Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Israel: Silicon Valley in South Central LA?

David Seaton's News Links
I'm not a fan of Thomas Friedman, but he was a correspondent in Israel for many years and knows that country intimately. His column in today's NYT is much more like the kind of thing you can read in the Israeli press. This type of frankness about Israel and its society is almost never seen in America.

In the column he gives what I feel are the keys to the dead end situation Israel finds itself in today.

The Oslo "peace process" coincided with birth of the "new economy" (globalization + high tech) and Israel has become one of the leaders in the high technology sector and in the process has become a wealthy country. The idea was that having gotten a peace deal with the Palestinians, Israel would become a combination of Club Med and Silicon Valley, also enjoying a cozy relationship with the Russian Oligarchs and their "creative" financing. Now? Try to imagine Monaco somewhere on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan and you'll get the idea of far the dream has gone adrift.

Although they are both in California, Silicon Valley cannot be established in South Central Los Angeles. As I have been pointing out the last few weeks, all Israel's newfound wealth is produced by very few people and most of the work they do could be moved out of the country, to another set of computers, in a weekend, without skipping a beat... and if the situation continues to deteriorate, that is exactly what could happen. That would be the end. That explains a lot of things that are happening in the Middle East... and in Washington. DS

Thomas Friedman: Outsource the Cabinet? - New York Times
Abstract: Israel’s police commissioner just resigned after an investigative committee criticized his actions in a 1999 case involving an Israeli crime family. His resignation came in the wake of a rape allegation against Israel’s president, Moshe Katsav, as well accusations of corruption against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the suspension of his office director, whose house arrest is part of a widening investigation into the Tax Authority — whose chief also just resigned under a cloud. The finance minister is being questioned about embezzlement at a nonprofit, and the former justice minister has been convicted of indecent behavior for kissing a female soldier against her will. There’s more, but I don’t have space. Here is the really bizarre thing: Israel’s economy — particularly its high-tech sector — has never been better. “The economy is blooming, growing in the last quarter of 2006 by almost 8%,” said Sever Plocker of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, who is one of Israel’s top economics writers. “Foreign direct investment is flowing in at unprecedented rate — $13.4 billion in 2006. The high-tech sector exports are approaching $18 billion, and the stock exchange is at an all-time high. The shekel is stronger than ever, the inflation nonexistent. Interest rates are lower than in U.S. or Britain, the budget deficit less than 1% of G.D.P., and the balance of payments is positive, which means Israel achieved its economic independence and is actually a net creditor to the rest of the world. “In short, we never had it so good in the economy.” Yossi Vardi, one of the founding fathers of Israel’s high-tech industry, told me that in the last month alone, four start-ups that he was an investor in were sold: one to Cisco, one Microsoft, and two to Israeli companies. “In the last nine months I’ve probably invested in at least nine new companies,” added Mr. Vardi, all started by “kids 25 to 35 years old.” So maybe Israel doesn’t need any cabinet ministers? It’s not so simple. When the cabinet is so weak, no peace deal is likely with the Palestinians because no leader has the strength to push it through — and that is a ticking time bomb. Moreover, high-tech doesn’t employ a lot of people, and if the cabinet that should be looking out for the rest of Israel is hobbled — another bomb is ticking. “Almost half of the population does not enjoy the boom,” Mr. Plocker said, noting these statistics: The unemployment rate is 8.3 percent. Israel’s poverty rate is still the highest in the West, by far: 24.4 percent of the entire population and 35.2 percent of all children are described as poor, living under the official “poverty line.” In the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sectors, child poverty is especially high: more than 50 percent. The real income of the poorest quarter of Israelis is lower than six years ago. READ IT ALL(bootleg)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


David Seaton's News Links
Is this the great moment all of us gloomsters and doomsters have been waiting for... or is it just another "adjustment"? Tomorrow by this time we'll have a much clearer idea, that's for sure. If you are already poor you may soon be in very distinguished company DS

Shares plummet on fears of global slowdown - Financial Times
Abstract: Global stocks slumped on Tuesday, with US and European markets driven sharply lower after Chinese equities plunged from record levels on fears of overvaluation, slowing growth and tensions over Iran. Wall Street suffered sharp losses, hampered also by signs of slowing growth in economic activity as durable goods orders fell 7.8 per cent in January. By mid-afternoon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 500 points, or 4 per cent at 12,124.27, the S&P 500 shed 4 per cent to 1,391.40 and the Nasdaq Composite slid 3.99 per cent to 2,404.66. European indices endured their biggest single-session declines since last May, when high valuations and fears that inflation growth would spark rapid interest rate increases drove the markets into a two-month period of volatile trading conditions.(...) Meanwhile, concerns about possible action on Iran, Opec’s number-two oil producer, intensified as a UN conference began in London to discuss possible sanctions. Adding to the downbeat sentiment, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on Monday that it was “possible” the US economy may fall into recession later this year. Eurozone bond futures hit a seven-week high, echoing gains for US Treasuries overnight as the gloom in the equity market and increased geopolitical risk drove investors towards safety. READ IT ALL

From those wonderful folks who brought you Iraq

"In most professions, a record of failure counts against you. Architects whose buildings fall down and doctors who maim their patients tend to suffer some sort of consequence. The same rules should apply to people who advocate disastrous wars."
Gideon Rachman
David Seaton's News Links
Gideon Rachman has produced a rather perfect column attacking the neocon push for a war with Iran. Here follows a short abstract and the link. Don't miss it! DS

Gideon Rachman: From the guys who gave you the Iraq war, another fine idea - Financial Times
Abstract: The country is developing weapons of mass destruction; its leader is a new Hitler; he has connections with terrorists; time is running out; containment has failed; we must strike before it is too late. If you think you have heard it all before, you have. The arguments for an attack on Iran are almost exactly the same as the arguments that were made for an attack on Iraq. The people making the case have not changed either.It might be possible to make a convincing case for an air strike on Iran if you could somehow erase the memory of the disaster of Iraq. But such amnesia is neither possible nor desirable. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from Iraq. “Intelligence” is often highly unreliable. Talking about a “new Hitler” is a shopworn rhetorical trick that should be banned. Military actions that look straightforward when they are launched have a nasty habit of developing in unexpected ways. (The very fact that American and allied troops are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan increases the possibility of unpredictable escalation.) And America and its allies pay a huge price in political capital around the world every time they resort to force – particularly if the use of military power is “pre-emptive”. The fact that the neo-conservatives and their allies are unabashed by their failure in Iraq does not mean that the rest of the world should be so forgiving. After all, these people positively begged to be judged by the results of the Iraq war. In a notably smug editorial written on the eve of the war with Iraq, the editors of The Weekly Standard wrote: “The war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction.” Well, indeed. And they ended with a flourish: “History and reality are about to weigh in and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.” Well, the verdict’s coming in, chaps – and it is not looking good. In most professions, a record of failure counts against you. Architects whose buildings fall down and doctors who maim their patients tend to suffer some sort of consequence. The same rules should apply to people who advocate disastrous wars. Take a look at the people who are arguing for an attack on Iran, consider their records – and run a mile in the opposite direction. READ IT ALL

Mullah Omar needs you - Steve Bell - Guardian

Al Gore, rolling thunder

David Seaton's News Links
Al Gore is hot, hot, hot. All he has to do is keep playing it cool and the country will literally beg him to be President... The begging has already started.

