Monday, January 30, 2012

My op-ed posted at Juan Cole's "Informed Comment"

With my thanks to Professor Juan Cole for providing me the opportunity to publish an op-ed at his marvellous site.  I've also pasted it below:

 

Can Obama Prevail against a Romney-Netanyahu Ticket? – Robertson

Posted on 01/30/2012 by Juan

John Robertson writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

CAN OBAMA PREVAIL AGAINST A ROMNEY-NETANYAHU TICKET?

Paul Pillar and Leslie Gelb – both of them well-respected and largely mainstream commentators on US foreign policy – have recently published essays cautioning us all – and Mr. Obama especially – to step back, breathe deeply, ask tough questions, and get sound answers before launching a military strike against Iran.  And as Gelb’s piece (excerpted below) cogently notes, the silly season of presidential campaigning is going to elicit (indeed, already has elicited) a lot of tough-guy, red-blooded American bellicosity from GOP candidates eager to bash Obama and score nationally televised debate points in mega-auditoriums crammed full of lustily cheering Republican worthies:

    It doesn’t take a genius to see what lies ahead in our nation’s election year. Most Republican presidential candidates are saying that Iran will never get close to nukes if they’re in the White House. The candidates are outdoing one another in outrageous commitments to sound tough. Recently, Mitt Romney put it like this: “If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon … If you’d like me as the next president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” And though we all know how careful Obama is, the dynamics of campaigns are bound to push him toward incaution to fend off charges of “weakness.” This is what happens to presidents in most elections.

One might be a bit reassured in all of this by the recent claims by Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak that Israel at this point has no intention of attacking Iran, and by recent indications that Obama’s people (including Sec of Defense Leon Panetta as well as the US intelligence establishment) have been pushing back (especially against Israel), hard, against the push to attack Iran.

But let’s also not forget that Mr. Netanyahu would like nothing better than to see Obama evicted – as ingloriously as possible – from the White House, and knows that when it comes to Israel’s interests, Congress has his back.  It also stands to reason that, assuming that he becomes the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney – as Leslie Gelb notes – will continue to paint Obama as a temporizing coward unwilling to take on the Iranian leadership. (He will, of course, label the ever more stringent US-inspired sanctions against Iran as too weak a response.)

Moreover, Romney, whose social-conservative bona fides have been hammered by his GOP opponents,  will be desperate to find an issue that will energize social and religious conservatives to line up behind him and flock to the polls come November.  The obvious issue? Iran, and the “existential threat”/”second Holocaust” its nuclear program poses for Israel.  Hyping that issue would rally to the side of this Mormon former governor of a northern liberal state (where he was also the architect of a predecessor of the reviled and despised “Obama-care”) millions of Israel-firsters  -   and especially, millions of  white Christian-evangelical, largely southern conservatives who love Israel, have little faith in Barack Hussein Obama’s love for Israel (and, to a significant degree, cannot get their heads around the fact that a black First Family is occupying the White House).

And the “existential threat” issue is, of course,  a dirge that Netanyahu has been wailing on the international stage for years, and that, Bibi knows, is a card that he – as well as AIPAC and other denizens of the Israel lobby – can play very effectively if he wants to influence the American electorate. . . . which he surely would love to do in 2012.  Bibi wants Barack out of the Oval Office.  Watch for him to reach out to Mitt, with both arms.

At that point, Obama may be hard pressed to resist the political expediency of a response that will entail ramping up the US military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the implied, but increasingly overt, threat to Iran.

At which point, Leslie Gelb, Paul Pillar, and millions of the rest of us will have to hope and pray that the Iranian leadership will step back, breathe deeply, ask tough questions, and get sound answers before lashing out with military action against the US, or Israel. 

___________

John Robertson is professor of ancient Near East and Modern Middle East at Central Michigan University and maintains the Chippshots blog

Obama to Netanyahu: Tear Down This (Western/Wailing) Wall!?

Via Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss - From the world of Christian Zionist Fantasyland (well, that'd be insulting Walt Disney) . . . OK, maybe LooneyTunes (no, wait - that'd be dissing Bugs Bunny).  Well, whatever . . .

Obama graphic

 

The depth and intensity of the Christian Zionist/Likudnik lobby's hatred for Barack Hussein Obama would be almost comical, it that hatred wasn't so scary - and didn't proceed from some self-proclaimed love for Jesus.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Way Forward in Israel-Palestine? One State!

I cannot recommend highly enough the essay that appears today at Juan Cole's "Informed Comment" site.  Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled, two Israeli academics, rationally and succinctly conclude that the two-state solution beloved of the Clinton-Bush-Obama foreign-policy establishment (including Dennis Ross, the report of whose departure from the halls of the DoS seems to have been quite premature) is as dead as the proverbial doorknob.

Why?  The settlements - and the settlers - of course.  

That comes as hardly a surprise - except perhaps to Elliott Abrams, who has never relented in his opinion that the settlements are NOT the problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ought not be the centerpiece in any "peace process."  Well, folks, the peace process is going nowhere, and has been a sham in what amounts to living memory for many Palestinians - and I'm hard pressed not to believe that Mr. Abrams' attempts to deflect attention from the settlements was nothing more than a holding action intended to give Netanyahu and his ilk all the time they needed to cement those "facts on the ground."  You can bet that whenever Mr. Abrams passes, something nice will be named  for him in Israel.

What Peled and Peled recommend is most certainly the only remaining course of action that (1) provides at least some modicum of fairness and justice for the Palestinian people, and (2) might ensure the future viability of a state called "Israel" that might still constitute, to some extent, a Jewish "homeland":

Instead of pursuing the mirage of a two-state solution, would-be peace makers should recognize the fact that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in fact constitute one state that has been in existence for nearly forty-five years, the longest lasting political formation in these territories since the Ottoman Empire. (The British Mandate for Palestine lasted thirty years; Israel in its pre-1967 borders lasted only nineteen years). The problem with that state, from a democratic, humanistic perspective, is that forty percent of its residents, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, are non-citizens deprived of all civil and political rights. The solution to this problem is simple, although deeply controversial: establishing one secular, non-ethnic, democratic state with equal citizenship rights to all in the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

The stability of the future secular, democratic Israeli-Palestinian state would depend not only on it being truly democratic, but also on the strictest constitutional separation between state and religion. This should not mean forced secularization or placing restrictions on the free exercise of religion, but it does mean that the state will neither sanction nor subsidize religious activities and institutions, nor will it tolerate religious practices that are discriminatory towards women. 

