Sunday, November 29, 2009

Setback for Sunni-Shii Reconciliation in Iraq

According to this AFP analysis, the veto of the election law by Sunni VP Tareq al-Hashemi has backfired.  His veto was intended to secure more votes for the Sunnis of Iraq, especially those who were forced into exile (either internal or external) by the sectarian blood-letting of 2006-2008.  Instead, the parliament went ahead with an amendment that will likely leave the Sunnis with even less representation.

Meanwhile, in another development that may exacerbate some Sunnis' frustration, a "mysterious" new Saddam Hussein channel is popping up on Iraqis' TV screens.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ratcheting Up the Pressure on Iran

The WaPo reports on the IAEA censure of Iran for not being more forthcoming on its nuclear program.  At least Ray Takeyh sounds a voice of reason:
Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who until recently was a senior adviser on Iran policy in the State Department, said, "There is a certain degree of impatience in American diplomacy. We have elevated Iran to a level of extreme danger, which it is not, and created a crisis atmosphere, which is unwise." When President Richard M. Nixon first reached out to China, it took that country a year and half to respond positively, he noted.

"The Iranians may come back in March with a counterproposal," he said. "No deal ever dies in Tehran. The Iranians never say yes or no."
Meanwhile, Iran has responded with a threat to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Not exactly a hopeful sign as Obama prepares to escalate the Afghan war.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Netanyahu's "settlement freeze"

The ever-so-magnanimous Mr. Netanyahu has declared a 10-month freeze in settlement construction in the West Bank.  Predictably, he's being hammered from the Right, including the pro-settlement portion of his electoral base, who are screaming betrayal and, ominously indeed, are saying it's time to go after him the way they went after earlier PMs who entertained compromise on the issue of Jewish settlements.  (One of those PMs, of course, was Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a pro-settlement extremist.)

But please read the fine print on this magnanimous declaration:
  • existing construction will continue
  • there will be no halt to construction of schools, synagogues, and similar infrastructure
  • there will be no halt in construction in East Jerusalem, which is part of "our sovereign capital."

This is a joke.

But the timing is perfect for Mr. Obama, who now can say that his patience and policies have helped bring about "progress" in the "peace process" - at a time, of course, when he desperately needs to embellish his foreign-policy creds, now that he's about to announce (from West Point, no less) a major escalation of the US military effort in Afghanistan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Obama's Mega-Crapshoot

End of semester crunch (and looming book deadline) leave me little time for blogging, but I might recommend this piece from Dan Balz in Sunday's WaPo. Obama has no good options, at least among the ones evidently up for serious consideration.  He's going to get hammered politically, no matter what he decides on the size of his "surge."  But I'm afraid that once he boosts troop numbers - unless some measurable "progress" is made soon, with little loss of life, and a big light starts shining at the end of the proverbial tunnel - his Afghan war is going to become "in for a dime, in for a dollar."  If Lyndon Johnson were still alive, he could tell Obama all about that.  Speaking of which . . .

A must-read is William Polk's magisterial guest contribution at Juan Cole's Informed Comment site . . .

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hillary and warlord Dostum party together

OK, perhaps I'm being a bit flippant in putting it this way, but the fact of the matter is that many citizens of Afghanistan are going to be repulsed by the fact that the Secretary of State of the USA is a guest at a (post-Karzai-inauguration) "gala" where another of the guests is Abdul Rashid Dostum, whom this McClatchy report describes as
the Afghan warlord who's become a symbol of cronyism and government corruption" and who "was stripped of his top military post after he was accused of war crimes and investigated for enacting vigilante justice on the streets of Kabul."
Not a problem for Hillary though.  As today's AfPak report from Foreign Policy notes:
when asked whether the U.S. would support a Karzai administration with warlords, she said, "Well, there are warlords and there are warlords."
Lovely.

Meanwhile, after weeks of hammering "re-elected" President Karzai on corruption and poor leadership, the US now seems to be trying a new approach = making nice with him, including getting Richard Holbrooke out of his face and replacing him with Hillary herself as chief contact. (See today's WaPo and NY Times for related stories.)

So here we are, snuggling up even tighter with warlords and crooks in Kabul, even as we encourage the arming of local tribal militias in the Afghan countryside - many of whose members will have no love lost for either the warlords or the crooks.

Again, channeling General Petraeus: "Tell me how this ends."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Odierno says Al-Qaeda in Iraq now More Iraqi

Noteworthy report from Reuters, and if accurate, a disturbing development, especially if AQI people are working with Baathist hold-overs. I have to say, I don't completely trust Odierno's motives here.  For months he's been making statements to the effect that Obama ought to reconsider the withdrawal timetable in Iraq because the Iraqi security forces aren't ready to take over, and because the threat from AQI and Baathists is still significant.

Iraq is by no means home free.  I'll say it again: the Surge didn't "work" to do anything more than dampen down the violence that was raging, especially around Baghdad.  The ethnic and sectarian fissure are still there, and parties that are not happy with the status quo are going to try to widen them.

Plan for Expanded Jewish Settlement in Jerusalem "Angers" US

Thus reads the headline in today's NY Times, but the actual word used by Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs is "dismayed."