I can't think of a better farewell, "get stuffed", message for George W. Bush than a landslide victory for Al Gore as his successor. Imagine Bush's face at Gore's inauguration, imagine Bush's face as he listens to Gore's inaugural address... to the ovations... No greater repudiation possible, nothing could more bitter for Bush than that. Go for it! DS

Richard Cohen: An Oscar For His Second Act - Washington Post

Abstract: Now, somebody ought to make a movie about Al Gore. I would call it "An Uncomplaining Life." The movie would be about a man who did not quit, who came off the canvas after a painfully close election -- he won the popular vote, after all -- who accepted defeat graciously and tried to unite the nation, who returned to the consuming passion of his earlier days, the environment, and spoke endlessly on the topic, almost always for free, who starred in a documentary based on his speech and who Sunday night, before a billion or so people, won an Academy Award for his effort. This may or may not be a stepping stone to the presidency, but Gore gives us all a lesson on how to live one's life.(...) Gore would not have taken the United States to war in Iraq. He would have finished the job in Afghanistan -- it was al-Qaeda and its Taliban enablers who were responsible for the attacks on us on Sept. 11, 2001, not Saddam Hussein, no matter how vile he might have been. Gore would not have dealt with the Iranians and the North Koreans in such a juvenile fashion -- axis of evil, after all -- and all over the world, wherever you and I went, we would not detect such anger toward America. The last time I saw Gore was at a screening of his now-acclaimed movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." I wrote at the time that, on paper at least, he was the near-perfect Democratic presidential candidate -- right on the war, above all. This observation, hardly original with me, is being echoed elsewhere, and it would be impossible for Gore to ignore it. Jimmy Carter said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that he thought Gore ought to run and had told Gore so insistently. "He almost told me the last time I called, 'Don't call me anymore,' " Carter said. What Gore told me was something similar: "I think there are other ways to serve." We'll see. After all, Gore -- the son of a senator himself -- was raised for the presidency. But for the moment at least, he is showing all the irritating signs of a man at peace with himself. He abandoned Washington for Nashville. He has made a bundle in his investments, and he has set out to show that there is life after a failed candidacy, a purposeful life in which a man can do some good. His movie and his speeches are -- to paraphrase what Clausewitz said about war -- a continuation of politics by other means. He cannot make war but he can still make a difference. READ IT ALL

Strolling down memory lane with Dr George Friedman

David Seaton's News Links
While doing some research on the origins of the war in Iraq for a column I'm hacking away at, I stumbled on this treasure in my files. It is the summary of a conference call that Dr. George Frieman of Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) made with Schroder Salomon. Smith Barney, shortly before the war. The summary below gives a perfect Polaroid of the neocon mentality and the garbage they used to take America to war.
Part of the enjoyment of reading the transcript and its amazing analysis, is the humid-handed prose of Dr. Friedman. They say that the true sexual organ of our species is the mind. That being true, my late grandmother would have hastened to warn Dr. Friedman that if he continued to analyze is this fashion he would be bound to go blind. DS

Iraq, The War, and the next 5 years - Strafor

An Analysis

This is a summary of a SSSB-organised Conference Call with Dr George Friedman, Chief Intelligence Office of a Geo-Milito-Political Consultancy firm in the US, called Stratfor. The call is from earlier this week. The following analysis should not be taken to be the opinion of the summariser, nor the view of SSSB.

Executive Summary
  • This is a war which is definitively going to happen
  • It will most likely commence between 27th February and March 2nd
  • It will be over by mid-April
  • Regime change is the objective
  • The US is committed to a major military presence in the area for the foreseeable future
  • The purpose of the war is to position the US in the heart of the region, so as to be able to bring to bear overwhelming pressure on surrounding States, so that they ruthlessly ‘deal with’ the Al Quaeda network in their countries … or else face the US
  • Ultimately, Pakistan is on the US agenda
  • India, as a consequence, is going to become a major US ally
  • China will acquiesce, as will Russia, in return for US recognition of their respective rights to ‘deal with’ ‘insurgency’ as they see fit
  • Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia are the biggest losers …. and Iraq
  • The current international landscape is about to fundamentally change … war will become a permanent feature of the next 5-10 years

Prospects for war: Converging with the 20 century mean

The backdrop of Stratfor’s analysis:

1. We are re-entering ‘normality’, and that the 1990s were a period of abnormality
2. That stock markets have gone up and down during conflicts [Korea, Vietnam] and that war is neither extraordinary in terms of the 20 th century, nor is it inherently bad for market.
3. The Iraqi invasion itself is not about Al Quaeda being in Iraq

4. Nor is it about oil
5. The US is committed to a long-term presence in the region
  • It is about Iraq being the single-most strategically placed country in the Middle-East … having at its borders Syria, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Kuwait.
The US rationale

To date, the US has always been an outsider when it has come to dealing with issues in the Middle East, and as direct consequence it has always needed alliances ….. this will change, definitively, when it becomes the dominant and overwhelming military power in the region. The whole dynamic of the Middle East will shift as a consequence.

What is the purpose of the war?
  • The purpose is to redefine the geopolitics of the region, in order to be able to bring direct and unavoidable pressure upon countries who are intentionally, or by default, are allowing Al Quaeda to operate
  • The driving logic is to create a new reality: that it is far worse not to co-operate with the US than it is to ignore Al Quaeda within their own countries, for fear of internal problems.

Nevertheless it is a scenario which these countries have recognised is increasingly likely to come to take place.

The opposition from Iran and Saudi Arabia has little to with Iraq, and everything to do with the wider implications of a long-term US presence in the Middle East.

Is it likely to take place?

War is a certainty [according to Stratfor]

  • The US administration is absolutely committed to going to war.
  • It does not want a UN ‘government’ in place
The immediate upshot of war:

  • Syria will be surrounded by hostile countries [Turkey, US/Iraq, Israel]
  • US naval dominance will provide overwhelming reach
  • Saudi Arabia will be surrounded by Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, US/Iraq, Qatar
  • Iran will be flanked by US-supporting Afghanistan on its East, and in the West by the US/Iraq, Kuwait
Fighting the war:

There are currently two opposing perceptions of the forthcoming war:

1. The US perception/assumption: The Iraqi army is incapable of fighting. As the US command views the situation, the predominant supposition is that the regular Iraqi army collapsed when the US took it on in Kuwait. The assumption in 1991 was that US casualties would be high: the US establishment feels that they over-estimated the Iraqi army. As a result, the theme now is that the Iraqi regular army cannot fight. Stratfor states that this shows a strange schizophrenia , in that the public are encouraged to believe that great sophistication is being shown by the Iraqi subterfuge and deceptions regarding the mobile chemical bio-chemical weapons which are being moved about the country at the moment, whilst little competence is accorded/transferred to the army.

