Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NY Times report card on Iraq as US forces leave cities

An unusually lengthy editorial in today's NYT does a very good job of enumerating succinctly most of the major problems that Iraq faces "after six bloody, ruinously costly years" of "the Iraq war — an unnecessary war — has diverted critically needed resources away from Afghanistan, the real front in the war on terrorism." (They might have mentioned the resources diverted from the US's own crumbling infrastructure and economy.) Basically, the NYT's assessment confirms - at greater length and in more detail - Thomas Ricks' view as expressed in the piece I blogged last night: that Iraq is well and truly a mess, and a long way from being truly stabilized and prepared to move forward. Time will tell - as it always has.

The NYT declares that "there is an end in sight to the American occupation of Iraq." Occupation - perhaps; it depends on how one defines occupation. but let's not think for a second that Mr. Obama is going to be able to unstick the US from the tar-baby that (please, let's not forget) Messrs. Bush and Cheney made.

Meanwhile, as Iraqis celebrate the US pull-out, 4 more US soldiers were killed on the streets of Baghdad.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Will Iraq now unravel?

Thomas Ricks seems to think so, and I'm afraid I have to agree with Ricks. It's more likely that some of the "progress" is going to unravel; that Maliki will resort to some pretty heavy-handed tactics to try to assert his control and stay in power; and that various groups will rise up against him. At that point, the question will become: Dare he ask the US to bring its troops back in? Or instead, will he ask the US to use its air power to flatten the problem areas - much like the RAF did for King Faisal in the 1920s?

Iraq, the unraveling (XIII): a faith-based war policy continues

Mon, 06/29/2009 - 1:39pm

Here is my summary of where we are now:

Several times the Bush administration tried to transfer responsibility for security to Iraqi army and police forces, only to see them unable to handle the burden. Now, once again, the Americans are trying to get Iraqi security forces to take over, as most U.S. troops withdraw from Iraqi's cities. Will the Iraqis be able to keep the population relatively secure? To be honest, I don't know, and no one else does. It's a matter of faith. And the leap comes tomorrow.

The key issue is whether Iraqi forces will perform any better than they have in the past. U.S. officials, at least in their public comments, say they will. "I do believe they're ready," Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, said on CNN on Sunday. "They've been working towards this for a long time. And security remains good. We've seen constant improvement in the security force, we've seen constant improvement in governance. And I believe this is the time for us to move out of the cities and for them to take ultimate responsibility." But, as he says, it is a matter of belief.

Here's a contrary view given to Reuters by Khalil Ibrahim, a leader of a unit in the turned insurgents the Americans call the Sons of Iraq: "Iran has good relations with our political parties. They run militias. If the U.S. troops complete their withdrawal, Iran will do whatever it wants in Iraq. . . . Also, if the Americans pull out, al Qaeda will return."

Meanwhile, Abu Noor, a college student in Baghdad, told my old colleague Ernesto Londono that, "We all know the militias are hiding because they know the Americans are inside the cities."

Who is right, Odierno, or Ibrahim and Abu Noor? No one knows. Yes, Iraqi units are better trained and equipped than in the past. But that was never the problem. Rather, the point of failure was political. Sunni death squads and Shiite militias knew what they were fighting for, while an Iraqi soldier didn't necessarily.

My worry is that I don't see the political situation as being much different than it has in the past. Nothing much has changed from the previous rush to failures. As readers of this blog have seen me say before: the surge succeeded tactically but failed strategically. That is, as planned, it created a breathing space in which a political breakthrough might occur. But Iraqi leaders, for whatever reason, didn't take advantage of that space, and no breakthrough occurred. All the basic issues that faced Iraq before the surge are still hanging out there: How to share oil revenue? What is the power relationship between Shia, Sunni and Kurd? Who holds power inside the Shiite community? What is the role of Iran, the biggest winner in this war so far? And will Iraq have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? And what happens when all the refugees outside the country and those displaced inside it, who I think are majority Sunni, try to go back to their old houses, now largely occupied by Shiites and protected by Shiite militias?

A secondary issue is how Iraqi forces will behave once they are operating without American forces watching them. There are a lot of "Little Saddams" in Iraq. That didn't used to be our problem-but now these guys have been trained, equipped and empowered by us.

I hope I am wrong, and that Iraq really is embarking on a new course this week. But I don't think so. So I think the real question now is: How fast will the unraveling occur?

Click here to read the previous dozen posts on Iraq unraveling.

Iraqi whose lies made the case for war looks on from afar

If you don't remember the saga of "Curveball," he was the Iraqi engineer whose "information" Ahmad Chalabi spoon-fed to people like the NY Times' Judith Miller, who used it as "exclusives" to craft reports that cheer-led the WMD argument and led to the Iraq invasion. The Guardian caught up with him (sort of). Quite a tale. Leaves you flabbergasted - and angry, given what it all had led to, and how much misery it's caused.

As US troops pull out, some ominous rumblings

This is a very disturbing report, Tensions rise as US troops depart - The National Newspaper in that it suggests that (1) many of the residents of the Sadr city section of Baghdad are hoping that the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr will re-form if bombings and attacks on Shiites continue, and (2) some elements of the Mahdi Army may have decided to go after any US troops remaining in Shiite areas of Iraq's cities.

Gaza and Palestinians' desperation - beneath the radar?

Thanks to Paul Woodward at WiC for posting today some excellent pieces on Gaza's desperation (now detailed in a report from the Red Cross, whose lack of bias, by the way, is respected very highly - but you can count on the Netanyahu government and the Jerusalem Post to cry foul, anti-Semitism, etc.) and on the ongoing humiliation of West Bank and Jerusalem Palestinians - as experienced in even a diluted fashion by recent participants in Palfest.

The Iranian elections and impending US troop withdrawal from Iraq's cities - and, of course, Michael Jackson's demise - have sucked up most of the journalistic space and energy in the US MSM of late. The 24-hour news cycle moves on; the Palestinians are so yesterday.

Is the job done in Iraq?

. . . is the question asked (and answered) in today's LA Times by John Hannah, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (= pro-Likud, neocon-ish think-tank) and Dick Cheney's national security advisor from 2005-2009. In short, Hannah thinks that Obama has taken his eye off the "victory" ball in Iraq; that Obama has forgotten how well the Surge worked; and that he's going to lose Iraq to the evil Iranians unless he stops talking about withdrawal and more about victory, and spends "more time working with Iraqis to figure out how best we can stay" (by which, Hannah says, he means with a diplomatic and economic presence). The reward will be a stable, democratized Iraq.

That the Surge brought a short-term reduction in US and Iraqi deaths is true, and that was truly a welcome development - but as a solution to Iraq's problems, no, Mr. Hannah, it did not work. Death counts for both US troops and Iraqi military and civilians have been "surging" back up.

And would that Hannah were reading more deeply about Iraq's current circumstances and political infighting. Iraq is not likely to be stabilized for many years to come (thanks to the destabilization to which Hannah's former boss so richly contributed), and if stabilization does come, it's increasingly likely to be at the hands of a new "democracy" characterized by a woefully ineffective parliament as well as an emerging Saddam-lite who has gathered to himself a praetorian-guard kill-squad (the new Iraqi Counterterrorism forces, which are special forces trained by the US's own and who seem to answer to no one except Mr. Maliki).

And how ought Mr. Obama to focus on US "victory" in Iraq when 30 June date of the US troop withdrawal from Iraq's cities is being celebrated as an official holiday in Iraq, a sort of "Iraqi Victory Day" over the US occupation?

Obama and the Foreign Policy Establishment

The new edition of the New York Review of Books features an excellent essay from David Bromwich, reviewing a new book by Leslie Gelb (Power Rules) and contrasting Gelb's prescriptions for US policy in the Middle East (and beyond) with Mr. Obama's recent speech in Cairo.

