Sunday, December 18, 2011

‘Blue bra girl’ atrocity: Egyptian military police more than brutal (VIDEO) — RT

It's truly difficult to watch a video such as this, but too many Americans have been numbed by the sanitized brutality of video games, pro wrestling or "Survivor," or the inane stuff that MTV (?) broadcasts on "Ridiculousness" - where "contributors" send in "hilarious" videos that often show people either injuring themselves, or getting injured in unexpected ways (like the toddler who was sent flying by a break dancer's wayward kick).

This, on the other hand, is real brutality, inflicted viciously on completely defenseless people (in this instance, a young Egyptian woman who had come to Tahrir Square - perhaps to protest, perhaps to witness - does it really matter?)

It's obvious that even with the protests of January and the elections of November in Egypt, and even the empowering of a new government in Tunisia, the Arab Spring is budding out, but a long way from blooming.

‘Blue bra girl’ atrocity: Egyptian military police more than brutal (VIDEO) — RT

Friday, December 16, 2011

Netanyahu declines to pen New York Times op-ed

As reported in the WaPo:

A senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the leader has refused an offer to write an opinion piece for the New York Times, accusing the paper’s opinion pages of anti-Israel bias.

The unusual public refusal appears to reflect the hardline Israeli government’s increasingly prickly relations with much of the outside world.

In a letter to the Times published in The Jerusalem Post website, Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer says the prime minister decided to “respectfully decline” penning an opinion piece. He says past op-ed articles in the Times have “vilified” Israel and “constantly distort the positions of our government.”

Poor, sad, picked-upon Bibi has taken chutzpah to a new level.  For the last several decades, the NYT has had Israel's back.  Yes, it does indeed publish a range of opinions on Israeli actions and policies, but this is the same NYT op-ed page that once had William Safire defending Israel no matter what, that still has Thomas Friedman constantly reminding us that, yes, Israel does mess up, but those Persians and Arabs (with the exception of those Arabs who, like Salam Fayyad or Anwar al-Sadat, are willing to make nice with Israel) are meshugga.

And it's the same NYT whose principal journalist on the job in Israel, Ethan Bronner, is closely tied to the Israeli establishment.  His son served in the IDF; and during that time, the NYT refused to reassign Bronner to another post.  And get this (from Wikipedia):

In September, 2011, a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review revealed that in 2009, a year after becoming Jerusalem correspondent for the New York Times, Bronner had joined the speakers bureau of one of Israel’s top public relations firms, Lone Star Communications. Lone Star Communications arranged speaking events for Bronner and took a commission on his fee, as well as pitched stories for him to cover. The revelation resulted in an number of articles commenting on conflicts of interests and impartiality and caused Bronner to end his relationship with Lone Star Communications.

Nonetheless, Bibi decides that the NYT is simply too hostile a venue for him to publish an op-ed.

Not that I feel a need to complain to the NYT about that.  But you can bet that a lot of subscribers will - and that Krauthammer and Fox News will hammer the NYT, con gusto.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Iraq, Fubar: What the US Leaves Behind

From Kim Sengupta in The Independent, a reminder of another of the myriad ways in which Boy George's Iraq Adventure left the country fubar (if you don't know, that's military shorthand for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition):

Not far from where the speeches were taking place lay grim evidence which refuted the claims that the Americans were leaving behind a land of stability and prosperity. More than 8,000 people are living in squalor in a field of mud and foetid water, with huts made of rags and salvaged pieces of wood.

The residents of Al-Rahlat camp are among 1.3 million refugees in their own country; families driven out of their homes by the sectarian violence spawned by the war. Another 1.6 million fled Iraq for neighbouring states, mainly Jordan and Syria. Those in Syria, with its escalating violence, are now having to seek another place of safety.

There is a third group who are particularly vulnerable – around 70,000 people who worked for the US military. They were promised the offer of refuge in the US, but little has been done fulfil the pledge. Barack Obama, while campaigning for the White House four years ago, berated the Bush administration over the issue, saying: "The Iraqis who stood with us are being targeted for assassination, yet our doors are shut. That is not how we treat our friends." In 2008 Congress passed a bill for special immigration visas to be issued for 25,000, but only 3,000 have been processed during Obama's presidency.

Around 450,000 of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) are living in the worst conditions, crammed into 380 street settlements scattered around the country. They have little or no access to clean water, sanitation or medical care. Many of these people, deemed to be illegally squatting, cannot get the documents necessary to register for welfare relief or take up jobs, or enrol their sons and daughters in schools. The tension and claustrophobia of such an existence has led to psychological problems, especially among children. Domestic violence is rife.

She continues with specific case studies.  Well worth reading, and reflecting on . . . .

As is this piece by her Independent colleague Patrick Cockburn about the "superpower not strong enough to set Iraq on course."

Panetta: "Those lives were not lost in vain."

Thus did US SecDef Leon Panetta proclaim today in Baghdad, where he publicly declared the War in Iraq to be over.

It's over indeed for the US.  (Indeed, for thousands of Americans more caught up in Facebook and "American Idol," it barely mattered to begin with.  They partied on.)

Thomas Ricks noted only a few years ago that Iraq's troubles were nowhere near ending, and that we might be closer to the middle of Iraq's war than to its end.  I fear that he may have been right.  Regardless of the assertions by Panetta and others that Iraq is now stable, there's still way too much there that's not:

  1. Maliki has become a Saddam-lite, and as the US completes its pullout and various demons begin to crawl out of the woodwork, he will likely decide to emulate the departed dictator ever more.
  2. Saboteurs are blowing up Iraq's pipelines with relative impunity - and the question of who's going to help Iraq extract the oil remains vexed, at best.
  3. Kirkuk remains up for grabs, as does much of the Arab-Kurd frontier north of Baghdad.
  4. Various Iraqi provinces are expressing a growing desire for federalist-style autonomy vs. a centralized state.  (See #1)
  5. Syria's blooming civil-sectarian war will surely spill over into Iraq.
  6. Iraq still faces a huge problem with internal refugees.

I could go on. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hey, GOP. Wanna Marginalize America Even Further?

Then make the clown otherwise known as Newt Gingrich your presidential nominee.

At a time when the US is struggling to keep itself relevant in a rapidly changing Middle East, Gingrich - evidently a front-runner now in many of the polls measuring support for possible GOP presidential nominees - surely has managed to alienate most of whatever friends the US had on the "Arab street."  As Michigan's senator Carl Levin commented,  “Gingrich offered no solutions — just a can of gasoline and a match.”

