Monday, April 09, 2007

Norman Finkelstein Faces Alan Dershowitz - Foregone Conclusion?

Believe it or not, Dr. Norman Finkelstein is facing the possibility of not getting tenure at DePaul University because of a campaign being waged against him and his views on US foreign policy and the Israeli lobby!

He is being accused by the rabid Alan Dershowitz and others of not being a good zionist. The tyranny of the Dershowitz's of the world should not be allowed to cow academic institutions (US politicians are quite enough thank you!) and stymie freedom of expression and honest discussion. More importantly, the tenure process in any institution cannot be held hostage to such tactics.... In an institution of higher education, scholarship and not partisanship or propaganda should be the measure.

You can find a list of Dr. Finkelstein's works at his website.

Below is the letter, and here is where the petition is if you want to sign!

To: DePaul University

To: Dennis H. Holtschneider, President, DePaul University Helmut P. Epp, Provost, DePaul University and the Trustees, Deans, Faculty and Students of DePaul University

We are deeply concerned about reports of outside interference into the tenure and promotion case of Dr. Norman Finkelstein, and that as a result he may not be awarded tenure from DePaul University.

One such report is: Harvard Law Professor Works to Disrupt Tenure Bid of Longtime Nemesis at DePaul U. By Jennifer Howard, The Chronicle of Higher Education April 5, 2007

We value Dr. Finkelstein's scholarship, his public talks and debates, and his well-argued, fact-based critiques of issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In our opinion, his association with DePaul University has enhanced DePaul University's reputation. We understand his department has recommended tenure. We will be troubled if Dr. Finkelstein is denied tenure and will be concerned about the integrity of the tenure process at DePaul University.

We support a fair tenure process for Dr. Finkelstein.


If you are interested in signing an online petition in support of Dr. Norman Finkelstein, please click here!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bloody Iranians! They Almost Tortured Us...

The irony of torture is not so much that it is reprehensible (not to mention counterproductive), but rather that it can be employed by anyone... and, unfortunately, what's good (or rather bad) for the goose is good (bad) for the gander.

Yet, the international anger at the treatment of the 15 British servicemen and woman, is understandable. So when the "officer in charge Lt Carman said they were taken to a prison in Tehran where they were stripped and dressed in pyjamas", I couldn't help but understand their outrage.

And when, "Royal Marine Joe Tindell told how they feared for their lives in prison" with what must have been a horrifying moment, I felt the same outrage. "We had a blindfold and plastic cuffs, hands behind our backs, heads against the wall. Basically there were weapons cocking. Someone, I'm not sure who, someone said, I quote 'lads, lads I think we're going to get executed'."

(Oh, sorry, wrong graphics!)

Yet, when the 15 British servicemen and woman were returned, unharmed (and untortured), in fact, after being treated "humanely" according to their own rendition of events, I find the outrage, even my own, a little bit disingenuous. (Funny how both BBC and CNN - the two website I checked - don't mention that "humanely treated" comment although I watched and heard one of the sailors say it.)

Yes, I am happy for their safe return, but let's not be too quick to throw rocks from own glass house. In fact, as far as torture goes, this can only rate as high as a slight inconvenience.

More to the point, as mortified as I am sure these 15 Brits were, and as undeserving of this treatment that they are, I can only think about all those poor souls locked up for years in Guantanamo, Abu Gharib, CIA torture sites around the world, and all those renditioned to the bowels of Middle Eastern and Asian torture dungeons. Are they all deserving of their treatment? Did any of them ever get their day in court? Is anyone ever deserving of such treatment?

Yet, when the leader of the free world, as the US is, declares that torture is at times necessary, that is when all bets are off. Game over! As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we no longer reign over the moral high ground.

(Yes, that is why international law matters and respecting our treaty obligations is in our self-interest!)

But that is not where the tragedy of all this ends. The Iranians beat us at our own game. They have the initiative. Long after anyone cares whether or not those sailors were in Iraqi or Iranian waters, what the world will remember is that the Iranians did not really harm them, returned them safely, and still the US and Britain decried their actions while never apologizing or atoning for their own far greater misdeeds.

This PR round goes to the Iranians!

It is almost as if it would have been better if the Iranians had behaved as poorly as we have... And maybe they have, but that is not what the world sees.....

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Friday, March 16, 2007

An Opinion Worth Considering - What Does It Mean To Legitimate?

While the trajectory of the argument here may be unsettling to some, it nevertheless is a view that is very worthy of consideration.

The continual demand by Israel of Palestinians that they not only recognize Israel as a state but also its right to exist, is tantamount to requiring that the Palestinians legitimate the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes, their diaspora throughout the world and the subjugation of millions into reservations on the West Bank and Gaza.

On the other hand, has Israel accepted the Palestinian right to exist? Has Israel accepted the humanity of the Palestinians and their basic human right to dignity and self determination? If a state which takes its place amongst the legitimate sovereigns of the world is not able to recognize the humanity of another, how can an unrecognized group be expected to legitimate anyone, let alone Israel?

So, what is legitimacy - or legitimation - and who is the actor here with the authority to endow it?

This also speaks to a wider issue, and that is the power of communicative action and the lethality of words when wielded continuously, yet seemingly innocuously....

In the war of words, The Times is Israel's ally
The paper consistently adopts Israel's language, giving credence to an inaccurate, simplistic and dangerous cliche.
By Saree MakdisiSAREE MAKDISI, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, writes frequently about the Middle East.
March 11, 2007'

AS SOON AS certain topics are raised," George Orwell once wrote, "the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse." Such a combination of vagueness and sheer incompetence in language, Orwell warned, leads to political conformity.

No issue better illustrates Orwell's point than coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States. Consider, for example, the editorial in The Times on Feb. 9 demanding that the Palestinians "recognize Israel" and its "right to exist." This is a common enough sentiment — even a cliche. Yet many observers (most recently the international lawyer John Whitbeck) have pointed out that this proposition, assiduously propagated by Israel's advocates and uncritically reiterated by American politicians and journalists, is — at best — utterly nonsensical.

First, the formal diplomatic language of "recognition" is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to "recognize" a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine. This it steadfastly refuses to do (and for some reason, there are no high-minded newspaper editorials demanding that it do so).

Second, which Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to "recognize?" Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, "Israel" is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years — and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of "Israel"?

For that matter, why should the Palestinians recognize an Israel that refuses to accept international law, submit to U.N. resolutions or readmit the Palestinians wrongfully expelled from their homes in 1948 and barred from returning ever since?

If none of these questions are easy to answer, why are such demands being made of the Palestinians? And why is nothing demanded of Israel in turn?

Orwell was right. It is much easier to recycle meaningless phrases than to ask — let alone to answer — difficult questions. But recycling these empty phrases serves a purpose. Endlessly repeating the mantra that the Palestinians don't recognize Israel helps paint Israel as an innocent victim, politely asking to be recognized but being rebuffed by its cruel enemies.

