|Editor's note: I am moving to post at the secondary blog(also see new articles below). |
Posted on Wed, Apr. 04, 2007
An ever more combative President George W. Bush this week denounced the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate for attempting to substitute their tactical and strategic judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq.
How dare Washington politicians attempt to dictate benchmarks for measuring the effectiveness of the ineffective Iraqi government or lay down timelines for beginning the withdrawal of American troops from a war gone bad?
The President's indignation might resonate more loudly with the American people if it were not so heavily laden with hypocrisy.
Shall we call to mind that for six years Bush and his senior cohorts - Vice President Dick Cheney and the unlamented former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld - rode roughshod over the best advice of their military commanders.
Remember Afghanistan? Remember how we blew the best chance ever at destroying Osama bin Laden and the top leadership of al Qaeda because we didn't have enough American forces on the ground to seal off all the escape routes from Tora Bora?
Or how American troops were killed and wounded in Operation Anaconda because they didn't have artillery support when they so desperately needed it?
And why was this?
It was because Secretary Rumsfeld, that paragon of military expertise who like his bosses had never heard a shot fired in anger, had dictated that no more than 7,000 American troops would be permitted to set foot in Afghanistan and had ordered the Army to leave its artillery pieces behind.
How did Rumsfeld arrive at that arbitrary manpower ceiling of 7,000 pairs of boots on the ground and not one pair more? God only knows. He was determined to prove that high-tech weaponry had rendered obsolete old-fashioned ideas about how you seize and control an enemy's territory.
The Army would have no need of its artillery fire support. The Air Force, with its satellite-guided smart bombs and its AC-130 gunships, would provide all the fire support the old-fashioned groundpounders would ever need.
So, when we finally tracked Osama and his merry band of murderous thugs to the cave stronghold of Tora Bora, our military commanders had no choice but to depend on three Afghan warlords to seal the escape routes into Pakistan. Instead, the warlords set up what amounted to toll booths and happily sold get out of jail free cards to Osama and company.
When reconnaissance photos showed the escaping terrorists' campfires in the mountains, the warlords said they belonged to shepherds, who presumably were feeding snow to their sheep.
And while Army artillery is on call 24/7 to provide a shield of hot steel to their infantry brothers in snow, sleet or heavy mountain clouds, the Air Force still is loath to fly expensive jet fighters through zero-zero weather full of 12,000-foot granite peaks. It already had decreed that the highly effective AC-130 gunships with their Gatling guns and 105mm artillery pieces were too vulnerable to fly during daylight hours.
That's just Afghanistan. Then came Iraq.
Here Mr. Rumsfeld, with the obvious approval of Cheney and Bush, tampered and tinkered with literally everything. He threw out a war plan, which had been drawn up based on everything the generals had learned about war in that part of the world, that called for an invasion force of 450,000 American and allied troops. Mr. Rumsfeld determined that a figure of something like 100,000 would be more than enough and threw out five years of planning and war games.
When Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki reluctantly offered an opinion to a senator that it would require "several hundred thousand troops" to secure and occupy Iraq, Rumsfeld's Deputy Paul Wolfowitz hurried to Capitol Hill to dismiss that estimate as "outlandish." After all, Wolfowitz said, we all know that Iraq has none of the ethnic divisions of a place like Afghanistan and, thus, would be easier to subdue.
So we invaded Iraq with half the troops we needed to occupy and pacify the country. When Baghdad fell, there was no plan and no troops to keep the mobs from looting government offices and destroying everything from power and sewage plants to hospitals and army camps and schools. No troops available to occupy and pacify the heart of Saddam Hussein's power base among the Sunnis of Anbar Province. No troops to secure the vast ammunition dumps or secure the borders.
Mr. Rumsfeld and his bosses forbade the generals from planning for a long occupation or nation building. Why plan for those things when we'd be leaving Iraq within six months, by the summer of 2003? Nation building and the creation of a new government were not our job they said. Instead, we'd just turn Iraq over to the Pentagon's good friend Ahmad Chalabi and his fellow Iraqi exiles.
We now know how well Bush has commanded the military; how accurate his and Cheney's and Rumsfeld's predictions were and what masters they were of the art of war. Mission Accomplished. Last throes. A few dead-enders. A little untidiness.
Now President Bush would have us believe that he always listens to his military commanders; that he's outraged that a mere majority of both houses of Congress would presume to substitute their judgment for his . . . er, his commanders.
After all, he's not merely the commander-in-chief; he's The Decider.
Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: email@example.com.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Tomgram: Noam Chomsky on "the Iran Effect"
On Tuesday, meeting with the press in the White House Rose Garden, the President responded to a question about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria this way: "[P]hoto opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror." There should, he added to the assembled reporters, be no meetings with state sponsors of terror.
That night, Brian Ross of ABC News reported that, since 2005, the U.S. has "encouraged and advised" Jundullah, a Pakistani tribal "militant group," led by a former Taliban fighter and "drug smuggler," which has been launching guerrilla raids into Baluchi areas of Iran. These incursions involve kidnappings and terror bombings, as well as the murder (recorded on video) of Iranian prisoners. According to Ross, "U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or 'finding' as well as congressional oversight." Given past history, it would be surprising if the group doing the encouraging and advising wasn't the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a long, sordid record in the region. (New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been reporting since 2005 on a Bush administration campaign to destabilize the Iranian regime, heighten separatist sentiments in that country, and prepare for a possible full-scale air attack on Iranian nuclear and other facilities.)
The President also spoke of the Iranian capture of British sailors in disputed waters two weeks ago. He claimed that their "seizure… is indefensible by the Iranians." Oddly enough, perhaps as part of secret negotiations over the British sailors, who were dramatically freed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, an Iranian diplomat in Iraq was also mysteriously freed. Eight weeks ago, he had been kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad by uniformed men of unknown provenance. Reporting on his sudden release, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times offered this little explanation of the kidnapping: "Although [Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar] Zebari was uncertain who kidnapped the man, others familiar with the case said they believe those responsible work for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency." The CIA, of course, has a sordid history in Baghdad as well, including running car-bombing operations in the Iraqi capital back in Saddam Hussein's day.
And don't forget the botched Bush administration attempt to capture two high Iranian security officials and the actual kidnapping of five Iranian diplomats-cum-Revolutionary-Guards in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan over two months ago -- they disappeared into the black hole of an American prison system in Iraq that now holds perhaps 17,000 Iraqis (as well as those Iranians) and is still growing. As Juan Cole has pointed out, most such acts, and the rhetoric that goes with them, represent so many favors to "an unpopular and isolated Iranian government attempting to rally support and strengthen itself."
In addition, just this week, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its battle group left San Diego for the Persian Gulf. Two carrier battle groups are already there, promising an almost unprecedented show of strength. As the ship left port, U.S. military officials explained the mission of the carriers in the Gulf this way: They are intended to demonstrate U.S. "resolve to build regional security and bring long-term stability to the region."