Gelb is a former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, which is the foremost bastion of "Establishment" thinking in US foreign policy circles. Its various associates include a number of retired or out-of-office policy-makers as well as journalists whose approaches mostly run a gamut between moderate-centrist-pragmatist and far-right neocons (among the latter, Elliot Abrams - a Likudnik who held the Middle East portfolio on the National Security Council under Bush, and who before that was one of the Reagan officials indicted and forced from office in the wake of the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal; and Max Boot, whose policy prescriptions tend toward the smash-and-grab school of foreign relations).

Bromwich notes Gelb's preference for a soft-partitioning of Iraq - i.e., separate Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd regions with their own governments, but all recognizing a limited central government in Iraq. Joe Biden also came out in support of this a few years ago. But a number of experts (notably, Reidar Visser, whose work is actually rooted in research and expert knowledge of the country) have rejected this approach, in the conviction that enough Iraqis have enough of a sense of an Iraqi nationalism to make a unified Iraq work somehow. Personally, I prefer that view - to some extent because the partition-Iraq approach reflects an overly simplistic (or overly simplified) view of a much more complex ethnic-geographical reality in Iraq. However, it also seems clear to me that any "Iraq" will need to accommodate some significant degree of autonomy for the region of Kurdistan. The Kurdish Regional Government - and the two parties that dominate it - are established "facts on the ground" (largely thanks to the US's nurturing); and the Kurds in general simply have too much paranoia and history vis-a-vis Arabs to overcome to be able to entrust their fates to an Arab-dominated regime in Baghdad.

But what really jumps out of Bromwich's piece is Gelb's (and, by extension, the Establishment's) sense of the USA as (as Madeleine Albright put it) the "indispensable nation" that must resort to military force because it is, after all, the USA - the implication being that the US's vision is innately more benign and better endowed with wisdom. Obama is surrounded with people who are very much of the Establishment (Biden, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Ross, Richard Holbrooke), and some of his decisions seem deeply rooted in Establishment thinking (witness the recent reports that the White House is crafting an executive order that would allow the US to detain some people indefinitely). But, as Bromwich notes, Obama's Cairo speech mostly lacked the condescension and presumption of predominance that color Gelb's attitudes.

Basically, Gelb's thinking seems to me woefully outdated, woefully out of touch with new realities. But there are a lot of Gelbs in Obama's coterie, and unless he can see through and fend off that kind of thinking, the wonderful promise that marked his ascension to the presidency may run aground on it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A guide to Israeli settlements

For any of you seeking clarification or enlightenment, Israeli expert Gershom Gorenberg has an excellent brief guide to Israeli settlements in today's LA Times - where you'll also find two other essays, one pro-, one con-.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Obama may hold some detainees indefinitely

The WaPo reports this morning that the White House is

"crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely. Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that an order, which would bypass Congress, could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.

This coming on the heels of several important reachings-out to the "Muslim world" to say that America is reasserting its core values of liberty and human rights? The establishing of any such policy regarding detainees will not pass unnoticed across the world. And it will give Israeli security forces lots of ammunition for their own policies of detaining Palestinian "terrorists" - like the award-winning journalist who was detained and tortured by the Shin Bet on his way home from receiving an extremely prestigious international award.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The "Economist"asks: Is Iraq Getting Worse?

. . . in a word, yes. But they feel that the impending US withdrawal will force the contending groups to play ball with each other.

Would that were the case. But as Patrick Cockburn recently pointed out (in what, for my money, is a must-read essay), Iraq's history over the last 100 years - and especially since 1980 - is drenched in blood, and Iraqis have become paranoid, scared of each other and unwilling to trust each other.

Is it getting worse again?
Jun 25th 2009 | BAGHDAD
From The Economist print edition

As American troops prepare to leave all the towns, Iraqis are getting nervous

BARACK OBAMA’s administration has promised to withdraw all American troops from all of Iraq’s towns by the end of this month. As the deadline looms, people are again asking whether Iraq’s forces will be able to cope on their own. On cue, a fresh bout of violence has erupted. On June 20th, a huge lorry bomb exploded in Taza, a Turkmen town just south of the disputed city of Kirkuk, killing at least 70 people. Two days later at least seven bombs went off in and around Baghdad, including a roadside blast, a car bomb and a suicide attack, killing some 30 people altogether. And on June 24th another big bomb killed at least 70 people in Baghdad, perhaps the single deadliest attack in Iraq this year. The insurgents, knowing that the Americans are poised to pull out, are aiming to make Iraq as unstable as ever.

They have also staged some spectacular assassinations that have threatened to restart a cycle of sectarian reprisals. Earlier this month the head of the main Sunni bloc in parliament, Harith al-Obeidi, a noted campaigner for human rights, was gunned down by a teenager in a Baghdad mosque after he had led Friday prayers. In Mosul, the biggest city of the north, where the coach of Iraq’s karate team was recently shot dead, bombings are still going on, though at a reduced rate.

Yet, despite this nerve-racking spasm, the recorded figures suggest that the violence is still in retreat. Fewer civilians were killed in May than in any month since 2003. Both Iraqi and American officials had predicted a surge in attacks as the deadline for withdrawal neared.

The prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told Iraqis not to be dismayed by violence here and there. The country’s own forces, he insisted, could maintain security, as they already were. Besides, American tanks and armies were no use in what had become a counter-insurgency intelligence game, which the Iraqis were better equipped to play than were the Americans. “We’re absolutely certain the withdrawal will not make our security worse,” said Mr Maliki. In any event, he said, the withdrawal of American troops from the towns would be a “great victory” for Iraq.

In fact American troops have already withdrawn from nearly all the towns—and have rarely been seen in them of late. Many joint American-Iraqi security posts have been dismantled. There will be no more routine American patrols, rare though they have already become. The Americans will, however, remain in bases nearby, on call in case Iraqi forces hit trouble. And in some places, especially in Mosul, where efforts to suppress the insurgency have been intensifying, the definition of city limits is being elastically interpreted, to let the main American base stay where it is, on the city’s edge.

But the Iraqis are slowly realising that Mr Obama really does intend to remove the bulk of his troops before 2011. So they may at last be starting to focus on passing long-delayed bits of important nation-building legislation, such as an oil-and-gas law, constitutional amendments, and even a law governing elections. Without a modicum of cohesion at the heart of government, how can Iraq’s security forces stick together in the face of sectarian or ethnic tension? Iraqis know that establishing a more cohesive and broader-based government is at least as important as beefing up the Iraqi security forces.

A crucial general election is due in January—and everybody knows that the Americans want to witness a peaceful poll leading to a stable government before they can withdraw completely. So there is a fresh ferment of political horse-trading and alliance-testing. Mr Maliki is trying to buff up his image as the strongman who can provide law and order. He is exploring the possibility of new ties across sectarian divisions as well as sounding out possible partners for a grand Shia coalition similar to the one that won last time. Even the “Bands of the Righteous”, an offshoot of the Shia militia movement led by a radical cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, may want to take part in peaceful politics. As a gesture of goodwill, it released the bodies of two long-dead British hostages who had been kidnapped two years ago.

Yet, whether the Americans stay or leave, Iraq still suffers from its worst failing. There is still no party or leader that can reach across the country’s divisions and appeal to Iraqis of every ethnic and sectarian hue.

Maliki Casts U.S. Withdrawal as Victory for Iraq

As a victory for Iraq, akin to the Iraqi rebellion against the British in 1920.

Anybody else remember how irked Bush was several years ago (I believe Bob Woodward reported it in one of his books.) that Iraqis weren't showing enough gratitude for what the US had done? I can only imagine what he's thinking about this report.

Oh, never mind - I forgot; Bush said he doesn't read the papers!

