Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baghdad Talks Going Nowhere

The LA Times has the story: the talks in Baghdad between Iran and the "6 Powers" are going nowhere.  Hardly surprising.  As one Iranian "insider" noted, the "Powers" want "diamonds for peanuts."

This entire exercise was doomed before the parties sat down.  The "Powers" came to Baghdad to squeeze, not negotiate.  And even if the Powers had a mind to budge even an inch to offer the Iranians some way to emerge with some dignity, Bibi and the US Congress were waiting to smack them down.  

Netanyahu/AIPAC/The Lobby/CUFI have Obama and Congress by the balls - and are determined to neuter Iran.  

This may have been the last shot to avoid war.  But Danica-lovin' Joe Sixpack has already consigned to that old dustbin the thousands of American lives lost and ruined - and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost and ruined (not that he cared especially) - to the Iraq debacle.  No doubt, he sees Iran as ready to crumble under a barrage of Cruise missiles and US Navy bombers.  No Americans in real jeopardy that way - and besides, Jesus and the Fox News experts don't care about dead Muslims.  Jesus wants the USA to reign forever.  Dead foreigners just got in the way.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Thomas Friedman Gets One Right (vs. Lindsey Graham)

Not talking about a recent column.  Talkin' about how he took on Sen. (sigh) Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation" today:

On "Face the Nation," Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) painted an optimistic picture of Afghanistan, saying the U.S. has been doing many of the right things there, including committing counter-terrorism forces beyond the 2014 troop withdrawal.

"I applaud the president for his strategic partnership agreement" with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Graham said, referring to the agreement signed earlier this month which enables the U.S. to keep a military contingent in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Graham added that it "closes the deal ... on the Taliban's aspirations to come back militarily.

"My view is with about three or four airbases, 20,000 troops left behind past 2014, with American air power and special forces units, the Afghan army will always win a fight with the Taliban," he said.

Graham said NATO needs to play a role, too. "NATO nations need to commit past 2014. If we do that we will get this right," Graham said.

However, during "Face the Nation"'s foreign policy roundtable, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman disagreed with Graham.

"Whenever I hear people saying it's a training problem, I always ask myself, 'Who has trained the Taliban?' Training Afghans to shoot, to fight, that always just has a real dissonance in my ear. I think people fight when they have a will, and it's not just about the way, and I think there are a lot of Afghans that don't want to fight for a corrupt government," Friedman said.

 

As ever with our ever-lovin' and lusty chest-thumpin' Three Amigos (well, Joe Lieberman maybe ought not do that chest-thumpin'; looks too frail; might kill him), Lindsey Graham (like John McCain) is all about US control "leadership" of the planet.  In other hards, the US military must always have the toughest dudes and the shiniest go-boom-kill-people toys, and all the fuel, planes, and stuff needed to deliver said dudes and toys.  

If Americans need to go without food, health care, good roads, education . . . that's OK.  That stuff's not nearly as important.  Because our good ole American, rugged-individualism, accept-Jesus-as-Lord values will pull us through.  Praise the Lord . . . and pass that ammunition.

Ehud Olmert: Partition Jerusalem.

It's astonishing - and, IMO, inspiring - that a former Israeli prime minister has the conviction - and the courage to express it - that the Likud's (and Netanyahu's) proclamation that Jerusalem must be undivided as Israel's "eternal capital" must be abandoned.  Here's more from the report:


Olmert said the notion of a united Holy City is unrealistic. He pointed to a number of Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, saying they have not been integrated into the rest of the city.

"We can't unite them and connect them to the real fabric of life in Jerusalem, and except for grief, we haven't gotten anything from them," he said.

Olmert went through a dramatic political transformation late in his career.

As mayor from 1993 to 2003, he was an outspoken hard-liner opposed to concessions to the Palestinians. Then, while prime minister from 2006 to 2009, he pursued a peace agreement envisioning broad territorial concessions to the Palestinians before a corruption case forced him to step down.

In those talks, Olmert offered to turn over parts of east Jerusalem to the Palestinians, and have Jerusalem's Old City, home to the most sensitive religious sites, be administered by an international consortium including Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Jordanians and Saudis.

Olmert claimed his talks with the Palestinians came tantalizingly close to an agreement. The Palestinians have said Olmert did not go far enough.

