Thursday, December 30, 2010

US Concern over Pakistani Militants' Disappearances

The Obama administration is expressing alarm over reports that thousands of political separatists and captured Taliban insurgents have disappeared into the hands of Pakistan’s police and security forces, and that some may have been tortured or killed.

Thus reports the New York Times' Eric Schmitt.  Yet not even a hint of the irony and hypocrisy here about the "concerns" expressed by a country that engaged in the same practices for years, and that, under Obama, continues to wage a legal battle to preserve such prerogatives.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Is Israel a Racist Country

Excellent essay in Haaretz, by Anshel Pfeffer, who concludes:

Israel, for all its faults, is not a predominantly racist or Apartheid-like country. But there has been a continuing failure of Israeli society as a whole to recognize victimhood in others; to understand that there were other genocides in the 20th century that need commemorating other than the Holocaust; that while an entire nation hopes to see Gilad Shalit returned to his family, there are 10,000 mothers on the other side who see their imprisoned sons as fighters and not murderers; and to realize that no amount of PR can ever change the impression made by 43 years of occupation of another people. These demons have been unleashed on our streets.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On Iraq's New Government

Hayder al-Khoei, writing for Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog,
It is naïve to presume the next Iraqi government can make huge strides in reconciliation and work coherently as a power-sharing body. Its very existence is proof that self-centred party agendas supersede all considerations of integrity, equality and justice that all the parties claimed to champion prior to elections. However, if there are politicians in the next government who still have a conscience, they must convince all Iraqis that the political process is still the most attractive option.

But inclusion is not merely enough. Power sharing means nothing when it is not underpinned by constitutional conventions that seek to combat corruption and crime with a neutral, objective and non-sectarian agenda. Maliki must understand that a token ministry here and there is not going to solve the crisis. This shrewd move may very well keep him in power for the next 4 years, but it isn’t going to solve the corrupt political system in Iraq.
Expecting lots of happy talk from Mr. Obama's Bunch about how Iraq's new government will point the way to "success" blah blah blah.  Don't fall for it.  Nuri al-Maliki now presides over a government that has been cobbled together from diverse parties with little if any shared agenda, that continues to face the threat of extreme and frequent violence from "al-Qaeda," and that has yet to deal with festering problems in the north.

Geert Wilders' support for Israel's Colonization of the West Bank

Robert Mackey reports in the NY Times.  Says Geert Wilders, prominent Dutch right-wing advocate of Europe's need to defend itself against the "Muslim peril":
 “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and [the Israelis] are fighting our fight.” . . .   “If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.”

Other right-wing anti-immigrant European politicos have been touring Israel, many of them representing parties with well-documented anti-Semitic , even Neo-Nazi roots.  As reported by Haaretz's Adar Primor (in an article titled "The unholy alliance between Israel's Right and Europe's anti-Semites"):
 the brightest jewel in this racist crown – Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s Freedom Party. If Jorg Haider was “Hitler’s spiritual grandson,” then Strache is his extremely illegitimate great-grandson. His grandfather was in the Waffen-SS, and his father served in the Wehrmacht. As a university student, Strache belonged to an extremist organization from which Jews were banned, hung out with neo-Nazis and participated in paramilitary exercises with them.

Yet one of the leaders of the Settlement movement welcomes support from such a dubious source.
No skinhead cares what [Anti-Defamation League Chairman] Abe Foxman has to say, but if [right-winger leaders like] Filip Dewinter and Heinz-Christian Strache make these statements they will have real impact. For that reason I am considering appearing with them in their countries for pro-Israel rallies. I think that it is worth the risk of being defamed by Haaretz and the like if we can cause a shift in the European nationalist movements, moving them away from their traditional Jew-hatred and bringing them closer to appreciation of Zionism. I don’t think that I am naive to feel that this is a revolutionary opportunity.
It boggles the mind - and, one might conclude, undermines the credibility of the settler movement - when it aligns itself with parties that (as Mackey notes) once cooperated with the Nazi regime in rounding up Jews to be sent to death camps.

On the other hand, this is hardly the first time that the settler movement has embraced the support of non-Jewish groups whose interests by no means coincide with that of most Jews.  Thousands of Christian Zionists support the Israeli colonization of the West Bank in the hope that (as "prophesied" in the Bible) the Jewish people will succeed in building the Third Temple in Jerusalem, which is a requirement for the "End of Days" and the Second Coming of Jesus.  At that time, of course, according to "prophesy," the Jews will be swept away.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Invitation to a Coup - or a Revolution - in Pakistan

The NY Times (in a piece co-authored by Dexter Filkins) is reporting that "Senior American military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas."  As the NYT further notes, this is "a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants there."  The AP is now reporting "NATO's deputy chief of communications, U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, said there was no truth to a report published in The New York Times." - and a "senior US defense official" confirms this.

They're circling the wagons.

And as for this possible move being "risky"?  How about dangerous - and bloody stupid?!

As usual, the military seems to be all about "success" in "the mission" - which now means killing as many "bad guys" as possible, rack up higher scores, and thereby demonstrate that they (= David Petraeus, the would-be maharajah of Afpak) can achieve "victory" if only Obama backs off the impending start of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.  Underpinning all of this, of course, is the neocon-inspired doctrine that in the defense of our "freedoms" and the promotion of the "American way," the trashing of the domestic economy and infrastructure cannot be an obstacle.

But the senior military commanders seem to be oblivious to the possible long-term (or even shorter-term?) consequences of such an expanded campaign.  Such a significant ramping-up of US/NATO (= let's face it, essentially US) incursions into Pakistan - especially by Special Forces conducting surprise night-raid operations - would be viewed by an already angry Pakistani population as a huge, completely unacceptable affront to their country, as both a sovereign nation and a predominantly Muslim one.  Mr. Zardari's civilian government is very weak and extremely unpopular as is.  Pakistan has a long history of military take-overs during times of internal conflict.  The army is the single most powerful institution  - and the current head of Pakistan's military, General Ashraf Kiyani, is arguably the single most powerful  leader in Pakistan today.  The advocates for Pakistani democracy cheered the earlier removal of General Pervez Musharraf.  But neither the US military, nor President Bush, were especially pleased to see Musharraf depart, and Pakistan's pro-democracy movements reviled Bush, and the US's hypocrisy, for that very reason.  To see the civilian government toppled, and replaced by a new military dictatorship, would unquestionably arouse public, anti-American violence on a potentially massive scale.  The military would have to be called in to control it (which would divert them from the very kind of anti-al-Qaeda operations that the US has been pushing them so hard to do).

And the potential for an Islamist revolution in Pakistan as the eventual outcome is substantial.  If that were to happen, one of the US's - and Israel's - most nightmarish dreams would be realized: an Islamist, anti-US, anti-Zionist regime with an arsenal of nuclear weapons and systems with which to deliver them.

I pray that our "senior military commanders" think this through.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wonderful Discussion of Zionism and the Right to Palestine

I recommend very highly this excellent post by Philip Weiss to his always-interesting blog, Mondoweiss, as well as the responses/discussion that follow.

