Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The White House intervened to stop the publication of an op-ed in the New York Times by Flynt Leverett.
Q & A
Kamal Nazer Yasin: 11/16/06A EurasiaNet Q&A with Flynt Leverett
In trying to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the Bush administration has suffered from internal divisions that have left it “dysfunctional in some unique ways,” according to Flynt Leverett, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC. Leverett is in position to offer unique insight on the Bush administration’s dealings with Iran. From March 2002 to March 2003, he served as the senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council. Prior to serving on the NSC, he was a counterterrorism expert on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, and before that he served as a CIA senior analyst for eight years. Since leaving government service, Leverett served as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy before becoming the director of the Geopolitics of Energy Initiative in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The text of Leverett’s comments on US policy toward Iran and Afghanistan, as well as on Washington’s anti-terror policies, follows: EurasiaNet: What is your assessment of the last six years of US foreign policy? What is the Bush administration's balance sheet? Leverett: Let's start with the Middle East after the September 11 attacks. I think America’s standing in that part of the world has been seriously damaged. By standing I don't just mean popularity -- although popularity is not unimportant -- but rather that the United States' ability to achieve its goals in that region, to protect what it says are its most important interests there has been seriously damaged in the five years since September 11.
We see that on virtually every front. In Afghanistan, for example, yes, the Taliban have been overthrown, al Qaeda has lost its sanctuaries in Afghanistan, but we didn't finish the job there. Afghanistan is falling back into a period of dangerous instability. The threat of al Qaeda and violent Sunni extremism coming back there is getting worse.
I think the argument that, ‘well, we haven't been hit and somehow US policy should be credited for that’ is superficial. We haven't been hit because the Jihadists themselves have decided that, at this point in their strategy, they don't think it is advantageous for them to strike at the United States. They would rather focus on going after our allies in the region and in Europe, and then they would come back at us. I think we are not really doing well in the war on terror.
EurasiaNet: What you just said about Jihadist strategy, is it speculation, or is your opinion based on hard intelligence? Leverett: No, this is the internet age. All kinds of documents… are available on the internet and other places. This is a major theme of the Jihadist discourse -- that they don't want to go after the United States right now.
Let's continue looking at the region. The Iraq war has been a disaster for America’s standing. This administration has bungled post-conflict stabilization there. We have pursued the occupation in a way that has empowered radical forces in the region and made the situation of moderate forces harder. America’s most important strategic partnerships in the Arab world, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been increasingly strained. In the Arab-Israeli arena, the way that American policy has handled the Palestinian issue -- or not handled it -- has cost us tremendously. And one would be hard put to say that Israel’s security and standing in the region is better [today] than it was five years ago.
EurasiaNet: In 2003, Iran sent a letter to the White House via the Swiss ambassador in Tehran. [Click here for the text]. It seems like it was a strategic opening by the Iranians for comprehensive dialogue. The Bush administration rejected it. Were you in the White House then? Leverett: When the message came I was within days of leaving the government. I did see the document. It was substantively a very promising start; a serious effort to lay out an agenda for resolving our outstanding issues. It addressed our concerns about their WMD program, their support for organizations we consider terrorist, and their attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. They also wanted re-examination of our attitude to their regime, for ending efforts to change their government and other issues. I think what was so foolish about our response was that we didn't even try to find out if it was serious.
EurasiaNet: At that time, there was an extraordinary amount of cooperation on Afghanistan. The Axis-of-Evil reference, made in President George W. Bush’s State-of-the-Union address in January 2002, must have come as a shock to the Iranians. Leverett: Yes. The level of cooperation between our diplomats was quite high. They would meet on a monthly basis under the rubric of the United Nations’ 6+2 framework. There were also indications that the Iranians were interested in broadening this to include other bilateral issues. Between September 11 and the Axis-of-Evil speech, there was the case of a ship named Karin-A which was intercepted and found to be carrying arms for the Palestinians. Israeli intelligence made a case that elements within the Revolutionary Guards were behind the move.
EurasiaNet: David Frum, a former Bush Administration speechwriter, is the one who coined the Axis-of-Evil moniker, and he has indicated that he was somewhat surprised when the president personally liked and adopted it. Leverett: It seems it was a personal decision by the president. Many people at the White House were surprised by it.
EurasiaNet: How much does US intelligence know about the status of Iran’s nuclear program? Leverett: The best source of information we have on Iran’s Nuclear Program is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors. It’s worth remembering that the IAEA got it right on Iraq and US intelligence didn't.
EurasiaNet: Does the administration have a coherent policy on Iran? Leverett: On the one side you have had the State Department and, to some extent, the intelligence community, which has believed that it was necessary to engage Iran. On the other side there have been the Office of the Vice President and the Office of Secretary of Defense [i.e. Donald Rumsfeld] who thought it was a bad idea to engage Iran. You had a president in the middle. He would never come down on one side or the other. But I think his own point of view has been not to engage too much. This president would, in the end, be very reluctant to have a deal with Iran that would require him to legitimate the Islamic Republic. He thinks it is a fundamentally illegitimate regime. I think that puts a real limit on how far US policy could go toward engaging Iran.
EurasiaNet: Bob Woodword paints a picture of the White House that is riven by philosophical differences and rivalries. What was your experience in the higher echelons of the government? Leverett: In that regard, I think this administration is dysfunctional in some unique ways. There can be splits in any administration; it certainly isn't unique to this one. But the level of division within this administration is more profound, and what's more, there isn’t any real inclination to resolve the divisions to produce coherent policy.
My own sense is that [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice has performed rather poorly as national security adviser. One of the responsibilities of the national security adviser, when it isn’t possible to get consensus among the principals, is to tee up options for the president to decide. This wasn’t done on many important issues.
EurasiaNet: To her credit, in the second term, she has brought a measure of cohesiveness to the foreign policy establishment. Leverett: I wouldn't overstate that. She has, in her role as the nation's chief diplomat, been able to expand the scope for diplomatic activities. But, to the extent that there has been a shift in policy, it is a tactical shift, not a strategic shift. On Iran, for example, Rice herself has said that this is not about a “grand bargain” with Iran [involving the nuclear issue]; this is not about normalization of relations. Those are her words. There has been a tactical shift in the policy so that, under certain circumstances, we might be able to talk directly with Iran, but, at the strategic level, it is still the same policy. Indeed, our UN ambassador can say that the ultimate goal of the policy remains regime change and no one corrects him.
EurasiaNet: Speaking of a grand bargain, I think by now, experts know that without air-tight security guarantees, perhaps in the form of a non-aggression pact, the Iranians would not sign on to a deal [concerning its nuclear program]. If anything, it seems that this reluctance to accept the legitimacy of their government strengthens hard-liners, and encourages them to speed up their program. Leverett: I am also pessimistic about a deal… We must offer them a guarantee on their security and territorial integrity. If you compare the incentives package that the Europeans offered to Iran in August 2005 with the one offered earlier this year by the 5+1, you see that a key difference is the lack of any real security guarantees in the 5+1 package. European diplomats told me they had to make that change from the August 2005 package to make it acceptable to the Bush administration.
EurasiaNet: Some experts, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, have argued that the world may be able to live with a nuclear Iran. What is your take on it? [For additional information click here]. Leverett: I understand the argument by people like Brzezinski, and also there is Barry Posen at MIT. There is a logic to these arguments. The thing is we don't really know what would happen if Iran goes nuclear. It may be the case that the consequences would be manageable. But at a minimum, it would complicate strategic calculations in that part of the world enormously -- for everyone. Life would become much more complicated. And that's why I go back to the argument of the grand bargain. I think the grand bargain is the only way to forestall Iran’s nuclearization. Given the potential consequences of Iranian nuclearization, why should the United States not do that? It is so manifestly in our interest to do it that not doing it is the strategic equivalent of medical malpractice. It is a real failure of leadership by the United States.
EurasiaNet: I think the argument of people opposed to a [nuclear] deal is that the regime-change clock is running faster than the nuclear clock. Leverett: That is absolute nonsense. The best that the Neo-Cons could say is that it isn't really clear which clock is running faster. If it isn't clear which clock is running faster, you can't use regime change as the basis for your Iran policy because you can't have the requisite confidence that regime change would play out in time to deal meaningfully with the nuclear issue.
EurasiaNet: What kinds of sanctions could we see coming out of the United Nations Security Council? Leverett: Any kind of sanctions that stand a chance of getting past the Security Council would be very minimal. There would perhaps be restrictions on the travel of the people that are directly associated with the nuclear and missile programs. I would be surprised if such a measure included restrictions on the travel of any senior Iranian official. We might get some very targeted financial sanctions against entities that are directly linked with the nuclear program. I would be very surprised if the Security Council agreed to broad-based economic or financial sanctions.
EurasiaNet: What is the timeframe on it? Leverett: I am looking at say the next six to 12 months.
EurasiaNet: Many experts believe that a military strike against Iran would be a bad idea, particularly with the situation in Iraq being the way it is. Does this mean we can safely assume it is not a tactical possibility? Leverett: I agree that a military strike by the United States is a bad idea. But at some point, probably in the next 12 months, the president's current efforts in the Security Council will have played out. What we would get out of UN is certainly not going to be enough to leverage the Iranians to stop their nuclear program. At that point, this president would face a very stark, binary choice. He could either stand by and let Iran continue to cross significant thresholds in the development of its nuclear capability, or he could order military strikes to try to delay that development. I think that, with this president, when he is faced with that choice, the chances that he might take the military option are not trivial. It is a real risk. It is not going to happen tomorrow, or next week. We would be still working on the diplomatic route. But a year or so from now when the diplomacy has failed, the risks of a military strike are not trivial.
Editor’s Note: Kamal Nazer Yasin is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist specializing in Iranian affairs.
"Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come," Robert M. Gates said yesterday upon taking the oath to be Secretary of Defense.
Public service I guess is about ruined holidays and long hours, but as Bob Gates starts his exhausting marathon of briefings and meetings, will somebody tell this supposedly savvy Washington operator that the United States has already failed?
Gates has pledged to rely on the uniformed military's "clear-eyed advice" - his second mission is to repair civil-military relations - but after six years and three generations of four stars losing the Rumsfeld war, can the military step-up to the plate and reach beyond its honor bound compulsion to take the next hill to tell the new Secretary the honest truth: We long ago failed.
Train Iraqi forces. It sounds so reasonable, like "diplomacy" with Iran and Syria or Palestinian-Israeli peace, gosh darn, why didn't we just think of it earlier?
Here are some bullet points for the new Secretary:
• We've been trying for three years: From Lt. Gen. Dave Petraeus' Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I) - remember that organization in 2004? - through today's training "surge" already underway, we've been there.
• Iraq's armed forces and police are no where closer today to being in a state to be trained to be a dispassionate professional force. In fact, there are further away: The institutions are merely a reflection of the country -- disorganized, sectarian, and corrupt. We, the U.S. military, moreover, have exaggerated the capabilities of Iraqi army and police forces.
• The American military is also not up to the task: Troops are exhausted, they remain culturally weak and distant from Iraqi political, social and religious realities, there are even insufficient translators and specialists more than five years after Sept. 11.
• Embedding is a recipe for disaster: American soldiers will become implicated and embroiled in human rights abuses and even major crimes committed by Iraqi forces. Who wants to put American troops into boiling pots?
