Saturday, October 29, 2011

Will Maliki Send Troops into Tikrit?

According to this McClatchy report, Iraq president Nuri al-Maliki has a major crisis on his hands.  

The council of the Iraqi province of Salahuddin, meeting in Tikrit (birthplace of Saddam Hussein - and the great Crusade-era hero known to Europe as Saladin), voted to declare the province a separate region within Iraq.  In other words, they now claim the same semi-autonomous status that's obtained since even before the 2003 invasion for the northern Kurdish provinces that together form the Kurdistan Regional Government.  The Kurds insist on maintaining that status (and would rather have complete independence, if balloting taken several years ago is any indication), and for good reason, given their treatment at the hands of the Arab-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein (and his predecessors).

Salahuddin province is mostly Sunni, and was the heartland of Sunni support for Saddam.  Maliki leads a predominantly religious Shii coalition in a government that is dominated by the Shia, who are not about to allow a resurgence of Sunni political power in Iraq.  Maliki is trying to tar all of Salahuddin's Sunni as Baathists, and terrorists.  But he dare not allow this quasi-separatist initiative to gain momentum.

Unless the council backs down, Maliki will have to move forcefully against them, to squelch the entire movement before it gets rooted and spawns offshoots.  That, in turn, is likely to elicit a response from what remains a well-armed and angry Sunni opposition in Salahuddin and beyond, including Anbar province and cities like Fallujah.  Reuters reported yesterday that thousands of Sunni in Anbar had protested the Maliki government's recent round-up and arrest of Baathists (read: Sunni).  Iraq expert Reidar Visser has pointed out that Baathists and terrorists are not the same thing.  He has also noted that what the Salahuddin provincial council has done is unconstitutional.

I'm not sure that, in today's Iraq, any of that matters.  Maliki has made it clear that when it comes to ensuring his hold on power, he has no compunction about taking extraordinary action: arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as harsh interrogation (i.e., torture).  In an essay strikingly, but aptly, titled "Welcome to Malikistan," Visser notes:

Maliki clarifies that what Salahaddin is not really a declaration of a federal region, since this is not legally possible. This is correct, and thankfully the electoral commission has also contributed on a clarification on the subject, underlining that the governorate can only make the first step towards the creation of a federal region and not simply declare it. But what follows is complete nonsense. Maliki says the government will reject the request for a referendum because it “is based on a sectarian grounds, intended to offer protection of Baathists, and on other unclear grounds”!

This comment by Maliki is tantamount to pissing on the constitution. As long as they stay faithful to the procedures laid down in the law for forming regions, Iraqis can create federal regions for whatever reasons they want. No one has the right to enquire about the motives as long as the modalities are done correctly. If Maliki wants to change that – and there are good reasons for restricting federalism options so as to avoid a constant string of useless federalism attempts – he must work to change the constitution.

It is a sorry sign of the state of play in Iraq that both opponents and proponents of the Salahaddin federal region are now making up their own laws.

At a time when the official US boots-on-the-ground military presence in Iraq is about to end, the portents are not good.

The IDF: Israel's Army, or God's?

From the pages of Haaretz, several reports on the growing influence of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish beliefs and regulations within the Israeli military.  Not exactly new, but now being exhibited more and more brazenly - as, for example, when female cadets were compelled to stand apart from their male counterparts:

The hundreds of women soldiers who angrily left Simhat Torah celebrations in the south after they were made to crowd into a small area away from male celebrants are the latest victims of a worrisome trend toward ultra-Orthodoxy in the Israel Defense Forces. There had already been incidents where male soldiers refused to serve under female instructors and officers, and women have been segregated at a training school's swimming pool. Another time, officer candidates left a ceremony because women were singing.

 During the IDF's main Sukkot holiday event, organized under the banner "we build the people's army in a spirit of unity," women were segregated in an offensive way, as though this were a remote ultra-Orthodox social hall and not an official army event held with civilian participation in the area of the Eshkol Regional Council. This was incredibly insulting. Many of the participants were not religious, and apart from those who enforced the wrongheaded segregation policy, the religious celebrants were also taken aback.

 Apparently a few religious extremists were not satisfied that the women were dancing separately and took the initiative to move them to a separate area. Yet senior officers in the Gaza division, including Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar and IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, stood idly by and did not intervene on the women soldiers' behalf. How can it be that a few extremists who seek to turn Jewish law into an instrument of crude segregation can lead two top IDF officers by the nose? Or do these officers disavow responsibility when it comes to actions offensive to women soldiers?

 Yossi Sarid chips in, noting that Ultra-Orthodox segregation of the sexes has been rampant in Jerusalem, and has even begun to pop up in New York City:

The trend toward ultra-Orthodox extremism that has been gripping religious soldiers takes on a particularly fanatic cast when it applies to women. In recent years the IDF has created unprecedented opportunities for female soldiers, and women soldiers are now promoted in elite units and combat roles based on their abilities. But aggressive religious isolationism belies these new realities and undermines the status of women soldiers who serve in all roles in the IDF.

The distance between the Israel Defense Forces and Mea She'arim is getting shorter. Although that ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem doesn't have any draftees, its spirit hovers over the ranks. In both places there is a separation between women and men, between masculine and feminine areas, while the High Court of Justice says this is forbidden. How very nice of it to do so.

And why shouldn't they expand the boundaries of separation if the gender-segregated buses continue to operate - young men in front and virgins in back - and the government subsidizes this gender-based apartheid. In New York too there was a report this week about a segregated bus line, and the mayor immediately declared: "Private people: You can have a private bus. Go rent a bus and do what you want on it."

It's clear that New York will mend its ways before Jerusalem, because the shtreimel-wearing shebab bow their heads before the authorities, and only here will they raise their heads. For from Zion shall exclusion come forth, for in Jerusalem ethnic and gender-based purification is taking place, women are disappearing from the public space, erased from ads and billboards. And the mayor fires his deputy for daring to turn to the courts to avenge the honor of her sisters.

"Don't judge someone until you've stood in his shoes," and we are trying to reach it, if not the place itself, then nearby. It's very hard to be a Jew who both guards his homeland and strictly observes the commandments; it's hard to be a brave soldier when there are so many Jewish Delilahs around.

