Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Vicissitudes and Ironies of Arab Nationalism

Yesterday evening my graduate colloquium engaged in a lively discussion of two recent monographs on the history of pan-Arab nationalism and the resistance it encountered (especially in Iraq after 1958) from a more state-centered nationalism that nonetheless retained major focus on "Arabness" as a foundation of citizenship.  (The books to which I refer are Adeed Dawisha's Arab Nationalism and Eric Davis' Memories of State, both of which I recommend highly.)

In Iraq and Syria, of course, the Baath party featured front-and-center in this struggle, as did the personal ambitions of the families who led the party: the Asads in Syria and the Tikritis who clustered around the regime of Saddam Hussein.  The Baath emerged during the 1940s, then surged during the 1950s even as Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt leapt to the forefront of the pan-Arab nationalist movement by defying the former colonial powers (Great Britain and France) and the new colonial power (Israel) in the Middle East during the 1956 Suez Crisis.  (And as we know, his defiance held up only because Dwight D. Eisenhower confronted all three aggressors and made them the proverbial offers they couldn't refuse, which caused all of them to back off.  Nasser became the hero of the moment.)

Like Nasser's state socialism in Egypt, the Baath program in both Syria and Iraq featured state-socialist systems that functioned within an official ideology of secularism in which, ostensibly, all religious communities were to enjoy equal access to citizenship and economic opportunity provided that they conformed to the government's program.  In actuality, though, the Iraqi Baathist regime remained intent on preserving the domination of a Sunni Arab minority over the majority Shii Arab population of central and southern Iraq, as well as over the often marginalized Kurdish and Turkmen populations of the north.  By the later stages of Saddam's regime, of course, Sunni Arab domination in Iraq was centered increasingly on a subset associated with the region of Tikrit (Saddam's hometown) and its clans.  But Saddam was also able to deal Sunni Arab domination throughout the majority of the Middle East outside Iraq as an essentially pan-Arab nationalist card against the perfidious Persians (and Shia) of Iran during the horrific Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988.

Similarly, in Syria, the Asad regime cemented its hold over the state by focusing power within (as in Iraq) a minority sect, the Alawis - an offshoot of Shi'ism to which Hafez al-Asad and his family belonged.  In the case of Syria, then, an ostenisbly secularist/Arab-nationalist regime was in fact constructed to ensure the domination of an Alawi/Shii minority over a mostly Sunni Arab majority, with the Kurds (as in Iraq) largely marginalized.

The NY Times' Tim Arango today runs a story that lays bare how the unwinding of the Baath's ruling arrangements in those two countries is playing out - and especially, the impact that unwinding is having on Arab Shia (including Alawi) in the region.  Arango filed his story from Najaf, the southern Iraq city that is also, and famously, the premier shrine city for Shii Muslims.  Its significance derives from the fact that the First Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib - who was also the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and the fourth of the so-called "rightly guided" caliphs, is buried there in a revered mosque-tomb, near which is the Wadi al-Salam, the world's largest cemetery, to which Shia across the planet aspire to have their corpses brought for interrment.  As we all know, Iraq's Shii Arabs emerged as the real victors of the US-Anglo invasion of 2003 and subsequent occupation, which ended only weeks ago.  Shii religious parties now dominate Iraq's government, much to the anger of the previously dominant Sunni, who increasingly seem to feel (and with good reason) that there will be no place for them in the new Iraq (and that Iraq's Shii neighbor, Iran, will insist that that remain so).

But as Arango lays out, many Shia in Najaf are terrified by what they see as a Sunni resurgence in neighboring Syria, which is being brutalized by a civil war that, according to many accounts, has taken on a dangerously sectarian character.   The Alawi/Shii regime is resorting to extreme, systematically applied violence in a desperate attempt to hold onto power.  It is confronted by a burgeoning yet fragmented resistance whose leaders tout democratic aims and try to assure the world of their freedom-and-democracy bona fides, but whose Sunni sectarian character and motivations are becoming increasingly evident, and extremely worrisome.  Reports of Sunni killing of Alawis and other Shia in Syria (and, now, in Lebanon as well) are popping up with greater frequency.  At the same time, the regime's forces are killing scores every day, most of them Sunni Arabs.  According to a new report, 7500 have died - and there is no end in sight.

It's also reported that Sunni Arabs from the tribes of Anbar province in western Iraq are helping provide weapons for their tribal brethren across the border in Syria, and some may be joining the fight.  The al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for a (Sunni) jihad against the regime in Syria as well, and it's quite likely that al-Qaeda elements were responsible for recent terror bombings in Damascus and Aleppo.

