Friday, August 31, 2012

Obama Threw Israel "under the Bus"?

I've been convalescing and rehabbing after having my hip replaced a couple of weeks ago, and what with just trying to keep up with news and analysis, my posting has been curtailed.

But I couldn't help hearing Romney's comment last night (during his acceptance speech at the Republican convention - about which I have much I'd like to say) that Obama has "thrown Israel under the bus."  Rachel Maddow and her MSNBC cohort sneered at that - and justifiably so, because Obama has done no such thing.  Trying to counsel caution and restraint to Israel's messianic, paranoid, drum-beating leadership is not to throw them under the bus.

But as Karl Vick has reported today at Time, Obama has just given Romney another log for that fire:

Seven months ago, Israel and the United States postponed a massive joint military exercise that was originally set to go forward just as concerns were brimming that Israel would launch a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The exercise was rescheduled for late October, and appears likely to go forward on the cusp of the U.S. presidential election. But it won’t be nearly the same exercise. Well-placed sources in both countries have told TIME that Washington has greatly reduced the scale of U.S. participation, slashing by more than two-thirds the number of American troops going to Israel and reducing both the number and potency of missile interception systems at the core of the joint exercise.

“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’” a senior Israeli military official tells TIME. . . .


You're damn right we don't trust you.

 

In the current political context, the U.S. logic is transparent, says Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar. “I think they don’t want to insinuate that they are preparing something together with the Israelis against Iran – that’s the message,” says Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Trust? We don’t trust them. They don’t trust us. All these liberal notions! Even a liberal president like Obama knows better. . . .   

 

 

 

 

Inside Israel, reports persist that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense chief Ehud Barak are determined to launch a strike, and American officials continue to urge restraint.  Israeli analysts say Netanyahu wants Obama to send a letter committing to U.S. military action by a specific date if Iran has not acceded to concessions, but the U.S. administration does not appear to be complying.  U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters in London this week  that a military strike could damage but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capability, and added, “I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it.”

 

 

All I can say is Bravo, Mr. Obama, for this course of action.  Unfortunately though, he just put another arrow into Mitt's quiver for his attack on Obama's allegedly anti-Israel stance.  Romney soft-pedaled that last night, devoting only one line to it, which likely was all he needed to say in order to keep on-side the millions of Christian Zionist evangelicals and Likudist American Jews who regard the defense of Israel as the US's appropriate chief foreign policy goal.   But Obama's decision may push into Romney's column some independents who question Obama's commitment to Israel.

Of course, any US president truly committed to "American values" would be backing away from an Israel that is rapidly abandoning its secular-socialist roots in favor of a chauvinistic, messianic hyper-religiosity that entails racist-religious hatred of the local Arab population (as recent NYT and JTA pieces highlight) and (in the person of Shas party leader - and Netanyahu coalition member - Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) calls for the annihilation of the Iranian people.

Instead, in his upcoming speech next week in Charlotte, expect Obama to proclaim the one-mindedness of the US and Israel.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

UN Invasion of Texas - and a Coming American Civil War?

No, this piece is not from The Onion.  

 

Referring to unexplained "executive orders" and other documents that Obama and "his minions have filed," [Tom] Head [an elected judge from Lubbock County, Texas] said, "regardless of whether the Republicans take over the Senate, which I hope they do, he is going to make the United States Congress and he's going to make the Constitution irrelevant. He's got his czars in place that don't answer to anybody."

 

Obama, Head said, will "try to give the sovereignty of the United States away to the United Nations. What do you think the public's going to do when that happens? We are talking civil unrest, civil disobedience, possibly, possibly civil war. ... I'm not talking just talking riots here and there. I'm talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms, get rid of the dictator. OK, what do you think he is going to do when that happens? He is going to call in the U.N. troops, personnel carriers, tanks and whatever."

 

Head vowed to personally stand "in front of their personnel carriers and say, 'You're not coming in here.' And I've asked the sheriff. I said, 'Are you going to back me on this?' And he said, 'Yeah, I'm going to back you.' Well, I don't want a bunch of rookies back there who have no training and little equipment. I want seasoned veteran people who are trained that have got equipment. And even then, you know we may have two or three hundred deputies facing maybe a thousand U.N. troops. We may have to call out the militia."

 

Some of the scariest take-aways from this?

  • These accusations come from the mouth of a judge (albeit an elected one, and from Texas, at that).
  • His views most surely reflect those of millions of other Americans, the vast majority of whom possess at least high-school educations.  (Indeed, even though he's a Texas judge, I'm going to assume that Mr. Head has a college degree.)
  • This man (and his ilk) who fears and hates Obama and a possible UN take-over of the US will undoubtedly cast his vote in November for a Republican presidential candidate whose on-the-record declaration of the US's appropriate relationship with Israel boils down to "If Israel says 'jump,' the US should say 'How high?'.   (Along these lines, note this recent essay from Mondoweiss.  Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu - whom Mitt first knew as Ben Nitai, at Harvard - go back a long way.)
  • Such views are surely entrenched, among millions of Texans and other Red-Staters, and will remain so because of the constant reinforcement they receive from the Usual Suspects (Limbaugh/Hannity/FoxNews and their ilk) as well as oh-so-many of the Tea Party elite (who, I'm sure, would recoil at being called that).

 

One of the huge ironies here is that these self-declared "patriots" are in fact driving the wedge ever deeper into an American political-cultural divide (indeed, schism may be a more appropriate term) from which I frankly can envision no path to recovery as long as the Usual Suspects retain a free hand to spew hatred and ignorance.  

We have sometimes chortled at Rick Perry's reference to the possibility of Texas seceding from the Union.  But note the judge's comments above about calling out militia against UN troops.  This guy also rants about Obama, the "socialist" "Dictator."  In such a mind, how wide a gap is there really between "UN troops" and Federal authorities, be they the FBI, ATF - or the Department of Education ("thought police" who would have Texans and other Red Staters embrace un-Biblical concepts such as the theory of evolution, or global warming, or a reason-based assessment of "traditional values")?  In the wake of an Obama victory in November, how much more will such people (in their view) be "willing to take"?

Mr. Limbaugh may already have given us a clue. As reported at Huffington Post, on his radio show two days ago Limbaugh noted

 "I don't believe the country can survive in a country full of people that would re-elect him." Limbaugh described this as "the great fear" as he does not know "what we can do about a majority of people who would re-elect the guy."