Actually, it asks even more. Israel wants the Palestinians, half of whom were driven from their homeland so that a Jewish state could be created in 1948, to recognize not merely that it exists (which is undeniable) but that it is "right" that it exists — that it was right for them to have been dispossessed of their homes, their property and their livelihoods so that a Jewish state could be created on their land. The Palestinians are not the world's first dispossessed people, but they are the first to be asked to legitimize what happened to them.

A just peace will require Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile and recognize each other's rights. It will not require that Palestinians give their moral seal of approval to the catastrophe that befell them. Meaningless at best, cynical and manipulative at worst, such a demand may suit Israel's purposes, but it does not serve The Times or its readers.

And yet The Times consistently adopts Israel's language and, hence, its point of view. For example, a recent article on Israel's Palestinian minority referred to that minority not as "Palestinian" but as generically "Arab," Israel's official term for a population whose full political and human rights it refuses to recognize. To fail to acknowledge the living Palestinian presence inside Israel (and its enduring continuity with the rest of the Palestinian people) is to elide the history at the heart of the conflict — and to deny the legitimacy of Palestinian claims and rights.

This is exactly what Israel wants. Indeed, its demand that its "right to exist" be recognized reflects its own anxiety, not about its existence but about its failure to successfully eliminate the Palestinians' presence inside their homeland — a failure for which verbal recognition would serve merely a palliative and therapeutic function.

In uncritically adopting Israel's own fraught terminology — a form of verbal erasure designed to extend the physical destruction of Palestine — The Times is taking sides.

If the paper wants its readers to understand the nature of this conflict, however, it should not go on acting as though only one side has a story to tell.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rule of Law Triumphs in Canada

While the struggle between insecurity and rule of law continues to wage in the US, Canada has put its foot down and declared the winner - rule of law, hence democracy. As noted by Tony Arend in two recent posts, what the Canadian Supreme Court decided is indeed laudable. By a vote of 9 - 0, with both liberals and conservatives on the Court, the decision indicates that the issue rises above political partisanship and speaks to the basic tenets of democratic society.

Canada's Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin says in the ruling: “The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process.”

This decision should also be viewed in comparison to the US stance on the issue. The Military Commission Act of 2006 blatantly retracts basic rights, such as habeas corpus, from non-US citizens (see previous posts). Furthermore, recent court rulings underscore the slippery slope the justice system is sliding down. Last week a federal court in Washington DC upheld that Act and struck down petitions representing the aspirations of dozens of Guantanamo detainees to a fair day in court.

Here are excerpts from some articles on the decision:

New York Times - Canadian Court Limits Detention in Terror Cases
OTTAWA, Feb. 23 — Canada’s highest court on Friday unanimously struck down a law that allows the Canadian government to detain foreign-born terrorism suspects indefinitely using secret evidence and without charges while their deportations are being reviewed.

The detention measure, the security certificate system, has been described by government lawyers as an important tool for combating international terrorism and maintaining Canada’s domestic security. Six men are now under threat of deportation without an open hearing under the certificates.

“We’ve started to see the rollback,” said Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. “Today the Supreme Court of Canada has said, ‘Make sure you put human rights at the center of how you prevent terrorism.’ ”

Top court overturns federal security certificates News Staff Updated: Fri. Feb. 23 2007 10:38 PM ET
The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) unanimously ruled today that federal security certificates, used to detain suspected terrorists, are unconstitutional. The 9-0 judgment found that the system violated the Charter of Rights.

The certificates allowed government officials to use secret court hearings, indefinite prison terms and summary deportations when dealing with non-citizens accused of having terrorist ties.

That process is a violation of fundamental justice, wrote Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
The judgment is not saying that the detentions are wrong, but that the accused must have access to the evidence against them, said Thompson.

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Attacking Iran: Will the Generals Mutiny?

At the end of the day, I doubt it will come to that, but the fact that it is being discussed suggests that the Pentagon, at least the military side, is not happy with the heightened rhetoric concerning Iran. With a military fighting two wars and manning bases across the globe, there appears to be no stomach for another front.

According to the Sunday Times, the venerable British paper:

SOME of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

The question on my mind is why? Why is the military apparently showing reticence on going to war with Iran?

1. Is it because the military has no belief in the mission?

2. Is it because the military has lost faith in the civilian leadership after Iraq?

3. Is it because the military has doubts in its ability to win?

4. Is it because the military does not believe that war is the only choice?

This third question, of course, is the sum total of the first two questions as it depends on the definition of success and the leadership to get you there. In terms of material ability, the US military is the strongest and most able force in the history of mankind. Yes, that we know. But is that all it takes to "win"? Clausewitz took pains to point out that the advantage is with the side with the greatest strength. Yet, even he agreed that the edge can go to the lesser strength if it has the advantage of national will and ingenuity.

As we see in Iraq, military boots, steel and grit is not an automatic path to success.

We also see that if the definition of success is a moving target adjusted with facts on the ground, overall perception is one of failure.

What would be the definition of success in Iran? Would it be putting the nuclear program out of commission? Would it be regime change? Probably both. How can this be attained? John Mearsheimer and others have argued that air power just won't do it on its own. What would US boots on the ground in Iran mean? The occupation of Iraq, which the US is failing at, is a cake walk compared to Iran. At least in Iraq, self-immolation between Sunni and Shia means that less combined focus is on US troop. Iran is different. Iran does not suffer from identity crises. All the rage of the Iranian people will be focused singularly on US troops. Iran is also 3 times the size of Iraq with much more challenging terrain.

Perhaps, the US military recognizes all of this.

That means that the only way to get the wholehearted support of the military is for the situation to be one of no choice. In other words, the US has to have no choice but to go to war with Iran. If the national interest is at risk, it is only then that the generals will lead the charge if asked by the President.

So how can this situation be created?

One way is for the US to continually point to Iranian interference in Iraq as jeopardizing US troop lives. Despite the fact that Iranian involvement has been going on since the US invasion, it is only now that the US is making hay of it. Skeptics can reasonably ask, why now?

However, this tactic does not appear to be garnering a critical mass of support, neither domestically nor in military ranks perhaps because there is a recognition that it is a construed argument.

Thus, the second way is for some cataclysmic event to occur. For example, a terrorist attack which can be linked to Iran may give the US what it needs to strike.

Also possible is a scenario where Israel attacks a nuclear installation in Iran, a redux of 1981 against Iraq, on the basis that Iran poses a threat. Should Iran then rise to the provocation and strike back either directly or through non-state surrogates, the US may then feel it must intervene.

In short, if the war-mongers in the Administration, such as Cheney, are bent on attacking Iran, they will find the way to get the generals behind it, as Iraq has painfully proven. To quote Cheney speaking a few days ago in Australia:

"We worked with the European community and the United Nations to put together a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and resolve the matter peacefully, and that is still our preference," Cheney said.

"But I've also made the point, and the president has made the point, that all options are on the table," he said.

"We believe it would be a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran became a nuclear power," he said.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

US - Islamic Dialogue in Qatar

The 4th annual U.S-Islamic World Forum , organized by the Brookings' Saban Center and hosted by the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is being held these days in Doha, Qatar. Abu Aardvark (Marc Lynch) has been blogging on the proceedings, his encounters and thoughts. Very interesting stuff. The agenda portends and his posts indicate serious interaction.