Paul Woodward provides great commentary, and all the links you need, at War in Context.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ashura Bombings in Iraq - and Afghanistan

The last couple of days in Iraq - and in Shia communities across the Middle East - have been marked by the commemorative activities of Ashura, which remembers the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali (grandson of the prophet Muhammad) and his small band of followers at the Battle of Karbala in 680, a pivotal date in the process whereby Shiism distinguished an identity separate from that of the majority Sunni.

But in Iraq, Ashura has brought this year - as in every year since the US invasion in 2003 - numerous bombings by Sunni extremists who set off bombs that maim and kill dozens of the hundreds of thousands of innocent Shia pilgrims who process to Karbala and other Shia shrine-cities in Iraq.

(And also reported today: Ashura bombings in Kabul and Mazar-i-sharif in Afghanistan that have also killed dozens of Shia there.)

The NYT's report of one of the latest bombings notes that one bomb exploded very near a mosque in Babil province associated with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered and followed marja-i-taqlid ("source of emulation" - i.e., spiritual guide) among the world's Shia today - and perhaps the single most politically influential figure on what one might call Iraq's Shiite "street."  It was his ability to bring millions of Shia onto the street in protest that forced the US to agree to elections to determine a new Iraqi government.

I shudder to imagine the horrors that even an attempted assassination of Sistani might bring to Iraq.  Remember, the Sunni-Shia civil war that consumed so many thousands of lives in Iraq from 2006 on was kicked off by Sunni extremists bombing another of Iraq's great Shia shrines, the golden-domed al-Askari shrine in Samarra (where the mosque's rebuilding stirs Sunni-Shia antagonisms).

As the deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq looms ever closer (even as withdrawals from Afghanistan are announced), it's certain that Iraq remains a very "unfinished" situation - but that it is not in the power of the US to "finish" or "fix" Iraq.  It never was. Bush was warned in 2002, and he ought to have known better.

Historians will hold him - and the Dick Cheneys and Condi Rices of the time - to account - but the great American people have moved on to whatever new shiny baubles the 24-hour news cycle serially dangles before their eyes.  

And, we can be sure, within months after the last US soldier is out of Iraq, as bombings and assassinations continue, and the ineffectual Iraqi parliament dithers and stalls, oh-so-many still clueless Americans will be scratching their heads, incredulous, wondering: "Gosh, we liberated those people. Why can't those Eye-rack-ee's just get along?"

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Israel and American Jews: WTF Was Bibi Thinking?!

The NYT reports that Israel's Ministry for Immigrant Absorption wised up (though hardly in the nick of time) and removed from its website several video promotions that did nothing whatsoever to "promote" good feeling between Israel and the majority of American Jews.

One video advertisement shows a Jewish elderly couple distraught that their Israeli granddaughter in the United States thinks Hanukkah is Christmas. Another shows a clueless American boyfriend who does not get why his Israeli expatriate girlfriend is saddened on Israel’s memorial day. A third shows a toddler calling “Daddy! Daddy!” to his napping Israeli expatriate father, who finally awakens when the child switches to Hebrew: “Abba!”

For many American Jews, the Israeli government-sponsored ads, intended to cajole Israelis living in the United States to come home, smacked of arrogance, ignorance and cultural disrespect of America. Jewish groups in the United States expressed outrage, saying they were causing a rift with American Jews who support Israel. On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aborted the campaign.

The ads — short videos and billboard posters — were intended to touch the sensibilities of Israeli expatriates and tap into their national identity, according to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, which oversaw the campaign.

But critics said the ads implied that moving to America led to assimilation and an erosion of Jewish consciousness. The Jewish Federations of North America called them insulting. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called the videos “heavy-handed, and even demeaning.”

Israeli officials defended the desire to encourage Israeli expatriates to return, but the reaction of American Jewry, a crucial mainstay of support for Israel, clearly caused alarm.

“We are very attentive to the sensitivities of the American Jewish community,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu. “When we understood there was a problem, the prime minister immediately ordered the campaign to be suspended.”

The ads were placed by the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption, headed by Sofa Landver, who immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1979. She belongs to the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party led by Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. The party takes a hard line on the peace process with the Palestinians and advocates exchanging parts of Israel heavily populated by Arab citizens for Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank.

A spokesman for the ministry, Elad Sonn, said no insult had been intended; the ministry “respects and cherishes” the American Jewish community, and “we wish to apologize to those who might have been offended.”

There's a weird disconnect here that leaves one almost breathless.  Netanyahu can come to the US, waltz onto Capitol Hill, be lionized by both houses of Congress (the majority of whose members have publicly sworn their fealty to Lord Bibi), and be reassured that they've got his back.  But then, he (or his government; I wonder how well informed he was about those videos before the ministry posted them; still it's on him, ultimately) has the chutzpah - and, frankly, the gross stupidity - to run videos that clearly demean American Judaism.  (Let's be real: it take a lot to get Abe Foxman to speak so critically of the Israeli government.) 

A lot of Americans are - and will remain - clueless about all of this.  And I suppose that it might take a lot more than this for Pastor Hagee and those "good Christians" who have signed on with CUFI to turn away from Bibi.  (After all, the welfare of Israel and American Jews concerns them only to the extent that ensuring it might hasten the Second Coming, at which point they're all toast, according to Christian scripture.)

But at a time when (as SecDef Leon Panetta has lamented recently) Israel has become dangerously isolated both regionally and globally - and is on the verge of becoming isolated even worse (with the emergence of anti-Israel Islamist parties - and allies of Hamas - in the Egyptian political forefront) - Bibi couldn't have picked a worse time to alienate so many thousands of citizens of the country that (rightly or wrongly) has shielded it, at the UN and in the court of international opinion.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hillary's Chutzpah: lectures Pakistan for no-show at Bonn Meeting

Only days after a US airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Ms. Clinton has the chutzpah to lecture the Pakistani government for deciding to boycott the upcoming meeting in Bonn about Afghanistan.
Clash Between NATO and Pakistani Forces Defused -
“Frankly, it is regrettable that Pakistan has decided not to attend the conference in Bonn, because this conference has been long in the planning,” Mrs. Clinton said in Busan, South Korea before flying to Myanmar on Wednesday.
“Pakistan, like the United States, has a profound interest in a secure, stable, increasingly democratic Afghanistan. Our gathering in Bonn thiscoming Monday is intended to further that goal.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

America as Middle East's Wallflower

The last couple of days have been chock-full of events and reports that make it clear: as far as the Middle Eastern "room" is concerned, the US has gone from 2-ton gorilla to wallflower.