Maybe a toss-off comment from Limbaugh, but this is nonetheless pretty spooky stuff.  For me, at least, it plucks a couple of historical strings:

  • The famous comment of the English king Henry II about his troublesome archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket: "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"  Whereupon, several of his retinue did just that.  In a similar vein, Limbaugh implies that the realm would be better off without Mr. Obama.  His comments will take root in the fertile soil (or earwax buildup) of millions of listeners, too many of whom already seem well disposed to militias and "Second Amendment" solutions to what they perceive as a mortal threat to USA, USA.
  • Adolf Hitler's pinning of Germany's post-World War I decline on the Communists, and the Jews.  Again, Limbaugh's question about "what we can do about a majority of people who would re-elect the guy" will readily be heard as a call to arms (and I don't mean that metaphorically) to an already wound-up audience that embraces a self-concept of Tea Party patriots ready to take up arms against a "dictatorial" King George III  United Nations  Barack Hussein Obama and his God-hating, Bible-bashing, baby-killing, Israel-trashing socialist-Communist-atheist liberal army of Satan.

As much as I dread a Romney victory in November, I worry about the repercussions of the Obama victory for which I so desperately hope.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Robin Wright on "Fearing" the "Salafi Crescent"

Robin Wright has exhibited a disturbing tendency over the years to essentialize - as in her recent coining of the term "Salafi Crescent," as if salafis are a unified mass movement now poised (as in some big game of Risk) to carve a path across the Middle East.  
I vividly remember her appearance at the University of Michigan in 1984 as part of a panel on current Middle Eastern issues.  That appearance was around the same time as the publication of her first major book, Sacred Rage: the Wrath of Militant Islam, and her comments reflected the kind of essentializing of "militant Islam" that the title reflects.  I was especially struck by how she was challenged repeatedly from the audience, by people who seemed to have a much better nuanced appreciation of current developments among militant Islamists.  By the end of her time on stage, she was reeling - and I had formed an opinion of her that led to my continuing decision to enjoy her reportage, but avoid relying on her as in any way a go-to authority on the Middle East.
Nonetheless, a lot of what she says in her new NY Times essay  here is spot-on, especially about the US's consistent choice to align itself with the Wahhabi salafi monarchy of Saudi Arabia.  As she concludes:
The Salafis represent a painful long-term conundrum for the West. Their goals are the most anti-Western of any Islamist parties. They are trying to push both secularists and other Islamists into the not-always-virtuous past.
American policy recently had its own awakening after 60 years of support for autocratic rulers. The United States opted to embrace people power and electoral change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Yemen. Yet Washington still embraces authoritarian Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia, tolerating their vague promises of reform and even pledging the United States’ might to protect them.
Foreign policy should be nuanced, whether because of oil needs or to counter threats from Iran. But there is something dreadfully wrong with tying America’s future position in the region to the birthplace and bastion of Salafism and its warped vision of a new order.

Todd Akin as Symptom of Deeper American Sickness

Amy Davidson of the New Yorker skewers the moron that is Todd Akin.  

She also makes plain something many have been noting for quite awhile: that the Republican Party can push forward such demagogic, ignorant mediocrities as candidates for national office should tell us that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with the GOP.  And, that Americans cast their votes for them speaks volumes about the moral and intellectual nadir to which the US has descended.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Egypt President Morsi Going to Iran

As reported by Reuters

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Mursi will visit Iran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement meetings on August 30, Egyptian state news agency MENA said, the first such visit by an Egyptian head of state to Tehran since the Islamic revolution.

MENA quoted sources at the Egyptian presidency saying on Saturday that Mursi "will participate in the summit" on his way back from China.

A spokesman for Mursi was not immediately available for comment. Egyptian media reports have suggested Mursi might send his newly appointed deputy, Mahmoud Mekki, instead.

Since Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising last year, Egypt and Iran have signaled interest in renewing ties severed more than 30 years ago after Iran's Islamic Revolution and Egypt's recognition of Israel.

However, with the West pushing Iran to halt its disputed nuclear program and the United States being a major donor to Egypt's military, any improvement in ties could become a tricky path to tread.

Mursi said in June he would sue an Iranian news agency after it quoted him as saying he was interested in restoring relations with Tehran. Mursi aides said the interview was a fabrication.

Iran hailed the victory of Mursi, who resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood when he was elected in June, as an "Islamic Awakening". Mursi, however, is striving to reassure Egypt's Western allies wary at the prospect of Islamist rule, and Gulf states that are deeply suspicious of Iranian influence.

Egypt is the current head of the Non Aligned Movement, founded during the Cold War to advocate the causes of the developing world, is set to hand over to Iran in the Tehran meeting.

Egypt's formal recognition of Israel and Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution led in 1980 to the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the two countries, among the biggest and most influential in the Middle East. They currently have reciprocal interest sections, but not at ambassadorial level.

Egypt's former president Anwar Sadat received Iran's late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi who fled Iran following the revolution in 1979 while one of Tehran's streets is named after the man who assassinated Sadat during a military parade in 1981.

I imagine that the lines between Tel Aviv and Cairo, Washington and Cairo, and Tel Aviv and Washington will be heating up over this development.  And of course, it adds fuel to the fear-mongering of those such as the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick, whose recent essay on "Who Lost Egypt?" conjures up memories of the "Who Lost China?" debate in the 1950s US.  

Except that she sees the real question as "Who lost the Middle East?"  In Glick's world, it's all on the feckless Mr. Obama and his crew, who let Hosni Mubarak, the cornerstone of the US's stabilty system in the region, slip beneath the waters of the Arab Spring. (How's that for shifting a metaphor?)  Never a mention, makes she, of how Israel's policies helped produce Israel's isolation.

US Military as a New Praetorian Guard

At World Politics Review (subscription), Andrew Exum (who posts there weekly under the moniker Abu Muqawama) posts an extremely thoughtful, cogent essay about the disturbing state of civil-military relations in the US.  In brief, he bemoans how hero-worshiping American citizens have established the US soldier as a kind of uber-citizen upon whom some politicians would now see fit to heap extra portions of legal and economic benefits even as "ordinary" citizens are forced to deal with increasing economic austerity.