And stability in the region, it seems, means promoting instability in Iran by any means possible. So, the President's Global War on Terror also turns out to be the Global War of Terror. No one has dealt with the way "state sponsorship of terror" works, when it comes to our own country, more strikingly than Noam Chomsky, who considers the larger Iranian crisis below. His latest book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, is just out in paperback and couldn't be more to the point at the present moment. Right now, if the U.S. isn't already a failing state, it's certainly a flailing one. Tom
What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?Putting the Iran Crisis in Context
By Noam Chomsky
Unsurprisingly, George W. Bush's announcement of a "surge" in Iraq came despite the firm opposition to any such move of Americans and the even stronger opposition of the (thoroughly irrelevant) Iraqis. It was accompanied by ominous official leaks and statements -- from Washington and Baghdad -- about how Iranian intervention in Iraq was aimed at disrupting our mission to gain victory, an aim which is (by definition) noble. What then followed was a solemn debate about whether serial numbers on advanced roadside bombs (IEDs) were really traceable to Iran; and, if so, to that country's Revolutionary Guards or to some even higher authority.
This "debate" is a typical illustration of a primary principle of sophisticated propaganda. In crude and brutal societies, the Party Line is publicly proclaimed and must be obeyed -- or else. What you actually believe is your own business and of far less concern. In societies where the state has lost the capacity to control by force, the Party Line is simply presupposed; then, vigorous debate is encouraged within the limits imposed by unstated doctrinal orthodoxy. The cruder of the two systems leads, naturally enough, to disbelief; the sophisticated variant gives an impression of openness and freedom, and so far more effectively serves to instill the Party Line. It becomes beyond question, beyond thought itself, like the air we breathe.
The debate over Iranian interference in Iraq proceeds without ridicule on the assumption that the United States owns the world. We did not, for example, engage in a similar debate in the 1980s about whether the U.S. was interfering in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, and I doubt that Pravda, probably recognizing the absurdity of the situation, sank to outrage about that fact (which American officials and our media, in any case, made no effort to conceal). Perhaps the official Nazi press also featured solemn debates about whether the Allies were interfering in sovereign Vichy France, though if so, sane people would then have collapsed in ridicule.
In this case, however, even ridicule -- notably absent -- would not suffice, because the charges against Iran are part of a drumbeat of pronouncements meant to mobilize support for escalation in Iraq and for an attack on Iran, the "source of the problem." The world is aghast at the possibility. Even in neighboring Sunni states, no friends of Iran, majorities, when asked, favor a nuclear-armed Iran over any military action against that country. From what limited information we have, it appears that significant parts of the U.S. military and intelligence communities are opposed to such an attack, along with almost the entire world, even more so than when the Bush administration and Tony Blair's Britain invaded Iraq, defying enormous popular opposition worldwide.
"The Iran Effect"
The results of an attack on Iran could be horrendous. After all, according to a recent study of "the Iraq effect" by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, using government and Rand Corporation data, the Iraq invasion has already led to a seven-fold increase in terror. The "Iran effect" would probably be far more severe and long-lasting. British military historian Corelli Barnett speaks for many when he warns that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch World War III."
What are the plans of the increasingly desperate clique that narrowly holds political power in the U.S.? We cannot know. Such state planning is, of course, kept secret in the interests of "security." Review of the declassified record reveals that there is considerable merit in that claim -- though only if we understand "security" to mean the security of the Bush administration against their domestic enemy, the population in whose name they act.
Even if the White House clique is not planning war, naval deployments, support for secessionist movements and acts of terror within Iran, and other provocations could easily lead to an accidental war. Congressional resolutions would not provide much of a barrier. They invariably permit "national security" exemptions, opening holes wide enough for the several aircraft-carrier battle groups soon to be in the Persian Gulf to pass through -- as long as an unscrupulous leadership issues proclamations of doom (as Condoleezza Rice did with those "mushroom clouds" over American cities back in 2002). And the concocting of the sorts of incidents that "justify" such attacks is a familiar practice. Even the worst monsters feel the need for such justification and adopt the device: Hitler's defense of innocent Germany from the "wild terror" of the Poles in 1939, after they had rejected his wise and generous proposals for peace, is but one example.
The most effective barrier to a White House decision to launch a war is the kind of organized popular opposition that frightened the political-military leadership enough in 1968 that they were reluctant to send more troops to Vietnam -- fearing, we learned from the Pentagon Papers, that they might need them for civil-disorder control.
Doubtless Iran's government merits harsh condemnation, including for its recent actions that have inflamed the crisis. It is, however, useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting U.S. government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called "liberation," of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites -- nuclear and otherwise -- in the United States, if the U.S. government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the U.S. that killed millions of people (just as the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?
It is easy to understand an observation by one of Israel's leading military historians, Martin van Creveld. After the U.S. invaded Iraq, knowing it to be defenseless, he noted, "Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy."
Surely no sane person wants Iran (or any nation) to develop nuclear weapons. A reasonable resolution of the present crisis would permit Iran to develop nuclear energy, in accord with its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but not nuclear weapons. Is that outcome feasible? It would be, given one condition: that the U.S. and Iran were functioning democratic societies in which public opinion had a significant impact on public policy.
As it happens, this solution has overwhelming support among Iranians and Americans, who generally are in agreement on nuclear issues. The Iranian-American consensus includes the complete elimination of nuclear weapons everywhere (82% of Americans); if that cannot yet be achieved because of elite opposition, then at least a "nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East that would include both Islamic countries and Israel" (71% of Americans). Seventy-five percent of Americans prefer building better relations with Iran to threats of force. In brief, if public opinion were to have a significant influence on state policy in the U.S. and Iran, resolution of the crisis might be at hand, along with much more far-reaching solutions to the global nuclear conundrum.
Promoting Democracy -- at Home
These facts suggest a possible way to prevent the current crisis from exploding, perhaps even into some version of World War III. That awesome threat might be averted by pursuing a familiar proposal: democracy promotion -- this time at home, where it is badly needed. Democracy promotion at home is certainly feasible and, although we cannot carry out such a project directly in Iran, we could act to improve the prospects of the courageous reformers and oppositionists who are seeking to achieve just that. Among such figures who are, or should be, well-known, would be Saeed Hajjarian, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, and Akbar Ganji, as well as those who, as usual, remain nameless, among them labor activists about whom we hear very little; those who publish the Iranian Workers Bulletin may be a case in point.
We can best improve the prospects for democracy promotion in Iran by sharply reversing state policy here so that it reflects popular opinion. That would entail ceasing to make the regular threats that are a gift to Iranian hardliners. These are bitterly condemned by Iranians truly concerned with democracy promotion (unlike those "supporters" who flaunt democracy slogans in the West and are lauded as grand "idealists" despite their clear record of visceral hatred for democracy).