2. The Iraqi perception/assumption: Saddam Hussein believes that he will win. This is based on the premise that the US does not want to suffer high casualties, as evidenced in the 1990s by Somalia, Beirut, and the1991 war. Far from being a massive defeat for Iraq, Hussein/Iraq views the Gulf War as, at best, a draw, and at worst as being defeat for the US. Why? Because the perception is that, beside being ejected form Kuwait, when the US met the Iraqi Republican Guard, the US gave up and gave in. Thus, now Iraq believes that just so long as they can inflict high casualties upon the US early on, and then have an urban battle in Baghdad, that the US will revert to type, and that a UN-based ceasefire will come into acceptance…..and that Saddam Hussein and his regime will continue to survive
So, we have two very different perceptions of the past, upon which the present is now predicated
When will War begin?
  • Between February 27th and March 2nd
Why then?
  • Because that, for the US, is the optimal period of the phases of the moon
  • The US wishes to commence the attack in darkness. Night darkness favours the US, because Stealth bombers can only be picked up opticially, and not by radar. Also, darkness will aid special forces going in under cover.
By when will it end?
  • The most likely deadline for the resolution of the war, from the perspective of the US, is mid-April. This is because should Iraq decide to use Chemical weapons against the US, the above-85 degree temperature will render the anti-chemical suits virtually inoperable, with US fighting basically ineffective.
  • It cannot wait until mid-autumn because the US currently has six army divisions around Iraq ….the ‘family jewels’ have now been committed. A force with overwhelming battle-strike potential is now in place. There is no way it will be held there indefinitely. This war will, and has to be, fought to conclusion.
Is there a possible earlier start date?
  • Yes: If Iraqi troops in the North and South, near the oilfields, and around Baghdad, were suddenly to be moved, then it is very possible that bombardment would begin
How will it be fought?
  • First: Complete surpression of Iraqi air-defences, using cruise missiles, Stealth bombers, and heavy strikes against all Iraqi command centres
  • Simultaneously, ground operations would begin early on
  • From the South the US would advance into the oilfields rapidly, in order to prevent their destruction. The purpose of this is two-fold: to secure the oilfields, for future usage; and to secure the road infrastructure leading up to the region, which will be critical for the successful follow-up of troops and armour.
  • Also of paramount importance: of the six bridges which cross the Euphrates river, three must be taken intact by the US, or else critical time will be lost in rebridgin
The First Military Objective:
  • The primary initial objective of the US forces is to seize the afore-mentioned bridges. Special forces will enter first, followed up by heavy armour.
  • Stratfor states that at this success is expected, due to the absolute excellence the US has at this sort of operation.
The Ultimate Military Objective:
  • To take Baghdad and effect ‘regime change’
  • Easier said than done…
  • Taking a major capital is a scale of task hitherto unattempted in US military history, and indeed only attempted successfully on a few occasions worldwide [Berlin by the Soviet Union was successful, but Stalingrad and Leningrad both were too much for Germany].
If Iraq can fight effectively from the outset [contrary to the US assumption, in Stratfor’s view] then there is a serious problem.

This will be a key point in the success of the overall campaign.

There are currently four brigades of the Republican Guard in Baghdad. The US has never yet encountered them in battle.
  • The key question is: Will the Replublican Guard fight?
  • The importance of morale on this point, within Iraq, is crucial.
  • If the Republican Guard can fight the US to a standstill/standoff, then it will have achieved its aim.
  • The reality here is that no-one, not the US, and not even Saddam Hussein, knows the answer to this question for sure.
In purely military terms, there is no question that the US can take Baghdad: the question is, however, at what price?

The US cannot afford to be seen to be targeting civilians – something which was not an issue in either Berlin or Stalingrad in WW2.

Thus the US hope that there may be one of three outcomes in Baghdad:

1. That the Special Republican Guard decides not to fight
2. That there is a coup within the Iraqi military high command and immediate surrender to the US. This is not something which should be dismissed as a possibility – certainly their loyalty has in the past by no means been assured: viz. the periodic purges of the military elite during the 1990s.
3. The US manages to win the city without excessive civilian casualties

What does this a successful US outcome do for geopolitical alliances in Europe?
  • That both Germany and France have made a major miscalculation.
  • The assumption that a united European response was not the natural corollary to the US position was wrong.
  • Too many European countries do not want a dominant Paris-Berlin coalition, according to Stratfor, for fear of ‘generational domination’. Hence the support of the Iberian Peninsula, most of Eastern Europe, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Of greater consequence is: What will happen to other states?
  • Saudia Arabia will be in difficulties
  • Syria will be under immense pressure in the future
  • Iran will be faced with a far more immediate challenge to its internal structure
  • India will benefit considerably both in terms of business and political relationships.
  • Why? Because, ultimately, after Iraq, dealing with Pakistan will the next overriding objective for the US.
The Oil Effect?
  • Stratfor assert that this is not about oil…
  • There will be a minimal effect on oil prices from the war
  • The Venezuelan effect will have had a bigger impact
  • There are already US contingency plans in play. The worst case situation is already in the price.
  • At worst, 1.5mm bbpd will be off the market, but not permanently.
Wider implications of the Iraqi war

  • War is going to be a permanent backdrop for the next 5-10 years
  • There will be a de facto ‘extension of an informal US empire’
  • Markets, will have to learn to live it, and they will do so
  • The Structural impact on the US economy will range between neutral to positive
  • There will be ‘considerably more friction between the US and other countries
Q & A Session in Conference Call

In 2003/4, post-Iraq, what priorities does the Bush administration have vis-à-vis the wider region?

  • The US view is that it cannot do anything about anti-Americanism.
  • It will not attempt to win the hearts and minds of people locally
  • It will attempt to ‘create a sense of fear and impotence’ within the region.
  • It will ensure that nation states are more afraid of not cooperating with the US than simply ignoring terrorism within their own countries.
  • This is where the Al Quaeda aspect will enter: the US will exert extremely heavy pressure on suspected countries, forcing them to deal with Al Quaeda effectively
  • … should cooperation be found wanting, the US will not baulk at launching covert operations and extreme pressure onto non-cooperating countries.
Why take this strategy?
  • Because the thinking is that Al Quaeda cannot afford to become a larger organisation, because - the theory asserts - the larger it becomes, the less secure it becomes.
  • Structurally highly-secure growth of Al Quaeda is of greater concern to the US
Impact/Implications for other countries

North Korea
  • North Korea, according to Stratfor, is little more than a side issue. It is merely playing the latest round in a decade-long game where it seeks to gain economic concessions from the US/Japan/South Korea in return for ratcheting down military rhetoric.
  • There is a ‘qualitative difference’ to the Korean threat; it is not likely that the US will get involved.

  • There have already been quiet talks between Washington and Moscow over Chechnya. There will be a change in US policy towards Chechnya, which will be the price of Russian co-operation.
  • The Russian administration will be ‘very happy’ with the new paradigm
  • They do not care excessively about Iraq: they will settle for an increased market share in Oil.

  • Iran will choose to close down internal debate as it steps up its security levels
  • Long-term, it knows it is in danger: the US-Iran issue will be a serious issue for the future.
  • There may well be considerable internal change further down the line.

  • France is not posturing for commercial reason, as some commentators are suggesting.
  • On the contrary, they have made a serious strategic miscalculation, and are now staring at an‘abyss’ in which they have alienated the US, and have caused considerable resentment within Europe for their current stance.
  • The German-French response to the US has as its overall purpose the creation of a European counterweight to US power.

  • The US, whilst ‘absolutely committed to the survival of Israel’, does not want to involved itself in the resolution of what it regards as an essentially, if not exclusively, internal issue.
  • The US would prefer to see a timely and equitable resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict; but the pressure it is likely to exert upon the Israeli administration will more probably focus on encouraging the Israeli administration to coming to an ‘accommodation’ with Hamas, with Arafat side-lined.