On the one hand, it is good and right that a society lifts up those who put themselves in harm’s way to serve a greater good. But when it comes to the U.S. and its military, things have truly gotten out of hand. Able-bodied U.S. soldiers in prime physical condition now board airplanes in the United States before mothers with small children. Perhaps even worse, it seems that only veterans notice how ridiculous this is. The new G.I. Bill, passed by the Congress in 2009, makes the U.S. taxpayer responsible for the education of the sons and daughters of highly paid general officers, yet most citizens living in a new age of austerity do not ask why. And a member of the U.S. House of Representatives has even gone so far as to argue that military servicemen might deserve the right to vote more than the average citizen. 

 

This is obscene. And the absurdity of it all is thrown into stark relief when we compare things with the way we treat other public servants. Consider, for a moment, Ragaei Abdelfattah, an Egyptian emigrant to the United States who was killed last week in Afghanistan while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Abdelfattah will not be remembered in the way we remember fallen uniformed servicemen, and his family will likely struggle to receive even a fraction of the benefits that would be given to the family of a fallen soldier. 

 

All too often, in fact, USAID workers in Afghanistan are left to buy their own life insurance and worry about whether or not they are killed on “duty hours” so that their family receives it. The families of these fallen civilians will not have veterans service organizations fighting on their behalf on Capitol Hill to secure their benefits.

 

Contrary to popular perceptions, diplomats, aid workers and civilian contractors on the battlefield arguably expose themselves to more danger on a daily basis than most members of the military serving in combat support assignments. But they receive none of the credit and few of the benefits that the latter do.

 

Exum concludes:

If veterans of a professional all-volunteer force have simply provided services to the public in exchange for compensation, then we veterans deserve the same benefits provided to other public servants -- no more, no less. If the military, by contrast, is a truly selfless service, than veterans should be among the first in these times of austerity to lead by example and accept fewer public benefits. At the very least, we should be helping that mother with kids onto the airplane ahead of us.

 

Rather than choose between these two visions of military service, however, we Americans have opted for a middle option whereby we have a professional military in which men and women provide a public service -- like police officers or emergency medical technicians -- but are elevated to the highest echelons of publicly bestowed honor. This ambiguity hinders our ability to make even basic reforms to the military pay and benefits that will soon cripple the defense budget. And it contributes to the creation of a praetorian guard that threatens rather than protects the fabric of our society. 


For those of you unaware, during the Roman empire the praetorian guard began as an elite imperial bodyguard who eventually morphed into emperor-makers and -breakers themselves, to the point of overthrowing and executing Caesars and replacing them with someone of their own choice.

Never in America, you say?  Well, in the early 1960s a highly popular novel, Seven Days in May, (soon made into a gripping movie  - I've seen it several times; it never fails to set me thinking) described an attempted overthrow of the US president by a plot led by well-organized generals.  As the Wikipedia entry notes, 

The story is said to have been influenced by the right-wing anti-Communist political activities of General Edwin A. Walker after he resigned from the military. An additional inspiration was provided by the 1961 interview by [the novel's author, Fletcher] Knebel, who was also a political journalist and columnist, conducted with the newly-appointed Air Force Chief of Staff, Curtis LeMay, an advocate of preventive first-strike nuclear option. [Lemay - now there was a piece of work.]

President John F. Kennedy had read the novel and believed the scenario as described could actually occur in the United States. According to Frankenheimer in his director's commentary, production of the film received encouragement and assistance from Kennedy through White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, who conveyed to Frankenheimer Kennedy's wish that the film be produced and that, although the Pentagon did not want the film made, the President would conveniently arrange to visit Hyannis Port for a weekend when the film needed to shoot outside the White House.

The US military today rides a wave of adulation that began to swell with the Desert Storm "war" of 1991 and crested in 2003, perhaps with W's infamous "Mission Accomplished" moment on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.  Today we can't hold a major athletic event in this country without some over-the-top celebration of American military might, be it an All-Forces color guard, a USAF fly-bay over a stadium, or - now, and despicably - a "reality" TV show that challenges fading actors desperate for camera time celebrities to boot-camp drills.

Combine that with a Congress controlled by the powerful lobbies of weapons makers like General Dynamics, Boeing, and Northrop.  Those corporations ensure the predominance of America's "heroes" (and Israel's as well; let's not go there just now). They can pour millions into the campaign coffers of political candidates, as well as brandish the carrot/stick of new plants (= jobs).

Combine that with the increasing militarization of US intelligence services and special-operations (including drone strikes).  Don't forget that the current US Secretary of Defense is a long-time political hack (whose 2009 appointment as CIA head was highly criticized), whereas the current director of the CIA is the 4-star general military "hero" to whom (in John McCain's eyes, at least) we owe our "victory" in Iraq.

Can you see where this is headed?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Iran's Earthquakes and Common Humanity

Anyone paying attention knows that northwestern Iran (around the old capital city Tabriz) was hit yesterday with two devastating earthquakes.  As many as 250 people are dead, thousands injured, more thousands homeless.  Both the NY Times and the WaPo provide relatively brief coverage, but the photo arrays are compelling, and heart-rending.  (The Guardian provides a video here., and rather more extensive and humane coverage here; even more extensive coverage at al-Jazeera English here.)  They  reveal scenes of massive devastation, with ordinary people dead, hurt, traumatized, simply trying to cope.

None of the accounts notes any reach-out or expression of sympathy from the US - or Israel.  

That's a pity.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

US Drones over the Sinai?

The NYT reports on burgeoning conversation between Egypt and the US about the security situation in the Sinai.  The US evidently is prepared to offer Egypt security assistance to dampen down the security threat there from militants in the wake of the attack that left some 16 Egyptian soldiers dead when militants tried to cross the Israeli border.

Among the security measures on offer may be Mr. Obama's weapon of choice: drones, undoubtedly to be "piloted" by Americans.  If the Egyptians sign on to this, it seems safe to say that at some point the US would want to be authorized to expand the drones' role from surveillance to "taking out" suspected bad guys . . . who would likely include, if not members of Hamas, then members of other Palestinian militant resistance groups.

And I can imagine nothing that would inflame anti-US feeling in the region more than the US military being directly responsible for killing Palestinians "resisting" Israel.  

Nor would that reflect well on the Egyptian political leaders who green-lighted the US actions.