All of this is playing out on a broader Middle Eastern stage on which Sunni Muslim groups and/or regimes are feeling their oats and coming to the forefront.  The (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood, with (Sunni) Salafist parties as well, are set to have a major voice in Egypt's emerging government, where they dominate the new parliament.  The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan remains a potent force in a country where the Hashemite monarchy's ruling bargain with its subjects has been under increasing challenge.    Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood's affiliate among Palestinians, only days ago stepped away from their long-time allegiance to Syria's Asad regime, which had long been their protector.  Instead, Hamas may now look for support to the Middle East's most energized new power, Turkey, whose rise to prominence has been spearheaded by a Sunni Islamist party whose leader continues to take Israel to task for its 2008 military attack on Hamas-run Gaza.  In Tunisia, where the "Arab Spring" first blossomed, a Sunni Islamist party, Ennahda, is positioned to play a significant role in that country's new democracy.  Libya remains in turmoil, but no one expects Sunni Islamist groups to be kept out of whatever political solution emerges (if it indeed ever does)

The Sunni Arab monarchy of Bahrain continues to make it clear that they will brook no significant interference from their restive Shii subjects.   In that confrontation, of course, they can rest assured of the military and financial support of a Saudi monarchy whose ruling family remains the standard bearer of a singularly puritanical and assertive aspect of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, that regards Shia as beyond-the-pale heretics.  The Saudis have also made very plain their antipathy toward the Shia-dominated regime that has emerged in Iraq.

The role that the US invasion of Iraq played in setting all this in motion is an issue that will be long debated.  Mr. Bush and his pals meant that invasion to be, of course, only an initial step in fashioning a "new Middle East" - one that would be much more Israel-friendly and much more susceptible to manipulation in the cause of US interests.

Well, it seems clear that a new Middle East is indeed taking shape.  But it also seems clear that it will be a far cry from any model the US had in mind.  It's going to feature a resurgence across the Middle East of the people upon whom, despite its ostensibly secularist self-identification, pan-Arab nationalism most focused during its heyday: the Sunni Arabs of the Middle East.  

But whereas the "Arabness" part of that formulation may have been spotlighted by Nasser and his Baathist allies during the 1950s and 1960s, its the "Sunni-ness" of those same Arabs that now is edging into that spotlight.  And within that spotlight, they will no longer find room for any US-Israeli agenda.

I suspect that Nasser would be smiling.  

Saddam, too.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Afghanistan: "Graveyard" of Indispensable Nations?

The US adventure in the Graveyard of Empires swirls the bowl.  I speak, of course, of Afghanistan, that storied imperial graveyard about which - not that many years ago - US military experts were crowing, "Well, yeah, but this is the 21st century, and WE are the US MILITARY."  The insinuation, of course, was that, comparatively speaking, the Soviets, and the Brits of the 19th century, and Alexander the Great's Macedonians, were all pussies.

Uh huh.

What's happened to the US in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the dedication, courage, and hardiness of US Marines and soldiers (even if those US troops who copy SS banners and name an outpost "Aryan" need to get their heads screwed on straight).  Many have paid the ultimate price; others will be paying out a severe price for the rest of their lives.  The nation owes them all it can afford, to help them heal and move ahead.

But now the US military is straining at the bit to escape before more of its people are sucked into becoming candidates for what John Kerry famously called the last soldier to die in a lost war.  As Douglas Wissing quoted from US Marines in Afghanistan: 

"On an operational level, the soldiers are saying, ‘I'm going to go over there and try to not get my legs blown off. My nation will shut this bullshit down,'" a Marine officer in southern Afghanistan told me last year. It wasn't just that his soldiers had lost confidence in their Afghan partners, they had long since lost faith in counterinsurgency's focus on hearts-and-minds development work.

"Marines say, ‘fuck this,'" the officer remarked. "The juice ain't worth the squeeze."  

From all appearances, the US is hustling to the off-ramps, disguising its exit as handing over to Afghan forces the chief responsibilities for dealing with the Taliban, who -  along with various and sundry warlords and local militia - are poised to reassert their control once the US is gone.  Afghanistan is poised for horrific civil war over the next few years.  Rival "Taliban" factions stand armed and ready.  Rival warlords have turfs to carve out.  Minority ethnic groups (Tajiks, Hazaras) want to assert themselves against the Pashtun majority. As James Traub so cogently observed, the Afghan people deserved far better in the wake of the Americans.

What we're likely to see in the months ahead are more incidents (reported or not) of US troops abusing corpses and lighting up civilians purely out of feelings of "fuck this" - especially as more of them are picked off by IEDs and snipers, or shot down by Afghan soldiers turning on them (as happened yesterday inside the Interior Ministry building in Kabul).  I feel for the families of the Americans who've lost their lives in such fashion - but I feel just as badly for the thousands of Afghans who've lost their lives at US hands.  And, it seems to me, no fair-minded person can blame Afghans for wanting to take revenge.  Afghan children, forced into refugee camps, are freezing to death in the Afghan winter's bitter cold.  And, as Glenn Greenwald notes via several reports, the Afghans who are turning against US soldiers have reasons galore to exact revenge - and not just for desecrating the Quran:

Protesters in Kabul interviewed on the road and in front of Parliament said that this was not the first time that Americans had violated Afghan cultural and religious traditions and that an apology was not enough.

“This is not just about dishonoring the Koran, it is about disrespecting our dead and killing our children,” said Maruf Hotak, 60, a man who joined the crowd on the outskirts of Kabul, referring to an episode in Helmand Province when American Marines urinated on the dead bodies of men they described as insurgents and to a recent erroneous airstrike on civilians in Kapisa Province that killed eight young Afghans.