Weiss's essential point has to do with the secular, colonialist outlook of Zionism's godfather, Theodor Herzl, from whose Complete Diaries he quotes.  As Weiss also notes, Herzl was an admirer of Cecil Rhodes, who did so much to establish British colonialism in Africa.  And interestingly, Weiss also notes, one of Herzl's correspondents, the US ambassador to the Ottoman empire, had written Herzl in 1899 to suggest Mesopotamia as a potential location for the new Jewish homeland.

With Dubya's Compliments

After he had to can WMDs as the rationale for his expedition to Iraq, Dubya and his neocon pals switched to setting up Iraq as a new model of democracy in what Condi Rice famously referred to as the "new Middle East."

Here's what Mr. Bush helped bestow upon Iraq.

Democracy marches on.  Be careful of what you wish for.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Israel never really wanted peace

A brave and cogent essay from a professor in Hebrew University's (Jerusalem) Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.  Among his more powerful assertions:
To a great extent, Netanyahu and his cabinet are representative of Israeli society today. Public opinion polls point to increasing extremism, bordering on racism, in Jews' opinion of Arabs, as well as to alienation and a distrust of the other side's goals and intentions. Given these circumstances, it's no wonder there is no public pressure on the government to advance the peace process and that there was no significant public response to the dramatic announcement that the talks had been suspended. . . .

In the past decade, Israel has faced a number of Arab initiatives: the Arab League peace plan, Syrian offers to negotiate, Palestinian willingness to move forward and even moderate declarations from Hamas. Successive Israeli governments responded to all of them with restraint and icy indifference (with the exception of the waning days of Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister ).

Israel's listless response to these proposals cannot be understood as coincidental or circumstantial; it is a pattern of behavior. And Israel has never proffered its own initiative that would indicate a desire for peace. This leads us to the unhappy conclusion that Israel - both its government and its people - are not really interested in peace; at most, they make the sounds of peace, but that is not enough.

There is simply no reason to expect from the current Israeli government - or perhaps from any foreseeable one - a genuine push for a fair peace that would allow a viable, truly autonomous Palestinian state.  Nor does the Obama White House have the political will, the political capital, the diplomatic savvy, or the Congressional support to move Mr. Netanyahu in that direction.

Meanwhile, Israel's anti-occupation political left is on life support, the settlers in the West Bank know that Avigdor Lieberman (as well as Netanyahu himself) has their back, and the influence of Israel's old secular Zionist leadership is continually undercut by the emergence of new elements in Israeli political culture: the often rabidly anti-Arab (and barely Jewish) Russian immigrants, and the religious conservative Ultra-Orthodox, whose influence has grown markedly within the ranks of the IDF (and some of whose rabbis - including those in the IDF - have taken to enunciating Biblical justifications for taking Arab land, and lives.

And all of them, of course, are aided and abetted by the likes of Pastor Hagee and the multitudinous flocks of Christians United for Israel, who see in the dispossession and humiliation of Palestinian Arabs the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy and the "End of Days."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Demise of the "Peace Process"

Alastair Crooke (Conflicts Forum) has posted to Middle East Channel a superb essay on the demise of the "peace process."  Among his observations and reflections . . .

The peace process solution-phantasm has not only divided the Palestinians; but also shaped the political structure for the region for the last decades: polarizing the region -- on the false premise -- between those who were 'opposed' to peace and those who 'supported' peace. Many of those who were termed opposed to peace in reality were opposed more to Israel's self-referencing security-led paradigm -- than to a peaceful solution per se. . . .

Disdain and repudiation of the West's 'solutions' qua solution on Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iran has already shifted the balance of power away from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, towards an emerging northern tier -- Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Qatar and now probably Iraq -- loosely termed the resistance axis. In addition to Turkey, we can expect other new players to enter the regional political arena, such as Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.  These new faces will loosen-up and further erode existing political structures, and dilute the influence of Arab states who have adhered strictly to the US and European line, in the coming more pluralist and fluid era.  

What is key here is a growing popular belief that neither Europe nor the US has -- within themselves -- the potential, the energy, to change tack and find new ways of approaching these tensions. Western solutions have taken on a dated appearance that is dissonant with the contemporary political fabric of the Middle East. Increasingly, solutions are sought from within the region. Hopes for a solution to the current crisis in Lebanon, for example, are not vested the West. They rest on internal solutions brokered across the old peace process divide, by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Iran.

The WikiLeaks cables will reinforce this dynamic of disdain. For a Middle East already disillusioned with the western discourse, the mass leaking of documents will have its effect in the region: it does not matter whether the leaks are gossipy, related to long-suspected US ambitions, comprise wishful-thinking or are nothing new. The lack of a major revelation is not the point. What is significant is the sheer breadth and quantity -- the tsunami of leaks -- that speaks, not of grand missions or fine intentions, but of unrelenting petty cynicism and manipulation. This may not be new to its élite practitioners, but laying it out so plainly, and in full view, will undeceive profoundly the narrative of a western superior mission. . . .

The future of Iran occupies a central position in the region. Iran is, to a lesser or greater extent, an actor at all the main political fault lines of the Middle East. It is the future of Iran that has become the new pole. It is around the Iranian pole that, on the one hand, the so-called resistance axis is now grouped; and it is around the same pole, on other hand, that stand the ranks of the opposition. This regional re-shaping is displacing the poles of the erstwhile peace process as the defining component or signifier of regional politics. 

The reflection in the American looking glass therefore is, and will be, Iran. But the Iran of the looking glass is no more than the refracted image of the emergence of a new Middle East order; with newly self-confident states and movements emerging to global stature. Iran is also the reflected symbolic image, representing the wider political stirrings, symbolizing the fear of the gene of 1979 transposed into a new era; and of the end to the old era of deference.  

It is these evolutions that lie at the focus of both the Israeli and the US fears for their own futures in the region. It is these fears, refracted back at them, that they see in their diplomatic looking glass -- changes that supersede for these two states the peace process in terms of importance, or threat. Thus the iconic Israeli-Palestinian clash has become subsumed as a part of this impending collision of opposing dynamics between Iran and US/Israel -- a 'pièce de theâtre' within a bigger setting: its diminution a reflection of the new dynamics emerging here. This is a subordination that implies that the Palestinian issue is now contingent on what happens in the wider regional dynamics, rather than regional politics being contingent on the Palestinian issue. This is a significant inversion in politics.

Don't-Sell-to-the Arabs Controversy

Jeffrey Goldberg pans Robert Wright's very constructive  NYT essay (" A U.N. Plan for Israel" - and by all means check out the piece by Daniel Levy to which Wright refers) by referring to Wright's column as regular installments of   "If Those Stiff-Necked Jews Just Did as They're Told the World Would Have Peace," taking issue with Wright's reference to the Israel rabbis who recently forbade Jews to sell land to Arabs.  Goldberg notes instead that another prominent halachic authority, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, has chastised those rabbis, and insists that Rabbi Lichtenstein is much more representative of Israeli public opinion.  The other rabbis' racist view is, in his view, marginalized.