"Dismayed."  Oh my goodness!  The US must be really angry.  Better watch out, Mr. Netanyahu.

(Actually, as Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar notes today, Netanyahu knows that when it comes to construction in East Jerusalem, he can do just about whatever he wants.  His history with Bill Clinton during the late 1990s, when he had his first term as PM,  tells him so.  And besides, Israel need to do what it needs to do, because, after all, says Netanyahu, it's "the most threatened country in the world"   Hey, did you hear that, Mr. Karzai?  How about you, Ahmadinejad?  You listening, Mr. Zardari?  Huh, what'd you say, Nuri al-Maliki?  No worries about your new Iraq being torn apart when the US forces leave?. 

(Well, that's actually IF they leave.  One of Iraq's VPs has just vetoed the much-ballyhooed new election law - which could slow down US withdrawal.)

Obama did at least say to Fox News that such settlement expansion would not make Israel safer, and would only embitter the Palestinians and make it tougher to achieve peace.  Bu then, of course, he hastened to add:
I've said repeatedly and I'll say again, Israel's security is a vital national interest to the United States, and we will make sure they are secure."
Whew!  Thank goodness!  That statement that you were actually dismayed really had us worried that you might really do something about it, like not have the US veto the attempt to bring a Palestinian statehood proposal to the UN Security Council.

Naaaaah!

Speaking of which, the usual suspects are piling on to thwart the Palestinian proposal to unilaterally declare an independent state - although Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat has clarified their intention, which is ". . .to take to the United Nations Security Council a request that the international community re-endorse the two-state solution based on the pre-Jun. 5, 1967 borders." Netanyahu has one-upped Mahmud Abbas' move by threatening to annex parts of the West Bank.

And it seems that an ever-larger part of the IDF will be ready to help.  Six soldiers have refused orders to evacuate settlers from illegal outposts.  Perhaps understandable, when  rabbis are telling them that soldiers are not allowed to take part in such operations. Take note:

An extremist right-wing group calling itself the Organization for Saving the Nation and the Land has already announced that it will pay each soldier NIS 1,000 for every day they spend in military prison.

IDF sources said that in both incidents, the soldiers were egged on and abetted by right-wing activists from outside the army: Both acts were filmed, and the material was disseminated by right-wing activists and settlers involved in the efforts to reestablish the West Bank settlement of Homesh, which was evacuated during the disengagement in the summer of 2005.

The soldiers' commanders believe the protesters were also prepared in advance for the ensuing trials. For example, the officers noted, the soldiers all reiterated the same arguments in support of their actions.

And in both instances, some of the soldiers came from the two extremist hesder yeshivas: The most recent protest was the work of graduates of the Elon Moreh yeshiva, while the previous one was carried out by graduates of Har Bracha. Both yeshivas are located in settlements in the Nablus area.

The book published by Rabbi Melamed of Har Bracha was entitled "Revivim." In it, he offered answers to halakhic questions pertaining to "nation, land, army."

Melamed has repeatedly urged troops to refuse to obey orders during the evacuation of settlements, and he reiterated this in his book.

"A simple halakha [law] is that it is forbidden for any person, whether a soldier or an officer ... to participate in the strictly forbidden act of expelling Jews from their homes and handing over any portion of the Land of Israel to enemies," he wrote. "Those who violate this violate several commandments of the Torah ... Moreover, anyone who considers the situation realistically knows with certainty that any such action encourages those who hate us and endangers the lives of many in Israel."

In another part of the book, Melamed wrote in favor of serving in the IDF, "in order to carry out the extremely important commandment of defending the nation and the land. However, we must reiterate that an order that facilitates an expulsion must be refused."

In response to the question, "What if many soldiers refuse; will that not cause the army to collapse?" Melamed wrote: "If many refuse, no such order will be given. At most, senior commanders will have to resign. On the contrary, it would be good if this happened. The majority of the senior officers are contaminated by politics. They are not commanders who can lead the army to victory, as was shown in the Second Lebanon War."












Monday, November 16, 2009

Have the UN Security Council Declare a Palestinian State

Isn't this something?  The Palestinians are saying they've had it up to here with the nonsense of the "peace process" (BRAVO!).  Mahmud Abbas is fed up with being run around by both the Israelis and the US, and is saying he won't run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority - and may even resign and just walk away.  Which means the entire PA may fall apart, which means no handy stooge for Netanyahu to bully - and which means no more inernational donors ponying up money for the PA, no more PA security forces to be paid (because there'll be no money to pay them, or bureaucracy to handle it all) - and which means that the entire mess gets dumped in Israel's lap.

This also means that Obama has a few more balls in the air.  Unfortunate, given the stakes in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iraq/Iran plus the health-care reform issues, etc. - but Obama has brought this one on himself, by punking out on holding Netanyahu's feet to the fire on the settlement issue, and then for trying to force Abbas to join the US in keeping the Goldstone report from going forward at the UN, and then letting Hillary stand beaming next to Netanyahu and talking about his "unprecedented concessions."  Not your most shining moments, Mr. President.