  • China is ‘delighted’ with the new situation. Why?
  • Pre-9/11 the focus of US strategy had decisively shifted towards worsening US-china relations. Now, the entire focus has shifted away from Asia.
  • US needs china diplomatically
  • … but China is also worried by improved and strengthened [in the medium-term] US-India relations
  • China also has its own internal issues – the price of cooperation with the US will be that the US does not interfere with its internal ‘security issues’
  • With poor US-China relations out of the way, there will be a new ‘lease of life’ towards improved commercial and political relations with the US.

  • India is going to be one of the main longer term beneficiaries of the new situation
  • Why? Because the US has decided that it has to deal with Pakistan’s linkages to Al Quaeda, and its non-cooperation, hitherto, in dealing with terror cells which the US allege are being given the official ‘blind eye’
  • The US will be keen to develop commercial links to solidify this relationship
Will Nato survive?
  • Difficult to say: whilst it is not the remit of this discussion …
  • Nato no longer has its raison d’etre [the Soviet Union]
  • The US does not want to involve itself with such a consensus-oriented institution
  • Where consensus is so evidently lacking, the US does not want to reveal military plans and secrets to an essentially un-trusted organisation
So what will emerge?
  • Whilst Nato may continue to exist in name, in effect a series of informal and formal alliances will [and indeed have] emerge in its place
  • For example: at the moment the Netherlands is supplying Kuwait with Patriot Missiles. Germany is supplying the Netherlands with these. This sort of accommodation will become the norm, as will a lack of formalisation of such alliances.
What are the key initial lead indicators of the possibility of military success 7-10 days in?
  • Are the six bridges over the Euphrates blown effectively by the Iraqi army?
  • If they are intact, then it will be assumed that the regular Iraqi army are ineffective.
  • Chemical weapons are most likely to be used in this area of the conflict.
  • Within the 1st 96 hrs as there should be a good picture emerging of Iraqi morale.
What does Iraq/Hussein want? Simply to survive through to mid-April?
  • Yes: Iraq wants to reach mid-April having inflicted thousands of casualties on the US, in the hope that this will erode US public opinion, forcing Bush to seek a UN ceasefire.
  • Iraq wants to make a big impact on the periphery of its borders early on, in order to shore up morale and support in the centre if Iraq, ie in Baghdad.

Is there going to be a major terrorist attack in the US during the next 6 weeks?
  • There will ‘certainly be attempts’.
  • But … Al Qaeda attacks when least expected: we know too little of their overall reach and capabilities to say anything else definitively.
What about the dangers posed by chemical weapons?
  • This is a key issue: one of the main reasons that the public is not being told of the whereabouts of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons is because what the US fears most is that Iraq learns how much is known about them, and that as a consequence they move and hide the weapons before the US can react.
  • The US will already have covert troops targeting the sites they know of, and will hope to take them out early on
  • It is possible they might be used against Kuwait – it is likely against Turkey, and it is possible against Israel.
The Bigger Picture post-Iraq
  • Stratfor assert that the current Iraqi situation should be seen as a ‘campaign as part of a protracted wider war’ which will last for 5-10 years, and which will, by default, overwhelmingly dominate the international scene
Who will gain most?

  • The high-tech sectors
  • China
  • Russia
  • India

Monday, February 26, 2007

Picking through Hersh

It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”
David Seaton's News Links
I'm sure you've already read Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker piece about the lead up to war with Iran, so I'll just point up a fragment that especially grabbed my attention. John Negroponte of Central American, death squad fame, lately US ambassador (viceroy) to Iraq and intelligence czar, someone you wouldn't take for having exactly a delicate stomach, is putting all the distance he can between himself and what a former National Security Council aide described to Hersh as "amateur hour".

I find this similar to Tony Blair's draw down of British troops in Iraq. Neither Blair or Negroponte could be described as being over weighed down with scruples, but they know what's coming and they don't want their fingerprints on what may be a major disaster that will break many careers and maybe even land some VIPs in jail before it has run its course. DS

Abstract: Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said. I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.) The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.” The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.” The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general. “This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.” READ IT ALL

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Murdoch appears to pull up his poodle(s) short

David Seaton's News Links
This is a very special and dangerous moment. Many very powerful people are afraid that Bush is about to execute what Professor Immanuel Wallerstein calls a "fuite en avant", in Iran, which could be translated as a desperate action, a mixture of a "hail Mary pass" and Samson in the temple. A disastrous attack that could set off a chain of unforeseeable consequences comparable to Gavrilo Pricip's fine adventure on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo. The article I'm including from The Times of London, illustrates this consensus.

The Times, where the article quoted below appears, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, of whom Tony Blair is said to be in awe. I don't think Tony Blair would have dared to draw down British troops from Iraq without running it in front of Murdoch first. BTW, Murdoch also owns the neocon bible, "The Weekly Standard". Some observers have been wondering why the neocon commentators who led the charge into Iraq are so quiet about Iran at this very moment. Murdoch also owns Fox, which I don't receive over here (¡gracias a Díos!) so I would be grateful if my American readers would compare the tone of Fox with the Standard and The Times. Nobody I've read yet seems to draw any connection between the silence of the Standard and the criticism of the Times. But it appears that Murdoch is not really "on board" for "The End of Days". However, as the mentor of my youth, Neddy Seagoon used to say, "if only I knew how little I know, I'd know a little." DS

Fears grow over Iran - The Times

Abstract: Tony Blair has declared himself at odds with hawks in the US Administration by saying publicly for the first time that it would be wrong to take military action against Iran. The Prime Minister’s comments came hours before the UN’s nuclear watchdog raised the stakes in the West’s showdown with Tehran.(...) Senior British government sources have told The Times that they fear President Bush will seek to “settle the Iranian question through military means” next year, before the end of his second term if he concludes that diplomacy has failed. “He will not want to leave it unresolved for his successor,” said one. But there are deep fissures within the US Administration. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, who has previously called for direct talks with Tehran, is said to be totally opposed to military action.(...) One senior adviser to Mr Gates has even stated privately that military action could lead to Congress impeaching Mr Bush.(...) Mr Blair, in a BBC interview yesterday, said: “I can’t think that it would be right to take military action against Iran"(...) It was notable that Mr Blair’s remarks yesterday closely resembled those of Jack Straw last year, who said that an attack on Iran was “inconceivable”, angering Washington and perhaps contributing to his removal as Foreign Secretary. The Prime Minister’s comments reflect what British officials have been saying privately for some time, but also show a growing streak of independence from Mr Bush. The White House was unhappy with the timing of Mr Blair’s announcement this week on withdrawing 1,600 British troops, concerned that it undercut Mr Bush’s efforts to shore up support for his troop surge on Capitol Hill while sending out “mixed messages” to the Iranians. READ IT ALL

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jimmy Carter: they still make heroes

David Seaton's News Links
Former President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jimmy Carter, is a very quiet, polite, gentleman of the old south. His own personal journey has been one of rigorous self-examination and self-criticism. He has transcended the racism that surrounded him in the rural Georgia where he grew up, as few men or women of his generation ever have.

Certainly if anyone has made a exemplary effort to live in harmony with, and according to, his deepest beliefs and system of values, it is Jimmy Carter.