I hope Mr. Morsi is wary of this slippery slope.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Realistic and Reasonable Take on the Syria Crisis: Leon Hadar

I highly recommend this you-tube of Leon Hadar's recent presentation at the Middle East Policy Council about the crisis in Syria, the proposals for US intervention there (which he advises against, for sound reasons well presented here), and the American propensity for wishful thinking about democratic crusades in the Middle East.

By the end of his presentation, Mr. Hadar reaches a conclusion that I wish the American public at-large would accept and come to terms with: The US's unipolar moment in the Middle East is over, and the sooner we embrace that reality, the better prepared the US can be to embrace and engage with emerging realities.  Hadar notes especially the rise of China, and the ongoing US "pivot" toward East Asia.  

We might also include the emergence of popular Islamist politics in the Middle East and beyond.  Across the region, we are beginning to see the ascendancy of new socio-political models that reject the previous template: autocracies whose power relied on repression that was acquiesced in, or even required, by a United States that wanted oil and regional stability more than popular self-determination.

Are Obama and the US AWOL in Syria?

Gotta say I'm a huge fan of the NYT's Nicholas Kristof, mostly because his most deeply held tenet when it comes to how the US should relate to the world seems to be "Killing people is bad; helping people is good."  Would that some of the denizens of DoS and DoD (not to mention Bush's DoJ) had taken note.

But fresh from a seminar at the Aspen Institute, Kristof has decided (see today's NYT essay) that it's time for the US to get into the fight in Syria.  His reasons jive well with the tenet noted above: (1) the Syrian civil war threatens to kill more people by expanding beyond Syria, (2) Syria's WMDs are a threat; (3) people are dying, at a rate that surpasses that in Libya (which NK seems to chalk up as a US success. The jury, of course, is still out.)

But NK's argument seems lacking and/or flawed in some places.  Perhaps I ought not go here, but that might include his quoting, in support of his opinion, of fellow seminar-goers Madeleine Albright (she of "it was worth it" infamy - referring of course to her 60 Minutes interview where she opined that the sanctions-caused deaths of half a million Iraqi kids was worth it) and William Perry, the former Clinton SecDef on whose watch the US launched illegal air-strikes against Iraq (see Operation Desert Fox) and generally ramped up Iraqis misery.  

But NK also claims that the failure to secure a Security Council resolution against Assad ought not stop the US; after all, it didn't stop the US in Bosnia in 1999.  Yes, but the US military of 1999 was the so-called "hyperpower" of what Francis Fukuyama was celebrating as the era of the "end of history."  And the Russia that opposed US intervention in 1999 had barely crawled out from under the debacle of the Soviet Union's break-up and its aftermath.  The Russia that opposes the US in re Syria in 2012 is a resurgent, assertive, highly nationalistic power led by a skilled and entrenched quasi-dictator in Mr. Putin.  Moreover, the Russia of 2012 has its heavy hand on the spigot of much of the natural-gas supply upon which many of the US's allies in Europe depend.  No minor consideration, that, when one ponders the repercussions of the US challenging Russia's interests.  I'm not saying that Obama ought automatically to back away - but Kristof needs to acknowledge all of the helpings on Obama's plate.

And what about China?  China likewise is opposed to US/UN intervention in Syria.  In 1999 China was surely an up-and-comer.  In 2012, China has emerged as the US's most significant military and economic rival. China also holds trillions of dollars of US debt in the wake of Mr. Bush's no-tax military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Some would call that leverage.  The point here is that intervening in Syria without China signing on would pose complications and repercussions that it would likewise behoove Kristof to at least acknowledge.

Kristof also claims:

One step would be for the United States to move naval forces off the Syrian coast, while Turkey and Israel moved more troops close to their borders with Syria. This would pin down Syrian troops so that Assad would have fewer forces available to murder his people.

Russia, of course, already has naval forces in the area.  Inserting an increased US naval presence surely risks creating an incident that might touch off something more serious.  For Turkey to move troops closer to the Syrian border raises the prospect of conflict with the region's Kurds, who have felt put upon by Turkey for decades.  For Israel to do so might motivate many in the Arab world to rally to Assad's side against a putative Israeli threat.  In particular, such an Israeli move might force Mr. al-Maliki's hand in Iraq, in a direction that the US would likely find very troubling.

NK also claims:

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton scholar who previously served as a senior Obama administration official, has offered sensible proposals for action. She suggests that the United States and other countries provide antitank and antiaircraft weapons and perhaps air cover to commanders who protect civilians and eschew sectarian or revenge killings. Some Free Syrian Army commanders have signed such a code of conduct. With our allies, we can also advise Syrian commanders that if they abandon Assad they may have a role in Syria’s future. If they go down with Assad, they won’t.

With all due respect to Prof. Slaughter (whose work I generally admire), can the US really separate out that effectively the white-hat rebels from the black-hat rebels - especially if there are no US boots on the Syrian ground?  Given the mishmash that is the Syrian resistance forces, how can the US effectively ensure that the weapons it supplies will not fall into the hands of "al-Qaeda" jihadists or Sunni-sectarian militias who might turn them soon thereafter against Alawi villagers?  It ought to be clear by now, based on the US experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, that the US does not "do" tribal/sectarian/local nuance all that well - and that was with US forces actually on scene in those countries.  And where/how, in Kristof's world, does the US get off in believing that it can pick and choose who gets to make the new Syria, and who doesn't?  Some might term this hubris.  I wouldn't argue.

To be frank, much of NK's reasoning - and the reasoning of those whose ideas and support he cites - seems to emanate from an earlier American-exceptionalist reality that never may have been as real as we'd thought: that the US always has the requisite military and economic power, and the unquestioned moral authority, to fix things - and to fix things in a way that won't impose potentially catastrophic costs on the US itself.

1945, after all, was almost 70 years ago.

 

Syria is Not the US's to Win, or Save

I recommend highly a new essay from Paul Pillar at The National Interest, where he examines Liz Sly's recent WaPo report on how Syrian rebels are becoming increasingly angry that the US - and the West as a whole - have not come to their rescue.  Pillar notes - imo, very astutely - that recent US interventions have not bought it much in the way of gratitude (see Afghanistan and Iraq, says Pillar - and I might add Reagan's short-lived insertion of Marines into Lebanon in the early 1980s).  Sending US forces into Syria will not buy never-ending peace and love from its people.