Americans' Contributions to the West Bank settlements

The WaPo publishes an excellent piece this morning by activist film-maker Ronit Avni on a topic that every American ought to know more about: the huge financial and physical contributions that American Jews and evangelical Christians have made to the Zionist settlement project in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As has been so often the case in the US, people allow their commitment to a literalist interpretation of the Hebrew Bible to overcome any commitment to international law, the search for peace in the Middle East, and (for that matter) support of US interests. In essence, they have become useful idiots for the Menachem Begins, Ariel Sharons, Benjamin Netanyahus, and Avigdor Liebermans of the world - none of them religious men, but all of them more than willing to use the zealotry of others to advance their own political agenda: Israel's domination of the Middle East, and keeping themselves in power.

They also enable the thugs and hooligans (again, many of them Jewish immigrants from the US, as Avi notes) who have been preying regularly on West Bank Palestinians guilty of doing nothing more than simply trying to exist, undisturbed, peacefully, in the towns and villages where their families have lived, in many instances, for centuries - far longer than the settlers (including current foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, an immigrant from Romania who lives in a West Bank settlement and would like nothing more than to see all the Arabs evicted from "Judea and Samaria." In a recent essay, Ira Chernus provides a snapshot of the settler-inflicted violence:

"Palestinian civilians bear brunt of settler violence," Agence France-Presse recently reported: "Nestled amid rolling hills and with an eagle eye's view to the Mediterranean coast, Nahla Ahmed's house has all the elements of Eden... if it weren't for the Molotov cocktail-throwing neighbours. 'We put bars on the windows after the first attack, three years ago,' says the 36-year-old mother of four. 'Now they come each week.'"

The attacks aren't always with Molotov cocktails; sometimes Jewish settlers throw tear gas canisters, simply spray a Star of David on a wall, or cut down trees owned by Palestinians. In other incidents, settlers have shot and killed a 16-year-old boy, fractured the skull of a 7-year-old girl with a rock, set a dog on a 12-year-old boy, and shot dead an Arab man but let his companion go when he identified himself as Jewish. These are not egregious, isolated cases of mayhem; they're just a few random examples of what's happening all too often on the West Bank. To see how depressingly common such violence is, just Google "West Bank settler violence" for yourself.

It's easy enough to see what the violence looks like too, since a lot of it has been captured on video. And this is just violence against people. The violence against property is far too common to begin to catalog.

Last December, Jewish settlers in Hebron went on a rampage, shooting at Palestinians, setting fire to homes, cars, and olive groves, defacing mosques and graves. Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister at the time, said he was "ashamed" of this "pogrom."

Yet few such settler crimes are seriously prosecuted by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli rights group Yesh Din has documented this in an extensive report, which, the group carefully notes, is merely one more in a long line of similar reports:

"Since the 1980's many reports have been published on law enforcement upon Israelis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. All of the reports... warned against the failure of the authorities to enforce the law effectively upon Israelis... who committed offenses against Palestinian civilians... Yet the problem of attacks against Palestinian people and property by Israelis has only grown worse, becoming a daily occurrence."
(Also just reported: An East European Jewish immigrant chased down and knifed to death a young Arab, evidently just for being an Ara.)

This is the kind of nonsense that so many American Christians, professing themselves to be followers of the "Prince of Peace," are fostering with their financial contributions and their in-church lovefests for Israel. (If you have any doubts, just click through the Christian cable-TV channels some evening.) These same people flock to the US congressmen who cite their allegiance to the "Holy Bible" and to Israel one of the chief reasons why they deserve to be re-elected each year. Among them is the senator from Oklahoma - James Inhofe - who once defended Israeli policy on the floor of the US Senate by citing "God's word" as set down in the Bible.

Useful idiots, indeed - the kind of idiots that Israeli leaders from Menachem Begin to the present have sought out and appealed to whenever they've alighted on our shores and tarmacs.

At least the G8 - and the Mideast Quartet - have come out against any further settlement building in the West Bank. But what chance do they have against the followers of the "Prince of Peace"?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran's Turmoil Affects Shiites across the Middle East

Notwithstanding their neocon editorial stance, the Wall Street Journal often comes through with some excellent reporting and analysis . . . such as this piece
Iran's Turmoil Opens Rift Among Shiites Across Mideast - WSJ.com that spells out some of the fallout of the Iranian election coup within the broader Shiite community in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Iraq. The standing of Iran's Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has taken a serious hit, as has the doctrine of velayat i-faqih - rule by the Islamic jurist/guardian - that is the underpinning of the entire Iranian system and a major prop for the power of Hezbollah - and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah - in Lebanon.

Some experts have been warning that Iran's allies in the Middle East might feel some of the blowback from the elections crisis - and have also suggested that Mr. Obama's decision to send a US ambassador to Damascus (after an absence of many years) might be an attempt to catch the Syrian leadership a bit out to sea.

Iran's Regime and US Energy Needs

Good piece by Thomas Friedman. I'm not especially crazy about Friedman's glib cutesyness, but here he makes some good points . . . and I have to admire his persistence on the US's need to wean itself off oil.

June 24, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

The Green Revolution(s)

There has been a lot of worthless chatter about what President Barack Obama should say about Iran’s incipient “Green Revolution.” Sorry, but Iranian reformers don’t need our praise. They need the one thing we could do, without firing a shot, that would truly weaken the Iranian theocrats and force them to unshackle their people. What’s that? End our addiction to the oil that funds Iran’s Islamic dictatorship. Launching a real Green Revolution in America would be the best way to support the “Green Revolution” in Iran.

Oil is the magic potion that enables Iran’s turbaned shahs — “Shah Khamenei” and “Shah Ahmadinejad” — to snub their noses at the world and at many of their own people as well. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad behaves like someone who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. By coincidence, he’s been president of Iran during a period of record high oil prices. So, although he presides over an economy that makes nothing the world wants, he can lecture us about how the West is in decline and the Holocaust was a “myth.” Trust me, at $25 a barrel, he won’t be declaring that the Holocaust was a myth anymore.

The Obama team wants to pursue talks with Iran over its nuclear program, no matter who wins there. Fine. But the issue is not talk or no talk. The issue is leverage or no leverage. I love talking to people — especially in the Middle East — on one condition: that we have the leverage. As long as oil prices are high, Iran will have too much leverage and will be able to resist concessions on its nuclear program. With oil at $70 a barrel, our economic sanctions on Iran are an annoyance; at $25, they really hurt.

“People do not change when you tell them they should; they change when they tell themselves they must,” observed Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy specialist. And nothing would tell Iran’s leaders that they must change more than collapsing oil prices.

Mr. Obama has already started some excellent energy-saving initiatives. But we need more. Imposing an immediate “Freedom Tax” of $1 a gallon on gasoline — with rebates to the poor and elderly — would be a triple positive: It would stimulate more investment in renewable energy now; it would stimulate more consumer demand for the energy-efficient vehicles that the reborn General Motors and Chrysler are supposed to make; and, it would reduce our oil imports in a way that would surely affect the global price and weaken every petro-dictator.

That is how — as Bill Maher likes to say — we make the bad guys “fight all of us.”

Sure, it would take time to influence the regime, but, unlike words alone, it will have an impact. I believe in “The First Law of Petro-Politics,” which stipulates that the price of oil and the pace of freedom in petrolist states — states totally dependent on oil exports to run their economies — operate in an inverse correlation. As the price of oil goes down, the pace of freedom goes up because leaders have to educate and unleash their people to innovate and trade. As the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down because leaders just have to stick a pipe in the ground to stay in power.

Exhibit A: the Soviet Union. High oil prices in the 1970s suckered the Kremlin into propping up inefficient industries, overextending subsidies, postponing real economic reforms and invading Afghanistan. When oil prices collapsed to $15 a barrel in the late 1980s, the overextended, petrified Soviet Empire went bust.