One of his posts today concerns the events of last night's plenary on Iraq. It makes for very interesting reading on both issues related to form and substance.

With respect to form, the panel of speakers included 3 Americans and 1 Shia Iraqi. An obvious absence, as he notes, is a lack of any Iraqi Sunni or any other Arab, for that matter. The visual speaks volumes for those looking to understand the balance of power in Iraq, i.e. the US and the Shia Iraqis backed by Iran.

On substance, (also included for the most part under his post) the reality is that life for the average Iraqi is today much worse than it was under Saddam. Whether the US Administration wants to own up to this fact, or not, is not only a(n irrelevant) matter for their conscience, more importantly, it concerns the future of American foreign policy, leadership and Middle East stability.

The dream of a democratic Iraq is no longer the measure of success there; limiting death, destruction, and regional fallout is.

So, is this merely a situation of "it needs to get worse before it can get better" or is this a situation which has spiraled down into total chaos that can either get worse if left to local actors, or perhaps get better with major external involvement (see previous post)?

Unfortunately, I believe that even these may be academic questions at this point. Political realities in the US are such that the US has no option but to claim success by redefining its parameters. The American voter has lost patience; s/he has had enough loss of blood and treasure. Despite the tin ears of the Administration, the voter has spoken and will continue to do so unless events change on the ground by either a redeployment of the troops or the identification of a new "cause" for action (think Iran).

At the present trajectory, Iraq is likely to result in a failed state of 3 regions: northern Kurdistan, southern and eastern Shia state aligned with Iran to include Baghdad, and western Iraq (Anbar). Sunni Iraqis will suffer in the mix and most will become the new Middle East Diaspora causing strain on both Jordan and Syria.

The US will redefine success as a functioning north and south/east with US forces fighting "Al Qaeda" in Anbar. Thus, the US will be able to have its cake and eat it too. A partially functioning Iraq and a continued "war on terror" in Anbar. Of course, the fact that the only real winner from the US invasion of Iraq is Iran will be ignored.

A possible useful outcome is that fracture lines between Syria and Iran may emerge as a result of the fact that Iran appears to have gained from all this while Syria will be faced with a humanitarian and political crisis.

What is interesting from a larger regional perspective, however, is does this imply that the US will have to lie in the bed of its making with the Iranians? And, if so, with all the mixed signaling coming out of DC with regards to Iran, does that mean that the debate is brewing here too, or is this a situation of deliberate disinformation to obfuscate US military designs on Iran?

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Putin's Munich Doctrine Reverberations and the Dialogue of the Deaf

Today's Washington Post contains two views reflecting on Russia after Putin's watershed speech delivered last weekend during the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy .

The first is by David Ignatius and offers a clear and intelligent assessment of the challenges and choices faced by Russia on its road towards democracy. Ignatius offers insight into the inner workings of the upper echelons of Russian leadership. If one listens to these men, a clear message comes through. Namely, Russia will do what Russia wants to do - not what Americans think they should do. It behooves his readers to hear the words of the men he quotes so as to understand before drawing conclusions as to what we would project onto Russia as the "correct way" forward.

Unfortunately, American proscriptions and prescriptions make the rest of the world cringe like the scratching of a fingernail across a blackboard. A sense of American exceptionalism and benevolent hegemony has permeated and constrained our foreign policy to the point that we no longer listen or even hear others. The US is increasingly rejecting dialogue as a sign of weakness. Diplomacy, as envisioned by George Kennan and practiced so successfully by many US presidents, is no longer the strategy of choice.

The second piece in the Post today by Charles Krauthammer is an exasperating example of this attitude; it is classic Krauthammer - replete with arrogant war-mongering and imperial hubris. He follows his typical point and shoot method of analysis which offers the reader nothing but a sense that everything must be all the other guys fault... everything must be the American way or the high-way.

Even if one starts from the premise that the US experience is worthy of emulation, which it is, shoving it down the other guy's throat is not likely to gain any avid and sustained following.

Rather than engage the substance of Putin's speech, Krathammer resorts to offensive defense. He rejects out of hand all that Putin puts on the table by simply saying that Russia can't be taken seriously because it has such a bad record. For example, he dismisses Putin's comments such:

There is something amusing about criticism of the use of force by the man who turned Chechnya into a smoldering ruin; about the invocation of international law by the man who will not allow Scotland Yard to interrogate the polonium-soaked thugs it suspects of murdering Alexander Litvinenko, yet another Putin opponent who met an untimely and unprosecuted death; about the bullying of other countries decried by a man who cuts off energy supplies to Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus in brazen acts of political and economic extortion.

Really! Is that to say that the US has not turned Iraq into a "smoldering gun", or that the US has turned over to Italy the CIA agents charged with a case of rendition of a man to Egypt from Italy? The list here could be much longer, but the point is made.

The point is that such mud slinging is only conducive to rallying support in the bleachers or on the battlefield. It is not a form of dialogue that the US, the world leader, should be engaging the rest of the international community with. Being the leader brings with it the ability to lead...

Since the fall of the Berlin wall, the US has emerged as the greatest power among the community of peoples and states. What has the US done with this grand position over the past 17 years? Is it not plausible that other states should rise to ask such a question, and if not hearing an acceptable response, take a seat at the head of the table? Is it not our duty to ask it of ourselves? What have we done with the responsibility that falls upon our shoulders by virtue of being where and what we are?

Krauthammer would do both his readers and himself well to remember that he has two ears and one mouth for a reason...

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Transcript of Putin's Munich Thunder

But a few thoughts first: When the cold war ended, it became conventional wisdom supported by evidence on the ground that the Soviet Union had disintegrated from within due to rampant economic failure, political malfeasance, and the new realities of the growing global village. A few argued that sustained US pressure also aided in the demise. As Eastern European and Russian people began to demand the right to forge their own destinies, the wall both physical and mental came down.

Some took this as the end of history and the ushering in of a new era of international peace and stability grounded in economic and institutional connectivity, dependence, and cooperation - a community of states. After-all the Internet meant we were all one world, right?

Yet, while this new world was being contemplated, the new reality of a unipolar world emerged - the US was now in the position to call the shots.

However, how long did we think it would take for Russia, a massive country with formidable resources and history, to reconstitute itself and reclaim its seat at the table?

With the consistent pressure of an encroaching NATO, US forces in two countries south of Russia, and the looming possibility of a third US conquest, it should come as no surprise that Russia is calling time-out.

What would indeed be interesting is to hear what a Chinese version of Putin's speech would contain.

Here are a few quotes [with some annotation] from Putin's speech delivered yesterday at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy. The speech took only a few minutes to deliver, but its echo is likely to be heard for quite a while....

[Recognizing the explosive nature of his comments....]This conference’s structure allows me to avoid excessive politeness and the need to speak in roundabout, pleasant but empty diplomatic terms. This conference’s format will allow me to say what I really think about international security problems. And if my comments seem unduly polemical, pointed or inexact to our colleagues, then I would ask you not to get angry with me. After all, this is only a conference.