In the context of America's contemporary power structure, former president Carter's denouncing the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories as apartheid is nothing short of heroic. At 82 years old, after a lifetime of outstanding achievement, this brave old man has chosen of his own free will to be insulted and smeared and to risk who knows what possibilities of physical violence. Heroic. DS

Carter Says Book's Critics Should See Territories - Associated Press

Abstract: Carter, 82, spoke at Emory University, where he is a professor. More than 600 Emory students and staff members attended his lecture on the book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid." The book has been attacked as biased against Israel. He said he realized that the book's title, alluding to South Africa's former system of racial division, would cause criticism. He said that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, icons of the freedom struggle in South Africa, have seen the conditions of the occupied land and have "used the same language" to describe the situation as he did in the book. "The title makes it clear the book is about conditions and events in the Palestinian territories and not in Israel and the text makes it clear the forced segregation and domination of Arabs by Israelis is not based on race," Carter said. Instead, he said the conditions stem from the desire of some Israelis to acquire choice land -- hilltop properties, farmland and sites controlling water access -- in the occupied territories. He invited his audience, some of whom protested against his book this week, to visit the occupied areas to see for themselves. READ IT ALL

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A couple of articles from the Jerusalem Post

"Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group - Jews - over another racial group - Palestinians - and systematically oppress them?"
From an independent report commissioned by the United Nations

David Seaton's News Links
Seeing Israel walking like a duck and talking like a duck, vile antisemites naturally claim to have seen a duck. DS

S. African Jewish minister sends support to 'Israeli Apartheid Week' organizers - Jerusalem Post

A Jewish member of South Africa's cabinet has sent a message of support to the organizers of last week's "Israeli Apartheid Week" at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Ronnie Kasrils, South Africa's minister for intelligence, sent the letter to the Palestinian Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies. In the the message, Kasrils said he was writing "in his personal capacity," the Palestinian Society said.

Nevertheless, it cited his position and was titled a "message of support from South Africa."

"Please convey to all involved my wholehearted support for your week of solidarity with the Palestinian people in your appropriately entitled 'Israeli Apartheid Week,' he wrote.

"This year sees the 60th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan that set in motion the monstrous Zionist plot to violently dispossess the Palestinian people of their land and rights, and their dispersal through serial ethnic cleansing that has continued in one form or another to this day.

"To any fair minded person, this process of colonial-style dispossession is the fundamental cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is certainly akin to the racist-style humiliation and brutality of the notorious apartheid system under which South Africa's landless and dispossessed people suffered," he continued.

Lorna Daniels, a spokeswoman for Kasrils, told The Jerusalem Post: "It is quite clear that it was administered in Ronnie Kasril's private capacity. It was not done on official paper and was clearly signed and delivered in his private capacity."

Kasrils has been minister for intelligence services since 2004. He has been a member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress since 1987 and a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party since 1986.

'Israel resembles an apartheid state' - Jerusalem Post

An independent report commissioned by the United Nations compares Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza to apartheid South Africa - charges that drew angry rebukes from Israel and were sure to revive charges that the UN Human Rights Council is biased against the Jewish state.

The report by John Dugard, independent investigator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the council, is to be presented next month, but it has been posted on the body's Web site. In it, Dugard, a South African lawyer who campaigned against apartheid in the 1980s, says "Israel's laws and practices in the (Palestinian territories) certainly resemble aspects of apartheid."

The 24-page report catalogues a number of accusations against the Jewish state ranging from restrictions on Palestinian movement, house demolitions and preferential treatment given to Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

"Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group - Jews - over another racial group - Palestinians - and systematically oppress them?" he asks.

Israel says it aims mainly to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed more than 1,000 Israelis in the past six years, and officials note that violence broke out in 2000 after Israel's proposal to pull out of the vast majority of the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for peace was rejected.

Its ambassador in Geneva criticized Dugard for directing attacks only at the Jewish state. "Any conclusions he may draw are therefore fundamentally flawed and purposely biased," said Yitzhak Levanon.

The report will be presented next month at the 47-nation rights council's first session of the year. The new body has been widely criticized - even by its founder, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan - for only censuring one government in the world, Israel's, over alleged abuses.

Dugard's report accuses Israel of "terror" by F16 fighter jets setting off sonic booms above residential areas. In the West Bank "residents live in fear of settler terror."

He says it is "grossly inaccurate" to say Israel's 2005 removal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza constituted an end to its occupation of that territory, captured from Egypt in the 1967 war. "Israel retained control of Gaza's air space, sea space and external borders, and the border crossings," he writes. "Gaza became a sealed off, imprisoned and occupied territory."

War crimes have been committed by both sides, he says: "This applies to Palestinians who fire Kassam rockets into Israel; and more so to members of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) who have committed such crimes on a much greater scale."

Dugard was appointed in 2001 as an unpaid expert by the now-defunct UN Human Rights Commission to investigate only violations by the Israeli side, prompting Israel and the United States to dismiss his reports as one-sided. Israel refused to allow him to conduct a fact-finding mission on its Gaza offensive last summer.

So long sucker... the poodle at your throat

David Seaton's News Links
If you were looking for a clear sign of how close we are to war with Iran, Tony Blair's move is it. The British are saying, "this is where we get off". If we weren't just a hair's breadth away, Blair would never have taken this step at precisely the moment that Bush is "surging".

The move is both subtle and brutal, timed perfectly to do the maximum amount of political damage to Bush's position at a critical moment. It shows graphically, but with indirection, that there is no international support (outside of Israel) for an attack on Iran.

Perfidious Albion strikes again. The master touch. It reminds me of the recipe for Oxford University's fantastic lawns given by their head gardener. "Plant the finest seed, then water it and dung it... for six hundred years." They get it in their mother's milk, you can't learn this stuff in any school.

It will be interesting to read Charles Krauthammer's opinion on Blair's move. Will the neocon Rottweiler go for Blair's cartoid? How will Rudolf Murdoch play it? What will the Weekly Standard, the Kagans and the Krystols have to say? DS
Ally's Timing Is Awkward for Bush - Washington Post
Abstract: No matter the military merits, the British move, followed by a similar announcement by Denmark, roiled the political debate in Washington at perhaps the worst moment for the White House. Democrats seized on the news as evidence that Bush's international coalition is collapsing and that the United States is increasingly alone in a losing cause. Even some Republicans, and, in private, White House aides, agreed that the announcement sent an ill-timed message to the American public. "What I'm worried about is that the American public will be quite perplexed by the president adding forces while our principal ally is subtracting forces," said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a longtime war supporter who opposes Bush's troop increase. "That is the burden we are being left with here." The notion that the British pullback actually signals success sounds like bad spin, added Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). "I think it's Alice in Wonderland looking through the looking glass," he said. White House officials said they had known for a while that the British were moving in this direction and that Prime Minister Tony Blair informed Bush of his decision during a secure videoconference Tuesday. But the rest of Washington was taken by surprise, and Republicans were put back on their heels, just as they were beginning to feel more confident that the fight over war strategy was shifting their way.(...) The news of Britain's partial withdrawal, though, swamped the funding debate for at least a day. "The timing of the British announcement is very unfortunate," said Nile Gardiner, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The British decision is going to be used as a political football by opponents of the president's Iraq plan." READ IT ALL

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Manchurian candidate and the silicon dis-aliyah

David Seaton's News Links
It is very tempting to think that there is ideology or some doctrine involved in Bush's approach to Iran... Or even insanity.