It's hard to see 6-year-old child Liliths studying together with boys their own age; the holy community of Beit Shemesh is already working to change the situation. And it's hard to be a bagger standing behind the female cashiers at the supermarket, who stand or sit, and sometimes bend over, may God preserve them, and us.

Even religious Zionism has fallen victim to ultra-Orthodox fanaticism. More educational institutions are separating the sexes, and religious Zionism's youth movement is also trying to save young souls. It would be preferable for Bnei Akiva's girls to wrap themselves in black rags like the Taliban.

The modesty brigades go outside the walls, and now they're attacking the kibbutzim. I couldn't believe a friend who told me about Kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov (Ihud ), which recently held a Simhat Torah celebration in strictly Orthodox style - men in one place, women in another. Who will remove the dust from the eyes of the pioneer women who chiseled stones on the Tzemah-Tiberias road, who with the sweat of their brows cultivated the vegetable garden at the Kinneret farm? Had there not already been so many eulogies for the kibbutz movement, another one would have been added here.

Never has the status of women in Israel been so high, and never has it been so low. A woman is the president of the Supreme Court, while women head the protest movement and two political parties, with a third on the way. The day will come when they are asked to sit in the balcony of the Knesset, like in the synagogue. Male MKs won't protest their marginalization too loudly for fear that pious rabbis will attack them in their sermons.


And bear in mind the continuing racist, religion-based attacks by Jewish settlers on Arab communities in the West Bank, as well as the rulings of one rabbiwho proclaimed that even Gentile babies could be killed in defense of Jews.

This is not the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s, which was established and governed by a predominantly liberal-secular-socialist Ashkenazi (European) political class.  These were, of course, the same men and women who authored the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs from their towns and villages, as well as the "Iron Wall" mentality (as so carefully and fully documented by Avi Shlaim). Nonetheless, they would have been shocked (as are most American Jews) by the racist, hyper-puritanical tone that's been emerging in Israeli society and the IDF over the last 20 years.

Not shocked, unfortunately, are so many thousands of Christian Zionists who pack the pews of so many thousands of American Protestant congregations - the ones who hope to see a war involving Israel that will usher in Armageddon and the Second Return of Jesus, that man of peace and love.

Well, if this report from the Washington Times is accurate, they may get it - the war, that is.  Is it possible that Mr. Netanyahu approved the prisoner exchange for Gilad Schalit in order to clear the decks for an Israeli military strike on Iran?  Indeed, Amir Oren wrote (in Haaretz, as paraphrased by the WT):

Although the prime minister failed to make any enduring mark on history during his previous term or so far during his present term, Mr. Netanyahu may see Iran as an opportunity to achieve his Churchillian moment, Mr. Oren wrote. "The day is not far off, Netanyahu believes, when Churchill will emerge from him."

Libya: Divvy It Up and Take the Oil?

Does this (Lawrence Solomon in Financial Post) remind anyone else of post-World War I European divide-and-control in the Middle East -- and use the oil wealth as we see fit?
Who should get Libya’s fabulous oil and gas wealth, an amount that could be equivalent to several million dollars per Libyan? With NATO leaving Libya Monday, the West should prepare for the aftermath. The coming chaotic months will see infighting, and perhaps a renewal of civil war, among the many rival tribal and ideological groups. The West should now consider whether to influence — or impose — a just resolution.
If the West takes a hands-off approach, Libya is likely to fall into the hands of another strongman, as all Arab countries have in the Middle East. Does the West want another Gaddafi to control these riches? Or should the riches be divvied up among Libya’s many tribes? Should Libya — a new country conjured up by Western powers 60 years ago — even exist in its present form? Or should some other borders be created, to better reflect the traditional lands and cultural differences of its indigenous populations?


This immense country — the fourth largest in Africa, in area equivalent to 25 Irelands — had but one million people on its independence day in 1951, when the United Nations merged together one French and two British-administered territories to create Libya. Few among those one million had any notion of nationhood — they largely hailed from nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, some 20 tribes among them of various racial stock, typically with fierce allegiances to their own clans and little else.

The three territories that became Libya had few economic prospects at the time — they were believed to have no commercial supplies of oil or water — making them a cost to their British and French masters. To rid themselves of these costs, these Western powers, with UN approval, installed a local dignitary as king and walked away.

Prior to the Second World War, the territories had been colonized by Italy’s Fascists. Prior to the First World War, they had been colonies of the Ottoman Turks, who had taken them from the Arabs, who had taken them from the Romans, who had taken them from the Greeks. “Libyans” had never ruled themselves.

Today, Libyans still have little notion of nationhood. Shortly after Libya’s creation, Esso (now known as Exxon) discovered oil, making Libya a prize worth seizing. Gaddafi then overthrew the monarchy that the UN had created and dismantled parliament, political parties and all other institutions that might challenge him. Over his 42-year rule, he used Libya’s wealth, as Arab dictators often do, to buy off some tribes and oppress the rest. Today no tradition of democracy exists in Libya, except as vestiges of tribal governance, which Gaddafi also attempted to destroy.

Libyans, by any credible measure, are ill-prepared to govern themselves, and some minorities may prefer to live apart from the dominant Libyan tribes. The Tuareg in the country’s remote southwest, for example, call themselves “the free people” and live up to their name: These dark-skinned people from the Saharan interior are famed for having fought the French Foreign Legion and other colonizers in the past; today they oppose the interim leaders that NATO and the West have empowered in Libya.

Fortunately, the United Nations has a mechanism to deal with people such as the Tuareg, and immature states such as Libya — the United Nations Trusteeship System. After the Second World War, this system oversaw the transition of 11 territories to self-determination. Each transition was unique, because the local circumstances were unique, but they all had as their goals the promotion of domestic development, along with international peace and security. In some cases, self-determination took the form of outright independence, as with the Cameroons; in others, it involved a merger, as with Togoland, which joined the Gold Coast to become Ghana; in still others, it involved separation, as with Ruanda-Urundi, which voted to divide into the two sovereign states of Rwanda and Burundi.

In the case of Libya, a UN trusteeship that gave its peoples a say over their own destiny could well see a split-up of the country. The country might divide into the three parts that existed prior to independence, or into a larger number of sovereign states, as the various tribal groups considered their cultural and economic self-interest.