Gee.  The equality of all citizens, no matter their religious beliefs.  Separation of religion and state.  No discrimination against women.  Kinda sound like ideas that most Americans would think of as distinctly all-American, don't they?  And these ideas are being propounded by two citizens of Israel.

So, why do I feel safe and secure in assuming that those red-blooded all-American boys Mitt, Newt, and Rick (and - OK, OK - Barack too) would reject this solution outright?

Friday, January 27, 2012

New "Advance" in US Drone "Capabilities"

As reported in the LA Times, the US Navy is now testing a new drone with "capabilities" that raise serious questions, once again, about accountability.

The Navy's new drone being tested near Chesapeake Bay stretches the boundaries of technology: It's designed to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier, one of aviation's most difficult maneuvers.

What's even more remarkable is that it will do that not only without a pilot in the cockpit, but without a pilot at all.

The X-47B marks a paradigm shift in warfare, one that is likely to have far-reaching consequences. With the drone's ability to be flown autonomously by onboard computers, it could usher in an era when death and destruction can be dealt by machines operating semi-independently.

Although humans would program an autonomous drone's flight plan and could override its decisions, the prospect of heavily armed aircraft screaming through the skies without direct human control is unnerving to many.

"Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability," said Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist and robotics expert. "This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military's acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?"

Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.

"The deployment of such systems would reflect … a major qualitative change in the conduct of hostilities," committee President Jakob Kellenberger said at a recent conference. "The capacity to discriminate, as required by [international humanitarian law], will depend entirely on the quality and variety of sensors and programming employed within the system."

How Washington Feels about Egypt

Posted by Issandr el Amrani  at The Arabist is an insightful letter from Jon Alterman (director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]) that outlines the positions of two opposing camps in DC regarding hoped-for outcomes of Egypt's ever-in-flux political situation.  I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but the positions boil down to those who want to see the military dominate the Egyptian government vs. those who favor broader political participation via properly empowering parliament and the army's standing down and returning to the barracks.  Alterman places himself in the latter camp, but evidently felt compelled to write the letter to refute el Amrani's accusations that Alterman in fact belongs to the former camp by his alleged affiliation with a so-called SQL (status-quo lobby) that prefers the "stability" that had been ensured by the previous military-based regime of Hosni Mubarak (and presumably by SCAF's retention of power).

Perhaps CSIS's heaviest hitter, though, and probably CSIS's most recognizable public face, is Anthony Cordesman.  Cordesman was indeed an occasional critic of some of the more bone-headed initiatives and outcomes of Bush-era neoconservatism.  But  customarily he has been of the pragmatist-realist school, most notably, that element of it that tends to perceive Middle Eastern developments through the prism of the necessity of safeguarding American interests by preserving American global military supremacy (a theme he expressed, for example, in this 2008 WaPo piece about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still "winnable").   And for decades, of course, American interests and supremacy in the Middle East have been linked umbilically (at least in the eyes of the Beltway establishment - which includes CSIS)  with Israel's interests and regional military supremacy.  

Many would find it difficult to reconcile that stance with what Alterman says he favors (and I most certainly hope to see) - the Egyptian army standing down and stepping aside in favor of representative democracy - especially when that democracy is to be underpinned by a parliament dominated (as Egypt's now is) by Islamists, many of whom (despite recent statements to the contrary) have little patience with Israel and are going to be accountable to an electorate that likely has even less patience.  

It's nice to see Alterman distance himself somewhat from the kind of working assumptions that seem to motivate Cordesman (and for that matter, so many of CSIS's stable of experts).


Thursday, January 26, 2012

EU Sanctions on Iran to Head Off an Israel-launched War?

From Barbara Slavin at IPS comes a report that highlights US self-satisfaction with the EU's newly hardening stance against Iran, which recently culminated in harsher sanctions against Tehran, but that also suggests quite strongly that the EU's harsher approach reflects the extent to which the EU is essentially running scared before the Israelis' persistent threat to take military action and thereby plunge the region - and beyond - into a potentially catastrophic war:


European and U.S. experts on Iran cite the fear of a new war as a key reason for the EU decision. 

"The French administration is worried about Israel attacking Iran this year," a French researcher, speaking on condition of anonymity because he advises the French government, told IPS Wednesday. 

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, answering questions Tuesday in the House of Commons, said the new sanctions are designed to "to lead us away from any conflict by increasing the pressure for a peaceful settlement of these disputes." 

The EU decision reflects Israeli success in pressuring both the United States and Europe. Israeli officials have repeatedly called for "crippling" sanctions against Iran, suggesting that might forestall their use of military force against Iran's nuclear facilities – and collateral damage in terms of sharply higher oil prices and increased regional instability. 

There is particular concern that Israel might act in 2012 out of concern that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability and in the belief that the Barack Obama administration would be obliged to support Israel in a U.S. presidential election year. 


Remarkable, isn't it?  The supposed "light unto the nations" is able to hype what remains a non-existent existential threat into its own private casus belli, yet still feel confident enough of the good will (or, perhaps more accurately, domestic political realities) of the so-called "Great Powers" to blackmail them (us) into ramping up what already is amounting to an economic war that, frankly, is taking a much direr toll on the Iranian people than on the decision-makers of the Islamist regime.  And all of this, over a nuclear program that the Iranians are, in fact, entitled to develop, as long as there's no proof that said program is being weaponized.  As of this moment, there is no such proof.  And quite frankly, given their history since 1980, which has included an invasion by Iraq under Saddam Hussein (who was supported by the US, whose navy effectively entered that war on Iraq's side with its actions in the Persian Gulf), followed by an invasion and occupation of Iraq by US-Anglo forces (during which the word in DC's halls of neocon wisdom was that real men go on to Tehran) - - how could anyone possibly blame them for wanting to possess a nuclear deterrent?

I have a proposal.  The minute that it becomes plain that the IDF is indeed going to strike Iran and risk plunging us all into the abyss, the United Nations impose, immediately, economic sanctions of the harshest, most stringent kind on the state of Israel - and authorize all needed military action to induce the Israeli government to cease and desist in any military action against Iran.

Think that could ever happen?   Naaaah.

