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.

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