[Quoting a US president was a nice touch...] This universal, indivisible character of security is expressed as the basic principle that “security for one is security for all”. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said during the first few days that the Second World War was breaking out: “When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger.”

The unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War did not take place either.

However, what is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making.

[From Russia with love...] It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.

[Ouch...] Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.

[As for Iraq...] Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension.

[Stay away from Iran....] Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible.

[Who said international law is epiphenomenal?] We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?

I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security.

And we must proceed by searching for a reasonable balance between the interests of all participants in the international dialogue. Especially since the international landscape is so varied and changes so quickly – changes in light of the dynamic development in a whole number of countries and regions.

In connection with this the role of multilateral diplomacy is significantly increasing. The need for principles such as openness, transparency and predictability in politics is uncontested and the use of force should be a really exceptional measure, comparable to using the death penalty in the judicial systems of certain states.

[And let's not forget the UK, Italy and Denmark...] However, today we are witnessing the opposite tendency, namely a situation in which countries that forbid the death penalty even for murderers and other, dangerous criminals are airily participating in military operations that are difficult to consider legitimate. And as a matter of fact, these conflicts are killing people – hundreds and thousands of civilians!

[As for nuclear weapons... ] Together with the United States of America we agreed to reduce our nuclear strategic missile capabilities to up to 1700-2000 nuclear warheads by 31 December 2012. Russia intends to strictly fulfil the obligations it has taken on. We hope that our partners will also act in a transparent way and will refrain from laying aside a couple of hundred superfluous nuclear warheads for a rainy day. And if today the new American Defence Minister declares that the United States will not hide these superfluous weapons in warehouse or, as one might say, under a pillow or under the blanket, then I suggest that we all rise and greet this declaration standing. It would be a very important declaration.

Russia strictly adheres to and intends to further adhere to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as well as the multilateral supervision regime for missile technologies. The principles incorporated in these documents are universal ones.

In connection with this I would like to recall that in the 1980s the USSR and the United States signed an agreement on destroying a whole range of small- and medium-range missiles but these documents do not have a universal character.

Today many other countries have these missiles, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, India, Iran, Pakistan and Israel. Many countries are working on these systems and plan to incorporate them as part of their weapons arsenals. And only the United States and Russia bear the responsibility to not create such weapons systems.

It is obvious that in these conditions we must think about ensuring our own security.

We are unequivocally in favour of strengthening the regime of non-proliferation. The present international legal principles allow us to develop technologies to manufacture nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes. And many countries with all good reasons want to create their own nuclear energy as a basis for their energy independence. But we also understand that these technologies can be quickly transformed into nuclear weapons.

This creates serious international tensions. The situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme acts as a clear example. And if the international community does not find a reasonable solution for resolving this conflict of interests, the world will continue to suffer similar, destabilising crises because there are more threshold countries than simply Iran. We both know this. We are going to constantly fight against the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Putin on Al Jazeera, Russia Must Protect Itself

For those who care to imagine the day after a US strike on Iran .... Here is more on Putin's statements on US foreign policy (see earlier post today). I just watched Putin give a very interesting interview on Al Jazeera. Here is a brief summary and my initial comments:

1. When asked if he agreed with the new US "strategy" in Iraq, Putin basically said that the US has not employed any new strategy; it is merely a new tactic. He said that all the US is doing is more of the same, which has already shown to be a failure

2. When asked if US, European and Israeli critics of Russia's closeness with Iran are justified, he said that Russia follows a very balanced foreign policy and in all cases will pursue what is in its national interest which includes close relations with all countries including Iran. He went on to say that Iran is completely justified in trying to secure civilian nuclear capabilities.

3. When asked about the Western and Israeli position vis-a-vis Hamas and the Palestinians, he said that every people have the right to pursue self-determination. He noted that who is named a terrorist today, is given a Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow, hence all can change and what is important is justice and peace.

4. On Iraq, he also added that the US needs to reach out to Iraq's neighbors (see my previous post) to begin to resolve the violence.

5. On nuclear proliferation, he noted that none of the Western nuclear powers are respecting their obligations to limit and control nuclear proliferation.

6. When asked if Russia felt threatened by US international military actions, he said YES. When asked if that meant that Russia would move to enhance its military preparedness, he said YES. He went on to say that US military actions and foreign policy is conducive to an international arms race. When asked if he realized that this might cause some to say that Russia is behaving with belligerence and irresponsibly, he said that such a criticism should not be directed to Russia...

7. When asked if Putin's objective in making such bold foreign policy statements is to regain Russia's world position as a great power, he responded by saying that Russia recognizes that it is no longer a great power and it has no desire to take the world back to a bi-polar cold war situation. However, it is important that the world maintain some balance to protect against unconstrained power.

Has Bush pulled the thread... Is it all unraveling?

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Putin's Munich Missive

Today in Munich, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, warned of the dangers of a unipolar world. His statement, tantamount to the proverbial dropping of the gauntlet, came at the 43rd Munich Conference for Security Policy. In a speech very reminiscent of the days of bipolar yore, Putin pointed at the United States as perhaps the leading cause of international insecurity today.

His argument is that the US unconstrained use of military might is placing other countries in a position of insecurity which in turn is pushing them towards seeking nuclear weapons. In other words, the US has become a catalyst for an international nuclear arms race.

Unfortunately, the Conference website does not yet have the English translation [update: it is now online] of the speech, but news reports are quoting him as saying:

According to BBC:
Mr Putin told senior security officials from around the world that nations were "witnessing an almost unconstrained hyper use of force in international relations".
"One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way," the Russian president said.
"This is very dangerous. Nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law," he said, speaking through a translator.
"This is nourishing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons."

And here is the Washington Post:
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in some of his harshest criticism of the United States since he took office seven years ago, said Saturday that Washington's unilateral, militaristic approach had made the world a more dangerous place than at any time during the Cold War.

"The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way," he said in an address at an annual international security conference here. "Nobody feels secure anymore, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law."

The Russian president defended his country's arms sales to Iran as a way of reaching out to that Middle Eastern power, which is under pressure from the United States and Europe to curtail its nuclear program. Russia has supplied some air defense weapons to Iran because, he said, "we don't want Iran to feel cornered."

And the New York Times:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia accused the United States on Saturday of provoking a new nuclear arms race by developing ballistic missile defenses, undermining international institutions and making the Middle East more unstable through its clumsy handling of the Iraq war.

In an address to an international security conference, Mr. Putin dropped all diplomatic gloss to recite a long list of complaints about American domination of global affairs, including many of the themes that have strained relations between the Kremlin and the United States during his seven-year administration.

Among them were the expansion of NATO into the Baltics and the perception in Russia that the West has supported groups that have toppled other governments in Moscow’s former sphere of influence.

Rubble from the Berlin Wall was “hauled away as souvenirs” to countries that praise openness and personal freedom, he said, but “now there are attempts to impose new dividing lines and rules, maybe virtual, but still dividing our mutual continent.”

The world, he said, is now unipolar: “One single center of power. One single center of force. One single center of decision making. This is the world of one master, one sovereign.”