But imagine if it did.  Might that be just the kind of crisis that might, at long last, create the diplomatic leverage that might truly lead to a result that would benefit us all?  I mean, specifically, the outlawing of all nuclear weapons in the Middle East - Israel included.  (OK, the entire planet would be nice, but I'm willing to start off small.)  Would that mean that the Arab countries would then turn against Israel and try to fulfill the Nasser-era pledges of driving the Israelis into the sea?  I think not - and, at any rate, the UN (with the US and its allies) could surely pledge themselves to ensure Israel's security.  But losing its nuclear trump card might force the Israelis to make some of those "painful concessions" that Netanyahu and his predecessors have so often talked about, but not make any serious effort to follow through:

  • evacuate all settlements from the West Bank
  • share Jerusalem with a truly sovereign Palestinian people
  • make some provision for at least a limited right of exiled Palestinians to a land where they have at least as strong and legitimate a birthright as the millions of Jews who emigrated there in the 20th century.

Might that mark the end of Israel as a "Jewish state."  Perhaps.  But might not the creation of a truly binational, or multinational, Israel/Palestine/whatever become a blessing for all involved?  The Palestinians restored to their homeland; the Jews of Israel no longer imprisoned by the bunker mentality with which they now are afflicted.  Indeed, might not the creation of such an Israel be a true "light unto the nations"?


More on the US Military's Threat to American Democracy

Via Ezra Klein's daily Wonkbook (which links to this WSJ report - unfortunately, I'm not a subscriber) comes a brief report on the Pentagon's proposed budget.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the dangers of an American military that will be operating increasingly under the radar and in a manner increasingly  opaque as far as Congressional oversight - and public accountabilty - are concerned.  Here's what Klein notes:


The Pentagon will roll out its budget today, report Adam Entous, Julian Barnes, and Siobhan Gorman: "The Pentagon plans to expand its global network of drones and special-operations bases in a fundamental realignment meant to project U.S. power even as it cuts back conventional forces. The plan, to be unveiled by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday and in budget documents next month, calls for a 30% increase in the U.S. fleet of armed unmanned aircraft in the coming years, defense officials said. It also foresees the deployment of more special-operations teams at a growing number of small 'lily pad' bases across the globe where they can mentor local allies and launch missions...Defense officials said the U.S. Army plans to eliminate at least eight brigades while reducing the size of the active duty Army from 570,000 to 490,000, cuts that are likely to hit armored and heavy infantry units the hardest. But drone and special-operations deployments would continue to grow as they have in recent years."

The Founding Fathers could never have imagined the extent to which global relations and military technology were to be transformed in the almost quarter of a millennium since 1776.  Nonetheless, I find it difficult to believe that they would have approved.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hey Newt, Remember Iraq?

Peter Beinart "pens" at The Daily Beast a superb comment on GOP "amnesia" about the Iraq war, and about media's responsibility to hold to account people like Gingrich, Santorum and Romney, all of whom supported the invasion in 2003, and evidently believe even now that it was the right thing to do.  

The extraordinary thing about today’s Iran debate is that being wrong about Iraq has barely undermined the hawks’ influence at all. In 2012, as in 2002, Republicans are driving the political discussion, and in 2012, as in 2002, Democrats are petrified about being seen as too soft. Once again the media, which did not cover itself with glory in the run-up to Iraq, bears part of the blame. To allow Gingrich, Santorum and Romney to saber-rattle on Iran, as they have in debate after debate, without forcing them to confront the consequences of their saber-rattling on Iraq, is professional malpractice. If I were John King—or his equivalent on another network—I’d force Gingrich to answer that question in every foreign-policy segment of every debate. Let’s see Newt demagogue his way out of that one.   

 

(Beinart also mentions something I hadn't known: in a November debate, Gingrich said that if elected, he'd nominate John Bolton as his secretary of state.  I can imagine few decisions that would be more damaging to US interests - and international respect for those interests (outside Jerusalem, that is) - than nominating this bullying, tactless, hard-Right neocon.)

That these same men can now bang the drum so insistently for military strikes against Iran and receive such lusty support from the GOP rank-and-file speaks volumes about the sad propensity for the American electorate to dismiss the past and move on to fix their collective gaze on the next shiny bauble that cable TV, You-Tube, or (metaphorically speaking) talk radio dangles before their eyes. 

They might not have Iraq to so dangle (not that they care to anymore.  "The troops" are outa there now, so what do we care, right?)  Iraq's government seems to be well along the path toward dissolving, even as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fashions the country into a police state (again) (according to a Human Rights Watch report - but reports of abuses by the Maliki regime have been appearing regularly, for months).  

Thomas Friedman once noted (during the run-up to the 1991 Gulf war) that, before then, the US considered Saddam Hussein a thug, but at least he was "our thug."  Saddam was, of course, no longer in "our" camp as of summer 1990 - and 23 years later (after what future historians - including yours truly in his forthcoming book - will likely term the US's Thirty Years War with Iraq), we invaded his country, got rid of him, and eventually helped install a new Iraqi leader, Nuri al-Maliki, whom George W. Bush sized up and touted as essentially one of "us."

Except now (actually, for a couple of years now), Maliki is likewise becoming a thug: detention, torture, demonization, secret police are all in his playbook.    Yet Mr. Obama not cut the cord, nor will he - especially in an election season when GOP'ers who are already hammering him on his supposed weak-kneed response to the mullahs are also eager to label him as the president who "lost Iraq."

So, Maliki - like Saddam once was - is "our thug."  

And if Iraq continues to boost its oil production, the US won't touch him.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Iraq's Thirty Years War?

Paul Rogers (at Open Democracy) has another installment of what's become his "Thirty Year War" series, which he started at the onset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.  He predicted then - even as the neocon/neanderthal warbands were dancing in jubilation around their campfires - that Mr. Bush's Mesopotamian adventure might not pan out, and that its consequences might linger ominously and long , perhaps as long as 30 years.

Boy, was Rogers right.  The US's military adventure went bust, and Iraq seems to be well along the road to busting itself up.  Its government and politics are in turmoil.  Even with oil production inching upward, its economy is in shambles, with no real prospects for a recovery rapid enough to alleviate the destitution and psychological trauma that the US occupation inflicted on tens of thousands of its people - most notably, perhaps, its young people.   A recent WaPo report featuring the current research of Iraq historian Eric Davis details much of this, along with consequences that bode very ill indeed for the future of Iraq as a unitary nation-state:

Some young Iraqis say they are glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein but feel less safe — and therefore less free — than before 2003, a sentiment reflected in dozens of interviews in eight provinces.

They view their government as a pseudo-regime that deprives them of basic rights, and they worry that their peers are being lured into the ethnic, sectarian and partisan traps of their elders. They think the world is fixating on revolutions in other Arab countries while ignoring a rotting democracy in Baghdad and their generation’s struggle to live the freedom that was promised to them 81 / 2 years ago.