OK, OK - "leading from behind" in Libya was perhaps an exception to that.  But as far as the US is concerned, Libya is so "yesterday."  And don't be surprised if Obama/Clinton work hard to distance themselves from the ever messier situation there, as the militias who fought and suffered (especially at Misrata) to eradicate Qaddafi now are proving reluctant to play nice with the Provisional Government.  Even if Libyans now seem ecstatic to see Qaddafi gone, the US may soon look back to his era as the good old days when Libya was stable, and ruled (however badly) by the devil we knew.

And as Patrick Cockburn points out, Libya was a cakewalk compared to finding some solution to the bloody mess in Syria, where (as Anthony Shadid has pointed out) sectarian war is blooming.  American/Western supremacists (like Lee Smith at Billy Kristol's the Weekly Standard) are calling out Obama, and calling for imposing a no-fly zone.  More realistic commentators (like Doug Bandow at the National Interest) point out the hubris of any proposed American attack on Syria.  Odd that Kristol's writers promote ousting a regime that Israel's leaders fear to see vanish (again, Bashar is that devil they know).

Egypt is now in its third day of liberal+Islamists protests against the military junta that imposed its control after ousting Mubarak.  The elections there - which were set to begin this week - are imperiled.  Liberal/progressives may want them held up anyway, as the Muslim Brotherhood stands ready to dominate them.  In any event, it's all beyond the US's ability to control events.  And if the SCAF junta is ousted somehow, and a government more responsive to popular will takes charge, the US will be largely reduced to the role of a window shopper with nose pressed to the glass, looking in, but most assuredly from the outside, even as such a government takes steps to distance itself from Israel - and the 1979 peace treaty - even more.

Same goes for Iraq, where the mess that George W. made in Mesopotamia gets even messier as US troops continue a withdrawal much lamented by Kaganites and other neocons.  The US military's departure from its base near Kirkuk has ratcheted up tensions between the militaries of the Baghdad central government  and the Kurdish Regional Government - while (bless their hearts) our intrepid entrepreneurs at ExxonMobil have stirred the pot even more by signing oil production deals with the Kurds, despite the fact that Iraq's government has yet to conclude a national oil law that will govern the distribution of oil profits.  Leave it to US Big Oil to undermine the efforts of US troops who teamed with Arab and Kurd forces over the last couple of years  in order to promote cooperation between them.  The same corporations who poured big bucks into the election campaigns of the Bush-Cheney team that got so many American soldiers (and Iraqi people) killed in Iraq while helping install "democracy" (or did they?) under Maliki and his predecessors now thumb their noses at that same (still fledgling) government, whose own prospects (Exxon knows) hinge on Exxon's participation in developing the southern Qurna oilfields. 

And now (as Nicholas Pelham suggests), is America's most steadfast pal in the Arab world - king Abdullah II of Jordan - poised for a fall?

Elizabeth Monroe once wrote of Britain's "moment in the Middle East" as spanning 1914-1971.  It may not be premature to plan a companion piece, on America's moment, 1945-2011.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The New "Arab Awakening"

Soon after they began in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt and across much of the Arab Middle East, the political uprisings to demand political rights, basic respect for human dignity, and better social and economic conditions came to be referred to as the "Arab Spring."  (A recent essay by Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy suggests that the term may have been coined, in fact, there.)  Unfortunately, the "spring" metaphor opened the door to various and sundry commentators (many of them naysayers) to ruminate about the "Arab fall" and, recently, the "Arab winter" as demonstrators have been opposed, even killed, in countries like Bahrain and Syria, and, of course, Egypt, one of the "Arab spring's" hearths, where broad popular demands for change and free elections are being thwarted by a deeply entrenched class of high-ranking military officers who seem determined to sustain the almost 60 years of military control of the Egyptian state (as well as the wealth they've built up in the process).

But for months, the astute, prolific analyst and commentator Rami Khouri has been encouraging us to take the long view - to recognize and anticipate that the uprisings of the last year mark only the beginning - an "awakening" - in the process of the empowerment of Arab peoples.  Khouri is channeling here, of course, the title of a celebrated book by George Antonius, published in the 1930as, that came to be regarded as an important signpost in the "awakening" of the pan-Arabism that reached its zenith with the meteoric rise of Gamal Abdul Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s.  But the "awakening" of which Khouri speaks entails a long process, surely to suffer setbacks and interruptions, that, in his view, inexorably will lead to the establishment of a true sovereignty across the Arab world.  That sovereignty will be founded on popular will, in a region that up to now, and even now in many countries, has featured governments - regimes, really - disconnected from their citizens (who barely merit that characterization; "subjects" might be more accurate, even if governments featue leaders with titles like "president") yet maintained in power by a West that has long valued stability, access to the region's petroleum, and the enabling of the region's baddest boy (the state of Israel) over the rights, dignity, and prosperity of the locals.  As one of Khouri's latest essays notes,

Today, the Arab world is moving in a new direction. We may be witnessing the first tangible impact of the Arab uprisings, citizen revolts and revolutions on those Arab elites that still control most governments in the region. Arab regimes may be starting to pay attention to the sentiments and values of their people, who reject the killing of civilians that has taken place in Syria since March.

Khouri  spotlights a development that, he hopes, marks for the Arab peoples an important re-rousing from their tortured slumber: the re-fashioning of the long-mocked Arab League as a meaningful, empowered instrument of Arab unity and purpose.

The other fascinating new development we see before our eyes is the continued rebirth and reassertion of Arab sovereignty, will and influence within the Arab world, after decades during which the incompetent and politically derelict Arab states largely surrendered their regional security and ideological functions to foreign powers.

The Arab League is now making decisions whose consequences are ricocheting around the region. Consequently, Israel, Iran, Turkey and the U.S. are responding to Arab initiatives, rather than ordering the Arabs around, as they had for decades. The Arab Awakening continues.

And as when any of us has been asleep too long, awakening can be very slow; nor will it look pretty along the way.  Our heads fall back to our pillows; we take mini-naps, feel irritable and cranky, ask our spouses and friends to be patient with us, and we resort to the series of jolts that sequential cups of strong coffee provide.  But in time, we are fully roused, awake and alert, dressed and geared up for action, ready to write the stories of our new day.  