Since taking power three years ago, Netanyahu has repudiated Olmert's willingness to partition the city. With a newly expanded coalition, Netanyahu has cemented a formidable majority for his hardline policies.

"We have a great obligation to the unity and development of Jerusalem," Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, as he marked what Israel calls "Jerusalem Day."

The Palestinians have refused to conduct peace talks with Netanyahu unless he halts settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. About 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, approaching the Arab population of about 280,000. Netanyahu says talks should resume without any preconditions.

On Sunday, Israel marked the anniversary with a series of marches and speeches throughout the city. The Palestinians' chief peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Israeli celebrations were "clear proof" that Israel is not interested in peace. "Clearly, this behavior reflects the mentality of a colonizer, rather than a supposed peace partner."

The status of Jerusalem is among the most explosive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, defying resolution throughout two decades of on-again, off-again peace talks. Today, the Arab and Jewish sections of the city are worlds apart.

Job discrimination against Arab Jerusalemites is common and investments in infrastructure and education in east Jerusalem are far below the levels plowed into the western sector. The discrimination has stifled economic development, fueled chronic joblessness and stoked poverty.

"We often use slogans in regard to Jerusalem and refrain from looking at the reality of Jerusalem. The result is that the discrepancy is something that many people have trouble adjusting to and accepting," Olmert told Israel TV.

A report on east Jerusalem by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel backed up Olmert's arguments.

Israeli government policies have fueled a 78 percent poverty rate among Palestinians in east Jerusalem, the group said, citing statistics from Israel's National Insurance Institute. In 2006, the poverty rate was 64 percent.


All the more astonishing, in that light, will be the sight of an American Congress (with its Christian Zionist and CUFI backers) continuing to flock like so many lemmings behind AIPAC's lead, which will undoubtedly hew to Bibi's line:

Celebrating Israel's control of Jerusalem, Netanyahu declared his government was committed to keeping the entire city Israel's undivided capital. . . .  "We have a great obligation to the unity and development of Jerusalem," Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, as he marked what Israel calls "Jerusalem Day."

 

If idiots like GOP House member (Illinois) Joe Walsh have his way though, Congress will take an even harsher tack: encourage Israel to ditch the two-state solution, annex the West Bank, and encourage West Bank Palestinians (including East Jerusalem's Arabs) to move to the "real" Palestinian state: Jordan.   One of the Jerusalem Post's resident Arabophobes, Caroline Glick, has chimed in there with her support of Walsh and, in the same peace, tried to trash more progressive Jewish observers (including some prominent J Streeters as well as the JTA's Ron Kampeas.

The short-sightedness of the let-them-move-to-Jordan approach is breathtaking.  Several obervers (including Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy) have pointed out the continued failings of the Hashemite monarchy (most disappointingly, under the so-called reformist king Abdullah II) to move toward a more openly democratic system, even as tensions between Jordan's "East Bankers" (the bedouin-derived long-time supporters of the Hashemites) and "West Banker" Palestinians have become exacerbated.  In this "Arab Spring/Awakening" era, it's easy to foresee that an influx from the West Bank would tip the balance, bring down the Hashemites, and open the door to empowering political movements, like Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, that would take a much more anti-Israel line in a country that, with Egypt, is one of the two Arab states that actually have concluded peace treaties with Israel.

If Glick and Walsh (and, for that matter, the US Congress) are truly concerned for Israel to survive without the use of even more apartheid-like methods or even naked (even nuclear) military force, they ought to chill out and rethink.

And they ought to pay serious attention to Ehud Olmert.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Stephen Walt has an Important Message for Congress

Nothing to do with Israelis and Palestinians, the Arab Spring, or other continuing crises du jour - unless you're a frequent flyer.  I fly frequently enough for Prof. Walt's request to feel very zeroed in:

Finally, I flew here [to Istanbul]on Turkish Airlines via John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The flight was fine, but the on-the-ground experience in JFK was one of the more miserable I've had in the past decade. And I couldn't help but wonder -- and not for the first time -- how this affects how non-Americans view the U.S. when they arrive here. So I have the following modest proposal to offer: Every U.S. congressperson should be forced to fly through JFK on their own (i.e., with no staff to help), and to go through the normal TSA procedure (no VIP lines). And then they should be flown to a really first class airport in some foreign country (say, in Singapore, or Munich), so that they can see just how decrepit U.S. transportation infrastructure has become. And a few hours interacting with the Keystone Cops at JFK's TSA checkpoints would be instructive for them too. I'd like them to have those experiences in mind the next time they have to vote on some expensive nation-building project far away.

