Thursday, September 30, 2010

Israel Estimates Iran Will Have The Bomb In 2014

Nice pick-up from Ali Ghareeb at LobeLog - who also notes that Joe Lieberman and the cast of AIPAC-funded useful idiots are trying to convince us all that Iran will have a bomb with which to wipe out Israel any day now.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Richard Cohen misses the point on West Bank settlements

It truly astounds me that a supposedly astute and respected commentator can be so obtuse on such an important issue.  The Wapo's Richard Cohen (by my lights, the WaPo's co-director - with George Will - for hasbara) takes Obama to task - indeed, calling him incompetent - for focusing on freezing West Bank settlement construction - something, he says, that Netanyahu cannot do, and that a significant number of religiously observant Jewish settlers - who (along with the Likud party and the Israeli Foreign Ministry) identify the West Bank as the Biblical Judea and Samaria - cannot accept.  And after all, Cohen judges:
. . . while some settlements are recklessly deep into the West Bank -- Ariel, for instance -- others are indistinguishable parts of Jerusalem. They are all, under international law, illegal. But some, regardless of legality, are going to stay. . . .  The Jerusalem-area settlements are not going to be abandoned by Israel . . . . the Israel that mattered most to some nationalists and Orthodox Jews is not that Miami manqué on the coast, Tel Aviv, but the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria, the heart of biblical Israel. For a significant number of Israelis, but hardly a majority, settlements have enormous religious and ideological importance. This is not just about 2 rms w/view.
Oh; OK then.  Guess that's settled.  Israel contravened international law, and took what it wanted.  Might indeed made right.  It's a shame, but after all, Israel is indeed special; the Bible says so. The rules don't apply.  Thanks for clearing that up.
(What!  You say Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait in 1990 because he claimed that Iraq historically had a right to it?  What nonsense! That violated international law!  It was the right and legal thing to do, taking him out!)

So is the solution, then, to focus on other issues (say, boundaries, refugees?) while the settlers keep putting up their outposts, making more facts on the ground, deepening their already size-bazillion footprint - and in the process completely eliminate the possibility of a viable Palestinian state?  What the hell would be the freaking point?  Boundaries become a joke, refugees would have no real state to which to return (except, as many Likudniks would have it, Jordan, which they assert to be the "real Palestinian state").

Stephen Walt has a much better take on any putative incompetence by Obama's team:
By forcing Abbas to make repeated concessions with nothing to show for them, they are undermining his already fragile legitimacy  to the point where he won't be able to sell whatever deal they might eventually coerce him into signing. And by letting Netanyahu thumb his nose at repeated U.S. requests without paying any penalty, they've encouraged Israelis to think there is essentially no cost to a hardline position. But this approach isn't "pro-Israel," because Obama and his advisors are helping make a two-state solution impossible and thereby making a "one-state" outcome nearly inevitable. Thoughtful Israelis understand that this is a perilous course, and President Obama said as much during his speech  to the United Nations last week. But the administration's handling of this issue has made the one-state outcome more likely, which threatens Israel's future as both a Jewish and democratic state.
Walt's advice: Obama needs to kick some butt with his team to get them to get the deal done.  Except that (as Walt himself recognizes), that won't happen, because as long as Congress and Fox News are in Netanyahu's back pocket, Obama's team has no leverage to force the Israelis to do anything.  And as for forcing the Palestinians, well, what's the point of going to the whip with a horse that's already broken down?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Obama's Rocky Start . . . and Fighting Back to Regain America

I have to admire David Rothkopf's essay at the Foreign Policy site, especially as a reminder (and, I confess, I needed one in the midst of Obama's going-nowhere "peace process") of all that he's accomplished in less than half a term in office.  Rothkopf ticks off the achievements very nicely:
Within 20 months, the new president -- despite an utterly uncooperative, obstructionist opposition party, despite the extraordinarily dire and complex challenges he inherited -- pulled the economy back from catastrophe. He passed historic legislation that preserved millions of jobs. Obama and his team worked to restore Wall Street to profitability while at the same time passing sweeping financial reforms to help reduce the risk of calamities in the future. He and his team helped to get the U.S. auto industry back on its feet. He and his team began the work of fixing a broken U.S. health care system that was putting millions of Americans and our entire economy at risk. He has met his goals for ending the U.S. combat presence in Iraq. He has, for better or worse, expended enormous effort to rethink our presence in Afghanistan and redoubled efforts to contain the even greater threats emanating from Pakistan, next door. He has committed the U.S. to active engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, something his predecessor ignored for years. He has launched an effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and if that sounds wide-eyed and implausible, he made it more real with a new arms limitation agreement with Russia. He has actively engaged with the world, realigned our international relationships both bilaterally and through mechanisms like the G20 to reflect a new international power reality. And he has done much to restore America's image and standing in the world.

Yet, as Rothkopf also notes, Obama seems to be headed toward a mid-term defeat in November - one that, if it materializes, may stymie his remaining agenda; and he looks, on a personal level, a bit beaten up.  Truly, who wouldn't be, given the shots he's taken.  And Rothkopf may be going a bit too far is stating that Obama "may have the character to rise to this challenge but thus far he has not demonstrated it."  In Rothkopf's view, Obama is too defensive, too brittle, too much the un-Bill Clinton, who, according to Rothkopf, has gotten off the canvas to redeem himself, whereas Obama has a glass jaw.

Is Rothkopf on the mark?  Too early to tell.  What's Obama to do?

Well, for one thing, the departure of Rahm Emanuel is IMHO a plus.  Emanuel seemed to me all spit and no substance, more terrier than bulldog - and on the international scene, I can't help believing that replacing a chief-of-staff who once served with the Israeli army with someone less obviously tied to the Israeli side (provided that Obama indeed does that) will be a plus.