H.D.S. Greenway in the article below thinks Bush has "renounced reality". I only agree partially. I think Bush long ago renounced a lot of people's versions of reality, but has never renounced for a minute his own.

Here is an idea that fits what facts we know and also fulfills the conditions of Ockham's Razor, (basically, keep it simple). What if the Israeli right wing though their legendary intelligence resources simply "had the goods" on Bush? I don't mean drunken driving or sniffing coke, I mean something that would affect the family's business interests or land some of them (Poppy?) in jail... some real skeleton in the closet. Something a lot worse than having a lot of absurd poor people think you were a lousy president.

As I pointed out in a previous post, the Israeli high tech economy depends on people who could get a job anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. Even if Iran had only one or two atomic bombs to Israel's one or two hundred it might make a third of Israel's scientists and engineers nervous enough to leave for San Francisco in the event of a rise in tensions in the Middle East. If Saudi Arabia and Egypt decide they need the bomb too, there could be a rush for the door... a silicon dis-aliyah and economic collapse.

In this scenario, Bush would have as little choice in the matter as Laurence Harvey did in "The Manchurian Candidate": they pull his string and watch him do his thing.

If he does trash Iran he will have guaranteed the undying support of the neocons and their publicists for all time. He lost the rest of us, irretrievably, long ago. This way he will keep his "legacy" safe and his linen won't get washed. An easy decision.

I have no idea at all if this is really the case, but following Ockham I find it easier to believe this little theory of mine than thinking that Bush is getting messages from God or of imagining him actually having any belief system at all, outside of selfishness. DS

H.D.S. Greenway: Renunciation of reality - Boston Globe

Abstract: With carrier battle groups crowding the Persian Gulf, and with the Bush administration beating the battle drum to a degree not heard since the buildup to the Iraq war, one can only conclude that either this is a demonstration of coercive diplomacy par excellence, or that the United States is going to attack Iran.(...) Optimists argue that Bush will not bomb Iran's nuclear facilities because they are so spread out that an air strike would only temporarily delay an Iranian bomb, and that we do not have the troops to contemplate a ground invasion. Still others point out that although Iran's theocracy is becoming increasingly unpopular -- especially among the young -- military strike would instantly harden public opinion against the United States and delay the day when mullah influence begins to dissipate. Realists who know the Middle East argue that an attack on Iran would have untold consequences that would damage the United States even more than the occupation of Iraq has done. I heard one of America's foremost experts on Iran, Columbia's Gary Sick, say on National Public Radio that he didn't think war was on the way because he didn't believe that the White House had completely "renounced reality." And there you have the nub of the question. Pessimists argue that the hallmark of the Bush presidency is the renunciation of reality.(...) Pessimists will also remember that when the Iranians offered the administration an olive branch, saying they would curtail their activities with Hezbollah and Hamas and cooperate in Iraq, the White House was unprepared even to discuss it. Colin Powell told Newsweek that he favored restarting talks with Iran, which had been very helpful to the US in Afghanistan, but that "there was reluctance on the part of the president to do that." Powell thought Bush wasn't prepared to talk to a regime he didn't think should be in power. The administration's position has been: We don't talk to evil, and to do so would be a betrayal of the Iran's huddled masses longing to be free. Perhaps the Bush administration still thinks regime change is the answer, that a military strike would topple the rotten Tehran regime like the proverbial house of cards. Pessimists can just hear Cheney arguing that he and Bush have only two years left to do the Lord's work before they are followed by weaklings and cowards, whether they be Republican or Democrat. READ IT ALL

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Our friend Pervez Musharraf

General Pervez Musharraf

David Seaton's News Links

The article by Arnaud de Borchgrave, which I have "abstracted" with a heavy hand, should be read in its entirety.

Nobody has had to walk the razor's edge after 9-11 more than Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf. He has had precious little room to maneuver between the feelings of his people (and his intelligence service) and Bush's brutal "for us or against us". As the Spanish say, he has managed "to swim and to keep his clothes dry at the same time." By doing so he has probably saved his country a world of grief.

As America fails in Iraq, Musharraf is a reliable weather vane as to how leaders all over the world will have to "make other arrangements". DS

De Borchgrave: How much longer in Afghanistan? - United Press International
Abstract: The way Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf reads the geopolitical tea leaves in the Middle East and South Asia is not to our liking, but hardly surprising. Political science 101 shows a U.S. Congress, controlled by the Democrats, not prepared to see the Iraq conflict through to victory -- i.e., a free democratic country able to sustain and defend itself without the U.S. military.(...) Mohammad Aurakzai, the Musharraf-appointed governor of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province, described the Taliban as waging "a war of liberation" against foreign troops occupying Afghanistan. Local populations, he added, are "increasingly supporting Taliban."(...) public and political support for a close U.S.-Pakistan partnership is rapidly evaporating in a Muslim country with the world's second largest Muslim population -- and a nuclear arsenal. Pakistani extremists are making their views known with suicide bombings in major cities, including Islamabad, and rocket and mortar attacks on mosques. By Musharraf's own reckoning, there are about 1.6 million people willing to push extremist agendas through acts of violence -- or one percent of the population.(...) In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Anthony H. Cordesman said, "No one can return from visiting the front in Afghanistan without realizing there is a very real risk that the U.S. and NATO could lose their war with al-Qaida, the Taliban and the other Islamist movements fighting the Afghan government. We are still winning a tactically, but we may well be losing strategically." Cordesman, the Center for Strategic and International Studies' strategic thinker, added, "Winning will take more resources, more forces, more patience and at least five to 10 more years of persistent effort." In the light of the Congressional debates over Iraq, and the reticence of America's NATO allies to provide more troops for Afghanistan, Musharraf and his ISI analysts have concluded the West's will to win won't last the required five-to-10 years. Hence, the Pakistani leader's belief, denials notwithstanding, that a "moderate" Taliban regime in Kabul is a safer strategic bet. READ IT ALL

Bin Laden isn't back, he never left

David Seaton's News Links
The article below doesn't really touch on the center of the question of why Al Qaeda is so dangerous. Al Qaeda exists because of a political failure that goes back many years. A political failure born of contempt for a stubborn culture's refusal to bend its neck to "reality". At the heart of the GWOT is a rebellion of the most proactive, hard core and daring of the Muslim world against Western domination of their space. Once that political failure connects with a plan to attack it, organizations will spring up spontaneously to continue that attack.

Religion in itself is not really the driving force here, but rather serves as the ideological adhesive to articulate a cultural rebellion that cuts across nationalities and ethnic groups and welds them into a force for violent change. Osama's Islam replaces Marxist-Leninism and nationalism, all of which have failed to free Muslim countries from their perceived oppression. Tied to the newest technologies the ancient concept of the Muslim Umma is proving more potent than any imported ideology ever was.