But now the Palestinians are actually upping the stakes, by pushing for the UN Security Council to recognize officially the independence of a Palestinian state.  Netanyahu's upset, saying
"There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority...any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel's side."
Shimon Peres is outraged (his line being, essentially, "What!  If there's an official independent Palestinian state, then what happens to our precious negotiations?"  To quote him,
 "A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement. It's impossible and it will not work. It's unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy."
  Right.  There was a beautiful line in an essay in Haaretz today, by Akiva Eldar:
For 16 years, the soft murmur of the "peace process" that has been leading nowhere has drowned out the roar of the bulldozers that are deepening the occupation.
That Peres would lugubriously be bemoaning the demise of what's been essentially a sham ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin beggars credulity.

Anyway, The Independent has an excellent report on this new development.  It will more or less demand of an international community that says it wants an independent Palestinian state, "Here's a chance to do something about it."  There's also an interesting parallel between such a course of action by the UN, on the one hand, and the process whereby the new state of Israel was created and recognized in 1948:
 a UN resolution endorsing it in November 1947, the Declaration of Independence by David Ben Gurion in May 1948 and the subsequent swift recognition by the US and Soviet Union.
 Israel's only veto in the Security Council is the one that the US has so automatically cast for it in recent decades.  As The Independent notes, for the US to veto this - if it can get that far, of course - would expose once again the US's extreme bias.  As Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat noted:
 "We have taken an Arab foreign ministers' decision to seek the help of the international community," Mr Erekat told Reuters, adding that the US and other leading international players would be consulted before any UN move. "If the Americans cannot get the Israelis to stop settlement activities, they should also not cover them when we decide to go to the Security Council," he added.
It will be extremely interesting to see how much traction this proposal develops in the days ahead.  I imagine that, besides the Israelis, the US State Dept is furious that Palestinian leaders are taking matters so much into their own hands.  I can also imagine that Hillary's people will be pushing every guilt button and pressure point they can find to get them to back down.  I hope the Palestinian leaders can hold their ground.  Because it ought to be more than obvious by now that until Mr. Obama and his crew summon the courage to exert real pressure on Netanyahu/Lieberman/Peres et al., the US has nothing for them anymore.







Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Problem with Iraq's New Elections Law

One of Iraq's vice-presidents, the Sunni Arab Tareq al-Hashemi, is now insisting that the newly passed elections law be changed.  More important, he has the veto power to be able to stop the law in its tracks, thereby causing a postponement of the election (which has already been pushed back to later in January 2010 than was originally intended) and, as a result, some delay in the schedule for Obama's withdrawal of US combat forces from the country.

You can bet that Mr. al-Hashemi is taking some heat from Iraqi legislators, not to mention the US ambassador and other representatives of the US government.  But he has a point.

The new elections law makes no provision for representation for the 2 million Iraqis who have left the country since 2003, most of them Sunni Arabs, most of them forced into exile because of the threats they faced from Shii Arabs in Baghdad and the south.  And let's face it: Iraq as a political entity has about zero chance of survival if its Sunni citizens, who dominated Iraq's political establishment from the creation of the Hashemite kingdom in 1921 down to the ouster of Saddam and the mostly-Sunni Baath in 2003, feel as if they've not been given sufficient representation.

Coming up with a formula to do that will be difficult, but necessary if there's to be any chance for the new Shii-dominated government to stay on its feet.  On the other hand, the Shii, long disadvantaged in the Iraqi political system, now have the upper hand, know they have the upper hand, and are fearful that any significant concessions to Sunni representation will undercut their own new ascendancy.  Nor will Iran be happy to see concessions made to a Sunni element whose former leaders launched the devastating Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988.

Stay tuned.

The Wall Street Journal's Sliming of Two Superb Archaeologists

Yesterday's WSJ published a horrendously sourced "report" accusing two prominent archaeologists, John Curtis and Elizabeth Stone, of falsely accusing the US of damaging Babylon and promoting the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq.

FWIW, I posted a response this morning in the piece's comments section:


A new low for the Wall Street Journal, to publish such a thinly sourced piece of garbage. Profs. Stone and Curtis have devoted their lives to the study of Iraq's ancient civilizations, and know as much about them, and about the current state of their remains, as anyone on the planet. Prof. Stone has dedicated the last several years to helping Iraq prepare a new generation of its own archaeologists, assisted by a federal grant (awarded under Bush, not Obama). Furthermore, Curtis and Stone are not the only archaeologists who have weighed in on this matter. Even the most basic Google search would have led Kaylan to other reports, sources, and images. (If he needs some help, have him google "Matthew Bogdanos" - a Marine officer who has been intensely involved in this issue, and who would know a hell of a lot more about it than Chaplain Marrero; or "Warka vase" - a famous stone vase, dating ca. 3200 BCE, broken during the looting of the Baghdad Museum; or "Isin" - an important site for which one can find post-2003 images of looters smiling for the camera. I, or anyone else who studies Ancient Iraq, could go on and on.)

Did Saddam inflict some damage? Yes. But the fact of the matter is that the 2003 invasion opened the floodgates for looting at a number of sites. Looted objects have appeared on eBay and elsewhere. Reports of attempts to smuggle collections out of Iraq appear regularly in the mainstream press.