Nice to hear that, but has Goldberg forgotten that one of the parties in Netanyahu's governing coalition is Shas, an Ultra-Orthodox party that is essentially ruled by its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.  The Rabbi Yosef's very racist views - which he grounds in Scripture and Jewish law - are a matter of public record - and as the leader of a party without whose support Netanyahu's government would fall, I would hardly call him marginal to Israeli political life.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Explosive New Report on US-Nazi-Arab-Holocaust Links during WWII

As reported in the NYT, An interagency group created by Congress to work on federal records of Nazi war crimes has published a report that not only documents US assistance to Nazi war criminals in the wake of World War II, but also the Nazi regime's ties to prominent Arab anti-Zionist leaders in Palestine (specifically, Hajj Amin al-Husseini) and Iraq (Rashid Ali al-Gailani). 

In chilling detail, the report . . . elaborates on the close working relationship between Nazi leaders and the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who later claimed that he sought refuge in wartime Germany only to avoid arrest by the British.

In fact, the report says, the Muslim leader was paid “an absolute fortune” of 50,000 marks a month (when a German field marshal was making 25,000 marks a year). It also said he energetically recruited Muslims for the SS, the Nazi Party’s elite military command, and was promised that he would be installed as the leader of Palestine after German troops drove out the British and exterminated more than 350,000 Jews there.

On Nov. 28, 1941, the authors say, Hitler told Mr. Husseini that the Afrika Corps and German troops deployed from the Caucasus region would liberate Arabs in the Middle East and that “Germany’s only objective there would be the destruction of the Jews.”

The report details how Mr. Husseini himself was allowed to flee after the war to Syria — he was in the custody of the French, who did not want to alienate Middle East regimes — and how high-ranking Nazis escaped from Germany to become advisers to anti-Israeli Arab leaders and “were able to carry on and transmit to others Nazi racial-ideological anti-Semitism.”

“You have an actual contract between officials of the Nazi Foreign Ministry with Arab leaders, including Husseini, extending after the war because they saw a cause they believed in,” Dr. Breitman said. “And after the war, you have real Nazi war criminals — Wilhelm Beisner, Franz Rademacher and Alois Brunner — who were quite influential in Arab countries.”

In October 1945, the report says, the British head of Palestine’s Criminal Investigation Division told the assistant American military attaché in Cairo that the mufti might be the only force able to unite the Palestine Arabs and “cool off the Zionists. Of course, we can’t do it, but it might not be such a damn bad idea at that.”

“We have more detailed scholarly accounts today of Husseini’s wartime activities, but Husseini’s C.I.A. file indicates that wartime Allied intelligence organizations gathered a healthy portion of this incriminating evidence,” the report says. “This evidence is significant in light of Husseini’s lenient postwar treatment.” He died in Beirut in 1974.
That Amin al-Husseini was working with Hitler's murderous regime is hardly news, nor is it news that the coup that brought Arab nationalists into power under Rashid Ali al-Gailani favored Nazi Germany, who was, after all, the enemy of the British government that had been Iraq's overlords since 1917 - and that invaded and reoccupied Iraq after forcing Rashid Ali out of power.

However, you can expect the George Wills and Charles Krauthammers of the punditocracy to be all over this new report as new ammunition with which to smear current Arab - and European, and Latin American - resistance to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, by trying to link them directly to the hideous acts of Hitler's "Final Solution."

It's hugely important that evidence such as this be made public and disseminated broadly.  But with the "peace process" languishing, various parties exhorting Mr. Obama to put more pressure on Mr. Netanyahu's government, and the Netanyahu government still harping on Iran's nuclear "threat" as the harbinger of a second Holocaust, the timing of its appearance could hardly be worse for those who want to restore more reason and sanity to the debate.

Hillary Clinton's "Outreach to Iran"

Rami Khouri writing from Orlando, which, as he notes, is both the HQ for US Central Command and the location of Disney World:
Clinton’s suggestion that the world would benefit from “the full participation of the Iranian nation in the political, social and economic life of the region” made me feel that I was still in Disney World’s fantasy universe. Somebody should tell Clinton that Iran has participated deeply in the political, social and economic life of the Gulf, Middle East and Central and South Asian regions for approximately 3,000 years, and whisper to her that Iran has far deeper roots and shares stronger interests among Middle Eastern people and societies today than Donald Duck and Dennis Ross can ever imagine.

Obama Caves to Bibi; Cue the Grown-ups

Peter Beinart (via Paul Woodward at War in Context) on the US's decision to give up on a deal for an Israeli settlement-freeze extension.

It's now back to a kind of business as usual, with the US continuing to insist on promoting a dead-in-the-water "peace process" to achieve a going-going-gone two-state solution.   The Palestinian leadership continues to insist that there will be no more discussions with Israel until Netanyahu restores a settlement freeze (which, with the current composition of his government, he cannot - and will not - push for).  And with the drubbing he sustained in November, the increasingly precarious status of his 2012 reelection chances, and the stranglehold that a rabidly pro-Israel Congress (many of whom owe their seats to the votes of their Christian Zionist electorate and the money supplied by AIPAC and allied organizations) has on D.C. debate that might take Israel to task, Mr. Obama (and Mrs. Clinton) are about out of cards to play.

Which brings us back to Beinart, who "congratulates" Bibi for making Obama cave, but then notes (much more seriously) the ever louder crescendo building against Israel's policies - and indeed, even its legitimacy as a Jewish state - among the increasingly influential states of Latin America (among them, Brazil and Argentina, both of which have recognized legally a Palestinian state).  The NYT reports that Turkey and Israel are trying to mend their ties (but "were stuck on several issues, including whether Israel must apologize — or merely express regret — for the killings of nine Turks during a flotilla raid in May"), but the fact of the matter is that both the government and the majority of the people of Turkey have just about taken as much as they will take of Israel's high-handedness with Muslims in the Middle East.  Barring another coup by Turkey's ultra-secularist, pro-West military (whose star has dimmed significantly since the rise of the AKP government under Erdogan), the Turkey-Israel bond will never again be what it was.

What now?  Some in Israel (like the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick) are pounding even harder on the "us-against-the-world" drum in the face of the rising tide of Latin-Turkish opposition.  The implication is one of an impending Masada-doomsday scenario.  A better path forward for Netanyahu  is out there, however: dump his current coalition, bring Tzipi Livni and Kadima on-board, and empower people like his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, who just last night voiced support for the partition of Jerusalem as a step toward a peace deal.

But failing that, perhaps it's time for what Beinart proposes: the US ought to step out of the way, and allow the grown-ups to take over.

Viva Brazil!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Maliki's "de-Baathification" of Iraq's Security and Intelligence services

Among the many nuggets pulled out of the latest Wikileaks dump comes more evidence that Iraq's future is pretty grim.