“Our generation has seen enough,” said Baghdad resident Mustafa Hamza el-Ebadi, 21, who will graduate this spring with a degree in communication and engineering and wants to move to the United States. “When we were kids, there were economic sanctions. When we were teenagers, there were bodies in the street. And now there is no space to live.”

About half of Iraq’s 33 million people are 19 or younger, and no Iraqi born since Saddam came to power in 1979 has known the country to be without war or dictatorship.

Iraqis in their late teens and 20s “grew up in a very dangerous climate” that did not foster a “civilian mentality,” according to Abduljabbar Ahmad Abdullah, dean of the political science college at the University of Baghdad.

“The political socialization of that individual is not correct,” Abdullah said over tea in his campus office in October. “Every student belongs to his clan, not his country.”

When Iraqis talk about the fate of the younger generation, they use expressions similar to “crossroads” and “tipping point.”

“We are at a very critical period, with the deterioration of security and the elevation of corruption,” activist Hanaa Edwar said at a September peace festival in Baghdad’s Zawra Park. “Elections are not enough. We need active participation from young people. They are not yet polluted by politicians. They need more than hope. They need to be empowered.”

Over the past year, Rutgers University political science professor Eric Davis has conducted multiple focus groups of hundreds of Iraqis between the ages of 12 and 30. Broadly speaking, they said that they view sectarianism as damaging to their future and that they prefer not to belong to a political party. Most said that their lives have improved “somewhat” or “not much” since the U.S.-led invasion but indicated that they would not leave the country if given the opportunity, according to discussions compiled by Davis, a former director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers.

The problem, according to Davis, is that the economic and political structures are rigged to exclude most Iraqis, especially the young. Iraq ranks No. 175 of 178 as one of the world’s most corrupt countries on a list compiled by Transparency International.

Young Iraqis “have strong scores for civic motivation but no institutional outlet for that — that’s very damning,” said Davis, who will publish his findings next year in a special report for the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Iraq is just beginning to grapple with the repeated traumas it has suffered. Of the 8,000 clients at the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims — which opened in 2005 to serve victims of Hussein’s regime — one-quarter are now dealing with psychological issues related to trauma since the American-led invasion.

“Some teenagers have a kind of phobia of going out because they’ve been raised in an environment of car explosions and kidnappings,” said Yousif Abdulmuhsin Salih, the center’s project manager. “And if parents are not treated, they can transfer their psychological condition to their children.”

Violence and dysfunction are part of growing up in Iraq and, as a result, people fend for themselves, said a 29-year-old named Mohamed, who insisted his last name be withheld because he has worked for the U.S. military and fears reprisal.

 

Unfortunately, as Rogers' essay makes clear, the violence and dysfunction inside Iraq may well extend into the foreseeable future.  As the American military presence has wound down, bombings have been increasing, and are being perpetrated all over the country - from Basra to Mosul.  There's absolutely no reason to believe that's going to stop, even with Iraqi PM al-Maliki detaining (and reportedly torturing) dozens of "Baathist terrorists" (read: Sunni Arab political opposition).  

And it's not exactly as if the threat of further destabilization at the hands of the US has evaporated.  As Rogers makes plain, American boots are no longer on Iraq's ground (save those of those lovable, ubiquitous contractor/mercenaries) - but the US Navy has ramped up its nearby presence:

The carrier battle-group (that is, an aircraft-carrier supported by a flotilla) headed by the USS John C Stennis has now departed to Singapore and thence back to the United States, to be replaced by the Carl Vinson carrier-battle group. In addition, though, yet another such group headed by the USS Abraham Lincoln has joined the fifth fleet in the region. While described as a "routine" deployment, this means that the Pentagon plans to keep two carrier battle-groups in the region for at least until April 2012.

The target, of course, is Iran.  Even though the Israelis are backing away a bit from their attack-Iran rhetoric, and the Obama people are downplaying the Iranian nuclear threat, many in the US are trying to counteract that by banging their drums even louder.  The novelist Mark Helprin recently wrote (in the WSJ - surprise!) of Iran as a "mortal threat" to the US; and the GOP presidential candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul, who likely won't be staying in the race much longer) are vying to see who can sound the toughest on the mullahs.

None of these people seem to be taking into account what would be pottentially catastrophic consequences of an attack on Iran: the thousands of Iranian (mostly Shii) refugees who might stream out of the country, likely into the southern (mostly Shii) region of Iraq.  Tens of thousands of Iranians make religious pilgrimages to Najaf and Karbala every year.  If they returned as refugees, one might predict that they would be welcomed at first, but as they became a drain on southern Iraq's already struggling economy and governance - and people - the Iraq "democracy" that neocons continue to tout as what Fouad Ajami called the "foreigners' gift") might crumble into complete chaos.

In which, Prof. Rogers' prediction of a Thirty Years War might prove to have been much too conservative.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Israel's Very Own Taliban?

The NYT on Israel's widening "seismic rift" between seculars and Ultra-Orthodox over the issue of women's public roles and rights.

And to this, Americans contribute how much of their tax dollars?

And for this, they get - what exactly - in return?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Marines Urinating on the Taliban

This cartoon (from the Lebanon Daily Star) is - to channel the old adage - worth 1000 words:

13/01/2012

When American "Values" Reached Their Nadir

Vanity Fair has just published a lengthy, searing piece titled "Guantánamo: An Oral History."    It ought to be read - and spread - by any American who cares about what  we still like to think of as "American values."

The introduction sets the tone:

Camp X-Ray, where the first detainees at Guantánamo were imprisoned and interrogated, is today an abandoned site. The guard towers are empty, the weeds waist high. Banana-rat droppings litter the rotting floors. Newer prisons miles away hold the detainees who remain. And “remain” is the operative word. Although Barack Obama vowed to shut the facility down, the administration’s attempts to do so have been blocked by Congress, which refuses to authorize funds to transfer detainees to prisons on the U.S. mainland.

It has been an ugly, damaging experiment. The whole point of Guantánamo was to create a regime of incarceration and interrogation—including torture—that the law could not reach: a “legal black hole,” as the English court of appeal put it. Although the 45-square-mile naval base on the southern shore of Cuba is fully subject to U.S. writ—federal environmental laws even extend to iguanas, and killing one can bring a heavy fine—the Bush administration argued from the outset that Guantánamo was outside American legal jurisdiction, and that, in essence, its personnel could treat detainees as they wished. And they did, making the name “Guantánamo” a rallying cry throughout the Islamic world.