Profs. Stone and Curtis have been working tirelessly to counter this damage. Iraq and the world owe them a debt of gratitude. Instead, the WSJ publishes a slanderous report that attempts to slime their reputation, based on the thinnest of sources - i.e., one Marine Chaplain, who spent only 3 months at Babylon, and who represents an organization called "Faith Walk" (gosh, no agenda there).

I might suggest that the WSJ repudiate Kaylan's "report" and publish instead a letter of apology - and even an expression of gratitude - to Drs. Curtis and Stone.





Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Offer from Turkey - a Dilemma for the West?

The BBC reports that Turkey and the IAEA are discussing a proposal that would allow Iran to store some of its enriched uranium in Turkey.  The original deal, of course, was that Iran would ship that uranium to Russia, who might then send some of it to France for processing for use in Iran's medical reactor.  Iran has been backing away from that one, for reasons not completely transparent to Western diplomats, but including some degree of fear that once they sent it out, the US - Europeans - Israel just might make sure that Iran would never see it again.

But now Turkish PM Erdogan may be riding to the rescue with a mediating proposal.  Question is, will the US - Euros - Israel go for it?  Highly debatable.  Turkey and Iran are growing closer, Turkey and Israel have grown farther apart, especially since the Gaza invasion and Erdogan's subsequent public berating of Shimon Peres at the Davos Conference - followed by Turkey's backing out of a planned joint military exercise with the IDF a few weeks ago.  France and Germany have decided to oppose Turkey's proposed entry into the EU, and an appropriately miffed Turkey has lately been telling them to go stuff themselves.  Add to all this the fact that Turkey is emerging not only as a neo-Ottoman regional power, but also as a major player in the pipeline politics of the region . . . .

Would the US - Euros - Israel want Turkey to be the keeper of Iran's uranium if Turkey won't play ball in re their plans to keep Iran down?  On the other hand, would the US - Euros - Israel dare to say no to Erdogan's offer, and thereby risk alienating Turkey even more?

Stay tuned . . .

The Ever-Mounting Human Cost of Our Wars

The Washington Post reports on a story that's getting more and more traction, especially in the aftermath of the attacks at Fort Hood.  The morale of US troops in Afghanistan is down (even as morale of troops in Iraq is touted as on the rise), and soldiers dealing with emotional-health issues are having great difficulty getting help because the military is understaffed with mental-health professionals.  Combine that with the continuing stigma in the military for soldiers who admit to problems and seek help, and it's obvious that these guys are in a world of hurt.

And that's just the tip of the ice-berg.

Kelly Vlahos reported recently on the number of US casualties from both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.  The total: 90,000.
That includes a tire-screeching 75,134 dead, wounded-in-action, and medically evacuated due to illness, disease, or injury in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and 14,323 and counting in Afghanistan, or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
These numbers do not include suicides:
196 servicemembers took their own lives while serving in Iraq between March 2003 and Oct. 31, 2009, and there were 35 such suicides in Afghanistan. (These figures, of course, do not include the skyrocketing cases of suicides among all active-duty soldiers and veterans and cases of self-inflicted injury outside both war zones.)
And consider this:
some 454,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have already sought medical care from the Veterans Administration (VA) when they came home. That’s 40 percent of the total OIF/OEF veteran population, which is a number that is of course in flux, considering that the war has no end and veterans have five years to apply for care after the end of their service.

As of this summer, of those veterans who sought healthcare at the VA, 45 percent were diagnosed with a mental health condition, according to VA statistics. Twenty-seven percent of these had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Based on available resources from the DOD and research by the RAND Corporation, VCS estimates that an estimated 370,000 (or 19.5 percent of) veterans have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) thanks to the high rate of accidents, roadside bombs, and other battlefield explosions and events – plus repeated deployments – in the war. VCS also estimates that some 18.5 percent of veterans come home with PTSD.

And consider the costs to come:
Looking at it in monetary terms – more numbers – may seem cold, but again, it puts the taxpayers’ burden into shocking perspective. Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz have identified two scenarios in their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War (2008). One scenario estimates a long-term cost of $422 billion to the federal government for veterans’ health care and disability compensation (given 1.8 million men and women deployed and troop levels falling below 55,000 by 2012). In the other scenario, the U.S. stays in Iraq and Afghanistan another eight years and 2.1 million men and women are deployed, with a price tag of $717 billion
And not mentioned here are the social costs: lives ruined, families destroyed, children either without a parent or burdened with a parent who may be deeply emotionally disturbed, emotionally unstable men and women who, to some extent, are walking, ticking time-bombs re-introduced into an American society that goes on playing its video games and generally trying hard to ignore the evidence of the destruction its government's actions are wreaking.

And, of course, so many of us are in complete denial of the even larger human cost of those actions: the tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who've been maimed or killed by US intervention - and the (surely) hundreds of thousands of internal and external refugees, widows, orphans, families who have lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters.  Again, most Americans are oblivious to their loss, their personal catastrophes. 

Of course, when the US president who launched these wars insists that we're fighting people who don't value life like "we" do, it's easy for Americans to buy into some misguided notion that "their" lives don't really count, and that their feelings about all this need not be reckoned with.