As McClatchy reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki fired dozens of officers from the security and intelligence services early this year and replaced them with inexperienced political officers loyal to his Shiite Dawa party."  Maliki pulled this off under the official policy of "de-Baathification" = the legal elimination of former Baath officials from the new government.  But as US sources indicate, Maliki used this as a ruse to install Shii loyalists whom he can use to ensure his personal control over the State security services.  If that sounds familiar, it should.  Saddam Hussein made very effective use of the same tactic to ensure his control over the Mukhabarat, the much feared and seemingly ubiquitous security force that Saddam packed with his own Sunni - and tribal - loyalists.

And McClatchy also reported more recently on something that's been going on for a long while: the Maliki government's shabby treatment of the Sunni "Awakening" militia that was so instrumental (probably as effective as the much-vaunted Petraeus-Bush "Surge") in at least temporarily weakening "al-Qaeda" in Iraq - and in effect, enabling Maliki to get a better foothold in Baghdad.  Once more firmly ensconced, Maliki took steps to curb the Awakening fighters; the US basically left them hung out to dry; and now most of them, though promised jobs by the regime, are on the outside looking in, feeling abandoned, disrespected, angry.

And that might also make them more likely to turn for support once again to the kind of Sunni jihadist elements that they supported early during the US occupation, and that (according to the AP) are flowing back into Iraq, with an apparent surge in financial aid that, in the view of Iraqi officials, "reflects fears by Arab states over the growing influence of Iran's Shiite-led government over Iraq and its Shiite-dominated government." 
Last year, U.S. counterterrorism officials said the number of foreigners heading to Iraq had trickled from hundreds to "tens" in what they described as a severely weakened al-Qaida in Iraq.

But a Mideast counterterrorism official said an estimated 250 foreign fighters entered Iraq in October alone. He said they came through the Syrian city of Homs, a hub for Syrian Muslim fundamentalists that is run mostly by Tunisians and Algerians. Other fighters have come from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen.

Additionally, the official said tens of millions of foreign dollars annually are funding the Iraqi insurgency, which has received about $5 billion in aid since 2007. The money comes from al-Qaida leaders, Muslims who want the U.S. to leave, and so-called 'Arab nationalists' who are eager for Sunni Muslims to regain power in Shiite-dominated Iraq.
And you can bet that a lot of that money is coming from Saudi Arabia, and not just from "jihadist" groups.  King Abdullah would love nothing more than to see the back of Iraq's current Shia-dominated regime.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: Carmel forest fire as God's punishment of Israel

And this, from the leader of one of Israel's most influential political - and religious - leaders.

 Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, a powerful religious party in Israel's coalition government, said there was little doubt that the fire was sent by God to punish his chosen people for their waywardness.In his weekly sermon, the rabbi quoted a section from the Talmud, a central Jewish religious text, which proclaimed that "the fire only exists in a place where the Sabbath is desecrated".

Of course, the leader of Hamas was not to be outdone in attributing the fire to Divine retribution.


Friday, December 3, 2010

A Providential Wake-up Call for Israel?

Aluf Benn in Haaretz, on the horrific fire in the Carmel forests in Israel that killed dozens of people, and for which Israel's disaster services were, in his view, grossly under-prepared.  He even goes so far as to make the very apt analogy to the 1973 "Yom Kippur" War, which began with an Egyptian surprise attack across the Suez Canal that caught the IDF completely by surprise.  The IDF eventually prevailed after it was resupplied in an emergency operation carried out by the US.
Benn's point?  If the response to this fire was any indication, Israel is unprepared for the blowback from an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - or, for that matter, a war with Hizbollah in Lebanon, which many in Israel and outside seem to regard as only a  matter of time.
Those with the appropriate world-view might even see the Carmel fire as a warning from the Almighty to the Israelis, or to those of their American "friends" who (channeling McCain here) call for the US to "bomb bomb Iran." On the other hand, others may see it as a Divine warning to Israel to get better prepared; shore up this deficiency.  Time will tell.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

David Ignatius "Droning On" . . .

OK, stupid pun, but in fact David Ignatius poses important questions (albeit, not as much in outrage as in a "just sayin'" tone) about the US's ramped-up use of drones in Pakistan (and, as Wikileaks has confirmed, in Yemen) to take out "bad guys." The rub? The US/CIA no longer focuses on capturing and interrogating said "bad guys," largely because of the legal and ethical hassles in holding and interrogating people now that the CIA may no longer (so we're told) round people up, take them to secret prisons located god knows where, and torture the hell out of them to get information.  That means much poorer intelligence as to what they may be up to . . . which means greater reluctance to send US troops into harm's way, since they'd be going in more blindly . . . which means, says Ignatius:
It's not that the Obama administration's limits on detention and interrogation are wrong. They have applied clear guidelines to what had been, before 2006, a murky area. The problem is that these rules, and the wariness of getting into more trouble, have had the perverse effect of encouraging the CIA to adopt a more lethal and less supple policy than before.

U.S. and Pakistani officials support drone attacks because they don't see a good alternative to combat al-Qaeda's operations in the tribal areas. I don't disagree with that view. But this policy needs a clearer foundation in law and public understanding than it has today. Otherwise, when the pendulum swings, the CIA officers who ran these supposedly clandestine missions may be left holding the bag.

In other words, it's easier, and probably cheaper (even using costly drone weaponry) to simply take 'em out, just as the Israelis have been doing with Hamas leaders (and perhaps Iranian nuclear scientists).  The fancier term is "targeted killing" - or assassination.  The Israelis have been doing this on a regular basis for years, with the US looking the other way (even while the Israelis are doing it with weapons supplied by the US.  Their operations have regularly brought a lot of collateral damage - dead civilians whose only offense was to be (a) in the area and (b) non-Israeli.  Same thing for the US's targeted killing-by-drone - or by night raid - in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which likewise kill (ooops) scores of civilians (despite, of course, our very best intentions and post-facto regrets).

So Ignatius feels it's time to pose an important question to his fellow Americans:
So ask yourself: If you don't like the CIA tactics that led to the capture and interrogation of al-Qaeda operatives, do you think it's better to vaporize the militants from 10,000 feet? And if this bothers you, what's the alternative?
Gee, David, good luck on getting a significant response to that?  Don't you get it yet?  The huge majority of your fellow Americans could give a rat's ass about offed Afghan and Pakistani old men, women, and kids.  Bothered?  Are you serious?  When was the last time that enough Americans were especially bothered about their father/brother/husband/son heroes killing locals (especially Muslim and/or dark-skinned locals) in faraway countries whose names most of them can't even pronounce. ("Eye-rack," anyone?).

"And gee, anyway, what can we do about it?"


"I know.  Let's watch Bristol dance tonight on TV!"

So, Dave, how about less of "whatcha think about this, Americans?" - and a lot more "Wake up, you bozos - and start caring about how your government's policies and actions are tarnishing that bright and shiny U S A that you all so loudly pledge allegiance to."