“They always admit their mistakes,” he said. “They burn our Koran and then they apologize. You can’t just disrespect our holy book and kill our innocent children and make a small apology.”. . . 

The U.S. has violently occupied their country for more than a decade. It has, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself explained, killed what he called an “amazing number” of innocent Afghans in checkpoint shootings. It has repeatedly — as in, over and over — killed young Afghan children in air strikes. It continues to imprison their citizens for years at Bagram and other American bases without charges of any kind and with credible reports of torture and other serious abuses. Soldiers deliberately shot Afghan civilians for fun and urinated on their corpses and displayed them as trophies.

As the US effort is wound down, you can expect a plethora of encomiums from Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Panetta and their minions about all that the US has done for Afghanistan and its people (and, of course, the Fox News "experts" will be meanwhile pouring on the vitriol about how Obama, having "lost" Iraq, has now lost Afghanistan).  Be prepared.  

And then, be thankful that some perhaps wiser heads are nudging the US to come to terms with a belatedly discovered reality: the US is not a hyper-power.  Indeed, it never was a hyper-power.

And, just maybe, the US - and the world - might be better off in a world in which it is no longer to be regarded as "the indispensable nation."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

US Rice Farmers to Iraq: Where's the Love?

The AP (via WaPo) reports that struggling US rice farmers are incensed that Iraq now prefers to buy its rice from India.  Rice from India is cheaper, but the American farmers are royally pissed off because of  (as one Texas farmer whined), "with all that we’ve done over there, there would be a way to get them to do business with us."
From another farmer, “If we’ve got some rice to sell, they ought to pay a premium for it just because this is the country that freed them.”
From one Arkansas farmer, “We spent billions and billions, if not trillions over there, and lots of people died. There should be some reciprocation ...."
Well, at least this gentleman wasn't completely clueless; he remembers that "lots of people died."
Unfortunately, he and his pals seem to number only Americans among them.  Not an iota of awareness that the thousands of Americans that our Boy Emperor dispatched to Iraq - and the thousands of other Americans who signed on as "contractors" just for the money, and the thrill of shooting people - contributed to killing tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Get over it, gentlemen.  Iraqis owe you nothing.  In a more just world, you'd be shipping your rice to them, free of charge.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

McCain and Graham Want to Arm Syria's Rebels

As reported in the NY Times, superhawk GOP pals John McCain and Lindsey Graham want to see Syria's rebels armed - and they have no problem with the US providing those arms by funnelling them through the Arab League or some other conduit.
The senators’ statements supporting arming the opposition went beyond the Obama administration’s public comments about Syria. After Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria this month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the United States would continue to “support the opposition’s peaceful political plans for change,” but then added: “Many Syrians, under attack from their own government, are moving to defend themselves, which is to be expected.”
Still, the administration has made a point of working through the Arab League and the United Nations rather than giving the appearance that the United States is trying to intervene in Syria, in part to avoid giving Iran any excuse to get involved on behalf of its regional ally, analysts say.
The senators, on the other hand, cited Iran as a major reason for action in Syria, even if only indirectly.
Mr. McCain said the United States would not have to send weapons directly to the opposition but could work through “third-world countries” and the Arab League.
Mr. Graham also endorsed arming those who are fighting Mr. Assad, and he suggested that the Arab League, which has called for Mr. Assad’s departure, could be a conduit. A byproduct of a more interventionist policy would be to weaken Iran.
“Breaking Syria apart from Iran could be as important to containing a nuclear Iran as sanctions,” Mr. Graham said. “If the Syrian regime is replaced with another form of government that doesn’t tie its future to the Iranians, the world is a better place.”
Complicating the situation, of course, are Russia's long and deep ties with Syria (as this NYT piece notes), as well as the fact that Russia continues to send arms to the Assad regime.  
I honestly have a difficult time seeing a way forward in all of this.  But I have an even more difficult time looking to McCain and Graham (and I suppose Joe Lieberman will link arms with them any time now) for wisdom.  Neither man has demonstrated any aversion to seeing as many Arabs die as are necessary to serve their conception of American interests - to which, of course, they see Israel's interests as tied umbilically.  And as reported by the NYT, McCain seems to see the situation in Syria essentially as an opportunity to get at Iran.
And McCain, of course, came of age during the era of US-USSR confrontation and the Cold War.  I suspect some mind-sets die very hard.

And here's an interesting thought, in part provoked by this CSM report: Do McCain and Graham fancy being on the same team with al-Qaeda?

Another Bombing in Baghdad; But Iraq's Getting Better?

Reports in both the NYT and WaPo (from AP) on a suicide bombing that claimed as many as 20 lives outside a Baghdad police academy.  (Police academies have been favorite - and highly symbolic - targets of bombings for quite a long time now in Iraq.)

The WaPo/AP report rightly plays up the seeming ease with which suicide bombers evade detection by security forces, and also frames the bombing within the context of Iraq's interminably dicey political situation.  The NYT's Tim Arango, on the other hand, focuses on how the political situation, in his view, seems to be calming with the return of the Iraqiya delegation to Iraq's parliament.  He also notes that February was on course to become Iraq's least violent month in quite awhile - something he again attributes to a supposedly improving political climate.