I agree with Harvard professor, Niall Ferguson, who thinks that Osama Bin Laden is in reality more a "Leninist" than a religious leader. Just as Lenin was first a revolutionary and second a Marxist. Bin Laden's Islam structures his proud rebelliousness. Bin Laden shares with Lenin the rather unique ability to see revolutionary possibilities where others see only backward and illiterate masses and then to craft an organization and an ideology to fit that vision... and he also shares Lenin's "just do it" insistence on action instead of endless talk. DS

Remember Al Qaeda? They're baaack - Los Angeles Times

Abstract: Just last month, this alarming development produced a dramatic reversal in the Bush administration's public assessment of the Al Qaeda threat. In contrast to long-standing White House claims, the annual threat assessment presented by outgoing National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence painted a disquieting picture of a highly resilient terrorist movement that, he said, is cultivating stronger operational connections to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Al Qaeda's stunning resurrection, before the very eyes of American military forces stationed across the border in southern Afghanistan, begs the question of how the most powerful country in the world can launch a six-year, no-holds-barred, global war on terrorism — at great cost to its pocketbook and international standing — only to find the main target of these Herculean efforts still alive and kicking. In retrospect, it appears that Iraq blinded us to the possibility of an Al Qaeda renaissance. The United States' entanglement there has consumed the attention and resources of our country's military and intelligence communities — at precisely the time that Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda commanders were in their most desperate straits and stood to benefit most from this distraction. What's more, even as we took solace in the president's argument that we were "fighting terrorists over there, so that we don't have to fight them here," Al Qaeda was regrouping. Pakistan is both the problem and the solution to the most salient terrorist threat still directed against us. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies could not function without the passive connivance of Pakistani authorities. Moreover, agreements concluded over the past two years between President Pervez Musharraf and the restive tribes along the Afghan border have assured Al Qaeda the noninterference with its activities that enables it to thrive. At the same time, the pivotal role played by Pakistan in the disruption of major attacks and the arrests of low-level plotters shows how dependent the U.S. remains on even this partial cooperation. READ IT ALL

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pogo meets Iraq

David Seaton's News Links
There is a lot to chew over in this article from Foreign Policy Magazine. It makes some important points that provide a practical program for thinking about the disaster of Iraq.

Americans have a big problem accepting that other people(s) are really as different as they are, that their cultures and social structures are as intractable as they really are. That as William Faulkner, "the past isn't history, it isn't even past."

I suspect that behind a lot of this, there is a deep fear of how precarious the American identity has become as it has ceased to simply be WASP, with becoming WASP-like the measure of American-ness, while at the same time the "others" who were always invisible or comic relief have become visible: Visible and vocal. You might say that the WASP identity was the "Marshall Tito" to America's inner "balkanization".

Among the neocons, who midwifed the war in Iraq, that identity crisis
seems to be greater than for others. Neoconservatives seem to have a pressing need to believe that they, instead of being, in reality, a tiny minority with very special interests, are in fact "universal" in their beliefs and especially in their needs. In the druggy sixties this was known as forcing others to "take your trip". DS

What Iraq Tells Us About Ourselves - Foreign Policy
(hat tip to Teresa O'Neill)
Abstract: How did the highly educated, wealthy, and powerful American people make such a horrendous, catastrophic series of blunders? As Pogo, the cartoon opossum, once famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Yes, that’s right: We, the American people—not the Bush administration, nor the hapless Iraqis, nor the meddlesome Iranians (the new scapegoat)—are the root of the problem. It’s woven into our cultural DNA. Most Americans mistakenly believe that when we say that “all men are created equal,” it means that all people are the same. Behind the “cute” and “charming” native clothing, the “weird” marriage customs, and the “odd” food of other cultures, all humans are yearning for lifestyles and futures that will be increasingly unified as time and globalization progress. That is what Tom Friedman seems to have meant when he wrote that “the world is flat”—that technological and economic change are driving humankind toward a future of cultural sameness. In other words, whatever differences of custom and habit that still exist between peoples will pass away soon and be replaced by a world culture rather like that of the United States in the 21st century. To be blunt, our foreign policy tends to be predicated on the notion that everyone wants to be an American. In the months leading up to the start of the Iraq War, it was common to hear seemingly educated people say that the Arabs, particularly Iraqis, had no way of life worth saving and would be better off if all “that old stuff”—their traditions, social institutions, and values—were done away with, and soon. The U.S. Armed Forces and U.S. Agency for International Development would be the sharp swords of modernization in the Middle East. How did Americans come to believe that the entire world is embarked on the same voyage, and that we are the navigators showing the way to a bright future? Our own culture is a rich blend, brewed from such elements as enlightenment, optimism, Puritan utopianism, a Calvinist tendency to not forgive sinners, and the settler’s lack of respect for the weak and “native” peoples of the world. In the United States, such threads have pushed us to believe that we are all in a melting pot of common ideology. This belief system has been fed to us in the public schools, through Hollywood, and now in the endless prattle of 24-hour news networks. It has become secular religion, a religion so strong that any violation of its tenets brings instant and savage condemnation. So called “neoconservatism” isn’t some kind of alien ideology; it’s merely a self-aware manifestation of the widespread American belief that people are all the same. The repeated assertion by U.S. President George W. Bush that history is dominated by the existence of “universal values” is proof in the pudding.
By Col. W. Patrick Lang, Jr. READ IT ALL

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Afghan countdown to spring

David Seaton's News Links
Given the attack on the Twin Towers, the invasion of Afghanistan was probably inevitable. NATO offered its full cooperation from the very first moment. It was ignored.

The Parisian newspaper Le Monde (not exactly "Stars and Stripes") headlined, "we are all Americans".

A historic opportunity to strengthen and deepen America's relationships with the rest of the world and especially its most traditional allies was lost.

If the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a body had charged into Afghanistan and had "strung up" Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and then had headed for home, it would have sent a clear message of strength and purpose that could have help stabilize the entire planet. It was a mission that was doable, but wasn't done.

Employing America's full strength in Afghanistan and empowering America's traditional allies were obviously the last things that the leadership in Washington wanted. For them, 9-11 was only an excuse to carry out quite another agenda, one that had been waiting for years to be executed. Who, what, why and what for, have become clear with the passing years.

Back in Afghanistan, what was at first universally seen and understood by the entire world as taking revenge for an unforgivable massacre, has by now degenerated into some exercise of "taking up the white man's burden" and the day for that sort of thing is over. White men just ain't what they used to be...

The "west" has worn out its welcome in Afghanistan and "the natives are restless." Warmed up imperialism is no longer anybody's plat de jour. Turning NATO into a universal enforcer for wealthy, pale faced, interests is a grotesque, non-starter.

So in fact, the greatest casualty of the war in Iraq, as far as the United States and its staunchest allies are concerned, is the war in Afghanistan. a We are witnessing an unnecessary humiliation and indignant final curtain for the greatest military alliance in history.
The recriminations and search for the perpetrators of this viral disaster may shred the social fabric of America's elite for years to come. DS