Pillar concludes:

The most important dynamic is that if the United States gets involved at all in a bloody mess, it tends to be seen as responsible for all of the bloodshed and mess, even beyond what is reasonably attributable to its actions. Even if the United States does not apply the Pottery Barn rule to itself, others do, and in an expansive and unfair way. This will be a major hazard with Syria, given the prospect of much bloodshed and mess there still to come.

 

The perceived power of the United States amplifies and sustains such sentiments, much more than the actual power of the United States enables it to shape and control circumstances for which it will be blamed. The United States will not lose a “secular and democratic Syria” no matter what it does, because such a thing is not America's to lose in the first place.

 

Precisely.  And Seumas Milne at the Guardian argues persuasively that the increasing levels of intervention by Gulf states and the West serves only to ratchet up Syrians' death and misery even as it nudges the conflict beyond Syria's borders.

 

The US, which backed its first Syrian coup in 1949, has long funded opposition groups. But earlier this year Obama gave a secret order authorising covert (as well as overt financial and diplomatic) support to the armed opposition. That includes CIA paramilitaries on the ground, "command and control" and communications assistance, and the funnelling of Gulf arms supplies to favoured Syrian groups across the Turkish border. After Russia and China blocked its last attempt to win UN backing for forced regime change last month, the US administration let it be known it would now step up support for the rebels and co-ordinate"transition" plans for Syria with Israel and Turkey.

"You'll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened," a senior US official told the New York Times last Friday. "Now we're ready to accelerate that." Not to be outdone, William Hague boasted that Britain was also increasing "non-lethal" support for the rebels. Autocratic Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing the cash and weapons, as the western-backed Syrian National Council acknowledged this week, while Nato memberTurkey has set up a logistics and training base for the Free Syrian Army in or near the Incirlik US air base.

For Syrians who want dignity and democracy in a free country, the rapidly mushrooming dependence of their uprising on foreign support is a disaster – even more than was the case in Libya. After all, it is now officials of the dictatorial and sectarian Saudi regime who choose which armed groups get funding, not Syrians. And it is intelligence officials from the US, which sponsors the Israeli occupation of Syrian territory and dictatorships across the region, who decide which rebel units get weapons.

Opposition activists insist they will maintain their autonomy, based on deep-rooted popular support. But the dynamic of external backing clearly risks turning groups dependent on it into instruments of their sponsors, rather than the people they seek to represent. Gulf funding has already sharpened religious sectarianism in the rebel camp, while reports of public alienation from rebel fighters in Aleppo this week testifies to the dangers of armed groups relying on outsiders instead of their own communities.

The Syrian regime is of course backed by Iran and Russia, as it has been for decades. But a better analogy for western and Gulf involvement in the Syrian insurrection would be Iranian and Russian sponsorship of an armed revolt in, say, Saudi Arabia. For the western media, which has largely reported the Syrian uprising as a one-dimensional fight for freedom, the now unavoidable evidence of rebel torture and prisoner executions – along with kidnappings by al-Qaida-style groups, who once again find themselves in alliance with the US – seems to have come as a bit of a shock.

In reality, the Syrian crisis always had multiple dimensions that crossed the region's most sensitive fault lines. It was from the start a genuine uprising against an authoritarian regime. But it has also increasingly morphed into a sectarian conflict, in which the Alawite-dominated Assad government has been able to portray itself as the protector of minorities – Alawite, Christian and Kurdish – against a Sunni-dominated opposition tide.

The intervention of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf autocracies, which have tried to protect themselves from the wider Arab upheaval by playing the anti-Shia card, is transparently aimed at a sectarian, not a democratic, outcome. But it is the third dimension – Syria's alliance with Tehran and Lebanon's Shia resistance movement, Hezbollah – that has turned the Syrian struggle into a proxy war against Iran and a global conflict.

 

Many in the Syrian opposition would counter that they had no choice but to accept foreign support if they were to defend themselves against the regime's brutality. But as the independent opposition leader Haytham Manna argues, the militarisation of the uprising weakened its popular and democratic base – while also dramatically increasing the death toll.

There is every chance the war could now spread outside Syria. Turkey, with a large Alawite population of its own as well as a long repressed Kurdish minority, claimed the right tointervene against Kurdish rebels in Syria after Damascus pulled its troops out of Kurdish towns. Clashes triggered by the Syrian war have intensified in Lebanon. If Syria were to fragment, the entire system of post-Ottoman Middle East states and borders could be thrown into question with it.

That could now happen regardless of how long Assad and his regime survive. But intervention in Syria is prolonging the conflict, rather than delivering a knockout blow. Only pressure for a negotiated settlement, which the west and its friends have so strenuously blocked, can now give Syrians the chance to determine their own future – and halt the country's descent into darkness.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Calling Michelle Bachmann!!

OMG!  The NASA "Mohawk guy" who is the flight director for the Mars Curiosity Mission is an Iranian American?!!

Quick, Michelle baby, to the ramparts!!  Or better, run to Fox News!  Maybe the Iranian terrorists mean to colonize Mars!

I mean, Hillary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin is in league with the Muslim Brotherhood, right?

In all seriousness, I can only pray that Bachmann tries to jump on Mohawk guy.  She's already put herself beyond the pale of the GOP mainstream with the Abedin flap.  Maybe she can go after NASA and put herself - and us - out of her misery.

China and the Syria Crisis

Excellent commentary from Daniel Wagner, at RCW:

More important to the Chinese are the long-term implications of political change in Syria. Whether the west likes it or not, China is a player of growing importance in the Middle East. Given the animosity toward the U.S. that has developed in the region since the onset of the Arab Awakening, China must figure it can benefit by maintaining a low profile while remaining engaged in the process in less conventional ways.

 

Whoever prevails in Syria is likely to want to have China on its side, so China's go slowly, remain engaged in the background, and be prepared to support whoever comes out on top approach will undoubtedly yield benefits in due course. If Mr. Assad prevails, China can say it never stopped supporting him. If anti-Assad forces prevail, China can say it neither supported nor opposed Mr. Assad – keeping its options open in a fluid and unpredictable situation.

 

Whether anti-Assad forces would perceive this as genuine and whole-hearted is not really the important point. What is important is that China can extend a hand of friendship to whoever prevails and have a better chance of securing a meaningful long-term relationship, than if it had been less nimble and open minded. Neither Russia, Turkey, nor the U.S. can say that. As such, China may end up beating the great powers at their own game in Syria.