The President might be able to swallow the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to increased American embedded trainers from the now paltry 3,000 to 4,000, and all of Washington can agree on a new training emphasis, but the missing ingredient here remains Iraq.
General after General, bureaucrat after bureaucrat will tell the new Secretary this week and next how an additional 20,000 to 30,000 will be deployed, how they are being prepared stateside, which states they will come from, how many Iraqi units are level one, level two, level three, which Iraqi leaders and units are considered the best, where the U.S. embeds will go, how they will be fed and commanded. There will be the ubiquitous stop light charts displaying the state of the program and the war: Green on preparations at Ft. Riley, Kansas; Yellow with regard to Iraqi cooperation; Red on the state of current violence.
It is all tactical talk, all details.
Will anyone get beyond the view that "we have to succeed" to actually ask the question as to whether it is possible or likely?
And that's where the American failure in Iraq already comes in: In the Islamic world, the United States military has already been shown to be vulnerable. The bad guys have invented improvised explosive devices, just as Hezbollah in Lebanon made clever use of anti-tank missiles against Israeli ground forces, displaying innovation and putting the hurt on U.S. forces. In other words, short of decimating the insurgents and the militias and the terrorists in an all-out renewed war, which isn't going to happen, what has already happened has left behind an image and a legacy that withdrawal won't make worse.
My guess is that given years, and allowing for 700 American deaths and 10,000 serious injuries annually, the United States could turn things around. Get it? There is no timeline because there is no timeline.
Do we think in all these briefings that the military can get beyond the details of the NEW training program to say it can't be done in 2007 or even 2008? I don't say this merely to suggest that there is some secret timeline that has to parallel the upcoming presidential election: the truth is that the American people demand action and change sooner. There just isn't a Power Point solution in Iraq that can satisfy what the people want.
So we have this palpable mood change in the Pentagon, as senior military leaders look forward to breaking the painful and emasculating chain that tied them to the last Secretary of Defense. The sense is that the era of the put-down and arrogance is over, that advice will at least be sought if not heeded, that the cold eye of reality will replace the starry eyed ideology.
I have a lot of friends in uniform, and I have my own favorites - smart, straightforward, savvy Generals and Admirals who have seen it all - and I have no doubt that they can step up to the plate. But can they see the truth beyond their can-do impulse? I sure hope so. Otherwise it's déjà vu all over again.
By William M. Arkin December 19, 2006; 8:39 AM ET
Newsweek misleadingly reports 'a booming economy' in Iraq. Iraq's is a war economy, and some sectors have benefitted from the end of the old regime and of international sanctions. So there is construction, sure. And a lot of used cars and consumer goods have been imported (that is not actually necessarily a good thing). People talk on cell phones. But no new factories have been founded. There is no evidence of increased productivity. Inflation is up to 53 percent. The professional middle class is fleeing in droves, so that soon there won't be any physicians left. Electricity and fuel are scarce. Unemployment is probably 50 to 60 percent. Saying that this economy is "flourishing" (outside Kurdistan) is like saying that the US economy was "flourishing" during the Great Depression of the 1930s. There was construction going on then, too, quite a lot of it. Iraq's economy is different insofar as it functions in the midst of a civil war. War economies create pockets of wealth and activity. When a fourth to a half of your workers are unemployed, no one cares.
The Associated Press
Updated: 1:12 p.m. MT Dec 19, 2006
WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney will be called as a defense witness in the CIA leak case, an attorney for Cheney's former chief of staff told a federal judge Tuesday.
"We're calling the vice president," attorney Ted Wells said in court. Wells represents defendant I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is charged with perjury and obstruction.
Early last week, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said he did not expect the White House to resist if Cheney or other administration officials are called to testify in Libby's trial, expected to begin in January.
First vice presidential witness?Libby is accused of lying to investigators about what he told reporters regarding former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame's identity was leaked to reporters around the time that her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly criticized the Bush administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.
Sitting presidents, including Clinton and Ford, have testified in criminal cases, but presidential historians and separation-of-powers experts said they knew of no vice president who has done so. The first President Bush was subpoenaed to testify in the Iran-Contra trial of Oliver North. At the time, Bush was Reagan's vice president, but Bush was president by the time a judge ruled he did not need to testify.
In addition to Cheney, other government officials and journalists are expected to be key witnesses in the trial, which is scheduled to start next month.
Additional witnessesFormer New York Times reporter Judith Miller and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert are expected to be prosecution witnesses. Libby's lawyers said in court papers that several reporters will testify on Libby's behalf.
(MSNBC.com is partly owned by NBC News)
Two unidentified reporters may resist testifying, Libby's attorneys said, but they expect to resolve that issue before trial.
Libby also has sought a subpoena for the tape of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's interview with former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Armitage has admitted he discussed Plame's job with Woodward in 2003 but said it was a passing, inadvertent comment.
If admitted into evidence, the tape could be played at trial. The tape has been turned over to prosecutors, and Libby's attorneys said they expect no objection to their subpoena.
White House response at issueCheney, who would be the trial's most anticipated witness, has said he may be called to testify. If so, prosecutors could ask how the White House responded to Wilson's criticisms. Cheney was upset by Wilson's comments, Fitzgerald has said, and told Libby that Plame worked for the CIA.
That conversation is a key to Fitzgerald's perjury case. Libby testified that he learned about Plame's job from a reporter.
Cheney could also help prosecutors undermine Libby's defense that he was so preoccupied with national security matters, he forgot details about the less-important Plame issue. Prosecutors argue that Plame was a key concern of the vice president, and thus would have been important to Libby.
Cheney and Libby got to know each other when Cheney was defense secretary under the first President Bush. Libby has been extremely loyal to Cheney and, in return, had the vice president's unwavering trust.
By 2000, Libby was working as a top adviser to Cheney in the presidential campaign and then followed him to the White House. In the White House, he was known as "Cheney's Cheney" for being as trusted a problem solver for the vice president as Cheney was for Bush.
Even after Libby's indictment, Cheney called him "one of the finest men I've ever known."
© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
NEW YORK President Bush, according to reports, is strongly considering sending a "surge" of troops to Iraq in the new year -- 20,000 or more. Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman have already backed such a plan. But a new poll for CNN released Monday found that this idea draws the support of only 11 percent of Americans.Fewer than a third of Americans still support the war in Iraq, and more than half say they want U.S. troops out of the country within a year, according to the CNN poll. This 31 percent support marked a new low in the Opinion Research survey."Nearly three-quarters said Bush administration policy needs a complete overhaul or major changes. But only 11 percent of those polled backed calls to send more American troops to Iraq, as President Bush is said to be considering," CNN said.Pollsters interviewed 1,019 adults for the survey, which had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.Only 32 percent said they would support keeping U.S. troops in Iraq "as long as necessary" to hand over control to a new Iraqi government. By comparison, 21 percent said they wanted to see Americans leave immediately, and 33 percent said they wanted to see a U.S. withdrawal within a year.
It is our true policy to steer clear of entangling alliances with any portion of the foreign world.
Last week I wrote about the critical need for Congress to reassert its authority over foreign policy, and for the American people to recognize that the Constitution makes no distinction between domestic and foreign matters. Policy is policy, and it must be made by the legislature and not the executive.
But what policy is best? How should we deal with the rest of the world in a way that best advances proper national interests, while not threatening our freedoms at home?
I believe our founding fathers had it right when they argued for peace and commerce between nations, and against entangling political and military alliances. In other words, noninterventionism.
Noninterventionism is not isolationism. Nonintervention simply means America does not interfere militarily, financially, or covertly in the internal affairs of other nations. It does not we that we isolate ourselves; on the contrary, our founders advocated open trade, travel, communication, and diplomacy with other nations.
Thomas Jefferson summed up the noninterventionist foreign policy position perfectly in his 1801 inaugural address: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations- entangling alliances with none.” Washington similarly urged that we must, “Act for ourselves and not for others,” by forming an “American character wholly free of foreign attachments.”
Yet how many times have we all heard these wise words without taking them to heart? How many claim to admire Jefferson and Washington, but conveniently ignore both when it comes to American foreign policy? Since so many apparently now believe Washington and Jefferson were wrong on the critical matter of foreign policy, they should at least have the intellectual honesty to admit it.
Of course we frequently hear the offensive cliché that, “times have changed,” and thus we cannot follow quaint admonitions from the 1700s. The obvious question, then, is what other principles from our founding era should we discard for convenience? Should we give up the First amendment because times have changed and free speech causes too much offense in our modern society? Should we give up the Second amendment, and trust that today’s government is benign and not to be feared by its citizens? How about the rest of the Bill of Rights?
It’s hypocritical and childish to dismiss certain founding principles simply because a convenient rationale is needed to justify interventionist policies today. The principles enshrined in the Constitution do not change. If anything, today’s more complex world cries out for the moral clarity provided by a noninterventionist foreign policy.
It is time for Americans to rethink the interventionist foreign policy that is accepted without question in Washington. It is time to understand the obvious harm that results from our being dragged time and time again into intractable and endless Middle East conflicts, whether in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Palestine. It is definitely time to ask ourselves whether further American lives and tax dollars should be lost trying to remake the Middle East in our image.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006; D01
Federal Communications Commissioner Robert M. McDowell announced yesterday that he would disqualify himself from voting on AT&T's proposed purchase of BellSouth on ethical grounds, depriving the FCC of a potential swing vote that could have broken the stalemate among its Democratic and Republican members.
McDowell, saying he felt compelled to silence speculation over whether he would take part in the vote, accused his colleagues of failing to negotiate in good faith over conditions for approving the $86 billion merger proposed seven months ago.
"It appears that the lingering question of my involvement is being used as another excuse for delay and inaction," he told reporters.
McDowell has said for months that he would not vote because he previously worked as senior vice president for Comptel, an association that lobbied on behalf of companies competing with AT&T and BellSouth. But despite his concern about a possible conflict of interest, the FCC's general counsel, Samuel Feder, ruled this month that McDowell could take part because of an overriding government interest in breaking the deadlock.
McDowell rejected that reasoning and criticized Feder's opinion, saying it overlooked important facts and legal considerations. In particular, he said the opinion did not address the ethics agreement reached during his Senate confirmation process this year in which he pledged not to participate for a year in any matter in which Comptel had been involved.
"While I expected the legal equivalent of body armor, I was handed Swiss cheese," McDowell said.
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, who asked Feder to issue the opinion, has been urging McDowell to take part in the considerations. Late yesterday, Martin said his aim had been to make sure the commission considered the merger in a timely fashion.
"With Commissioner McDowell having made his decision, I will continue to try to work with my colleagues to bring our consideration of this merger to conclusion," Martin said in a statement.
He also said he respected McDowell's decision to abstain. Though both men are Republicans, their relations have been strained since McDowell joined the FCC.
Martin has been an advocate of approving the merger without conditions. But the two Democratic members have insisted that the deal, which would create a telecommunications giant, include safeguards to ensure competition and protect consumers.
The FCC has repeatedly postponed acting because of the stalemate, and no vote is scheduled.
YOU WRITE that former president Jimmy Carter's use of the word "apartheid" in the title of his new book is "irresponsibly provocative" ("Jimmy Carter vs. Jimmy Carter," editorial, Dec. 16). This would make for a rather puzzling list of "irresponsibly provocative" commentators on the Israel-Palestine conflict. For example, a study by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem concluded: "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime . . . is reminiscent of . . . the apartheid regime in South Africa." The roster of irresponsible provocateurs would also include the editorial board of Israel's leading newspaper Haaretz, which observed in September that "the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation."