Yet, before the pundits rush to shoot the messenger, perhaps his words are worthy of some serious thought. Does the perception of threat contained in such words as "axis of evil" cause those targeted states to suddenly feel threatened?

More to the point, did Bush's use of those words suggest to North Korea and Iran that they better get nuclear weapons before the US invades push them to pursue their nuclear programs quicker? Did the US invasion and occupation of Iraq only strengthen their threat perception? Are other states watching and taking note? On the other hand, was the US only alerting the world to what was already underfoot in these countries?

Now that these states are pursuing their self-interest, are neighboring states feeling the pressure to protect themselves as well? In short, has the US triggered a chain reaction? Already, other countries in the Middle East are embarking on "civilian" nuclear programs, with, it should be added, US blessings.

What about international law? Has the US disregard for international law and norms paved the way for other states to do the same? Or, as Putin may have been suggesting, has the US military actions and bellicose discourse suggested to states that international law is no longer (if it ever was) a restraint against hyper power incursion and threat? If states no longer view international law and norms as protecting state sovereignty against military threat, then has the US short term action resulted in a medium term affirmation of the realist world of self-help?

In short, this is a debate worthy of having.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Iraq Has Neighbors and the US is Not One of Them, So Let's Talk

Think as they may, think as they must, for Iraq there is no other way.... but to talk.

As David Ignatius put it in the Washington Post today, Expect The Worse in Iraq... He reminds both Democrats and Republicans that there is no nice way out of Iraq for either the US or Iraqis. Yet, he does offer a number of suggestions to minimize the inevitable fallout - namely:
1. Protect the oil
2. Protect the Iraqi population (as much as the US can)
3. Talk with Iraq's neighbors
4. Push for Arab-Israeli peace
To this I would add,
5. Reposition US troops out of civilian areas into camps in Iraq, Kuwait and the Gulf.

If that all sounds familiar to you, do not wonder because it should. It is basically a recycle of the Iraq Study Group Report recommendations.

Recall the opening words of the ISG report, "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." Those are words echoed in the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released in January:
"Unless efforts to reverse these conditions [increase in violence] show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate...."

More shocking, not only does the NIE state that Iraq is suffering a civil war, but even worse, what is occurring in Iraq is even more complicated than that! So what is more complicated than civil war?

Answer: Multiple levels of violence and actors. The actors are many. Sunni insurgents, Shia death squads backing the government and in turn backed by Iran, Kurdish nationalists (supported, both financially and militarily, by Israel), and foreign fighters stirring the pot. Put it all together and you have a Sunni insurgency (perhaps supported by Syria and possibly in the future by Saudi Arabia) fighting against Shia domination over Iraq and Kurdish encroachment in the north, Shia death squads fueled by Iran wreaking revenge for decades of subjugation and ensuring that they maintain the upper hand, and Kurds supported by Israel in the north who want to protect their new-found independence while grabbing as much land south of them as possible. To make sure that none of this violence subsides, foreign fighters are there stoking the flames with incredulous acts of mass terror.

In short, you have a multi-party internal civil and external proxy war.

But it does not stop there. The US, who unleashed this latent hell, occupies the country, and it now finds itself buttressing an Iranian-leaning [if not out-right supported] government. One of the great ironies of the US grievous blunder in Iraq is that Iran seems to have come out the winner. Now the US finds itself supporting Iraq's government while flirting with an even greater confrontation with Iran, to whom the Iraqi government is allied.

Talk about complicated.

Yet, interestingly the NIE does not seem to agree with just about everyone else except Bush and Cheney. The NIE, while stating that what happens in Iraq impacts and is impacted by Iraq's neighbors, does not agree that there is much value to engaging those very neighbors to find a solution to the chaos in Iraq.

That is purely intellectual dishonesty.

While making the case that Turkey and Syria (while curiously making no mention of Iran in this context) have a vested interest in the outcomes in Iraq, in the same breath the NIE claims that the violence is so path dependent because of the "self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics" that no external influence can change its course. Well, if that is true, then there is nothing that the US can do either. Ergo, the NIE has just made the case for US withdrawal!

What is even more glaring is that the NIE in its initial pages makes a big case for how impartial, professional and nonpartisan was the process of generating the report. However, while facilely supporting the Bush Administration's case for not engaging Iraq's neighbors, it has in fact torpedoed the entire argument for US continued presence. Unfortunately, not even they can have it both ways.

Thus, if the US wants to make the case that it must remain in Iraq to protect the Iraqi people and see Iraq through to the shores of peaceful coexistence, it cannot at the same time make the claim that there is no value to involving Iraq's neighbors in doing the same.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Another Toast To Carter, Freedom of Thought and Speech

I couldn't resist sharing this piece by George Bisharat in the Houston Chronicle. So here is another toast to the real American Way.....

Jan. 27, 2007, 8:00PM
From personal experience
Some of Israel's supporters occasionally cross the line into suppression of speech. When they do, U.S. policy is the loser.

One day in 1981, my late father, Maurice Hanna Bisharat, returned from a long day at his Sacramento, Calif., medical office with an extra bounce in his step, his eyes dancing with excitement. His friend, Michael Himovitz, the young owner of a local art gallery, had called, offering to hold a one-person show of my father's paintings — mostly California landscapes.

My father had taken up painting after immigrating to this country from Palestine in the late 1940s, and although an amateur, had won a national art award within two years. But the demands of medical practice, raising a large family, and other avocations took their toll. It had been many years since my father's art had been publicly exhibited, and he was tickled.

My father was not a politician, but like any Palestinian living in the United States, he felt obligated to relate his people's experience to American friends. Educated and articulate, he spoke publicly in defense of Palestinian rights, and was a frequent commentator on Middle East events in the local media. Michael, a Jew, was perfectly aware of this side of my father's life. It did nothing to diminish his appreciation of my father's art, nor to inhibit their friendship.

Some weeks later I saw my father sitting, stony faced. He turned to me and whispered: "I just got a call from Michael. My show has been canceled." Michael, it transpired, had been visited by a group from the Sacramento Jewish community. Their message: "If you show Bisharat's art, we will boycott your gallery and close you down."

Michael may have been as crushed as my father, apologizing: "I just can't risk it — it's my livelihood." The indirect message to my father, of course, was: "If you speak critically of Israel, you will suffer pain." Fortunately, art was not my father's livelihood, and he survived this incident. But a deep sense of outrage never left him.

So when former New York Mayor Edward Koch and Rafael Medoff ask incredulously in a recent commentary critical of President Jimmy Carter's recent book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid "Are Jews suppressing speech?" — or when 14 Carter Center advisory board members resign in protest of the president's positions — the answer, for me, is not so straightforward.

The fact is that "Jews" are not suppressing speech. Michael Himovitz certainly didn't suppress my father's attempts to explain the Palestinian perspective to his fellow citizens. Many American Jews hold views not dissimilar to my father's — supporting peace, reconciliation and equal rights for Palestinians and Jews.