 

For the greater Middle East, this has broad implications. China is unlikely to adopt a different approach to political change in the region if its approach in Syria works well. One could envision a similar approach working in any number of GCC countries, should the need arise. Given China's growing economic and political importance, few countries in the region will want to have China as an enemy. Rather, they are likely to embrace a China that is seen as pragmatic, open minded, and supportive.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Supposed New Intel for Iran Nuke Weaponization?

"New intelligence reveals Iranian military nuclear program advancing faster than previously thought" breathlessly reported by Barak Ravid at Haaretz.  My brief takes:

  • The MeK are hardly the most trustworthy or unbiased source for "intelligence" on the Iranian regime's activities.
  • For Bibi to argue to Mitt Romney that the fall of Idi Amin's Uganda regime three years after the IDF raid on Entebbe bodes well for a similar result if Israel-America was to bomb Iran is, shall we say, quite a stretch - and by no means sufficient rationale to launch strikes.
  • How does one reconcile this report with Ehud Barak's statement - only days ago! - that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program?

Ann Coulter on ABC?!

That millions of Americans pay Ann Coulter any heed whatsoever says all you need to know about the state of the American electorate.  And that ABC would bring her within 5 miles of its studios says all you need to know about the selling-out of the corporate media.  

Michael Keegan reports at Huffington Post:

Here's a quick recap of of just a few of her greatest hits

 

Here is Coulter in her own words:


Whether Coulter is sincere or not is beside the point. She clearly knows that saying outrageously offensive things will get her attention, so keeps on saying them. If ABC wants to be treated as a serious provider of news and analysis it shouldn't be giving the likes of Ann Coulter a platform. Ann Coulter has every right to spew whatever bigoted nonsense she wants in her own time. But it's irresponsible of news outlets to treat her like a reasonable conservative voice. 

 

I hope - and trust - that somewhere, Fareed Zakaria is gagging.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Burgeoning Clout of Israel's Ultra-Orthodox: Concubines OK?

In an interesting serendipity, on the same day that Avraham Burg wrote for the NY Times that Israel's

core values have become entirely different. Israel today is a religious, capitalist state. Its religiosity is defined by the most extreme Orthodox interpretations.

comes this piece via The Forward: Are Concubines Now Kosher?

The chief judge of Jerusalem’s rabbinical court, Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, recently ruled that a man may take a concubine if his wife is unable or unwilling to bear children, and unwilling to divorce him.

According to an article in Israeli newspaper Israel haYom, Abergel permitted the head of a major yeshiva to take a pilegesh, or concubine, when it became clear that his wife was unable to have children.

Abergel states that his ruling “will enable husbands to fulfill the commandment of procreation,” and that a concubine can live with the couple or separately.

Read the rest via the link.

Remember Yemen?

Completely off most of our radars, especially since the removal of President al-Saleh was thought by so many to be the dawn of some kind of new day . . . a suicide bombing during a funeral service attended by members of civilian militias that helped the Yemeni Army in a campaign to recapture the town of Jaar from Qaeda militants in June has now resulted in 45 killed.

Meanwhile, the US keeps zapping "al-Qaeda" with drone strikes (5 more killed today).

Meanwhile, as The Guardian reported 2 months ago,

 According to the World Food Programmehunger in Yemen has doubled over the past two years. In May, aid agencies warned that almost half the country's population of 25 million do not have enough food to eat and a third of children in some areas are severely malnourished. Then, last week, Oxfam – whichcautioned last September that Yemen was at breaking point – issued a joint appeal with Islamic Relief for $38m, claiming that 5 million people are in need of emergency aid. The UN – which estimates that 267,000 children face life-threatening levels of malnutrition – has increased the total sought for its humanitarian appeal from $447m to $586m.

Meanwhile, Americans are agog over Michael Phelps, beach volleyball, and readying our fantasy football leagues.  Hey, c'mon . . . I mean, Jesus has forever blessed Americans to be rich and successful and oh so happy . . . right?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Avraham Burg on Israel's Fading Democracy

Excellent op-ed from former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg to appear in Sunday's NY Times:

August 4, 2012
Israel’s Fading Democracy
By AVRAHAM BURG
Jerusalem
WHEN an American presidential candidate visits Israel and his key message is to encourage us to pursue a misguided war with Iran, declaring it “a solemn duty and a moral imperative” for America to stand with our warmongering prime minister, we know that something profound and basic has changed in the relationship between Israel and the United States.
My generation, born in the ’50s, grew up with the deep, almost religious belief that the two countries shared basic values and principles. Back then, Americans and Israelis talked about democracy, human rights, respect for other nations and human solidarity. It was an age of dreamers and builders who sought to create a new world, one without prejudice, racism or discrimination.
Listening to today’s political discourse, one can’t help but notice the radical change in tone. My children have watched their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, kowtow to a fundamentalist coalition in Israel. They are convinced that what ties Israel and America today is not a covenant of humanistic values but rather a new set of mutual interests: war, bombs, threats, fear and trauma. How did this happen? Where is that righteous America? Whatever happened to the good old Israel?
Mr. Netanyahu’s great political “achievement” has been to make Israel a partisan issue and push American Jews into a corner. He has forced them to make political decisions based on calculations that go against what they perceive to be American interests. The emotional extortion compels Jews to pressure the Obama administration, a government with which they actually share values and worldviews, when those who love Israel should be doing the opposite: helping the American government to intervene and save Israel from itself.
Israel arose as a secular, social democratic country inspired by Western European democracies. With time, however, its core values have become entirely different. Israel today is a religious, capitalist state. Its religiosity is defined by the most extreme Orthodox interpretations. Its capitalism has erased much of the social solidarity of the past, with the exception of a few remaining vestiges of a welfare state. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state.” However, because Israel has never created a system of checks and balances between these two sources of authority, they are closer than ever to a terrible clash.
In the early years of statehood, the meaning of the term “Jewish” was national and secular. In the eyes of Israel’s founding fathers, to be a Jew was exactly like being an Italian, Frenchman or American. Over the years, this elusive concept has changed; today, the meaning of “Jewish” in Israel is mainly ethnic and religious. With the elevation of religious solidarity over and above democratic authority, Israel has become more fundamentalist and less modern, more separatist and less open to the outside world. I see the transformation in my own family. My father, one of the founders of the state of Israel and of the National Religious Party, was an enlightened rabbi and philosopher. Many of the younger generation are far less open, however; some are ultra-Orthodox or ultranationalist settlers.
This extremism was not the purpose of creating a Jewish state. Immigrants from all over the world dreamed of a government that would be humane and safe for Jews. The founders believed that democracy was the only way to regulate the interests of many contradictory voices. Jewish culture, consolidated through Halakha, the religious Jewish legal tradition, created a civilization that has devoted itself to an unending conversation among different viewpoints and the coexistence of contradictory attitudes toward the fulfillment of the good.
The modern combination between democracy and Judaism was supposed to give birth to a spectacular, pluralistic kaleidoscope. The state would be a great, robust democracy that would protect Jews against persecution and victimhood. Jewish culture, on the other hand, with its uncompromising moral standards, would guard against our becoming persecutors and victimizers of others.
BUT something went wrong in the operating system of Jewish democracy. We never gave much thought to the Palestinian Israeli citizens within the Jewish-democratic equation. We also never tried to separate the synagogue and the state. If anything, we did the opposite. Moreover, we never predicted the evil effects of brutally controlling another people against their will. Today, all the things that we neglected have returned and are chasing us like evil spirits.
The winds of isolation and narrowness are blowing through Israel. Rude and arrogant power brokers, some of whom hold senior positions in government, exclude non-Jews from Israeli public spaces. Graffiti in the streets demonstrates their hidden dreams: a pure Israel with “no Arabs” and “no gentiles.” They do not notice what their exclusionary ideas are doing to Israel, to Judaism and to Jews in the diaspora. In the absence of a binding constitution, Israel has no real protection for its minorities or for their freedom of worship and expression.
If this trend continues, all vestiges of democracy will one day disappear, and Israel will become just another Middle Eastern theocracy. It will not be possible to define Israel as a democracy when a Jewish minority rules over a Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — controlling millions of people without political rights or basic legal standing.
This Israel would be much more Jewish in the narrowest sense of the word, but such a nondemocratic Israel, hostile to its neighbors and isolated from the free world, wouldn’t be able to survive for long.
But there is another option: an iconic conflict could also present an iconic solution. As in Northern Ireland or South Africa, where citizens no longer spill one another’s blood, it will eventually become clear that many Israelis are not willing to live in an ethnic democracy, not willing to give up on the chance to live in peace, not willing to be passive patriots of a country that expels or purifies itself of its minorities, who are the original inhabitants of the land.
Only on that day, after much anguish, boycotts and perhaps even bloodshed, will we understand that the only way for us to agree when we disagree is a true, vigorous democracy. A democracy based on a progressive, civil constitution; a democracy that enforces the distinction between ethnicity and citizenship, between synagogue and state; a democracy that upholds the values of freedom and equality, on the basis of which every single person living under Israel’s legitimate and internationally recognized sovereignty will receive the same rights and protections.
A long-overdue constitution could create a state that belongs to all her citizens and in which the government behaves with fairness and equality toward all persons without prejudice based on religion, race or gender. Those are the principles on which Israel was founded and the values that bound Israel and America together in the past. I believe that creating two neighboring states for two peoples that respect one another would be the best solution. However, if our shortsighted leaders miss this opportunity, the same fair and equal principles should be applied to one state for both peoples.
When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle. Every time the prime minister says “peace” the world will actually believe him, and when he talks about justice and equality people will feel that these are synonyms for Judaism and Israelis.
And for all the cynics who are smiling sarcastically as they read these lines, I can only say to Americans, “Yes, we still can,” and to Israelis, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, is the author of “The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From Its Ashes” and the chairman of Molad, the Center for Renewal of Democracy.

Colbert King's Hysterical Rant against Iranian Anti-Semitism

I'm hard pressed to understand exactly what motivated WaPo op-ed writer Colbert King to unleash himself on this issue, but today he tries to paint "Iran" as the looming annihilator of the entire Jewish people.  Wow.

Have Mahmud Ahmadinejad and members of the Iranian regime spouted ridiculous anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying garbage? Yes, undeniably - and it's repulsive, disgusting.  Have Iranian agents targeted synagogues across the planet?  The evidence surely suggests so (although I'm still waiting for Mr. Netanyahu to divulge the supposedly rock-solid case he has against Iran in re the recent tourist-bus bombing in Bulgaria).  

But does that mean, for example, that, given the opportunity, the Iranian regime would create a Juden-rein Middle East? or planet?

Read from Roger Cohen's much more reasoned, and reasonable, NYTimes piece on his visit with Iranian Jews in February 2009:

a mystery hovers over Iran’s Jews. It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.

That may be because I’m a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian TV, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it’s because I’m convinced the “Mad Mullah” caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 — a position popular in some American Jewish circles — is misleading and dangerous.

I know, if many Jews left Iran, it was for a reason. Hostility exists. The trumped-up charges of spying for Israel against a group of Shiraz Jews in 1999 showed the regime at its worst. Jews elect one representative to Parliament, but can vote for a Muslim if they prefer. A Muslim, however, cannot vote for a Jew.

Among minorities, the Bahai — seven of whom were arrested recently on charges of spying for Israel — have suffered brutally harsh treatment.

I asked Morris Motamed, once the Jewish member of the Majlis, if he felt he was used, an Iranian quisling. “I don’t,” he replied. “In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews.” He said “Death to Israel” chants bother him, but went on to criticize the “double standards” that allow Israel, Pakistan and India to have a nuclear bomb, but not Iran.

Double standards don’t work anymore; the Middle East has become too sophisticated. One way to look at Iran’s scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel’s bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace — and engagement with Tehran — will have to take account of these points.

Green Zoneism — the basing of Middle Eastern policy on the construction of imaginary worlds — has led nowhere.

Realism about Iran should take account of Esfehan’s ecumenical Palestine Square. At the synagogue, Benhur Shemian, 22, told me Gaza showed Israel’s government was “criminal,” but still he hoped for peace. At the Al-Aqsa mosque, Monteza Foroughi, 72, pointed to the synagogue and said: “They have their prophet; we have ours. And that’s fine.”

What Colbert King hoped to accomplish with his piece is difficult to divine.  But at a time when Congress has been screaming for Iran's collective head, and when too many "good Christian" Americans are foaming at the mouth to defend Israel by starting a war with Iran, King's hysteria can only feed the war-mongering.