Indeed, the list apparently includes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Pointing to his "fixation with Bantustans," Israeli researcher Gershom Gorenberg concluded in 2003 that it is "no accident" that Sharon's plan for the West Bank "bears a striking resemblance to the 'grand apartheid' promoted by the old South African regime." Sharon reportedly stated around that time that "the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict."
NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN
The Christian Science Monitor
Sherifa Shawara wants to get married. She wears fashionable skinny jeans and studies geography and history. The second-year college student doesn't lack for suitors. The problem is where she lives.
One young man trying to visit her in Nuaman, an Arab village inside Jerusalem, was turned away by Israeli soldiers guarding the entrance to her community from the West Bank. Nonresidents cannot enter.
Another suitor backed off when he realized that making her his bride would banish him from Jerusalem, the city of his birth. Although Ms. Shawara lives within the Israeli-drawn boundaries of Jerusalem, she holds a West Bank ID and could be arrested if she's caught inside the city but outside her village. She can't travel, study, or work in Jerusalem.
Palestinian West Bankers can't reach her. Palestinian Jerusalemites don't want her. She is cut off from the city: a similar reality that one-quarter of the city's Arab residents, a new report says, may soon face as Israel's security barrier zigzags around the city, creating a new boundaries.
"I can't move. I can't go anywhere," says Shawara, locking her arms across her chest and gazing bitterly into the distance. "Last week, the soldiers told me my name wasn't on the list and I couldn't go home. Recently, we went shopping and bought a lot, and the soldier wouldn't even let us enter the village in a taxi, so we had to carry it all on foot."
Her story is just one of numerous examples of how life in this city - which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - is fast becoming less penetrable and more gerrymandered. As the boundaries around Jerusalem harden, Palestinians are being shut off not only culturally but economically as well. Critics of the wall say these new burdens will only cultivate more anger toward Israel.
Residents never got Jerusalem IDs
Nuaman is located on land considered by Israeli law to be part of the united city of Jerusalem. Israel annexed the Arab eastern part of the city, which had been under Jordanian rule, after the Six Day War of 1967. But residents of Nuaman were never issued Jerusalem IDs.
Arab residents of the city are affected not just by the concrete barrier, portions of which were being added even as this reporter visited several sites over the course of two months, but by expanded checkpoints and restrictions.
For instance, Israeli authorities have stopped giving Jerusalem ID cards for marriage or "family reunification." Even if Shawara married another Jerusalemite or an Israeli citizen, she wouldn't be allowed to reside in the city legally.
In many places outside urban areas, Israeli officials point out that the barrier is actually an army-patrolled, electronically monitored fence. But here in Jerusalem, it is an almost 30-foot high wall, and parts that are now demarcated with fencing are scheduled to become a concrete wall.
It's unclear why the people of Nuaman wound up living within Jerusalem without Israeli identification. Almost all residents of East Jerusalem whose neighborhoods Israel annexed after the Six Day War were made permanent residents, but Nuaman somehow was left off the map. Israel refers to the area only as Mazmuriya, named for a Roman archeological site.
The Israeli army referred all questions about this issue to the Interior Ministry, which deals with matters of citizenship and residency. An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said all related questions now fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense, which not could be reached for comment.
Lt. Col. Shlomo Dror, the spokesman for the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, an office which is assigned to be a liaison between the Israeli authorities and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, says that Nuaman's difficulties will eventually be smoothed out.
"We know about the people there. Some of them are not legally there, but we are not going to push anyone out," says Mr. Dror. "We'll find a solution for this problem. Maybe, one day, the fence will be in another place, or maybe that part of East Jerusalem will be part of the West Bank."Security or demographics?
The somewhat amorphous limits of what Israeli politicians call the "Jerusalem envelope" are making an impact on far more than just a few hundred residents of Nuaman, whose numbers are decreasing due to the squeeze. Rather, various nongovernmental organizations say the changes are part of ongoing plans to finish the wall in Jerusalem - and to leave some 50,000 Palestinians outside the city line.
For other Arab Jerusalemites, like the 30,000 residents of Shuafat Ridge, the wall means they are being pushed to the periphery. They are card-carrying Jerusalemites - entitled to Israeli services like healthcare and education - but they are being left on the wrong side of the wall.
The Israeli group Ir Amim ("City of Peoples"), which focuses on bringing local and international attention to the implications of current policy on the prospects of an equitable, sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace solution that includes Jerusalem, is about to release a report that shows the proportion of the Palestinian population that will soon be excluded from city's population count.
"One of the lesser discussed aspects of the barrier, but one with tremendous bearing on the future of the conflict, is its separation of some 55,000 Palestinians - close to one-quarter of the Palestinian population of the city - from Jerusalem," reads the report, an advance copy of which was provided to the Monitor. "This exclusion drastically reduces residents' quality of life, separates them from their city, and reorients them, by default, to the West Bank."
The report, due to be released later this month, indicates that the barrier will "de facto add 164 square kilometers (63 square miles) of West Bank territory to metropolitan Jerusalem," land that is currently outside Jerusalem's municipal line. "On the other hand," the report continues, "it cuts inside the city line in a number of places, thereby excising Palestinian residents from the city."
Ir Amim's report, based on statistics and maps from Israeli, Palestinian, and UN officials, shows how significantly these changes could tilt the demographic balance here, in which the Jewish majority has been slipping for decades. When Israel occupied and then annexed East Jerusalem, the demographic ratio between Jews and Arabs was 74 percent to 26 percent, the report notes. By 2004, it had shifted to 66 percent to 34 percent.
"We don't say there was no justification for the wall whatsoever, but we look at each piece of it," says Daniela Yanai, staff attorney for Ir Amim. "It seems to us when you're talking about excluding this many people from the city, you can't divorce it from Israeli history and the ongoing drive to maintain a Jewish majority for the city."
The report directly calls into question Israeli proponents' arguments in favor of the wall: that it is an antiterrorism measure and not a land grab. The Ir Amim study, which tracks the impact of the changes on Palestinian Jerusalemites in several areas, is the first indication that the wall is apparently being drawn with the explicit goal of improving Israel's demographic hand.
History of the wall
None of the changes can be properly viewed outside the complicated continuum of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Following the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, Israel sought construction of the wall to protect its citizens from an onslaught of suicide bombers. Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza were no longer welcome in large numbers in Israel. The election of Hamas a year ago in January made the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation more remote than ever before. That led Israel to clamp down further on travel inside the West Bank and on access routes into Israel, particularly via Jerusalem.
But the long view of the rising ramparts around the city indicates a steady continuation of the unilateralist agenda forged by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who began construction of the wall. Mr. Sharon led the country in the unprecedented step of pulling soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in September 2005. The theoretical underpinning for that move was also based on crunching population numbers: Had Israel not left Gaza, it would have been a few years away from losing its Jewish majority in the total territory under its control.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is drawing the same conclusions - and similar lines.
"Olmert must give Kadima some substance and distinguish himself. Otherwise, this party will simply fall apart," says Shlomo Aronson, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Sharon, and, later on, Olmert, had a certain agenda: unilateral disengagement, including from parts of the West Bank, and the completion of the separation fence is part of that."
But for most Israelis, argues Professor Aronson, currently a guest professor at the University of Arizona at Tucson, the bottom line is that the fence works. "The main point is that, wherever the fence is erected, there are no suicide bombings anymore. If we forget the macro part of the picture, we lose sight of reality."
Some Israelis, posits Ms. Yanai, are closing their eyes to a reality that is changing rapidly.
"The terms of Jerusalem have been altered radically, and it doesn't bode well for future negotiations," says Yanai, an American-Israeli lawyer.
"It's such a starkly unilateral act - to the Palestinian street, but also on a policy level. This is a huge shift in the status quo, and that has a major impact on 'my negotiating power' versus 'your negotiating power,' " she explains.
"I think it's possible to say there's also a shift in anger and frustration and despair.... And if you start to make people's lives miserable and impact their economic stability, you start to perhaps undermine the stake people have in maintaining that relatively stable security situation."
As for Shawara, she is still hoping for a marriage ticket out of Nuaman.
But leaving, her mother says, is a mistake: it would mean abandoning their land to Israel, and that, she says, is what Israel wants. At the same time, there isn't much left here for them: "Life was a little better a year ago," says Fatma Shawara. "Now, it's unbearable."For Israel, the barrier is a 'life and death' issue".
Israelis call it a "security fence." Palestinians call it an "apartheid wall." Call it what you like, Israeli officials say, but the barrier has been a effective means of warding off suicide bombings.
"The fence is a success story and the fence is saving lives. In areas where the fence has gone up, there has been something like a 90-percent success rate in stopping suicide penetration," says Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "In 2006, we've had fewer successful suicide bombings than we had in one week in 2002. That's in large part because of the fence."
In response to new information indicating that the barrier's route was motivated by the demographic struggle that is one of the underpinnings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Regev says that it is natural that the mappers of the barrier took Israel's concerns about a rising Arab population into consideration. "The government's positioning of the fence does take into account demographic realities, topographical realities, and security concerns," Regev says. "The object of the fence is to have as many Israeli citizens as possible protected by the fence."
Regardless of the route, he adds, Israel is bound to be the subject of criticism here.
"If this were a land grab, then we should have included all of Shuafat in the area of the fence," he says. "Look at Jerusalem. If we put areas of East Jerusalem inside the fence, we're accused of annexing Jerusalem. But if we leave them out, we're cutting off Palestinians from their brothers on the other side of the fence. I think the arguments about the route tend to be disingenuous."
"The route can be changed, and one day when there's peace, the fence will come down," Regev says. "This is the fence that is designed to keep suicide bombers out. We have an obligation to let people pass through it and that's why there are gates in the fence."
The Israeli government calls the barrier a fence, he says, because more than 90 percent of the route from north to south is made of fencing. The difficulties it causes, he says, pale in comparison with its success.
"We understand that there has been a negative impact on the quality of life, and it's our obligation to do everything we can to minimize that negative impact," he says. "But we're talking about a quality of life issue, while on my side of the fence, it's a life and death issue."
By Ilene R. Prusher Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Iraq Study Group Urged End to Partial Tally of Iraq Violence
Posted 16 hr. 10 min. ago
By Eason Jordan
While saying the violence in Iraq is at an all-time high, the Pentagon's new quarterly Iraq report to Congress provides only a partial tally of attacks in that country -- a precedent set by the Pentagon's five previous quarterly Iraq reports to Congress.
The U.S. military's routine underreporting of attacks continues despite the Iraq Study Group's recommendation that the U.S. military halt its practice of providing incomplete tallies.
The Iraq Study Group in its report called on U.S. military and intelligence chiefs to "institute immediate changes in the collection of data about violence and the sources of violence to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground."
But the Pentagon's "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" report released today showed the partial tally practice continues, presenting a skewed assessment of the violence.
On page three of the quarterly Iraq report released by the Pentagon, under a heading entitled "The Security Environment," this is written:
In the past three months, the total number of attacks increased 22%. Some of this increase is attributable to a seasonal spike in violence during Ramadan. Coalition forces remained the target of the majority of the attacks (68%), but the overwhelming majority of casualties were suffered by Iraqis.