Wanna bet?








Friday, November 13, 2009

Well, call me a terrorist

The LA Times reports (as do AFP  and the New York Times) on the federal government's seizure of the assets of the Alavi Foundation, which they refer to as a front for the government of Iran and accuse of various perfidious activities.  Somehow though I get the sense that this is harassment and pressuring of Iran in re the nuclear issue more than anything else.

But in the interests of full disclosure, I've sent about $12 a year to the Alavi Foundation.  Every year, they offer beautiful calendars, in exchange for a small donation.  The calendars feature gorgeous pictures of artworks, mosques, and historical sites in Iran, as well as parallel daily calendars that show how the Western and Muslim lunar calendars align.  They also list important dates in the Muslim calendar: Ramadan, Eid, birthdays of Muhammad as well as various Shii imams.  I've found the calendars to be useful teaching tools, both for the historical information and for the pictures.  I've even given one to a graduate assistant as a gift. 

Really scary terrorist stuff.

Guess I better prepare an action plan for when the big black SUV with Federal government license plates pulls up.

How the U.S. Funds the Taliban

Escalating (dare I say, "surging") into a situation like this?!  Words fail me . . .


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Predictable cheer-leading from Bush's former speechwriter

From one of the neocon luminaries who brought you the Iraq follies . . . Michael Gerson now encourages Mr. Obama to get fired up (with a transfusion of red corpuscles, as he puts it) and to fire all of us up, stir all of us to valor, when he announces the (expected by everyone) upcoming "surge" in Afghanistan.  I suppose we ought to be grateful that Gerson adopted a tone at least  slightly less disgusting that David Brooks' man-up urgings to Obama. 

But, please . . . .

Didn't we already let ourselves get sucked down this road in 2002?  How many times did we hear such stuff as (to cite Gerson's concluding lines),
In Afghanistan and other distant places, America's sons and daughters are saving the liberty of the world.
What drivel, what absolute nonsense.  I suppose he figures he can get away with this garbage on Veterans Day  - and with his ham-handed attempt to equate the Afghanistan war with the efforts of US doughboys at places like Belleau Wood during World War I.  I by no means mean to disparage the sacrifices being made by the members of the US military in Afghanistan, but Gerson does them no good service by cheerleading the US public into believing that an unwinnable war being waged in a place where we don't belong is remotely to be equated with the First World War.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

David Brooks' myopia on the Ft. Hood shootings

David Brooks, that uber-warrior and steadfast defender of the uniqueness of American  goodness and virtue, reflects on Major Nidal Malik Hasan and the Fort Hood shootings:

. . . over the past few decades a malevolent narrative has emerged.

That narrative has emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.

This narrative is embraced by a small minority. But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics. They are the ones who go into crowded rooms, shout “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” and then start murdering.

Hmmm, okay.  What Major Hasan did was an atrocity, yes; it reflects a minority within Islam, yes.

But why restrict his focus to Muslims?  Why not even the slightest of nods to the Christian warriors of the US military and the White House, who from the moment those planes hit the World Trade Center on 9-11 saw the upcoming confrontation as one between God's Christian America and Satan's world of Islam.

Like President George W. Bush, who so famously in the days right after 9-11explicitly described the upcoming war in Afghanistan as a  "crusade" (until his advisers told him to cool it)?

Or like US Army General Jerry Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence in 2003, who said of his encounter with a Muslim warlord in Somalia: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol" - and who said in 2002, after 9-11, "We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this," and declared that radical Islamists hate the US "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

Or the US soldiers who operated a tank in Iraq with "New Testament" emblazoned on the barrel of their cannon?

Is Brooks too obtuse - or too much in denial - to bring to mind, and to his writing, such men as these, who surely took pride that, for every "hajji" they "took out," they were striking a blow for "the Lord.?

Monday, November 9, 2009

More on the Ft Hood shooting and the American response

Marc Lynch has a superb piece on this at the Foreign Policy website, responding to some on the Right who seem to find the Obama team's response as too "politically correct."

Also, see al-Jazeera for a report on the abuse that Major Hasan was taking within the US military (h/t to Pat Gordon on this).

The inner conflicts of the Fort Hood shooter

As reports like this one begin to appear about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychotherapist who killed 13 and wounded 29 at Fort Hood, questions are being raised again about the loyalties of Muslims in the US, and especially in the US military.  Evidently a number of people - both fellow officers and fellow Muslims - had talked with him in the months before and could see that he was agitated about the conflict between his religion and his citizenship.  He's quoted in one report as saying that he felt himself to be a Muslim first, and an American second.

I suppose that we're supposed to be shocked by that.  But, tell me, if you asked them, how many US military officers do you think would identify themselves as Christians - or Jews - first, and Americans second? 

I also wonder about the impact on Hasan's thinking when (as the Salon report notes) a fellow soldier tore up his "Allah is Love" bumper-sticker?  Hasan evidently took a lot of abuse from his fellow soldiers because he is Muslim.

