Sunday, September 30, 2012

Arab-Turk Popular Political Front Emerging vs Israel?

AP (via Boston.com) reports on Egypt PM Muhammad Morsi's speech at the convention of Turkey leader Erdogan's AKP in Ankara, where he proclaimed:

‘‘Our common goal is to support other people who are standing up against their administrations or regimes, to support Palestine and the Syrians in their efforts . . . . The events in Syria are the tragedy of the century,’’ . . .  ‘‘We will be on the side of the Syrian people until the bloodshed ends, the cruel regime is gone and Syrian people reach their just rights.’’

Whether this Turkey-Egypt front can be termed a "popular democratic" front is somewhat uncertain.  Both Erdogan and Morsi govern states that are structured as democracies, but both leaders have come under fire for authoritarian tendencies.  Watching the progress of "democracy" in both countries in the years to come will be an interesting exercise.

Nonetheless, both men seem to enjoy support on their respective domestic scenes; both men can claim popular mandates (achieved via the ballot box) to take the political bit firmly in their jaws and move forward.  Turkey's economy has burgeoned under Erdogan - enough so that, as this report notes, Turkey can pony up $2 billion to boost Egypt's economic reconstruction - without which Morsi, and Egypt's democracy, may well founder.

And as the report also notes, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was prominently in attendance. Erdogan spoke directly to the Palestinian cause.  As the report notes:

 

Erdogan said Turkey is determined to speak out against what he called Israel’s ‘‘state terrorism’’ in the region and praised Morsi for his support to Palestinians.

‘‘Through Morsi’s leadership, our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and in all other Palestinian cities are able to breathe easily,’’ he said.

Erdogan said Turkey would not reconcile with former ally Israel until it lifts its blockade of Gaza and apologizes for an attack in 2010 that killed nine mostly Turkish pro-Palestinian activists in a raid on a flotilla that tried to breach the blockade.

 

Mr. Netanyahu has been able to distract much of the West's leadership (Mr. Obama included) by (literally, at his recent UN General Assembly presentation) waving the picture of an Iranian bomb before their eyes.  But, along with the Iranian situation, there is no Middle East issue more urgent among the West's leaders as damping down the civil war in Syria before the flames there spread to Iraq, Lebanon, and beyond.  They likely are going to need the involvement, if not the leadership, of Messrs Erdogan and Morsi in achieving that.

Admittedly, Erdogan has his own dog in the Syria fight, what with Syrian refugees increasingly taxing Turkey's largesse, Turkey's own Alawis angry at Erdogan's hammering of the Alawi president of Syria, and Syria's resurgent Kurds beginning to establish an autonomy that Turkey's Kurds hunger for - and doing it along the Turkey-Syria border, no less.

But bear in mind that Israel now finds itself confronted, on its south, not only by a besieged and angry Hamas in Gaza, but also by a newly democratic Egypt whose leaders, if they are to remain in power, need to accommodate somehow the popular Egyptian "street"'s anger against Israel's long-time brutalization of Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza.  To its north, Israel may likewise soon find itself confronted (assuming Assad's eventual downfall) by a new Sunni-dominated government whose leaders may rush to fellow religious-Sunni Erdogan's doorstep in hopes of obtaining help to rebuild an already shattered country.  Any such support from Erdogan will surely come with a price, or at least, expectations: that Syria position itself firmly alongside Turkey (and perhaps alongside Turkey's new ally, Egypt?) in holding Israel finally accountable for its policies in the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr. Netanyahu would have us believe that the direst existential threat to his country looms in Tehran. A Turkey-Syria alliance need not be an existential threat to Israel.  But it just might be what's needed to put paid to Netanyahu's dream of "Greater Israel" - and with it, Bibi's hammerlock on the rise of a real, viable Palestinian state.

Iraq, Afghanistan: America's Wasted Treasure

Among the many dismal pieces of news that awaited me in the morning's email were two bulletins from Time's Samantha Grossman: another Sunni-on-Shia attack in Iraq, and another American killed in Afghanistan.  Especially notable about the latter: the death was the 2000th of an American soldier in Afghanistan, the US's longest war.  What was the point of that death, or of the many more deaths that will follow in the months prior to the 2014 withdrawal (which, we know, will not be a total withdrawal), no one seems able to explain.  And Messrs Obama and Romney are giving the Afghan war a wide berth in the run-up to the November election.  (It will be interesting to see how they might dance around that issue in this week's first debate.)

The AP (via NYT) provides details of the attacks in Iraq:

 insurgents struck Shiite neighborhoods and security forces, officials said, killing at least 26 people.

 

Insurgents coordinated attacks in multiple cities, the latest strikes in a campaign apparently intended to rekindle widespread sectarian conflict and undermine public confidence in the beleaguered government.

 

The frequent bombings have raised concerns about the government’s ability to contain the violence, since the last American troops left in December after more than eight years of occupation and civil war that upended Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led minority power base and empowered Iraq’s long-repressed Shiite majority.

 

The deadliest attack on Sunday came in Taji, a former Al Qaeda stronghold north of Baghdad, where three explosive-rigged cars went off within minutes of one another. The police said eight people were killed and 28 were wounded in the early morning explosions.

 

In all, at least 94 people were wounded in attacks that stretched from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to the southern Shiite town of Kut.

 

An eight-year invasion followed by occupation in Iraq ended with 4000+ US soldiers killed, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  (It seems a war crime in itself that we'll never have an exact accounting of Iraqis killed.  The Pentagon couldn't be bothered, especially in the war's early phase.  After all, they were only dead hajjis, right?)  Iraq is really no closer to being a functional, unitary state now than it was when the US removed Saddam Hussein.  Rival Arab- and Kurdish-dominated governments in Baghdad and Erbil, respectively, vie for advantage over oil and territitorial claims.  The Kurds nurture grievances against the Arabs that the US occupation did nothing to assuage - and it was only a hubristic conceit of the US to believe that it might be able to do so.  The Sunni Arabs of Anbar province and other regions in Iraq deeply resent the Shiite dominance that is now entrenched in Baghdad, and that continues to arrest and imprison Sunni leaders as "Baathist terrorists."  Many of the now disenfranchised Sunnis fear the resurgence of al-Qaeda jihadists in Iraq, but likely shed no tears over the deaths of Shiites at al-Qaeda's hands.  And as the largely Sunni-Arab-based insurgency against Bashar Assad's regime in Syria gathers momentum and forces him from power (while the US cheers them on), it's quite likely that Sunni fighters there - a goodly number of them, from Iraq - will then turn their efforts to restoring their Sunni confreres to some greater measure of power in Iraq.