In a 2006 speech entitled “The Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia,” Yegor Gaidar, a deputy prime minister of Russia in the early 1990s, noted that “the timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to Sept. 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market.

“During the next six months,” added Gaidar, “oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms. As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive.”

If we could bring down the price of oil, the Islamic Republic — which has been buying off its people with subsidies and jobs for years — would face the same pressures. The ayatollahs would either have to start taking subsidies away from Iranians, which would only make the turbaned shahs more unpopular, or empower Iran’s human talent — men and women — and give them free access to the learning, science, trade and collaboration with the rest of the world that would enable this once great Persian civilization to thrive without oil.

Let’s get serious: An American Green Revolution to end our oil addiction — to parallel Iran’s Green Revolution to end its theocracy — helps us, helps them and raises the odds that whoever wins the contest for power, there will have to be a reformer. What are we waiting for?

US discounts Iraq withdrawal risk even as violence ratchets up

Everyone seems to be well on-message: The Associated Press: US discounts Iraq withdrawal risk despite attacks - the Iraqis can handle it, Iraq's gonna be fine, so the US can pull out. The focus of the assured remarks seems to be the relationship between Sunni and Shia Arabs, which, US spokespeople seem to feel, will not again devolve to the depths of the civil war of 2006.

This seems to me both deceptive and wishful thinking. Deceptive, because despite the words suggesting that Iraq will be almost emptied of US military, there's still going to be a significant US presence: advisers, air support, major bases still on Iraqi soil, and US Special Forces trying to operate under the radar. Wishful thinking, because:
1. Iraqi Arabs, both Sunni and Shia, are not "over" the events of a few years back. There is still no political reconciliation, and there are still a lot of scores to be settled.
2. Tensions between Arab and Kurd groups in Iraq are sky-high, with no movement toward reconciliation on any of the important scores: oil contracts, oil revenues, Kirkuk, territorial claims. And Prime Minister al-Maliki has made it clear in recent months that he does not see the Kurdistan Regional Government as an equal partner in the governing of Iraq, even as Kurds increasingly assert their autonomy.

Obviously, the US's military "mission" now is in Afghanistan and Pakistan's frontier regions. US casualties in Afghanistan are rising, as is Pakistani "collateral damage" suffered from US drone airstrikes. Iraq has become strictly "yesterday." That may not last.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

As the US Pulls Out, Iraq and Pakistan Approach Boiling Point

While most of us have had our eyes glued to Twitter feeds from Iran, the situation in countries that bracket it is hardly improving. As this report from today's NYT notes, Spate of Attacks Tests Iraqi City and U.S. Pullout - NYTimes.com, Falluja, which several years ago was the epicenter of Sunni resistance to the US occupation in Iraq, is now increasingly on edge. Add to this the ongoing violence up north in Mosul and Nineveh province (where US troops may be staying beyond the withdrawal date) and the tensions between the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government over oil contracts, Kirkuk, and borders, and it's plain that Iraq will be anything but "secure" as US troops pull out of Iraq's cities. "Stabilization" will now be largely up to the Iraqi army and police (including the Iraqi Special Operations Force, which The Nation reported on recently as essentially trigger-happy death squads trained by US Special Forces). But the Maliki government insists that it wants US withdrawal to proceed as scheduled, and there's also an upcoming referendum in which Iraqis may well vote to reject the status-of-forces (i.e., withdrawal) agreement that Bush reached with Baghdad - in which case the US will be forced to clear out much more quickly.

It should be obvious that Iraq is, and is going to remain, "stable" under only the most generous of definitions, and only with a generous application of "pressure" by military forces aligned with Prime Minister al-Maliki. As the US backs away, he will likely need to resort to various demonstrations of his power against perceived threats - with lots of collateral damage in the offing. In other words, Maliki will need to make himself into a Saddam-lite.

If that happens, we all should be reminding ourselves of what it was exactly that Bush was trying to accomplish when he sent US forces into Iraq in 2003 . . . and whether the result was worth the huge price that was paid, by the US and by Iraqis.

And speaking of prices being paid . . . the NYT also reports today that a US drone strike in Pakistan may have killed as many as 60 people. I suppose that since the strike was launched at funeral-goers attending the funeral of a Taliban leader, the assumption was that all those in attendance were Taliban sympathizers . . . and, therefore, "terrorists." And any who might be innocent can simply be chalked up as collateral damage, right?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neda, Obama, Iran -- and Israel

Joan Walsh in this morning's Salon gets it mostly right.

Salon.com | Neda, Obama, Iran -- and the rest of us

The neocon fools who've been hollering for Obama to intervene more strongly with the Iranian regime need to sit down and shut up. And the world at large would do well to stand up for Neda Agha-Soltan and the other Iranians (so many of them, as Walsh notes, women) who're putting their lives on the line - or have already lost them.

However, Walsh also cautions against over-identifying with Neda, who, she notes, was not especially political, just a philosophy student who loved to sing. In my opinion, perhaps all the more reason to identify with her. According to the LA Times report, she and some friends were simply driving in Tehran, were held up by the traffic, and got out to see what was happening - when she was struck by the bullet that killed her. She apparently aspired to become a tour guide, perhaps someone who some day might have introduced some American or European traveler to the grandeur and sophistication of iran's history and culture. All that potential, now obliterated, in an instant.

The "defeated" candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi has called for a national mourning of Neda's death. The regime has spoken out strongly against any such thing, and will likely bring out its enforcers to squelch any demonstrations. It remains to be seen if the protestors will persist, but their cause may have been struck a very debilitating, perhaps lethal blow by Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and president Shimon Peres. Both of them have come out strongly against the Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the "victorious" presidential candidate (and still president) Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and have insisted that the relationship between Iran and Israel might indeed improve with a regime change. As my friend Barbara A. also pointed out to me, evidence of support from the "Zionist" entity may well be the kiss of death for Moussavi's movement. And I have to wonder if Netanyahu knew that all along. Even if Moussavi had won (or somehow emerges atop the pile when all this is over), Iran would likely have continued its uranium-enrichment program, which in time would have left it more capable of producing a nuclear weapon if the leadership decided to move in that direction. But it would be much more difficult for Netanyahu to issue jeremiads about a new Holocaust and the new Nazis in Tehran when the public face of the regime is a reformist and artist and not a hard-liner who looks forward to the Mahdi's imminent return.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Important message from a sympathetic friend

If anyone is on Twitter, set your location to Tehran and your time zone to GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location/timezone searches. The more people at this location, the more of a logjam it creates for forces trying to shut Iranians' access to the internet down. Cut & paste & pass it on...

The martyrdom of "Neda"

via "War in Context" - with link to Robin Wright's essay in Time magazine. The video is compelling, horrific, all too real - and as Wright notes, her martyrdom and the subsequent mourning provide a sense of renewal for the protestors against the regime.

I believed at first that in time the protests would simmer down. I'm no longer so sure. And I do believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran is somehow turning a corner, but toward what, I don't know. I don't think anybody knows.

And meanwhile, how many of us remain complacent?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roger Cohen from the Streets of Tehran

Not too often these days that a Western reporter gets in there with the protestors so much that he's affected by the police tear gas. Excellent reporting. We can only hope that he and others can keep it coming.

June 21, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets

TEHRAN — The Iranian police commander, in green uniform, walked up Komak Hospital Alley with arms raised and his small unit at his side. “I swear to God,” he shouted at the protesters facing him, “I have children, I have a wife, I don’t want to beat people. Please go home.”

A man at my side threw a rock at him. The commander, unflinching, continued to plead. There were chants of “Join us! Join us!” The unit retreated toward Revolution Street, where vast crowds eddied back and forth confronted by baton-wielding Basij militia and black-clad riot police officers on motorbikes.