The Arab Awakening of which Khouri writes will likewise need the occasional nap and will tax the patience of friends.  And it will be punctuated by cups full, not of strong coffee, but of the blood of heroes and martyrs.

But Khouri enjoins us to indeed be patient, for once fully awakened, the great Arab people will be poised to pen  a saga that may captivate us all.

The Things That Wouldn't Leave

Slithering back onto the political stage, your favorite neocon heroes.  Be very afraid.

Bush-Era Iraq Hawks Counsel Republican Presidential Hopefuls

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain are turning for national security advice to former officials in the George W. Bush administration, including some who pushed hardest for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The former officials include Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Robert Joseph, a White House National Security Council aide during Bush’s first term and later a State Department official.

Feith, Bolton and Joseph were in the Bush camp that favored U.S. unilateral action and was “skeptical of engagement” with allies as well as foes such as North Korea, said James Mann, a foreign policy scholar at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

In Bush’s second term, with the nation still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pendulum swung back toward engagement. The return of the unilateralists to Republican inner circles “in that sense, it’s going back,” said Mann, who wrote 2004’s “Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet.”

The contenders in the Republican presidential primary field have attacked President Barack Obama’s foreign policies. They say Obama showed weakness by not leading the allied air campaign in Libya, where the U.K and France played prominent roles, and not being tough enough on Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons efforts.

‘Greatest Failing’

Iran is Obama’s “greatest failing from a foreign policy standpoint,” former Massachusetts Governor Romney said at the Republican foreign policy debate Nov. 12 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He called for U.S. military action if measures such as economic sanctions and covert operations aren’t successful in thwarting Iran.

Obama’s plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq have been criticized by most of the candidates even though the deadline was set by Bush in a 2008 agreement with the country. Obama announced the withdrawal Oct. 22 after the U.S. and Iraq failed to reach an accord to assure immunity for a residual U.S. force there.

“The idea that a commander-in-chief would stand up and signal to the enemy a date certain of which we’re going to pull our troops out I think is irresponsible,” Texas Governor Perry said Oct. 30 on “Fox News Sunday.” Perry also called for cutting off foreign aid to countries that oppose U.S. policies.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Texas Representative Ron Paul support the Iraq withdrawal.

‘Decades’ Old Policy

Republican hopefuls advised by the Bush veterans conflate toughness with unilateral U.S. action, said Paula Newberg, director of the Institute for Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington.

On complex issues from the Arab Spring to China’s rising wealth, they don’t show “anywhere near the kind of nuance that’s required and have instead returned to a recap of foreign policy of decades earlier.”

Voters, while focused on the economy more than foreign policy, still want to know that a candidate is able to handle the hypothetical 3 a.m. crisis phone call in the White House --a prospect which candidate Hillary Clinton used in a 2008 primary ad against Obama. A stumble, like Cain’s response to a question on Libya in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, may resonate with voters.

In October, Romney announced a slate of 23 national security advisers and another group of 17 experts on specific subjects.

Romney’s Team

Romney’s advisers include Joseph; Cofer Black, a former head of Central Intelligence Agency’s counterterrorism center and executive of the security firm Blackwater, now Xe Services; Meghan O’Sullivan, a Bloomberg View columnist and former White House official who oversaw Iraq and Afghanistan policy; Eliot Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a former counselor at Rice’s State Department; Dov Zakheim, the former Pentagon comptroller; and John Lehman, Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary.

While a number of Romney advisers are associated with the Bush administration’s wars, Zakheim this year wrote a critical assessment of Afghanistan reconstruction as well as of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

Perry Advisers

Perry’s list of informal advisers includes Feith; Bolton; Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and later ambassador to Afghanistan; and Daniel Blumenthal, former Pentagon international security affairs director for China and Taiwan, according to a person familiar with the campaign who asked not to be named.

Victoria Coates, a former research associate to Rumsfeld and an art historian, is a Perry foreign policy adviser, and Emily Domenech, a former Pentagon trip planner, is a defense adviser, the campaign said Nov. 2.

Romney’s campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, did not respond to questions on advisers. Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the candidate consulted various people and declined to confirm advisers’ names.

Cain, former chief executive officer of the Godfather’s Pizza Inc. chain, has consulted retired ambassadors and defense officials including Bolton. He had a 90-minute breakfast meeting in New York with Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state, the candidate’s spokesman, retired Navy Commander J.D. Gordon.

Extending Reagan

Cain’s world view is “an extension of Reagan’s philosophy of peace through strength and clarity,” and he intends to lay out his views soon in a white paper, Gordon said. A Pentagon public affairs officer from 2005 to 2009 and a spokesman on Guantanamo Bay detention operations, Gordon said he was also Cain’s main foreign policy adviser.

Perry plans to make a foreign policy speech in the near future, spokesman Miner said in an e-mail.

“I’m fairly regularly in contact with” the Perry campaign and “have met Perry more than once,” Feith said in a telephone interview. They’ve discussed Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as “things like the relationship of strategy to the defense budget,” Feith said.

Feith, Bolton, Khalilzad, and Cohen were among 10 so-called neoconservatives who were national security officials in the Bush administration, Jeffery Record, a professor at the Air Force War College, wrote in his 2010 book “Wanting War -- Why the Bush Administration Invaded Iraq.”

Overthrowing Saddam Hussein “became a neoconservative mantra during the 1990s that culminated in the U.S. invasion,” he wrote.

Faulty Intelligence

As the Pentagon’s policy chief Feith, set up separate cells within the department that cited links between Iraq and al- Qaeda, as well as evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the CIA doubted. Subsequent investigations found no proof of either and concluded that Feith’s information came from the Iraqi National Congress and other exile groups seeking U.S. help to overthrow Hussein.

A February 2007 Pentagon Inspector General report criticized the actions of Feith’s cells as “inappropriate” because they didn’t “clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community.” In his book “War and Decision,” Feith called the conclusion a “misguided notion” because the briefings were meant to critique other intelligence and not to replace it, he wrote.

Joseph was a member of a “White House Information Group” that coordinated a pre-war white paper called “A Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons.”

‘Not Strong Enough’

It was never published after five drafts, in part because Joseph considered it “not strong enough,” a White House spokesman told the Washington Post in an August 2003 article. Later inquiries concluded that Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons had been moribund.

As Bush’s undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton was part of the “politics of persuasion” that stressed “the most sensational” intelligence scenarios, according to an Atlantic Monthly article by former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack.

Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, has “spoken to a number of those running,” his aide Christine Samuelian said. He hasn’t endorsed any candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, she said.