Democracy promotion in the United States could have far broader consequences. In Iraq, for instance, a firm timetable for withdrawal would be initiated at once, or very soon, in accord with the will of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis and a significant majority of Americans. Federal budget priorities would be virtually reversed. Where spending is rising, as in military supplemental bills to conduct the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would sharply decline. Where spending is steady or declining (health, education, job training, the promotion of energy conservation and renewable energy sources, veterans benefits, funding for the UN and UN peacekeeping operations, and so on), it would sharply increase. Bush's tax cuts for people with incomes over $200,000 a year would be immediately rescinded.
The U.S. would have adopted a national health-care system long ago, rejecting the privatized system that sports twice the per-capita costs found in similar societies and some of the worst outcomes in the industrial world. It would have rejected what is widely regarded by those who pay attention as a "fiscal train wreck" in-the-making. The U.S. would have ratified the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and undertaken still stronger measures to protect the environment. It would allow the UN to take the lead in international crises, including in Iraq. After all, according to opinion polls, since shortly after the 2003 invasion, a large majority of Americans have wanted the UN to take charge of political transformation, economic reconstruction, and civil order in that land.
If public opinion mattered, the U.S. would accept UN Charter restrictions on the use of force, contrary to a bipartisan consensus that this country, alone, has the right to resort to violence in response to potential threats, real or imagined, including threats to our access to markets and resources. The U.S. (along with others) would abandon the Security Council veto and accept majority opinion even when in opposition to it. The UN would be allowed to regulate arms sales; while the U.S. would cut back on such sales and urge other countries to do so, which would be a major contribution to reducing large-scale violence in the world. Terror would be dealt with through diplomatic and economic measures, not force, in accord with the judgment of most specialists on the topic but again in diametric opposition to present-day policy.
Furthermore, if public opinion influenced policy, the U.S. would have diplomatic relations with Cuba, benefiting the people of both countries (and, incidentally, U.S. agribusiness, energy corporations, and others), instead of standing virtually alone in the world in imposing an embargo (joined only by Israel, the Republic of Palau, and the Marshall Islands). Washington would join the broad international consensus on a two-state settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which (with Israel) it has blocked for 30 years -- with scattered and temporary exceptions -- and which it still blocks in word, and more importantly in deed, despite fraudulent claims of its commitment to diplomacy. The U.S. would also equalize aid to Israel and Palestine, cutting off aid to either party that rejected the international consensus.
Evidence on these matters is reviewed in my book Failed States as well as in The Foreign Policy Disconnect by Benjamin Page (with Marshall Bouton), which also provides extensive evidence that public opinion on foreign (and probably domestic) policy issues tends to be coherent and consistent over long periods. Studies of public opinion have to be regarded with caution, but they are certainly highly suggestive.
Democracy promotion at home, while no panacea, would be a useful step towards helping our own country become a "responsible stakeholder" in the international order (to adopt the term used for adversaries), instead of being an object of fear and dislike throughout much of the world. Apart from being a value in itself, functioning democracy at home holds real promise for dealing constructively with many current problems, international and domestic, including those that literally threaten the survival of our species.
Noam Chomsky is the author of Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Metropolitan Books), just published in paperback, among many other works.
By Najeeb Hasan
After 23-year-old Lodi resident Hamid Hayat was convicted last year of training at a terrorist camp in Pakistan, government officials warned that terror investigations in Northern California were ongoing.
Now, members of the Bay Area's Muslim community believe that the FBI is close to making additional high-profile arrests of one or more terror suspects who frequent mosques in Silicon Valley and the East Bay. According to a source informed about the investigation, one of the organizations targeted in the Bay Area terror probe is the Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative-leaning Muslim organization, founded in India during the 1920s, that boasts world-wide membership and whose primary focus is to persuade Muslims to recommit to their faith.
Last October, a South African Muslim scholar associated with the Tablighi Jamaat, Fazlur Rahman Azmi, was denied entry to the United States and detained at San Francisco International Airport by agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Azmi, who had successfully entered the United States to preach in both 1999 and earlier in 2006, was planning on teaching at various American mosques during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Nawaz Khan, a resident of Newark, Calif., and one of Azmi's students, had arranged for Azmi to lecture at the Islamic Society of the East Bay in Fremont, one of the Bay Area's largest and most diverse mosques.
Muslims are concerned that the ongoing terror probe in the East Bay is related to Azmi's planned visit to the Fremont mosque.
A spokesperson said the FBI could neither confirm or deny the existence of such an investigation.
"There is of course not a lot I can say," says FBI public information officer Joseph Schadler. "I did want to make clear that we don't target mosques for investigation. We begin and end an investigation if they pose a threat based on credible information."
Muslims connected to the Fremont mosque are also concerned that the planned arrests may be supported by flimsy evidence. One critic with ties to law enforcement agrees that current terror investigations can be motivated not by strong evidence, but by pressure on America's counter-terrorism agencies to produce results.
"It's something, in my opinion, that is happening," says James Wedick, who retired from the FBI in 2004 after 35 years of service, when asked if the FBI could be pressured to move on weak terror cases. During the Lodi case, Wedick had been skeptical of the evidence marshaled against the terror suspects and worked with defense attorneys on the case; a judge did not permit him to testify in the trial as an expert witness.
"In the last couple of years throughout the Bureau, they know there is a pot of gold out there called terrorism dollars," he says. "[It's] resource allocation—who gets what money, including plain dollars and agent bodies. You are allocated these resources depending upon if you got something going. What I've seen is the Bureau and the department is quick to call something terrorism when it's not—because you got an obvious interest in getting those resources, and they are not going to get them, unless they could say to folks back in Washington that there is a legitimate case. So there is motivation, unfortunately. I've talked to people in the position to know; I've got guys coming to me all day long, telling me they [the FBI] are mischaracterizing things. I don't know if it's going on with respect to this specific case."
"I think that's a completely mistaken assumption," counters the FBI's Schadler. "We work our cases at our end with the Department of Justice, nobody is pressuring us to do anything."
Members of the Bay Area Muslim community, meanwhile, have become somewhat accustomed to FBI activity within their community since 2001.
"It's disheartening," says Mohamad Rajabally, a Fremont dentist who recently completed his term as the president of the Islamic Society of the East Bay. "But, unfortunately, this is the climate Muslims are facing. I always say that we have nothing to hide, and we welcome anybody to our mosques."
During the controversial Lodi case last year, Hayat was convicted based on a confession in which he contradicted himself several times. He was also secretly taped by a government informant posing as a friend; the informant, however, was not able capture a Hayat confession on tape, which weakened the case further. At the time, Muslim leaders in groups such as the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) believed that the Hayat case was pursued by the FBI to bolster the arguments for the renewal of the Patriotic Act.
"I mean, if you can imagine, nobody joins the Bureau to work some BS case," says Wedick. "Let's go back to the Hayat case. People stepped into the case, said this is going to be great, only to find out there is no case. There was nothing corroborated to terror except to say in recorded conversation, you had a series of statements ... [but] if you look at them, they made no sense. They [the FBI] made no effort to mitigate them or make sense of them, except to say he said in some fashion [that he attended a camp], and even if he contradicted himself, we'll make an indictment. The older guys are saying, 'What am I doing, this isn't a case—do we follow this guy, does he have something connected with explosives?' Did we follow them? That's what you have to do to prove the case. If you look at all the [nation-wide terror] cases, most of the cases involved the Bureau paying somebody huge amounts of money to go into a network, leaving it up to them, and saying we got a terrorism case."