Yes, Iraq has a constitution (with the US's fingerprints still all over it), and a parliament.  And it has an elected prime minister, but he continues to display a penchant for authoritarianism and brutality, as well as a subservience to Shiite sectarian interests, that makes him a far cry from the kind of "democratic" leader whose installation might have warranted the entailed sacrifice in blood and treasure.

Of course, given the dysfunction of American politics these days, one might ask how, or if, the US really has much standing any longer to teach the world about democracy.  Prof. Shadia Drury, Canada Research Chair at the University of Regina in Canada, provides thoughtful, cogent reflection on that very question:

It is ironic that America has embarked on the monumental project of teaching the world about democracy at a time when its own democracy is in a state of decay and degeneration. It seems to me that the most important lesson that America can teach the world in the twenty-first century regards the conditions that signal the imminent demise of the democratic body politic. The elements of democratic health are not a mystery. Like all other forms of government, democracy requires virtue—especially among its ruling elites.

Democracy is not a panacea that brings with it all good things, as Amer­icans are inclined to believe. It is a challenging form of government that re­quires certain conditions to avoid de­scending into chaos, sectarianism, or the tyranny of the majority. The American Founding Fathers were particularly wary of the tyranny of the majority, so they created a republic of laws with a Bill of Rights to protect minorities and individuals from the power of the majority. A constitution that sets limits on the power of the majority is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy.

It has often been said that, more than any other form of government, democracy re­quires virtue. This was the view of Jean-Jacques Rous­seau, who was an advocate of small participatory democracies. Although he did not express it that way, he thought that it was possible for small participatory democracies to arrive at the common good (he called it the General Will) if individuals asked themselves the right questions when it came time to vote. Instead of asking, “What do I want?” they should ask: “What do we need?” If they proceeded in this way, then they were sure to arrive at the common good.

In truth, every form of government needs the kind of virtue that Rousseau espouses—at least among its ruling class. The men and women in Congress must have the virtuous attitude described by Rousseau when they vote on the issues if they hope to make decisions that serve the common good (not just private interests). Unfortunately, American politicians are more devoted to the interests of their corporate backers than they are to the public interest that they are sworn to serve. They are afraid to ask tough questions on committees investigating corporate fraud lest they find their campaign contributions decimated. They have made a valiant effort to conceal their corruption by claiming that the corporate oligarchs they serve are “the job creators” whose interests are identical to the interests of the nation. They have succeeded in duping the public with this sleight of hand, but there are signs that this ploy will not work indefinitely. In foreign policy, they defend the interests of Israel, right or wrong, at the expense of the United States. Again, they are motivated by fear—fear that they will find themselves facing a well-funded opponent when seeking reelection. The result of this widespread corruption is gargantuan profits for large corporations that ship jobs overseas, environmental degradation, impoverishment of the working classes, shrinking of the middle class, and useless wars in the Middle East that serve neither the interests of America nor her client state—they merely augment the financial coffers of security companies and the arms industry. It is time for Amer­icans to look for courage among their elected leaders. It is time to expose the cowards who have not the courage to stand up for the good of their nation.

I highly recommend the rest of her essay, here.

Do Americans truly value and mourn those American lives lost - as well as the hundreds of billions of dollars squandered - in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Or will we choose to keep our eyes shut, our ears closed, and party on?

Friday, September 28, 2012

On Iran's Nuclear Intentions

An extremely interesting - and timely- piece by the WaPo's Walter Pincus several days ago got by me.  He draws from the CIA's recently declassified report on its failed analyses of Iraq's WMD intentions some very cogent lessons for the current imbroglio with Iran.  IMO, it's worth pasting and posting here in full.  The original is here.

 

There are lessons for handling Iran’s nuclear program in the declassified CIA self-analysis of its misreading of the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s reaction to U.N. inspections of his weapons-of-mass-destruction program.

 

Equally interesting in the report is how Hussein misjudged the capability of international inspectors and the responses — sanctions and then military action — that would come from the United States and its allies.

 

Are these errors that Iran may be making?

 

The 16-page report, first disclosed 13 days ago by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, concludes with some findings relevant to the Iran situation.

 

The study, done in 2006, found that CIA analysts wrongly “tended to focus on what was most important to us — the hunt for WMD (weapons of mass destruction) — and less on what would be most important for a paranoid dictatorship to protect.”

 

Today, the U.S. government views Iran’s actions — many permitted by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — as signs of a country seeking a nuclear weapons capability, if not the weapons themselves.

 

Why? Because Iran’s original move to build its own enrichment facilities were undertaken secretly and acknowledged only after being discovered by U.S. intelligence and publicized by anti-Tehran exiles.

 

The CIA report draws attention to Iraq’s “cheat and retreat” policy in the early 1990s of concealing WMD items and activities. The United States and its allies saw the efforts as coverups that validated intelligence analysts’ “assessments that Iraq intended to deny, deceive, and maintain forbidden capabilities.” Thus, when Iraq decided in 1995 to destroy its existing WMDs and come clean, after Hussein’s son-in-law defected and talked about the programs, there was doubt.

 

Has Iran’s original deceptions and subsequent intransigence led the United States and others to disregard Tehran’s claim that it wants to make fuel only for its research reactors and power plants?

 

The CIA report cautions that U.S. analysts should have viewed Hussein’s late WMD disclosures through “an Iraqi prism.” They would have seen the that Iraqis wanted to protect “their reputation, their security, their overall technological capabilities and their status needed to be preserved,” according to the report.

 

The lesson for today is not to accept Iran’s current defiance of the U.N. Security Council as proof that Tehran wants a bomb. The CIA report notes that in Iraq’s case, “deceptions were perpetrated and detected, but the reasons for those deceptions were misread.”

 

The current cleanup at Iran’s Parchin military base, while delaying a visit from inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency, is being viewed as Tehran trying to hide previous work on possible weapons-building experiments. The CIA report says that “Baghdad destroyed rather than revealed items, attempting to make its inaccurate assertions of no program correct in a legalistic sense.” Such Iraqi attempts “to find face-saving means to disclose previously hidden information, however, reinforced the idea that Baghdad was deceptive and unreliable,” the CIA said.