I might note a few points here:

  • a major reason behind Iraqiya's return to parliament is that its current deliberations are about the budget.  Iraqiya needed to return if only to do all it can to get as big a slice of that pie as possible.  That hardly signals an impending political kumbaya party.
  • Sunni politician (and Iraq vice-president) Tariq al-Hashemi, whom Iraq PM al-Maliki has accused of terrorism against the state, continues to cling to sanctuary in Kurdistan, where he hopes to remain under the protective umbrella of the Kurdish Regional Government and out of the reach of Maliki's security forces.  That ought to tell you all you need to know about the state of Iraqi "unity" and "nationhood," or the supposed easing of political tensions.
  • Arango might have done well to ponder whether the recent decrease in violence in Iraq might be due, not to any easing of tensions, but to the possibility that the Sunni extremists who likely are behind this and earlier bombings are re-focusing their efforts across the border, in Syria, where the Alawi-based (read: Shii) Assad regime is increasingly beleaguered by a popular uprising that is significantly propelled by sectarian animosities.  That's a situation tailor-made for al-Qaeda-type jihadists, whose agenda includes the eradication of Shii regimes, especially those (like the Assad regime) that at least putatively embrace a secular-nationalist agenda.

Anthony Shadid's Death is a Loss to America

Salon's Gary Kamiya adds his own to the burgeoning tributes to the late Anthony Shadid . . . and makes the very important point that his death is most assuredly a loss to America:


His death is not just a terrible loss to journalism: it is a loss to America. Even though the United States is at war with two Middle Eastern countries, and stands on the brink of war with a third, most Americans, including our politicians and many so-called “experts,” know almost nothing about it – which is one of the reasons we embarked upon the disastrous Iraq war. Like all great reporters, Shadid penetrated the darkness. He took us not just into streets and cafes, but into hearts and minds. He showed the impact of decisions made by politicians and generals in far-away lands on housewives and young girls and street vendors, on small human beings just trying to live decent lives. He was our eyes.


The rest of Kamiya's essay is here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On Anthony Shadid - from Rami Khouri

A wonderful tribute, to the late and lamented Anthony Shadid, from a Middle Eastern journalist whose work I greatly admire . . .
Anthony Shadid, or humility defined
February 18, 2012 01:40 AM
By Rami G. Khouri
The Daily Star
When special people depart this world for another, as New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid did earlier this week, those of us who are left behind feel like a rowboat bobbing in the rolling waves left by the wake of a large luxury yacht or ocean liner.
When this happens, we are slightly disoriented; we momentarily lose our balance and direction, and are focused only on regaining our equilibrium, and later anchorage, in a suddenly turbulent and frightening world. Acids that are only occasionally activated for special assignments go to work in the pit of our stomach. They generate sadness at the passing of a life, fear because we have been alerted to the fragility of our own. Such events jolt our confidence and hope, because a life and death like that of Anthony Shadid remind us that our world remains full of gifted people like him.
The full measure of such people is in both the person and the profession, two dimensions that must both be separated and fused together in order to capture the significance of each.
I first met Anthony in 2000 in Amman, Jordan, as he was heading to Iraq for The Washington Post. We had remained friends and colleagues ever since. We met in many places – Amman, Beirut, Istanbul, Boston, in television and radio shows and elsewhere – and I had many opportunities to observe his personal and professional sides. In recent years, whether in my teaching reporting and writing, or discussing Western news coverage of the Arab world, his name and work always entered the picture. What he did professionally, and how he behaved personally, proved to be meaningful to many other people, because in both realms he set standards of excellence that transcended his own life.
One measure of his impact on the world of journalism in the Middle East was how often other people tried to contact him, to invite him to speak, or just to meet and chat. In my many decades of work in this arena, his phone and email were far and away the ones that others around the region and the world asked for most often. I would always ask him before passing on his contacts, and he would always reply with the same gracious reply, “I’d love to see them if it works out with my schedule.”
For those of us left behind, we owe it to the person and the profession to recall what made him so special. The answer from my perspective is short and easy: humility. I saw it in him every time we met, whether chatting over a coffee or meal, or in the field working, covering an event we both attended or chatting with a person who would provide useful facts or analysis. Many of the testimonials about Anthony’s work today focus on his reporting historic events from the perspective of ordinary men and women. That is correct, but the reason it is significant is that in his encounters with ordinary people or experts and public figures, he constantly asked questions to learn about the world he was covering, and more importantly, he listened to the answers with obvious and genuine sincerity.
Such behavior is the hallmark of a quality reporter, and it is a character trait that I sense is increasingly rare among foreign correspondents or Arab journalists in the Middle East, where the tendency is to slip away from the world of street reporting and slide into the world of studio oracles and web stardom. Anthony’s special gift was his ability to pose the questions, record the answers, and leave the pontificating and moralizing to others. In the process he captured the nuances, the contradictions, and the warm and vulnerable humanity of individuals and families that in turn reflected the conditions of entire nations in situations of stress and change.
Whenever I saw him, his most frequent expressions were, “Oh, really?” or “You think so?”, “That’s really interesting.” Statements like these, in which he reacted to the thoughts of others, acknowledging them and parking his own. His analytical aggregating machine gathered such material, combined it with the telltale signs of societies in flux that he recorded with his eyes and ears, and ultimately offered it to his readers in a special, almost lyrical, style of writing that captured telling snapshots of men, women, soldiers and statesmen, merchants and crooks, and their many complex worlds.
The humility and warmth in his personal character generated trust among all who met him. That same humility in his low-key reporting manner generated among those he questioned or documented equally important comfort and confidence in speaking honestly. The combination produced his rare example of reports over many years that accurately transmitted the world of the Middle East as it really is, and not as others in these or distant countries imagine it to be.
I will always be deeply impressed by the person of Anthony Shadid, and how he carried out his chosen profession of newspaper reporter. The stories he wrote and the life he lived can instruct us for years to come – if we can muster his humility and diligence.
Thank you Anthony, and God bless your memory.