Rajabally, however, would rather wait and see what unfolds than panic.
"They are arousing suspicion," he says of the rumors that have been swirling through the community. "For what? People will ask you what proof you have. You are raising doubts and panic in the community for no reason."
Last updated April 4, 2007 11:09 p.m. PT
Let's talk "Rachel Corrie" -- the controversial play in Seattle, not the late activist.
Even before the production opened in mid-March at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, folks were divided: Corrie was either a terrorist abettor or a human rights hero. She was killed four years ago trying to defend a Palestinian home from an Israeli military bulldozer.
Some people believed her story should never see a stage unless equal voice was given to both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. People such as Robert Wilkes, a theatergoer from Bellevue whom I met at the Rep Sunday after a matinee.
Wilkes said the play -- based on Corrie's writings -- errs by giving moral equivalence to Palestinians who he believes have brushed aside genuine Israeli peace efforts.
"People love this play not because it is such a great piece of drama," said a frustrated Wilkes, who is Jewish. "It is because it's political."
By "political" he means "anti-Israel."
News flash: The best art, whether it deals with war or love in the time of AIDS or dark family secrets, touches political, social and moral nerves. If done well, a production can compel audiences to think.
That's lost on folks so blinded by their cause they would rather see the stage dark than a ray of light shine on one of the most contentious issues of the day.
Wilkes had a hand in the unusual ad in the program for "My Name Is Rachel Corrie."
Granted, the play is subjective. People do not go to the theater or movies for objective or balanced perspectives.
What happens on a stage is emotional manipulation in the service of drama.
Yes, Israel has Arab countries near it that want to wipe it off the map. Yes, it suffers from Palestinian suicide bombers. Yes, retaliation from Israel has left Palestinians reeling. As a journalist, I'd be remiss not to point this out.
But as a matter of art, Corrie's writing bears witness to the Palestinian suffering she saw. Her observations are ripe for a work of creativity, however unnerving.
"The main objective of theater is not to be boring," David Esbjornson, artistic director for the Seattle Rep, said at a public forum after Sunday's show. In an interview, he told me: "If theater is doing its job right, there will be excitement about what is coming from the stage. It will be challenging."
"Art is not journalism, not history," Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Seattle added at the forum.
Weiner joins local Jews who support the play. He believes if the production evokes a range of feelings from pain to outrage to agreement, those emotions "shouldn't exist without a parallel desire to go out and learn more."
The rabbi is spot on. The play should be a springboard to broader inquiry and conversation. It can motivate people to learn a thing or two about the Middle East or social activism or humanitarianism.
Seattle teens who recently soaked up Corrie's words were moved to do something -- no, not rush out in front of bulldozers.
They put paper to pen, went onstage at the Rep this week and told audiences what they deeply believe in, about their own journeys and struggles.
Therein lies the power of art -- to inform, engage, inspire.
Rabbi Weiner sees a personal, yet universally applicable message in the Corrie play, beyond politics and policy: "About how we balance our ideals with our abilities to implement them -- thwart cynicism in the face of difficulties."
Those words could just as well describe the play -- its run has been extended, which is good news.
Wilkes may loathe the show, but he's sure right about one thing: People love "Rachel Corrie" -- enough to go hear her words.
Last updated April 2, 2007 10:20 p.m. PT
Anti-war protests cost Tacoma $500,000
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TACOMA -- Tacoma police say last month's 12-day anti-war protests cost the city an unbudgeted $500,000 to provide a large-scale law enforcement presence.
The rough estimate covers overtime, regular compensation, equipment and food for hundreds of workers from Tacoma police and other agencies, Assistant Chief Bob Sheehan said.
The city plans to ask the Port of Tacoma and the military to cover some of the costs.
"That's a tremendous hit on our budget -- a half-million dollars of unexpected expense," said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, adding that the military would get the first invoice.
"I think our request is justifiable," Baarsma said. "I would expect that we would be reimbursed. I would be surprised if we weren't."
Police increased law enforcement at the Port of Tacoma during the convoying and storage of Army Stryker vehicles from March 3 until a ship carrying the military equipment left for Iraq on March 14.
Protesters were there each night.
Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Continue to Commit War Crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Weekly Report: On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory No. 13/2007
29 March - 04 April 2007
4 Palestinians killed by IOF in the OPT; including a child killed in the West Bank and another two died of previous wounds; IOF kill a resistance activist in the north of the Gaza Strip.
12 Palestinian civilians, including 3 children and a journalist were wounded by IOF; 7 of the injuries occurred in Bal’ein village, west of Ramallah.
IOF conducted 24 incursions into Palestinian communities in the OPT; 29 Palestinians, including 1 child, arrested in the West Bank.
IOF continue the construction of the Annexation Wall; 80 dunums of land confiscated for the Wall in Azzoun and Jayyous near Qalqilya, and tens of dunums razed in Wadi Rahal village near Bethlehem.
IOF have continued to impose a total siege on the OPT; IOF positioned at a checkpoint in the West Bank arrested 7 Palestinian civilian; The Gaza Strip continues to suffer shortages in fuels and basic commodities.
IOF have continued settlement activities in the West Bank; Settlers prevent Halhoul farmers from reaching their farms; Settlers continue to occupy a house in Hebron for the second consecutive week.
Police may question Hirchson again over graft suspicions
By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Reporter and Haaretz Service
The Police Economic Crimes Unit on Thursday questioned Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson at its Lod headquarters for the third time in connection with the embezzlement and fraud affair in the Histadrut national workers' federation and the Nili non-profit association. Police said after the questioning that they expect Hirchson will be summoned again for further questioning.
Police also said that progress has been made in the case. Hirchson is suspected of embezzling NIS 10 million from the National Workers' Organization (NWO). The suspicions are based on documents collected over months of investigation of alleged fraud and misappropriation of funds from Nili, a Jewish youth organization, March of the Living and bodies connected to the NWO.
Police also investigated monetary transfers to and from the account of Ofer Hirchson, the finance minister's son, and found that they match transactions made to and from his father's account.
One of the key suspects in the Nili embezzlement case is Ramat Gan Deputy Mayor Ovadia Cohen. Cohen, Hirchson's long-time confidant, admitted under questioning that he took part in the embezzlement, but claimed that some of the money was transferred to Hirchson.
Cohen co-signed a loan Hirchson took from Bank Yahav, together with Hirchson's son, businessman Ofer Hirchson, who was also questioned under caution in connection with the case.
After the investigation, reports began circulating about Hirchson's alleged embezzlement of millions, about envelopes bulging with cash and about suspicions that some of the money helped fund the election campaign of his close associate, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Other, more sympathetic, leaks said that Hirchson was completely innocent and that all the suspicions were generated by the other suspects who resented him, that there were no envelopes and no cash.