Complicated, no?  I had hoped that Americans had begun to ratchet down the Islamophobia that was so rampant in the months right after 9-11.  I fear that we may be in for a new round of ethnic profiling and demonization of Muslims, or of anyone whose name doesn't sound like that of a "real American."  More fuel, then, for anti-American sentiment all over the Muslim world - including, of course, Pakistan, the security of whose nuclear weapons is again under scrutiny with the appearance of Seymour Hersh's latest investigative piece in the New Yorker.

Unfortunately, Hasan's emotional breakdown is also likely to ramp up the old canards about Muslims as "fanatics."   I'll leave it to all of you to connect the dots between that and the Hersh report.





Sunday, November 8, 2009

General Casey backs Afghanistan Surge

Reuters reports that Gen. George Casey, US Army Chief of Staff, now backs a troop surge in Afghanistan.  This, by the way, is the same Gen. Casey who was the US commander in Iraq during the nadir of US military fortunes there in 2007, when the talk was of looming defeat - at which point Bush brought in David Petraeus, whose "Surge" brought the US "success" in Iraq.

In speaking with CNN, Casey also noted, in re the ongoing strain on US forces, that

"The Army remains out of balance. But we started in 2007 with a program to get ourselves back in balance by 2011. And since 2007, we have added 40,000 soldiers to the active force, which is a significant step forward,

Those added soldiers are, of course, largely a product of new enlistments.  And many of those new enlistments, of course, are a product of the US's economic downturn, with the jobless rate now over 10 percent (and by some measures, actually as high as 17 percent) and the military offering both a steady wage and a sizable bonus for signing on.

We all want the economy to improve, and for new jobs to be created . . . don't we?

The Approaching "Surge" in Afghanistan?

Both the NY Times and McClatchy report that all of the Afghanistan "solutions" now under consideration by Mr. Obama entail significant increases in US troops.  McClatchy says that a "middle" option of 34,000 troops is preferred at this point, while the NYT suggests that Obama may be leaning toward that option but others (including a high-end option of 45,000; what they call the "medium-risk" option) are still on the table.  Taking either of those options would push the US presence in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 troops, with 42,000 from other countries still there.  Public opinion in the second-largest contributor, the UK, is running heavily against the British presence, despite Gordon Brown's insistence that the British troops must stay.

But, as McClatchy notes, the US Army's counter-insurgency manual suggests that an all-out (i.e., properly resourced) effort would require 600,000 troops.  That kind of effort simply is impossible now or in the foreseeable future.

Some on the Right have been raising the cry that the Afghanistan situation resembles Vietnam 40 years ago, but that the US could/would/should have "won" there were it nor for the lily-livered liberals who undercut the military's efforts and denied them victory.  Obama surely is hearing from that side, loud and clear.  I do hope that he takes into consideration the pointed replies of people like John Kerry, whose recent piece in Newsweek is worth a read.  But I fear that Kerry's essay may be too little, too late.

And in this instance I fear that Mr. Obama's relative youth and inexperience when he was elected president are indeed coming back to haunt the US.  David Brooks recently challenged Obama to man up on the Afghanistan issue (I weighed in on his piece here, FWIW), and all of us will remember that one of the concerns raised about him during the 2008 campaign was that he'd never served in the military, had no real trials under fire (be they in military or long-term political combat), and therefore ought not be trusted in a crisis such as Afghanistan has become.  How can he not feel deep down that he now has something to prove in terms of toughness?

But not all of us will remember - because we're not old enough to remember - the run-up to the US escalation in Vietnam.  But those of us who are indeed old enough to remember have a visceral, gut feeling about it all (whether we were in combat or not; and John Kerry was indeed one of those in combat, on the ground), an everlasting sadness about that episode in our country's history that Mr. Obama (or for that matter, Sarah Palin) cannot have, because they either weren't around, or were too young to appreciate what was going on at the time.

The Vietnam-Afghanistan parallels have been discussed ad nauseam, by people perhaps better qualified than am I (for a few of the discussions, see here, here, and here).  But if Obama does indeed opt for a "Surge" in Afghanistan, I can see the road ahead opening up in a manner all too Vietnam-like.  30,000 added troops will not be enough; calls for more will be forthcoming; the John McCains and Lindsay Grahams in Congress will scream for more troops (so as to not "waste the sacrifices" of those who'd been killed, and because for US forces to come home without "victory" means without "honor" . . . many of us know the drill) . . . and so it goes, on and on.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Big oil's foot is now in Iraq's door. Now what?

This morning's LA Times reports that an Exxon Mobil-led consortium has inked a deal "to develop a  major oil field in southern Iraq,marking the first entry by an American-dominated group into Iraq's oil industry since it was nationalized in 1972."  One expert cites it as a coup for the Iraqi government, as the deal is only a service contract - i.e., fixed fee, with no percentage of the yield.  Big Oil doesn't like that, but seem to feel that they needed to get their foot in the door.

The question now becomes: Might a renewed insurgency blow that foot off?