Do GOP Congressmen Really Care about an Independent Baluchistan?

Can someone please explain to me how a bunch of  Republican Congressmen find it appropriate to introduce a resolution calling for an independent Baluchistan?

As reported in Dawn (and relayed via Jason Ditz at the site), Dana Rohrabacher (GOP California), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, wants the US on the record as supporting an independent state of Baluchistan.  He tries to dip into what seems to be his own treasure-chest of historical facts to assert in this resolution 

that historically Balochistan was an independently governed entity known as the Baloch Khanate of Kalat which came to an end after invasions from both British and Persian armies. An attempt to regain independence in 1947 was crushed by Pakistan.

You have to pity the poor staffer who was sent to explore Google to track down that nugget - or perhaps Rohrabacher got that handy factoid from one of the Islamophobia-enabling DC thinktanks?  

In any event, perhaps he ought to have checked a little deeper.  As Ditz's report also notes

Interestingly, the Khanate of Kalat was not traditionally a Baluch kingdom, but a Brahui one, whose territory was slowly eroded by an influx of ethnic Baluchs from neighboring Makran.

The Dawn report also notes that Rohrbacher  "created uproar in Pakistan last week when he held the first-ever exclusive hearing on human rights violations in Balochistan" - and that the resolution was co-sponsored by Louie Gohmert of Texas and Peter King of Iowa - two of the most prominent Islamophobic blowhards in a Congress already riddled with them. 

No one wants to see the people of Baluchistan denied their rights.  But that Rohrabacher et al. are picking this particular moment to provoke controversy and potentially destablize further an already destabilized, fragmented putative ally - and one that happens also to own a potent nuclear arsenal - suggests to me that these gentlemen are sorely bereft of geopolitical prudence, and that they do not have truly in mind the long-term interests of "the troops" in Afghanistan.  Those troops still rely significantly on Pakistan's willingness to keep open the supply (truck) routes across Pakistan into Afghanistan, which Pakistani opposition politicians, enraged by US actions, have already closed on several occasions.  This seems hardly a propitious time to enrage them even more.

Or, are these GOP gents' actions propelled by another consideration: Iran?  Baluchistan is not simply the westernmost province of Pakistan. From an ethno-linguistic perspective, Baluchistan also includes the far southeastern portion of Iran.  


So, for the US to fan the flames of separatism for Baluchs not only risks destabilizing Pakistan; it also would be intended to provoke trouble inside Iran itself, at a time when Iranians are already reeling under US-European sanctions and the looming prospect of military attack by Israel and/or the US.  At a time when people close to the Obama administration (even Dennis Ross) are encouraging keeping the diplomacy option on the table  vis-a-vis Iran, these guys seem to want to make that option less viable.

And these gentlemen surely must know that there is already operating in Baluchistan  a Sunni extremist terrorist group, Jundullah, that less than three years ago conducted a suicide attack that killed and injured more than 100 Shia worshippers at a mosque in the Iranian city of Zahedan.  Moreover, as reported in an Asia Times essay a few years ago:

Tehran has alleged in recent years that Jundullah is being run by Pakistan on behalf of the US to destabilize the regime in Tehran. (In 2007, there were controversial reports in some Western media outlets that the George W Bush administration was funding Jundullah covertly to further the agenda of "regime change". One report said that the Bush administration's objective was to gain leverage over Tehran, given Iranian sponsorship of insurgent groups in Iraq. Yet another said that Jundullah had been helpful to the US in tracking movements of al-Qaeda in the notoriously dangerous Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan border region) 

The same essay notes that Jundullah has been linked to the Mujaheddin-i-Khalq, the favorite Iranian anti-regime terrorist group of US neocons. 

And finally, this gem from Mark Perry in Foreign Policy only a month ago:

Buried deep in the archives of America's intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush's administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives -- what is commonly referred to as a "false flag" operation.

The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah -- a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel's Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel's recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel's ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.

The officials did not know whether the Israeli program to recruit and use Jundallah is ongoing. Nevertheless, they were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad's efforts.