1 hour, 22 minutes ago
President Bashar al-Assad met a Republican member of the U.S. Congress on Thursday, a day after Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) ended a visit to Syria that was criticized by the White House.
The official news agency said the meeting between Assad and Darrell Issa (news, bio, voting record), a member of the House Committee on Intelligence, discussed ways to improve relations between Washington and Damascus.
"It is difficult to isolate Syria which is pivotal to finding solutions to all issues in the region," the Syrian agency quoted Assad as saying. Issa, who is of Lebanese dissent, also met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
More than a dozen U.S. lawmakers have visited Damascus in the last four months and met Assad after the Iraq Study Group recommended to Republican President George W. Bush engaging with Damascus and Iran to help stabilize Iraq.
Pelosi urged Assad on Wednesday to end alleged Syrian support to rebels in Iraq and to use its influence with the Palestinian group Hamas.
Pelosi said holding a dialogue with the secular Syrian leader, whom the Bush administration has been trying to isolate, was in the U.S. interests.
The United States imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004, mainly for its support for Lebanon's Hezbollah and Hamas. Syria says the two groups are legitimate movements with broad domestic support resisting Israeli occupation.
Relations between Damascus and Washington further worsened after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut. A United Nations inquiry implicated Lebanese and Syrian security officials in the assassination.
Damascus denies involvement.
'We Gathered Intelligence'
The captain in charge of the 15 marines detained in Iran has said they were gathering intelligence on the Iranians.
Sky News went on patrol with Captain Chris Air and his team in Iraqi waters close to the area where they were arrested - just five days before the crisis began.
We withheld the interview until now so it would not jeopardise their safety.
And today, former Iranian diplomat Dr Mehrdad Khonsari said if the Iranians had known about it, they would have used it to "justify taking the marines captive and put them on trial".
Captain Air and his team were on an 'Interaction Patrol' where their patrol boats came alongside fishing dhows.
The operation was mainly to investigate arms smuggling and terrorism but Captain Air said it was also to gain intelligence on Iranian activity.
He told Sky Correspondent Jonathan Samuels: "Basically we speak to the crew, find out if they have any problems, let them know we're here to protect them, protect their fishing and stop any terrorism and piracy in the area," he said.
"Secondly, it's to gather int (intelligence). If they do have any information, because they're here for days at a time, they can share it with us.
"Whether it's about piracy or any sort of Iranian activity in the area. Obviously we're right by the buffer zone with Iran."
The UK Defence Secretary Des Browne told Sky News it was important to gather intelligence to "keep our people safe".
He said: "Modern military operations all have an element of gathering intelligence.
"We need to understand as much as we can about the environment we operate in and intelligence gathering is an every day part of that."
He added: "The UN mandate would clearly empower the military taskforce to gather information about the environment in which they were working."
Captain Air said that fishing dhows had been robbed by Iranian soldiers on a number of occasions.
"It's good to gather int on the Iranians," he said.
Fifteen sailors and marines were taken captive nearly two weeks ago after the Iranian government claimed they had strayed into their waters.
| On hearing the prime minister optimistically predict a peace agreement within a short timeframe, we would do well to prepare for further diplomatic flexibility on our part. |
The two diplomatic formulas which were rejected by Sharon during his term in office - the Saudi Initiative and the Geneva Initiative – are now being renewed by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. If various clauses in these initiatives are adopted, they will join the series of Israeli concessions, withdrawals and flexibility of the last decade - almost all of them undertaken unilaterally and void of any benefit.
In the summer of 2000, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak tried for the first time to end the conflict in one fell swoop. The concessions he presented at Camp David went far beyond anything Israel was prepared to relinquish in the past, crossing what was termed as "red lines."
Yasser Arafat rejected the proposals and didn't even bother to present counter proposals. Weeks later the Palestinians embarked on the Intifada. By the end of the year, in a desperate election eve attempt in Taba, the Barak cabinet proposed further concessions beyond those offered at Camp David – all in vain.
Even with the change in government and in the face of growing violence, Israel's principle positions continued to erode. In the Latroun address in 2003 Prime Minister Sharon stated that the Palestinian state is a "de facto" state.
His statement led to the Quartet's Road Map that allotted three years to a peace agreement and enabled the establishment of a Palestinian state prior to that – without any parallel compensation (such as right of return for refugees to areas under Palestinian rule only.)
Sharon ignored its drawbacks and preferred to highlight the fact that the first phase demanded that the Palestinians dismantle their terror infrastructure; he then forced the Road Map on his cabinet.
Yet just a few months later, he deviated from the Road Map and launched the "disengagement" initiative, which comprised new concessions: Dismantling the settlement bloc and full withdrawal to the 1967 borders before reaching a final-status agreement and without receiving anything in return.
Under pressure from Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon managed to extract from the Americans several understandings relating to a future final-status agreement: American recognition that Israel is entitled to defensible borders; inclusion of the large settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty; and a declaration that Palestinian refugees would not return to Israeli territory.
Leftist wishful thinking
When the "disengagement" was over, its architects, including Olmert and Livni, announced similar moves in Judea and Samaria within the framework of the "realignment." Mahmoud Abbas' helplessness, the rise of Hamas to power and the Second Lebanon War delayed the plan, and we could have expected that lessons would have been drawn, but now it appears that unilateral submission is likely to continue.
Since the "disengagement," dismantling of terror infrastructures is no longer a prerequisite for diplomatic talks, and Israel has come to terms with a Palestinian national unity government that includes Hamas, while it is also prepared to enter talks on a political horizon, namely, on the clauses of a final-status agreement. The renewal of the Saudi Initiative, whose key demand is withdrawal to the 1967 borders on all frontiers, also constitutes the relinquishment of understandings accepted from the time of US President Ford until George W. Bush.
How did it transpire that while the Arabs and Palestinians are sticking to their guns and even increasing their demands, Israel is skipping from one initiative to another while abandoning principles and positions that were deemed crucial only yesterday?
This has several explanations: According to the Leftist approach, for example, Palestinian demands are essentially justified; the Israeli occupation is the mother of all sins, and therefore, any concession or withdrawal is a blessing.
Another position is the enchantment of reconciliation – the belief that aggressive and demanding parties can be placated by giving in to their demands. There's also detachment from reality - ignoring the data and situation, as presented by the intelligence forces – and wishful thinking. Mistakes were also made due to absentmindedness and weakness.
Different approach needed
Another common error stems from ignorance when it comes to the rules of negotiation, and primarily from misunderstanding the difficulties entailed in unilateral moves: There are no free meals and there are no free concessions.
And finally, and this should not be concealed, since Taba, through to the "disengagement" and perhaps until today, the ineffective practice of concessions has been carried out for the sole purpose of political survival.
Will a downfall and a series of concessions satisfy the Palestinians to such an extent that they would end the conflict and cease making further demands on us?