Yet, a minority of Jews, backed by some non-Jewish supporters, stridently protests any unflattering portrayal of Israel, often with unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism. Indeed, insinuations of anti-Jewish bias are now being unfairly raised against Carter. And some supporters of Israel, apparently, are willing to exploit economic clout to punish those who, like my father, buck the trend and defend Palestinian rights.

Nor is the example of my father isolated. Numerous variations are documented in former Illinois Republican Rep. Paul Findley's book, They Dare to Speak Out. More chilling, these efforts at intimidation are not always the spontaneous responses of individuals, as in my father's case, or likely in the resignations of the Carter Center advisory board members.

On the contrary, the pro-Israel lobby, joined by the Israeli government, sustains a systematic campaign to shape American public opinion. For example, the Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) harangues journalists over alleged "mistakes." In 2002, CAMERA attacked National Public Radio, claiming anti-Israel bias, including failure to report Israeli deaths. Two Boston area businessmen associated with CAMERA organized a boycott of local NPR affiliate WBUR that significantly reduced revenue. Meanwhile, a scrupulous study of NPR's coverage by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) showed that, in fact, NPR had disproportionately reported Israeli deaths.

Honest Reporting is a media organization that mobilizes 140,000 subscribers worldwide. Its Web site once touted "major editorial changes at CNN which greatly shifted public perception of the Arab-Israel conflict." The impetus, according to The Jerusalem Post, was "up to 6,000 e-mails per day to CNN executives, effectively paralyzing their internal e-mail system."

The Israeli government also applied pressure to CNN, according to verbatim notes of a conference call in 2000 obtained by advocate/researcher Phyllis Bennis. In the call, Israeli government spokesman Nachman Shai outlined Israel's media strategy with 30 to 60 U.S. Jewish leaders, focusing concern on CNN, and especially two Palestinian reporters. "We are putting real pressure on the heads of CNN to have them replaced with more objective pro-Israel reporters that are willing to tell our side of the story."

Monitoring media to ensure accuracy is a public service. Yet, as besieged journalists have concluded, the goal of this campaign is not truth, but pro-Israeli advocacy, and silencing dissent. WBUR's general manager, Jane Christo, described CAMERA's message as: "Report our point of view, or we'll shut you down."

Dissenting American Jews are not spared. Jilian Redford, head of the Hillel Jewish student group at the University of Richmond was dismissed in 2004 after protesting the Israeli Embassy's repeated e-mail propaganda directives. Redford saw Hillel's mission as facilitating Jewish religious life on campus, not doing hasbara (Hebrew for "propaganda") for the Israeli government. To reiterate: This is not a "Jewish" campaign. In fact, hasbara, coordinated with, if not directed by right-wing Israeli governments, is unrepresentative of largely liberal American Jews. Many, like Michael, would no doubt be horrified by the actions of these self-appointed guardians of thought. Nor does the Israel lobby "control" the media, as publication of Carter's book and this article attest.

But the price of our still mostly one-sided exposure to Middle East affairs is high, and it is much greater than the hurt inflicted on my father and others like him. Americans are shielded from diverse perspectives about a pivotal conflict, and are thus hampered in critically evaluating U.S. policies. Our unconditional support for Israel is a principal cause of global anger against us.

Last summer our government ran diplomatic cover for Israel's invasion of Lebanon, prolonging the attack for weeks. Israel killed more than a thousand Lebanese, mostly civilians, heavily damaged the country's civilian infrastructure, and displaced a quarter of the population. The consequence: National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, delivering the annual U.S. threat estimate in mid-January, moved the Lebanese group Hezbollah — which has not targeted Americans for decades — up to second. Meanwhile, UPI editor Arnaud de Borchgrave reports that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other prominent Israelis are urging a public relations blitz to instigate a U.S. strike on Iran.

It is one thing to match ideas with ideas, facts with facts, perspectives with perspectives. It is different to threaten, bully, discredit and harass opponents of one's views — whether they are writers, artists, Jewish dissidents, ex-presidents or anyone else. And in this case, our resulting ignorance is not bliss. It is downright dangerous.

Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and writes frequently on the Middle East.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Spotlight on Israel's War Crimes - Cluster Bombs

Updated: See end of post
Last summer, Israel unleashed a massive assault aimed, supposedly, against Hizbollah fighters. It was Lebanon's innocent civilians who paid the price... and it was a huge one. More Lebanese children died in the offensive than adult fighters; it is a despicable reality that everyone should feel the shame of. It will take billions of dollars and years for Lebanon to repair the physical damage (with the emotional damage likely to fuel a new generation of animosity). In fact, Lebanon lost all the economic and social progress it so painstakingly forged over the past dozen years; an outcome perhaps not lost on the Israeli cabinet.

While the rest of the world seems to have moved on after a momentary whimper of indignation, the US government looked into some of the practices of the Israeli army. Specifically, the US probed into the use by Israel of cluster bombs against civilians, behavior which is illegal under international law. It is estimated that Israel dropped over 4 million cluster bombs on Lebanon. Israel itself admits to 1 million. It is difficult to see how this can be justified against a few hundred Hizbollah fighters. It is even more difficult to find credible the Israeli claim that they were justified in dropping them on civilian neighborhoods.

Well, the verdict has come in and it seems that Israel will be declared guilty; small vindication to the hundreds who died in a brutal way.

Yet, the horror is not over for the Lebanese. Tens of thousands of intact bomblets still litter neighborhoods, farms and groves. As though this were not bad enough, upon exiting last summer, Israel also laid landmines across south Lebanon, according to the United Nations.

Now that it has been determined that Israel used these weapons illegally, will the world demand that it provide the resources to have these bombs removed so that they do not explode killing and maiming hundreds more?

Update: It seems that being associated with Israeli war crimes is not enough to stop the US military-industrial complex grind. IHT reports that Israel signed a $100 million deal with Boeing in Chicago to buy more bombs to "replenish" its stock depleted by the Lebanon onslaught. Go figure....

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tens of Thousands March in DC Against War in Iraq

Yes, tens of thousands rallied and marched today in Washington DC (it looked to me like a few hundred thousands). That strip of green stretching from the Congress to the Washington Monument saw today what it has seen many times before... people coming out in large numbers to protest their government's actions. Their voices, calls, and banners reaffirming all that is good about the United States.

The event was organized by United for Peace and Justice, and people came streaming on to the mall off of buses from across America. They were joined by celebrities and members of Congress.

Today on the mall people of all political persuasions and backgrounds came together because they are angry. Their banners expressed the frustration they all feel... they want that bad about the US that the world has come to see to end (and Jane Fonda thanked them for giving the world a reason to see that good again).

While some carried signs and cried for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney for taking the country to war on false pretenses, others demanded that Congress step up to its constitutional obligations. All demanded the return of the troops to save them from dying for a senseless war. Many also warned against a new war with Iran.

The rally speakers invoked the memory of Vietnam and the civil rights movement. Indeed the scenes were reminiscent of that era (including hearing Jane Fonda and Jesse Jackson). They demanded that America learn from its mistakes of Vietnam. One mistake the crowd has learned from that time is that the onus of guilt does not rest on the shoulders of the soldiers; it belongs to the leaders who sent them there. Unfortunately, it is those leaders who have failed to learn.