From Axis of Evil to the Evil Twins

Evil twins, separated at birth . . . .   thusly, does Rep. Gary Ackerman characterize North Korea and Iran.  And this from the current chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and Asia . . .

Obama's Naivete

I'm afraid that Howard Fineman has an important point here.  Obama promised bipartisanship, building bridges.  He thinks like the community organizer and professor that he once was.  The US needs leadership like that, especially after the Dubya administration's domestic and foreign policies shot the nation in its collective gut..

But American politics has devolved to become stuck in the muck of  demonizing, gotcha', taunting, winner-take-all, take-no-prisoners knife-fighting.  I see most of that coming from the Republican side, egged on by the useful idiots of talk radio and Fox News.  Obama may be too nice a man, too cerebral a politician, to be able to fight back against thugs and demagogues.

Monday, November 29, 2010

James Carroll on Republican Opposition to START

In the Boston Globe, James Carroll retraces the history of the US's attempts to regulate and reduce nuclear arms, and concludes:

Reagan would be ashamed of Senate Republicans. He would be appalled by the ignorance of men and women who regard nuclear arms as just another occasion for partisan advantage. He would shake his head, that Reagan mystification: What don’t you understand about this treaty’s historic urgency? How crazy are you?

Schizophrenia, as the word suggests, assumes a kind of split, disorder co-existing with health. But Republican nuclear madness now is total. Americans should be clear about what has happened. The Senate naysayers are drivers of trucks in a convoy whose cargo is the future of the planet. They are careening down a midnight mountain road, without headlights. And they are drunk.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

McCain Shoots His Credibility in the Foot

Speaking with CNN (as reported in the WaPo),
 McCain compared his former running mate, Sarah Palin, to former President Ronald Reagan, noting that some viewed Reagan as divisive too. "I think that anybody who has the visibility that Sarah has is obviously going to have some divisiveness," McCain said. "I remember that a guy named Ronald Reagan used to be viewed by some as divisive. ... I think she had a positive impact on the last election, and I'm proud of her."
How sad, that a long-time Senator, former presidential candidate, and Vietnam War POW would stoop to such a low to cover his own ass for one of the grossest and most damaging mistakes ever made by a major politician.  Selecting her as his 2008 running mate doomed his candidacy, and was the single most enabling contribution to the emergence of one of the most under-qualified, polarizing, and potentially dangerous political figures of the current era.  I was - and am - no fan of Ronald Reagan -  a president whose economic policies and American-exceptionalist chauvinism lie at the heart of the US's current dilemmas.  (Was it not Dick Cheney who advised a former president that "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter?").  But for McCain to invoke his memory to try to legitimize Ms. Palin does Reagan a great disservice, and will likely win McCain the well-deserved disdain of moderate Republicans across the US.

BTW, in the same report, McCain chastises China as a not "responsible world power" for not doing more to rein in North Korea.  This, of course, in contrast to McCain's oh-so-responsible suggestion during the 2008 campaign that the US, as a putatively "responsible" world power, "bomb, bomb Iran," even after the Iraq invasion that had shown the world the US's dedication to global "responsibility" had by then destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Afghanistan: worse than Vietnam?

Very interesting essay from Robert Wright in the NY Times assesses the US's current adventure in Afghanistan as much  more damaging to the US than was the Vietnam War, at least in terms of its strategic consequences.  It's hard to dispute Wright's contentions that
  • the Afghan war, besides being the longest in US history, is also costing the US hundreds of billions of dollars desperately needed to prepare America's domestic society for the future (which, as Wright notes, is what Bin Laden was hoping for from the outset); and
  • the Afghan war is likely recruiting more enemies for the US than it's eliminating.
But something that really struck me was Wright's reference to a recent analysis that concludes:
A well tuned terrorism containment strategy — dubbed containment 2.0 by the foreign policy blogger Eric Martin — . . .  would mean convincing Americans that — sometimes, at least — we have to absorb terrorist attacks stoically, refraining from retaliation that brings large-scale blowback.
I have to concur.  Indeed, I've been thinking about this for awhile.  For all the horror of the 9-11 attacks, as we assess things more than nine years later, I believe one can make a strong case that the damage wrought by the US's response - both the damage we have done to the societies of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the damage the US has done to its prestige, its international standing, and its domestic tranquility and resources -  has been grossly disproportionate to, and incomparably more devastating than, the damage done by 9-11,

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sarah Palin Says Most Professors Don’t Believe in God

So she says, evidently, in her newest book (pity the pulp).  The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes a nice rejoinder that makes it quite clear that, according to a 2006 survey, she's incorrect (which ought to be no surprise, given her track record).

Unfortunately, lots of her true-believers read her malarkey, and accept it as gospel-truth.  That's a shame, because she's further entrenching a stereotype that has contributed so much to the anti-intellectualism - that disdain for those horrid "elites" - that the Becks/Limbaughs/Hannitys of the country have labored so diligently  to entrench in the American mind-set.  By dint of the tremendous educational opportunities that the "American way of life" has provided to so many of its young people, the United States possesses a wonderful - and vital - resource: thousands of highly educated, bright, dedicated educators and researchers, many of them of relatively humble origins and background, eager to contribute to the welfare of their fellow citizens by sharing their expertise or applying it to solving looming problems (like the effects of global warming) that will affect Americans and people across the planet.

But the Palins of the country dismiss them as godless elites, and encourage their fellow Americans to do so as well.

And Palin's message as well? Because academics are untrustworthy, academic and scientific expertise is similarly worthless, untrustworthy - and when possessed by individuals who might not share her triumphalist Christian version of monotheism, perhaps un-American, even a tool for the working of evil.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Leslie Gelb on Obama's Mideast Bribes

From The Daily Beast, Leslie Gelb writes on how Obama's "Mideast bribes" won't work (he's right), but says that success might come instead if Palestinian leaders Mahmud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have an Anwar al-Sadat come-to-the-Knesset moment and there promise their acceptance of a "Jewish state in Israel," and avow their desire for (here Gelb borrows Sadat's words) "permanent peace based on justice."