In the last few years, I've had the chance to fly into - and tour - both Shanghai and Beijing.  I love NYC, but these days, compared to the lights and hi-tech of Shanghai, the Big Apple - and it's truly shabby (Kennedy) airport, along with its TSA quasi-goons who seem to LOVE to order around us poor shmucks who've come to their increasingly less fair city - looks worm-ridden.

So . . . to those Congresspersons who are so ready to send our tax dollars to fund Israel's Maginot Line Iron Dome, . . .  look homeward, angels.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Senate GOP Goes Above and Beyond for Israel

Only days after Walter Pincus' must-read piece  in the WaPo about the US going "above and beyond for Israel" by ponying up more money for Israel's Iron Dome defense system, the WaPo reports on how Senate Republicans have blocked passage of a bill intended to strengthen sanctions against Iran.
I have to admit that my heart leaped with my initial take from the article's title - that Senate Democrats had thwarted some GOP initiative.
Silly me.
Turns out it was that Democrat senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, who had been trying to shepherd this stronger-sanctions bill through, but who had his efforts thwarted by GOP opponents in what Reid called a classic example of rope-a-dope.  Indeed, as the WaPo report notes, the bill had gotten through committee, with bipartisan support.
The GOP objection?  As reinforced by Three Amigo guy Lindsey Graham's statement, the GOP felt that the bill wasn't harsh enough.  Specifically, they wanted more explicit wording to threaten Iran with a US military strike if Tehran refused to abandon its nuclear program.
WaPo notes:

The Senate legislation would have built on economic sanctions approved by Congress last year to punish banks and businesses that help Iran sell its oil abroad. The proposed measure, known as the Johnson-Shelby bill, also would have imposed penalties on companies or governments that help Iran block Western radio and Internet transmissions or provide it with tear gas and other weapons used against opposition groups.
The congressional debate came amid disclosures of new U.S. assurances to Israel that Washington was prepared to use force against Iran if diplomacy failed. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro gave the assurances to Israeli leaders on Tuesday in what was billed as a private meeting with Israeli bar association members. A copy of his remarks was shared with news organizations Thursday.
I can only conclude from shenanigans such as these that GOP honchos in the Senate - and their pals in the House, both Red and Blue - would love nothing more than to have the US military bomb Iran back into the Stone Age and then invite Mr. Netanyahu back to D.C. for a victory lap complete with Special Address and standing ovations.
And you can bet that the GOP senators, like Graham, who blocked the Johnson-Shelby bill just saw their campaign coffers swell, courtesy of AIPAC and all those wonderful Jesus-loving (and Rapture-awaiting) Americans who have pledged their troth to CUFI and Pastor Hagee.
Isn't there something in the gospels about "blessed are the peacemakers"?  Just sayin' . . . .

Joe Lieberman: Bomb Bomb Syria

From today's WaPo comes Smokin' Joe Lieberman's exhortation that the US exercise its oh-so-necessary "leadership" (I mean, that's what America must always do, right?  Like, in Iraq?) in re Syria by spearheading a  "U.S.-coordinated train-and-equip mission" to provide "lethal aid" to anti-Assad forces.  Also on Joe's wish-list?: "a campaign of airstrikes to disrupt Assad’s command over his forces and to establish safe zones along Syria’s borders so the opposition can organize inside their country."

Just as John McCain (one of the "Three Amigos" of the McCain-Lieberman-Graham triad) wanted to "bomb bomb Iran," Lieberman now pushes to "bomb bomb" Syria.

Yes, the humanitarian situation in Syria is beyond awful, and the country is quickly becoming the new poster-child for the R2P'ers. But what Lieberman and his ilk seem to want is a reprise of the Libya adventure, which the US and NATO have more or less chalked up as a win once Qaddafi was killed, and then walked away.  That the people of Libya even now see this as a "win" - or, more important, will see it as a win a few years from now - is a question that Obama and pals would rather keep off our radar screens.  But the fact of the matter is that Libya is in fragments.  The situation there remains highly volatile, and the future is highly uncertain.