But otherwise, I'm fearful that Obama's presidency after November is doomed - because a core of white, wealthy semi-racists (who call themselves Tea Partiers) who see that their home values have plummeted and fear that their taxes will go up, have linked arms with populist poor whites who are losing their houses and jobs, and who have been enabled by lurker pseudo-populist billionaires (like David Koch), and who have been shrilly promoted by the Limbaugh-Hannity-Fox noise machine, have taken control of the national center-stage.  Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books puts it very well, as well as points out that the Tea Partiers might be better identified as the new Jacobins:
The conservative media did not create the Tea Party movement and do not direct it; nobody does. But the movement’s rapid growth and popularity are unthinkable without the demagogues’ new ability to tell isolated individuals worried about their futures what they want to hear and put them in direct contact with one another, bypassing the parties and other mediating institutions our democracy depends on. When the new Jacobins turn on their televisions they do not tune in to the PBS News Hour  or C-Span to hear economists and congressmen debate the effectiveness of financial regulations or health care reform. They look for shows that laud their common sense, then recite to them the libertarian credo that Fox emblazons on its home page nearly every day: YOU DECIDE.
They have in Sarah Palin a media-savvy - and media-glorified - attack dog and political rallying point; they have the benefit of millions of US citizens who have been ginned up to see monsters all around (terrorists, economic ruin, death panels) and who have been blessed with short memories (of who bankrupted their nation and set it up for its current malaise), blissful ignorance of the history of their own country (note the recent essay that shows how much the Tea Partiers are out of sync with their namesakes) . . . and they have votes.

We've all been raised to believe that America was supposed to be about "Us" as a people.  First and foremost, the Tea Party is a bunch of "Me's" trying to steal the mantle of "Us" and use it to "restore" an America that of citizens who (in contrast to that "Greatest Generation" whose many sacrifices they hypocritically praise so highly) want to be asked to make no sacrifice to rebuild the country that has been shattered by the leaders that the vast majority of them helped elect.

Mr. Obama spoke often of sacrifice and working together when he campaigned for the presidency.  Whatever their rhetoric about being "real Americans," it's not what the Tea Party is about.  And without the emergence of an America that can embrace those values - and leaders in the media who can help them do it - Mr. Obama may be doomed, along with the United States of America as we were raised to know it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lebanon's continuing refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to settle

This undoubtedly will provoke more Israeli criticism of Arab states who refuse to "take in" their Arab brethren; and one can only deplore the circumstances of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon; but to allow them to settle would saddle Lebanon with major demographic issues, as well as threaten the recent rise of Lebanon's Shia (including Hezbollah) by infusing a large Sunni element into the mix.

Iraq's continuing post-election trauma: Iraqiya party rejects Maliki as PM again

Perhaps Iraqiya is serious about this threat; or perhaps they're throwing down another card in what's become an interminable game, with the Iraqi people the biggest losers.  But if Iraqiya is serious, it's another sign that the new Iraqi government, when it emerges, will be as sectarian as the current one, or even more so.  Day-to-day bargaining seems to bring a constantly changing "inside dope" as to who's ahead, but the "super-Shii" coalition seems to hold a lot of the cards, especially if Muqtada al-Sadr decides to join despite how Maliki did him dirty in 2008.

One of the Iraqiya people is quoted as saying that a new government can't be formed without them.  Well, actually, the numbers say otherwise - but any new government that has no place at the table for Iraqiya leaves most of Iraq's  formerly dominant, now aggrieved, still powerful Sunni Arabs outside the executive power structure, but well represented in Iraq's parliament.  That's a prescription for near-stalemate - which affords an evidently resurgent al-Qaeda in Iraq a handy recruitment tool.

Obama at the UN: promote democracy and human rights, from within

The WaPo's Scott Wilson' report on Mr. Obama's UN speech is headlined with Obama's rebuke, hours later, of Ahmadinejad's allusion in his own speech to a supposed US role in the 9/11 attacks.  (BTW, I have no problem in asserting that 9/11 was to some extent the consequence of a long history of ill-conceived US policies in the Middle East.  You can't read any of Joy Gordon's recent work on the US's role in intentionally crippling Iraq via the sanctions imposed between 1990 and 2003 - and then factor in the US's one-sided stance in the Israel-Palestine conflict - without concluding that Muslims across the region had good reason to be angry with the US.  But for Ahmadinejad to claim that the US somehow helped orchestrate that attack - even if it did open the door to an Iraq invasion that Bush's people were pushing as soon as they walked into the White House - seems absurd.)

But Wilson's report deals mainly with Obama's newly stated agenda to promote democracy and human rights in the Middle East and beyond.  Wilson notes - perhaps a bit coyly - that Obama had once criticized Bush for pushing democracy, but that Obama's agenda seems similar to Bush's.  For further "insight," Wilson sought out Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser for human rights and democracy under Bush - which perhaps tells you all you need to know about where Wilson is coming from.  Abrams, let's not forget, is an operator of the first order: convicted as one of the "evil-doers" in the Iran Contra affair of the late 1980s, a major promoter of the neocon agenda under Bush (who helped resuscitate Abrams' career), and one of Israel's foremost apologists in the US (and defenders of Israel's right to colonize (not that he'd be so stupid as to put it that way) the West Bank.  Abrams criticizes Obama for his multilateral approach to democracy and human rights issues, which he finds much inferior to the bilateral approach under Bush.  In fairness, I'll also note that Wilson quotes Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who said, "There has been a steady evolution in the way he has spoken about human rights that has shown a strengthening in language, in goals and in the U.S. ambition to lead on the issue. . . . What matters most is how these words take effect in policies."

Thing is, the bilateral approach that Abrams touts relied on one-to-one confrontation, with the US making the demands, with the underlying understanding being (as one of Bush's officials said at the time), "what we say, goes" - and that the US had the military and financial muscle to back it up.

Well, it's because of "advisors" like Abrams that Bush, by invading Iraq, threatening Syria and Iran, and botching things in Afghanistan, ran the US military and financial machine into a ditch from which it may never be able to extricate itself.  It seems beyond disingenuous then for Abrams and his ilk (Krauthammer, the WSJ, and Rupert Murdoch's various bullhorns) to enjoin Obama to re-board the bilateralist, American-exceptionalist, our-way-or-the-highway ship when they've already torched and sunk it.  It's gone; over; done.  The US can't afford the financial cost; the US's international reputation and legitimacy - remember that "American values" thing? - can't take the hit. And Andrew Bacevich has so eloquently and often pointed out, the US could never afford it to begin with, can't afford it now, and will be foolish to try to return to it again.

And even if it were to try - by engaging in another military adventure in, say, Pakistan, or Yemen, or Somalia - it will be going in alone.  Its staunchest ally up to now - Great Britain - no longer has the juice to come along for the ride.  The UN's not going to back it either.  Bush may have been willing to be the lonesome cowboy (even if Tony Blair saved him from that).  Obama won't; the US can't.  If the US is to exercise any leadership in human rights and democracy now, it must be as Obama is now outlining: with soft power, and in cooperation, not confrontation.

