraq. It has become a powerful recruiting and training tool for al-Qaeda. [complete article]
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This is how the moderates look
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, September 9, 2007

[Israel's vice prime minister] Haim Ramon has made a big comeback. As if renewing the Hebrew language, he has coined the term "infrastructural oxygen" - Israel should strike a blow at Gaza's infrastructural oxygen. Faithful to his suggestions in the Second Lebanon War ("It is permissible to destroy everything"), he is now the progenitor of the doctrine advocating cutting off the electricity, fuel and water supply to Gaza. Ramon is very proud of his demonic plan: "It's the first time the government has discussed these types of proposals," he said. In his eyes, the legal aspect is "hallucinatory"; there is no difference between Hamas and Al-Qaida. And what will happen if this cutoff of water and electricity to Gaza is not effective? "Until we try, we'll never know," the minister told an interviewer. That is, we are dealing with an experiment on human beings. As we all know, Ramon is a representative of a centrist party and is considered one of the party's moderates.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is a moderate, too. She also supports the Ramon doctrine. She says that, "It is inconceivable that life in Gaza continues to be normal." In the view of the moderate foreign minister, life in Gaza is "normal" - it seems she has no idea about what life is really like there - and a cutoff of supplies will bring an end to the Qassams. The hungry, thirsty and suffocating populace will exert pressure and, hocus pocus, there will be no more Qassams.

These crazy ideas have elicited fewer arguments among us than the proposals to require bicycle riders to wear helmets. The whole debate was conducted in a dignified manner: One person proposes cutting off electricity, while another suggests putting an end to the supply of cigarettes and perfume. No one expresses any opposition or calls out in protest - all we have to do is hear the position of the legal advisors, to decide and then to execute. Avigdor Lieberman, Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter have become superfluous: The moderates are doing the necessary work. Israeli discourse has become monstrous - and the terrible thing about it is that these are no longer the proposals of the loony fringes, but rather of the centrist stream. How does the right-wing put it? "There are no moderate Palestinians." Well, there are no moderate Israelis. When it comes to us, the center is the right in disguise. [complete article]

Gaza under Hamas: quiet, cut off and digging in
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, September 8, 2007

Hamas now has a near monopoly on weapons in Gaza, but its battle with Fatah, which largely controls the West Bank, continues. The fight is over personnel, the news media and even how to define the weekend, with Hamas sticking with the traditional Thursday and Friday, and the West Bank government insisting on Friday and Saturday.

While Hamas talks of restoring a unity government with Fatah, the rift appears to be deepening.

Fatah is trying to regroup in Gaza, displaying its support by paying Palestinian Authority workers in Gaza but telling them to stay home. There have been a few isolated explosions and warnings of assassinations. But most visibly, Fatah has been organizing protests on Fridays, asking supporters to demonstrate by praying not in the mosques, but outside them, and then trying to provoke the Hamas police by chanting anti-Hamas slogans and throwing stones.

Hamas seems confused about how to respond. Two senior Hamas officials, Mahmoud Zahar and Ahmed Youssef, said in separate interviews here this week that protests and free speech would not be punished, but that rock throwing and lawbreaking would. Asked if that meant that the outdoor prayers could continue unpunished, Mr. Youssef agreed.

Mr. Zahar, who has a tougher reputation and is more senior in Hamas, also agreed, but said praying outdoors violated religious laws. [complete article]
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Israeli indiscriminate attacks killed most civilians
Human Rights Watch, September 6, 2007

Israel's indiscriminate airstrikes, not Hezbollah's shielding as claimed by Israeli officials, caused most of the approximately 900 civilian deaths in Lebanon during the July-August 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch investigated more than 500 of the deaths.

"Israel wrongfully acted as if all civilians had heeded its warnings to evacuate southern Lebanon when it knew they had not, disregarding its continuing legal duty to distinguish between military targets and civilians," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Issuing warnings doesn’t make indiscriminate attacks lawful." [complete article]
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Molding the ideal Islamic citizen
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, September 9, 2007

The instructor held up an unfurled green condom as she lectured a dozen brides-to-be on details of family planning. But birth control was only one aspect of the class, provided by the government and mandatory for all couples before marriage. The other was about sex, and the message from the state was that women should enjoy themselves as much as men and that men needed to be patient, because women need more time to become aroused.

This is not the picture of Iran that filters out across the world, amid images of women draped in the forbidding black chador, or of clerics in turbans. But it is just as much a part of the complex social and political mix of Iranian society -- and of the state's continuing struggle, now three decades old, to shape the identity of its people.

In Iran, pleasure-loving Persian culture and traditions blend and conflict with the teachings of Shiite Islam, as well as more than a dozen other ethnic and tribal heritages. Sex education here is not new, but the message has been updated recently to help young people enjoy each other and, the Islamic state hopes, strengthen their marriages in a time when everyday life in Iran is stressful enough. The emphasis on sexual pleasure, not just health, was recognition that something was not right in the Islamic Republic.

Such flexibility is one way the government shapes, or is shaped by, society's attitudes and behavior. These days, however, its use is an exception. The current government has become far better known for employing the opposite strategy: insisting that society and individuals bend to its demands and to its chosen definition of what it is to be a citizen of Iran. [complete article]

Comment -- For all the talk of Iran as the epicenter of Middle East extremism, the irony for those who equate Westernization and secularism with moderation, is that Iranian society represents potentially the most powerful moderating force in the region.

Concealed behind the neocon warmongers' dire warnings about the Iranian threat is an undiluted contempt for the idea that societies can and must shape their own destinies. Bombs will neither contain the threat nor unleash Iran's potential -- but try telling that to Norman Podhoretz and his friends.
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In plot suspect, Germany sees familiar face
By Nicholas Kulish and Souad Mekhennet, New York Times, September 7, 2007

Legally, his name is as German as they come: Fritz. To his new confidants in the radical Islamic scene and alleged terrorist co-conspirators, he was Abdullah.

Fritz Gelowicz, barely 28 years old, sits in police custody, charged with leading a terrorist plot that, had it succeeded, could have surpassed the London and Madrid bombings in their murderous toll. That he is a German native, born in Munich, and a youthful convert to Islam has only made it harder for his countrymen to grasp the accusation, although his guilt is far from established.

The picture sketched by legal documents and interviews with intelligence and law enforcement officials is nonetheless of a young man troubled by problems in his parents’ marriage, quickly embraced by forces that would twist him to their agenda. They made him not only a willing soldier but a capable leader. [complete article]
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FBI cast wide net when targeting phone records
AP, September 8, 2007

FBI demands to telecommunications companies went beyond requesting phone records of customers under suspicion to include analyses of their broader patterns of communication with others as well, newly obtained documents show.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation used national security letters to request information on the wider "community of interest" linked to individuals under suspicion, according to the documents.

The data-mining technique can lay bare phone and e-mail links that tie together otherwise indiscernible networks of individuals. Law enforcement officials value that sort of data as a means of identifying a suspect's potential conspirators. Privacy advocates say it can ensnare people with no tie to illegal or suspicious activity. [complete article]
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