Joseph and Bolton also opposed Bush’s second-term diplomacy with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.

Public opinion polls show Obama gained on foreign policy after launching a covert mission that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and supporting the popular uprising that toppled and killed Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

Obama Critique

Seeking to undermine Obama’s strength, Romney’s October foreign policy white paper said the president is “threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” in Iraq and faulted him for making “apologies for America in speeches delivered in France, England, Turkey and Egypt.”

In a July article in Commentary, Feith criticized the Obama doctrine because it “emerges from the conviction that in the post-George W. Bush world, the United States cannot and should not exercise the kind of boldness and independence characteristic” of post-World War II foreign policy.

The article has been “the topic of some discussion” between Perry and his advisers, said Feith, who added said he doesn’t know whether Perry embraced those ideas.

Mann, of Johns Hopkins, said that Obama’s challengers, lacking enough material to criticize his foreign policy, “have fallen back on the old Republican trope” about a Democratic administration being weak and apologizing to the world.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Visit to Hebron

A serendipitous discovery via visit to Roger Cohen's tweet-land . . . a damning, must-read essay from the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland about his recent visit to the West Bank city of Hebron, where the IDF has rendered the center of the city effectively Arab-rein in order to isolate and defend the small community of Jewish settlers there.  The stench of anti-Arab racism is overwhelming:

What I saw there would shock even those who think they know all there is to know about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. The centre of a city of 175,000 people has been utterly emptied, its streets deserted, its shops vacant, thanks to a policy the Israeli army calls "sterilisation" - ensuring the area is clear and safe for Hebron's 800 Jewish settlers.

In what was once a throbbing market district, a place teeming with life, successive restrictions have been placed on Hebron's Palestinian population. A map shows purple roads where no Palestinian cars are permitted, yellow roads where no Palestinian shops are allowed to open and red roads where no Palestinians are even allowed to walk.

I watched an old man, a bag of cement on his shoulder, ascend a steep bypass staircase because his feet were forbidden from going any further along the road. Those unlucky enough to live on a red road have had their front doors sealed: they have to leave their own houses by a back door and climb out via a ladder.

All this has made life so impossible that an estimated 42 per cent of the families who once lived in this central part of town have now moved out.

What they have left behind is eerie. Israelis can walk freely down streets that are barred to Palestinians, surveying the shuttered shops that have been covered with some of the most vile graffiti I have ever seen. The familiar "Death to the Arabs" is there, but so is "You have Arabs, you have mice," the words covered up, but still legible. Perhaps most shocking are the Stars of David, daubed on Arab shopfronts and doors. To see that cherished symbol used to spit in the eye of a population hounded out of their homes is chilling.

All right, some will say, Hebron is an extreme case. Not according to my guide, Yehuda Shaul, a kippah-wearing army reservist who served two long tours in Hebron and who now works with the Breaking the Silence movement which, via the new Yachad organisation, has shown several Anglo-Jewish Zionist youth leaders and synagogue activists around the city. Shaul believes that Hebron simply reveals the reality of the occupation in an intense, distilled form.

But let's say Hebron is too much to stomach. Contemplate instead the bill that would formally make Israeli democracy subordinate to the state's Jewish identity, altering the nation's Basic Law and elevating, in the words of the Knesset's legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, "values such as national strength, honour and Jewish identity, even at the expense of values...such as freedom of expression, the right to equality and minority rights".

It would be consoling if this proposal to turn Israel into a kind of Jewish Prussia - high on nationalism with democracy an afterthought - had at least come from the far right, with no prospects of success. But behind it is Avi Dichter of the supposedly centrist Kadima party.

Or visit the ultra-orthodox Mea She'arim neighbourhood of Jerusalem, where the streets themselves now have a mechitza, men walking on one side of the barrier, women the other. That is until they get on a bus, where the women are required to sit at the back, leaving the seats at the front for the men.

The point is that if the Israel we love is the Jewish, democratic state established in the Declaration of Independence then we need to fight for it. It is under threat and not only from the usual suspects, the hostile media and the "delegitimisers". It is also threatened from within, by Israel's own actions. Put simply, if we are true friends of Israel we would take on those who would transform the country into a place most pro-Israeli Jews in Britain would not even recognise.

And by the way, I also recommend Roger Cohen's piece today on "containing and constraining Iran," not bombing it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Assad on the Outs with the Arab League. Now What?

As widely reported, the Arab League (in a move that, as Juan Cole notes, is largely symbolic) has suspended Syria from membership - and infuriated Syrians have attacked the Saudi embassy in Damascus in reprisal.  To borrow from Iraq's ancient history (the episode of Belshazzar's feast, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible and memorialized in Rembrandt's famous painting), the writing is on the wall in re Bashar al-Assad's fate.  Prof. Cole suggests, with good reason, that Bashar ought to take a lesson from Libya.

By taking a lesson from Libya, I assume he means that Bashar ought to get out while the gettin’s good.

But where might he go where he might feel (a) reasonably safe and secure, and (b) out of the reach of the ICC? Who would host him? Maybe Iran? But would he be content, as a supposedly secular Baathist, to live under the umbrella of a religious Islamist regime in a predominantly Persian milieu?

Maybe Iraq, where President Nuri al-Maliki has been supportive of Assad and his Alawi (quasi-Shia) ruling family? But would Maliki’s already conflicted political supporters look kindly on sheltering a Baathist? Or would Bashar's father Hafez’s conflicts with Saddam Hussein years ago (under Hafez al-Assad, Syria supported the US-led coalition against Saddam's Iraq during the 1991 "Desert Storm" war) trump the Baathist connection?

And can you imagine how Obama/Clinton – and their detractors – might react to Maliki sheltering Bashar?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Isolating Syria: Be Careful What You Wish For

The Arab League has voted to suspend Syria - a move that will isolate Bashar al-Assad even more in the region and beyond.  As WaPo notes,

until now, Arab states have indeed seemed hesitant to criticize Syria. The Arab League did not meet to discuss the spiraling violence until August, five months after the protests erupted, and Saturday’s measures came only after weeks of deliberation, deadlines and unfulfilled promises by the Assad government.

The slow response contrasts with the swift measures taken to suspend Libya weeks after the February uprising, opening the door to the adoption of the U.N. resolution that authorized NATO airstrikes and helped bring about Moammar Gaddafi’s demise. The United States cited the Arab censure of Libya as being instrumental in determining its decision to support military action.