Hmm. There sure are lots of dots to connect here, aren't there?

So, getting back to our three GOP worthies . . . one could identify quite a few motives (incentives, even) for their resolution.

Somehow, I find it hard to believe that the human rights of the people of Baluchistan top the list.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Death of an American Hero

I can hardly express  what a blow the death of Anthony Shadid  is to Americans' ability to be better informed about the Middle East.  
I have been following, daily and avidly, news and reporting out of the Middle East for quite a few years.  Without a doubt, Anthony Shadid was the most accomplished and sensitive American journalist working in the Middle East in the last decade, and probably more.  His writing was unfailingly eloquent, even lyrical, and always well informed.  In large part that was because he was so obviously able to connect with the human beings he was reporting about - and because, in contrast to the vast majority of American journalists working in the region, he was fluent in Arabic.  In Iraq, when other reporters often functioned as little better than stenographers for the "spin" of US military and diplomats, or had to rely on translators (who often work their own "spin" when they translate), Shadid could wade into a crowd and get relatively unvarnished accounts of the human impact of the Anglo-US invasion and occupation, which he then rendered in beautiful, evocative prose.  If you want an American journalist's account of what Iraq "was like" for Iraqis in the early years of the recent Iraq war, you can do no better than Shadid's book, Night Draws Near.
But it was not until I read this NYT account that I fully comprehended the depth of Shadid's physical courage.  I'd known that he'd taken on difficult and dangerous assignments, and had been held captive by Libyan militia in the recent fighting there.  I did not know that he suffered from asthma.  Having lived two years of my life with someone who suffered from chronic, sometimes severe asthma, I know from personal experience how frightening and dangerous that disease is.  That as an asthma sufferer Shadid nonetheless took on, willingly and often, such assignments, is a testament to his physical courage and his sense of mission as a journalist.
We are truly, all of us, much the poorer for his death.

Monday, February 13, 2012

New Threat to American Democracy: Special Ops Forces' William McRaven

As reported in the NYT . . . Admiral William McRaven, head of US Special Operations Command, wants more leeway to deploy his people wherever he sees the need.

Adm. William H. McRaven . . . is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.

It would also allow the Special Operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

So, in other words, what we're seeing is a push by a now almost heroic figure in the US military (remember: Special Ops include the Navy SEAL teams, currently at the top of the US's super-heroes list for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden) to allow him to insert his guys anywhere across the planet in order to take out "bad guys" - all of this essentially under the radar (both literally and metaphorically speaking), with minimal accountability beyond Mr. Obama's Situation Room or the locked doors of hush-hush Congressional committees.

And this accords with so-called American values, how?

We've come a long way from the era of America's heroes being citizen-soldiers like Audie Murphy.

And, somewhere, George Orwell must be chuckling.  1984 is creeping up on us. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

A New Crusade for US Militarists and Neocons: Syria

The Bobbsey twins +1 of American militarism abroad now demand that the US provide military assistance to the Syrian rebels, and that Mr. Obama leave no option off the table.

I speak of course of GOP senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, along with Joe Lieberman - as reported by US News and World Report and Jim Lobe at IPS.  Lobe also notes that some of the usual suspects among the neocons and liberal hawks - specifically, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute and Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic - are beating the drums for Western intervention.  

Fortunately (and as Lobe notes as well), there's been some pushback from people who truly understand what's going on in Syria (but are also wise enough to admit that no one truly has a handle on what's going on).   I recommend (among others) these pieces today from Patrick Seale (who puts it all in a much deeper historical perspective) and Marc Lynch  (who lays out eloquently and cogently the reasons why arming Syria's rebels might be a very bad idea).

For that matter, as a partial template for what might transpire in Syria after any prospective NATO intervention, see this recent NYT report from Anthony Shadid about how Libya's militias continue to operate uncontrolled.  

The country that witnessed the Arab world’s most sweeping revolution is foundering. So is its capital, where a semblance of normality has returned after the chaotic days of the fall of Tripoli last August. But no one would consider a city ordinary where militiamen tortured to death an urbane former diplomat two weeks ago, where hundreds of refugees deemed loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waited hopelessly in a camp and where a government official acknowledged that “freedom is a problem.” Much about the scene on Wednesday was lamentable, perhaps because the discord was so commonplace.


Libya, of course, has fallen off most Americans' radar screens, having been assigned to the "we won" list and chalked up as an achievement for Mr. Obama's tenure as commander-in-chief.  But a trail forward there has not yet been blazed.

And keep in mind that Syria is even more complicated internally, and has borders with other countries that have themselves been de-stabilized (hat-tip to Mr. Bush and our Israeli "allies") and could easily be pushed into renewed violence if Syria were to fragment.  I speak especially of Iraq and Lebanon, of course, where the sectarian implications of a dissolving Syria could be particularly dire.  (Tony Karon has a marvelous post at Time's Global Spin that pulls together the complexities of it all.)