Perhaps the biggest test that the Iraqi government will face as US troops are withdrawn (assuming that that indeed proceeds on schedule) will be their ability to provide security throughout the country.  Lately they've been failing that test - miserably - in Baghdad, with the two horrific bombings of recent months that killed hundreds.  Even with only a service contract, we can expect that a visible presence of US oil companies (both on-field installations and corporate offices) in southern Iraq is going to be a prime target of groups - both Sunni and Shii - that resent and resist any kind of American presence, that fear the US wants to rob Iraqis of their oil patrimony, and that also want to discredit the central government in Baghdad by showing up the ineffectiveness of its security forces.

There will be blood.  And that's a shame, not only on the obvious loss-of-life level, but also because the people of Iraq need so much in terms of rebuilding infrastructure - sewage systems, clean water, electricity, roads, information-technology infrastructure - and profits from oil and natural gas sales are by far the largest contributor to Iraq's GNP.

Another wrinkle: If Iraqi security forces aren't up to the job of protecting US interests in Iraq, it's likely that, given the US military drawdown, Big Oil will look to provide security on its own dime.  That could be private security contractors, or that could be locals.  Either way, more guns in more hands.  And that could be trouble.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Horror at Fort Hood Inspires Horribly Predictable Islamophobia

. .  and so, it begins again.  Batten down the hatches . . . .  And the wing-nuts at Fox News have more grist for their mill.





The "Peace Process" - from "Yes We Can" to "No I Won't"

The "peace process" had been headed for the mortuary slab ever since George W. Bush's presidency (with his acquiescence in Ariel Sharon's brutalities at Jenin in the West Bank, his concessions to Sharon in the matter of Israel's retention of its illegal mega-settlements in the West Bank, and his double-teaming with Sharon to eliminate Yasser Arafat and then politically emasculate Mahmud Abbas).  Barack Obama's brave Cairo speech and post-inaugural "outreach" to the Muslim world were thought at first to signal a brand new day in US Middle Eastern diplomacy - the dawn of a new even-handedness that might finally bring Palestinians some semblance of justice and restitution after so many decades of dispossession and occupation.

Instead, Obama, his not-so-sure-of-speech Secretary of State  - she of the "unprecedented concessions" of Netanyahu, and the "Israeli capital" in East Jerusalem misspeak (this in an interview with al-Jazeera; luckily one of her aides caught it in time) -  and a Democratic Congress voting in lock-step with the demands of the Israel lobby have together brought all of the hopes crashing down.  Despite Hillary Clinton's brave words about her own toughness, about forging ahead, this piece by Glenn Kessler in today's Washington Post makes it abundantly and depressingly clear that the Obama administration now has zero leverage, and even less credibility, with which to accomplish anything meaningful in terms of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

What might this mean?
  • huge disillusionment on the "Arab street" in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia - with consequent collateral damage to the leaders of those countries
  • a perception among those same Arab leaders that they'd better abandon any hopes of the Obama administration acting as a fair dealer
  • with Mahmud Abbas now sidelined, perhaps a strengthening of Hamas's appeal
  • with negotiation obviously going nowhere, and Netanyahu determined to enlarge West Bank settlements and judaize East Jerusalem, new fuel for a new intifada in the West Bank
  • with no lifting of Israel's blockade in Gaza, and - again - with negotiation going nowhere, fuel for Gaza's militants to launch attacks against Israel
And if new violence in the West Bank and Gaza are in the offing, let's not forget that the Israeli public by and large
  •  supported the IDF's devastation of Gaza last December
  •  are defiant of the world's condemnation of that operation (and of the UN's - and most of the world's - embracing of the Goldstone report, which documents that devastation), and
  •  would now defy Obama to do anything about a crushing Israeli response to any new violence in Gaza or the West Bank.  (And why wouldn't they be ready to defy Obama, when they know that the US Congress - which is dominated by Obama's own political party - not only has their back, but would most likely cheer them on?)

Let's face it.  As far as the "peace process" is concerned, Obama has gone from "Yes we can" to "No I won't".  To be specific, he won't take the hard stance, make the hard decisions, needed if there is to be any just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  That would entail more than singing kumbaya to the Arab and Muslim world, with whom Mr. Obama expresses such a strong tie.  That will also require saying NO to Israel.  No more weapons, no more financial support, no more settlements, no more diplomatic cover, no more Security Council veto of resolutions that criticize Israeli actions and policy, until Israel makes bona fide effort to create and support a viable, sustainable, fully sovereign Palestinian state.

That will take guts.  That will require taking a stand for justice, for fairness, for the right of occupied peoples to political self-determination, for the right of dispossessed people to have their grievances recognized and to receive some compensation of that dispossession.

That kind of guts also means a willingness to countenance defeat in the next political cycle.  So, in truth, Mr. Obama, yes you can achieve something truly meaningful, maybe world-changing, for Middle East peace if you have the moral courage to act.  No you won't (or at least you may not) get re-elected in 2012 if you do. 

Your stirring campaign speeches in 2008 led me to believe that you believe that some things are more important than elections. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

House of Representatives condemns Goldstone report

This act by my country's legislature shames me as an American. . . . and Abe Foxman has the chutzpah to call upon Richard Goldstone to repudiate his report.