International military intervention in Syria is still considered a remote possibility despite repeated calls by protesters for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone. But the lifting of Arab “cover” will make it harder for Russia and China to justify their vetoes of tougher action, including possible sanctions, at the U.N. Security Council, said Shaikh.

Turkey, which has repeatedly condemned Assad but taken no concrete steps against him, may also be encouraged to fall in line with the rest of the region and adopt economic sanctions that could have a significant effect on its neighbor’s economy, he said.

Assad can count on the support of Iran as well as neighboring Lebanon, whose government is controlled by the militant Shiite Hezbollah movement. Fears of triggering a regionwide war in which Iran and Hezbollah spring to Syria’s defense are among the reasons why world powers have been reluctant to intervene.

The Shiite-led government in Baghdad, which abstained in the vote, is concerned that regime change in Syria would destabilize Iraq’s delicate sectarian balance, and it has shown no inclination to support measures against Assad.

Of the countries that either voted against the suspension (Lebanon and Yemen) or abstained (Iraq), two have Shia majorities - and the third - Yemen - has a significant Shia minority, but probably voted against because President Saleh is on the way to being run out on a rail just as Assad is; one dictator standing by another.  (And frankly, President al-Maliki of Iraq is steadily creeping into the dictator ranks himself - as much as the US touts Iraq as a model democracy for the putative "new Middle East."

But we really have no idea what a post-Assad Syria is going to look like, except that Syria's Sunni Arab majority - especially the more Islamist elements among them - are going to insist on better representation in any new government.  That will worry Iraq's Shia majority, still triumphant but paranoid after the termination of so many decades of Sunni rule - and it may not sit well with Iraq's Kurds (not to mention Syria's own substantial Kurdish population).

It's entirely possible that Syria will spin out into sectarian warfare, at least in some regions.  And some in the West - and Israel - may find themselves wishing for the good old days of the Assads, pere et fils.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On This Veteran's Day -- WAKE UP, AMERICA!

I, for one, am old enough to remember (as a young boy) when Veterans Day was still called Armistice Day, in commemoration of the agreement of 11 November 1918 that ended the shooting of the "Great War" - though only after tens of thousands of doughboys (and, literally, millions of their British, German, French, Russian, Ottoman, and Anzac brothers-in-arms) had died often agonizing deaths, most of them in miserable trenches.  

I grew up on post-World War II movies (and played backyard war games) that celebrated American GIs  - especially heroes like the tiny Texan Audie Murphy (who went to his death in an airplane crash still tormented by nightmares of his combat experiences), reviled the Germans (and Italians) they fought, but  reserved a special (unequivocally racist) scorn for the "Japs" (or "Nips") and, in movies like "Pork Chop Hill," slightly later, the Chinese who for a while overwhelmed American forces in the UN "police action" that came to be known as the Korean War.

But ever since the mid-1960s, I've seen my government shove hundreds of thousands of young American men (and, in recent decades, women) into the maw of horrific combat in faraway places, to fight wars where the US had no business going in the first place (in Vietnam, and Iraq) and/or  tried to achieve a "victory" that was simply beyond its capacity (in Vietnam and, especially, Iraq and Afghanistan).  In the process, more tens of thousands of young Americans killed, maimed, disfigured, or emotionally scarred (like my brother-in-law Tony, a wonderful man whose brow beaded in sweat when, only months ago, he recounted for me - after years of never speaking about it, at least to me - his personal horrors of Vietnam combat).

So, on this Veterans Day 2011, I thank Tony, and honor his service and his sacrifice.  And I also thank, and honor the service, of my students Tim, Matt, Marshall, and Greg, all of whom laid their lives on the line in Iraq.

But I also don't want my government shovelling any more young Tony's into that gaping Great White Shark maw of Useless War.  . . .

which is exactly where they're going to be headed if those now beating an ever louder tattoo to drum up war have their way.  I speak of those like Billy Kristol, other neocon worthies like Gordon Chang, as well as rodeo clowns like Rick Perry (whose intellectual agility has been on display for weeks on national TV.  Really, Texans, you made this oaf your governor?!  This is the best you people can do?!) - and now, the GOP "moderate" Mitt Romney (Greg Scoblete at Compass provides the actual wording.  At least Romney can quote Latin.  I suppose the closest Perry ever got to that would have been from reading names on the Texas Rangers' roster.)  And let's not forget Netanyahu's cheerleaders at AIPAC - all of them intent on riling up Congress' blood lust against Bibi's new Hitler, those nefarious Iranians.

From M. J. Rosenberg - a commentator who professes a love for Israel as Israel was originally meant to be (which is not what it has now become; see Gershom Gorenberg's just released book - ) comes today an exhortation that we honor American veterans on this Veterans' Day by rejecting the continuing calls to go to war with Iran.

To put it simply. An attack on Iran by Israel or the United States would embroil the Middle East in war, would threaten the world's oil supply and economy, would likely unleash a massive missile attack by Hezbollah on Israel, would jeopardize 100,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East, would solidify the Iranian regime's waning support among the population, and still would delay the Iranian nuclear program by only 2-3 years.


So what's to be done about Iran?

An attack will not deter whatever motivation Iranians may have for a nuclear bomb. In fact, an attack is one way to ensure that the Iranians do get a bomb (to protect themselves from future attacks). And further sanctions, which AIPAC has made a litmus test for campaign support, will only hurt ordinary Iranian citizens without affecting the nuclear program.

No, there is only one way to deal with Iran and it is the one we have never tried: unconditional, comprehensive negotiations.

No, not the kind of baby step talks both sides occasionally propose, but real negotiations that puts everything on the table: Iran's nuclear program, Israel's refusal to sign the NPT, Iran's threats against Israel and its unremitting hostility to it, Iranian support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, U.S. attempts to overthrow the Iranian regime and our support for the assassination of its civilian scientists, and Iran's role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Only comprehensive negotiations will end the Iran crisis without plunging the region, and possibly the world, into war. Only successful comprehensive negotiations can provide both Israel and Iran with the confidence to get off a course that could lead to mutual destruction. Nothing else will work and everything else has been tried. There is no alternative to diplomacy. Period.