The Nazi SS, US Marines, and Historical Amnesia

In yet another public-relations coup for the US military, a very damaging photo is making the cyber-rounds, only weeks after the photo documenting some of our fun-loving boys pissing on the corpses of Afghan resistance fighters (AKA "Taliban").  (And, please, no more about the stress of combat as an excuse.  A group-piss is hardly a knee-jerk reaction to stress.  It took at least minimal planning, as well as group cooperation.  It was also incredibly stupid. It invites reprisals against American military personnel - or Afghans who might be perceived as supporting them - by enraged Taliban fighters, whose traditional culture of warfare already included a no-holds-barred approach, including torture and mutilation of corpses - as Soviet soldiers posted to Afghanistan during the USSR's occupation there in the 1980s found out.)

This photo is even less arguably impromptu.  It's a nicely planned and posed composition featuring Marine scout snipers in front of a US flag.  Directly beneath it is a flag bearing the letters "SS" in a script that matches that used by the Nazi SS during World War II.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I checked out (at the link above), along with the report, the poll asking readers their opinion of whether it was OK for these Marines to do this.  I voted "No; it was inappropriate", then clicked to see the results so far, to find that an equal number of voters indicated "Yes, it was OK" because the Marines might have been unaware of the symbol's associations.  As someone suggested, perhaps they even thought it was cool that SS here could be interpreted as "scout sniper."

Are they kidding?  Then, how did they happen to find this specific symbol - and make this flag - in the first place?!  Obviously, some one (or more) of them had seen it before, and knew that it stood for the concept of "killer," at the very least.  At worst (or at least worse), they might have known that it was a symbol often adopted to express white Aryan supremacy  (as in this tattoo on the back of an Indiana Aryan supremacist)

That they wouldn't have known that this symbol wasn't, in fact, that of the most brutal arm of the Nazi war machine (and of the killing machine at Auschwitz and Dachau) beggars belief.

Yet, I remember all too well my shock at encountering the report of an incident at the Houston airport several years ago, when someone approached the public-address person and asked him/her to please page Herman Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Adolph Eichmann - and, cluelessly, s/he did.  

And that was followed by my even greater shock when I relayed this account, and mentioned these names - while projecting powerpoint images of their faces - before a classroom of about 40 students, only to see several faces looking on quizzically, and then hurriedly writing down these names.

Does that mean we ought to give these Marines, therefore, a pass?  I say, NO.

But it does tell me (or, better, remind me; I cannot be surprised) that something has gone horribly wrong in how and what we teach our young people about history, and about how important it is that we never, ever forget some things - like what the SS, and the Nazis, were all about.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Niall Ferguson: Excited about Bombing Iran

Read it here, if you can stand the smell.  It's one thing to analyze the consequences of an attack on Iran.  It's something of an entirely different order to do it so flippantly, and to wax on about Israel's hugely successful war of 1967 (which, in the long view, may well be seen as a pivotal moment that sent both Israel's future - and that of much of the Middle East - into inexorable decline).  Then, to cap it off with what seems to be genine excitement to be  on the "eve of some creative destruction"?

Quite awhile ago I'd come to the conclusion that Ferguson had gone from semi-serious historian to Western-supremacist polemicist.  Now he looks - to me, at least - more and more a celebrity-driven fool.

For a polemic, yet much more humane essay on the idiocy of those who would have us all quivering before Iran's supposed existential threat to us all, I recommend instead this piece from Glenn Greenwald.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Netanyahu to Visit AIPAC Conference Next Month. Wow.

As reported via ABC.  Expect him to arrive with crates full of meat to lob to the awaiting - and adoring -- GOP/Christian Zionist faithful, and the vast majority of the US Congress.  Expect Mitt, Newt, and Rick to await in humble attendance.

But if Obama has any guts, he will do no more than meet Bibi quietly - and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that any Israeli attack on Iran will be not only disavowed, but condemned, by the United States.  Obama should also let him know that any further attempts by Netanyahu to insert the nonsense of Iran=Hitler=Second Holocaust into American electoral politics will be condemned - rudely - for the meddling charade that it is.

Much as Nikita Kruschev did with the young John F. Kennedy, for the last 3+ years, Netanyahu has played Obama like the proverbial drum (as some of us feared he might do even at the outset of his presidency).  Well, in 1962 Kennedy had his Cuban missile crisis moment, which proved that he had the mettle to deal with the more experienced Soviet premier.  Of course, in that crisis, the  US Congress more or less had Kennedy's back.  Mr. Obama will not have that luxury.

Indeed, in matters as serious as that of a supposed ally dragging his country into a potentially catastrophic war, no president ought to be reduced to standing on the outside while his Congress helps that ally tug at the drag-lines.  But to such a sorry state have American politics now declined.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Robert Kagan Argues for Continued US Global Dominance

Robert Kagan makes his case (here, at WaPo) for keeping cuts to US military budget as small as possible.  Why?  Because America is the indispensable nation - and only American hard power (he seems to scoff at Joseph Nye's "soft" stuff) can be trusted to police the trade routes and keep upstarts like India and China from claiming "spheres of influence" and dragging the world into chaos.  Odd, isn't it, that a man who writes histories of the United States doesn't remember when another upstart during the early 19th century declared itself the possessor of a sphere of influence: most of the Western hemisphere.  That Monroe Doctrine thing.