Thomas Friedman on America's mercenaries

Friedman's essay in today's NY Times is in many ways on-target, and welcome:

we’ve fallen into a pattern of outsourcing some of the very core tasks of government — interrogation, security, democracy promotion. As more and more of this government work gets contracted and then subcontracted . . .  the public interest can get lost and abuse and corruption get invited in. We’re also building a contractor-industrial-complex in Washington that has an economic interest in foreign expeditions. Doesn’t make it wrong; does make you want to be watchful.

My questions:

  • Where was all this concern six years ago?  The problem of mercenaries was already emerging . . . but TF was a big fan of Bush's war at first, so I guess he was content to number these guys among the American heroes who were "liberating Iraq" and building "democracy" there.
  • Why no mention of the anti-American rage that the mercenary thugs of DynCorps, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater have provoked in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now even Pakistan?




Today's WTF moment

The NY Times reports on the "magic"of Iraqi bomb detection.  More of your tax dollars at work?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hillary's pitiful damage control

Reports in both the New York Times and the Washington Post make it plain that, as far as her Arab interlocutors are concerned, Ms. Clinton really stepped in it with her comments about Netanyahu's "unprecedented" concessions on the West Bank settlements.  She has hastened to switch to damage-control mode, but the damage is done, and I'm not sure how much control is possible at this point.  She's gone from a smiling appearance with Netanyahu to a hurried, "no questions" meeting with Arab representatives.  The latter are angry, confused, and feeling betrayed (or, shall we say, "suckered") by an Obama administration that came on like gang-busters with it early outreach campaign, but that seems to be showing its true colors by casting Netanyahu (whose Foreign Minister, let's not forget, is overtly an anti-Arab racist) as a courageous peace-maker and by dissing the Goldstone report, in which a highly respected legal expert with deep ties to Israel documents the brutalities of the Israeli attack on Gaza last December-January. 

As reported in the Bloomberg News account,

Before Clinton tempered her earlier remarks, Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the 22-member Arab League and a senior Egyptian diplomat, told reporters he feared the peace process had been crippled by her comments in Jerusalem.
“I still wait until we have our meetings,” said Moussa, also in Morocco for the Forum for the Future conference. “But failure is in the atmosphere all over.”
“All of us, including Saudi Arabia, including Egypt, are deeply disappointed” by Clinton’s words in Jerusalem, he said. She left the impression that “Israel can get away with anything.”

And speaking of the Goldstone report  . . . let's not forget that a House resolution damning that report is about to be voted upon, and is sure to pass.  Does anyone else find it strange/irksome/scary/disgraceful that the Goldstone report is receiving more honest, critical scrutiny in the Israeli media than in the halls of Congress?

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

US occupation soldiers - from Cheesecake to Gung-ho

I couldn't help noticing this piece in today's Washington Post that contrasts US soldiers' living conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The soldiers in Afghanistan have had to deal with spartan conditions, rodent-infested quarters, and declining morale as so many have seen their comrades blown up.  Soldiers in Iraq, on the other hand, have had (as one soldier put it) "all the cheesecake you want," pizza delivery, many of the comforts of home (even better, I'm sure, for some of them).  But they profess themselves eager for the fight, wanting to get to Afghanistan so that they can kill the enemy.

Why does this remind me of practically every war movie I saw as a kid, as well as recent Iraq-wars books like Anthony Swofford's Jarhead or Evan Wright's Generation Kill?  From boot camp on, these young men are hyped-up to "get some" - whether the "some" have been krauts, or nips, or gooks, or charlie, or hajjis; they're the "enemy."  And (though not a combat veteran myself) I can imagine that much of this is necessary psyching-up as these guys face being put into harm's way.

Here's the rub.  These guys who are now in Iraq, professing frustration with their situation when they're not able to "kill the enemy," are being sent into an entirely different situation in Afghanistan where (according to the Petraeus/McChrystal counterinsurgency [COIN] doctrines) they're supposed to be, first and foremost, protecting the population, getting the locals to accept and even want their presence.  But again, what they've been trained to do is to engage and kill "the enemy."

In Afghanistan, of course, the "enemy" comes largely from the same local population that they're supposed to be protecting.  And that population historically, from Alexander's Macedonians, to the 19th-century Brits, to the Soviet troops in the 1980s, has never welcomed foreign troops.  The locals have risen against them, fought them tenaciously, brutally.  (The mutilations inflicted on captive Soviet soldiers by Afghan resistance fighters are legendary, and horrific.)

To reiterate a comment made by General Petraeus early on during the Iraq mess: "Somebody tell me how this ends."

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On Israel's "unprecedented" concessions: Hillary needs to talk to her husband

Trying to get the "peace process" (lol) restarted, Hillary Clinton speaks of the "unprecedented" concessions that Mr. Netanyahu is willing to make in regard to West Bank settlement building.  For Mr. Netanyahu, any such "concessions" may indeed be unprecedented, although he did budge a teensy bit in the Wye Accords.

But she really ought to talk to Bill about this.  Have him refresh her memory about some of the truly unprecedented developments that took place on Bill's watch in the White House - like at Camp David, or the Taba talks.  The deal that Ehud Barak proposed to Yasser Arafat was never the sweet deal that it was made out to be (read Robert Malley and Hussein Agha on that), but it was a damn sight better than what Netanyahu is talking about.



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