The US's "Clean" Exit from Iraq

As reported in the NYT.
We're closing down "Camp Victory" - and none too soon.
But please begrudge me an observation on a rather myopic comments by an Army "historian" (whose impartiality about the US adventure in Iraq will, I'm so sure, be impeccable).  The man is quoted as saying:
“We’re not taking anything that the Iraqis had. We are only taking stuff that we put in, we utilized, and when we didn’t need it anymore, we took it home.”
Well, golly, Mr. Army Historian, before we went in, at least 100,000 Iraqis (some say closer to a million) still had their lives, and thousands more had all their limbs, both eyes, and a measure of sanity.  They also had homes, and even livelihoods.
They also had a lot more of the remnants and records of their history.  But, that's OK.  Being the swell people that we are, we've boxed a lot of it up - like the records of its Jewish community, and the records of the Saddam era - and we're keeping it in storage for them.  (Well, on the other hand, there are all those ancient cylinder seals that keep popping up on eBay.)
But, hey, other than that, it's all good, right.  Like they always told us in that paramilitary organization known as the BSA (Boy Scouts of America), our job is to leave it better than we found it.
And I'm so sure the people of Iraq would agree that we did that.
Aren't you?
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stephen Walt on the "Special Relationship"

At a time when Israeli officials have gone to a full-court press on the need to squelch the "existential threat" and impending "new Holocaust" that is Iran, and pundits are scribing sky-is-falling stuff in the wake of the IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program, comes a much needed analysis from Stephen Walt.  Using a recent report from WINEP (officially an "academic" think-tank arm of Israel's propaganda machine) that preaches the gospel of Israel as indispensable ally of the US, Walt examines the "special relationship" more closely.  Nothing all that new especially, but as some commentators try to bull-rush the US into attacking Iran, what Walt writes needs to be read, and disseminated, and discussed.

Some of the essence:

the real question is not whether the United States derives certain benefits from cooperating with Israel, just as it derives benefits from cooperating with other allies. Rather, it is whether the current "special relationship" of unconditional U.S. support is in America's national interest.

The answer is no. For one thing, B&S overstate some so-called benefits -- such as military technology developed in Israel -- by failing to mention that U.S. military aid paid for lots of it instead of being given to U.S. firms. But more importantly, many of the strategic benefits that B&S describe would still be available if the United States had a normal relationship with Israel. After all, if our interests are as closely aligned as B&S maintain, it would still be in both countries' interest to share some types of military technology, to share some intelligence information, and to coordinate responses to common problems like WMD proliferation or counter-terrorism. But if we had a normal relationship, then U.S. leaders would also be free to criticize Israeli policies that don't make sense and that are not in the U.S. interest, like the continued expansion of settlements and the denial of Palestinian rights. And in a normal relationship (i.e., akin to those we have with other democracies), U.S. leaders would be free to use U.S. leverage to try to get Israel to change policies with which we disagreed.

Second, B & S understate the costs of the special relationship by a wide margin. They do this in part by ignoring or downplaying issues such as Israel's sale of advanced U.S. technology to adversaries such as China, and by its extensive espionage efforts inside the United States. But their main error is to dismiss the impact of the special relationship on our terrorism problem. They devote a single sentence to this crucial issue, saying that "U.S. support for Israel is not the primary-and probably not even the dominant-reason Islamist terrorists target the United States." This line of argument has been a familiar lobby talking point since 9/11, but it is at odds with the enormous body of evidence suggesting that U.S. support for Israel was a key cause (though not the only one) of our terrorism problem.

For example, the architect of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Ramzi Yousef, mailed letters to several newspapers taking credit for the deed and demanding that the United States terminate aid to Israel. According to Steve Coll's prizewinning book Ghost Wars, Yousef also told the U.S. agents who flew him to the United States after his arrest in Pakistan that his reservations about killing innocent civilians were "overridden by the strength of his desire to stop the killing of Arabs by Israeli troops." According to Coll, Yousef "mentioned no other motivation during the flight and no other issue in American foreign policy that concerned him."

Similarly, an abundance of evidence confirms that the issue of Palestine was important to the late Osama bin Laden, and from very early in his political career. Family members have testified that he was troubled by this issue as a young man, and it is a prominent theme in his earliest political statements. As Max Rodenbeck of the Economist wrote in a review of two books on bin Laden's writings: "the notion of payback for injustices suffered by the Palestinians is perhaps the most powerfully recurrent in bin Laden's speeches."

As for 9/11 itself, the 9/11 Commission noted that Khalid Sheikh Muhammed -- whom it described as the "principal architect of the 9/11 attacks" -- was primarily motivated by the Palestinian issue. In the commission's words: "By his own account, KSM's animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel." The commission also reported that bin Laden intervened several times in the planning process for the 9/11, in (11 in = 27.9 cm) an attempt to link the attacks more closely to U.S. support for Israel.

To be sure, terrorists like bin Laden and KSM had other grievances as well -- such as U.S. support for Saudi Arabia and for the Mubarak regime in Egypt -- but these issues are not unrelated to the "special relationship" with Israel. As both Trita Parsi and Ken Pollack have shown, the Clinton administration's strategy of "dual containment" (itself the brainchild of WINEP co-founder Martin Indyk), was adopted in good part to reassure Israel. Dual containment led the United States to keep large numbers of troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, and their presence there is one of the key reasons that bin Laden turned his attention to attacking the United States.

Thus, the special relationship contributes significantly to our terrorism problem-and to all the costs associated with the war on terror-by two separate pathways. And it is one reason why former president Bill Clinton told one audience that solving the Israel-Palestine conflict would "take about half the impetus in the whole world -- not just the region, the whole world -- for terror away ... It would have more impact by far than anything else that could be done."

Third, B/S also overlook the fact that some of the problems for which Israel's help is useful are also problems that Israel helped create or exacerbate. Israel has been a useful asset for some counter-proliferation activities -- such as the bombing of a Syrian reactor site and the development of the STUXNET virus that infected Iran's enrichment facilities -- but Israel's own nuclear arsenal (which it developed in defiance of U.S. pressure) is one reason why countries such as Syria or Iran are interested in WMD in the first place. And instead of putting pressure on Israel to join the NPT or get rid of its own nuclear arsenal, the United States has consistently blocked efforts to raise this issue within the International Atomic Energy Agency, even as it has been moving heaven and earth to isolate and sanction states such as North Korea or Iran. Unfortunately, the obvious double-standard displayed on this issue has made that diplomatic effort significantly more difficult.