But he can really buckle down to doing that only after he restores the US military to its appropriate role: a very, very last resort, rather than a standard operating procedure, when it comes to international relations.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CIA’s Afghan Kill Teams Expand U.S. War in Pakistan

Spencer Ackerman at Wired on the revelations forthcoming in the new book from Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars -excerpts from which, as he notes, appear today in both the NY Times and the WaPo. 
 So sad, really - a bright, energetic young man who promised so much change, showed so much promise, who seemed to represent Good and Reason, has ended up, at least when it comes to the US in the world, bringing even more of more of the same - in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, at Guantanamo, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and the jury's still out on how he deals with Iran.
 No progress.  Much disillusionment. More people dying at American hands.  He's running up a big tab, and he'll likely be made to pay for it - at the ballot box in November, in the court of global public opinion, and - perhaps - at the hands of some terror group whose growing disillusionment and anger will spur them to another attack on US interests somewhere in the world, if not here at home. (Note David Ignatius in today's WaPo: terror-alert lights are blinking red all over Europe).

. . . Meanwhile, in Iraq (where's that again?)

Courtesy of Curious Boy George's Middle East adventure,

June 14 was the hottest day ever recorded in Iraq, with the maximum temperature reaching 52 degrees C (125 degrees F) in Basra. And most of the country's residents had to suffer through it with no airconditioners, no refrigerators and no fans. [my emphasis]

Two Iraqis were killed by the police in Basra in June while protesting against the power shortages. The deaths, and ongoing protests over the summer, prompted Iraq's electricity minister Karim Waheed to resign.

"Because Iraqis are not capable of being patient in their suffering, which would be alleviated by the projects I mentioned that will eliminate the shortages of electricity, and as this matter has been politicised on all sides, I am declaring in front of you, with courage, my resignation," Waheed said in a televised address Jun. 21.

"Peace Process" 2010 update

Rami Khouri suggests an excellent proposition for the enfeebled PA president Mahmud Abbas, whose leverage in the current US-backed negotiations (let's be honest: US-demanded negotiations - demanded "Godfather"-style: Hillary made Abbas "an offer he can't refuse") is nil.
Now is the time for Abbas to get over his psychological torment for being edged off center stage by Hamas and others, and make the one promise that would both serve Palestinian national interests as well as reposition the Palestinians in the negotiating process. He should say that if he withdraws from the negotiations in a few weeks he would immediately call a series of meetings of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive and legislative councils, with Hamas and others present, to rejuvenate that which has been missing from these negotiations for several decades: a credible, single, Palestinian position anchored in inclusive consultations and consensus among all the factions, with a strong voice for the scattered refugee communities, aimed at a negotiated peace agreement based on the 2002 Arab summit peace plan.

Quitting the negotiations is a sign of senseless confusion and weakness. Regrouping with national fortitude, credibility and consensus is a sign of maturity and purpose. Now is the moment for Mahmoud Abbas to reveal in which direction he will move.
That the US and Israel continue to reject any proposal to allow Hamas a place at the table tells us all we need to know: Israel has no real interest, and the US no real political will, in achieving a just and lasting peace.  Netanyahu will lift the settlement freeze (if not sooner, then surely later) and Jewish colonization of the West Bank will expand.  (And the slow expulsion - or extermination - of Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem regions like Silwan will continue.) Obama and Hillary may wring their hands in public, but Congress will acquiesce (and the Christian Zionists and other of AIPAC's useful idiots in the halls will exult) - and the Palestinians will be left with nothing but bad options.

So when the humiliation of it all compels some Palestinians to assassinate Jewish settlers in Hebron or elsewhere, Netanyahu will point his finger at the "terrorists"; Hillary, Barack, Wolf Blitzer, Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Fox News will line up behind him; and as the IDF subsequently exacts its usual disproportionate retribution, Mr. and Mrs. Tea Party American will sit back on the sofa, wide screen on the wall, Bud Lite in hand, and rest contented that "justice" had been served - and then switch the channel to ESPN.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Will US-Saudi Arms Deal prevent War with Iran

So says the Washington Note's Steve Clemons in an essay published in the Financial Times.  I hope he's right about the no-attack-on-Iran part, but I have to wonder about the wisdom of this over the long term.

  • the Saudis see themselves as standard bearers for conservative Sunni Islam;
  • Iran, though perhaps no longer the exporter of revolutionary Islam that it once was, is nonetheless a rising Shi'ite regional power;
  • Sunni-Shia tensions in the Persian Gulf are rising (as evidenced by the Bahrain monarchy's decision to revoke the passport of that country's leading Shii cleric);
  • and according to a recent report, a super-Shii political bloc may be poised - with Iran's acquiescence and likely support - to achieve power in Iraq, which is likely to enrage Sunni elements there.
  •  And if Sunni groups in Iraq do rise up, their most likely external support will come from Saudi Arabia - to whom we now purport to furnish arms.  And how might Iran respond to that?

Seems to me the US may be buying more trouble down the line.

Iraq and Syria to Build Oil Pipelines

as reported in the Daily Star.  Looks like Syria's diplomacy is outpacing the US's . . .

The Marja "Success Story"

The NYT's Elizabeth Bumiller files a report from the town of Marja in Afghanistan's Helmand province, about how voter turnout there was depressed by violence and intimidation.  As you may recall, several months ago Marja was touted as the model of how US forces were going to sweep in, eliminate the Taliban, and restore stability, first there, then (it was hoped) Kandahar, for which Marja was supposed to be a dress rehearsal of sorts.  But no sooner had the Marines swept through did the Taliban re-assert themselves, and the Marja campaign was revealed to be another "false dawn" in a series of them throughout much of the country.

Bumiller's report features the frustration of the local Marine commander, who seems almost incredulous that fewer than 100 voters (from a town with a population of 80,000) had shown up at the polling stations.  He seems to feel that 3 or 4 Taliban gunmen (whose firing could be heard from the polling station Bumiller visited) ought not to have been able to keep so many from voting.  It's almost as if he feels that the locals had "wimped out" after he and his marines had put their lives on the line.


I live in a "town" of about 25,000, and I'd bet you that if even only 3 or 4 gunmen (who, I knew, had local support, as the Taliban do in Marja) were running around the area on voting day, I just might stay away.  And we have a reliable and well-trained police force here; I'm betting that Marja does not - nor, I suspect, are the locals going to be all that inclined to view the Marines as a friendly force.