Quickly, the piece brings us to those early days post-9/11, when "American values" were held to the fire, and unfortunately emerged scorched and tattered.  Witness this exchange between Bush-administration Dept of Justice people (including Alberto Gonzales):

January 12, 2002: A team of lawyers from the White House, the vice president’s office, the Defense Department, and the Justice Department flies to Guantánamo to observe the opening of Camp X-Ray.

Manuel Supervielle (jag lawyer) About a half an hour or 45 minutes into the flight, Mr. Haynes calls me up to the front. He just said, Hey, Manny, do you have a minute? So I went up to the very front. Mr. Haynes was standing up, kind of crouching over because the plane was small. I went over next to him, basically facing towards the back of the plane with him to my left, and Mr. Gonzales is directly in front of me, and Mr. Thompson was to his left, and then Mr. Addington, and then Mr. Taft, and behind them were other folks. John Yoo and some others. Mr. Haynes says, Hey, Manny, we understand that you’ve invited the I.C.R.C. [International Committee of the Red Cross] to Guantánamo. Would you care to explain why you did that? And they said, You need to turn it off. I said, I don’t think I can do that. They all looked at each other, and Mr. Haynes says, Well, you made the call. You call and tell them that it’s not an option, it’s not possible.

I said, If we cancel, it’s going to look bad. It’s going to look like we’re trying to hide something. At one point Mr. Gonzales said to me, he goes, Manny, by having the I.C.R.C. there, they’re going to report on everything they see. That stunned me, really. I said, Sir, first of all, the I.C.R.C. doesn’t report publicly on what they find. They report back to the detaining power. He says, How do you know that? I said, They have a 150-year history of doing that, a pretty well-established record.

The entire article oozes with this stuff.

That Mr. Obama has yet to close down Guantanamo has put a huge hole through the armor of shniy-bright virtue in which he clad himself in 2008.  Shame on him.  

But that Mr. Bush and his cohort can now live out their buffered, sweet lives, and not be daily shunned and cursed by the public they claimed to serve - or prosecuted for the war crimes that they most surely did spawn - speaks volumes about the myth that we still call "American values."

Friday, January 13, 2012

David Ignatius' Neat Idea to Avert War with Iran

At a time when absolutely nothing to inspire hope is happening in re the Iranian nukes issue comes a worthy idea from David Ignatius in today's WaPo::
So here’s a proposal in this period of deepening crisis: The United States and Iran should explore the possibility of direct contact through the sort of back channel that nations use to communicate urgent messages — namely, their intelligence services. Through this contact, each side could communicate its “red lines” in the crisis — for the United States, the insistence that Iran’s nuclear program remain peaceful; for Iran, presumably, an end to sanctions and a recognition that Iran is a significant regional power.
My nominees for this back-channel contact would be two people who have been circling each other warily for the past half-dozen years: Gen. David Petraeus, director of the CIA, and Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. These two are said to have communicated indirectly in the past about red lines in the Iraq conflict, when Petraeus was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Suleimani was de facto chief of Iranian activities in the country.
Frankly, that such a back-channel contact might not be up and running scares the hell out of me.  Meanwhile, the rhetoric, and the facts on the ground, are being ratcheted up: terrorist assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist; Iranian demands for retribution and threats to engage in reprisals; the US moving more forces into the Gulf, as a McClatchy report describes:
U.S. officials are divided over how much to publicize the deployments. Regional allies tend to dislike public discussion about their cooperation with Washington. But the Pentagon wants Iran's rulers to understand that the U.S. still has adequate forces available in case of a crisis.
They include the Army's 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade, which shifted to Kuwait from Iraq when the last U.S. forces left last month. The brigade, which has more than 4,500 soldiers and is equipped with tanks and artillery, has been designated a "mobile response force" for the region, according to Col. Scott L. Efflandt, the brigade commander.
A National Guard brigade from Minnesota has been in Kuwait since August, and a combat aviation brigade arrived in December. Another major unit is heading to Kuwait shortly, though officials would not provide details.

Another approach occurred to me this morning: a humanitarian mission of American and Israeli concerned citizens willing to go to Iran and set themselves up as "human shields" near Iran's nuclear installations.  This would require, of course, the permission and assistance of the Iranian government.  And once they were there, things could go wrong in various ways (like the Iranians turning them into hostages, or the Mossad picking them off).
But, as they say, desperate times sometimes require desperate measures.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Israel's Dangerous Game with Iran

The NYT has a must-read that examines the dangerous game that the US and Israel are playing with Iran, but shines perhaps the brightest spotlight on Israel's resort to one of its most-used tactics, historically: assassination.  In this instance, we're talking about assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.


As Glenn Greenwald has pointed it, what the Israelis are doing is terrorism.


And as two US experts point out in the NYT piece, the consequences down the line - for both Israel and the US - may be extremely dangerous.


William C. Banks, an expert on national security law at Syracuse University, said he believed that for the United States even to provide specific intelligence to Israel to help kill an Iranian scientist would violate a longstanding executive order banning assassinations. The legal rationale for drone strikes against terrorist suspects — that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its allies — would not apply, he said.
“Under international law, aiding and abetting would be the same as pulling the trigger,” Mr. Banks said. He added, “We would be in a precarious position morally, and the entire world is watching, especially China and Russia.”
Gary Sick, a specialist on Iran at Columbia, said he believed that the covert campaign, combined with sanctions, would not persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear work.
“It’s important to turn around and ask how the U.S. would feel if our revenue was being cut off, our scientists were being killed and we were under cyberattack,” Mr. Sick said. “Would we give in, or would we double down? I think we’d fight back, and Iran will, too.”

More perspectives on the danger - and stupidity - of the US+Israel current tactics are here.  And Juan Cole speculates (with some evidence to back it up, to some extent) that the latest assassination might have been a combined production of the Mossad and the anti-Iranian-regime group known as the MEK (Mujahedin e-Khalq), both of which have an established track record of terrorist assassinations.


At least the US has condemned the most recent assassination.  (It remains to be seen if the Israelis will get the message, but in an election season, don't expect Obama or Clinton to call them out on this.)