As Tim Robbins rallied the crowd to tell Congress that impeachment is not off the table, the question many asked, "Bush, are you listening?"

He may have heard (he actually stayed in DC for the weekend), but it is unlikely that he will listen. Being the "decider", or as he revised it yesterday, the "decision-maker", he is on track to send the 21,000 additional troops to Iraq.

Although I feel good about being one of those out there today, let's hope that today was more than a "feel-good" day.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Contemptuous Cheney, Delusional Works Too

Vice President Cheney not only seems to see a world only revealed to him, but he also places the will of the Bushites above the annoying "will of the people" (see earlier post). Delusional and leadership do not belong in the same sentence, let alone in the same White House. Add contemptuous to the mix and you have near half a million killed civilians, thousands of dead and wounded soldiers, and billions of tax payer dollars in big business coffers. For what?

According to Vice President Cheney, every drop of blood and penny was worth it to achieve the better world we now live in...... As he tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer,

CHENEY: You can go back and argue the whole thing all over again, Wolf. But what we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do. The world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone. And the world is better off for it. You can argue about that all you want. That's history.

History??? The world is a safer place???? Someone please tell that to all the decimated and lost lives in Iraq and the US. Saddam's sons are dead, but so are too many others.

But according to Cheney, "we have, in fact, accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime..."

Is that what our objective was? What happened to weapons of mass destruction, axis of evil, and Saddam's support of Al Qaeda? Oh, yes, those "objectives" were proven ungrounded... perhaps even fabricated.

(Spin 101: when you make up stuff to get people to do what you want, always have a back up story so they don't feel they did it in vain when the s*** hits the fan... and hope they forget the original story.)

Memo to Cheney: We did not forget.

But that's not all... Not only did we achieve "our objective", but we were also successful... (yes, we had our cake and ate it too!) and all is well in Iraq.

CHENEY: ... They have got a democratically written constitution, the first ever in that part of the world. They've had three national elections. So there's been a lot of success.

But when pressed by Blitzer:

BLITZER: Some of your good Republican friends in the Senate and the House, are now seriously questioning your credibility, because of the blunders, of the failures.
CHENEY: Wolf -- Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash

He doesn't accept the premise? What premise is he rejecting here? The premise of Congressional oversight? The premise of accountability? Is that akin to declaring he doesn't feel obligated to answer to the American people or their representatives?

Sarcasm aside, although it may be the last refuge of the helpless, Cheney is putting forth a very dangerous precedent. Assuming, just for the sake of argument, that the US objective in Iraq was merely to take down the Saddam regime and at this the US was successful, that can only be half the equation. Measuring success cannot be only in terms of outcome or benefit... It must also take into account cost, both immediate and ongoing.

At what cost did the US achieve the downfall and death of the Saddam and his progeny?

Answering that must balance that outcome against the death of hundreds of thousands, destruction of an entire country's infrastructure, loss of US world stature and solidarity, a generation of US and Iraqi orphans, widows, and disabled, the opportunity cost of the billions of dollars gone towards the war effort, and last, but not least, the immediate and long term political impact on the region. That last calculation would need to consider what the impact of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has been on the balance of power in the region.

The only thing more dangerous than a fool is an unbridled powerful one.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Proof In The Carter Defamation Pudding

In case anyone doubted that the Israeli "lobby" (I use the word loosely since the lobby is actually a wide-spread network) immediately circles the wagons at every opportunity and provocation, the recent hate-fest over President Carter's recent book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, is sad proof. As soon as anyone dares to shed light on the human tragedy suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of successive Israeli governments, the Israeli army and illegal Israeli settlers, the daggers are immediately drawn and cries of anti-semitism are heard.

To all those 14 "friends" and advisors of the Carter Center, who felt the compulsion to resign, and to all those frenzied critics, including all the Alan Dershowitz's and the Jeffrey Goldberg's out there, I have have a few questions. If you don't like the word "apartheid", what would you call what the Palestinians are suffering? Second question: if it was you or your kin who were suffering it, what would you call it? Third question: what would you call those who were perpetrating it against you and/or your kin? Fourth question: wouldn't you want the world to know about your suffering? Fifth question: wouldn't you hope and pray (since you have scant little else by way of defense) that someone would make the suffering stop, let alone hold those causing the suffering accountable?

And, please, don't even try to respond with, "they brought it on themselves." Blaming the victim is not only lame, it is wrong.

What is sadder is that this insane, completely emotional, and totally counterproductive, not to mention, divorced from reality on the ground, stance of the pervasive Israeli "lobby" is neither beneficial to Israel, the United States, or Palestinians (but, on that last score, who really cares, right?). This fact has long dawned on many Israelis, as well as level-headed US-based organizations such as Tikkun. The uproar facing Carter is mostly US-based. Any cursory review of the Israeli press will find even more scathing commentary on the apartheid-like policies perpetrated against the Palestinians.

For example, read this article by Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni, who argues that apartheid is alive and well in the West Bank under Israeli rule. (Thanks to Tony B. for bringing this to my attention).

"Hebrew original: Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest circulating newspaper
Indeed there is Apartheid in Israel
A new order issued by the GOC Central command bans the conveyance of Palestinians in Israeli vehicles. Such a blatant violation of the right to travel joins the long list of humans rights violations carried out by Israel in the [Occupied] Territories.
by Shulamit Aloni

Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what's right in front of our eyes. It's simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practises its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.

The US Jewish Establishment's onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practises a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp. All this is done in order to keep an eye on the population's movements and to make its life difficult. Israel even imposes a total curfew whenever the settlers, who have illegally usurped the Palestinians' land, celebrate their holidays or conduct their parades.

If that were not enough, the generals commanding the region frequently issue further orders, regulations, instructions and rules (let us not forget: they are the lords of the land). By now they have requisitioned further lands for the purpose of constructing "Jewish only" roads. Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night - all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated and he is sent on his way.

On one occasion I witnessed such an encounter between a driver and a soldier who was taking down the details before confiscating the vehicle and sending its owner away. "Why?" I asked the soldier. "It's an order - this is a Jews-only road", he replied. I inquired as to where was the sign indicating this fact and instructing [other] drivers not to use it. His answer was nothing short of amazing. "It is his responsibility to know it, and besides, what do you want us to do, put up a sign here and let some antisemitic reporter or journalist take a photo so he that can show the world that Apartheid exists here?"

Indeed Apartheid does exist here. And our army is not "the most moral army in the world" as we are told by its commanders. Sufficient to mention that every town and every village has turned into a detention centre and that every entry and every exit has been closed, cutting it off from arterial traffic. If it were not enough that Palestinians are not allowed to travel on the roads paved 'for Jews only', on their land, the current GOC found it necessary to land an additional blow on the natives in their own land with an "ingenious proposal".

Humanitarian activists cannot transport Palestinians either.