And has the Marine commander forgotten that, in contrast to the locals, he and his marines get to leave Marja once their tour is up?  I don't envy them, surely; they are indeed in harm's way.  But the locals have been in harm's way much longer - for 30 years, actually - and must realize that they'll be in harm's way long after the Americans are gone.

Freeze Settlements . . . and Freeze Lieberman

Superb essay by Akiva Eldar in this morning's Haaretz, in which he suggests that Israeli PM Netanyahu remove Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister (who is, by the way, as Eldar notes, the world's only foreign minister "who goes to bed every night and rises every morning outside his country's sovereign territory") and reach out to Tzipi Livni and the Kadima party to create a new governing coalition that might (and I emphasize, MIGHT) get a deal done with Mahmud Abbas.  Eldar conveniently provides some significant history as well:
The demand to suspend settlement building is no excuse - it's as legitimate a position as the Palestinians can have. Why should they relinquish a condition that has the support of the entire world, with the sole exception of Israel? Nor is freezing construction an Israeli "gesture" - in its May 2003 decision to adopt the Middle East road map Israel committed itself to freezing all settlement activity (including natural growth ) and dismantling outposts established since March 2001. The document states that the settlement issue would be addressed only during final-status negotiations, with the exception of illegal settlements and outposts, which would be removed. Nonetheless, settlement construction has continued, and outposts have both proliferated and expanded.

In November 2003 the road map was passed with UN approval, obligating Israel to freeze construction entirely and raze outposts. All 15 members of the Security Council, including the United States (during the administration of George W. Bush, not Barack Obama ), voted in favor of Resolution 1515. A few days later, while visiting Britain, Bush called on Israel to freeze settlement building, evacuate unauthorized outposts and end the daily humiliation of the Palestinians. Settlement construction continued, and the outposts increased and expanded.

In November 2007 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acceded to Bush's request to attend the Annapolis Conference, which sought to start negotiations toward a final-status agreement. Talks went on until the fall of 2008, and meanwhile, building in the settlements continued and outposts flourished.

On November 26 of last year, following intense pressure from Washington (not as a gesture to the Palestinians, or out of deference to the government's obligations under UN resolutions ), Israel issued a 10-month freeze order. On January 26, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai wrote to Meretz chairman Haim Oron listing the 29 settlements in which construction violations were found.
. . .
. . . one of which is the settlement in which Lieberman himself resides.

If anything, Eldar's essay reminds us that despite all the columns by all the George Will types who harangue the American public with tales of the evil and devious Palestinians, it is the Israelis who have consistently violated agreements to stop building settlements in the West Bank (and who, for that matter, keep kicking Palestinians out of their East Jerusalem homes and moving religious settlers in).  In so doing, they have nurtured tremendous anger among a long-victimized Palestinian population, many of whom turned to Hamas (an organization that Israel itself nurtured during the late 1980s as a foil to Yasser Arafat's secularist-nationalist al-Fatah) as a more credible resistance to Israel's ongoing forcible colonization of their homeland .  To a great extent, the Israeli government has no one but itself to blame for empowering Hamas and reducing moderates like Mahmud Abbas to caricatures of effective leadership.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The American Taliban, and American Leadership

Glenn Greenwald at Salon has written an interesting essay on "The "obscenity" of comparing Americans to "killers and terrorists"" - essentially as a defense of his own embrace of a new book, by Markos Moulitsas, titled The American Taliban.  I haven't seen (much less, read) the book, given that Mount Pleasant, MI, has absolutely ZERO serious bookstores, but evidently the author makes the point that those American pols and pundits who supported the invasion of Iraq along with the Bush-Cheney-Yoo et al. torture and rendition regime can - and ought to be - fairly compared to the extremist elements of the Taliban.  Apparently several progressive commentators have castigated Greenwald for defending Moulitsas' comparison, and in laying out his case, Greenwald makes some points that I find both reasonable and cogent:

The real obscenity are those who stand up and say:  how dare you compare my fellow Americans who did this "to killers and terrorists" (it should be noted that this chart reflects the most conservative estimate of the number of Iraqis killed).  That righteous objection is designed to minimize the breadth and depth of American crimes -- oh, it may be bad, but it's not that bad/American warmongers may be bad, but they're still Americans, and thus shouldn't be compared to those inhuman foreign Muslims over there -- and that's the real "obscenity." 
I believe what's driving the discomfort with the comparison is that we all know people who cheered for the attack on Iraq, America's torture regime, lawless imprisonment and the like.  They're our relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, political allies and sometimes even ourselves.  But few of us know supporters of the Taliban.  Thus, as is always true with people we don't know, we're perfectly comfortable with extreme, two-dimensional demonization of Taliban sympathizers and other Islamic extremists, while taking offense at the notion that the people we know . . .  could possibly be anything like them, notwithstanding their support for similar, extremist actions.  . . .

 I don't consider the Taliban "something utterly foreign, inhuman, and subject to entirely different drives than Us."  Therefore, I don't see the comparison of the American Right (as well as Democrats who support its radical policies) to the Taliban as a suggestion that "the GOP as a whole [is] 'something utterly foreign, inhuman, and subject to entirely different drives than Us'."  That's the whole point:  those who are so upset by this comparison (how dare you compare Americans to the Taliban) have ingested the tribalistic, propagnadistic delusion that no matter what we do, We are always fundamentally different and better than Them.

The cartoonish demonization of our Enemy is accomplished by mindlessly screaming inflammatory, manipulated labels at them --"Terrorists!" -- designed to rob them of their Humanness, obliterate nuances among them, and convert them into some incomprehensible Other.  That's how we justify to ourselves what we do to them.  But the reality is much more complex than that.  As even American military leaders acknowledge, "the Taliban" is composed of many diverse factions with different motivations, including a desire to expel foreign armies (i.e., us) from their country.  Many of their leaders are malicious extremists and monsters who advocate heinous policies and engage in incomprehensibly vile acts, while many of their supporters are motivated by innocuous or even reasonable fears and objectives which are easily exploited.  In other words, they are quite similar in composition and drives to most other political factions which end up endorsing and perpetrating heinous acts, even when those factions are American.