Lieberman extols the courage of the anti-Assad resistance and demands that the US rush to its defense (provided, of course, that the anti-Assad fighters play by Joe's rules: 

Syrian fighters who want help must reject al-Qaeda and terrorism; refrain from human rights abuses and revenge killings; place themselves under civilian-led opposition command-and-control; and secure any weapons stockpiles that fall into their hands.

Some of those horses left the barn months ago, Joe.  Sorry.  Nice try though.

The reality is that Syria is messy.  The "fighters" are themselves fragmented, with no established leadership.  Moreover, even though opposition seems to be coalescing, Assad still retains fairly broad support in some areas, and among some well-entrenched groups, in the country. 

In other words, even with US intervention of the kind and scale that Lieberman wants, the "happy ending" would not be some trans-Syria kumbaya moment.  It would likely be complicated, and bitter.

And if recent developments are any indication, there might be significant collateral damage: Lebanon.

Be careful of what you wish for, (Three) Amigos.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Iraq: America's Mothers Sacrificed Their Sons for . . . This?

For the AP, Laura Jakes reports on how members of Iraq's parliament have skipped town to go on holiday, without having followed through on a promised cancellation of a "pricey perk": free armored cars.  Meanwhile . . .

"They have not discussed ways of how to improve the lives of people like me," said Ammar Hassan, a college graduate from Karbala who drives a taxi to support himself. "They only think about themselves instead of paying attention to people's welfare."

The 39-year-old Hassan said he earns an average of about $200 each month — a fraction of the monthly $22,500 salary afforded to each of the 325 lawmakers in parliament.

"I'm afraid the day will come when lawmakers pass a law imposing taxes on ordinary people' salaries and incomes to cover their own living costs," he said bitterly.

Iraq's government has been rife with corruption going back to the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who hoarded the nation's oil riches for himself and his cronies amid an impoverished public. Hopes that conditions would dramatically improve as Iraq tried to build a post-Saddam democracy proved overly optimistic, however. A quarter of Iraq's population of 31 million people live in poverty, and an estimated 15 percent are unemployed, according to U.S. data compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Raw sewage runs through the streets in many neighborhoods, polluting tap water, sickening residents and adding to an overall sense of misery. Many Iraqis only have 12 hours of electricity each day.

By contrast, Iraqi lawmakers were given a $90,000 stipend for expenses in addition to their monthly salaries when they took office in 2010. And in February, parliament voted to buy $50 million worth of armored cars to protect lawmakers from insurgent attacks that routinely target officials.

But far more innocent bystanders than government officials usually are killed in Iraq's still-frequent bombings. The pricey perk enraged the public, which was only soothed by sheepish promises to redirect the money to what parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi at the time called "more important and vital items for the community."

Since then, however, lawmakers have dragged their feet on giving up the cars — and on most other vital legislation.

Lawmaker Mohammed al-Khalidi said the latest plan being considered would let legislators from some of Iraq's most dangerous provinces — Baghdad, Sunni-dominated Anbar and Ninevah, and the sectarian and ethnically divided Diyala — keep the cars.


On the other hand, news such as this from Iraq today - about suicide bombers and car bombs targetting and killing Iraq security forces - might lead one to feel that these members of parliament might have good reason to hang onto those armored cars.

Yes, Saddam is dead.  Yes, the Iraqis have had elections.  And Yes, in what one might term "the Surge 2," Iraq's oil production is ramping upward.  But corruption is rampant, Arabs and Kurds, Sunni and Shia still harbor deep distrust and horrible memories, and Mr. al-Maliki continues to turn himself into a Saddam-lite.  Meanwhile, as it did for his brutal predecessor in the 1980s, the US still largely backs his play,  in the cause of "stability" and the hope of thwarting Iran.

 But the larger point here is that, in so many ways, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq - at great sacrifice to the American people (including the mothers of the 4000+ who were killed), and even more horrific sacrifice to tens of thousands of Iraqi mothers and families - ultimately did so very little to change Iraq's political culture. 

What was the point?  

