Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Assange and not Woodward

Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy has a good question. Why are there no calls to prosecute, assassinate or otherwise inconvenience Bob Woodward who has had a lucrative career peddling highly sensitive leaks, while the establishment (including establishment journalists) is apoplectic about Julian Assange. The answer Walt provides is eminently reasonable. Woodward is an insider, a member of the elite, and:
Elites like the idea of being in charge, and they don't really trust "the people" in whose name they govern, even though it is the latter that pays their salaries, and fights their wars. Elites like the sense of power and status that being "on the inside" conveys: it's a turn-on to know things that other people don't, and it can be so darn inconvenient when the public gets wind of what the current "best and brightest" are actually doing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Headline of the day

So the much talked about negotiations between Karzai and the Taliban with the help of NATO turns out to be a scam. At least we got this headline out of it.

Stephen Walt draws some deeper lessons:
Our strategy in Afghanistan based on "nation-building." We hope to create Afghan institutions that can run the place so we can leave. That goal, in turn, is predicated on the belief that the United States and its allies have sufficient knowledge and skill to create something that has never existed before: an effective, efficient, legitimate, Western-style state in Afghanistan. Accomplishing this task requires that we understand the underlying culture, the history, and the cross-cutting cleavages within Afghan society, and that we have sufficiently intimate knowledge of the players to know whom to work with and whom to shun.

There was already plenty of evidence that this knowledge was lacking. After all, back in 2002 we thought Hamid Karzai was the ideal choice to lead a new Afghan government. Now, nearly eight years later, he's proven to be a disappointment (at best). And this latest fiasco merely underscores the degree to which we are out of our depth there. There's no question we can kill a lot of Taliban (or people we suspect might be Taliban, or unfortunate civilians who get in the way), but successful nation-building requires a lot more than that.

So here's Rule No. 1 for would-be Afghan nation-builders: If you can't tell the Taliban from the imposters without a scorecard, maybe you shouldn't be playing this game.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The increasingly petulant John Burns

Documents from the latest Wikileaks release covering the Iraq War is available at the Guardian and the New York Times. A lot of the information that the New York Times did not see as fit to print in real-time is available in these documents. However, the pride of place in the Time's coverage goes to a hit piece on Julian Assange, the founder and face of Wikileaks.
New York Times:

The piece repeats the canard that Wikileaks previous document dump put lives in danger, despite the Pentagon's admission that no harm to anyone in Afghanistan could be tied to the Wikileaks release. As documented by the invaluable Glenn Greenwald:

It's been clear from the start that -- despite the valid concern that WikiLeaks should have been more vigilant in redacting the names of innocent Afghan civilians -- the Pentagon (and its media and pundit servants) were drastically exaggerating the harms, as The Associated Press noted on August 17:

The WikiLeaks leak is unrivaled in its scope, but so far there is no evidence that any Afghans named in the leaked documents as defectors or informants from the Taliban insurgency have been harmed in retaliation.

Some private analysts, in fact, think the danger has been overstated. "I am underwhelmed by this argument. The Pentagon is hyping," says John Prados, a military and intelligence historian who works for the anti-secrecy National Security Archive. He said in an interview that relatively few names have surfaced and it's not clear whether their present circumstances leave them in jeopardy.

And on August 11, even the DOD was forced to admit to The Washington Post the complete absence of any evidence to support its wild accusations: "'We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents,' [Pentagon spokesman Geoff] Morrell said.
What is interesting in the hit piece is the petulant tone of John Burns. One would have thought the pride of place would have been a mea culpa from Mr Burns explaining why the picture painted by the Wikileaks document was so different than what was conveyed by his reporting. But then, Mr. Burns is a "serious" journalist.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Religious nut of the day

Rabbi Ovaida Josef, the religious leader of the Shas party which has four cabinet posts in the Netanyahu government again exposed the worst kept secret of all religious extremist - their contempt for the other. Thus spake the good Rabbi according to the Jerusalem Post:
“Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel,” he said in his weekly Saturday night sermon on the laws regarding the actions non-Jews are permitted to perform on Shabbat.

According to Yosef, the lives of non-Jews in Israel are safeguarded by divinity, to prevent losses to Jews.

“In Israel, death has no dominion over them... With gentiles, it will be like any person – they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money.

This is his servant... That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew,” Yosef said.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

People don't like to be bombed

That the slaughter of loved ones leaves one somewhat upset at those who conducted, or facilitated, the slaughter should not come as a surprise. But perhaps it needs repeating. Chas Freeman has an article up at War In Context that you should really read. Here are some snippets, but do go read the whole thing - and remember, this is a hard boiled realist talking:
The Middle East is a constant reminder that a clear conscience is usually a sign of either a faulty memory or a severe case of arrogant amorality. It is not a badge of innocence. These days, we meticulously tally our own battlefield dead; we do not count the numbers of foreigners who perish at our hands or those of our allies. Yet each death is a tragedy that extinguishes one soul and wounds others. This deserves our grief. If we cannot feel it, we may justly be charged with inhumanity.