Decentralization is likely to be positive in financial terms because under the highly centralized Gaddafi dictatorship, as with most dictatorships, the economy stagnated. His decision to expropriate the foreign-owned oil industry in favour of an inefficient and corrupt state oil company all but halted development of one of the world’s largest, cleanest, and lowest-cost reservoirs of energy — most of Libya’s vast energy potential as a result remains unexplored and untapped.

The UN trusteeship could also dispense reparations by using part of Libya’s oil wealth to compensate Gaddafi’s victims. These exist in good number domestically, in the tribes and political prisoners that he ruthlessly subdued, and externally too, in the neighbouring countries he attacked. The trusteeship could also compensate the Libyans forced to flee the country, both the political refugees and Libya’s once sizeable Jewish community, which was forced to leave en masse, its property expropriated.

Finally, reparations could also include the US$1-billion to US$2-billion that NATO spent to liberate the country from its tyrant. If compensated, NATO countries would more readily intervene in other tyrannies, and the tyrants, knowing this, would less readily send their tanks in against their own people.

The alternative to giving Libya’s people the right to determine their future is bleak. The interim leaders — chiefly a trio associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda — have strongly held views, as do those NATO defeated on their behalf. But NATO leaves at 11:59 p.m., Oct. 31.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The "Existential Threat" of those Mad Mullahs

OK, OK, so the worthies who published this Islamophobic screed in Haaretz didn't call them "mad mullahs" - but they do make reference to Iran's " irrational Shiite clerics."  Close enough.

Sad to say, the authors include two former major honchos of the US military hierarchy: Admiral (ret. ) Leon "Bud" Edney, former vice chief of U.S. naval operations; NATO supreme allied commander, Atlantic; and commander in chief, U.S. Atlantic Command; and  Lt. Gen. (ret. ) Thomas G. McInerney, former vice chief of staff, USAF; deputy chief of staff for operations and intelligence; and vice commander in chief, HQ, U.S. Air Force in Europe.  Regrettably, the editors of Haaretz provided them cover to disseminate a pseudo-legalistic apologistic essay that attempts to wash the US's hands of any moral or legal culpability should it decide to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran.

Their rationale appeals to some of the most standard, even hackneyed assumptions [see my italicizing below] about Iran's leadership and what it might be capable of:

The United States is presently the only country that has the operational capability to undertake a successful preemptive mission to remove Iran's covert and illegal nuclear weapons program. In the best of circumstances, such an expression of anticipatory self-defense would be broadly multilateral, and endorsed by the United Nations. But we don't yet live in the best of all possible worlds, and even now, the most likely alternative - if there is not an American defensive strike on Iran - would be a fully nuclear Iran, led by irrational Shiite clerics. Should this alternative be "selected," America would need to clarify persuasively that its response to any attack on the United States or its vital interests in a Middle East where nuclear weapons are now proliferating would be instant and overwhelming.

In world politics, irrational does not mean "crazy." It indicates, rather, that national self-preservation is valued less than certain other leadership preferences. With Iran, these preferences would be associated with various core religious beliefs and expectations.

There can be no foreseeable nuclear balance of terror in the Middle East. In the not-too-distant future, Iran could well justify using nuclear weapons against "infidels" or "apostates," whatever the expected retaliatory consequences. In such conceivable cases, nuclear deterrence would be ineffective. Iran would become a suicide-bomber writ large; in other words, a "suicide-state."

"Suicide-state."  Gee, that's catchy.   (Ooooh, I know, I know!!  How about "kamikaze kountry"?)

I'm not making this stuff up.

How about these two red-blooded American heroes get back on their meds, head back to the golf course - whatever it takes to get themselves out of the limelight before they incinerate whatever's left of the reputation for clear-thinking of a Pentagon establishment that has undeniably self-immolated over the past 10 years.  (And take your Purdue professor pal with you.)

What Lies Ahead for Libya?

Anne Applebaum in the WaPo has the smart response: Don't ask me.  I can't blame her for the dodge either.  But as she writes about what she's seeing in Benghazi, it's obvious that Libya could go in a bazillion different ways.  Much of the rest of the world will be intent on gettting its oil production back on line.  Its other resources - especially its people, and perhaps its beach shoreline - are waiting to be developed; oil may bring money to do that.

But who's going to be the guide; run the show, and how?  Truly, nobody can say.  Let's hope the Libyan people can bring to the task some measure of fortitude (which, given all they've endured, they surely have, in spades) and patience (remains to be seen, but I'm not betting the ranch on that virtue being very abundant among a people tired of poverty and stagnation).  What they can't bring to the task is a real foundation to build upon, or a template to model, because Qaddafi left no semblance of either.

So, Libya . . . .  A bonanza in the making?  Or a bleeding carcass about to be ripped apart?

Applebaum's right.  No one can say.

Thomas Friedman Skewered in New Book

Nice to see that someone has finally sat down with all of Thomas Friedman's columns since the 1990s, analyzed them thoroughly, and held them up for some well-deserved - and much overdue - scrutiny.  From Jadaliyya, a portion of a conversation with Belen Fernandez, author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work:

I was of course already familiar with the general characteristics of Friedman’s writing—hubris, clichéd jingoism, Orientalism, favoritism of Israel, self-contradiction, a severe handicap in the realm of metaphor construction, reduction of complex phenomena to simplistic and baseless theories. However, reviewing three decades of his work made it clear just how frightening, as opposed to simply laughable, it was that such a character had accrued three Pulitzer Prizes and risen to the position of journalistic icon at the US newspaper of record.

Though in earlier decades Friedman was often constrained to writing about innocuous topics, such as “Iowa Beef Revolutionized Meat-Packing Industry” (published in the New York Times in 1981), his post-1995 incarnation as a foreign affairs columnist—or, in his words, as a “tourist with an attitude”—has intermittently evolved into a license to prescribe military onslaughts and collective punishment, generally in the Arab/Muslim world, in obvious violation of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting such practices.

Consider, for example, his decree in a column published a few days prior to Israel’s devastation of Jenin in 2002 that “Israel needs to deal a military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay.” Or consider his suggestion during Operation Cast Lead in 2009 that Israel should repeat the strategy it employed in Lebanon in 2006, when the IDF supposedly achieved “the education of Hezbollah” by “exact[ing] enough pain on [Lebanese] civilians…to restrain Hezbollah in the future.”

As Foreign Policy aptly notes in its justification for awarding Friedman slot number thirty-three in the 2010 list of the FP Top 100 Global Thinkers: “Friedman doesn’t just report on events; he helps shape them.”