Eighteen pages later in the Pentagon report, under a heading labeled "Attack Trends and Violence," the term "attacks" is qualified:
For this report, the term "attacks" refers to specific incidents reported in the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) Significant Activities Database. It includes known attacks on Coalition forces, the ISF, the civilian population, and the infrastructure. Attacks typically consist of improvised explosive devides (IEDs), small arms fire, and indirect fire weapons.
The report states there were 959 attacks per week on average during the three-month reporting period.
Based on the Pentagon document, a reader could reasonably conclude that during the reporting period there were 959 attacks per week on average in Iraq and that 68% of those attacks in Iraq were targeted at coalition forces.
That would be a mistaken assumption, however, because, as the Iraq Study Group noted, some types of attacks are excluded from military tallies, the coalition has no record of many attacks in Iraq (principally sectarian violence), and a large percentage of attacks in Iraq are not noted in the Multi-National Forces-Iraq Significant Activities Database.
Here is what the Iraq Study Group report said about this U.S. military practice of providing an incomplete tally of violent attacks in Iraq:
There is significant (U.S. military) underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we (the U.S. military) cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported (by the U.S. military). Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepency with policy goals.
Thus, the total number of attacks in Iraq remains much higher than is reflected in the U.S. military's qualified tally.
The Iraq Study Group sought to address this partial tally issue by proposing two fixes:
Recommendation 77: The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should devote significantly greater analytic resources to the task of understanding the threats and sources of violence in Iraq.
Recommendation 78: The Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should also institute immediate changes in the collection of data about violence and the sources of violence in Iraq to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground.
Here is a PDF of the Pentagon's full 53-page Iraq report.
By Gregory Levey
Dec. 19, 2006 This past June, on my last day working as a speechwriter for the Israeli government -- first at the United Nations and then in the prime minister's office -- I met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his private office at the Israeli parliament to discuss a speech he had just given to the U.S. Congress. The speech, which I helped write, was largely about the future of U.S.-Israeli relations, and we discussed how it had gone over. Also at the meeting was a high-ranking official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and when we left the building together, he told me that the next day officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful lobbying group, would be visiting. He asked if I had any suggestions about what to tell them about how they could more effectively help Israel in Washington.
"Some people would say that maybe the best thing would be for them not to be so reflexively pro-Israel on every issue," I said.
He laughed. "Well, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon," he said. I suggested that such a rebalancing might be beneficial for all who were interested in supporting Israel, and he conceded that, yes, "just maybe" it would.
Many American Jews, it seems, have similar feelings. Eighty-seven percent of them voted Democratic in the recent midterms -- the highest number since 1994 -- belying the oft-repeated claim that the Bush administration's staunch support for Israel would move the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote toward the Republicans. The fact is that most American Jews, and many other American supporters of Israel, do not see eye-to-eye on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the most hawkish, knee-jerk Israel supporters in the U.S. government -- even if their presumed leadership, represented by AIPAC, often appears to do so. Moreover, AIPAC's influence in Washington may soon begin to decline, as a powerful new alliance of left-leaning friends of Israel has begun to emerge, with the express aim of reshaping U.S. strategy on the region's most intractable problem.
If the Bush administration decides to seriously reevaluate its strategy in the Middle East in the wake of the Iraq Study Group's recent report -- and among its recommendations is prioritizing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- it will have to deal with a minefield of interest groups. That will surely include AIPAC, a juggernaut that the New York Times has called the "most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."
In "The Israel Lobby," their highly controversial article earlier this year, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer argued that AIPAC, along with a very wide array of allies, pushes American foreign policy inflexibly in a pro-Israel direction. The article was criticized as simplistic, sloppy and above all reductive, but in its core suggestion that AIPAC often hinders the American government's ability to freely maneuver in the Middle East, it is difficult to argue with. As AIPAC itself proudly reports, the organization is "consistently ranked as the most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill," and it uses this influence to very successfully push a viewpoint that its critics claim puts Israel's total military dominance above efforts to broker Middle East peace.
AIPAC suffered a relatively small but symbolic defeat this past year -- one that may prove to have been a turning point. Earlier in the year, AIPAC put all its muscle behind a congressional bill called the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which even some pro-Israel observers called "draconian." Going beyond even the Bush administration's own hard-line stance on the Hamas-led Palestinian government, it would have essentially cut off all American contact with any element of the Palestinian leadership, and hampered the U.S. government's ability to strengthen Palestinian moderates.
A group of small, left-leaning Jewish lobby groups, including the Israel Policy Forum, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, banded together to battle AIPAC on the issue, and in the end were successful. A watered-down version of the bill was passed, with what they saw as the problematic language stripped away. An AIPAC official recently told me that AIPAC was satisfied with the softer bill's passage -- but it is quite clear that the incident represented a defeat for the organization.
It was, in fact, an impressive demonstration of what political cooperation and grass-roots advocacy can do. However, for these groups to replicate that success on a larger scale and with more of a substantive effect on U.S. foreign policy, there is a key missing element: real money.
That is where billionaire financier George Soros may come in, along with a group of other left-leaning philanthropists, many of them Jewish. In the relatively close-knit Middle East lobbying community, it is something of an open secret that this past September, Morton Halperin, who served in both the Nixon and Clinton administrations and is now director of U.S. advocacy for Soros' Open Society Institute, met with a group of lobbyists, political strategists and former politicians who are seeking to create a new well-funded, well-organized, left-leaning Israel lobby, as an alternative to AIPAC.
Several key figures in this group had been active in the effort to quash the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, and include Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former advisor to President Clinton, and Daniel Levy, a former special advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington.
The group's first meeting was exploratory and unfocused, according to several attendees who spoke with me. But in late October, Soros himself attended a follow-up meeting, along with liquor magnates Edgar and Charles Bronfman, former Democratic Rep. Mel Levine and others. The idea -- by this point labeled the "Soros Initiative" -- now began to gain traction and substance, with large sums of money being pledged by several parties. Several people involved have told me that there is now almost enough money firmly on the table to launch the new organization -- an eight-figure dollar amount, they say, and that's just for starters. Several people have told me that there is already work in progress to establish the organization's core structure and operations.
What exactly would the new organization do? According to Diane Balser, a board member of the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, one of the small left-wing groups involved in the discussions, the goal is clear: "Organizing systematically to affect U.S. foreign policy." Levy, the former Barak advisor, explained that the movement is "coming from a place where inside the mainstream Jewish community, people are increasingly confused about something that describes itself as pro-Israel, but is so out of sync with what they believe are good politics for the U.S. or Israel."
"The right-wing orientation in the community is losing people by the droves, particularly young people," M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum, one of the main groups involved, added. "Most U.S. Jews support peace in the Middle East, and don't want to shoot down doves anytime they appear."
The point of the initiative, Levy told me, is not to "turn American policy against Israel. It is to reach out to groups of philanthropists to get better resources and better focus and to translate this into a political statement," so that members of Congress will know that they "will have cover if they seek to do what we and many in the American Jewish Community think is right."
There has been talk before about establishing an alternative to the status quo represented by AIPAC, but the added element of money from Soros and others could prove the pivotal difference now. There is also the possibility that a connection to Soros could itself be problematic. Soros has never been at all friendly to Israel, and his involvement might scare off others who are left-leaning but still support Israel. He is also one of the major funders of MoveOn.org and other left-wing causes, and Republican lawmakers, and even some centrist Democrats, may not want to be associated with him. An AIPAC insider repeatedly stressed to me that one reason this new group will never be able to compete with AIPAC is because AIPAC is bipartisan, while what he called the "Soros connection" shows that the new group will not be.
Levy, meanwhile, said that it is "a misnomer" even to call it the "Soros Initiative," because, as one of his allies said, it's not "Soros' baby. He doesn't want to be out front on it."
The AIPAC insider said that he believes the "Soros Initiative" is little more than a fundraising drive to raise money for some impoverished organizations that "have to define themselves in opposition to something." In fact, say those involved, a contentious issue in the discussions is exactly how much the new organization would allow itself to be seen as being in direct opposition to AIPAC. At least four of the players involved have told me that they intend to be an "alternative," but not an "opposition." Still, one of those present at the early meetings said that he sees his organization as "the anti-AIPAC." Levy, meanwhile, said simply that if "there are differences in policy, those will be expressed in one group advocating one thing and another advocating another thing." This would at least be an improvement, he said, over the past, when Israeli leaders who honestly sought to make peace "pulled their hair out because of the lack of support from the Jewish community in the United States."
I can attest from personal experience that Levy likely picked up this sense of frustration from working in the Israeli government. Once, when I was still a speechwriter for the Israeli government at the U.N., I sat in on a meeting with a group of right-leaning American Jewish lobbyists who were discussing how harshly to react to the International Court of Justice's ruling that Israel's separation barrier was illegal.
Afterward, a senior strategist for the Israeli government said to me, "See, people inside the Israeli government who are sincerely looking for peace have no choice but to wait. This prime minister is not going to bring peace. This ambassador is not going to bring peace." He added, "And those people that we just met are sure as hell not going to bring peace."
How America Can Make Penance to Iraq
LOS ANGELES--It's over. We're pulling out of Iraq. It's a question of when.
Don't get me wrong. To paraphrase Richard Hell, I said we should get out of there before we even went in. And to paraphrase Katrina and the Waves, the fact that 91% of Americans agree with me feels like walking on sunshine. (My solemn pledge: There will be no more music references in this column.)
I am vindicated. More than that, I love that good sense has prevailed and that the end of this unprovoked, nightmarish conflagration is finally drawing nigh. The day that the last occupation soldier leaves Iraq will mark the beginning of our country's opportunity to redeem itself, to prove to the world that the United States can become a force for good. Even so, I can't shake the feeling that cutting and running from the inferno of Iraq--and the misery we chose to create--is reprehensibly irresponsible.
The U.S. military has slaughtered at least 600,000 Iraqis--twice as many as Saddam, who ruled seven times longer. We've begun the political disintegration of Iraq by allowing the creation of a Kurdistan that's an independent state in everything but name. Our bombs have destroyed schools, ministries, museums, bridges and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure; our laissez faire approach to security has ruined the economy. About 10% of Iraq' prewar population has fled into exile. Imagine the level of chaos that would have to be present here to turn 30 million Americans into refugees!
So what do we say? "Our bad!" Or something more elaborate? "Sorry, but in 2000 nobody knew Bush was crazy, and then we had anger issues after 9/11, and our schools don't teach geography anymore, and what with Cheney wanting a war so bad we figured why not let him just have one, and hell, we're Americans and being American means that every now and then we have to kick ass"?
Afraid not. "Sorry! Bye bye, gotta run" may have cut it after Panama or Grenada, but we've trashed Iraq so thoroughly that apologizing can only be a first step toward making up for what we've done. We owe the Iraqis some serious, hardcore penance.
First up: Campers are supposed to leave a place in the same condition or better than they found it. In Iraq, that same principle means that it falls to us to set up a stable government. Given the sectarian divisions and dozens of armed militias, only a strongman--a brutal, despotic dictator--will be able to pull Iraq back together. Only one man has the experience for the job: Saddam Hussein. We have to put the Butcher of Baghdad back in charge (and promise not to overthrow him anymore.) And let's be quick--the dude could get executed or murdered any second.