The insistence that this comparison between Us and Them is inherently invalid and even "obscene" lies at the heart of so much mischief -- it's the linchpin of exceptionalism and jingoism -- and it's very disappointing to see this claim being so casually invoked in reaction to this book.  The nature of tribalism is that one always thinks their side is better and the other side worse, and that comparisons between the two sides (or even equal application of standards to each) is deeply unfair and offensive ("moral relativism").  Tribalism is a powerful human drive, which is why even those who are aware of its intoxicating effects and even consciously try to avoid it -- all of us -- nonetheless sometimes succumb to its temptations.
Greenwald's points here I see exemplified almost daily as a professor at a major Midwestern university - specifically, in the vast, deep, almost prideful ignorance of so many young Americans about anything they haven't picked up on ESPN or network sports broadcasts, reality shows, MTV, CNN (and that's only if they're trying to learn something, sorta), their high-school coaches, their pastors' pulpits, or the crap that's incessantly hurled at them across the internet.  Despite my constant exhortations, my use of maps, maps, and more maps in class, too many of them find their way to the end of the semester still unable to locate Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Israel on a map - and if asked to try to do so, will even place them a continent away.  For many of them, as far as they can tell, nothing that happens outside the US really matters (well, perhaps except for those jobs they may be losing to kids in China and India, etc.).  Admittedly, I have seen some welcome improvement at least from those relative few who may be in ROTC or are (or have been) enlisted in the military.  But otherwise, when it comes to understanding the fellow humanity of foreigners who don't speak English, most of them seem to feel no need to even make the attempt. We've made it all too easy for them to lump thousands of human beings across the planet into some amalgamated category of Muslim/terrorist/Taliban/al Qaeda/jihadist/worthless/bad guys . . . Them.  And We are, by definition, without question, Good/Pure of Heart/Peace-loving/Smashmouth/Christian/Chosen/God's Own Warriors/Americans. On its own, that's sad enough.  But when such abysmal ignorance and lack of empathy characterize the majority of the population of a country that prides itself on possessing - and using - the most powerful and far-reaching military on the planet, and that claims to be the nation best suited by its government and values to lead the entire planet to peace and prosperity . . . well, IMHO, that's when all of us need a reality check.

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Iraq Struggles On . . .

The NYT reports another dual car bombing that has killed dozens in Baghdad, with the more lethal of the two occurring just outside a branch office (located in a mostly Shia area) of the National Security Office.

"Al-Qaeda" is still open for business in Iraq . . . and there's still no glimmer of a new government on the horizon.

Disaster in the Making for US Presence in Afghanistan

The WaPo reports that members of a Stryker Brigade platoon in Afghanistan have been charged with killing Afghans for, essentially, the fun of it.  Well, when the theater commander - Marine general James Mattis - exhorts his marines with neanderthalish stuff about how much fun it is to shoot people . . . I mean, golly, what's the problem?  And note the apparent ring-leader:

According to statements given to investigators, members of the unit - 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment - began talking about forming a "kill team" in December, shortly after the arrival of a new member, Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, 25, of Billings, Mont.

Gibbs, whom some defendants have described as the ringleader, confided to his new mates that it had been easy for him to get away with "stuff" when he served in Iraq in 2004, according to the statements. It was his second tour in Afghanistan, having served there from January 2006 until May 2007. [my emphasis]

 And evidently, when one of their buddies reported it, he was treated to a brutal beating, topped off when one of the accused soldiers "menacingly waved finger bones he had collected from Afghan corpses."  Another member of the gang "has also been charged with possessing "a skull taken from an Afghan person's corpse." He allegedly took the head sometime during January or February 2010, but court documents do not specify whether it belonged to the Afghan he is charged with killing."

The US was already making little headway in winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan.  Word of this will spread, rapidly, and will  more or less put paid to any more progress on that score, at least for the time being, I should think.  And if the US military hopes to retain any claims to moral and ethical decency in how it wages war, it will respond, not by trying to dampen down the impact by attributing this to a few bad apples, but by combing the evidence for more such atrocities and coming clean about them.

Perhaps Julian Assange could be of help?

The Indus Flood and Pakistan's Internal Fault Lines

A recent AP report highlights the deep distrust plaguing relations between the different parts of the country, and especially the animosities toward the Punjab region, Pakistan's richest.  A project to build a new dam (the Kalabagh) along the Indus has been on the books for awhile.  It would provide a new source of ample, much-needed electricity for the national grid, and would also help regulate and disperse floodwaters - a need that the recent floods - now cited as the most catastrophic natural disaster in the country's history - spotlighted.

Unfortunately, that project has been a non-starter because farmers in Pakistan's provinces downstream from the Punjab, such as Sindh, are convinced that Punjabis will hog most of the water and leave them without enough.  One's first impulse, sitting in one's armchair or at one's desk, might be to exhort the Sindhis with that all-American imprecation to "lead, follow, or get out of the way," but the fact of the matter is that an examination of the recent history of dam-building and water release along the Tigris and Euphrates suggests that the Sindhis may have reason to be concerned.  Iraqis especially have been dealing with major water shortages over the last 20 or more years - caused to some extent by persisting drought, but even more so by dam projects in both Syria and Turkey that have enabled those countries to divert more water for their own uses, leaving Iraqis increasingly desperate, their leaders insisting that countries upstream need to be more fair in dealing with the issue.  Syria and Turkey protest and proclaim their even-handedness, but the fact is that their geographic situation upstream along those two historically vital waterways gives them a tremendous advantage, one that can use to extort cooperation from Iraq.

One might protest, in Pakistan's case: yes, but aren't they all Pakistanis?  Why can't they all just get along?  To do so would be to reveal our own deeply seated ignorance about Pakistan's founding and history.  For many Sindhis, the Punjab might just as well be another country.  And issues such as building this dam, combined with the fissures that the recent Indus flooding have opened in Pakistan, the ongoing "Taliban" insurgency against the government, and the continuing ethnic and sectarian (mostly anti-Shia) violence, suggest that Pakistan may well be flirting with a descent into "failed state" status.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Obama's Dilemma

Very thoughtful piece from Stephen Walt on why Obama's failure to make significant change in US foreign policy is not entirely - or even mostly - his fault.  He's boxed in by too many realities of established diplo-think and military-industrial relations, as well as the "hegemon's dilemma," says Walt.

Perhaps - and he makes a good case - but it leaves me even more depressed and concerned about where the US is headed if we're reduced to simply throwing up our hands and accepting that our foreign policy establishment are not much better than lemmings headed off the cliff.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Iraq's Complexities

Ned Parker of the LA Times has a report today that bodes ill for Iraq's future, and also testifies to the social and political complexities that undercut nation-building there.  It's ominous in its assertion that al-Qaeda is re-emerging in Iraq.  That's hardly news, of course.  It's been noted by several sources for months now as suicide and car bombings - especially against the police - have ramped up.  It's likely that they will persist, although such happenings - devastating to Iraqi lives - will be increasingly out of Americans' awareness now that "combat operations" have been declared over (even though 50,000 troops remain in Iraq and, as Reuters reports and some of the soldiers complain, are still in danger).