 

The CIA report also showed that some U.S. and U.N. actions led Iraq’s leaders to believe the goal was to change the ruling regime rather than just halt Baghdad’s WMD program. Two steps were noted: one was when U.N. inspectors began to look into Iraq’s security apparatus and concealment apparatus; the other was when the U.S. Congress in 1998 approved the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided funds to Iraqi exile groups.

 

The Obama administration halted the Bush policy of regime change for Iran, but many Republicans still favor it. Some Iranian officials see a pattern in IAEA inspectors seeking to add additional sites for visits that can only end with regime change. They also weigh presidential and congressional campaign statements for signs that regime change is still a U.S. goal.

 

The report reviews Hussein’s misjudgment that the United States would not invade and at worst would only bomb suspected WMD sites, as it had done in 1998. He and his leadership “believed the United States did not have the forces to invade Iraq and press reports that said Washington was not willing to sacrifice U.S. lives.”

 

Iran may face threats of military action by the United States and Israel, but neither country appears prepared at this time to contemplate an invasion.

 

One other cautionary note from the study: When, in fact, Iraq provided its report that said it had destroyed its WMD arms and ended its WMD programs, “past Iraqi deceptions led to suspicion of Iraq’s motives” and its leaders “would have had to take specific steps with [U.N. inspectors] to overcome perceptions of dishonesty.”

 

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, repeated on Aug. 30 assurances that Iran wants only to pursue peaceful uses of atomic energy and is not seeking a nuclear weapon. As early as 2006, he issued a religious fatwa that said the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam.

 

Some current and former U.S. officials believe that this tie to Islamic law provides Khamenei with a means to strike a deal with the West to limit enrichment to low levels. But the broader reaction is that Iran could forget about Islamic law if domestic or foreign events lead to a decision to build a bomb.

On Netanyahu's Red Line

Amid all the chuckling about Bibi's (literally) cartoonish illustration of the Iranian nuclear "threat" (and yes, the Looney Tunes cartoonists of an earlier era would have been proud of that drawing), it's important to remember that this is a bone that Bibi is not going to drop.  The issue of red lines remains.  Mr. Obama refuses to specify one (and I, for one, am happy for that).  But Mr. Netanyahu's red line is clear.

Except that it isn't - nor can it be.

He has been clear for quite some time that he wants no enriched uranium in Iran's hands, and he wants Iran's capacity to enrich uranium dismantled and removed.  This, of course, despite that fact that as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), Iran has the right, assured under international law, to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.  That horse has been out of the barn a long time.  Ain't no getting it back in, short of all-out war that would entail Iran's unconditional surrender.  Never gonna happen.  No red line possible.

That leaves the weaponization as the only issue in which a red line might feasibly be drawn.  Obama has said that US "will not allow" Iran to have a nuclear weapon.  Whether the US has the will - or even the power (cf. Iraq, Afghanistan) - to prevent that remains to be seen. (Personally, I feel containment is a real option here; but let's not go there now.)  Bibi, on the other hand, demands that Iran be denied the ability to develop one.

How do you do that, short of exterminating all of Iran's physicists, engineers, and such - including their students?  Short of obliterating all of Iran's universities, research institutes, . . . even high-school science departments?  How many plants and shops would have to be demolished?  Given Netanyahu's evident paranoia about Iran's intentions, what would be enough to satisfy him?

Would it require the kind of sanctions regime that the US and its UN allies imposed on Iraq starting in 1990?  Similarly denying Iran "dual-use" materials - prohibitions that virtually destroyed Iraq's economy and infrastructure, and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, many of them children and the elderly?

Truly, what will ever be enough for Bibi?

 

Friday, September 21, 2012

New "Milestone" for Iraq's Democracy - and Neocons' Legacy

Reported in al-Monitor, the bull-dozing of the historic al-Mutanabbi book-sellers' district in Baghdad.

On September 17, bulldozers guarded by armed soldiers stormed the street late at night and smashed the wooden stalls used by booksellers for displaying and selling their books.

The vendors said they did not receive a warning to evacuate the area. An eyewitness told Al-Hayat that a large bulldozer, alongside other heavy equipment, entered Mutanabi Street after the shops closed and books were returned to the stores.

The Municipality of Baghdad released a statement the following day saying that “the campaign aims to remove violations from Mutanabi Street.”

The statement obligated the vendors “to carry out their activities only on Fridays.” According to the Municipality of Baghdad, the crackdown “included removing the stalls, book exhibits and publications from the sidewalks.”

Al-Hayat has learned that officials in the municipality are planning to turn Mutanabi Street into an animal market like Souk al-Ghazal. Booksellers would only be permitted to work on Fridays, as is the case with vendors of birds and dogs.

The raid came as a great shock to the intellectual circles in the Iraq. It led to a wave of complaints and prompted a flood of disapproving comments on social media websites against the “hostile manner” of the security services on a street that enjoys a high cultural status among Iraqis.

Read the rest of the report here.

Ain't liberation wonderful?  After tens of thousands of lives destroyed, Iraq now has a dysfunctional democracy led by a semi-theocratic Saddam-lite who's in league with Mr. Assad's massacring of Syria's civilians and Iran's continued support for same.

This is as much a part of US neocons' legacy as is anything else.  The same neocons, by the way, who now advise Mitt Romney on foreign policy (John Bolton) and pound for more US intervention in Syria and Iran (Elliot Abrams, Max Boot . . . the list goes on).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Arab Spring," Insulting Muhammad, and American Impotence

I'm supposed to be working on final revisions of my book ("A Short History of Iraq" - not the title I want, but my publisher seems locked in), but some recent developments and comments both interest and irk me.

Pundits galore have weighed in on Muslim responses worldwide to the ridiculous, insulting video trailer of a (reportedly) full-length movie diatribe on the prophet Muhammad.  US embassies across the Middle East have come under attack, with especially horrific consequences at the US consulate in Benghazi, resulting in the killing of four Americans, among them, Chris Stephens, the US ambassador to Libya and a man truly dedicated to the advancement of democracy and human rights there.  Today, at an already hyper-sensitive moment geopolitically, comes news of a French magazine's release of cartoons lampooning Muhammad.  Accompanying that were comments from one source to the effect that the French people were not about to be "bullied" by angry Muslims.