Indeed.  And not for the better, I would submit.

Ms. Fernandez devotes attention as well to Friedman's first major book, From Beirut to Jerusalem - which, I now shamefully confess, I adopted as required course reading for the first iteration (mid-1980s) of my undergrad survey course on the history of the Middle East from Muhammad to the Present.  Although I was the creator of the course, I was then just beginning to get some footing in the material I was teaching.  I also was mystified when told later that two of my students (both of them Muslims) had gone to my department chair to complain that I was having the class read a book that, in their estimation, was so biased.

Of course, it didn't take me long to figure out why.  But bear in mind, I was at the time (like millions of other Americans of my generation) still laboring under the impression that the movie Exodus (starring Paul Newman, Sal Mineo, etc., with John Derek - perhaps most famous as later the hubby of short-term hottie starlet Bo Derek - playing the role of the only English-speaking, "good" Arab) was a gem of history-based movie-making that might be suitable for classroom screening as a reliable depiction of the events of 1947-1949.  

Yes, I was indeed that naive, and that stupid - but I never did screen Exodus for that course.  But I might, someday - but for reasons for which its producer (or Leon Uris, who wrote the book upon which the movie was based) never intended.

And if I knew where those two former students were now, I just might send them a personal check to refund them the money I made them waste on buying Friedman's book.

Meanwhile, Ms. Fernandez's book just might be worth a look.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Tunisia Elections: Will the West Accept the Results?

Rami Khouri on the Tunisian elections as marking a new "birthday" for the Arab world: the birth of real democracy there.  (And, sorry, all you neocons: Iraq does NOT count; nor will any democracy that the US and pals install - that is, impose.)

But can the US and pals handle what's going to be in the offing?

There is already much discussion of the implications of the Islamist party Ennahda winning the most votes, and the possible coalitions it may form with other leading vote-getters, such as the secular leftist parties, the Congress Party for the Republic and Ettakol, or the center-left Progressive Democratic Party.

The emphasis on the American and other Western media on Ennahda’s performance is understandable, in foreign lands where Islamists are feared in large part because they are not known. Ennahda and its coalition partners will now be subjected to the greatest test that any political group can experience: the accountability of incumbency. They must deliver what the Tunisian electorate demands, in terms of economic growth, jobs, social justice, security and that long absent sense that this and other Arab governments exist to serve their people above all else. If the governing coalition delivers what the citizenry expects, it will be voted into power again and again, as we have witnessed in Turkey over the past decade.

The West, led by Israel and the United States, made a terrible mistake in 2006 when many countries refused to deal with Hamas after it won the election in Palestine. The same thing happened in 1992 when the FIS Islamist party won the elections but was barred from taking office due to an army coup, leading to a brutal civil war that saw nearly 200,000 Algerians killed. Now the world gets another chance to react more rationally to an Arab Islamist party that has won a free election and says it wants to strengthen Tunisia’s secular democratic system. The really significant event Sunday in Tunisia was not the victory by Ennahda, but rather the triumph of the combined concepts of pluralistic electoral democracy, republicanism and constitutionalism.

The legitimizing factor that has made all this possible, in the span of just nine months since the overthrow of the dictator, has been the ongoing popular participation of hundreds of thousands of Tunisians, who followed up the initial removal of the former regime by repeatedly taking to the streets, the media, and the political space they opened up to demand that the core aims of the revolution be achieved. This is the new and historic factor that many of us in the region have been pointing out for months, and that is now more evident: These historic transitions to more honorable, credible and accountable governance systems will succeed because an empowered, activist citizenry demands this, and will keep working to ensure that it happens.

Neither promises nor threats will prevent success. The twin core demands of the Arab citizen now being born across the region – social justice and genuine constitutional reforms – drive this ongoing process of historic rebirth. They set down their first roots in Tunisia last Sunday.

Rest assured: Islamists will dominate the new Tunisian democracy.  They will not look kindly on an Israel that has bullied and brutalized so many Muslims, and for so long.  Nor will they rush into the embrace of a US that does not begin to distance itself from an Israeli regime led by hard-core, maximalist Zionists (one of them, Avigdor Lieberman, demonstrably a racist bigot).

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and other Congressmen bought and paid by AIPAC will rant and make threats.  The "experts" at WINEP and Brookings will pen scarifying reports.  Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann will stir the pot.

Obama has professed himself the standard bearer for a new American approach to encouraging democracy and human rights in the Middle East.  (Hell, he even got a Nobel Peace Prize for it!)  Well, the ball's about to be passed to him again.

Will he man up?

Speaking Again of Leverage . . . in Iraq

Spencer Ackerman at Wired, reminding us all that the withdrawal of US regular combat forces from Iraq by 31 December does not signal the end of US-perpetrated violence in that country.  Why's that?  It's because the US's chief war-fighting force - the CIA, with all those drones and led by the US's most ballyhooed (now retired) general, David Petraeus (Saint David of the Surge) - is hardly pulling out; and, because what amount to three private armies of mercenaries will be attached to the US diplomatic missions at Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul.

These are the same lethal, trigger-happy cowboy-clowns who shot up Baghdad's Nisoor Square in 2007, killing 17 Iraqi bystanders.  They now become the State Department's own little militia.  And if past practice still holds, if one of them misbehaves (as in, "lights up" one of the locals), the US will whisk him out of the country, and not give a rat's ass about what Iraqis may say.

Ackerman concludes:

It’s a situation with the potential for diplomatic disaster. And it’s being managed by an organization with no experience running the tight command structure that makes armies cohesive and effective. . . .

So far, there are three big security firms with lucrative contracts to protect U.S. diplomats. Triple Canopy, a longtime State guard company, has a contract worth up to $1.53 billion to keep diplos safe as they travel throughout Iraq. Global Strategies Group will guard the consulate at Basra for up to $401 million. SOC Incorporated will protect the mega-embassy in Baghdad for up to $974 million. State has yet to award contracts to guard consulates in multiethnic flashpoint cities Mosul and Kirkuk, as well as the outpost in placid Irbil.

“We can have the kind of protection our diplomats need,” Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told reporters after Obama’s announcement. Whether the Iraqi people will have protection from the contractors that the State Department commands is a different question. And whatever you call their operations, the Obama administration hopes that you won’t be so rude as to call it “war.”