Parker's report, however, reminds us that the so-called US "victory" that was produced by Petraeus' "surge" was won as much - even more perhaps - by Sunni tribesmen who decided to turn against the al-Qaeda groups with whom they had previously allied as fellow resistance fighters against the US presence in Iraq.  They became members of the Sahwa, the "Sunni Awakening" that worked with the US military, which provided them needed financial support.  (Some might call it bribes.) But when the US bequeathed the Sahwa fighters to the tender mercies of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, we effectively hung them out on a limb.  Maliki's government did not come through with the jobs that they had promised them, and even began to round them up and detain them.  (Many of them are undoubtedly among the 30,000 still detained in Iraqi prisons, where, according to a new report from Amnesty International, they deal with frequent torture.) 

Now, feeling sold out by their erstwhile American patrons and preyed upon by the government, these one-time heroes live in fear of reprisals from the re-emerging al-Qaeda groups.  As Parker reports, the new al-Qaeda leaders are not especially extremist ideologues, but sometimes only local tough guys who are after money and local status, and have tribal scores to settle with former Sahwa members.

So, as Iraq's politicians continue to wrestle - 6 months after the elections! - with building a government, al-Qaeda is getting to its feet again, ready and able to smack down Baghdad's rule.  And the groups that helped lead the attack against al-Qaeda in Iraq - the Sunni Awakening fighters and the US military - are on the ebb.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The US, al-Qaeda, and Obama's Road to Ruin in Afghanistan

As Iraq steadily recedes to the lower tiers of America's collective consciousness (and the inner pages of the papers), the mess that is Afghanistan (where, as Asia Times columnist Pepe Escobar puts it, Mr. Obama is still being held hostage to George Bush's war - even if Obama is doing damn little to extricate himself, and the US) seems to be getting only worse.  Regardless of the US military's talking heads' predictable protests to the contrary, the Taliban and their affiliates have the momentum: they're getting stronger and more numerous, and the upcoming (and long-promised) big show in Kandahar has no real hope of being the decisive victory that the US desperately needs if Obama and Petraeus are to  be able to claim any real progress in the end-of-year policy review.   As the NY Times reports today, NGOs in Afghanistan are making it plain that overall security in Afghanistan is deteriorating:
Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters. As NATO  forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east. . . .

Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.

The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers.
At the same time, in its relations and policies with Hamid Karzai's government, it's becoming more obvious by the day that the US is talking out of both sides of its mouth.  Hillary Clinton and her cohort insist that the US is adamant that Karzai eliminate corruption in his government; yet Karzai consistently continues to take actions that undermine anti-corruption investigations and prosecutions; fires ministers that try to take an anti-corruption stand; and constantly protects family members - including two of his own brothers - who are up to their neck in bribery, intimidation, you name it.  And a recent report by the WaPo's Greg Miller  -  a must-read on this score - illuminates the Catch-22 element in all of this.  The more the US works to expose corruption, the more political crises it creates for Karzai - who, regardless of the slime in which he's coated, remains the US's man in Afghanistan, one to whom the US clings doggedly even while he slips more and more out of our grasp  - - and into the embrace of the Taliban, with whom - he knows, as does virtually any other intellectually sentient being on the planet - he needs to do some kind of deal if he's to have any hope of saving himself from swinging from a lamp post when the US withdraws . . . which, he knows, it surely is going to do, if not sooner, then not much later.  And MEANWHILE, the same corrupt characters whom the US so desperately wants Karzai to shuck off (or, so its says) are on the payroll of the CIA (as reported by Dexter Filkins in the NY Times).  I mean, it's laughable, hilarious . . . except for the fact that more than 100,000 American military are laying it on the line over there, and thousands of Afghans have been caught up in this mess.

And it's largely a mess that we created - by "Boy George" W. Bush's decision to launch the fiasco that still is Iraq, rather than sticking with the Afghanistan "mission" effectively enough to perhaps reach some sort of accommodation with the Taliban while there was still a chance of that.  Too late now: the Taliban regrouped, morphing largely into an ethnic Pashtun resistance movement against the presence of US and NATO occupiers (and occupiers historically have never ever been welcome, or lasted long, in that region) and against the afore-mentioned corrupt Karzai government, itself a creature brought into being by the efforts of those occupiers, and then sustained by the occupiers' acquiescence in a ridiculously flawed election that kept Karzai in power.

And, by the way, if it isn't obvious by now: the US and its allies have no chance of  the Taliban; they didn't have a chance in 2001 (to defeat them militarily and force them out of Kabul was not the same as eliminating them), and - Petraeus/COIN or no Petraeus - they have absolutely no chance in 2010, or ever. 

No, the parallels with Vietnam (and, for that matter, the Soviet Union's disastrous 10-year adventure in Afghanistan) are not perfectly in synch - but they needn't be.  They're obvious enough, and plentiful enough - especially in how things turn out.  Communists did gain power in Vietnam after the US was forced out - but, the world as we knew it did not come to an end, and the wise men in D.C. discovered that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese who fought with them were mostly nationalists fighting against continued colonialism, not the self-appointed vanguard of a worldwide Communist take-over.  (Of course, if they had taken the time to read studies like Frances Fitzgerald's brilliant 1973 book, Fire in the Lake, they might have at least belatedly been enlightened.)  Now, of  course, Obama's stated purpose in "surging" US forces into Afghanistan (what we called "escalation" in the 1960s) is to eliminate the "threat" from al-Qaeda that the Taliban are still believed to represent.  . . .

Which makes Tony Karon's latest in Time (Nine Years After 9/11, Is Al-Qaeda's Threat Overrated?) so timely - and Pepe Escobar's essay is very worthwhile in this regard as well.  Escobar notes:
There are no more than 60 Arab al-Qaeda jihadis in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, along with a few Uzbeks, Chechens and Turks. And there are around 50 Arab al-Qaeda jihadis who have crossed the border to Afghanistan - more or less the same estimate expressed by US Central Intelligence Agency supremo Leon Panetta over two months ago.

So essentially Washington is spending tsunamis of cash to fight a bunch of Arab jihadi instructors. Worse; what the US/NATO are actually fighting is a remixed version of the anti-Soviet 1980s jihad - a liberation war against foreign invasion.