Please . . . as if this is some huge, deadly game of "chicken" - or, who's gonna blink first? Or as if publishing these cartoons is some major triumph for "free speech"?  Merde. It's a ploy to make money, masquerading as journalistic bravery and integrity.  And the "movie" accomplished nothing more than incitement, as well as provide cover for one of Libya's more violent militias to launch an attack on the US consulate.

Nonetheless, it provided a launching pad for a new riff from America's "premier" foreign-relations pundit, the ever-pungent (and sometimes putrid) Thomas Friedman. (And yes, the "premier" is meant to be sarcastic.  See my review of Belen Fernandez's now justly celebrated book taking down Friedman's long and tortured history of bad calls and awful judgments.  The man deserves high marks for turning a phrase; but for overall intellectual acuity and geopolitical sagacity - not so much.)  

In today's NYT, TF has penned an essay ("Look in Your Mirror") in which he takes on an Egyptian demonstrator in Cairo who demands an Obama apology for the blasphemous Muhammad video by throwing back at him a hodge-podge of reports (all culled from those wonderful hasbara and Muslims-are-nuts purveyors at MEMRI), most of which have nothing to do with Egypt.  But it's one TF comment in particular that really gets me:

That is not how a proper self-governing people behave.

Words fail me.

Fortunately, they haven't failed Rami Khouri, whose essay in The Daily Star appeared even before Friedman's.  I paste quote:

One gets the impression over and over in the United States that Arabs and Muslims often are perceived as something akin to juvenile delinquents on parole – they have to behave well and obey the rules in order to enjoy the normal benefits of a free life. Arab freedom and sovereignty do not seem to be absolute rights, but rather are held hostage to American, Western and, in some cases, Israeli validation that we are behaving correctly.

Are you listening now, TF?  Probably not. That's a pity.  Here's more:

This is not new, and is only the latest twist to what we witnessed when the uprisings first threatened pro-American dictators in Tunisia and Egypt in January 2011.The reflexive, almost Pavlovian, first questions that many American analysts and politicians asked then were, “What does this mean for Israel, Iran and Islamist movements,” without first asking if this was good for the hundreds of millions of ordinary Arab men and women risking their lives to live in freedom.

 

That a handful of small, occasionally violent demonstrations last week could cause some Americans and others abroad to question the worth of the past 21 months of epic Arab struggles for liberty and democracy is a terrible reminder that deep chasms separate these two worlds in some critical areas.

 

The most important of these is a deep lack of respect for the other on both sides, including the widespread perception in many American quarters that the liberty of Arabs and Muslims is not an absolute God-given right, but rather a relative benefit that Arabs can achieve if they play by the rules of the West.

 

I wonder, should we see the Arab-Asian-Muslim demonstrations and these American reactions as a lingering aftershock of the colonial mentality and the anti-colonial wars of resistance of the past century?

 

Frankly, though, it's wrong to single out Friedman in this regard.  He's but a symptom of a broad, deeply rooted arrogance (or hubris) so widespread among the denizens of American pundity and think-tankery when it comes to the Middle East and its peoples, especially Arabs, though Persians and Turks are hardly immune.  That arrogance manifests itself in the now well-entrenched belief that the US has the role, responsibility, and right to somehow shape the Arab world's path to democracy - away from Islamists, if at all possible, and, especially, on a course that protects Israel.  

Michael Cohen has (at Foreign Policy) a superb corrective to the arrogance of Friedman and his ilk, in which he admonishes us to learn to "come to grips with [the US's] impotence when it comes to "fixing" the Middle East - and especially our broadly held belief (insistence, really) that it's the US president's job to do the fixing.  

Nonsense.  

Bush didn't do it (nor should he have tried).  In fact, perhaps it's time to put to bed Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn rules" - i.e., when he warned W on the eve of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, "you break it, you own it."  Well, Bush surely broke Iraq - shattered it, really - and his actions and policies damn near shattered the US relations with the Middle East in general.  But the US never "owned" Iraq, and will never "own" the Middle East.  It was never ours to own, or control, nor will it be ours to direct, or whatever, in the future.  

So, Mr. Friedman, you can pass judgment all you want. Knock yourself out.  While you're at it, try pissing into the wind.  Ask Mitt to join you.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Aren't China's Embassies being Attacked?

Barry Lando asks the question.  He concludes:

The current outcry over a film insulting Mohammed is just the tip of an emotional iceberg. Underneath it all are more than half a century of Western and American interventions in the region, as well as the U.S.'s continued support of Israel.

 

While the U.S. has spent huge sums, trying to overthrow regimes, punish perceived enemies, prevent nuclear proliferation (except in Israel), and shape the outcome of the new political forces that are roiling the area, the Chinese have had their eyes fixed on one objective only -- getting hold of vital natural resources to fuel their ravenous economy, finding new markets for their products and mammoth projects for their construction companies.

 

Why can't the U.S. do the same?

 

That's the kind of basic questions that American should be discussing in the wake of the killing of the U.S. Ambassador, as they go about electing a new president.

 

But don't count on it.

 

And, of course, China is not inserting military bases into Middle East countries, or sending its troops in to "liberate" them.  And China has its own history with intrusive foreigners from the West.  You know, those Opium Wars?  The Western forces that killed hundreds of Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion? (That same intervention depicted in a movie, 55 Days at Peking, featuring  David Niven and Charlton Heston as yet another landmark in the history of the West's prevailing over Oriental barbarity? It still pops up on sundry movie channels.  Ah, those good old days, huh?) 

 

 Read the rest of Lando's essay, here.

Netanyahu is WAY Out of Line (plus the Mittster's Missteps)

Convalescing from surgery, trying to keep up on various situations across the Middle East via news outlets, Twitter and Facebook - and I hope to weigh in soon.

But recent days have seen huge focus on the Mittster's missteps in the wake of the attacks on the US embassies in Cairo and Benghazi (and now Sana'a and Tunisia).  In essence, he had to take a pop quiz on national leadership vis-a-vis the Middle East.  He flunked it, miserably.  And this is not the judgment of liberal commentators alone. Even Fox News/WSJ contributor (and former GOP speech-writer) Peggy Noonan opined that Romney really put his foot in it.

The other point of mega-focus has been Bibi Netanyahu's ham-handed attempts to force Mr. Obama to some sort of red line on the development of Iran's nuclear program.  He plainly has inserted himself, with both feet, and firmly, into US electoral politics, where he plainly is trying to force Obama's hand as well as boost the electability of the Mittster, with whom he once palled around at Harvard, where Romney knew him as Ben Nitan.  It has been electrifying to see the push-back now coming against Bibi, from Barbara Boxer's letter to the broadsides of various commentators.  Paul Pillar (at the National Interest) provides a scathing essay about Netanyahu's "arrogance."