Obama's Lost Leverage on the Global Stage

The NYT's Thomas Friedman pens what's on the whole a reasonably well-argued essay on how Mr. Obama has done much better on achieving the Bush/Cheney "war on terror" objectives than Bush/Cheney did (and let's not forgotten Condi, America's then embattled brainiac/Barbie doll secretary of state); has bungled Afghanistan/Pakistan; and has little leverage to use, owing to American economic decline and reliance on Middle Eastern oil (a very big drum that TF bravely keeps banging - and God bless him for it.)

But his myopia kicked in when he then wrote:

Obama’s frustrations in bagging a big, nonmilitary foreign policy achievement are rooted in a much broader structural problem — one that also explains why we have not produced a history-changing secretary of state since the cold war titans Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and James Baker.

The reason: the world has gotten messier and America has lost leverage. When Kissinger was negotiating in the Middle East in the 1970s, he had to persuade just three people to make a deal: an all-powerful Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad; an Egyptian pharaoh, Anwar Sadat; and an Israeli prime minister with an overwhelming majority, Golda Meir.

To make history, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by contrast, need to extract a deal from a crumbling Syrian regime, a crumbled Egyptian regime, a fractious and weak Israeli coalition and a Palestinian movement broken into two parts.

Actually, even if Kissinger et al. were "cold war titans" at a time when US-Soviet relations called the tune for global geopolitics, Kissinger's lopsidedly pro-Israel intervention in the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war was part of a long history of such pro-Israel decisions on the part of the US.  Those decisions relentlessly undercut the US's leverage in the eyes of the people who - in this era of the "Arab spring" - are now beginning to count perhaps the most in the Middle East: the once disdained (and, as far as the US was concerned, largely ignored) "Arab street" (and add to that now the Turkish and Iranian streets).

 Of the three presidents whose tenures those three Secs of State reflect, only George H. W. Bush (with Baker as his Sec State) dared take a stand (in 1991) against Israeli colonization of the Occupied Territories.  (And it cost him on the American "street": that the victor of the 1991 Desert Storm war against Saddam went down to defeat vs. Bill Clinton in Nov. 1992 was due in no small part to Bush's threat to retract loan guarantees if Israel did not curb its colonization of the West Bank.)  Throughout that time, the US was content to make protecting Israel's interests one of the lynchpins of its Middle East policy.  And it played ball with dictators of the ilk of Hafez al-Assad and Anwar al-Sadat in order to achieve that goal.  The vaunted 1979 Camp David Accords that Jimmy Carter spearheaded (and for which Sadat became a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) got Israel a treaty with Egypt and got the Sinai back into Egyptian hands, but it essentially hung the Palestinians out to dry.  In the years to follow, the US played ball with Sadat's successor, the president/dictator Hosni Mubarak, and with Syria's president/dictators Assad (pere et fils) whenever it furthered Israeli interests.

So now, those dictators are gone or (probably) going.  And as Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi have found out, the Arab street, previously discounted as all "bark," turns out to have a nasty "bite."  Its denizens have long, deeply seared memories - of US support for dictators who ruined and tortured them, and for an Israel that has killed thousands of them (on the streets of Beirut as well as Ramallah).  Since 2001, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed tens of thousands of them on the streets of Baghdad and Basra, Kabul and Kandahar.  And in the process, a largely Islamophobic American public that let itself be whipped into a frenzy of misguided revenge in the wake of the al-Qaeda attacks of 11 September 2001 have reveled like triumphant crusaders in the gore of thousands of Muslims its military - with the blessing of its Congress - has killed worldwide.

Slowly, but  inexorably, the dictators are passing from the Middle Eastern scene, to be replaced (one fervently hopes) with representative democracies.  As reports pouring in from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria have made abundantly clear, the new democracies and their parliaments will be brimming with political Islamists of various stripes; and (at least relative to the regimes they will replace) they will be much more attuned, and responsive, to the "street," with its charnel-house memories.

On that street, the USA will have little leverage indeed.  And Mr. Friedman ought to chalk up that lost leverage, in significant part, to those State Department "titans" of the Cold War yesteryear.

Monday, October 24, 2011

John McCain: Bomb-Bomb . . . Syria?

It happens in every profession, every walk of life.  One hangs in, hangs on, beyond the span of one's usefulness.  Begins to cross that thin, faint line that separates old-school from old-age, lovable codger from danger to the cause he claims to love.

I give you, Senator John McCain:

With NATO bombing of Libya set to end, U.S. Sen. John McCain on Sunday raised the possibility of some kind of military attack on Syria, where the government of Bashar Assad has been accused of brutally cracking down on protesters.

“Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what partial military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria,” McCain (R-Ariz.) said at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan. “The Assad regime should not consider that it can get away with mass murder. Kadafi made that mistake and it cost him everything.”

Mercifully, Mr. Obama is finally about to extricate the United States from the colossal strategic blunder that was the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.  The American adventure in Afghanistan has reached a point perhaps best compared to a clogged commode in which the turds resist the inexorable erosion from the water's flow, only to be dislodged and flushed forever down the pipes.  The American digression into Libya now smells like a rose, its blooming from the fertilizing blood of local rebels; but the petals are likely to begin dropping within days.

The relatively new ethnic/sectarian confection that is Iraq must now do whatever it must do.  (Can we please step back and remember that "Iraq" is less than 100 years old - a drop in the bucket of the millennia that went into the making of what was Babylonia for  2000 years?  "Iraq"'s warranty may be about to expire.)  Those who accuse Mr. Obama of "losing Iraq" (now that he has announced that all US troops will be withdrawn from there in less than two months) need to remember that (those proponents of how "the Surge worked" notwithstanding) the US never "won" Iraq in the first place.  In the "Middle East," the US is the new kid from the block on the other side of town.  The Iranians are the next-door neighbors who've been standing in the parlor forever.  They're not going anywhere, and for the US to think that it can make them step outside, walk down to the sidewalk, and never come back is beyond stupid.

In other words, it's time for the US to exit, stage left, and get its own act together - especially at home - before it even thinks about riding to the rescue anywhere else in the Middle East.

And John McCain now tries to rattle the US sabre against Syria - even though the scabbard is empty?

Go home, senator.  Put on lots of sunscreen.  Stick to the shade.  