By the end of his essay, Kagan even makes a thinly veiled reference to the golden age of the Pax Romana, as if the US must remain the modern incarnation of that.

Puts me in mind of the words the Roman historian Tacitus put in the mouth of the ancient Briton chieftain Calgacus, who was characterizing the nature of Rome's empire - that Pax Romana of Kagan's golden memory:

To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

Or, for that matter, why not remember here the accounts of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, who describes how during the later 1st century CE,  Rome devastated the city of Jerusalem, demolished the Second Temple of the Jewish people, killed thousands of the city's inhabitants, and forced thousands more into exile?  By the way, isn't there some irony in the circumstance that the self-proclaimed descendants of those exiles - the modern people of Israel - have been, like King Herod the Great, the "client-state" enforcer of the Pax Americana as it was imposed in the Middle East.  (I say self-proclaimed because the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand has made a strong case that modern Israelis can't in fact make that claim; here's Tony Judt's comments on Sand's book.)

I'm surprised that Robert Kagan (and his brother and fellow hawk Fred) didn't pick up on this.  They are, after all, the sons of a truly eminent historian of ancient Greece and Rome, Professor Donald Kagan.

Robert Kagan should think Vietnam - and Iraq, and Afghanistan; and maybe even Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where literally the US made a desert and called it peace.

The Pax Americana sits poised to drop into history's proverbial dustbin.  I don't expect most of the rest of the planet to shed many tears.  If Americans ever wise up to people like Robert (and Fred) Kagan, maybe they won't need to, either.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Israel Bluffing its Way into Armageddon?

With the warnings from Netanyahu and Barak about the Iranian "threat" and Israel's "necessary" resposne becoming ever more shrill and insistent, we've reached a truly scary place.  If Gareth Porter's IPS report (which Juan Cole uses superbly as a springboard to jump all over WINEP, AIPAC et al.) is accurate, then the US has reached a point where it has no leverage whatsoever with the Israelis beyond saying that if they attack Iran, they're on their own.

Thing is, will they actually do it?  And if they do, and Iran retaliates against Israel, will Obama be able to resist the wailing and howling from Congress and Christian Zionist pulpits across the US demanding that the US ride to the rescue?

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett remain skeptical that Israel will actually launch an attack.  But they also lay out what may be the political calculus among Bibi's crowd:

 Israelis with access to the Prime Minister’s office tell us that Netanyahu and his inner circle have long believed that Obama is politically vulnerable.  From this perspective, ordering an Israeli strike before the U.S. presidential election in November could seem the “smart” play:  it would be very hard for Obama to try to distance himself from the Israeli action (something that, according to Ignatius, the Obama Administration seems to believe it can do) without seriously jeopardizing his re-election; at the same time, if Obama were to win re-election, it is better, from an Israeli perspective, to have this potentially unpleasant business of an illegal war against Iran out of the way before he is sworn in for a second term.  (Recall that, the last time that the Israeli military invaded Gaza, it did so at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, to ensure that the campaign would be over before Obama was first sworn in.) 

Professor Cole, on the other hand, reminds us that the wettest of Netanyahu's wet dreams is for the US to do the dirty work for Israel: 

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Right wing, and their American backers in the Israel lobbies desperately want the US to go to war with Iran. Iran poses no real threat to Israel, but it does limit Israeli adventurism in Lebanon and elsewhere, and the Likud Party is all about no limits on its ambitions. Netanyahu and his American acolytes, such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, keep rattling sabers, not because they likely intend that Israel will go to war with Iran, but to put pressure on Washington to do it for them. If you have never heard of WINEP, just take it from me; your representatives in Congress care what AIPAC organs think far more than they care what you think. WINEP poobah Dennis Ross put out a rumor that Obama was ready to strike Iran. This disinformation 1) put pressure on Iran; 2) put pressure on Obama and 3) legitimized before the fact any aggressive Israeli action.

According to Porter's report, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered to the Israelis the strongly worded message that the US will not back them in any attack on Iran.  The Israelis insist, though, that they will make this decision only as they see fit.  Yet as the Leveretts mentioned, Netanyahu knows  that Congress, Fox News, and the Washington Post's editorial board have his back, and that a failure on Obama's part to rush to Israel's defense if Iran retaliates will surely cost Obama the election in November. 

(Eli Clifton at LobeLog does indeed report a recent poll indicating that only 17% of Americans support military action against Iran.  That's sort of reassuring - but you have to wonder how they'd feel if the Iranians had the audacity to actually fight back.)

So, is it all a bluff?  Is it all theater?  Perhaps.   Leon Hadar noted recently , however, that Obama may have thought he was directing the play, but the players were starting to read from a different script.  Sending Dempsey with a strong message to Israel may have been Obama's attempt to regain control.

Bibi, on the other hand, is probably remembering David Ben Gurion's famous dictum: "It's not what the goyim say that counts, it's what we do."

But if all Dempsey could say was that the US would not join in any attack on Iran, that still leaves a lot of room for Bibi's doing.


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