Perhaps there is seeping into the consciousness of more and more informed Americans the realization that Netanyahu—with his drum-beating, his complete rejection (in defiance of the policies of the United States and other Western powers) of the very idea of negotiations with the Iranians, and his demand for red lines—is trying to lead America by the nose into a war that would be profoundly against U.S. interests. And it would be a war fought primarily to maintain Israel's regional nuclear weapons monopoly and—also not in U.S. interests—untrammeled ability to throw its weight around.

 

Even for those attuned less to specific calculations about U.S. interests and more to general concepts of right and wrong, Netanyahu has provided much to offend. A military attack launched to damage or destroy somebody else's nuclear program—launched, no less, by a state that long has had nuclear weapons completely outside any international monitoring or control regime—would be an act of aggression clearly in violation of international law. The infliction of casualties involved, inflicted to maintain the aggressor's nuclear weapons monopoly, would be an immoral act. And yet Netanyahu says those who may object to any of this “don't have a moral right” to do so. Incredible.

 

The prime minister's behavior can be interpreted in multiple ways. His latest tantrum may be part of his effort to sink the re-election chances of the incumbent U.S. president, in favor of an alternative who would be beholden to interests whose primary affinity is to the Israeli right [6], by accentuating Barack Obama's supposed inability to get along with Israel. This is probably at least part of the explanation for the behavior.

 

Some have questioned Netanyahu's stability and temperament, in ways that go beyond merely having a short temper. Some Israeli commentators have spoken most recently in terms of Netanyahu “going berserk” [7] or being a “mythomaniac” [8] guided by a sense of heroic mission. Given all we have heard, in connection with Iran's nuclear program, about the hazards of irrational or fanatic people with their fingers on the button, perhaps we should ask about Netanyahu: is this a man who can be trusted with nuclear weapons?

 

Even assuming rationality on the prime minister's part, there probably is an emotional element involved in his recent outburst in the sense of someone used to getting his way being flummoxed by even the slightest push-back. Netanyahu probably has been conditioned, through such experiences as speaking to Congress with a gallery stacked with AIPAC supporters [9], to believe that the bullying will always work. Even sensible and mild push-back, such as Secretary Clinton's statement that the United States is not going to set deadlines on the Iranian nuclear issue, then becomes disturbing to him. Netanyahu also may have been reacting to increased [10] acceptance [11] in mainstream discourse in the United States of the concept that an Iranian nuclear weapon would not be the calamity he insistently portrays it as [12] and that trying to preclude one would certainly would not be worth starting a new war.

 

Going beyond the Iranian nuclear issue, perhaps we are seeing some fear that the whole political edifice that has enabled Netanyahu and other Israeli prime ministers to get their way in the United States is showing some cracks. It ought to crack. After all, the overall nature of the relationship, in which the superpower that lavishes billions of aid and dozens of United Nations vetoes on the smaller state gets pushed around by the latter, rather than the other way around, is crazy and illogical. Ultimately the power of the edifice depends on fear of confronting that power. Theoretically to break down that edifice it would take one courageous American political leader, in a bold FDR-like move, to point out that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

 

That is not about to happen, and the lobby in question will fight hard to make sure it does not happen. But over the last few years some cracks have become visible. Some people thought they saw a crack at the Democratic national convention when repeated voice votes were required to override the “noes” that opposed the platform plank about declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.

 

Maybe Netanyahu's arrogance, greater than the norm even for Israeli prime ministers dealing with the United States, may be a force that eventually reshapes the relationship. It can do so by making it painfully clear to Americans what they are dealing with. M. J. Rosenberg evidently is talking about this [13] when he goes so far as to say that Netanyahu “poses an existential threat to the Jewish state.” He is referring to the damage being done to the relations with the superpower patron—that “all Netanyahu is accomplishing with his ugly saber-rattling is threatening the survival of the US-Israel relationship.” That may well be the effect of Netanyahu's behavior on the relationship, but perhaps we should not speak of this in terms of threats. Replacing the current pathological relationship with a more normal one certainly would be good for U.S. interests. Ultimately, however, it also would be good for the interests of Israel, which, in order to get off its current path of endless conflict and isolation, desperately needs the sort of tough love that it is not getting now. 

But for a strongly and clearly spoken rejoinder to Bibi's antics via a mainstream media outlet, you'll do no better than the wonderful comments of Time mag's Joe Klein on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."  Here's the link.

Finally, a thank-you note to Obama, from one of the stalwarts of Israel's liberal left, Gideon Levy of Haaretz.  He thanks Obama for saving Israel from itself (as eptomized in Bibi's bluster and paranoia re Iran), but he also cautions that Obama 2 needs to be even more direct with Bibi, specifically, on the issue of Israel's ever expanding occupation of the West Bank:

The first Obama wavered. He tried to end the cursed and cancerous Israeli occupation, and then he quickly gave up. After successfully preventing an attack on Iran, perhaps the second Obama will turn out to be the one who understands his role - and, in particular, his power.

 

Aside from Jimmy Carter, it is doubtful whether the United States has ever had a president who understood better than Obama the global dangers of the Israeli occupation, its lack of morality and hope. Now we must hope he will also come to the right practical conclusions.

 

If, Mr. President, you have succeeded in stopping Israel from bombing Iran, perhaps you will understand that "Yes, you can." Yes, you can do other things, even bigger things, for the good of the world and for the good of your rebellious ally. If in fact you have realized that Israel can be dissuaded by real pressure from the United States, so too must you learn to use it for long-term needs as well. Preventing an Israeli attack on Iran has to be merely the appetizer. The main course must follow shortly thereafter.

 

Your election, Mr. President, inspired tremendous hope in the Middle East. Soon afterward, that hope turned into bitter disappointment. It turned out you were not decisive enough to bring about even a small move such as freezing the settlements. But birth pangs, even if they are those of an American president, are understandable. In anticipation of your second term, with greater self-assurance and this holy anger toward those who mock you and lead you astray in Jerusalem, the hope has once again been kindled that perhaps this time it will be different.

 

Meanwhile, we send our thanks from Tel Aviv for saving us, even if it is only from an assault on Iran.