Next: those 600,000 dead people. We can't bring them back. But we can replace them. The fairest solution is to hold a national lottery to randomly select 600,000 Americans, who will be trained in local culture, languages and mores before being shipped off to live out the remainder of their lives as replacement Iraqis. With our 300 million-plus population, it's not like we'll notice they're gone. It's the least we can do, and hopefully the Iraqis will appreciate our sincere gesture.
Unfortunately, several thousand of the new American-Iraqis will have to submit to torture, rape and murder. After all, we must atone for Abu Ghraib.
If we truly believe that going to war against Iraq was a mistake, it follows that we should pick up the tab for all the apartment buildings and orphanages and other stuff we blew up there. Unfortunately, recent experience in Afghanistan and Iraq and New Orleans proves that we don't know how to build anything. So let's come up with a big round number--say $500 billion--and give the Iraqis the cash. Yeah, they might waste it on video games and torture appliances, but remember how it works when the insurance company pays out for damage to your car. You get the dough, but no one checks to make sure you had the dent fixed. How the Iraqis spend our penance money is their business.
Finally, we have to put Iraq back together again. True, Woodrow Wilson welched on his promise to give the Kurds their own country after World War I, and yeah, they have a rich and distinct culture that deserves nurturing, and it's true they've been oppressed for ages. Be that as it may, we're going to have to put an end to de facto independence for the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. That's right: it's time to invade Kurdistan.
Make no mistake: rebuilding the Old Iraq will be painful. A lot of innocent Kurds are going to die. We'll probably have to torture a few, to show them who's boss. While major combat operations against Kurdistan can probably be accomplished within months, the occupation could last years, costing thousands of American lives. But it will all be worthwhile in the end, or it will create a model of stability in a unified Iraq that will inspire stability and unity throughout the Middle East. Best of all, we'll also get to kick a little ass!
(Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.)
December 19, 2006
JERUSALEM, Dec. 18 — The call for early elections by Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian Authority president, is part of a Western-backed effort to revive the Middle East peace process in hopes of driving the radical Hamas party, which favors Israel’s destruction, out of power.
But Mr. Abbas today is a weak reed, with little power to carry out his decrees or his will. Two years after he was elected president, after the death of Yasir Arafat, opinion polls show that Mr. Abbas is perceived by a majority of Palestinians as a great disappointment, having brought little reform to his Fatah movement or improvement to their lives, while appearing to carry water for Israel and the United States.
Mr. Abbas made a great drama on Saturday of announcing these early elections, but they seem unlikely to happen. Hamas has promised to boycott and disrupt new legislative elections, seeing them as an attempted coup. So even if there were some form of voting, a Hamas boycott would make it hollow.
It may therefore be too late for Mr. Abbas and Fatah to be bolstered very effectively, even by a new American and British aid effort of the kind Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, here to support Mr. Abbas on Monday, seemed to foretell. Mr. Abbas is standing on shaky constitutional principles. It seems clear that he has no legal right to dissolve parliament without its consent. Not that constitutional principles are so holy here, but Mr. Abbas also lacks the power to carry out what he has decreed.
At the same time, Hamas would welcome the resignation of Mr. Abbas, which would mean an early presidential election, letting the movement try to defeat him and take full control over the Palestinian Authority.
By STEVEN ERLANGER
A few weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that the administration was considering what some call an "80% solution" to solve the problems in Iraq. In essence, the solution would be designed to work with the Shia Iraqis who make up 60% of the population and the Kurds who make up 20%. It would exclude the Iraqi Sunni Arabs that make up the remaining 20% of the population.
However, this won't work. There are new, mixed Iraqi coalitions emerging, which makes the Iraqi political map more complicated and mixed than this solution provides for.
Background of the issue
The approach of the United States in dealing with Iraqis is, and has been, based on such sectarian and ethnic divisions. The Governing Council, created by Paul Bremer in July 2003, whose 25 members were chosen by the U.S. led coalition to represent their sects. This was the first time in Iraq's contemporary history where leaders of the country were selected based on them having been identified as members of a particular sectarian group. The Governing Council was a failure - at least in part because of the sectarian makeup and, as one member said of it, the Council's propensity to "sit in the council while the country is burning and argue over procedure.''
Furthermore, the U.S administration -- followed by the mainstream media -- did their best to portray the growing Iraqi-Iraqi conflict as a sectarian or religious one with roots that pre-dated the occupation even though many Iraqi analysts and politicians disagreed with that perception and believe the current conflict is based on political, not religious, motives.
The real problem
As new coalitions emerge inside the Iraqi government, it seems that the background of "sectarian conflict" put forth by the U.S. is collapsing completely. A number of Shia groups such as the Al-Sadr movement and the Al-Fadila party are working with Sunni, Kurdish and secular parties both within and outside the Iraqi government and are attempting to establish a national front that is against the occupation and is for unity in Iraq.
While these pro-unity groups coalesce, the Bush administration is lending its support to another pro-occupation coalition that may include Al-Hakim of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution In Iraq (SCIRI), the two main Kurdish parties, and the Islamic party which is a Sunni party led by the Iraqi vice president, Tariq Al-Hashimi.
The newly formed coalitions prove sectarianism is not at the root of the conflict in Iraq. Sectarian and religious differences are not splitting the country. Thus, it's clear that the "80% solution" will have no impact and will not work, nor will any other sectarian-based response.
The main issue that is splitting Iraqis is the presence of the occupation, and that's why more than 87% of the Iraqi people, and a majority of the country's politicians, believe that the first step in dealing with the Iraqi-Iraqi conflict is pulling out the U.S. and coalition troops and ending the occupation.
Written in collaboration with Jennifer Hicks
t r u t h o u t Guest Contributor
Tuesday 19 December 2006
Why we need to shoot the moon in 2007.
Last year during the holiday season, I wrote a piece called "Shoot the Moon and Forget About the Bell Curve," which was published at TomDispatch.com. In it I asked: Is it futile - or foolish - to continue working to hold the Bush administration to account for defrauding the American people into war, even though the odds of success seemed slim given the Republican-controlled Congress. My answer was a resounding "No!" It is neither futile nor foolish to continue to push for justice despite seemingly intractable obstacles; on the contrary, we have no reasonable choice but to do so.
Twelve months later, it seems we have moved three steps forward and two steps back - or perhaps it is the other way around. Democrats routed the Republicans in an election that was a virtual clarion call for accountability and an end to this war. But now we have our new House leader Nancy Pelosi saying impeachment is "off the table" and Senator Harry Reid considering whether to send more troops to Iraq.
Okay. Maybe the Democrats are not listening, but does that mean we stop talking? No. It means we have to speak up - more loudly and more often. Maybe the Democrats are strategizing themselves into paralysis, but do we give up and say, fine, whatever you guys think is best? Of course not.
Persistence in the face of overwhelming odds is something I think about a lot at this time of year. It was six years ago that George W. Bush received his best Christmas gift ever - the presidency - from the United States Supreme Court. And every year since then, I've thought about the night of December 13, 2000, when the president made his formal acceptance speech. I remember it well: Bush speaking from the Texas House of Representatives about a bipartisan foreign policy and his plan to reunite the country. It's not that I was particularly interested in the president or even the election at that point. I wasn't. I had taken a leave of absence from my job as a federal prosecutor in San Jose and flown 3,000 miles across the country to be with my sister. So I watched the speech while sitting on a portable cot, looking at a hospital TV suspended from the ceiling, while my sister lay in a bed next to me amidst a tangle of tubes. She was dying.
Kathy was 38, a doctor who lived on Cape Cod with her husband and a 3-year-old son, when she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Her prognosis was grim. Statistically, the majority of patients with her diagnosis live for only about six months. But some patients, those represented by a tiny fraction at the far edge of the bell curve, outlived the odds, and Kathy was determined to join that group. So what did she do? Everything. She had a mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy; she vomited, lost her hair, and her eyebrows. She took drugs that threw her into menopause, steroids that made her face swell up like a balloon, and herbs that tasted like dirt. She went to acupuncture, mind-body seminars, and Reiki treatments. She endured a cell replacement procedure that kept her isolated for 30 days. In other words, she shot the moon.
By the day of Bush's speech, Kathy's organs were failing. Her liver was, by then, so damaged that her doctors were astounded she could even speak coherently. But she was definitely able to talk that night, especially about Bush's speech. (She was extremely annoyed that it pre-empted The West Wing.) Kathy died three days later, six years after her initial diagnosis.
Throughout her ordeal, one of my sister's persistent concerns was what other people would think. Would her medical colleagues consider her irrational, if not crazy, to pursue treatments that were so uncomfortable and painful, not to mention unproven or improbable in terms of success? And what would her patients think? Kathy would call me regularly to talk about those questions.
In the end, though, she answered them herself. As long as there was uncertainty, the slightest possibility that she could land at the odds-defying edge of that bell curve and have a longer life, it made sense to her to do anything she could do, regardless of what others thought.
We can do no less when it comes to pushing for an end to the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq. We can do no less when it comes to insisting that the Bush administration be held accountable for the fraud that led us there - and keeps us there. Why do I say this? The invasion of Iraq is both the product of a crime and a crime in and of itself. I do not use these terms casually or colloquially. The United States' war against Iraq is the fruit of a massive fraud perpetrated by our highest elected officials; it is also an illegal, unjustified war. Most important, these are not victimless crimes. Indeed, there are literally millions of victims, each of whom has suffered real and irreparable harm.
It is up to each of us to speak for them, and in doing so, to focus on the reality of their suffering, because it is reality that most powerfully counteracts the mass anesthetic that the Bush administration has used to keep people from questioning the war. While masquerading as hard-headed realists, the president and war hawks from both parties have been, at best, determined illusionists. They have shrouded the war in abstractions - victory, freedom, the spread of democracy - all of which are, ultimately (to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway in his World War I novel A Farewell to Arms) obscene, especially when juxtaposed against the concrete names of soldiers killed, Iraqis bombed, millions of Iraqis displaced, towns destroyed, and children maimed. The truth is that the closer you get to the reality of the war against Iraq and the lies that brought us there - and these are quite literally matters of life and death - the easier it is to know what to do: Shoot the moon and forget about the bell curve.
The most potent antidote to the obscenity of abstraction is fact. Focus on the facts. Make sure you get them right and don't overstate your case. Talk about the lies, the half-truths, deliberate misrepresentations, statements made with reckless disregard for the truth that sent us to Iraq. Talk about the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis slaughtered, the soldiers killed and wounded, the families they've left behind. Don't play the administration's word games about civil war and torture: talk about waterboarding, humiliation, and beatings. Write letters, demonstrate, make calls, send emails, wear t-shirts, join groups, organize, talk to anyone who will listen and even people who won't. Demand hearings, advocate impeachment, push the Senate to analyze the administration's use of pre-war intelligence, call for a special prosecutor - and tell Congress it's time to bring the troops home. Don't worry about the odds.
What good does any of this do? The answer is we don't know - which is exactly why we have to do it.
Whether the victims of this crime are 8,000 miles away or eight miles away, they are our neighbors. And they need our help. We need to speak up for our neighbors.
Elizabeth de la Vega, a former federal prosecutor with more than 20 years of experience, is the author of the new book, United States v. George W. Bush et al. During her tenure with the Department of Justice, she was a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force and chief of the San Jose Branch of the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California. Her pieces have appeared in The Nation magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon. She writes regularly for TomDispatch.com. She may be contacted at ElizabethdelaVega@Verizon.net.