Sounds lovely, but in the eyes of international law and UN resolutions, justice for the Palestinians ought to entail the ability to
  •  return to their lands - inside what is now Israel - from which they were dispossessed between 1947 and 1949;
  • have Jewish settlements in the West Bank removed
  • have completely equal citizenship, with full political rights and economic opportunity, in a bi-national state.  An Israel described and accepted as a specifically Jewish state (which is one of the things that Gelb would call upon them to accept) would not, it seems to me, afford them those rights and opportunity.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Human Costs of War in Afghanistan

Absolutely a must-read is today's WaPo piece by Joshua Partlow about Afghan refugees from Helmand who are now congregating in pitiful conditions near Kabul.  The camp Partlow visits currently "shelters" about 1000 families, and is the largest of about 30 such "informal settlements" near Kabul.
Extrapolating from the statements of these unfortunate people, what's excruciatingly obvious is that thousands of Afghans have been simply swept up by, and caught in the middle of, the horrors of a down-and-dirty war that they did nothing to bring down upon themselves and of which they want no part.  Most of them seem to have no love for the Taliban; but at the same time, they've had more than they want of the presence of "infidels" in their land.
Ahunzada, a 35-year-old mullah, gets by on meager donations from other refugees, given to him as payment for teaching Islamic classes and leading the daily prayers in a low-ceilinged makeshift mosque built from mud. Two years ago, he left his opium fields in Sangin, one of the most violent parts of Helmand, which British troops recently handed over to U.S. Marines after taking casualties for four years.
"Every day, fighting is going on there. The more infidels who come to our country, the more Afghans die, and the less safe we become," he said.
Ahunzada has little affection for the Taliban. His father, Mohammad Gul Agha, and his brother, Abdul Zahir, both died when a fireball engulfed their car on the road to the provincial capital. The insurgents, he said, had planted the bomb to target a passing U.S. military convoy.
"We are not happy from either side, but I believe the British and American troops are more cruel than the Taliban," he said. "I have seen it happen: The Taliban come on motorbikes, they open fire, then they leave. Then the Americans just come and kill us, they bomb us, they open fire on us, they kill the children and innocent people.". . . .
Barigul and his family left Helmand last month. He said the decision was the culmination of long-running harassment from American troops and their insurgent enemies. He has been detained, he said, accused of planting bombs, searched at checkpoints, and slapped in the face by foreign troops. Outside the Musa Qala district center, where American troops are dominant, the Taliban patrol the villages, block children from attending school and kill Afghans accused of collaborating with foreigners.
"If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us and put us in jail saying we were Taliban. If we shaved, the Taliban gave us a hard time," he said. "What are we supposed to do, shave half of our beard?"
While camp residents describe themselves as the war's collateral damage, caught between two rival forces, they also clearly want foreign troops to depart.
"Who are the Taliban? They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives. The problem is the Americans," said Lala Jan, 25, also from Musa Qala. "If somebody attacks from one house, the Americans bomb the whole place. If the Taliban come inside, during the night the Americans come and raid the house. That's the problem."
Meanwhile, the Afghan "Surge" goes on, with the promise of "infidel" soldiers remaining on Afghan soil through at least 2014.  Whatever "good intentions" or "national interests" motivate the American occupation, the fact of the matter is that because of it, thousands more Afghans are going to die horrific, painful deaths  - like that suffered by one individual remembered by one of the refugees, who saw:
"a woman's hair entangled in the mulberry branches, her legs strewn far away in the dirt."
And please, let's hear no "that's war; war is hell" crap.  This entire enterprise will come to no good end - even if the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams among the American "leadership" do eventually declare victory and sing our military's praises as they waltz out.  No matter what happens from this point on, they will be leaving behind a shattered country and a legacy of ill will that will be seared into the collective memory of the people of Afghanistan, even as the McCains and Grahams - and the Obamas - will call upon all of us to remember it as a time of selfless heroism on the part of the United States.  

This is scary

OK, now this is scary.  No sooner had I posted my little piece on Frank Rich's essay about you know who than did this nonsensical "comment" hit my inbox:
Governor Palin is a courageous person, no doubt. In view of her massive following, SARAH PALIN CAN SAVE AMERICA WITH ONE SIMPLE ACT  if she would simply, briefly, tweet about the upcoming case before the US Supreme Court next week, it would change the course of American history. 
November 23, 2010 marks a fork in the road for the future of America of more than historic proportions — perhaps on par with events leading to the Civil War. To date, virtually all federal and state courts where actions have been brought seeking decision on the meaning of the Constitution’s Article 2 “natural born citizen” clause as a prerequisite for Barack Obama to be a lawful President and Commander in Chief of the United States (Mr. Obama having been born to a father of British/Kenyan nationality and father not a citizen of the United States), have been shut down, never getting beyond the issue of standing. To date, courts have very strategically (narrowly if not artfully) characterized and applied law and legal procedure steadfastly to prevent the question from ever rising to the merits — this on a host of different types and classes of plaintiffs, causes and defendants — admittedly under the most intensely implicit (if not more) pressure to do the same. 

The national media (some say our 4th branch of government) has aided and abetted the avoidance by mischaracterizing this as a “Hawaii birth” a/k/a “birther” issue which is nothing more than a “red herring” in that the issue for Article 2 “natural born citizen” is Mr. Obama’s father. Moreover, the legal community has aided and abetted the avoidance by mischaracterizing the 1898 Supreme Court Case, Wong Kim Arc, which dealt with the meaning of “citizenship”, not the meaning of “natural born citizen” under Article 2. 

November 23, 2010 may very well be the last chance for the Judicial Branch realistically to take up the issue, this on a case of legal standing solidly presented by Attorney Apuzzo and Commander Kerchner. If the Court finds no standing here, by a narrow interpretation of the same or otherwise, coming after all the rest of the “no standing” cases, it is doubtfull this important Constitutional issue can and will be resolved in any court of law. The question will nevertheless continue to fester, at tremendous national cost, never to abate, potentially to reach crisis stage, and in any event to undermine the structure of our Constitutional Republic. 

It is more than chilling and says volumes that NOT ONE member of Congress will publicly speak on this or, better yet, since the Congress of the United States has more than a vested interest, opine if not as a “friend of the court” at the Supreme Court, in the court of public opinion — BEFORE the Supreme Court convenes on November 23, 2010. 

The world is (should be) watching! 

Frank Rich on Palin's Prospective Presidential Run: Be Very Afraid

Frank Rich's essay is worth a read  - as are some of the comments, especially that of a commenter from Tucson, who notes:

With luck, she'll be eaten by a genuine progressive grizzly. But that may be too much to hope for.

I used to wonder how the European tyrants of the 1930s and '40s could have come to power.

What I'm seeing these days seems to be a slow-motion replay. Only this time, if the forces of darkness succeed in assuming power, there will be no democratic United States intervening to rescue the world. Instead this nation will be the threat, an irrational religious theocracy armed with thousands of nuclear weapons.

And Rich also reminds us that when the potential candidacy of George W. Bush was mentioned in the late 1990s, most observers dismissed him as an untraveled lightweight who stood no chance of being nominated, much less elected.

Be very afraid.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Afghanistan, Your Tax Dollars at Work

Another notch in the gun of US public diplomacy?

It's a new TV show in Afghanistan, funded by American dollars, that's designed to boost public perceptions of Afghanistan's corruption-riddled police forces.  But as the NYT notes:
Unfortunately, life is still a long way from imitating art on Kabul’s mean streets.

The real unit most similar to Eagle Four in concept is probably the Sensitive Investigations Unit, which since summer has effectively had its hands tied by the Afghan government after it and another American-trained elite unit were involved in the arrest of a presidential aide.