Major-General Naveh, renowned for his superior patriotism, has issued a new order. Coming into affect on 19 January, it prohibits the conveyance of Palestinians without a permit. The order determines that Israelis are not allowed to transport Palestinians in an Israeli vehicle (one registered in Israel regardless of what kind of numberplate it carries) unless they have received explicit permission to do so. The permit relates to both the driver and the Palestinian passenger. Of course none of this applies to those whose labour serves the settlers. They and their employers will naturally receive the required permits so they can continue to serve the lords of the land, the settlers.

Did man of peace President Carter truly err in concluding that Israel is creating Apartheid? Did he exaggerate? Don't the US Jewish community leaders recognise the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination of 7 March 1966, to which Israel is a signatory? Are the US Jews who launched the loud and abusive campaign against Carter for supposedly maligning Israel's character and its democratic and humanist nature unfamiliar with the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 30 November 1973? Apartheid is defined therein as an international crime that among other things includes using different legal instruments to rule over different racial groups, thus depriving people of their human rights. Isn't freedom of travel one of these rights?

In the past, the US Jewish community leaders were quite familiar with the meaning of those conventions. For some reason, however, they are convinced that Israel is allowed to contravene them. It's OK to kill civilians, women and children, old people and parents with their children, deliberately or otherwise without accepting any responsibility. It's permissible to rob people of their lands, destroy their crops, and cage them up like animals in the zoo. From now on, Israelis and International humanitarian organisations' volunteers are prohibited from assisting a woman in labour by taking her to the hospital. [Israeli human rights group] Yesh Din volunteers cannot take a robbed and beaten-up Palestinian to the police station to lodge a complaint. (Police stations are located at the heart of the settlements.) Is there anyone who believes that this is not Apartheid?

Jimmy Carter does not need me to defend his reputation that has been sullied by Israelophile community officials. The trouble is that their love of Israel distorts their judgment and blinds them from seeing what's in front of them. Israel is an occupying power that for 40 years has been oppressing an indigenous people, which is entitled to a sovereign and independent existence while living in peace with us. We should remember that we too used very violent terror against foreign rule because we wanted our own state.And the list of victims of terror is quite long and extensive.

We do limit ourselves to denying the [Palestinian] people human rights. We not only rob of them of their freedom, land and water. We apply collective punishment to millions of people and even, in revenge-driven frenzy, destroy the electricity supply for one and half million civilians. Let them "sit in the darkness" and "starve".

Employees cannot be paid their wages because Israel is holding 500 million shekels that belong to the Palestinians.
And after all that we remain "pure as the driven snow".
There are no moral blemishes on our actions.
There is no racial separation.
There is no Apartheid.
It's an invention of the enemies of Israel.
Hooray for our brothers and sisters in the US!
Your devotion is very much appreciated.
You have truly removed a nasty stain from us.
Now there can be an extra spring in our step as we confidently abuse the Palestinian population, using the "most moral army in the world".
[Translated by Sol Salbe]"

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Autocracy By Any Other...

According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, autocracy is defined as:
"(aw-TOK-ruh-see) A system of government in which supreme political power is held by one person. (Compare constitutional monarchy, democracy, and oligarchy
+ Iraq under Saddam Hussein is an autocracy."

I have been at a loss for words (but even that is a lame excuse for my limited blogging lately) .... because what the US is doing in the Middle East has gone beyond the pale. Bush and his guiding voice (other than God), Cheney, have become totally immune not only to the voices of wisdom offering a virtual menu of policy options for addressing the debacle and travesty of Iraq, but more importantly to the will of the American people. And so thousands more troops march off, needlessly, into harm's way.... not to mention the scores of Iraqis who will also suffer.

Last Sunday, on no other than Fox News (surprise, surprise), Cheney made a startling revelation to Chris Wallace and the American people. He basically said that the Bush Administration would not be swayed by the will of the people. (Read David Ignatius piece in the Wash Post - great analysis). Forget polls, which arguably may be seen to be whimsical; he even dismissed general election results. (Please refer to the definition of autocracy above). So if the people are not to be heeded when they cast their ballots, what then is left for democracy?

(Read - only slightly tongue in cheek- I guess there is no wonder that the US can't impose democracy abroad; apparently, if the VP is to be believed and the Bushites observed, it can't even maintain it at home... The only reason this is a half-serious comment is because democracy can never be imposed even by paragons of it.)

But, you be the judge... here are the VPs words:

"WALLACE: I want to ask you one more question about this, and then we'll talk about other issues.
Iraq was a big issue in the November election. I want you to take a look at some numbers from the election. According to the National Exit Poll, 67 percent said the war was either very or extremely important to their vote, and only 17 percent supported sending in more troops.
By taking the policy you have, haven't you, Mr. Vice President, ignored the express will of the American people in the November election?
CHENEY: Well, Chris, this president, and I don't think any president worth his salt, can afford to make decisions of this magnitude according to the polls. The polls change day by day...
WALLACE: Well, this was an election, sir.
CHENEY: Polls change day by day, week by week. I think the vast majority of Americans want the right outcome in Iraq. The challenge for us is to be able to provide that. But you cannot simply stick your finger up in the wind and say, "Gee, public opinion's against; we'd better quit.""

I think it is time to recognize that we already have a third party in this country, and they hold the power. For lack of a better word, and because neo-con has become hackneyed, I will anoint the Bushites, the Imperialist Party. Last November we took the first step at running them out of town, but we still have a ways to go.

Will the real Republicans please stand up??

Perhaps they already have in the form of Senator Chuck Hagel. Here is a man who is true to his soul and essential republican principles (small "R") ... like growing the economy, maintaining international respect, leadership and citizenship, and heeding the people. His has been a lone Republican voice of reason which is only now resonating from amidst the howl of Bushite imperialist, autocratic dogma and self-delusion.

And the Bushites sense the danger... Once again read the VPs words:

"WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, it's not just Democrats, though, who oppose the plan. This week there were a number of leading Senate Republicans who also came out against it. Let's watch.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN, R-MINN.: I'm not prepared, at this time, to support that.
SEN. DAVID VITTER, R-LA.: Too little, maybe too late.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: The most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.

WALLACE: Aren't you losing a lot of support in your own caucus?
CHENEY: Well, I don't think Chuck Hagel has been with us for a long time.... We have to prevail, and we have to have the stomach for the fight, long term. And for us to do what Chuck Hagel, for example, suggests or to buy into that kind of analysis — it's not really analysis; it's just criticism — strikes me as absolutely the wrong thing to do.
These are tough decisions, but the president's made it. It's a good decision. It's a good policy. We think, on reflection, it's the best way for us to move forward to achieve our objectives..."

Not only do the Bushites sense the heat from within, they are even throwing bones to the Democrats. After many an outcry but only moved to act under the threat of congressional hearings, the Bushites have, in small part, rescinded their self-declared right to unlimited power by placing the NSA eavesdropping transgression under judicial review. However, despite being once again subject to FISA oversight, the Bushites maintained the prerogative to act however they see fit, suggesting that the program could be instituted once again at any time (assuming that they are to be believed in having stopped it in the first place).

"de·moc·ra·cy /[di-mok-ruh-see] –noun, plural -cies.
1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
2. a state having such a form of government: The United States and Canada are democracies."

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