And remember that your time in the sun gave you cancer - and got a lot of Americans killed, in the cause of a "victory" that was never theirs to win.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Racist Violence of Jewish West Bank Settlers

A disgusting, disheartening, enraging report from David Schulman at the NYRB blog, about a brutal attack by the Jewish settlers of the West Bank settlers at Anatot on a local farmer and his wife (and on members of an Israeli peace group) when the farmer tried to visit his land (land that even the Israeli courts ruled was legally his).  Didn't matter to the settlers - or to the security forces accompanying them, who simply didn't intervene.

On the morning of September 30, the activists accompanied him to the rocky hillside that is still nominally his; they were carrying with them a Palestinian flag. The Anatot settlers seemed to have known ahead of time about the visit, and within minutes, a large contingent of them—estimates range from 60 to 100—arrived and attacked the group. First they cracked open Yasin’s head and attacked his wife, breaking her ribs, and then they beat the Israeli activists with clubs and rocks. Many were injured; four were hospitalized (Yasin himself is still recuperating), and, as usual, some activists—in this case three of them—were arrested (generally, settlers are above the law). There were uniformed Israeli police there—some were present on the scene ever before the attack began—who made no effort to stop the assault. There is no question that the attack was premeditated, and its scale was impressive. Cameras documenting the violence were smashed by settlers and police; vehicles belonging to activists and Palestinians parked nearby were savaged.

And it is, of course, racist hooligans such as these who know that they can act with such impunity when the Netanyahu/Lieberman duovirate and a right-wing Knesset, a US Congress bought-and-paid-for by AIPAC and the Israel lobby, a vote-hungry Barack Obama, the pro-Israel propaganda machine that is Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and those millions of so-called Christians who would be overjoyed to see every last Arab removed from the "Holy Land - when people such as these have your back, you may believe you can do whatever you want.

That Israeli society as a whole will tolerate, even embrace, acts such as this, even as Israel's leaders pursue policies that have left Israel basically friendless, isolated, in the Middle East, can only mean that at some point, quite possibly in the near future, when some match lights up the tinderbox, there's going to be a terrible, terrible reckoning.

US's Dilemma in Iraq

As widely reported today (here's the NYT's report), hundreds of Turkish soldiers, supported by Turkish warplanes, crossed more than 2 miles into Iraq today to go after members of the PKK militia who attacked and killed about 25 Turkish soldiers.  The US ambassador to Turkey has issued a statement deploring the PKK attacks, noting that that organization is on the US's official terrorist list.

Iraqi Kurdish politicians are not happy with Turkey's incursions into their territory - the latest in a series of Turkey's attacks into the territory of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which, at least officially, is part of the state of Iraq, which is governed from Baghdad.  For Iraqi pols who hope to rebuild a truly Iraqi "nation" that incorporates the country's diverse ethnic groups and religious communities, Turkey has attacked the sovereign state of Iraq.  From Turkey's point of view, however, the PKK has to be eliminated, which means not allowing them a safe haven inside Iraq.  (One wonders how much the US is keeping an eye on this situation as a template for a possible future incursion of US forces into Pakistan to eliminate Taliban who flee from Afghanistan to shelter there.)

Will the US at some point need to choose between Turkey (the emerging new power in the Middle East, and one that it hopes to cajole back into an embrace of Israel, which is rendering itself more isolated by the day) and Iraq (the country where the US expended so much blood and treasure to "liberate" it, and which it desperately wants to nurture as an ally against Iran)?  

If Iraq's oil industry ever gets truly up and running, to exploit the bazillions of barrels of oil and cubic meters of natural gas now encased beneath its soil, American weapons-manufacturers (and the Congressmen at their collective teat) will expect a bonanza of sales to the Iraqi military - which, the US says, it wants to see beefed up enough to fend off outsiders and control its own airspace.

Has anyone envisioned the possibility of an Iraqi prime minister scrambling Iraqi fighter jets - supplied by Lockheed, General Dynamics, whomever - to defend northern Iraq (the current KRG) against bombings and strafings from Turkish warplanes?

UPI reports on some of the other implications for US policy in the Middle East if a full-blown civil war erupts in Turkey's southeast, and if Turkey ramps up its incursions into Iraq to go after the PKK.

the Americans may find themselves drawn into the conflict as Turkey launches air raids on PKK sanctuaries in Iraq and is expected to mount a major ground offensive, as it has in the past, if the Kurds keep up attacks on Turkish forces.

The Islamist government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could well be supported by U.S. Predator drones that are expected to be deployed on Turkish soil as the Americans withdraw from Iraq.

Indeed, Ankara's growing campaign against the PKK is becoming interlocked with a worsening revolution in Syria, Turkey's threat to use military force to stop Greek Cypriots and Israel from exploiting offshore natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean and deteriorating relations between Iran and the United States.

As U.S. troops move toward completing their withdrawal from Iraq by Dec. 31, Washington is having to increasingly depend on Turkey, which has the second largest military within NATO, to help support Iraq, moderate with Iran and pressure the beleaguered regime in strife-torn Syria.

Erdogan last week launched weeklong military maneuvers on Turkey's border with Syria, as it did in 1988 when the two neighbors almost went to war over Damascus' backing for the separatists of the PKK.

Erdogan, who wants to make Turkey the paramount power in the region, has allowed the Syrian National Council, the umbrella for the myriad opposition groups that have been seeking the downfall of the minority Alawite regime in Damascus since mid-March, to operate out of Istanbul.

Syria's intelligence services, a key pillar of the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, have threatened to resume arms deliveries to the PKK unless Erdogan minds his own business.

Turkish authorities uncovered an arms cache in the southern Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Oct. 3 that may have originated in Syria.

Damascus accuses the Turks of arming the Free Syrian Army and the Syria Free Officers Movement, two groups formed by soldiers who defected from the Syrian military to join the uprising in which the United Nations says more than 3,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed.

These two groups, along with other dissident factions, operate from refugee camps on Turkey's border with Syria.

The regional upheaval is further complicated by Iran stepping up attacks on PJAK, the PKK's Iranian wing, which also has bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

With the U.S. military pullout from Iraq, Washington's need for Erdogan's support will almost certainly intensify. The U.S. State Department has already branded the PKK a terrorist organization.

"I think Turkey has America's complete support regarding the PKK," says Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University.