On American Exceptionalism

Paul Woodward at War in Context has a nice piece about American exceptionalism, building on an essay by Matt Miller ("Ohhhh, America, you're so strong") in the WaPo.  Notes Woodward:

In as much as American exceptionalism is rooted in a belief in American supremacy, then the power ascribed to the nation is implicitly shared by every American. That this is make-believe power is evident in the frequency and loudness with which it is declared and the fact that those who profess their conviction in this power nevertheless clearly easily feel threatened — threatened by the government; by the rest of the world; by immigrants; and by other Americans who don’t share their views.

And Miller winds up his piece beautifully, and explains nicely some of the basis for Ms. Palin's appeal:

The conservative use of American exceptionalism as a political sword today is perversely revealing. There's something off when the first generation of Americans that is less educated than its parents feels a deep need to be told how unique it is. Or that a generation that's handing off epic debts and a chronically dysfunctional political process (among other woes) demands that its leaders keep toasting its fabulousness. Especially when other nations now offer more upward mobility, and a better blend of growth with equity, than we do - arguably the best measures of America's once-exceptional national performance.

Wouldn't it bolster Americans more to be told that we can meet the challenges of this moment? Wouldn't we be better off striving to be exceptional at solving our common problems?

Sarah Palin's focus on this theme proves she is shrewder than her critics acknowledge. I don't doubt that Palin's beliefs are sincere. But she's also tuned in to her audience: Millions of Americans who are anxious about America's trajectory and worried about their family's economic future. If you don't have real answers, soothing words are a start.

Oooh, you're so strong, baby, so handsome. Palin knows the country she is courting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Counterinsurgency? It's Whatever Petraeus Wants it to be, including "Shock and Awe"

The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that, for the first time, the US is deploying M1 Abrams heavy battle-tanks to Afghanistan, a move that, as he notes, "signals a further escalation in the aggressive tactics that have been employed by American forces this fall to attack the Taliban."  In other words, as one US spokesman put it, the gloves are off.

. . . except that the gloves have been off for awhile now, what with the ramped-up use of Special Ops night raids (which have been tri,pled over the last three months) the demolition of thousands of houses because it "was thought" that they might be booby-trapped, and the use of line-charges to clear minefields.  As for the tanks, as one US officer noted, ""The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower . . . . It's pretty significant."

Gosh, we remember how well the shock and awe used in 2003 eventually turned out, don't we?

And as for those tanks . . . as RC also notes, they bring a couple of downsides: they may suggest that the US is getting desperate, and they will remind the locals of the Soviet occupation of 1979-1989, which featured the employment of similarly frightful firepower.  And we all remember how well that turned out, don't we?  The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans, but in the end, they had to leave, humiliated, their country's resources and prestige bled dry.

General Petraeus, however, is not about to have his "winning streak" snapped in Afghanistan, if he can help it.  Indeed, for me, this report produces a few particularly disgusting insights into the cynicism underlying the whole thing:
  • in the eyes of his acolytes, Petraeus has not abandoned his be-nice-to-the locals COIN doctrine, but is only tweaking  it a little by adding shock and awe to its tool-kit.  In other words, COIN can be redefined however he likes.
  • This very sudden ramping up of the pace of killing "Taliban" by Petraeus is as much a public-relations exercise as anything else.  NATO is meeting, even as I write, to discuss strategy in Afghanistan, and next month, Obama is engaging in a full-fledged review of the US's Afghan expedition.  Petraeus has indeed taken the gloves off in order to stack the deck as much as possible in his favor.
  • The US military notes a nice up-side to dropping 2000-pound bombs, or using mine-clearing line-charges that destroy everything - trees, crops, houses - in their path: By devastating their homes and property, the US forces the locals to travel to the district governor's office to submit a claim for compensation.  This, says a US military officer, is truly a good thing, because "in effect, you're connecting the government to the people."
It's one thing to be cynical.  But can that officer truly be that stupid?  This is the same government that - as all Afghans know - has been wallowing in corruption for years, which is one of the reasons why so many Afghans have turned to the Taliban as a force for stability.

Can we please be clear?  There will be no "winning" in Afghanistan, no "success."  The shock and awe of Abrams tanks will not bring victory; but they will cost the US thousands more of those Afghan hearts and minds that need to be won over if the US is to eventually depart that country with at least a little less ignominy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the Rise of Sarah Palin

If you care to know how Ms. Palin got her start, Jane Mayer's 2008 piece in The New Yorker (which I happened to serendipitously come across in my daily researches) is a good place to start.  The extent to which personal ambition (as opposed to principle) drives her is evident, especially in the way she pitched herself to the same media "elite" she claims to despise.  And Mayer's quote from former Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd says it well about John McCain: "He put the country at risk" by selecting her, and he would have to live with that.
Palin's sex-appeal-based popularity (her biggest single bloc of support seems to come from white males aged 40 or older) continues to put the US at risk, if only because the policy nonsense and leather-jacketed "star quality" she peddles (and Mr. Limbaugh promotes) in her quest for political super-stardom and big bucks hinder the country from coming together to address the huge, frightening problems it now faces both at home and abroad.  Twenty years from now, we will look back on this era as one of America's lowest, and Palin's rise  will epitomize it - as will the fact that a war hero and self-proclaimed patriot like John McCain would have stooped so low in his quest for power that he became her most useful "enabler."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hitchens on Obama's "craven offer" to Netanyahu

I've not been a huge fan of Hitchens ever since he declared himself in favor of the Iraq invasion, but his Slate essay about Obama's offer to Netanyahu begging for a new settlement freeze hits it about right.  It is indeed a "national humiliation."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Sucker's Bet

Seems that Hillary has been busy with Mr. Netanyahu, and has convinced him to try for a 90-day, one-time-only, freeze on West Bank settlements building (although it's by no means certain that Netanyahu will include East Jerusalem in the freeze, which diminishes its worth significantly).  The NY Times headlines it as a "90-Day Bet."
How about calling it what it really is: a bribe.
The US will pony up an additional 20 top-of-the-line F-35 fighter planes, and also promise to give Israel all the diplomatic cover it needs to prevent any movement in the UN toward declaring unilaterally a Palestinian state - a prospect that's been getting lots of attention in recent days.
So, is this what we call being an "honest broker"?
Palestinian officials are outraged - and justifiably so. The Lebanon Daily Star tells us why:
 In private, Palestinian officials have expressed anger over US incentives to get Israel to prolong the partial freeze on Jewish settlement building, saying it effectively constituted bribing Israel to fulfil basic international obligations. . . . .  Settlement watchdog Peace Now published a report Sunday showing that in the seven weeks since the end of the freeze, Jewish settlers had begun building work on 1,649 new homes – more than making up for the 10-month ban. Figures showed that since the freeze ended, new homes had been started in 63 settlements and, in more than two-thirds of cases, settlers had begun laying the foundations. . . . .  Also Sunday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Israel was showing it lacks the will for peace through its actions in the Palestinian territories. “Israel is not a partner for peace. Instead, the policies of colonization [of the Palestinian territories], judaizing Jerusalem and blockade of the Gaza Strip continue,” Moallem said.“Israel and those who sponsor it should assume the sole responsibility for the freezing of the peace process.”