It is doubtful whether this will happen, because historically the more Israel moderated its demands, the more the Palestinians hardened theirs. Moreover, it will not happen because unilateralism or the series of concessions were not subjected to mutual concessions, and also because Palestinians have not allowed closure in any former attempts.
The incumbent Palestinian government's positions are similar to those prevalent prior to Oslo, and gradually signs of Palestinian-Israeli demands are also becoming evident and joining external ones – this does not herald the end of the conflict, but rather, the demise of the Jewish State.
This is not the way to make peace. Right from the start we needed a different Israeli approach, void of the above failures and futile reconciliations. It should have focused on the advancement of Israeli interests rather than on their sacrifice.
By Atul Prakash
LONDON (Reuters) - Gold prices will set a record high this year in terms of their annual average and may scale new absolute peaks on a weaker dollar outlook, a slowdown in the U.S. economy and geopolitical tensions, a report said on Wednesday.
Precious metals consultant GFMS said in its Gold Survey 2007, which marks the 40th anniversary of its annual report, that worries over high oil prices and inflation might resurface should the United States decide to ratchet up the pressure on Iran.
"It's looking pretty certain that the record in terms of the annual average, $614.50 (an ounce) back in 1980, is going to fall this year," GFMS Chairman Philip Klapwijk said in a statement.
The average gold price was $603.77 an ounce last year.
"I would also be far from surprised if this year we saw the market moving above the 2006 high of $725. Quite whether we would then get close to the all time high of $850 is more doubtful, but I would certainly expect the upward price trend to continue on into 2008."
Firm gold prices so far this year, the acceptance of higher floor prices by physical buyers and a further, albeit smaller, decline in gold supply were also expected to boost investor confidence in the metal, the report said.
GFMS expected a drop in scrap supply in the first half of 2007 and subdued selling by central banks, which was likely to offset a modest rise in mine output this year.
Global mine production fell 3 percent to a 10-year low of 2,471 tonnes in 2006, with the maximum fall recorded in Asia despite China lifting output by 8 percent. GFMS forecast world production rising between one and two percent in 2007.
Central bank sales fell by 51 percent to 328 tonnes in 2006, resulting in a five percent drop in total gold supply to 3,906 tonnes. GFMS said net sales had continued in 2007 and might persist.
JEWELLERY DEMAND AT 15-YEAR LOWS
World gold demand fell by five percent to 3,906 tonnes in 2006 from a year earlier, mainly because of a 428-tonne slump in jewellery offtake to a 15-year low of 2,280 tonnes. Jewellery accounted for 58 percent of global gold demand last year.
"The chief architect of the decline was developments in the gold price, not only in terms of the absolute level but also the degree of price volatility," GFMS said.
Just three countries -- India, Turkey and Italy -- accounted for half the gross decline in total jewellery demand in 2006.
"Looking ahead to this year, price developments will remain a key factor in determining jewellery fabrication ... However, the decline this year, in percentage terms, is unlikely to match the 16 percent fall seen in 2006," the report said.
The report noted that gold dehedging accelerated last year, with a cut of 373 tonnes from the global hedge book. Total outstanding forward sales, loans and the delta hedge against options positions at the end of 2006 was at 1,364 tonnes.
Hedging allows producers to lock in prices for future output but can backfire if the market rises above the hedged price.
GFMS said gold dehedging might exceed 300 tonnes this year as producers were bullish.
Interest in gold exchange-traded funds and over-the-counter market also grew last year, but speculative activity in the main commodity exchanges declined. The gold market was dominated by institutional players and high net worth individuals, it said.
THROUGH the capture of and subsequent announcement that it would release 15 British sailors and marines, the Islamic Republic of Iran sent its adversaries a pointed message: just as Iran will meet confrontation with confrontation, it will respond to what it perceives as flexibility with pragmatism. This message is worth heeding as the United States and Iran seem to be moving inexorably toward conflict.
The timing of the Britons’ capture was no accident. The incident followed the passage of a United Nations resolution censuring Iran for its nuclear infractions, the dispatch of American aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf and the American sanctioning of Iranian banks. Although the Bush administration has been busy proclaiming its increasingly confrontational Iran policy a success, Tehran’s unsubtle conduct in the Persian Gulf suggests otherwise.
Vali Nasr is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and the author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.” Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic.”
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
BY JEFF TRENTLY
Ahlam Abuowda was 6 years old when the bombs went off.
The bombs were nothing new -- she had lived her life among Israeli bombs in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. The bombs were everywhere, every day.
But this day, the bomb blast was too close. It burnt her corneas, scarring the tissue in both eyes.
Six-year-old Ahlam was going blind.
Ahlam is 16 years old now. Her vision has deteriorated. She can't see anything farther than one foot in front of her face.
But Ahlam has traveled close to 6,000 miles for a chance to see again.
Dr. Michael Wong, a Princeton- based ophthalmologist, will perform a surgery today on Ahlam that is expected to restore vision in her right eye.
For Ahlam, the world is dark and fuzzy. She gets headaches and struggles with simple tasks.
In Gaza, the bombing that took her vision is part of her daily life.
"You don't know if you're going to be alive the next day," she says through a translator. "You don't know if tomorrow will come."
Ahlam lives in her grandfather's two-bedroom house with her parents and 13 younger siblings. The roof has been blasted off part of the house and there is no heat.
Ahlam has friends who were killed in the bombings, she says.
Life is desperate for the Palestinians who live there. Medical care is primitive.
In Gaza, Wong says, they don't have cornea transplant tissue.
There is no sterile hospital.
"It's been bombed," he says.
Life for Ahlam was mostly spent indoors, away from the violence.
"If she was to remain blind, she'd have no hope to go on," he says. "There is bombing all around her. That's all she knows."
Wong will transplant a cornea -- the clear tissue in front of the eye, "like the crystal of a watch" -- into Ahlam's right eye this morning at the Surgical Center of Central New Jersey in North Brunswick.
Wills Eye Hospital provided the cornea from a 15-year-old girl who died in a motorcycle accident Monday.
Without the surgery, Ahlam's condition would deteriorate, Wong says. The damage could become painful and she would eventually be totally blind.
If the surgery is successful, Ahlam could have the other eye done at a later date, Wong says.
For Wong, the surgery is a routine outpatient procedure.
"This is what I do every day," he says.
But Wong knows Ahlam's situation is unique.
"Humanity has no borders. In a doctor's eyes there are no borders," he says.
Borders were the most difficult thing in getting Ahlam out of Gaza, says Nora Whisnant of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, which worked to bring Ahlam to the United States for the surgery.
Ahlam's village is bombed routinely, Whisnant says. Check points are closed. To get from one place to another you must wait hours in line.
"It's hard to get out," she says.
It took months to arrange Ah lam's visit.
Ahlam arrived in the United States last week. She told Whis nant she couldn't believe how quiet it is here. No bombing. No blasts.
"She is so excited and so inno cent and so naive," Whisnant says.
Ahlam is staying in Bridgewater with an Arabic-speaking host family. When she arrived at JFK airport, the sound of airplanes taking off scared Ahlam, says Suheir Hanna, her American host mother.