Dark smoke billowed over this vast city in the late afternoon. Motorbikes were set on fire, sending bursts of bright flame skyward. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, had used his Friday sermon to declare high noon in Tehran, warning of “bloodshed and chaos” if protests over a disputed election persisted.

He got both on Saturday — and saw the hitherto sacrosanct authority of his office challenged as never before since the 1979 revolution birthed the Islamic Republic and conceived for it a leadership post standing at the very flank of the Prophet. A multitude of Iranians took their fight through a holy breach on Saturday from which there appears to be scant turning back.

Khamenei has taken a radical risk. He has factionalized himself, so losing the arbiter’s lofty garb, by aligning himself with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against both Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of the revolution.

He has taunted millions of Iranians by praising their unprecedented participation in an election many now view as a ballot-box putsch. He has ridiculed the notion that an official inquiry into the vote might yield a different result. He has tried pathos and he has tried pounding his lectern. In short, he has lost his aura.

The taboo-breaking response was unequivocal. It’s funny how people’s obsessions come back to bite them. I’ve been hearing about Khamenei’s fear of “velvet revolutions” for months now. There was nothing velvet about Saturday’s clashes. In fact, the initial quest to have Moussavi’s votes properly counted and Ahmadinejad unseated has shifted to a broader confrontation with the regime itself.

Garbage burned. Crowds bayed. Smoke from tear gas swirled. Hurled bricks sent phalanxes of police, some with automatic rifles, into retreat to the accompaniment of cheers. Early afternoon rumors that the rally for Moussavi had been canceled yielded to the reality of violent confrontation.

I don’t know where this uprising is leading. I do know some police units are wavering. That commander talking about his family was not alone. There were other policemen complaining about the unruly Basijis. Some security forces just stood and watched. “All together, all together, don’t be scared,” the crowd shouted.

I also know that Iran’s women stand in the vanguard. For days now, I’ve seen them urging less courageous men on. I’ve seen them get beaten and return to the fray. “Why are you sitting there?” one shouted at a couple of men perched on the sidewalk on Saturday. “Get up! Get up!”

Another green-eyed woman, Mahin, aged 52, staggered into an alley clutching her face and in tears. Then, against the urging of those around her, she limped back into the crowd moving west toward Freedom Square. Cries of “Death to the dictator!” and “We want liberty!” accompanied her.

There were people of all ages. I saw an old man on crutches, middle-aged office workers and bands of teenagers. Unlike the student revolts of 2003 and 1999, this movement is broad.

“Can’t the United Nations help us?” one woman asked me. I said I doubted that very much. “So,” she said, “we are on our own.”

The world is watching, and technology is connecting, and the West is sending what signals it can, but in the end that is true. Iranians have fought this lonely fight for a long time: to be free, to have a measure of democracy.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, understood that, weaving a little plurality into an authoritarian system. That pluralism has ebbed and flowed since 1979 — mainly the former — but last week it was crushed with blunt brutality. That is why a whole new generation of Iranians, their intelligence insulted, has risen.

I’d say the momentum is with them for now. At moments on Saturday, Khamenei’s authority, which is that of the Islamic Republic itself, seemed fragile. The revolutionary authorities have always mocked the cancer-ridden Shah’s ceding before an uprising, and vowed never to bend in the same way. Their firepower remains formidable, but they are facing a swelling test.

Just off Revolution Street, I walked into a pall of tear gas. I’d lit a cigarette minutes before — not a habit but a need — and a young man collapsed into me shouting, “Blow smoke in my face.” Smoke dispels the effects of the gas to some degree.

I did what I could and he said, “We are with you” in English and with my colleague we tumbled into a dead end — Tehran is full of them — running from the searing gas and police. I gasped and fell through a door into an apartment building where somebody had lit a small fire in a dish to relieve the stinging.

There were about 20 of us gathered there, eyes running, hearts racing. A 19-year-old student was nursing his left leg, struck by a militiaman with an electric-shock-delivering baton. “No way we are turning back,” said a friend of his as he massaged that wounded leg.

Later, we moved north, tentatively, watching the police lash out from time to time, reaching Victory Square where a pitched battle was in progress. Young men were breaking bricks and stones to a size for hurling. Crowds gathered on overpasses, filming and cheering the protesters. A car burst into flames. Back and forth the crowd surged, confronted by less-than-convincing police units.

I looked up through the smoke and saw a poster of the stern visage of Khomeini above the words, “Islam is the religion of freedom.”

Later, as night fell over the tumultuous capital, gunfire could be heard in the distance. And from rooftops across the city, the defiant sound of “Allah-u-Akbar” — “God is Great” — went up yet again, as it has every night since the fraudulent election. But on Saturday it seemed stronger. The same cry was heard in 1979, only for one form of absolutism to yield to another. Iran has waited long enough to be free.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Suicide bomber kills 25 or more near Kirkuk - while Iran explodes

Remember Iraq, where we've more or less declared victory because the Surge worked? Well, even as US troops pull out of Iraq's cities, the sectarian and ethnic fissures are nowhere close to mending. Especially in the north, where tensions between Arabs and Kurds (and, in this instance, Turkmen) about land and oil continue to erupt into violence. Today, at least 32 killed, more than 100 hurt (and "hurt") is an umbrella that covers a lot of injuries, many of them maiming and life-ruining, or life-threatening.

Iran, however, is getting most of our attention, with thousands demonstrating against the regime, riot police out in force with tear gas, water cannons, and truncheons; and the Wall Street Journal and other neocons (or even so-called moderates like David Brooks on last evening's PBS News Hour) hammering Mr. Obama for not coming out more strongly for the demonstrators. IMO, he has indeed shown his support; but beyond that line he dare not tread lest in doing so he legitimize even harsher actions against them. Iran needs to work this out without the US jumping in to complicate things. And remember that this is not simply a matter of angry young students blowing off steam. The opposition camp includes some stalwarts of the 1979 Iranian revolution (none moreso that Mr. Mousavi himself) as well as highly respected ayatollahs, some of whom have earned much greater respect as learned and pious scholars than has the Leader and supreme guardian, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

And if you don't believe that the stakes here in re the future of Iran and its relations with Israel are pretty high, take note of this analysis via the Tehran Bureau.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Mir-Hossein Mousavi's long night

The Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has made it plain to the leaders of the opposition and their hundreds of thousands of followers: any more protests are going to bring mass bloodshed inflicted by the forces of the regime. PBS reported on the Lehrer News Hour this evening that the basij militias, a major prop of the regime and notorious for their violence, are right now on the streets with guns and chains.

Tomorrow may turn out to be one of the most pivotal days in modern Iranian history. If Messrs. Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami et al. decide to stand down from their opposition, the new pro-democracy movement may fizzle. If they decide to stand against the regime, the toll in lives may be horrible.

But the students and other anti-regime protesters may decide to stand up and go to the streets no matter what Mousavi et al. decide to do. This evening Juan Cole posted a translation of a blog entry by a young Iranian planning to be on the street in protest tomorrow, fully aware that he may not ever get home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Resurgent neocons

Salon columnist Gary Kamiya today takes on the neocons (e.g., Robert Kagan and Charles Krauthammer, whose recent pieces I've blogged about - here and here - as well over the last few days) and pretty well demolishes their arguments in re President Obama's decision not to inject himself into the current Iranian situation. He highlights several other of the usual suspects as well (Danielle Pletka and the WSJ), not to mention John McCain, whom he quotes:
"Look, these people are bad people and I know that it was unpopular to call them part of an axis of evil or whatever it was, but we just showed again that an oppressive regime will not allow democratic elections, free and democratic elections."