(The American Prospect) This column was written by Gareth Porter
The Iraq Study Group was warned by the former State Department coordinator of intelligence on Iraq that the option of sharply increasing the number of U.S. trainers in the Iraqi military — a plan that the ISG recommended in their final report and the Pentagon has now approved — probably would fail, even if accompanied by 50,000 additional U.S. troops and the adoption of favorable policies by the Iraqi government. Wayne White, former Deputy Director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Near Eastern Division, combined that blunt warning with a proposal to give such a training initiative and other "surge" measures a one-year trial, but only on the condition that it be linked to a commitment to withdrawal if found to be unsuccessful. White thus created a new option, known within the ISG as "Option 3.5," because it combined the two options under review, "stability first" and "redeploy and contain," that had been called Options 3 and 4. Those two options had been developed over a period of weeks by the U.S. Institute of Peace Secretariat based on input from the ISG Working Groups, according to White and another source familiar with the process. (Option 1 — "victory" in Iraq — was discarded early on by the ISG, and Option 2, which was to focus on the terrorists, was regarded as a subset of other options.) Last September, White, a 26-year veteran of Middle East intelligence analysis and the State Department's leading analyst on Iraq during virtually the entire Iraq war until his retirement in 2005, was asked by Daniel Serwer of the ISG Secretariat to provide an oral briefing to the principles on what was being called "Stability First" or Option 3. The paper on the option called for an undefined increase in U.S. combat troops in Baghdad and a very sharp rise in the number of U.S. officers providing training for Iraqi security forces, while also pursuing regional diplomacy and more efforts at promoting reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. But White believed that option would only lead to more failure. "I told him I didn't believe in Option 3 and that I'd have to criticize it," he recalls. He favored the proposal for "Option 4" — "Redeploy and Contain" — which called for an announcement of a "strategic decision" to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq within one year, accompanied by convening of a regional "contact group" to "mitigate the impact of U.S. withdrawal." White sensed, however, that the principles would not support that option, and was concerned that they would instead embrace an unrealistic policy option with no backup plan. White recalls that he emphasized in his September 18 oral briefing for the principals that "stability first" should not be tried without stringent conditions being fulfilled, including engaging the insurgents more fully and revising the constitution to accommodate Sunni interests. White believed it was extremely unlikely that the Shiite government would accept a commitment to such conditions. But even with all the additional troops and advisers and the unlikely adoption of favorable policies, he warned that the chances of success would be less than 50/50. And he insisted that if such a proposal was to be tried, it should be limited to a year, and if it failed, it should be followed immediately by troop withdrawal. White says he also warned the ISG members that the proposal for embedding many thousands of trainers in the Iraqi security and a short-term increase in U.S. combat troop carried a risk of much higher U.S. casualties. A source close to the ISG confirmed the essence of White's account of the briefing. In later meetings of all the advisers to the ISG, White says he argued that a surge in troop strength would have to be closer to 100,000 to make an impact, and was informed by Dan Serwer of the Secretariat that 50,000 was the maximum increase that was considered possible by the U.S. military in any case. Various proposals floated in recent weeks by right-wing hawks, including some retired veterans of the Iraq war, for an increase in combat strength of anywhere from 14,000 to 35,000 troops are reportedly being given serious consideration by George W. Bush. Such increases would fall far short of the troop levels that White indicated would increase the chances of stabilizing the situation. They are also being proposed without the political preconditions that White insists are necessary. In early November, White submitted a formal three-page analytical paper to the principals, which he called "Option 3.5: One Final Push for Success Linked to Withdrawal and Redeployment as a Fallback." In that paper he wrote, presciently, "The likelihood of reversing this dangerously unstable situation with current resources is nil." White wrote that Coalition military forces had become "even more inadequate" because of the "emergence of a second front: Shia death squads linked to militants and the Iraqi National Police." As for reforming the Iraqi Army, White warned that its units "are capable, as with the police, of contributing to the ongoing ethno-sectarian violence if their use is not carefully handled and monitored." White called for what he called a "final push" — an effort to "stabilize Iraq involving a determined military and civilian surge for one year," to be followed, if unsuccessful, by withdrawal. He explained that such a "surge" would consist of at least 50,000 additional U.S. combat troops and roughly 18,500 additional military personnel to advise and monitor Iraqi security forces, combined with greater efforts to reach an accommodation with the Sunni insurgents aimed at removing them from the battlefield. The proposed additional military effort, however, would be "conditional on Iraqi leadership commitment to a major reduction in militia activity, securing constitutional amendments on oil revenues and federalism, and amnesty for most all mid-level and below Baath technocrats, educators, and military personnel." White repeated in his paper the warning he had made in his oral briefing: even with the additional effort and all conditions fulfilled, "the chances for enduring success probably would remain substantially lower than 50-50." The essence of White's option, therefore, was that, if the "final push" was unsuccessful after one year, U.S. troops would be "redeployed, in part within the region to contain the consequences and to shore up the NATO effort in Afghanistan." White's paper went to principals on November 13. The final ISG report, however, held to the option of a very large increase in trainers and advisers to the Iraqi army and police, while ruling out both "sustained increases in U.S. troop levels," on the one hand, and setting political conditions and a firm commitment to withdrawal, on the other. White's pessimism about the possibility that the Iraqi Army can be transformed from its present sectarian character into a real national army is heavily influenced by his knowledge of a similar U.S. program during the Lebanese civil war. "The sad part of it is we tried this before with the Lebanese national army in the early 1980s," White recalls. "We made a major effort to train it up and create a new model Lebanese army. But most of the units reverted to their previous sectarian alignments." At least some of the Study Group's principals were shocked to hear White's assessment of the Iraqi army as more likely to be a sectarian force than one that would help to suppress sectarian violence. He recalls an exchange with ISG members Chuck Robb and Sandra Day O'Connor last summer on the implications of the army's Shiite sectarian makeup. "They were appalled," he says. "Robb asked how we could fix this. O'Connor said if this thing is so badly flawed, we would need to come up with new Iraqi divisions." But she was dismayed when told that the creation of army divisions with an appropriate sectarian balance could take years. Later, White observed O’Connor shaking her head and muttering to herself, "Bad … bad." In the end, this group of political leaders apparently felt it had to offer the administration and public something positive and hopeful. In doing so, the ISG members ignored what was probably the savviest advice it had encountered on what they could expect a surge in training and military advising, by itself, to accomplish.
The U.S. current-account deficit widened to a record $225.6 billion last quarter as the trade gap grew and the country paid more interest to overseas investors.
The shortfall in the current account, the broadest measure of trade because it includes transfer payments and investment income, followed a revised $217.1 billion second-quarter gap, the Commerce Department said today in Washington.
Stronger economies abroad and a weakening dollar have trimmed the trade deficit in recent months, raising the prospect the current-account gap won't deteriorate much more. A smaller deficit reduces the sum the U.S. needs to attract from overseas, diminishing the dollar's vulnerability to an extended decline.
The BEA reported that:
Goods exports increased to $262.1 billion from $252.8 billion. The increase resulted from increases in all major commodity categories.
Goods imports increased to $480.7 billion from $463.4 billion. The increase resulted from increases in petroleum and products and in most major categories of nonpetroleum products.
In other words, the US can’t export its way out of this problem. In addition, so long as the US is oil dependent the current account will be difficult to cure.
Sometime over the last year the general refrain from the Right Wing Noise, economics division was the current account didn’t matter. Their central argument had two prongs, neither of which had any weight. The first was the US was essentially too big to fail. The second was the current account had been around so long with nothing bad happening that it was something we shouldn’t worry about. But the US dollar has taken a hit recently, and is currently trading at yearly lows and is approaching multi-year lows.
US interest rates – which were noticeably higher than other countries for the last several years – protected the dollar’s value for the last year and a half. However, European interest rates are increasing. In addition, the US economy is slowing which makes the dollar less attractive.
Compounding this development is accelerating European growth which makes the euro more attractive. As a result of all these events – the narrowing interest rate differential, the mammoth US current account and accelerating growth elsewhere – various countries are moving away from the dollar. Iran is the latest country to announce a move to euros:
Iran is to shift its foreign currency reserves from dollars to euros and use the euro for oil deals in response to US-led pressure on its economy.
In a widely expected move, Tehran said it would use the euro for all future commercial transactions overseas.
Analysts said Tehran had been steadily shifting its foreign-held assets out of dollars since 2003 and that Monday's announcement was unlikely to affect the value of the dollar, which has weakened significantly in recent months.
And Iran is not alone.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is directing a growing share of the country's oil profits into euros as the dollar and crude prices fall.
The dollar, down 9.5 percent against the euro this year, may face more pressure in 2007 because Venezuela and oil producers from the United Arab Emirates to Indonesia plan to funnel more money into the single European currency.
Banco Central de Venezuela has slashed the percentage of its $35.9 billion worth of reserves invested in dollars and gold to 80 percent from 95 percent a year ago, said Maza Zavala. The country, the world's fifth-largest oil supplier, has boosted its euro holdings to 15 percent, from less than 5 percent in the same period.
And they are not the only one:
Bank Indonesia is boosting euro holdings, said Senior Deputy Governor Miranda S Goeltom in a Dec. 13 interview in Jakarta. Indonesia has $39.9 billion in reserves. Sultan Bin Nasser al- Suwaidi, the governor of the Central Bank of the UAE, last month said he was considering when to shift as much as 8 percent of the nation's $24.9 billion in reserves into euros.
The central banks are changing policy ``because the oil price has come down a long way and the U.S. dollar has been declining,'' said Michael Derks, chief markets strategist at Arch Financial Products LLP, a London-based hedge fund. ``The euro stands to benefit.''
They are certainly not alone
Oil producing countries have reduced their exposure to the dollar to the lowest level in two years and shifted oil income into euros, yen and sterling, according to new data from the Bank for International Settlements.
The revelation in the latest BIS quarterly review, published on Monday, confirms market speculation about a move out of dollars and could put new pressure on the ailing US currency.
The dollar is not in a good place. The US economy is slowing and there is a massive trade deficit further weakening its value. Global interest rates are closing in on US rates, taking away the carry trade. And the US’ popularity in some regions is at an all-time low.