Fourth, B&S are silent about the other burdens that the special relationship imposes, burdens that would be substantially lighter if the U.S. had a normal relationship with Israel. Just think of the amount of time and effort that U.S. presidents and their advisors have spent on this issue over the past several decades, not to mention that vast amount of attention expended on the fruitless post-Oslo "peace process." As UN Ambassador Susan Rice admitted earlier this year, dealing with Israel-related issues at the United Nations is "a significant part of my job. It's not the majority of my time ... [b]ut it is never the smallest piece. It is always there ... It's a lot." Needless to say, her ability to advance other items on the U.S. foreign policy agenda would be enhanced were she not spending so much effort to putting out fires on Israel's behalf.

Furthermore, a normal relationship would not require the United States to veto literally dozens of U.N. Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel's occupation, including resolutions that are in fact consistent with stated U.S. policy. Nor would it require the United States to expend political capital pressing other states to oppose initiatives such as the recent resolution permitting the Palestinians to join UNESCO. And in a classic case of cutting one's nose to spite one's face, that decision triggered an lobby-inspired law requiring Congress to cut off funds to any UN agency that recognized the Palestinians. Here's what U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) had to say about that issue (my emphasis):

"This could be catastrophic for the U.S.-U.N. relationship. This could be the tipping point. . . There's a lot of bipartisan support for cutting off funding to any political U.N. organization that would do this . . . .What you are going to do is eventually lose congressional support for our participation in the United Nations. That's what's at risk here. That would be a great loss. I don't think that's in our near-term or long-term interest, but that's what's going to happen, that's where this thing is headed." 

What Graham is saying, in short, is that the "special relationship" leads to decisions that are not in America's interest. But you wouldn't know that reading B&S.

Fifth, B&S's claim that unconditional support for Israel does not preclude close ties with Arab states is misleading, as well as increasingly out of date. Countless surveys of Arab opinion confirm that U.S. policy is deeply unpopular throughout the Arab world, and President Obama's steady retreat from his original Cairo speech commitment to "two states for two peoples" has driven the U.S. image in the region to a level even lower than it was under George W. Bush in 2008. This situation does not prevent some Arab states from working with Washington, but it makes it politically costly for them to be openly associated with the United States.

Why does this matter? In the past, the United States was able to ignore Arab opinion because its primary strategic relationships in the Arab world have been with authoritarian regimes whose policies did not reflect the opinions of their citizens. The Arab awakening in 2011 has rendered this aspect of U.S. policy untenable. The final outcome of these upheavals is unknown, but most Arab states are likely to become significantly more responsive to public sentiment than heretofore. This is obviously true in the case of any new Arab democracies, but even surviving autocrats are likely to govern with a greater fear of mass upheavals and with greater responsiveness to the views of their citizens. If the United States wants the policies of Arab states to be congenial to its core interests, therefore, it will have to make its own policies more congenial to Arab peoples, and not just a handful of potentates.

Although the recent demonstrations in the Arab world were inspired primarily by local concerns and not by anti-Israel or anti-American sentiment, U.S. support for Israel and its tolerance of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians remains a powerful source of popular Arab animus. Nor should we forget that leaders such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt were despised in part because they were seen as subservient to Washington and complicit in Israel's blockade of Gaza. As Turkey's behavior under the AKP government illustrates, governments that become more sensitive to public opinion are likely to favor policies more at odds with traditional U.S. policies. In particular, we can expect these states to be less willing to accept the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza and to be less deferential to Washington's preferences. And that means that the cost of the "special relationship" is going to go up, not down, and B&S's call for ever-closer cooperation with an increasingly isolated Israel is a recipe for the progressive erosion of U.S. influence.

Finally, B&S never ask where this whole situation is headed, and whether the "special relationship" is good for Israel itself. The window of opportunity created by the Oslo Accords in 1993 has closed, and it is now abundantly clear that the United States cannot be an effective steward of the peace process while maintaining a "special relationship" with one side. So there isn't going to be a two-state solution, and once this reality becomes unmistakable, the United States will have to figure out which of the available alternatives it is going to support. Should the United States bind itself ever-more-tightly and unconditionally to an increasingly hardline Israel, even if that state continues to treat its Arab minority as second-class citizens and denies its Palestinian subjects on the West Bank all political rights? Should Washington instead press Israel to adopt the principle of "one person, one vote" throughout the territory it controls, thereby hastening the end of a "Jewish state?" Or should it continue to turn a blind eye to the steady expansion of settlements and the continued evictions, home demolitions, and coercion that this policy requires?

It is hard to see how unconditional U.S. support for this approaching train wreck is in Israel's interest, let alone America's. A better approach would be to treat Israel like a normal country and have a normal relationship with it. In other words, make U.S. support conditional on Israel's conduct and limited to those areas where our interests are genuinely aligned. In other words, deal with Israel the same way we deal with other democracies around the world. Unfortunately, organizations like WINEP were created to keep the special relationship alive and to prevent U.S. leaders from pursuing a more sensible course, even when our current approach is increasingly harmful to the United States and Israel alike.


Monday, November 7, 2011

OOOPS! Kuwait: No plans to host more US troops

from the AP.  This may put a twist in some shorts at the Pentagon . . .
Kuwait: No plans to host more US troops

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — A top Kuwaiti official has thrown doubt on American proposals to station at least 4,000 additional soldiers in the Gulf nation following the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year.

Sheik Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, who is also defense minister, was quoted Sunday as saying there is no plan to increase U.S. troop levels in the country.

It was not immediately clear whether this was Kuwait's final word to the Pentagon or a suggestion that nothing is yet resolved and negotiations are in progress. The reference to the issue of U.S. troops was mentioned as part of a lengthy statement on a variety of issues.

A rebuff from Kuwait would be a significant blow to U.S. efforts to boost the numbers of forces in the Gulf, where the U.S. and its Arab allies fear Iran's expanding military reach. Earlier this month, U.S. officials said the Pentagon hoped to shift at least 4,000 soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait at the end of the year, pending a final decision by military planners and Kuwaiti leaders.

Sheik Jaber was quoted by the official Kuwait News Agency as saying that Kuwait will be used only as a transit point for forces, including those leaving Iraq. Kuwaiti officials could not be reached Monday to elaborate on the comments.

Thousands of U.S. troops have been in Kuwait since the 1991 war that drove Iraqi forces out of the oil-rich Gulf state. A decade-old agreement has governed the number of U.S. troops in Kuwait, but it is believed to expire at the end of this year. That would open the possibility of talks on all provisions for U.S. forces in Kuwait.

The proposed relocation of troops to Kuwait is part of a still-developing Pentagon strategy that ends the Iraq war but positions a strong U.S. force just across the border. It also fits with wider U.S. attempts to challenge the growth of Iran's ground and naval forces.


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