Karon notes about the al-Qaeda "threat":
 The only al-Qaeda "chapter" to gain any traction was the one that came into existence in Iraq in response to the U.S. invasion, and thrived while its presence was tolerated as a force multiplier by mainstream Sunni insurgents. But the group's ideology and propensity for vicious sectarian murder of Shi'ites turned the insurgents against them, and eventually the bulk of the insurgency turned on al-Qaeda, with many Sunni insurgents going onto the U.S. payroll under the rubric of the "Awakening" movement. (The uptick of al-Qaeda attacks in Iraq in recent months has coincided with the growing alienation of Sunnis, particularly in the "Awakening" movement, from the Shi'ite-led government. And a political solution to Iraq's political conflict will no doubt once again shut it out.)

A similar fate almost certainly awaits the movement in Afghanistan, where its erstwhile Taliban ally is fighting a nationalist campaign against foreign armies, which will inevitably end in a power-sharing political settlement. And even Taliban leaders have indicated they won't allow their territory to be used as a base to export terrorism.

If anything, hostility towards the U.S. in the Muslim world has actually escalated over the past nine years, because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel's conflicts with its neighbors. But al-Qaeda, ironically, remains on the margins. It's not inconceivable that bin Laden's men will get lucky again at some point in the future, but not even another major terror strike would change the basic calculus of al-Qaeda's demise.

All of which begs the question: If the alleged threat from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the reason why US troops are being killed and maimed in Afghanistan, yet there are likely no more than 100 al-Qaeda operatives in those countries (plus likely some others in the Central Asian formerly Soviet-controlled "stans"), then . . . what are we really trying achieve?  And can any real good come from it all?

Friday, September 10, 2010

US Pushing New Plan for an Iraqi government

The NYT's Michael Gordon and Anthony Shadid have the story on yet another plan that the US is pushing that would keep its "man" Nuri al-Maliki in the prime minister's office, but still bring Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi into some semblance of power, along with the Kurdish bloc.
"The new plan would alter the structure of Iraq’s government by bringing additional restraints to the authority of Iraq’s prime minister and establishing a new committee with authority to approve military appointments, review the budget and shape security policy. "
Notably left out of the deal, though, are the parties of the INA, the alliance of Shii religious parties, which include ISCI and the Sadrists, parties associated with the two most esteemed clerical lineages in Iraq - the al-Hakim and al-Sadr families.  The Sadrists won a significant number of parliamentary seats in the last election; Muqtada al-Sadr is the leader with the largest popular appeal in the country, especially among the mass of urban poor in Baghdad and Basra.  He despises al-Maliki for his decision in 2008 to send in Iraqi troops to hammer his militia in Basra and Sadr City, so would not be well disposed to participating in a government ostensibly led by him.   But how the US expects any Iraqi government without the Sadrists' support to be effective escapes me.

On the other hand, the US has its own dog in this fight - in its determination to keep Iran's influence out of Iraq's government.  ISCI has had especially close ties with Iran - indeed, its leadership lived there in exile during Saddam's regime, and returned only after his ouster by the US invasion - so keeping them out of the government is a plus for the US.  But again, leaving Muqtada al-Sadr out is going to be problematic - and ironically, of all the current aspirants to political power, he is the only one who stayed in Iraq during the Saddam era; the others were living in exile.  And, Muqtada, despite his residence as a student in the Shii seminary city of Qom in Iran  in recent years - and his frequent contacts with the Iranian leadership - has long championed Iraqi nationalism, with a unified, not-partitioned, Iraq.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Pastor" Jones' Quran-burning event

AFP reports on the outrage across the Middle East.  Virtually any leader of note - Obama and Netanyahu among them - has come out against the idiocy of "Pastor Jones' Quran-burning event.  But Tony Karon may have nailed it best when he opined (in Time mag.) that the entire thing is designed as much to give Jones a chance to use his Warholian 15 minutes of fame to make himself into a "somebody."

And one has to wonder if this is but one more manifestation of the downside of the 24-hour news cycle.  Cable news services desperate to seize upon juicy stories in order to attract viewers and keep those advertising dollars rolling in.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Southern Evangelicals - Some of al-Qaeda's Best Friends

At a time when US forces in Afghanistan are desperate to win Afghan hearts and minds, southern Christian evangelicals (specifically, the Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center) has decided to recruit for al-Qaeda.  As reported by the AP:
Monday, several hundred Afghans shouted anti-American slogans and "death" to President Barack Obama to protest plans by a Florida church to burn the Islamic holy book the Quran on Saturday to mark the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States that provoked the Afghan war.

The crowd listened to fiery speeches from members of parliament, provincial council deputies, and Islamic clerics who criticized the U.S. and demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. Some threw rocks when a U.S. military convoy passed, but speakers shouted at them to stop and told police to arrest anyone who disobeyed.

The Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center announced plans to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds but has been denied a permit to set a bonfire. The church, which made headlines last year after distributing T-shirts that said "Islam is of the Devil," has vowed to proceed with the burning.

"We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States," said Abdul Shakoor, an 18-year-old high school student who said he joined the protest after hearing neighborhood gossip about the Quran burning.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning Dove World Outreach Center's plans, saying Washington was "deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups."

Protesters who had gathered in front of Kabul's Milad ul-Nabi mosque raised placards and flags emblazoned with slogans calling for the death of Obama, while police looked on. They burned American flags and a cardboard effigy of Dove World Outreach Center's pastor, Terry Jones, before dispersing peacefully.

Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and demand it, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad, be treated with the utmost respect. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is considered deeply offensive.

In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Naivete of the Direct-Talks Optimists

Haaretz's Aluf Benn, a well-respected commentator, writes of a "changed Netanyahu" who in his opinion is truly determined to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.  He notes that
"Ten months ago, Netanyahu told me in a phone interview for Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily where I am a columnist and editor: "I want to promote a peace agreement with the Palestinians. I can bring a deal." I wrote afterward that I believed him, only to receive mocking comments from many readers who called me naive."
I wish he'd listened.  Netanyahu is a smooth and savvy political operator who knows that
  • Obama needs some sort of foreign-policy "progress" to hang Democrats' November election hopes on, and by pushing these "talks" Netanyahu can give him that
  • Netanyahu needs the US to keep pushing  a hard line against Iran, and a grateful Obama will be more likely to comply
  • PA president Mahmud Abbas has been reduced - by Israel's policies and actions over the last several years - to the lightest of political lightweights, desperate to retain the US's support, but only able to keep it by playing along with yet another negotiations charade
  • holding to a hard line vs. the Palestinians would only isolate Israel more, and give world opinion a stronger case for insisting that Hamas be brought into the "peace process" - the last thing Netanyahu wants
Giving back any sizable portion of the West Bank to the Palestinians will likely produce a civil war in Israel, as well as mutiny among some IDF units, and it will also cause Netanyahu's coalition to crumble and his government to fall.  He's playing for time; and he has no intention of offering the Palestinian side anything even close to acceptable to them, or just in the context of history.