"She thought they were going to drop bombs," Hanna says.
For Ahlam, life in the United States is refreshing. She can go outside and not be afraid.
Ahlam wants to learn English and one day be an elementary school teacher in her native land.
"She has lots of hopes and dreams," Hanna says.
And when she gets her vision back?
The first thing she wants to see is the Statue of Liberty.
"Where I live, we are denied our freedom," Ahlam says. "I want to see what freedom is all about."
Contact Jeff Trently at jtrent firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 The Times of Trenton
© 2007 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.
|U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (right) at AIPAC's annual policy conference. (AIPAC)|
This week U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi concluded her visit to the Middle East in Damascus, Syria, to which President George W. Bush's response was that her visit "sends mixed messages." While Pelosi's delegation to the region should be met with applause for refusing to participate in isolating Syria, her visit to Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria should be met with a great deal of caution.
Twice in the last month Pelosi delivered a speech -- of more or less the same message -- before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference and before the Israeli Knesset. In these speeches, she unequivocally stated: "When Israel is threatened, America's interests in the region are threatened. America's commitment to Israel's security needs is unshakable." Statements such as this have made Pelosi, along with her traveling companion Congressman Tom Lantos, one of the top ten recipients of AIPAC donations. She received a standing ovation for these sentiments in the Knesset where she linked the U.S. and Israel's "common cause": " a safe and secure Israel living in peace with her neighbors."
Perhaps Pelosi genuinely wants to secure peace in the region. If this were the case, however, we would have seen some indication of balance in her fact-finding mission. While in Israel, Pelosi discussed her visits with the families of Israeli soldiers taken last summer in Gaza and Lebanon, naming them and relaying stories about them. Not once was a Palestinian or Lebanese killed or wounded in Israel's wars dignified with any such humanizing gesture. Instead Pelosi focused entirely on Hezbollah's violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 for failing to disarm. Not once did she mention Israel's almost daily violation of that same resolution with military jets invading Lebanese airspace or recent military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Moreover, she failed to mention Israel's continued occupation of Shaaba Farms and Ghajar, which are also violations of 1701; nor did she engage with serious discussions of the occupation of the Golan Heights or the Palestinian Territories with leaders in the region.
If Pelosi, Lantos, and the other congressional leaders traveling in their delegation wanted to understand what peace means to all parties they could have spent their time in Lebanon meeting with victims of Israel's war and she could have toured the areas of the country destroyed by Israel. She could have visited with Lebanese families affected by American-made cluster bombs. Such meetings could have helped Pelosi to respond to a report on her desk from the State Department, which states Israel may have violated legal agreements made with the U.S. in the 1970s when it dropped between 2.6 and 4 million American-made cluster munitions on Lebanon last summer in the last 72 hours of the war after the cease fire agreement had been brokered. The report explores Israel's violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which stipulates that American-manufactured weapons must only be used in self-defense, in an open area against two or more invading armies, and never used against civilians.
As Speaker of the House it is Pelosi's job (along with Senator Majority Leader Joseph Biden) to review this report and if the violations are corroborated, which evidence from organizations like Human Rights Watch already substantiated, Israel could be sanctioned. Indeed, in response to Israel's use of American-made cluster bombs in Lebanon last summer, Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch reported, "we've never seen use of cluster munitions that was so extensive and dangerous to civilians ... The issue is not whether Israel used the American cluster munitions lawfully, but what the US is going to do about it." As Speaker, Pelosi can and should do something about it. After all, there is a precedent: Ronald Reagan imposed a six-year ban on the sale of munitions to Israel in 1982 after Congress investigated Israel's use of cluster bombs against civilians.
For all the talk about "peace" before AIPAC and the Knesset, if Pelosi were actually invested in regional peace she could begin by holding Israel accountable for its violations of the Arms Export Control Act by sanctioning Israel. But this option seems rather unlikely given her congressional voting record. For instance, last summer she voted for her colleague Lantos' resolution in Congress (HR 921), entitled "Condemning the recent attacks against the State of Israel, holding terrorists and their state-sponsors accountable for such attacks, supporting Israel's right to defend itself, and for other purposes." That bill, which overwhelmingly passed (410-8), led to "other purposes," namely selling $120 million of oil to re-fuel Israel's American-made fighter jets that bombed and killed civilians in Lebanon as well as an expedited delivery of 1,300 M26 artillery rockets for Israel to use in its war on Lebanon.
If Pelosi's delegation to the Middle East is seriously interested in creating "peace" here, it should begin at home. She should respond to the report on her desk and make the decision to sanction Israel. Moreover, Pelosi and Lantos should both draft legislation that does not focus exclusively on Syria, Lebanon, and Iran for their weapons if only because the U.S. itself provides Israel with extensive military support and political cover. The burden should be shifted to Israel as the occupying power of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. Further, Pelosi would do well to join her colleagues in the Senate who drafted the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007 (S 594) and support the effort of forty other nations who have banned cluster munitions.
Dr. Marcy Newman is a Visiting Professor at the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut and a Fellow at the Initiative for Middle East Policy Dialogue.
|Florida rep.’s tough new bill could set stage for clash with administration as diplomacy quickens.|
|James D. Besser - Washington Correspondent|
With the pace of U.S. Mideast diplomacy quickening, the congressional battle over aid and diplomatic contact with the Palestinian Authority may be about to erupt anew as a leading pro-Israel congresswoman tries to throw new hurdles in the path of the Bush administration.
April 5, 2007 -- JERUSALEM
AN overriding melancholy here this Holy Week follows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's mission to Jerusalem the previous week. To Arabs and Jews seeking meaningful peace negotiations, it confirmed no progress toward a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is likely for the remainder of George W. Bush's presidency.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected Rice's offer for her to participate in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a permanent peace treaty. The word in the Olmert government is that President Bush fully shares the prime minister's reluctance even to begin talks at this time.
The Riyadh Declaration indicated willingness of the Arab world to consider a peaceful solution. Now, belief here among peace-seekers is that nothing will happen until a new president enters the Oval Office in 2009.
That was the consensus Tuesday at a conference on Middle East policy held in Jerusalem by the Morley Institute of Washington:A diverse assemblage of Palestinians (Muslim and Christians), Israelis, Americans and other foreigners held little hope for a Bush initiative in the closing months of his regime.
The atmosphere has changed since I was here for Holy Week a year ago. Israeli self-confidence then was at a peak, with the newly installed Olmert avowing the unilateral solution to the Palestinian problem developed by his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.
Behind that posture was confidence in military superiority. Now the unhappy results of the Lebanon incursion have modified Israeli expectations. Olmert publicly indicates a willingness to talk, and the Haaretz newspaper quoted him as saying the Arabs' Riyadh summit "is evidence of a change."
But the moderates at Tuesday's conference viewed this as rhetoric. Olmert told Rice last week that any negotiations must be preceded by the release of the Israeli soldier seized by Hamas fighters last June 25.