Analyst: Iraq Deal is the Work of Outside Powers

Reported in the Daily Star, with Reuters . . . 

 Iraq’s power-sharing deal, hailed as a sign of its factions coming together, is more a result of foreign powers’ influence and was pushed in particular by the US and Iran, analysts say.

Which, of course, raises the issue of legitimacy, the extent to which the agreement - and a second term as prime minister for Nuri al-Maliki - reflects the will of the people.  This analysis suggests that the Iranians gave the deal their imprimatur in large part because they wanted the issue off their plate as they head into new negotiations about their nuclear program.  The US also wanted to see Maliki return as prime minister.  But it's obvious that to the extent that Iraqis opposed to him see him as the anointed one of the Iranians and the US (with each of whom Iraq has been at war at least once in the last 30 years; the war with Iran is seared into the memory of anyone older than 40), he's going to be seen as untrustworthy, and controlled by his foreign masters.

That, in turn, renders the last piece in the analysis even more disturbing.  It's a quote from Iraq expert Reidar Visser:

“One potential long-term scenario is that once he is confirmed, Maliki will try again what he did in 2008, that is develop an independent power base without his coalition partners such as the Kurds and the Sadrists, and once more become a strongman ruler”

That would be, of course, entirely in keeping with the history of Iraq since its birth almost 90 years ago: the balance of power in the hands of a strongman, one who has the backing of the military, or even has emerged from its ranks.  It's a kind of government to which many Iraqis have become conditioned and accustomed - and for which, given the instability since 2003, many have indicated a preference.  Historically, it's the norm.

And for the US, even with all the palaver about democracy and liberation, the most important concern is stability; representative government be damned (cf. Mubarak in Egypt, King Hussein in Jordan, the Saudi monarchs).  And especially attractive to the US as far as Mubarak and Hussein are concerned is their officially friendly relationship with Israel (even if their citizens are seething).  That may be too much for Maliki to deliver.  Iraq's Arab citizens wouldn't stand for it; nor would Iran's government.

The Kurds, on the other hand, have been a different matter altogether in terms of making nice with Israelis.  But Iraq's Kurds are becoming increasingly tied  to Turkey economically, and the mood in Turkey has swung very much against Israel - and, for that matter, the United States.

Karzai Speaks. Is Anybody Listening? (Lindsey Graham sure was!)

If you have any remaining doubts about who is the ruler of Afghanistan, this piece in this morning's WaPo will remove them.  Pres. Hamid Karzai wants a reduced US troop presence, and he especially is insisting that the US cease its infamous night raids. (The WaPo could just as easily call them death squads, but that would upset the editorial board and Charlie Krauthammer, not to mention the Pentagon. They're fighting for our freedoms, aren't they?  Well, aren't they?)

The American position is reflected well in the following:

 Under Petraeus and his predecessor, such raids by U.S. Special Operations troops have increased sharply, to about 200 a month, or six times the number being carried out 18 months ago, said a senior NATO military official, who requested anonymity so that he could speak candidly about the situation. These operations capture or kill their target 50 to 60 percent of the time, the official said.
To American commanders, the nighttime strike missions are a crucial weapon to capture Taliban commanders, disrupt bomb-making networks and weaken the 30,000-man insurgency in Afghanistan. In the past three months, U.S. Special Operations troops have killed or captured 368 insurgent leaders. On each mission, Afghan commandos accompany U.S. troops and Afghan officers work with the Special Operations command at Bagram Airfield to choose targets, military officials said.

"We understand President Karzai's concerns, but we would not be as far along as we are pressuring the network had it not been for these very precision operations we do at night," the NATO military official said. "I don't see any near-term alternative to this kind of operation."

In other words, you can cram it, Karzai.  His viewpoint?

 Karzai was emphatic that U.S. troops must cease such operations, which he said violate the sanctity of Afghan homes and incite more people to join the insurgency. A senior Afghan official said that Karzai has repeatedly criticized the raids in meetings with Petraeus and that he is seeking veto power over the operations. The Afghan government does not have the type of legal arrangement that the Iraqi government has with U.S. forces to approve particular military operations.

"The raids are a problem always. They were a problem then, they are a problem now. They have to go away.  The Afghan people don't like these raids, if there is any raid it has to be done by the Afghan government within the Afghan laws. This is a continuing disagreement between us."We'd like to have a long-term relationship with America, a substantial relationship with America, that's what the Afghan people want. But we'd like the Afghan countryside - villages, homes, towns - not to be so overwhelmed with the military presence. Life has to be seen [as] more normal."
U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned with the failure of the Afghan government to root out corruption and provide services to the people. Karzai deflected this criticism by arguing that much of his government's corruption problem comes from the American money that is pumped into the country outside the control of Afghan ministries and frittered away on private security firms that undermine the authority of Afghan security forces. During the Soviet occupation, he said, ministers lived in modest housing blocks and the foreign money flowed through the Afghan government.

"How come we are now so luxury-oriented today?" he asked. "The transparency of contracts is not there. Why is the U.S. government giving contracts to the sons and relatives of officials of the Afghan government? We don't do those contracts. I don't have an authority over a penny of those contracts. . . . and we've been protesting against this for years."

Bottom line: David Petraeus is the ruler of Afghanistan . . . or better, the American viceroy.  But the professor of make-friends-with-the-natives counterinsurgency is finding out that COIN doctrine won't work for him nearly as well as will the bust-down-doors, shoot-or-detain-whoever's-inside tactic that, ironically, his successor in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, practiced before he received the gospel according to Petraeus, and for which he was castigated as Petraeus' stock rose in Iraq.

And take note of this other brief mention in the report:

 Karzai's comments come as American officials are playing down the importance of July 2011 - the date President Obama set to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan - in favor of a combat mission ending in 2014. 

Slowly, but ever so surely, we're being prepared to accept a 2014 official end-date for the US's Afghan expedition - with bases and advisers ensconced well beyond then.  Think leverage: versus Pakistan (our ally?), Iran, Russia, China . . . and think insurance: natural gas, and those trillions of dollars of resources said to lie in the soil of Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Turns out that Lindsey Graham was indeed listening to Mr. Karzai, and is simply shocked, shocked! (well, the actual word he used is "stunned") that Karzai wants the US to take night raids out of the tool bag.  Says he, how can Gen Petraeus be successful if he can't continue with them.
Oh, by the way, also says Sen. Graham:
 I think in the summer of 2011, we can bring some troops, but we're going to need a substantial number of troops in Afghanistan past that; 2014 is the right date to talk about. That's when Karzai suggests that Afghans will be in the lead. . . .   Post-2014, when the Afghans hopefully get in the lead, it'd be great to have a couple of air bases there in perpetuity to help the Afghans to send the right signal to the regions . . . . But none of this is possible unless you have a reliable partner in the Afghan government."
Send the right signal?  As in, we (the US) own this place? 
Reliable partner?  As in, dear Hamid, shut the fuck up?


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