Sounds like our last president, doesn't he - with this talk of "bad people"? At least he didn't resort to the oh-so-overplayed "mad mullah" trope.

Meanwhile, a recent essay by another neocon, Frank Gaffney (who goes unmentioned in Kamiya's piece), is getting attention somewhere I wish it wasn't. I speak of Pakistan, where Tariq Fatemi, reviewing Obama's Cairo speech in the English-language paper Dawn , notes

Obama’s background has been regularly targeted by rightwing commentators in both the US and Israel. This is likely to become more vicious. Evidence of this has come from Frank Gaffney, who heads Washington’s Centre for Security Policy. Writing in the Washington Times, he claims that his study of Obama’s policies and pronouncements leads him to the conclusion that Obama could be ‘considered America’s first Muslim president’. He adds that ‘there is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims but actually may still be one himself’. In support of this preposterous claim, Gaffney states that Obama’s reference to the Quran, as ‘holy’ and invoking peace on the Prophet (PBUH) was not right.
Gaffney once upon a time was very high up in National Security Council circles. One might think that he'd have the US's interests sufficiently at heart to remember that the US is now working very hard with the (very pro-Islam) Pakistani government and military against the Taliban, both to keep Pakistan bolstered and to improve the situation in Afghanistan, where (remember?) thousands of US troops are stationed, with more on the way. But Gaffney considers it not at all imprudent to label Obama as the US's first Muslim president - and to do so in way that implies that surely this must be a very bad thing. Nothing like winning hearts and minds, Frank.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran set for day of mourning after protest deaths

Important news from Reuters. And bear in mind that in a Shiite context such as this, a day of mourning is much more than bowing heads in prayer and being sad. Friday is going to be a politically and emotionally charged day to celebrate the new martyrs of what may a new phase of Iran's Islamic Revolution. How the regime responds is going to be crucial. How well the Mousavi faction can sustain the on-the-streets pressure and demonstrations will also be crucial. But more and more observers are now saying that something fundamental has changed inside Iran. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Guardian of the Islamic Republic, at this point is not in control of the situation. Moreover, his favored candidate, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, cannot seriously claim that he has an overwhelming popular mandate to lead the country.

As for the vote recount, Khamenei is trying to buy time by throwing the Mousavi supporters a very small bone. The recount is only partial, and it has been entrusted to a hard-line supporter of the regime. Unless a recount were to reverse the election (highly unlikely), it will have no credibility with the Mousavi people. And if the recount were to substantiate claims of voting fraud and imperil Ahmadinejad's "victory," let's not forget that he too has millions of supporters among the urban poor, as well as in rural towns and villages.

Obama, Siding With the Iranian Regime?

Neocon WaPo columnist Robert Kagan today tries to stick it to President Obama as a hypocrite for not coming out openly in support of the Moussavi movement as the Iran post-election cauldron bubbles. Kagan does make a good point in noting that what's happening now complicates Obama's strategy in regards to the Iranian nuclear program. But then he goes so far as to claim that "once Mousavi lost, however fairly or unfairly, Obama objectively had no use for him or his followers," and then goes on to claim that

Obama's policy now requires getting past the election controversies quickly so that he can soon begin negotiations with the reelected Ahmadinejad government. This will be difficult as long as opposition protests continue and the government appears to be either unsettled or too brutal to do business with. What Obama needs is a rapid return to peace and quiet in Iran, not continued ferment. His goal must be to deflate the opposition, not to encourage it. And that, by and large, is what he has been doing.

Agreed. But Kagan then goes on to put Obama squarely on the wrong side of history, and freedom, for that matter. That strikes me as a low blow. For Obama to come out squarely behind the Moussavi party puts a huge handful of arrows into the regime's quiver. As several experts with a sense of Iran's history have noted, Iranians of all political stripes tend to be hugely paranoid about intervention by outside parties into their politics. From the time of the Qajar dynasty of the 19th and early 20th centuries, through the reign of the Pahlavis, Iran suffered constant meddling from Britain, Russia, and the US - including, of course, the 1953 coup fomented by the CIA that brought down a popular prime minister and secured the reign of an oppressive shah.

Obama surely is aware of this history. Kagan, as an historian with several books to his credit, ought to be. Shame on him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Live-Tweeting the Revolution

A marvelous string of Twitter feeds from and/or about what's been happening in Iran. Amazing! and glorious! I wish them well!

Is the US economy about to implode?

It's not often that I come across a piece that forecasts a disaster so utter and complete, and I would ordinarily write it off to a writer off his meds. . . except that the author here (Chris Hedges) is a Pulitizer Prize winner, and he cites for corroboration two pieces published in the Financial Times (no lefty rag, that) and the London Review of Books, which does not tend to publish stuff that's not well researched and well argued.

I also note that I saw at least two reports today that major world leaders (who are indeed attending the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) were calling for other reserve currencies besides the dollar.

The American Empire Is Bankrupt


Posted on Jun 14, 2009

By Chris Hedges

This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.

Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.

There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”

It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.

I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called “The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony.” “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.

“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”

China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.

“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”

The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, before we add on things like nuclear research. The next closest national military budget is China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

There are three categories of the balance-of-payment deficits. America imports more than it exports. This is trade. Wall Street and American corporations buy up foreign companies. This is capital movement. The third and most important balance-of-payment deficit for the past 50 years has been Pentagon spending abroad. It is primarily military spending that has been responsible for the balance-of-payments deficit for the last five decades. Look at table five in the Balance of Payments Report, published in the Survey of Current Business quarterly, and check under military spending. There you can see the deficit.

To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys our treasury bonds, our empire collapses. The profligate spending on the military, some $1 trillion when everything is counted, will be unsustainable.

“We will have to finance our own military spending,” Hudson warned, “and the only way to do this will be to sharply cut back wage rates. The class war is back in business. Wall Street understands that. This is why it had Bush and Obama give it $10 trillion in a huge rip-off so it can have enough money to survive.”

The desperate effort to borrow our way out of financial collapse has promoted a level of state intervention unseen since World War II. It has also led us into uncharted territory.

“We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system,” Lanchester wrote in the London Review of Books. “There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism ... there is no such model. It isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.”

The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics. America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite.

Where Anti-Semitism is mainstream?

Thus does WaPo columnist Richard Cohen describe "vast parts of the Muslim world" today. He uses James von Brunn's killing of a guard at the Holocaust Museum as his jumping-off point - and then tries to emphasize his point by throwing in a reference to a horrific blood-libel persecution of Holocaust-survivor Jews in 1946. It's certainly an event that needs to be noted and remembered, but perhaps it's unfair to do so here, where he's trying to tar the entire Muslim world with the anti-Semitism brush.)

I don't dispute for a second that too many Muslims (and Christians - and people in general) hold some weird, destructive beliefs about Jews. Those ideas are detestable, and people ought to know what's going on.

But why write about this now? When the President is trying to reach out to the Arab-Iranian-Muslim world, in large part to protect Israel, mostly from its own idiotic settlement policies in the West Bank? Why not note instead - or at least in addition - the story of the Arab doctor from Gaza whose daughters were killed by Israeli bombing, but who is now reaching out to build bridges between Arabs and Jews?

And for that matter, why not take note of the source from which Cohen gets many of the examples he cites? He bases his report on articles culled by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute). MEMRI has become notorious for its singling out of media reports that document alleged Arab perfidy and bigotry. Of course, Cohen may not know that MEMRI was founded by former Mossad operatives. No agenda there.