"The U.S. is so dependent on Turkish backing when it comes to Syria and Iraq, I don't think they'll think twice about writing off the PKK."

The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank, cites regional analysts as saying Iran "is using PJAK and the PKK to militarize the border regions in case of an American attack."

That prospect may have gained traction from U.S. allegations that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington.

Tehran vehemently denies that and some analysts suspect the incident was fabricated by U.S. authorities to discredit Iran and pave the way for possible military action.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kamikaze Drones?!

As reported by AFP,

A miniature "kamikaze" drone designed to quietly hover in the sky before dive-bombing and slamming into a human target will soon be part of the US Army's arsenal, officials say.

Dubbed the "Switchblade," the robotic aircraft represents the latest attempt by the United States to refine how it takes out suspected militants.

Weighing less than two kilos, the drone is small enough to fit into a soldier's backpack and is launched from a tube, with wings quickly folding out as it soars into the air, according to manufacturer AeroVironment.

Powered by a small electric motor, the Switchblade transmits video in real time from overhead, allowing a soldier to identify an enemy, the company said in a press release last month.

"Upon confirming the target using the live video feed, the operator then sends a command to the air vehicle to arm it and lock its trajectory onto the target," it said.

The drone then flies into the "target," detonating a small explosive.

For the sake of US relations with Japan, I do hope that the "kamikaze" moniker doesn't last.  The original kamikazes were piloted by real human beings, Japanese pilots of enormous courage and dedication who were willing to embrace the prospect of a sure death in defense of their country and service to their emperor.  To compare to such men the joystick aces who'll be "flying" these drones is a travesty.

US War with Pakistan: Only a Matter of Time?

The NYT's C. J. Chivers reports on how US forward bases in Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan, are taking deadly fire (3 Afghan soldiers were killed by such fire several weeks ago) from just inside the Pakistan side of the border - and US officers on scene are convinced that the Pakistani military are either directly involved or else turning a blind eye.  And US soldiers, says Chivers, are "seething" and just want to be allowed to "do our job" - in other words, launch reprisals by firing into Pakistan.

If US officials give them the green light, it's only a matter of time before American fire kills Pakistani soldiers.  The Pakistani press long ago turned against the US presence in the region.  The country is ablaze with hatred of the US, for reasons (frankly, most of them legitimate) too many to catalog here.

But we're now in full election-campaign mode (the "silly season") back home.  Senators and congressmen will be vying with each other to bray the loudest about protecting "the troops," and what's Obama doing about it.  Obama, facing a tough re-election fight, will need to at least look as if he's doing something about it.  He'll talk tougher to his Pakistani interlocutors, and then he'll approve some kind of fire mission as a kind of shot over the bow of the Pakistani military leadership (who, of course, are really in charge of that country).

How all this ends up . . . .?  Well, don't forget that the last thing that Iran (which already feels embattled,surrounded, and picked on by the US) wants to see is the US hunkering down to take on yet another country with a common border with Iran.  And as a recent WaPo report noted, the Iranian government recently hosted (without much fanfare) a delegation from the Afghan Taliban, with whom it almost went to war only 10 years ago.

Finally, Pakistan has been trying for months to cultivate ties with China.  The Chinese have not exactly been rushing into that embrace, but they will not be reassured about American intentions in the region if the US decides to play hardball with the Pakistanis.

Idea for Mr. Obama: the US effort in Afghanistan is going nowhere.  Speed up the withdrawal, get US troops out of harm's way, quit antagonizing the people of Pakistan with what have become incessant drone strikes, and come to terms with the reality that the US presence in Afghanistan has become the premier reason why the entire region, including Pakistan, has become so unstable.  So, pack up, get out - ignore the advice of people like Bruce Riedel (who wants Obama to toughen up on Pakistan and adopt of policy of "containment") -  and, while you're at it,  ignore idiots like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who demand that you fight on to the last soldier, and penny.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Iraq has been a blindingly fast success"

I know, I know . . . I gagged when I read it as well, but thus says neocon cheerleader Robert Kagan in his NYT review of a new book by a UT-Austin professor.  The title says it all: "Liberty's Surest Guardian."  His thesis? That America has been doing nation-building for a long time, and ought not shrink from doing it again.

Rick Perry has been after college profs lately, but I imagine he'll want to give this guy a bonus.

Thus fawns Kagan: 

 Suri, a professor of history at the University of Texas, Austin, argues not only that Americans have engaged in nation-building throughout their history, but that their impulse to do so springs naturally and inevitably from their character and experience as a people. Having built a single nation out of disparate parts themselves, having solved the problem of competing interests by channeling them through national representative institutions, Americans have continually sought to replicate this experience in foreign lands. They have “deployed their exceptional history in universalistic ways.” And while Suri acknowledges that these efforts have at times been quixotic, he insists that the American proclivity to engage in nation-building is smart. It is, he argues, the necessary compromise between isolationism and empire: a “society of states” that are independent, stable, capable of trading with one another and, above all, modeled after the United States. In response to realist critics, he writes that “the American pursuit of a society of states serves the deepest interests of a people forged in revolution.” Because “alternative forms of foreign government limit American influence, access and long-term trust,” the “spread of American-style nation-states, and the destruction of their challengers, matches the realistic interests of citizens in the United States.”

In other words, presumably because our own style of democratic state is the kind of polity to which all of humanity surely aspires, it's perfectly OK to invade other lands and try to clone them into little Americas.  After all, it serves our deepest interests; and besides, other kinds of governments limit those interests, and our influence.

Seems to me that the Athenians tried that in the 5th century BCE, with the Delian League - and poleis (like that on the Cycladic island of Melos) that didn't accept the Athenian model were, well, conquered, and devastated.

Kind of like the Philippines, where the US military slaughtered Moro tribesmen in the tens of thousands - but which Kagan seems to feel was a success of US nation-building.

Kind of like Iraq - which Kagan nonetheless labels a "blindingly fast success."

Turns out that the US was so successful in Iraq that the Iraqis - whose military probably really could benefit from some US trainer/advisers - want nothing more to do with the US military.  As AP reported today, the wringing of hands and imploring of Iraqi politicians is over.  Evidently the US is going to be pulling out completely; no 5000 trainer/advisers.  Maliki has told the US that he simply cannot get enough votes to support it in the Iraqi parliament.

The ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Haditha still haunt the souls of Iraqis.