For Commentary on the Markets and Current Economic Numbers, go to the Bonddad Blog
Dec 18, 2006
US “democracy promoters” and regime change in Iran
By Michael Barker
The Iranian question is on everyone’s lips at the moment, and judging by the ongoing discussions in both the mainstream and alternative (progressive) media, it is apparent that, one way or the other, the US (and its coalition of willing cronies) has its sights firmly set on bringing regime change to Iran. So far, for the most part, the alternative media has focused on the nuclear threat posed by the Middle East’s most dangerous lawbreaker, Israel. The mainstream media, however, has persistently and erroneously portrayed Iran as the “real” nuclear threat. Even Britain’s so-called liberal media is demonstrating its ability to “manufacture consent” for elite interests, with the BBC recently devoting an entire (Israeli-made) documentary to the issue of the Iranian problem, ironically titled “Will Israel bomb Iran?”  This is not really surprising, as the governments guilty of involvement are heavily reliant on the mainstream media’s willingness to legitimize their “War on Terror,” which in turn, could turn out to be the catalyst for an illegal and catastrophic foreign intervention in Iran (and thereby a catalyst for a global war). Thus, although the alternative media has tended to focus on the Israeli nuclear threat in relation to the “Iranian problem,” military intervention is only one among many instruments available to the architects of imperialism to promote regime change in Iran. Other methods commonly used to “encourage” geo-strategically favourable “changes” in leadership include economic and diplomatic persuasion. However, a relative newcomer to the armoury of foreign policy elites – and the topic of this article – is the use of democracy itself as a tool of foreign policy. A tool which is arguably one of the most potent weapons in the war of ideas waged by policy elites against progressive activists. The strength of this new “democratic strategy” lies in its unique public relations value, which allows those who wield it to cloak their “free-market” agendas in the powerful rhetoric of human rights and humanitarianism. Ironically, the democracy idea was first picked up with gusto in the early 1980s, when President Reagan (with bipartisan support) created the quasi-nongovernmental organisation, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Needless to say, the Reaganites newly defined “democracy” quickly debased democracy as commonly understood by the American populous: a not wholly unexpected development from a government reliant upon covert propaganda for implementing their deeply regressive domestic politics. Nicaragua was one of the first and most logical targets for the born-again “democratic” zealots manning the NED, and their commitment to democracy complemented the slaughter of the thus far US-supported Contras in the war against the Sandinistas. Professor William I. Robinson was the one of the first researchers to draw attention to the hypocrisy that was the antidemocratic practices of the NED’s activities in Nicaragua. His seminal work on this topic was Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony, which examined the “hijacking” of democratic transitions in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Philippines and Chile. Crucially, Robinson concluded that the success of foreign interventions can “be understood only when seen in its entirety – as a skilful combination of military aggression, economic blackmail, CIA propaganda, NED political interference, coercive diplomacy, and international pressures.”  (Robinson uses the term polyarchy to describe the “democracy promoters” actual unstated mission which is to promote low-intensity democracy as opposed to more participatory forms of democracy.) Although most of the NED’s work eludes critical commentary (by the mainstream and alternative media alike), a lot of attention was paid to the 2002 coup in Venezuela, which although ultimately unsuccessful (due to genuine popular resistance), obtained vital support from US “democracy promoters.” Furthermore, recent research undertaken by this author also illustrated the crucial coordinating role the NED played in facilitating the Serbian revolution in 2000, and in the ensuing coloured revolutions across Eastern Europe.  Therefore, given the lack of critical analyses of the NED’s activities, this article will now attempt to shed some light on the role of the NED in promoting a “democratic” transition in Iran. War or Revolution? First of all, although the focus of this article is on the cynical utilization of “democracy” as a foreign policy tool, much evidence still suggests that the Bush administration plans to unleash yet another blood bath upon the Middle East (700,000 and counting – or not in the case of the Western aggressors – in Iraq). Indeed, Bush’s “democracy promoting” ambitions for Iran certainly don’t rule out the possibility that the US may have an actual attack in mind; especially considering the polyarchal precedents set in Nicaragua and Serbia, where “democratic” success relied in large part upon the preceding US-backed wars. Alternatively, it is still also possible that the election-conscious American regime may consider the “mere” threat of a nuclear holocaust to be enough of a stimulus for regime change within Iran. Perhaps they are even hoping that a non-violent revolution will be led by a terrified majority desperate to prevent their countries imminent destruction. Either way, war or no war, it is urgent that progressive activists understand, expose, and criticize the insidious nature of the mechanisations of all would-be “democracy promoters.” In this respect, this article will only examine the role of the most prominent US-based “democracy promoting” organisation, the NED. However, it should be noted that the “promotion of democracy” is a global phenomena, whose very legitimacy relies upon the support from a multitude of international actors.  The NED Goes to Iran The 2005 Iranian election was “met with worldwide approval.”  It was, it seemed, a signal to the rest of the world that Iran was preparing itself for a more western style of democratic governance. But, despite the apparent legitimacy of the elections, it became evident in February 2006 that the US administration was now in “Iranian democracy promoting mode.” It was then that Condoleezza Rice first announced she was requesting $85 million from Congress for the newly formed Office of Iranian Affairs. This initiative built upon the earlier activism of Senators Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) who had introduced the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2004 which declared the need for democracy and regime change in Iran.  However, to date the NED’s activities in Iran (which are carried out openly and even described on their website) have not even been mentioned in the media. Their “democratic” rhetoric seems to have worked its wonders and allowed the NED to completely slip under the radar of the world’s media. In fact, even before the advent of the Iran Freedom and Support Act the NED had been openly meddling in Iranian affairs. According to the NED’s online project database five Iranian groups received NED aid prior to 2004: the Iran Teachers Association, the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, the National Iranian American Council, the Women’s Learning Partnership, and the Abdorrahaman Boroumand Foundation.  Therefore, in a bid to understand what US-led “democracy” will mean for Iran, the activities of each of these organisations will now be examined in turn. The Iran Teachers Association (ITA) was one of the first Iranian groups to receive NED aid. Between 1991 and 2003 they were the recipients of seven NED grants. These grants – worth a total of just over $300,000 – were distributed to support the ITA’s quarterly cultural and political journal, Mehregan. In 1992 the neoconservative Bradley Foundation provided them with a further $25,000 grant to help build a democratic Iran.  Unfortunately, due to the closure of their website little other information has been obtained regarding their activities. The next recipient of NED largess was the US-based Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI), which was founded in 1995 by Kenneth Timmerman, Peter Rodman and Joshua Muravchick (with the assistance of some unidentified Iranian exiles).  The FDI received their first $50,000 grant from the NED in 1995, which was used to support their work in “document[ing and publicising] the human rights situation inside Iran through first-hand monitoring.” The following year they received their second NED grant ($25,000), which enabled them to continue their documentation of human rights violations, which were to “be aired through international broadcast services such as the Voice of America and the BBC, in both English and Farsi.”  The value of these start-up funds, not to mention the power of an NED endorsement, must have been invaluable to the FDI as a budding “democracy promoter.” Since then FDI have gone from strength to strength, and earlier this year they were even predicting that Tehran was going to test a (thus far seemingly non-existent) nuclear weapon before the Iranian New Year on (20th March).  Not too surprisingly, Timmerman, the foundations executive director, has been described as being “umbilically connected to the godfather of right-wing think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute.” The other American cofounders of the FDI also seem to be card carrying neocons, as Muravchick is closely connected to the American Enterprise Institute, while Rodman signed the infamous letter sent from the Project for a New American Century to President Clinton in 1998.  (Incidentally, the American Enterprise Institute has leant its “moral support” to the newly formed Iran Enterprise Institute.)  Like the FDI, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) which was launched in 2002, received its first NED grant ($25,000) in its founding year. The NIAC notes that their purpose is to promote “Iranian-American participation in American civic life,” and the initial NED grant was used to help them organize a “two-day media training workshop in Iran for forty staff members from five civic groups.”  Sticking with the media theme, in July 2006 they launched the US-Iran Media Resource Project, which is “aimed at ensuring that the [US] national media has the best information and interpretation available.”  Of particular interest are the establishment credentials of the Council’s president, Dr. Trita Parsi, who earlier this year completed his doctoral thesis on Israeli-Iranian relations under the guidance of Francis Fukuyama and Zbigniew Brzezinski.  Last year NIAC also received a $64,000 grant to “foster cooperation between Iranian and international civic groups and foundations”: this grant was also used to “hire a Farsi-English speaking expert to advise local groups on project development, proposal writing and foreign donor relations.” Interestingly, a few years ago NIAC was associated with the controversial funder of the US Democratic Party, Hassan Nemazee (director of the Iranian American Political Action Committee). At that time, Nemazee was involved in “a ten-million-dollar damage claim against the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran (SMCCDI) and its coordinator, Aryo B. Pirouznia.”  As his support of the Kerry campaign suggests, Nemazee moves in influencial “democratic” circles, and he has been a trustee of the Asia Society since 2003.  The Asia Society provides an early example of a “democracy promoting” organisation, which was founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III “to foster understanding between Asians and Americans”; furthermore, former chair of the Asia Sociey, Richard Holbrooke, is currently on the board of the NED.  From 2001 to 2002, Nemazee was also a member of the board of directors of the American Iranian Council, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to improving US-Iran relations.”  Notable “democratic” directors of the American Iranian Council include, Judith Kipper (director of the right wing Middle East Forum), Shireen Hunter (director of Islamic Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies), and chairman David J. Lesar (president and CEO of Halliburton).  The third group to receive NED backing is the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP), which in 2003 obtained $115,000 from the NED to work with the Afghan Institute of Learning “to develop an e-learning center… for Afghan and Iranian Persian speakers” to “advance women’s rights and democracy advocacy.” WLP was founded in the mid 1990s by former Minister of State for Women’s Affairs in Iran, Mahnaz Afkhami, who now lives in exile in the US. WLP describes itself as “a builder of networks, working with 18 autonomous and independent partner organizations in the Global South, particularly in Muslim-majority societies.”  WLP’s president, Ms. Afkhami, is currenltly also the executive director of the Foundation for Iranian Studies, and in the past she was the president of the Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI).  During the 1990s, SIGI received two NED grants for their work promoting women’s rights in the Middle East, and in 1996 they received $25,000 from the Bradley Foundation to “support a series of workshops in Tehran, Iran under the direction of Dr. Azar Nafisi” (a writer and professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a trustee of FIS).  Ms. Afkhami has also worked with a number of other global NGOs, including the World Movement for Democracy and the Global Fund for Women.  Both of these organizations are ideologically linked to the NED, as the former was created by the NED in 1999,  while lasy year one of directors of the Global Fund for Women, Professor Sakena Yacoobi, received the NED’s prestigous Democracy Award.  Professor Yacoobi is also a founder and executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (which works closely with WLP). In addition, Yacoobi is the vice president of Creating Hope International where she works alongside fellow director, Betsy Amin-Arsala – American-born wife of Afghanistan's vice-president, Hedayat Amin-Arsala.  (Hedayat is a former World Bank staffer and Senior Advisor and member of the Afghan Mujahideen Unity Council.)  The final Iranian group to receive NED funding prior to 2004 was the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF), a non-governmental organization which promotes human rights and democracy in Iran. ABF was founded in 2001 by Ladan and Roya Boroumand, the daughters of Abdorrahman Boroumand, “an Iranian lawyer and pro-democracy activist who was assassinated, allegedly by the agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Paris on April 18, 1991.”  