 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Jerusalem as Capital of the United States

In the wake of the brouhaha over the Jerusalem plank at the DNC, Rami Khouri makes the comment, and backs it up.

Read it here.

Afghanistan: the "Who Cares?" War

AP (via WaPo) lays it out in a report centered on the death of a young soldier (not yet 21 years old) from Corunna, Michigan in the remote reaches of eastern Afghanistan.  Great kid, by all accounts.  A promising life, snuffed out, his death barely noticed outside his hometown, which is located only an hour or so from where I sit here at my laptop, in my living room.  Locally, the big event being talked about is today's "big game" between the local university (Central Michigan U) and national football powerhouse Michigan State.  People will be tail-gating, getting drunk, while this kid's family grieves in their small town, the rest of the state - and the country - oblivious to their pain.

I'm pasting the entire piece.  It deserves your attention:

It was another week at war in Afghanistan, another string of American casualties, and another collective shrug by a nation weary of a faraway conflict whose hallmark is its grinding inconclusiveness.

 

After nearly 11 years, many by now have grown numb to the sting of losing soldiers like Pfc. Shane W. Cantu of Corunna, Mich. He died of shrapnel wounds in the remoteness of eastern Afghanistan, not far from the getaway route that Osama bin Laden took when U.S. forces invaded after Sept. 11, 2001, and began America’s longest war.

 

Cantu was 10 back then.

 

Nearly every day the Pentagon posts another formulaic death notice, each one brief and unadorned, revealing the barest of facts - name, age and military unit - but no words that might capture the meaning of the loss.

 

Cantu, who joined the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade on Sept. 11 last year and went to Afghanistan last month, was among five U.S. deaths announced this past week, as the Democrats and Republicans wrapped up back-to-back presidential nominating conventions.

 

American troops are still dying in Afghanistan at a pace that doesn’t often register beyond their hometowns. So far this year, it’s 31 a month on average, or one per day. National attention is drawn, briefly, to grim and arbitrary milestones such as the 1,000th and 2,000th war deaths. But days, weeks and months pass with little focus by the general public or its political leaders on the individuals behind the statistics.

 

Each week at war has a certain sameness for those not fighting it, yet every week brings distinct pain and sorrow to the families who learn that their son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother was killed or wounded.

 

Cantu died Aug. 28, but the Pentagon did not publicly release his name until Wednesday. He was memorialized by his paratrooper “sky soldier” comrades in Italy on Thursday and honored in his hometown of Corunna, where the high school football coach, Mike Sullivan, was quoted in local news reports as saying the energetic and athletic Cantu had been “the toughest kid I’ve ever coached — ever known.”

 

He would have turned 21 next month.

 

His roommate in Afghanistan, Pfc. Cameron Richards, 23, remembers Cantu as a larger-than-life figure, a guy with an infectious smile who took pride in whipping up spaghetti, tacos and other dinners on his portable skillet. It was a knack he attributed to having grown up with five sisters with whom he shared family meal duties.

 

“He was the type of person you wanted to be around every day,” Richards said in a teleephone interview Friday from the brigade’s headquarters in Italy, where he returned after being wounded by shrapnel from a hand grenade two weeks before Cantu was killed.

 

“When he was in the room you knew he was in the room. He’d be the loudest one laughing,” he added. “He impacted everybody.”

 

As the war drags on, it remains a faraway puzzle for many Americans. Max Boot, a military historian and defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, has called Afghanistan the “Who Cares?” war. “Few, it seems, do, except for service personnel and their families,” he wrote recently. “It is almost as if the war isn’t happening at all.”

 

One measure of how far the war has receded into the background in America is the fact that it was not even mentioned by Mitt Romney in his speech last week accepting the Republican presidential nomination. President Barack Obama has pledged to end the main U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but current plans call for some thousands of U.S. troops to remain long after that to train Afghans and hunt terrorists.

 

The war remains at the forefront, naturally, for members of the military such as Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly, whose son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan in November 2010.

 

“America as a whole today is certainly not at war, not as a country, not as a people,” Kelly said in a speech Aug. 28 at the American Legion’s national convention. Kelly is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s senior military assistant.

 

“Only a tiny fraction of American families fear all day and every day a knock at the door that will shatter their lives,” Kelly said.

 

That knock came this past week for more families, including that of Jeremie S. Border, a 28-year-old Army Special Forces staff sergeant from Mesquite, Texas. His alma mater, McMurry University, said he graduated in 2006 with degrees in sociology and communications. He played four seasons for the school’s football team, whose players will wear a helmet decal bearing his uniform number, 28, for the remainder of this season.

 

The Pentagon said Tuesday that he was killed by small arms fire last Saturday, along with Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan P. Schmidt, 28, of Petersburg, Va., a graduate of Thomas Dale High School outside Richmond. Schmidt was an explosive ordnance disposal expert assigned to a unit based at Fort Bragg, N.C. The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer reported that he joined the Army in 2003 and is survived by his wife and one son.

 

Marine Lance Cpl. Alec R. Terwiske, 21, of Dubois, Ind., was killed in combat last Monday in Helmand province. He was a reservist with a tank battalion based at Fort Knox, Ky., but in Afghanistan he was assigned to a combat engineer battalion. The Pentagon provided no details about the circumstances of his death.

 

Army Spc. Kyle R. Rookey, 23, of Oswego, N.Y., died last Sunday in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan in a noncombat incident. As is standard with noncombat deaths the Pentagon offered no other details pending an investigation. Rookey is survived by his wife, Victoria, and a daughter, Flora, according to a report by CNYCentral.com in Syracuse, which said Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that flags at all state buildings fly at half-staff Friday in Rookey’s honor.

 

___

Not the Israel of its Founders

Fascinating, personal account of a female IDF soldier/trainer - "What Happens When the Two Israels Meet?"

This is no longer the Israel of its founders - which is hardly news to most observers.  And it surely suggests that, especially with the end of the Tal Law, much space is being created for the emergence and eventual control of the IDF by a kind of Jewish Taliban.

Tell me how this ends.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Three Amigos, with their song that never ends

One would have thought that at least one of them would have broken an arm by now, what with all that drum-pounding . . . 

Here's the AP account (via WaPo) of our lusty warriors demanding (from the shores of beautiful Lake Como, no less; our tax dollars at work) that the US arm the Syrian rebels (yep - the same ones that number al-Qaeda militias among their cohort) and prepare to bomb the hell out of Iran.