Taliban offensive expected in spring - Los Angeles Times

Abstract: In coming weeks, winter will loosen its grip on Afghanistan. Senior NATO generals insist that their troops are well positioned to confront the Taliban offensive that is expected to follow. But some analysts, diplomats and other observers think the Western alliance, and the Afghan government it supports, has failed to use winter's relative lull in fighting to seize the initiative in advance of a new battle with the insurgents. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's forces in the south are being bolstered, but the influx of about 3,000 additional troops is privately described by field commanders as both tardy and considerably smaller than what they had hoped for. The reinforcements will come almost exclusively from the United States and Britain; troop commitments by other alliance members have failed to materialize. In some key districts, Taliban militants have reinfiltrated areas they were driven from months ago. Even before the start of any large-scale offensive, the insurgents are demonstrating an ability to capture territory, including their brazen seizure of the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province this month.(...) "They're hard-core — very determined, very disciplined. They know the ground and they know how to fight, and they know how to adapt to changing conditions," said Canadian army Capt. Piers Pappin, whose mud-walled, thatched-roof outpost in the desert west of Kandahar was repeatedly attacked by bands of insurgents, even during the supposed winter lull. Insurgent commandants have boasted that in coming months they will step up the use of crude yet lethal tactics such as suicide and roadside bombings, with which they can counter NATO troops' vastly superior firepower. Suicide attacks increased fivefold in 2006, and the use of remotely detonated devices nearly doubled from the previous year, according to U.S. military figures.(...) Heading into the next round of fighting, the dubious efficacy of the Afghan army is also a growing cause for concern. Coalition goals call for the force to expand to 80,000 troops by next year, but at this point, struggling with a high desertion rate, it is fielding about 20,000. Senior Western military officials put a positive face on the progress made in arming and training the force. But field-level allied officers who work closely with the Afghan troops privately predict that it will take many years to shape them into a professional army capable of confronting the insurgents on their own.(...) At least 100 Afghan civilians died last year at the hands of allied forces, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, and Afghan rights groups put the figure many times higher. "Whenever they do something that is against our culture, people get angry, very angry," said Lt. Col. Sheehin Shah Kabandi, a regional Afghan army commander in Kandahar. "We remind them again and again: If you enter someone's house by breaking down his door, that man and all his relatives are your enemy forever." Local resentment is sometimes inflamed by what Western military officials see as an effort by Afghans to better their lot. In the Panjwayi district outside Kandahar, NATO troops for months have been bulldozing vineyards, arbors and orchards to build three wide roads radiating from their bases. (...) Civilian deaths have become a highly sensitive subject, particularly after Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly broke into tears late last year while imploring allied troops to be more careful. READ IT ALL

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Israel: be careful what you wish for

The level of gloom inside the Israeli government is accompanied by a creeping sense of paralysis -- one that could be dangerous not just for Israel, but for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole. Gregory Levey - Salon
David Seaton's News Links
Like a political capsule, the above phrase contains most of the ingredients in the relationship between the Israelis and reality and the relationship between Israel and the United States... and the relationship between Americans themselves and reality.

The idea of using American military and diplomatic power to "remake" the Middle East had its origins in the Israeli right-wing, but it is important to note that much of the rise to power of Israel's right-wing and its use of that power has been encouraged by the American right-wing, both Jewish and gentile, who have seen the IDF acting out their most cherished fantasies of dominating peoples of color with violence: fantasies which the realities of American political life have made inexpressible... except against Arabs. Since the Six Day War, the relationship between the once marginal Israeli and American right-wings has been very much a two way street.

The Neocon/Likud/Evangelical/Wingnut's vessel, their
chosen instrument to enact this tellurgic metamorphosis was George W. Bush... a frail reed upon which to pin their hopes, nu? Remember when the Neocons talked about a pipeline bringing Iraqi oil through Jordan to Haifa? To the degree that idea now seems grotesque and absurd, to that degree reality has brought them low. And that low is also a two way street.

Americans are culturally repelled by failure and its flavor of the great iceman of positive thinking, death. Famous for their short attention spans, Americans are restless to "move on", from Iraq, to put this horrible, disgraceful mess "behind them". The Israelis, however, are stuck holding the bag. The whole idea of Israel is that of a place from which the Jewish people would never have to "move on" from.
Israel would love to "move on" from the mess created too, but that is impossible... They cannot put the Middle East "behind them".

Let me collapse and condense Gregory Levey's phrase to clarify its meaning. "The level of gloom inside the Israeli government (...) could be dangerous for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole." To me that reads like a suicide note and since the days of Samson, Middle Eastern suicides tend to to travel in company. DS

Gregory Levey - Israel's surge of despair - Salon (hat tip to John Brown)
A series of recent interviews with current and former Israeli government officials revealed a level of pessimism across the Israeli government that is unprecedented in recent decades.(...) In light of Israel's close strategic ties with the United States, and particularly with the Bush administration, it has been all but taboo in the past for Israeli officials to openly criticize U.S. policy. But some officials I spoke with also voiced rising fears -- and disapproval -- over the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and Iran.(...) The level of gloom inside the Israeli government is accompanied by a creeping sense of paralysis -- one that could be dangerous not just for Israel, but for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole.(...) I raised this striking level of gloom with another high-ranking diplomat, who told me he was not surprised to hear of it. "There is a lot of frustration right now," he nodded, "and it's not just felt in the Foreign Ministry." He agreed that it was caused by "all the corruption in the political layers, and the perception in Israel that the war was a failure." Yet, the roots of the seemingly ubiquitous sense of despair may stem more from the goings-on in the corridors of power in Washington than those in Jerusalem. In December, Daniel Levy, who served as a special advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and is now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, told me that the Bush administration's Middle East policies are "just so out of sync with what are good politics for the U.S. and Israel." Those policies, he said, "have led Israel into the most dangerous situation anyone remembers it being in."(...) Every year, an influential assessment of the security situation in the Middle East is published by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center, one of Israel's premier think tanks. This year's assessment, published in January, was not only bleak, but also openly critical of U.S. policy. "The threats to Middle East security and stability worsened in 2006," the assessment announced, because "the American failure in Iraq has hurt the standing of the U.S. in the Middle East." It went on to state essentially that American actions in the Middle East over the past few years have harmed Israeli security. It also argued that the United States should withdraw from Iraq in the near term, rather than add more troops, as Bush's surge plan is now doing. As one of its authors, Mark A. Heller, explained after the report was published, "There is no Israeli interest being served by a continued American presence in Iraq." These sobering conclusions might provide a jolt to those in the United States -- whether American Jews or conservative evangelicals -- who have supported the Bush administration's policies in part because they were supposedly intended to help Israel.(...) Last week, I raised these assessments with Eitan, himself a former spymaster who led the Israeli capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960, and who was the handler of the infamous spy Jonathan Pollard in the 1980s. "Sooner or later, a year or two, America will go out from Iraq," Eitan said. "Iran will unite with the Shiites of Iraq -- with or without force -- and then with the Shiites of Syria. Is this good for Israel? No, it is bad for Israel." Against the backdrop of deepening turmoil in the region, the paralyzing depression within the Israeli government has clearly weakened it. This could play out badly in two different ways with regard to Iran. From a hawkish perspective, it could create a situation where, even if all diplomatic options fail and the United States does not step in, Israel might need to act militarily on its own against Iran -- but the government might be so paralyzed that it might not have the confidence or political capital to launch the incredibly risky military strikes deemed necessary. Perhaps even more dangerously, from a more dovish point of view, government leaders may choose to overcompensate for Israel's -- or their own -- perceived weakness by engaging in a potentially disastrous bombing campaign, without thoroughly weighing the huge risks involved or first exploring all the alternatives.(...) Ra'anan Gissin, who was Prime Minister Sharon's longtime advisor, used to tell a story that illustrates this current predicament. In the days leading up to the Iraq war, Ra'anan sat in on a meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush. As always, Ra'anan explained, Prime Minister Sharon was very careful not to directly counsel any particular action to President Bush -- because of the rightful fear that it would be unwise for Israel to be seen in any way as pushing U.S. policy. Sharon did, however, make one of his beliefs very clear. Whatever the United States did or didn't do in the Middle East, he said, it would eventually leave -- and Israel would be left behind, forced to deal with the consequences. READ IT ALL