ABF received their first NED grant of $25,000 in 2002 to “establish an Iranian human rights memorial web site” with a “Farsi-language electronic library on human rights laws and instruments.” They then received $30,000 in 2003 to help develop their website, and a further $135,000 the following year to continue their work and to launch the “Iran Human Rights Memorial.” Like many of the other Iranian organisations receiving NED aid, the ABF’s connections with such “democratic” organisatiions are more diverse than the funding alone, as Ladan Boroumand was formerly a visiting fellow at the NED-founded International Forum for Democratic Studies.  In 2003, ABF also received a $150,000 grant from the conservative “Smith Richardson Foundation” for a project entitled Iran’s Transition to Democracy. NED’s Work in Iran Post-2004 Since 2004, five other groups, not mentioned in the preceding discussion, have also received NED money, they are the Vital Voices Global Partnership, the Institute of World Affairs, and three of the NED’s four core grantees, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the Center for the International Private Enterprise, and the International Republican Institute. In 2004, Vital Voices Global Partnership received $40,500 to “conduct a leadership training-of-trainers seminar in Washington, DC for five emerging women leaders” to help “improve the political, economic and social status of Iranian women.” The three honorary chairs of the partnership include former First Lady Hillary Clinton, and two US senators, Kay Hutchison (R-TX) and Nancy Baker (R-KS).  This in itself is a case in point as, who else could promote democracy better than a bona fide Democrat like Ms. Clinton? Likewise, in 2004, the Center for the International Private Enterprise received $56,000 to “inject the voice of business into the reform debate in Iran.” The Institute of World Affairs (IWA) is a non-profit organization ostensably “devoted to international understanding and the peaceful resolution of conflict.” In 2005, they received a $45,800 grant from the NED to “start the debate for judicial reform through research, training programs, and legal consultations focusing on problematic issues of law and justice in Iran.” Dr. Hrach Gregorian is the current president of the IWA, and his biography proudly notes that he has also “helped to establish the international conflict resolution skills training program at the United States Institute of Peace” (USIP).  Judging by the paucity of critical enquiries into the USIP’s activities, it seems that it is an institution that is familiar to few. The USIP is a quasi-nongovernmental organization created by Congress in 1984 (the same year the NED was formed), whose board of directors was, in the 1980s, described as being “a who’s who of right wing academia and government.”  The USIP also shares more with the NED than just its birth date. Carl Gershman (the NED’s president) was a contributor to the USIP’s Journal: and Allen Weinstein (who directed the creation of the NED) and Evron Kirkpatrick (the husband of fellow NED creator Jeane Kirkpatrick) are both well connected to the USIP.  In 2005, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS also known as the Solidarity Center) obtained $185,000 from the NED to “support the emergence of a sustainable independent labor movement” in Iran. To understand the type of labor groups usually drawn into cooperating with the Solidarity Center, it useful to examine recent NED-related activities in Venezuela. Here we find that the NED provided aid to the organisations involved in the (temporary) ousting of democratically elected Hugo Chavez in 2002. They also provided the Solidarity Center with nearly US$600,000 between 1997 and 2001, significant due to the close links to the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (the group involved in the strike actions against Chávez in 2003).  With regard to the Solidarity Center’s recent work in Iran, the NED notes that the money they received in 2005 would be used to “conduct an international workshop for Iranian labor leaders to acquire skills and benefit from the experiences of other trade unionists.” To protect the attendee’s identities, such meetings are carried out in secret. However, it is likely that such workshops are used to put Iranian labor activists in contact with other NED activists, like for example those involved in opposing Chavez in Venezuela. Finally in 2005, the International Republican Institute (IRI) received $110,000 to help link reformist “Iranian political activists to democratic reformers in other countries” and to “strengthen their communications and organizing capacity through the provision of skills-building and increased access to information.” These activities were acknowledged by the IRI’s president, Lorne W. Craner, who reported to the New York Times earlier this year that they have been offering training to Iranian democratic activists for the past few years.  Although there is no direct connection, in 2005, a secretive “skills-building” meeting for Iranian activists – self described as a “human-rights” workshop – was held in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). According to an attendee, the workshop was organized by “a mixture of Los Angeles-based exiled Iranians, Americans… and three Serbs who said they belonged to the Otpor democratic movement that overthrew the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.”  The Serbian connection suggests the possible involvement of two NGO’s formed by ex-Otpor members after the ouster of Milosevic, those being the Centre for Non-violent Resistance and the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies; both of which offer training courses all over the world on how to create and run resistance movements.  Other possible workshop organizers include the Washington-based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, as the Dubai workshop focused on teaching how the non-violent tactics used in Serbia could be used “to bring down the [Iranian] regime.”  Locking-in Neoliberal Democracy (or Polyarchy) For the sake of brevity this article has limited itself to the NED’s work in Iran, however, in the past few years a number of other writers have been exploring other ways in which the US is “promoting democracy” in Iran. For example, see the work of Laura Rozen, Guy Dinmore, Howard LaFranchi, and Farah Stockman.  Furthermore, it should be clear that many other countries are working alongside the US to promote polyarchy in Iran, although few studies have scrutinized the significance of their roles in the global “promotion of democracy.” No properly informed person would argue that democracy (particularly participatory democracy) is flourishing in Iran, but the major problem with the promotion of polyarchy, is that its spells the effective death knell for (possible) future transitions to more participatory forms of governance. However, for the time being, as Benjamin Isakhan has recently shown, the Middle-East can take pride that it, and not Greece, was the birthplace of modern day democracy (contrary to popular beliefs promoted in and by the West).  In reaction to the recent expansion (and discussion of) the NED’s “democratic” interventions, two US-based groups have begun documenting and exposing the fraudulent activities of the NED – they are the International Endowment for Democracy (www.iefd.org) and In the Name of Democracy (http://inthenameofdemocracy.org). Furthermore, Wikipedia sites such as the Center for Media and Democracy’s (www.sourcewatch.org), provide useful means to research the interlocking relationships between the numerous “democracy promoting” organizations and their grantees. Sadly, however, it will take more than the limited distribution networks of alternative news media to seriously challenge the hypocritical and antidemocratic practices typified by the NED. It is therefore vital that all people, with even a passing interest in the foreign affairs of their elected governments, work to return journalism to the mainstream media, so that we, (as responsible citizens of the world), can begin to have free, open and participatory discussions about the future of democracy. As Robert McChesney observes; “regardless of what a progressive group’s first issue of importance is, its second issue should be media and communication, because so long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible, across the board.”  So let’s reclaim media and reclaim democracy. Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] griffith.edu.auI would like to thank SourceWatch, through which much of the research for this article was undertaken.
References:  Jonathan Cook, Israel's Plan For A Military Strike On Iran, (Zmag, 15 October 2006), http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11190  William I. Robinson, A Faustian Bargain: US Intervention in the Nicaraguan Elections and American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era, (Westview Press, 1992), p. 146. http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/robinson/Assets/pdf/faustista.pdf  Michael Barker, Taking the Risk Out of Civil Society: Harnessing Social movements and Regulating Revolutions, Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Newcastle 25-27 September 2006, http://www.newcastle.edu.au/school/ept/politics/apsa/PapersFV/IntRel_IPE/Barker,%20Michael.pdf Thomas O. Melia, The Democracy Bureaucracy: The Infrastructure of American Democracy Promotion, (2005), http://www.wws.princeton.edu/ppns/papers/democracy_bureaucracy.pdf  Ignacio Ramonet, Democracy To Order, (Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2006), http://mondediplo.com/2006/03/01democracy  According to Laura Rozen, The Revolution Next Time, (The Boston Globe, 10 October 2004) http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2004/10/10/the_revolution_next_time/; this act “declared that ‘it should be the policy of the United States to support regime change for the Islamic Republic of Iran and to promote the transition to a democratic government to replace that regime’ and would authorize the president to ‘provide assistance to foreign and domestic pro-democracy groups opposed to the non-democratic Government of Iran.’” Data on NED funding before 1990 is unavailable on their online grant database. Media Transparency, Grant Detail, http://www.mediatransparency.org/grantdetail.php?grantID=3582 According to his Timmerman’s official biography (http://www.kentimmerman.com/bio.htm), since 1987 he has “operated Middle East Data Project, Inc., a small business that has provided investigative support and policy guidance to government agencies and private companies on three continents.”  http://www.ned.org/dbtw-wpd/textbase/projects-search.htm http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/012206A.shtml Project for a New American Century, (26 January 1998), http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm  Laura Rozen, Iran Hawks Reorganize (The American Prospect, 13 November 2006), http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=12209  http://www.niacouncil.org/intro.asp  This project is also funded through grants by Connect US Fund and the Ploughshares Fund, see http://www.niacouncil.org/us-iran.asp  Dr Parsi’s doctorate work will be published next year by Yale University Press and is titled Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States, see http://www.tritaparsi.com/biography.htm  Nemazee’s lawyer also built “the case about the relationship between Pirouznia and another pair of stalwart Iran democracy activists: Banadsheh Zand-Bonazzi and Elio Bonazzi.” “Zand-Bonazzi’s father, Siamak Pourzand, is a well-known Iranian journalist, intellectual, freedom fighter – and political prisoner of the Islamic regime.” See Robert Spencer, Kerry's Iranian Connection Fights Democracy, (FrontPageMagazine.com, 8 September 2004), http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=14977 http://www.iranianamericanpac.org/leadership/p_nemazee.shtml http://www.asiasociety.org/about/officers.html  (http://www.asiasociety.org/about/mission.html http://www.iranianamericanpac.org/leadership/p_nemazee.shtml http://www.american-iranian.org/home.php?mains=2&subs=14 http://learningpartnership.org/about http://www.fis-iran.org/index.php/about http://www.ned.org/grants/04programs/web-multi04.html http://www.mediatransparency.org/grantdetail.php?grantID=1791 http://www.mediatransparency.org/grantdetail.php?grantID=1790 Brian Whitaker linked Dr. Nafisi to a bevy of neoconservatives in his article, Conflict and Catchphrases (Guardian Unlimited, 24 February 2003),  http://www.learningpartnership.org/about/board#council also involved with and the International League for Human Rights http://www.wmd.org/ http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/1work/team/team-board.html CHECK http://studentaffairs.depaul.edu/ministry/via_oct31.html http://www.export.gov/afghanistan/pdf/minister_bios.pdf http://www.abfiran.org/english/foundation.php http://www.abfiran.org/english/foundation.php http://www.vitalvoices.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?page_id=9 http://www.iwa.org/ http://rightweb.irc-online.org/groupwatch/usip.php; Richard Hatch and Sara Diamond, Operation Peace Institute, (Zmag, July/Aug 1990). http://rightweb.irc-online.org/groupwatch/usip.php Kim Scipes, AFL-CIO in Venezuela: Dejà vu all over again, (Labor Notes, 2004), http://www.labornotes.org/archives/2004/04/articles/e.html; Kim Scipes, An Unholy Alliance: The AFL-CIO and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Venezuela, (Zmag, 2005), http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?sectionID=19&itemID=8268 Steven R. Weisman, U.S. Program is Directed at Altering Iran's Politics, (New York Times, 15 April 2006), http://www.iri.org/newsarchive/2006/2006-04-15-News-NYT-Iran.asp  Annon, Inside the US's Regime-Change School, (Asia times, 14 March 2006), http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HC14Ak04.html  KS, Serbian Regime Topplers Share Know-How, (Agence France Presse, 2 October 2005). Annon, Inside the US's Regime-Change School; for further details on the International Center on Nonviolent Conflicts see, Jonathan Mowat, The Coup Plotters (Online Journal, 17 March 2005), http://onlinejournal.org/Special_Reports/031905Mowat-1/031905Mowat-3/031905mowat-3.html  Laura Rozen, U.S. Moves to Weaken Iran (New York Times, 19 April 2006), http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article13111.htm; Guy Dinmore, US and UK Develop Democracy Strategy for Iran, (Financial Times, 21 April 2006)Howard LaFranchi, A Bid to Foment Democracy in Iran, (Christian Science Monitor, 17 February 2006), http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0217/p03s03-usfp.html; Farah Stockman, Rice Wants Funds for Democracy Initiative in Iran, (The Boston Globe, 9 March 2006), Farah Stockman, Iran Tensions Rise, (The Boston Globe, 9 March 2006), Benjamin Isakhan, Re-thinking Middle Eastern Democracy: Lessons from Ancient Mesopotamia, Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association conference, (University of Newcastle, 25-27 September 2006),  Robert R. McChesney, Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy, (Seven Stories Press, 1997), p.71.