And finally, why not take at least some note of the extent to which the increase of this anti-Semitism in the Arab world is relatively recent, and in many ways builds upon post-1948 anger in the wake of the serial dispossessions of hundreds of thousands of Arabs (Muslim and Christian) in the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan? It was not too long ago that many thousands of Americans - including leading citizens like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh - held terribly anti-Semitic views, and announced them rather openly. One of the actor Gregory Peck's great movies, "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), deals with the anti-Semitism that was rampant in the US even after WWII. And as late as 1960, the director Otto Preminger in his famous movie "Exodus" made a point of exposing the latent anti-Semitism in American audiences by casting blue-eyed box-office idol Paul Newman (who was, in fact, half-Jewish) in the lead role as a Zionist "freedom fighter" and another young, platinum-blonde actress, Jill Haworth, as one of the young Jewish immigrants to Palestine. His point here being, "Gee, Jews look just like us, or even better." In 1960s America, it's a point that unfortunately still needed to be made.

And my point being, finally, how much less anti-Semitism might there be in the Arab (and Muslim) world if the Jewish state in Palestine had been established under different conditions, or if its later leaders had refrained from further sabotaging the perception of Israel through their policies of colonization of lands "conquered" from Arabs?

Dennis Ross moving to the White House

Thus reports today's NYT. This is not a move designed to build a lot of confidence with either the Arab groups the US needs to reach out to (the Palestinians and the Arab "street," including Hamas and Hezbollah, who simply have to be brought into the tent) or Iran. He is too closely tied to the Israel lobby, and is seen as anything but a fair broker. Note in this report the mention of his new book with David Makovsky, who is a fellow with WINEP (Washington Institute for Near Eastern Politics) = Israel's DC think-tank.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Racism among US military in Iraq

Salon today runs an important piece on racism in the US military. The focus is initially on how easy it is now for neo-Nazi white supremacists to enlist in the US army, but by the end of the report the focus turns to US troops in Iraq and the prevalence of racist expressions for Arabs - "sand niggers," towel-heads," "ragheads" (made popular soon after 9-11 by right-wing darling Ann Coulter), and, of course, "hajji" - an expression I've heard used by Iraq vets who've taken a course with me.

Just how pervasive? Get this:

- On the neo-Nazi Web site Blood and Honour, a user called 88Soldier88, wrote in 2008 that he is an active duty soldier working in a detainee holding area in Iraq. He complained about "how 'nice' we have to treat these fucking people … better than our own troops." Then he added, "Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come." Another poster, AMERICANARYAN.88Soldier88, wrote, "I have the training I need and will pass it on to others when I get out." . . . .
Carter F. Smith is a former military investigator who worked with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command from 2004 to 2006, when he helped to root out gang violence in troops. "When you need more soldiers, you lower the standards, whether you say so or not," he says. "The increase in gangs and extremists is an indicator of this." Military investigators may be concerned about white supremacists, he says. "But they have a war to fight, and they don't have incentive to slow down." . . . .

"I hate Arabs more than anybody, for the simple fact I've served over there and seen how they live," he tells me. "They're just a backward people. Them and the Jews are just disgusting people as far as I'm concerned. Their customs, everything to do with the Middle East, is just repugnant to me.". . . .

. . .

On NewSaxon.org, a social networking group for neo-Nazis, a group called White Military Men hosts numerous contributors. It was begun by "FightingforWhites," who identified himself at one point as Lance Cpl. Burton of the 2nd Battalion Fox Company, but then removed the information. The group calls for "All men with military experience, retired or active/reserve" to "join this group to see how many men have experience to build an army. We want to win a war, we need soldiers." FightingforWhites — whose tagline is "White Supremacy will prevail! US Military leading the way!" — goes on to write, "I am with an infantry battalion in the Marine Corps, I have had the pleasure of killing four enemies that tried to kill me. I have the best training to kill people." On his wall, a friend wrote: "THANKS BROTHER!!!! kill a couple towel heads for me ok!". . . .

"We don't exclude people from the army based on their thoughts," says S. Douglas Smith, an Army public affairs officer. "We exclude based on behavior." He says an "offensive" or "extremist" tattoo "might be a reason for them not to be in the military." Or it might not. "We try to educate recruiters on extremist tattoos," he says, but "the tattoo is a relatively subjective decision" and shouldn't in itself bar enlistment.. . . . What about something as obvious as a swastika? "A swastika would trigger questions," Smith says. "But again, if the gentlemen said, 'I like the way the swastika looked,' and had clean criminal record, it's possible we would allow that person in." "There are First Amendment rights," he adds.

"Rooting out extremists is difficult because racism pervades the military, according to soldiers. They say troops throughout the Middle East use derogatory terms like "hajji" or "sand nigger" to define Arab insurgents and often the Arab population itself.Racism was rampant," recalls vet Michael Prysner, who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. "All of command, everywhere, it was completely ingrained in the consciousness of every soldier. I've heard top generals refer to the Iraq people as 'hajjis.' The anti-Arab racism came from the brass. It came from the top. And everything was justified because they weren't considered people."

Another vet, Michael Totten, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne in 2003 and 2004, says, "It wouldn't stand out if you said 'sand niggers,' even if you aren't a neo-Nazi." Totten says his perspective has changed in the intervening years, but "at the time, I used the words 'sand nigger.' I didn't consider 'hajji' to be derogatory."

But this last reference really surprises me:

Geoffrey Millard, an organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in Iraq for 13 months, beginning in 2004, as part of the 42nd Infantry Division. He recalls Gen. George Casey, who served as the commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, addressing a briefing he attended in the summer of 2005 at Forward Operating Base, outside Tikrit. "As he walked past, he was talking about some incident that had just happened, and he was talking about how 'these stupid fucking hajjis couldn't figure shit out.' And I'm just like, Are you kidding me? This is Gen. Casey, the highest-ranking guy in Iraq, referring to the Iraqi people as 'fucking hajjis.'" (A spokesperson for Casey, now the Army Chief of Staff, said the general "did not make this statement.")

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Landslide or Fraud? The Debate Online Over Iran’s Election Results

This is a remarkable collection of postings via the NYT's The Lede blog, including many from inside Iran.

Landslide or Fraud? The Debate Online Over Iran’s Election Results - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com

Netanyahu accepts limited Palestinian state.

Thus reports the WaPo today:

Netanyahu accepts limited Palestinian state - washingtonpost.com

Netanyahu is quoted as inviting resumption of negotiations "without preconditions."


That's as long as the Palestinians

agree to a demilitarized state.
agree that none of the refugees be allowed to return to Israel.
recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. (Must Arab Israelis then relocate to the new Palestinian state?)

No preconditions, huh?

Iran's Political Coup - and What Happens Now?

Hat-tip to Paul Woodward at War in Context (WiC has always been my most reliable go-to source) for headlining this essay from Gary Sick on Iran's political coup:
gary's choices - Iran's political coup

It's a must-read from an experienced Iran hand well familiar with the history and currents of Iran's Islamic revolutionary regime. (And I highly recommend the WiC link today. Paul has posted a number of pieces there dealing with what's happened in Iran.)

I wrote last week (at WiC) about Obama's Cairo speech having a chance to be a difference-maker in Middle East history, but what's just happened in Iran will have a much greater impact, on Iran and the broader Middle East and on US relations with Iran and Israel. Mr. Sick puts it very well:

this election is an extraordinary gift to those who have been most skeptical about President Obama’s plan to conduct negotiations with Iran. Former Bush official Elliott Abrams was quick off the mark, commenting that it is “likely that the engagement strategy has been dealt a very heavy blow.” Two senior Israeli officials quickly urged the world not to engage in negotiations with Iran. Neoconservatives who had already expressed their support for an Ahmadinejad victory now have every reason to be satisfied. Opposition forces, previously on the defensive, now have a perfect opportunity to mount a political attack that will make it even more difficult for President Obama to proceed with his plan.