Friday, October 14, 2011

On Knee-Jerk Bomb-Iran-ers . . .

There are not that many commentators whose stuff I make a point of reading and bookmarking - but Paul Pillar is one of them.  His latest essay at The National Interest spotlights the useful idiots who seize upon virtually any incident as pretext to call for harsh measures against Iran.  And as he notes, this latest incident - of the US's alleged discovery of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US - as well as bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies - is such a botched piece of work as to call into question the nature of any Iranian involvement in it.
Another salient feature of the plot as detailed by the Justice Department is that it appears to have been designed with the intention of being discovered. This is related to the overall inept tradecraft but in particular to the sending of traceable quantities of money into the United States and the spilling of beans about supposed Iranian government involvement in open telephone calls to untrustworthy foreigners. If the plot was intended to be discovered, then presumably the motive of whoever concocted it was to escalate further the tension between Iran and the United States. A couple of possible instigators outside Iran come to mind; the most plausible ones inside Iran would be rogue elements. Whoever the instigator was, for the United States to respond by pressuring Iran more, and thus raising further the tension in the relationship, would be playing right into the intentions of whoever put the plot together.
A number of other expert commentators have weighed in with similar misgivings.  

  • Juan Cole (at Informed Comment), who also cites former CIA agent Robert Baer in support, finds that the whole thing "makes no sense."
  • Patrick Cockburn of The Independent claims that "This bizarre plot goes against all that is known of Iran's intelligence service."
  • The WaPo's David Ignatius is - characteristically - more willing to accept the official US version and assignation of blame, but his essay about "those Keystone Iranians" suggests that he finds the entire episode rather cockamamie. (And for those not of a certain age, the "keystone" reference is to the prat-falling "Keystone Cops" of the silent-movie era; yes, kids, there was a time when movies had no sound.  Would that some actors took note.)
  • Even Vali Nasr, who always plays his cards close to the vest when addressing a topic might incur the ire of the White House, hedges his remarks about the big mistake the Iranians might have made with the proviso, "If true."

As usual, Tony Karon nails down some of the colder realities of the situation:
The plot allegations . . . are unlikely to be a game changer in the long-running effort by the U.S. and its closest allies to isolate and pressure Iran over its nuclear program: Those already on board with that effort -- such as Britain and France -- are backing U.S. calls for action on the embassy plot; those skeptical or opposed to that effort appear less certain of just what the evidence presented thus far by the Administration actually means. 
It should come as no surprise that a scheme whose spectacular hokeyness is difficult to square with everything that is known about Iran's well-established methods for staging terror attacks -- and for which it's hard to provide a rational motive even in the context of Iran's intense regional power struggle with Saudi Arabia -- is proving difficult to pin on the Iranian government's decision makers. 

But, in need of some red meat to feed those (like Rick Perry) who find him weak in confronting "terror" and US enemies - and in backing Israel to the hilt - Mr. Obama is hardly about to look this gift horse in the mouth.  Karon again:

Obama's rhetoric was tough, insisting that Iran be made to "pay a price" the plot and warning that "no option would be taken off the table" in responding, which is code for the threat of military action.  Washington certainly seems to be scooping up everything it can find on alleged Iranian malfeasance to throw into the p.r. battle. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials told the Washington Post that they believe that Iran was behind the May 16 killing of a Saudi diplomat in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Saudi officials are even taking the opportunity to blame Iran's Quds force for instigating the Bahrain democratic uprising -- a claim that is more likely to undermine the credibility of the p.r. effort than it is to enhance it, with the Saudi-led crackdown in Bahrain enjoying limited sympathy beyond those who support Riyadh's role as sectarian pugilist and enforcer of Arab autocracy.
U.S. military officials also told the New York Times that Quds-forced trained and funded militants had fired rockets at an American position in Iraq, Wednesday, wounding three G.I.s. Perhaps that's just coincidence, but a case seems to be being made that Iran is on the offensive, requiring a response.

And the usual AIPAC-bought, Israel-at-all-costs suspects are piling in.  Thus, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee:

“On October 11th, 2011, the United States approach to the Iranian regime should have undergone a major change,” yet “the administration does not plan to alter its course of pressure and persuasive engagement with the Iranian regime.”
“Let me be blunt,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “This planned murder-for-hire must serve as a wakeup call regarding the determination and capability of the Iranian regime.”

Chiming in, Islamophobe New York Congressman Peter King, who
 "called the Iranians’ alleged scheme to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington “an act of war” against the United States and Saudi Arabia." 
Misgivings or no, we can expect a full-court press from the GOP/neocon/Fox News crowd.  No chance, of course, that they'll heed - or even read - what the Leveretts have to say at CNN, in a piece titled Iranian Plots and American Hubris:
Iran's national security strategy ultimately depends on appealing to the Saudi public not to support attacks against Iran, by harnessing popular anger over Israeli actions and U.S. overreach in the war on terror.
Killing a Saudi Ambassador would have exactly the opposite effect. Whatever Mansour Ababsiar and his cousin may have talked about, it is wholly implausible that the Iranian leadership decided that this was a smart thing to do.
The Obama Administration's calls for more concerted action against Iran will ultimately backfire-because they will be seen in most of the Muslim world (outside Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab monarchies closely linked to Saudi Arabia) as the United States yet again leveling dubious life-and-death charges as the pretext to contain or even eliminate another Muslim power.
President Obama, his advisers, and all Americans need to ask themselves if this is really the time to bring the United States even closer to another Middle East war fought in blind defiance of the region's strategic realities.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gideon Levy on Israeli Exceptionalism

I strongly recommend Gideon Levy's newest essay in Haaretz, where he castigates his fellow Israelis for what has become their innate sense of Jewish/Israeli exceptionalism, which he cites as manifesting itself most recently in the national jubilation after the Nobel Prize was awarded to an Israeli scientist.  Dr. Daniel Schechtman's achievements surely merited the award, and the world is better off for his success.

But reading Levy's essay, one can't help but be struck by the parallels with the sense of exceptionalism that has become so ingrained in so many Americans, and that scholars like Andrew Bacevich have lately been pointing out so persistently.  As with Israelis today, the sense of exceptionalism - the sense that alongside Israel, America has become God's "chosen people" - blinds us to the destruction and ill will that spring from our blinkered myopia about the effects of our actions and policies around the globe.


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