And note that Smokin' Joe demands the same red line as Bibi's: Iran must be prevented from attaining, not just nuclear weapons, but the capability of developing them.

Shall we bomb the universities then?  All of the physics labs?  Hell, why not bomb the high schools, even grade schools?  I mean, after all, you never know which one, or how many, of those kids might want to be nuclear scientists.

Seriously, our Three Amigos might serve themselves - and the entire debate on Iran - well by reading Philip Stephens's FT essay on "Bombing Iran is the way to make sure it gets the bomb."

And for that matter, the Huff Post essay of a young Iranian writer, Fariba Amini, might help them clue into the fact that it's the proud, long-suffering people of Iran who will be on the receiving end of the US military might that our senators - and, for that matter, Mr. Netanyahu - seem so intent on calling down on their heads:

Iran is still functioning and yet it is not. Sanctions have crippled the economy and the nuclear issue is like a looming scarecrow. For every Iranian who is only trying to bring bread to the table while fighting surging inflation, life has become ever more depressing. Even for those of us who live in the West, the fear of an attack on Iran is never far from our minds. . . .

On what grounds does Israel with its 300 nukes which at any minute can annihilate the entire Middle East, have the right to attack a sovereign country and wipe it really off the map? Which international body gives it permission to do so? . . . . 

Iran is not an exemplary country by any measure, and it is far from having a representative government. It has a dismal human rights record but it is preposterous to claim that it is the biggest threat not just to Israel and the United States but to the world.

At the end of the day, Iranians will have to find a way to overcome their many problems and make the ultimate changes. The problem will not go away if Iran is shattered to pieces. The outcome is multidimensional and far worse.

Just imagine that tomorrow, the beautiful and historic city of Isfahan, home to many Jewish-Iranians and several old synagogues, may vanish, with just one bomb, from the many Israel possesses.

The Natanz nuclear power plant is not too far away.

 

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Democrats' Platform Language on Jerusalem (updated)

As reported at NBC.

That's a pity - not to mention, gutless.  The DNC could have taken a stand on the authority of international law in the issue of Jerusalem's ultimate disposition.  And that stand would simply have confirmed official US policy of several decades.

Instead . . . a gutless cave-in.

Do I prefer Obama over Romney?

Certainly.

Could the US use a president with enough spine to take and hold a stand based on principle, international law, and (arguably) being on the right side of history in this matter?

Absolutely.

UPDATE: Foreign Policy site Thursday carried a detailed account of the kerfuffle, focusing on who asked/didn't ask whom to do what in re the 2012 platform statement on Jerusalem.  An assertion that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel was indeed in the 2008 platform, so some claimed that reasserting that in the 2012 platform was simply a matter of consistency.  Despite some earlier claims to the contrary, AIPAC says it was never on board with omitting the Jerusalem piece.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz now says it was a technical error.  Other Democratic congressmen seem to have come running to demand the reinsertion of the Jerusalem assertion.

But what so many seem to overlook, or fail to get their heads around, is that a significantly large and loud portion of the convention delegates were opposed to reinserting the Jerusalem statement.  I could only watch incredulously last night when Judy Woodruff and the PBS panel asked Marilyn Albright about the many "no" votes from the floor.  All of them - Albright included - more or less shook their heads in bemused, semi-smirking bewilderment, as if they were convinced that some malevolent spirit had briefly descended into the arena and taken momentary possession of delegates' souls.

Did it never occur to them that many delegates likely represent the more progressive wing of the Democratic party? The same wing so many of whose members feel jilted and abandoned by the Barack Obama whose rhetoric moved them during the 2008 campaign, gave them hope in his Cairo speech in 2009, and helped impell him to the Nobel Peace Prize?  Democrat progressives tend to believe that the US, as well as Israel and everyone else, ought to be bound by international law - you know, silly things like United Nations resolutions and international treaties.  

By all those standards, Jerusalem cannot be identified as the "capital of Israel."  Put bluntly, Israel "conquered" East Jerusalem in 1967, and launched the Judaization of it almost immediately.  The massive plaza that now adjoins the Western/Wailing Wall wasn't there in 1967.  The Israelis knocked down structures to create it.  According to international law, every one of those actions was illegal.  Those Democrat delegates likely knew that, and they had the guts to stand up and try to keep their party on the right side of international law - even, one might easily argue, the right side of history.

Instead, they were smacked down by what many see as a dubious ruling on the voice vote.  They can only have emerged from all of this with deep cynicism about their party's principles and commitment to justice in the "peace process" - especially when (as the FP piece makes clear) so many of Obama's allies make the point that - well, what we say in the platform is one thing, but what we do while governing is something else.

By my lights, the overriding tone of Mr. Obama's speech last night was sober - a sober speech given by a man sobered by four years on the job, four years of confronting daunting challenges that would have buckled the knees and broken the back of many leaders.  I give him immense credit for all of that.  I admire his fortitude, and his vision for the US - and, especially in light of the lackluster mediocrities that are the GOP ticket - I will vote for him in November.  

But near the end of that speech, he appealed for our votes.  I shudder to think how many progressive votes - and how many progressives' campaign contributions - his spinelessness on Jerusalem may have cost him.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Paul Ryan's Shenanigans

Ah, our wide-eyed, pants-hitching, serial-fabricator youngster is at it again.  The fibs he told as parts of his acceptance speech in Tampa have been fact-checked ad infinitum (and might have received even more attention had it not been for Clint Eastwood's performance with the empty chair).  Also exposed as a complete lie was his claim to have run a sub-3 hour marathon (a lie that especially galls me as a former cross-country and track athlete at the high school and college levels).

Now, Ryan claims that Obama's performance on the economy makes the Jimmy Carter years look good.  First, I'd take Jimmy Carter as a human being, humanitarian, and visionary (if flawed) leader over ten Paul Ryans, anytime.  Second, as WaPo documents, Ryan is once again massaging the facts.

I don't know what makes me angrier: Ryan's lying and distortions, or my sense that he knows he can pull these kinds of stunts all the way to November and still feel pretty certain that he won't lose any votes from a GOP base that values ideological purity and ferocity more than integrity and respect for an informed electorate.