I hope Mr. Bush remembers to ask himself that question today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Lazy "Journalism" from Thomas Friedman

In today's NYT, Friedman doing what Friedman does so well: talk to the bright young techies of the Arab world, where he can smell the money being made and forecast the bright futures to be had by all the country-club wannabes in his "flat world."

Does the man ever talk to real people?

Again, be sure to check out Belen Fernandez's The Imperial Messenger.  And then ask yourself: Why does anyone pay attention to this guy?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Illinois Congressman's One-State Solution: Israel Should Annex the West Bank

In today's Jerusalem Post appears an egregiously hideous op-ed by Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh (who is noted there as a member of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus).  

The essay bears the title, "There is No Such Thing as a Two-State Solution."  When I first espied this title via my Google alert, I thought, wow, the JPost published a piece in favor of a one-state solution?

Silly me.

What Walsh argues for, in essence, is that Israel should annex the West Bank and create a bigger state of Israel.  His rationale?  The Palestinian Arabs simply don't want peace, whereas Israel has always wanted peace, and only Israel has tried to achieve it.  

Uh-huh.

Funding for Walsh's re-election campaign is assured.  You can guess where it will be coming from.

And as for those Palestinians who don't like that plan?  Says Walsh:

Those Palestinians that wish to may leave their Fatah and Hamas-created slums and move to the original Palestinian state – Jordan. The British Mandate for Palestine created Jordan as the country for the Palestinians. It was the only justification for its creation. Even now, 75 percent of its population is of Palestinian descent. Those Palestinians that remain behind in Israel will maintain limited voting power, but will be awarded all the economic and civil rights of Israeli citizens. They will be free to raise a family, start a business and live in peace, all of which are impossible under Arab rule.

If I might raise a few points here:

  • Walsh's ignorance of history: Britain did not create Jordan as "the country for the Palestinians."  Britain's original Palestine mandate after World War I included the Transjordan, which became the Kingdom of Jordan after World War II.  Many Zionists ca. 1920 expected the entire Palestine mandate to become a new Jewish state, per the Balfour Declaration's expressed intent to support the creation of a Jewish "homeland" (not state) in Palestine.  Britain split off the Transjordan from Palestine in 1921 to accommodate (and mollify) the Hashemite scion Abdullah bin Hussein, whose family's hopes of establishing its domain over most of the Arab portion of the defeated Ottoman empire had been wrecked by France and Britain.  Britain in no way established Jordan as a Palestinian state.  Indeed, Britain spent much of the 1920s-1940s trying to accommodate (in the now smaller "Palestine") both the Arab and the Jewish communities.
  • Walsh's ignorance of international law: The annexation that Walsh advocates flies in the face of UN resolutions and other international law forbidding the annexation of territory "conquered" by military action and occupation.
  • Walsh's dismissal of "American values": Walsh advocates relegating West Bank Palestinians to a second-class citizenship in an enlarged state of Israel.  "Limited voting power" hardly reflects the American democratic ideal, unless one is referring to the Jim Crow American South.

That an ignoramus such as Walsh (1) can be elected to the nation's legislature and (2) will quite likely be re-elected while spewing garbage such as this speaks volumes about the blighted state of US political discourse when it comes to Israel, and about the ignorance and bias that afflict the broader American electorate.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Thomas Friedman's Shiny Baubles

As usual, Thomas Friedman tells the Arabs what they "need to do" - and lays the blame for not doing it yet all on them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Iran Oil, Iraq Oil

Report out that, with sanctions biting, Iran's oil production has hit a 20-year low.  Meanwhile, Iraq's oil exports have reached their highest levels since 1989, before the 1991 Desert Storm war.

Al-Arabiya asks, "Is al-Maliki serving Iraq or Iran?" and disparages the Iraqi PM for cultivating stronger ties with Tehran, even while it recognizes that he is relying on that support for his own political ends.

As Iraq's oil income burgeons, while Iran's dwindles, at what point does the leadership in Tehran begin to demand a quid pro quo?

Victory over Iran in 3 Weeks?

As reported at RT, the Pentagon (CENTCOM) says that the US could defeat Iran's military in 3 weeks.  As I recall, that's about how long it took Anglo-American forces to "defeat" Iraq's military in 2003.

And then, as we all remember, all the violence was over . . . and after regime change, Iraq went on to live happily ever after.

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