The broader pre-conditions for talks are Olmert's refusals to include in negotiations any discussion of a return of Arab refugees to greater Palestine and a withdrawal of Israel to its 1967 borders. Negotiating those points does not mean that they will be conceded. But setting pre-conditions for talks is a classic mechanism for escaping talks altogether.
Indeed, Olmert continues to cite the presence of Hamas in the Palestinian government as justification for the absence of anybody from the negotiating table.
It surely is up to Bush. When Rice made her previous visit to Israel about six weeks ago, the Israeli government announced that Olmert had been on the phone with Bush a day earlier and that they "see eye-to-eye." That insured the three-cornered talks in Jerusalem between Rice, Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would accomplish nothing substantial.
Haaretz political columnist Akiva Eldar, a speaker at Tuesday's conference, wrote in Monday's newspaper: "As a rare and historic opportunity appears on the horizon, a leadership of different dimensions is needed." He was talking about Olmert, but he could have referred to Bush as well.
Nothing could be accomplished now without Bush pressuring Olmert. Bush's original intentions to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace were sidetracked by the 9/11 attack and subsequent U.S. military operations. The question is whether Eldar's "historic opportunity" will be gone when a new American president takes office.
UK Issued Two Different Coordinates for Gulf Incident
Analysis by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 5 (IPS) - The drama surrounding the release of 15 British sailors and marines after 12 days in Iranian captivity was designed to convey two key messages that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush would do well to heed, say experts here.
First, the Britons' original capture by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard near the entry to the disputed Shatt-al-Arab waterway was meant to demonstrate that, despite its conventional military weakness and diplomatic isolation, Iran retains the ability to strike at western interests when it feels sufficiently provoked.
Second, when western powers engage Iran with respect and as an equal, they are more likely to get what they want than when they take a confrontational path designed to bully or humiliate the regime.
While neither message is likely to be well received either at the White House or among the neo-conservative and other right-wing pundits who have tried hard to depict the incident as the latest sign of Islamic or Persian barbarism, properly understood, they could form the basis of a new approach capable of yielding results, according to Juan Cole, a regional expert at the University of Michigan.
''The British have now opened a channel,'' he told IPS. ''Although this incident really did constitute a crisis -- one that might have escalated to very dangerous levels -- the resolution was diplomatic, and that diplomatic resolution could contain the seeds for future diplomacy, if the British and the Americans are so inclined.''
The announcement on Wednesday, that the sailors and marines were being released in honour of the Prophet Mohammed's forthcoming birthday and the Christian Easter holiday, was made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who then met with the captives personally.
''Our government has pardoned them; it is a gift from our people,'' he said, adding that the gesture had ''nothing to do'' with Tuesday's release in Iraq of a senior Iranian diplomat who was abducted two months ago reportedly by a special Iraqi intelligence agency that works closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). ''We approached the subject on a humanitarian basis. It was a unilateral decision on our end,'' he insisted.
Nonetheless, the diplomat's release, as well as reports that Tehran also just received assurances that it would be given consular access to five alleged Revolutionary Guard officers seized by U.S. forces at an Iranian liaison office in Arbil nearly three months ago, suggested that Wednesday's events were more than just coincidence, although both London and Washington, like Ahmadinejad, insisted there were no quid pro quos.
''I personally believe that the U.S. action (in Arbil) .accounts for why Iran chose to stage its capture of the British sailors,'' noted Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University who served in White House under former President Jimmy Carter. ''Iran appears to have gained something from its pressure tactics.''
That assessment was shared by Trita Parsi, president of the U.S. National Iranian American Council (NIAC). ''By taking the (British) soft targets, the Iranians put pressure on the U.S..''
In addition to collecting bargaining chips, the original capture had other purposes, as well, including rallying nationalist sentiment behind the regime just as it faced the imposition by the UN Security Council of a new round of sanctions for rejecting demands to suspend its uranium enrichment programme.
As important, however, was the message Tehran wished to convey to the West that it could indeed respond to what it saw as U.S. provocations in ways that could harm or embarrass its allies.
''In seizing the Iranians, who after all, had been invited by the Iraqi authorities, the Americans were seen as behaving aggressively,'' according to Cole. ''Now, the Iranians have demonstrated that the Anglo-American forces are not in a strong enough position to afford to do these things. They can play tit for tat.''
''It is a reminder that Iran has quite an array of asymmetrical options available to it to counter indirectly the actions of the U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere,'' Sick agreed.
At the same time, according to Sick, Tehran's behaviour during much of the crisis -- including both the seizure itself, the precise location of which remains a matter of dispute, and its use of ''confessions'' by the British captives and threats to put them on trial -- will probably have cost it much-needed international support.
''I suspect that recognition of this fact accounts for Iran's desire to end this dispute as promptly as possible,'' said Sick. ''For the same reason, I suspect that this ploy will not be repeated any time soon.''
''I think the Iranians thought it was better to declare victory and put an end to the crisis before there was any further escalation,'' noted Parsi.
At the same time, however, Parsi and other analysts said that the point at which victory could be declared was reached because of important changes in the British approach to the crisis.
While London officials have said the turning point came Monday, when Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, gave a conciliatory interview to Britain's Channel Four television -- an interview that was followed by a critical conversation between Larijani and Blair's top foreign-policy adviser, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, according to 'The Independent' -- Cole points to a shift in the British stance from one of threats and demands to a more diplomatic approach over the weekend, including confirmation by British Defence Secretary Des Browne that London was ''in direct bilateral communication with the Iranians.''
''These sorts of incidents are always to some extent about face, and apparently the Iranians felt that when Britain agreed to enter into direct bilateral negotiations, Iran had gained enough face to be magnanimous,'' he said. ''On Sunday, they were admitted as equals, not scolded as little children. That created the opening for (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to climb down and save face.''
''Iranians have been signalling repeatedly, and not just during this crisis, that they will engage diplomatically, but without preconditions and on the basis of equality,'' said William Beeman, an Iran expert at the University of Minnesota. ''So now they say, 'You see, when we have the upper hand, you see how magnanimous we are; we are a charitable, civilized people. We are reasonable. You can talk with us'.''
''The Iranian message is that if you deal with us respectfully, through incentives, then things can get resolved rather quickly,'' said Parsi. ''If you only resort to force or impose sanctions at the UN Security Council, then you'll only get stuck, and Iran will respond in kind. They're hoping that the West gets the impression that that is the incentive structure through which it can make progress with Iran. Whether that will be understood in the West is obviously a complete different question.''
The Bush administration's relative silence during the crisis may also have conveyed, inadvertently perhaps, another message -- that, despite widespread speculation that its recent military build-up in the Gulf was intended to prepare the grounds for an attack on Iran, it had no wish to do so, at least for the moment.
''The Iranian capture of 15 (British) military personnel could certainly have been used as .a pretext (for a military strike), since it could easily have escalated to a full-fledged military crisis,'' according to Sick. ''I regard the absence of unbridled escalation in this case as a significant indicator that the U.S. desire for a strike may be more muted than it has been portrayed.''