American Exceptionalism, "Leading from the Front" - and the "Gift" of Iraq's "Liberation"

 Both John McCain and Condi Rice at the GOP convention waxed on about "American exceptionalism" and how it is imperative that the US resume its always-and-forever role and responsibility of "leading from the front."  Stephen Walt (here) and Bruce Jentleson and Charles Kupchan (here) have torched the stupidity of that.  Walt's comments especially resonate with me:

the idea that the United States should always try to "lead" is completely bone-headed."Exerting leadership" is not the central objective of foreign policy; it is a means to an end but not an end in itself. The central purpose of foreign policy is to maximize the nation's security and well-being. If exerting "leadership" contributes to these ends, fine, but there will be many occasions when the smart strategy is to hold back and pass the buck to someone else. Blindly declaring that the United States must always go to enormous lengths to lead, and must constantly strive to reassure allies who need us far more than we need them, is mere jingoistic hubris. It's an applause line, but not a strategy. . . .

 

our overall approach to grand strategy should begin by recognizing that the United States is remarkably secure, with no great powers nearby, and most of our current adversaries are much, much weaker. This favorable geopolitical position is an enormous asset; it means that other states tend to worry more about each other than they do about us, and it means many countries will remain eager for U.S. support. Which in turn allows Washington to "play hard to get," and extract lots of concessions from others in exchange for our help. Those who pompously insist that America must always take the lead are throwing this diplomatic asset out the window, and guaranteeing that other states will take advantage of us instead of the other way around. And it should enable us to spend a lot less on national security, thereby easing our budget problems and allowing investments that will ensure our long-term productivity.

It is worth remembering that the United States rose to great-power status by staying out of trouble abroad and by concentrating on building a powerful economy here at home (which is what China is doing today). It also helped that the other great powers bankrupted themselves through several ruinous wars. The United States fought in two of those wars, but we got in late, suffered far fewer losses, and were in a better position to "win the peace" afterwards. The world has changed somewhat since then, and America's global role is and should be more substantial, but there is still a valuable lesson there. But don't expect Romney & Co. to absorb it.

In recent times, of course, George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq (2003-2011) was the poster-child of the US's leading from the front.  John McCain chalked it up as an American "win" a few years ago, crediting the American Petraeus-led "Surge" with a "victory" that more credible observers ascribe to Sunni militias and the "success" of the Sunni vs. Shia sectarian cleansing and relocations of 2006-2008.   Many of the GOP rank-and-file bought into McCain's assessment: we freed the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein and bequeathed to them a constitution and a functioning democracy.  

Predictably, the American public have turned the page on Iraq - enough so that Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and all of the GOP's headliner speakers in Tampa felt it safe (or prudent) to ignore both the Iraq war and the continuing debacle (or, perhaps more accurately, the slow-motion rout, as The Guardian's Simon Tisdall so aptly described it) in Afghanistan.  So  much for accountability; though in an election season when one campaign asserts for the record that it won't be held accountable to fact-checkers, what the hell?

Nonetheless, Haifa Zangana at The Guardian reminds us that in Iraq,  America's "leading from the front" is a "gift" that keeps on giving:

Three women were among the 21 people executed within one day in Iraq, last Monday. It was followed, two days later, by the reported execution of five more people. The number of people executed since the start of this year is now at least 96 and they are not the only ones. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said: "I am appalled about the level of executions in Iraq. I deeply deplore the executions carried out this week, and am particularly alarmed about continuing reports of individuals who remain at risk of execution."

 

There is also news of another 196 people on death row. According to Iraqi officials, they have all been convicted on charges "related to terrorism," but there is little information about their names, what crimes they committed or whether they have access to lawyers or not. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have previously documented the prevalence of unfair trials and torture in detention in Iraq. Confessions under torture are often the only evidence against a person who has been arrested following a secret informant's report. Parading the accused with their tortured, empty looks on Al Iraqiya, the official TV channel, is the norm. It took a court in Baghdad only 15 minutes to sentence Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a dual Iraqi-UK national, to 15 years' imprisonment after being found guilty of "funding terrorist groups".

 

Amnesty has obtained and examined court documents and said it believes the trial proceedings were "grossly unfair". Ahmed was held in a secret prison near Baghdad, during which time his whereabouts were completely unknown to his family. During this period Ahmed alleges he was tortured – with electric shocks to his genitals and suffocation by plastic bags – into making a false "confession" to terrorist offences.

 

So what kind of human rights are observed in the "new Iraq"? Hardly any. The list of abuses is long and the tip of the iceberg is waves of arbitrary arrests (over 1,000 monthly), torture and executions. All are barely noticed by the world media and the US and British official silence is rather convenient to cover up the crimes and chaos they created. From time to time, they break their silence but only to justify their act of aggression. Recently, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu pulled out of a seminar in protest over the presence of Tony Blair, a statement was issued by Blair's office to justify the morality of his decision to support the United States' military invasion of Iraq.

 

There you have it.  Bush's "leading from the front" brought the long-suffering, deserving people of Iraq the gift of a new Saddam, along with a dysfunctional, corruption-ridden government and political system that, despite being flush with oil revenues, remains unable to provide electricity, jobs, or security.  And according to a recent survey, Iraqis feel so beaten down that they would accept a quasi-dictatorship if it could ensure basic quality of life.

And now, McCain/Rice et al. want Obama to thrust the US again into leading from the front, in order to bestow similar liberation on the people of Syria?

Al-Qaeda's Best Recruiters? The US Military

As reported via CNN . . . more hearts and minds won, more vengeance sworn, more recruits for "al-Qaeda":

A U.S. drone strike targeting al Qaeda suspects in Yemen killed 13 civilians, including three women, three security officials in the restive Middle Eastern country said."This was one of the very few times when our target was completely missed. It was a mistake, but we hope it will not hurt our anti-terror efforts in the region," a senior Yemeni Defense Ministry official told CNN. The official asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. . . .
Families of the victims closed main roads and vowed to retaliate. Hundreds of angry armed gunmen joined them and gave the government a 48-hour deadline to explain the killings, which took place on Sunday.Eyewitnesses said that families attempted to carry the victims' corpses to the capital, Sanaa, to lay them in front of the residence of newly elected President Abdurabu Hadi, but were sent back by local security forces."You want us to stay quiet while our wives and brothers are being killed for no reason. This attack is the real terrorism," said Mansoor al-Maweri, who was near the scene of the strike. . . .  

Residents are not denying the existence of al Qaeda elements in their region but say that misdirected strikes work in favor of the militant group, helping them recruit new operatives.
"I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake," said Nasr Abdullah, an activist in the district of the attack. "This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously."


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