Doesn't it make sense that, at some point, the Iranians will find a way to retaliate?  The Iranian press is already calling for vengeance against Israel.
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If Tim Tebow were Muslim

Marcus Cederstrom at Salon has an interesting counterfactual that shines an interesting perspective on the current "Tebowmania" surrounding the seemingly miraculous deeds of the young, hyper-Christian quarterback of the Denver Broncos.  Cederstrom asks "what if Tebow were Muslim"?  But Cederstrom uses that question as a springboard into recalling for his readers the shabby treatment that was accorded to one newly crowned heavyweight champion named Cassius Clay when he converted to Islam in the early 1960s.

And I remember very well indeed all the ruckus that surrounded the change from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali (which detoured first to Cassius X, a la Malcolm). I grew up in Louisville, Ali's hometown, while he was a promising local amateur boxer (whose bouts we could sometimes watch on a local-TV channel's Saturday afternoon show, "Tomorrow's Champions"), and was a huge fan of the young Clay when he turned pro and took on a string of what seemed like (a la Joe Louis) bums of the month (beginning with one Tunney Hunsaker).

But when he "turned Muslim" right after beating Liston for the title, Louisvillians were horrified, and angry (even before the kerfuffle over Vietnam and his refusing to be drafted) - and the national press turned on him, mocked him as a kind of stupid and impressionable "Negro" man-child who couldn't even pronounce "Ali" correctly. He only got a chance to become "the Greatest" because of the Supreme Court decision, which came after the country turned against the Vietnam war, and a younger generation of Americans were able to look past the Islam "thing" (something many Americans were able to do before 9-11) and count him a hero.

Cederstrom's essay (and some comments from a Facebook friend after I'd posted it to my "wall")  also got me thinking about another counterfactual.

What if Ali hadn't missed those 4.5 years during what would have been the prime of his career? It was obvious to anyone who'd seen him fight before he was outlawed that when he came back, he wasn't the same fighter (and his manager, Angelo Dundee, said so as well) - not as fast, hands not as quick. He won his fights on savvy, and sheer will. But if his title hadn't been stripped, there was no one around then who could have defeated him.  The late Joe Frazier's career might never have taken off, because the younger, quicker Ali would have disposed of him as a challenger.  Ali might have retired before absorbing all those headshots (many of them from his three mega-fights with Frazier) that likely caused the infirmity that almost got him killed against Larry Holmes and has afflicted him to this day.

And I also have to wonder if the courts would have pressed so hard to strip his title if he'd remained simply Cassius Clay, the kid from Louisville (brash though he was - some called him the "Louisville Lip," or even - my favorite - "Gaseous Cassius") and not "turned Muslim."

As for Tebow?  I have no doubt that if Tebow were Muslim and somehow expressing that on the field or in interviews with the same exuberance with which he now displays his Christianity, there'd be huge pressure on the Broncos' coach to bench him, on-field "miracles" or no. 

More Torture Tales of the CIA

Published at The Atlantic today, news of a Scotland Yard report that essentially backs up claims of a British citizen who says he was tortured by the Bush-era CIA as part of their "rendition" program.

The British government admitted today that a terrorist suspect whose case has drawn international attention was interrogated by U.S. officials and tortured during the two years he was held in Morocco.

The findings, resulting from an investigation by England's highest criminal prosecution agency, contradict the obfuscation, stonewalling, and denials by American officials about the case of the suspect, Binyam Mohamed.

At one point, the Obama Administration threatened to cut off intelligence sharing with the UK if a British court ordered the release of classified documents in the case.

Mohamed was picked up in Pakistan in 2002, and U.S. officials alleged that he had undergone training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and was preparing to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States.

After 18 months of interrogation in Pakistan, the CIA secretly transported him to Morocco as part of the Bush Administration's "extraordinary rendition program," according to Mohamed's lawyers, a claim that appears to be corroborated by the flight records of the CIA-chartered planes. He was later taken to Guantanamo.

The CIA has never admitted that Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British citizen, was ever held in Morocco, and has routinely denied all allegations of torture.

An American military lawyer who represented Mohamed has said that the torture he endured makes waterboarding "look like child's play."

While being interrogated, Mohamed was hanged from a wall with his feet unable to reach the floor, according to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, a London-based human rights non-profit. Then, naked women were paraded before him.

On more than one occasion, Mohamed says, men in black masks and military trousers made cuts on his chest and genitals with a razor.

At one point, a woman in the group who spoke with an American accent arrived. She took pictures of his wounds, Mohamed told his lawyer.

In a legal action brought by Mohamed's lawyers while he was still in Guantanamo, a British court said two years ago that documents supported Mohamed's allegations -- but they were classified. Both the British and American governments objected to their release.

Meanwhile, Messrs. Bush and Cheney enjoy their retirements, with nary a worry about what would be richly deserved prosecution as war criminals.  And the American people, for the most part, carry on, either clueless or uncaring - even on a day with more revelations of lusty Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Friedman: Political Islam without Oil(?)

Thomas Friedman, wondering how political Islam can flourish (specifically in Egypt) without oil, noting that Egypt has virtually none whereas two major states dominated by Islamists (Saudi Arabia and Iran) are able to survive as Islamist states because they have so much oil.

Oddly, no reference to Gaza (governed by a freely elected Islamist group, Hamas) or Turkey (governed under a freely elected Islamist party that admittedly professes loyalty to the secularist underpinning of the modern Turkish republic.

TF also claims that both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian salafist an-Nour party were "stunned" by their success in Egypt's recent elections.  Seems a bit improbable that they were stunned.  Anyone who's been paying attention would know that the MB's success, and even that of the salafists', was hardly unpredictable.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dick Cheney Clone on Obama's "Weak" Middle East Leadership

Today's LA Times features an op-ed from John Hannah (former national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and a senior fellow at the ultra-neocon right Foundation for Defense of Democracies) that excoriates Mr. Obama for the US's current "weakness" in the Middle East, where, says Hannah,

concerns run deep over the administration's lack of strategic vision, its instinct for retreat and its complicity in the unraveling of a benevolent imperium that has for decades underwritten the region's security.

To wit:

In a November article, a senior Middle East correspondent for the New York Times referred matter-of-factly to an Arab world "where the United States is increasingly viewed as a power in decline." Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, no enemy of the president, has reported from Riyadh on a new activism in Saudi Arabia's policy born of "the diminished clout of the United States." Indeed, Ignatius concludes that the Saudis consider Obama "a relatively weak leader" and no longer view the United States as a guarantor of their security — a "striking" shift in the kingdom's security doctrine, which had stood for more than 60 years.