For those of us who feel that attacking Iran would be catastrophic, both to US interests and to Israel's, King's piece is most unwelcome, and unhelpful.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Afghanistan: the Forgotten War

The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes the point that Messrs Obama and Romney have all but ignored the war in Afghanistan:

There are still almost 80,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and each month brings a few dozen home in coffins — more than 2,000 since 2001. Hundreds more arrive on medical evacuation flights, many of them without a limb. The war will cost taxpayers more than $100 billion this year. The Taliban, which enjoys sanctuary in nuclear-armed Pakistan, continues to conduct devastating attacks on the Afghan government and the civilian population.

But you wouldn’t know any of it from listening to President Obama and Mitt Romney on the campaign trail. They may not agree on much, but when it comes to the decade-old conflict, they have adopted the same strategy on the stump: Say as little as possible — sometimes not a word — and quickly change the subject.

Romney rarely mentions the war in his speeches at public campaign events and fundraisers. When he does, his comments usually are devoid of specifics. At a Republican National Committee event in Arizona in April, he said that Obama has made “a number of errors in the way he managed our relationship there,” but he did not provide details or say what he would do differently.

The president is almost as taciturn. In remarks to supporters and donors, he often cites the war, but usually in just one sentence that emphasizes how he is seeking to scale back U.S. involvement. (His two favored versions of that sentence: “We’re transitioning out of Afghanistan” and “We’re winding down the war in Afghanistan.”)

He rarely tries to make the case that his troop surge succeeded, that the more than 50,000 troops he sent over in 2009 and 2010 have pummeled the Taliban and increased the Afghan government’s chances of holding onto large swaths of the country.

The candidates have a shared reason for ignoring Afghanistan. It has stretched into the longest war in U.S. history, and Americans are tired of it. With an anemic economy on the home front, pollsters say that voters want to hear a substantive discussion about jobs, taxes, government spending and health care — not about a murky conflict half a world away.

But even if voters wanted to confront the war, each candidate would still have his own motives to run from it.

And so on . . .  but doesn't this reintroduce that famous question posed by John Kerry those decades ago, as the war in Vietnam was winding down:

Who wants to be the last man to die in a lost war?

The Blowback of Iran Sanctions

An excellent piece by Mohammad Sadeghi Esfahlani and Jamal Abdiat at Foreign Policy makes a strong case that the US-led/Israel-endorsed sanctions against Iran are forcing Iranians, not toward regime change, but into the arms of the regime.   The middle class who had been the backbone of the Green Movement have become impoverished by the damage sanctions have wrought on the Iranian economy.  Meanwhile, the less educated and more traditional elements of Iranian society who are forced to turn to the regime for assistance become easier targets for the demagoguery of the right-wing religious leadership.  

The authors note:

The leaders of the Green Movement and Iranian human rights and democracy defenders have adamantly opposed broad sanctions and warned that confrontation, isolation and broad economic punishment only undermine the cause of democracy and rule of law in Iran. A new report by the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) documents how sanctions are destroying the sources of societal change in Iran.  "The urban middle class that has historically played a central role in creating change and promoting progress in Iran are key casualties of the sanctions regime," according to the report. 

As documented by the report's firsthand account on the ground, sanctions are not driving the working class to join Iran's democracy movement, they are doing the opposite -- decimating the Iranian middle class, that has been at the center of the democracy movement, by intensifying their economic struggles. The greatest impediment for Iran's pro-democracy movement -- as we saw at the height of the Green Movement protests in 2009 -- has been that working class Iranians who are preoccupied with immediate financial struggles are unable to enlist in a struggle for political freedoms. 

The above-referenced report ( "Killing them Softly: The Stark Impact of Sanctions on the Lives of Ordinary Iranians") details much of the on-the-ground effects that sanctions are having on the populace.

This is, of course, terribly reminiscent of the downward spiral of Iraq's economy and society in the wake of the sanctions imposed by the UN from 1990 till 2003.  The impact of those sanctions - and the role of the US in sustaining them even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the horror they produced - has now been documented copiously, and damningly, by people such as Joy Gordon, who noted in a Foreign Policy essay in 2010:

It is hard to look at the current sanctions on Gaza and Iran without recalling the Iraq sanctions regime -- both the structural damage and pettiness. It seems that what the U.S. has learned from Iraq was to claim that it now employs "smart sanctions," which will never do the kind of broad damage as we saw in Iraq. Yet the "smart sanctions" on Iran target Iran's oil and gas industries, the national shipping lines, and Iran's banking system.  If the U.S. or UN sanctions are successful, the damage to Iran's economy, and its population as a whole, will be enormous, and indiscriminate. As we hear that Israel will now allow potato chips and juice into Gaza, it is hard to fathom how anyone could rationalize that these ever presented a threat to Israel's security. But above all what we should know from Iraq is this: that causing destitution in distant lands does not make the world a better place, or make the United States, or anyone else, more secure.

Gordon wrote that two years ago.  The sanctions against Iran have done much more damage since then.  And as Israel and Mitt Romney continue to thunder on about bombing Iran's nuclear infrastructure, let's bear in mind that if that comes to pass, it likely will not bring down the regime nor result in a military victory followed by unconditional surrender.  Rather, the Iranian people - even more greatly traumatized - will struggle on . . . and our Congress will likely demand even harsher sanctions that will further impoverish and immiserate them.  

They will also create thousands more enemies for the US abroad . . . and perhaps hasten the day of another 9-11-type attack against the "homeland."

 

Iraq invasion: Greatest strategic decision?

Yes indeed, I too almost fell out of my chair when I saw this reported in by Al Kamen in the WaPo:


The Loop Quote of the Week — maybe of the 21st century — comes from Stephen Cambone, who was undersecretary of defense for intelligence under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum over the weekend, Cambone told a panel that the decision to invade Iraq was: “one of the great strategic decisions of the first half of the 21st century, if it proves not to be the greatest.” [my emphasis]
Brookings Institution fellow Noah Shachtman, who was the panel moderator, wrote on his blog for Wired magazine that Cambone’s observation, and his analysis that the invasion paved the way for theArab Spring sweeping the region, “surprised” folks at the conference. No doubt.

Un-be-liev-able.  And doesn't it make you wonder how often Cambone and his cronies get together over whiskey/cigars/whatever, reminisce about their power days of (as one of them put it) creating new realities that the rest of us would be left to write about . . . and grumble that the country will someday wake up and realize how they ensured American greatness (or some such).

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