With all of the demonizing of Iran in recent years, one of the things that opponents of that have pointed to is Iran's democratic process - the idea that although the Supreme Guardian does indeed have ultimate authority in the Iranian system, the people do have a strong political voice. (And this has not been an entirely recent feature of Iran's politics. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution of the early 20th-century - which was preceded by popular movements such as the late 19th-century Tobacco Protest - was a watershed in Iran's history.) Now, the electoral coup of 2009 has undercut the arguments of all those who have been advocating patience in dealing with the Iranian leadership, and they have suffered a major blow to their cause. Meanwhile, those who've been advocating a military strike against Iran now have a few more arrows in their quiver. As Sick notes in his piece, neocons in both Israel and the US were hoping for an Ahmadinejad win. It's much easier to scream Hitler and new Holocaust at him (given his record) than at a new, moderate, ostensibly "saner" and certainly less provocative president, which Mousavi likely would have been.

Assuming that the election "results" hold (and there's no reason to think they won't, especially with the Iranian army, Revolutionary Guard, and basij militias siding with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad), we face another 4 years with Ahmadinejad as president of Iran - the political version of a gun with the safety perpetually off when it comes to provocative public statements.

As Iran has progressed with its nuclear enrichment and grown its influence in Iraq, Ahmadinejad's attitude to the US and Israel has been one of, more or less, "in your face" (a basketball expression with which Obama certainly is familiar). In the next few months, a lot - I might venture to say, "world peace" itself (and the lives of thousands) - will be riding on how patient Obama can remain in the face of such provocation, how well he can resist the likely renewed and louder neocon and pro-Likud demands for forcibly imposed regime change in Iran - and, perhaps, how often and how hard the Supreme Guardian in Tehran is willing to yank his president's chain in the next months.

And one more thing: the Supreme Guardian is getting up there in age and is not in the best of physical health, and it's entirely possible that he might pass from the scene during Ahmadinejad's second term, or that, if he weakens, some others among the mullah hierarchy in the Council of Experts and the Council of Guardians might move against him, especially if they sense that Ahmadinejad's provocations (if left unsquelched by the Khamenei) are leading Iran to disaster.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Report: Defeated Ahmadinejad rival arrested in Iran

It's apparent from this report in Haaretz that the Iranian government is facing a crisis. Even if the report of Mousavi's arrest turns out to be inaccurate, it seems clear that the regime will put out whatever stops it needs to pull out in order to crush any incipient revolution.

Report: Defeated Ahmadinejad rival arrested in Iran - Haaretz - Israel News

Are Americans an especially warlike breed?

So, America's history has made Americans an especially warlike people? Hmmm . . .

the large immigration to British North America from the English-Scotch border area, and the subsequent endemic and brutal warfare against the North American Indians, created a political culture in the United States in which failures to respond violently to challenges were seen as the mark of weakness that would lead to predation against the weakling, and in which willingness to fight was part of the duties of a citizen. We are a warlike people. We fought in Iraq because we rise, violently, to violent challenges, and we will remain a warlike people for the foreseeable future.

Ahmadinejad Declared Victor in Iran

Here's the NY Times report - which seems not to include the report now that the Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Guardian, has evidently give his blessing to the results. That suggests that it's done, and done. But that does not mean that the results are legit, or that the election was free and fair, and Mr. Mousavi seems determined to contest them. I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for his chances of oveturning the result by any sort of peaceful means - but of such events are revolutions made. Don't be too surprised to see some major civil disturbances in Tehran and elsewhere, of the kind that have already been reported.

Meanwhile. some parties in Israel and among the neocon/AIPAC crowd are relieved. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been a very convenient face of evil for those who insist that Iran means to wipe out and Israel and that Israel (with US backing) ought to go after Iran's nuclear sites. Again, expect a spate of op-eds to that effect over the next few weeks. Mr. Obama's post-Cairo and post-Lebanon glow just got dimmed, considerably.

Ahmadinejad Is Declared Victor in Iran - NYTimes.com

Friday, June 12, 2009

Red Alert: Iran's Election Results (Open Access) | STRATFOR

Red Alert: Iran's Election Results (Open Access) | STRATFOR

Krauthammer and Barack Obama's Messianism

I don't think Mr. Krauthammer likes being relegated to semi-obscurity, now that the neocons are no longer in charge. More of the same old "whatever the USA does is good, because, after all, we are the USA." Because Obama notes for public consumption that the US has made some blunders over the years, Krauthammer reviles him as showing "a disturbing ambivalence toward one's own country." Krauthammer rails on about the cruelties that Muslim regimes have imposed upon minorities. Not even a nod toward the thousands killed, maimed, detained, humiliated by the US across the Middle East.

Krauthammer's personal distaste for Obama oozes from this article. For my money, Obama has in his pinkie finger more of a sense of universal human dignity than Krauthammer has ever shown.

Can Obama save Israel from itself?

Excellent piece from Neve Gordon in the Jerusalem Post about the Obama-Netanyahu tussle over the settlements in the West Bank. Gordon makes among others several excellent points:

Obama may be intimating that US policy is that all the West Bank settlements (and by implication, those in the Golan, which Syria must have back if there is to be any peace deal with Israel) are illegal, not just the outposts.

Netanyahu's removal of a couple of tiny outposts recently (which were rebuilt almost immediately) was a dog-and-pony show for popular consumption - not a serious move on his part.

Netanyahu may indeed try to raise fears in both Israel and the US that any serious attempt to dismantle settlements will lead to civil war in Israel.

A recent post on the Mondoweiss site is a propos. It recalled a definition of chutzpah as killing your parents, and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court with the wail that now you're an orphan. Israel knew from the day the first settlement went up in the West Bank that it was going to judged illegal in the eyes of international law; and it has continued to expand those settlements down to this very day. To ask for a pass because to remove them might cause problems is cynical in the extreme - chutzpah indeed - and Obama knows it; as is the idea that removing settlements, or even freezing them, is somehow a "concession" to the Palestinians. It's not a concession; it's justice, and it's the right thing to do.

One more thing to note in Gordon's piece is the quote from the defiant settler who referred to the "nigger" in the White House. I would imagine that if that quote gets some play in the US media and/or the halls of Congress, it's going to cost the settlers some support in the US - as well it should.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More War-mongering from Mr. Bolton

Today's Wall Street Journal has another essay from Bush-era UN rep John Bolton, assessing Iran's possible responses to an Israeli attack to eliminate those nuclear weapons that he and his ilk are oh-so-sure Iran is going to poise at Israel's neck. All in all, says he, the benefits of an attack outweigh the risks. But two things in particular stand out in his essay, at least for me, in terms of effects he either ignores or is clueless about:

  1. He makes no mention at all of the human cost of an Israeli attack or of the counter-measures Iran might take. Several people have noted in this regard the possibility of radioactive fallout that would kill thousands of Iranians, as well as people downwind outside Iran. I guess in Bolton's calculations, if Israel is at risk, then all those lives are expendable.
  2. He notes that leaders of many of the Arab countries in the region might applaud an Israeli attack on Iran. Yet several of them are on the record as opposing it. And perhaps more to the point here is the probable reaction from their people - many of whom qualify as "subjects" who have no great love for their regimes. An Israeli attack would certainly cause widespread protests against the Mubarak regime in Egypt, King Abdullah in Lebanon, the Saudi regime (and don't forget that Saudi Arabia's oil regions have predominantly Shiite populations who have been recently chafing at the restrictions imposed by the Wahhabi Sunni regime of the Saudi family. Lebanon would likely come apart at its already very loosened seams. As might Pakistan.
Make no mistake about it: An Israeli attack on Iran would be catastrophic. It's both sad and appalling that a man who once was one of the more public faces of US foreign policy would be calling for one.



Blog Archive

Cluster map

Search This Blog

ICAHD - 18,000 Homes Campaign (large banner)