So acute is the crisis of confidence that America's closest allies now openly question Washington's reliability and mettle. Months after Obama's rapid embrace of an Egyptian revolution that toppled the United States' most important Arab partner, Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah II was asked whether the region's leaders could still depend on the U.S. With shocking candor, Abdullah responded: "I think everybody is wary of dealing with the West.... Looking at how quickly people turned their backs on Mubarak, I would say that most people are going to try and go their own way."

No less remarkable was the alarm over U.S. policy that Bahrain's foreign minister expressed in October. Clearly unnerved by a deepening sense of U.S. irresolution, the Bahraini minister implored Obama to at long last push back against Iran's repeated provocations, including an attempted plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington: "We're asking the U.S. to stand up for its interests and draw the red lines.... How many times have you lost lives, been subject to terrorist activities, and yet we haven't seen any proper response. This is really serious. It's coming to your shores now."

Isn't it obvious here that Hannah is emulating the same tone-deafness that characterized Dick Cheney's view of the Middle East?  Cheney never evinced any real sympathy for the aspirations of Middle Eastern peoples as opposed to their heads of state.  US Middle East policy was, in the Cheney/Hannah view, all about projecting American power, safeguarding American interests (oil and Israel), and preserving stability - and during a time (up to around 2004, at least) when the US military was roundly perceived as all-powerful and all-conquering and the US economy was robust and growing.

Now it's 2012.  The assumptions about US military omnipotence are toast; the US economy has teetered on the brink, and though perhaps moving slowly toward recovery, has retreated only a few steps from that brink, toward which a new shock (say, a war against Iran?) might push it again.  But most importantly, the events of the Arabs Spring/Awakening (and, for that matter, the Green Movement in Iran) have shown that the ever more informed peoples throughout the region are no longer willing to suffer and be stifled indefinitely under autocratic regimes.

Yet it is just such regimes that Hannah cites as America's now disappointed allies:

  • the Saudi dynasty, which spends millions to perpetuate and disseminate an extremist version of Islam
  • the Hashemite dynasty of Jordan, whose Harley-riding king has impressed so many of us with his "cool" yet remains steadfast in staving off democratization
  • the Bahrain monarchy, where a Sunni rulership tortures and kills Shii citizens
  • until not that many months ago, the Mubarak regime in Egypt

It's to Obama's discredit that he was so slow to disavow Mubarak, and has been reluctant to step away farther from the current leadership in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain.  But Hannah's critique only affirms the worst, and ultimately most short-sighted aspects of US policy in the Middle East.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Juan Cole on the Islamists' Emergence in Egypt's Elections

Very interesting post by Prof. Cole, followed by some lively critiques and exchanges.  All in all, far more robust and honest discussion than Thomas Friedman's essay in today's NYT, where he basically admonishes all of us to sit back and enjoy the show, because no one knows where it's going.

Dennis Ross' Way Forward in the West Bank

Yesterday's WaPo featured a Dennis Ross essay that suggested a way forward for the "peace process": allowing Palestinians access to the stone quarries located in what the Oslo Accords designated Area C in the West Bank - areas that remain under control of the IDF.  Such a move would perhaps boost the West Bank economy, as well as signal to the Palestinians that the current Israeli government ultimately has good intentions toward them and indeed looks forward to a negotiated overall settlement.

I'd be curious to hear reactions of current GOP presidential contenders (perhaps "pretenders" describes them more accurately) Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.  In Perry's hyper-Christian view, God has already given the West Bank to Israel; in Santorum's, the IDF's control of the West Bank is akin to the US's subjugation of Texas and the American Southwest.

But what's especially telling in Ross's suggestions is that nowhere does he allude to the problem of Israeli settlement building (and settler violence) in the West Bank.  Unless my re-scan of the text missed it, Ross nowhere even mentions the word "settlement."  At least Elliot Abrams is honest (or at least open) enough (in what seems to me an idiotic take on the issue of the West Bank) to posit that Jewish settlements are not the real problem.  But Ross seems to ignore them altogether, at least here.

Much to America's benefit, Dennis Ross is away from Foggy Bottom and the halls of the DoS.  Unfortunately, he is once again safely ensconced at the Washingon Institute for Middle East Affairs (AIPAC's think-tank, for all intents and purposes), where he likely possesses an even bigger megaphone.  At a beer garden in Prague several years ago, I witnessed a rowdy, inebriated German tourist pouring beer into a tuba-player's instrument (as he was playing it).  Would that someone could do the same (metaphorically speaking) for Ross's megaphone.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Are Cooler Heads Prevailing in Bomb-Iran Debate?

From Patrick Seale (in Gulf News) comes an argument that in both Israel and the US, those opposed to attacking Iran (most of them in the military and intelligence establishments) are prevailing in the debate surrounding the issue.  (As one bit of evidence, Seale cites the departure of Dennis Ross from Obama/Clinton's Dept of State to the more hospitable environs of WINEP, AIPAC's Siamese-twin think-tank in D.C.  That Ross left was a plus for American interests; that he went to WINEP should have spoken volumes to any who doubted that he was, in fact, one of Israel's chief negotiators in the so-called "peace process.")

But Seale also points out:

Even if none of the parties — Israel, the US and Iran — actually want war or seriously anticipate it, there is always the possibility that war might break out by accident. Targeting Iran’s Central Bank and threatening to boycott its oil exports, as some western nations are proposing to do, create a climate of hysterical nationalism that could trigger a clash. Iran has tried to call the West’s bluff by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, but a serious attempt to do so could set the whole region on fire — which is almost certainly the last thing Iran or the US would want. In my view, not too much should be read into Iran’s recent naval manoeuvres in the Gulf, or its testing of new missiles. It has carried out such exercises in the past.

Containment and deterrence are clearly better policies than war-mongering. But they are not without difficulty. Establishing the rules of a system of mutual deterrence can be tricky. The first months, or even years, can prove dangerous until the system is perfected and the rules fully understood by both sides. For the scheme to be safe, a ‘hot line’ between the parties would need urgently to be established.

And, again, as I noted recently, the demonize-Iran rhetoric will be ratcheted up to the max as the November elections approach. Seale suggests that the point will be to win Jewish votes.  Perhaps; but the far more valuable target will be the votes of those millions of Christian evangelicals in whose closed little minds Israel is the US's 51st state - and with the holiest landmarks, at that.

Seale's excellent piece is here.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Remember Libya?