A NY Times analysis suggests that Hillary Clinton may have the diplomatic skill and tenacity to get something done - citing among other things her famous backseat of the limo, dual cell-phones diplomacy that got Turkey and Armenia to sign off on an agreement.  Good for her - but the fact of the matter is that that deal has never been implemented.

Same thing applies here.  Hillary may be able to cajole and bully Abbas into signing some sort of feel-good document with Netanyahu - but without Hamas being included, it will be worth less than the paper it's printed on.

Friday, September 3, 2010

AP: 'Combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is'

Courtesy of Slate's regular updates, a forthright memo from within the AP;
 AP: 'Combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is'
Memo from the AP's standards editor

From: Kent, Tom
Sent: Thursday, September 02, 2010 5:30 PM
Subject: Standards Center guidance: The situation in Iraq


Many AP staffers are producing content that refers to the situation in Iraq. It might be a local story about Iraq veterans, an international diplomatic story that mentions the Iraqi conflict or coverage on the ground in Iraq itself.

Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.

To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country's future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.

As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."

However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.

In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.

Our stories about Iraq should make clear that U.S. troops remain involved in combat operations alongside Iraqi forces, although U.S. officials say the American combat mission has formally ended. We can also say the United States has ended its major combat role in Iraq, or that it has transferred military authority to Iraqi forces. We can add that beyond U.S. boots on the ground, Iraq is expected to need U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter possible attack from abroad.

Unless there is balancing language, our content should not refer to the end of combat in Iraq, or the end of U.S. military involvement. Nor should it say flat-out (since we can't predict the future) that the United States is at the end of its military role.


"Negotiations" and the Challenge Facing Obama

Hussein Ibish's analysis at the Foreign Policy website is one of the best I've seen in terms of providing political context for yesterday's "summit" in DC as it involves Mahmud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, and especially, for Barack Obama, who has put US credibility squarely on the line.  And as regards Obama's credibility, and election prospects, Roger Cohen's latest essay in the NYT is a must-read - albeit a depressing one if you, like me, are fearful of a Republican comeback in November.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ehud Barak: Palestinians Should Get Part of Jerusalem

Very interesting comments reported by Ari Shavit in Haaretz, about what Israel envisions for Jerusalem as part of any peace deal with the Palestinians:
What are the principles of a peace deal that you believe can be agreed upon by the conclusion of the talks?

"Two states for two nations; an end to the conflict and the end of all future demands; the demarcation of a border that will run inside the Land of Israel, and within that border will lie a solid Jewish majority for generations and on the other side will be a demilitarized Palestinian state but one that will be viable politically, economically, and territorially; keeping the settlement blocs in our hands; retrieving and relocating the isolated settlements into the settlement blocs or within Israel; a solution to the refugee problem [whereby refugees return to] the Palestinian state or are rehabilitated by international aid; comprehensive security arrangements and a solution to the Jerusalem problem."

What is the solution in Jerusalem?

"West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are home to 200,000 residents will be ours. The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinians live will be theirs. There will be a special regime in place along with agreed upon arrangements in the Old City, the Mount of Olives and the City of David."

The pieces about Jerusalem are quite a departure from the "eternal and indivisible capital" rhetoric that Netanyahu, Lieberman et al. have invariably insisted on.  On the other hand, I'm very curious about the wording about "West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are home to 200,000 residents" that will be Israel's.  Are these neighborhoods within West Jerusalem?  Or are they among the neighborhoods where Jewish religious settlers have been ousting long-established Palestinian families over the last months?

Even with such a "magnanimous" offer though (which I'd be very surprised to see Netanyahu back up if the question was put to him), what Barak enunciates still leaves Israel in violation of long-standing international law (not that Israel has really ever cared about that):
  • Palestinians in diaspora will be allowed to return to the new Palestinian state, or will be compensated otherwise.  Per usual, Israel rejects the "right of return" (which, again,is enshrined in international law).
  • The large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank will be incorporated into the state of Israel.  Again, those settlement "blocs" are the fruit of a colonial enterprise (again, illegal under international law) that got under way in the aftermath of the 1967 war.  And interestingly, Barak makes no mention of compensating the Palestinians with land already inside Israel in exchange for Israel's absorption of those blocs.  Such a provision was prominent in earlier proposals.
Those earlier negotiations, by the way, are referenced in what Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak proposed in an op-ed in today's NY Times:
The broad parameters of a permanent Palestinian-Israeli settlement are already clear: the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 with Jerusalem as a capital for both Israel and Palestine. Previous negotiations have already resolved many of the details on the final status of refugees, borders, Jerusalem and security.

For its part, Israel should make no mistake: settlements and peace are incompatible, as they deepen the occupation that Palestinians seek to end. A complete halt to Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is critical if the negotiations are to succeed, starting with an extension of Israel’s moratorium on settlement-building, which expires this month.

For both sides trust can be built only on tangible security. Security, however, cannot be a justification for Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land, as it undermines the cardinal principle of land for peace. I recognize that Israel has legitimate security needs, needs that can be reconciled with the Palestinians’ just demand for a complete withdrawal from occupied territory. Egypt believes that the presence of an international force in the West Bank, to be stationed for a period to be agreed upon by the parties, could give both sides the confidence and security they seek.

I'm afraid that last bit about the international force will be a non-starter for the Israelis, who blame just such an international force (the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon) for not preventing  Hezbollah from re-establishing and even strengthening its presence there.

Finally, I fear that all of these proposals will be rendered moot by Hamas' killing yesterday of four Jewish settlers near Hebron in the West Bank.  Hamas, which is not represented in the upcoming "summit" in D.C., was obviously trying to make a statement about its refusal to accept the legitimacy of the negotiations, and to upend the process.  Whether the Israelis will refrain from exacerbating tensions by striking back remains to be seen - but I'm not betting on it.


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