Tony Karon with an excellent analysis that reminds us that Libya, far from being a done deal and NATO shining hour, remains on the knife's edge:

The problem, of course, was that the Libyan rebels were never an army; they were patchwork of small local militia units, deserters from the regular army, and a smattering of former exiles with military experience. Moreover, the recognition extended by foreign powers to the NTC was far in advance of the extent to which Libyans, even many of those in the forefront of the battle to oust Gaddafi, were willing to accept its lead. The fact that the rebel leadership had not established an alternative power center meant that the collapse of Gaddafi also meant an effective collapse of state authority. The challenge now facing the rebels is to build a new state on the ruins of the old, and the first order of state-building business is establishing a monopoly on military force within its borders. The NTC is struggling to meet that challenge.

Read on here.


The Dangers of Obama's New Military

Both the NYT and the WaPo run reports on Obama's announcement today of plans for a leaner US military, a direct consequence of billions of dollars of funding cuts necessitated by the recent economic downturn.  Both the Army and the Marines will be downsized - but the Navy will retain all of its huge aircraft carriers, and the enormously expensive Joint Strike Fighter program will keep perking along (much to the relief of the Lockheed Martin corporation, its plant employees, and the congressmen of the states where those plants are located).

Not to be cut, however, are cyberwarfare programs, and - take special note - Special Forces, which have already become primary actors in US military ventures, especially in Afghanistan but also in places where we seldom are told about their doings.  I speak, for example, of Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan - all places for which we have cryptic reports of Special Forces' activity.  Their teams move in, do their thing, kill people, blow up villages, terrorize the locals.

We've come a long way from doughboys and GI's - the conscripted ordinary-citizen armies of World War I and the World War II "greatest generation."  After the humiliation that was Vietnam, the Pentagon decided that the draft was politically messy (and the draftees militarily unreliable).  Hence, the all-volunteer army of Desert Storm and down to the present - and with it, a new American militarism that spawned a cult of American Rambo-style warriors who could be sent off to fight faraway wars while the American public carried on.

And now, a new model - one that couples expensive high-tech weaponry with super-elite Special Forces whom the public will be set up (as, indeed, they already have been) to idolize as America's best.  And, truly, didn't we see this coming when Mr. Obama took General David Petraeus - the most touted and media-savvy US military commander of this generation, hero of the "Surge," godfather of COIN - and set him up as the director (read, commander) of the CIA?

Yet these warriors, their officers - and the CIA officials who will run much of their show - will be completely unaccountable to the American public.  Why?  Because their missions will be - well - "special ops": secret, completely off the public's radar, classified, unreported (and unreportable) by the US and world media.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iran, Israel, and the 2012 Elections: Be Very Afraid

Holiday travels (and extremely limited internet access) have kept me from blogging over the last few weeks (anybody miss me?), and the impending start of a new semester (and a new graduate colloquium) is likely to limit blogging time even more.  Too bad, because there's SO much to reflect upon, and to be concerned about: Iraq's possible fragmentation, Syria's lurch toward sectarian civil war, Egypt's halting progress toward democracy (and personally, I'm not holding my breath waiting for that one - but might consider holding my nose, because the situation there, quite frankly, stinks, what with SCAF's obvious determination to keep a choke-hold on the governing of that ancient land).

But it's Iran that seems to be grabbing the headlines, inciting the usual suspects in the US and Israel to bang the war-drums and providing lots of fodder for GOP campaigners eager to flap their cheeks about America's power and its God-given imperative to lead the world, and to protect Israel from those nefarious, mad Persian mullahs.  Meanwhile, the US promotes sanctions that are pounding Iran's long-suffering people and sends warships to intimidate them.  In effect, we're pushing Iran's leaders into a corner, and as Paul Pillar recently noted, making it extremely difficult for them to even meet us halfway.

The United States has made it almost impossible for Iran to say yes to whatever it is the United States is supposedly demanding of Iran. . . .   A peaceful Iranian nuclear program—as Tehran contends that its program is—has broad and strong support among Iranians. Any feasible change in Iranian policies that could be the basis of a new understanding with the United States and the West would include a continuing Iranian nuclear program, very likely including the enrichment of uranium by Iran. The substance of any such understanding would involve technical details about inspections and safeguards. Such details would need to be negotiated. Feasible arrangements that would provide the minimum assurances to both sides could be negotiated, but they are unexplored. They remain unexplored because the United States has abandoned negotiations and has made its policy toward Iran solely one of pressure and sanctions.

Iranian leaders respond with bluster, including threats to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil shipping and warnings to the US to not send any more aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf.  Such defiance is, of course, music to the ears of GOP candidates eager to grab hold of a voodoo doll into which they can jam verbal spikes.  Would that they might read and heed the comments of Geneive Abdo (at CNN), where she cites insider reports from Iran to the effect that Iranian bluster is essentially an attempt to save face in an increasingly precarious and highly charged situation.

Iran is not begging for a military confrontation. Its recent aggression is due, in fact, to its fear of a pending military attack. My sources inside the country say the circle of regime insiders around Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei truly believes an attack is inevitable, perhaps even before the U.S. presidential election. Therefore, to save face at home and in the region, Iran’s saber-rattling has reached a fever pitch.

In order not to appear weak in light of the pressure coming from the United States, Iran is determined to show it maintains the upper hand, which it tries to demonstrate through its military exercises, threats and hostile rhetoric. But such behavior, which Iran believes demonstrates its strength and some in the United States view as aggression, should not be misunderstood as Iran provoking the United States to launch a military attack.

The more candidates running for election in the United States publicly endorse a military attack, and the more the Obama administration is forced to appear hawkish, the more the Iranian regime works to prepare for what insiders believe will be a hit on the country’s nuclear facilities if not the population.

Yet come summer, as the campaign speeches and debates heat up and the GOP accuses Mr. Obama of trembling before the Iranians and leaving the door ajar for a second Holocaust, the bomb-Iran rhetoric will become even more fevered, as will the responses from Obama.

And, mark my word, Mr. Netanyahu will jump on this.  He will reach out to his amen chorus in Congress, zap Barack whenever and however he can, and likely impose on Obama the necessity of taking some politically expedient, but strategically damaging, action against Iran.

And don't be surprised to see, in the months ahead, Netanyahu brazenly grab more of East Jerusalem and announce new settlement construction in the West Bank.  Obama won't do a thing to stop him.

Frustrated and humiliated, Iranians and Palestinians will be pushed even deeper into their respective corners.  Their options will be to cower under the barrage . . . or to lash out in desperation.

Be very afraid.

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