All that is required to be hated is to do hateful things. Apparent indifference to the pain and humiliation one has inflicted further outrages its victims, their families, and their friends. As the Golden Rule, common – in one form or another – to all religions, implicitly warns, moral blindness is contagious.
War is in fact not the spectator sport that the fans who watch it on television or on big screens in theaters imagine. Nor is it the “cakewalk” that its armchair advocates sometimes suggest it might be. War is traumatic for all its participants. Recent experience suggests that 30 percent of troops develop serious mental health problems that dog them after they leave the battlefield. But what of the peoples soldiers seek to punish or pacify? To understand the hatreds war unleashes and its lasting psychological and political consequences, one has only to translate foreign casualty figures into terms we Americans can relate to. You can do this by imagining that the same percentages of Americans might die or suffer injury as foreigners have. Then think about the impact that level of physical and moral insult would have on us.
No one knows how many Iraqis have died as a direct or indirect consequence of the U.S. invasion and the anarchy that followed it. Estimates range between a low of something over 100,000 to a high of well over 1 million. Translated to comparable proportions in the United States, that equates to somewhere between 1 and 13 million dead Americans. Over two-and-a-quarter million Iraqis fled to neighboring countries to escape this bloodbath. An equal number found shelter inside Iraq. Few Iraqis have been able to go back to Iraq or to return to their homes. In our terms, that equals an apparently permanent flight to Canada and Mexico of 24 million Americans, with another 24 million driven into homelessness but, years later, still somewhere inside the country. I think you will agree that, had this kind of thing happened to Americans, religious scruples would not deter many of us from seeking revenge and reprisal against whoever had done it to us.

Friday, October 15, 2010


And for something completely different (h/t Savage):

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Let's get stupider

Is the government in Pakistan corrupt. Most certainly. Should they do more to collect taxes from the rich and wealthy in their society. Clearly. Should the US attach strings to their aid in order to get more transparency and accountability. Assuredly. Should they do this with aid for flood relief. Are you out of your frickin mind! But that's exactly what Hillary Clinton is proposing. It seems that when Bill bonded with George, Hillary was learning a thing or two from Barbara.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested European Union leaders should follow the U.S. and withhold further flood-relief funding from Pakistan until Islamabad shows it is doing more to fight corruption and collect tax revenue from its wealthiest citizens.
Holding the flood ravaged refugees hostage for their government's corruption is beyond criminal. It is stupid. Though I doubt this will convince too many of the refugees to stop avoiding taxes, I am sure this statement will be received with gratitude by the Taliban.
Maybe it is something about Yale.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Marty Peretz

They say that wife beaters remain wife beaters because they can. The same is true of rich white bigots. Ta-Nehisi Coates nails it.

The fact is that Peretz has the social and economic guns to be a bigot, to then be defended by even those who acknowledge his bigotry, and finally be honored at the highest levels of American academia.

And there are the enablers, sometimes known as "journalists":

Howard Kurtz, the media editor of the Washington Post, was among those journalists critical of [Helen] Thomas, suggesting that she should "go home" to Lebanon and that she is a heroine to Hezbollah. Asked why the mainstream media has largely ignored Peretz's views over the years, Kurtz replied: "I'm afraid I just haven't focused on the subject."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Islam and America

One of the best discussions I have seen about the relationship of the US to the Muslim world and its own Muslim citizens.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An embed with the Taliban

Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal succeeded in convincing a Taliban commander to let him accompany them. This is his report from Australian TV. (h/t Huffington Post)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chilly down here

Two people I never thought I would be quoting

So please, no more talk about those idealistic neoconservatives who are willing to expend blood and treasure so Afghans and Iraqis can live free. People in Basra and Kandahar had better hope that America’s counterinsurgency warriors create a society in which they can practice their religion free of intimidation and insult. Because it’s now clear they can’t do so on the lower tip of the island of Manhattan

And from now on, let’s stop condescending to the French about their anti-headscarf laws. Until a month ago or so, I genuinely believed that no such law could ever pass in the U.S. How naïve. After the right’s despicable performance over the last month, can anyone seriously doubt that if the U.S. had as large, and religiously traditional, a Muslim population as France, that Republicans would be clamoring for Congress to regulate their “Islamofascist” garb? Perhaps they’d merely propose that Muslim women be prohibited from wearing the headscarf within a mile of military bases that house families that have lost loved ones in the “war on terror.” We have to be sensitive, after all.


And oh yes, my fellow Jews, who are so thrilled to be locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin against the Islamic threat. Evidently, it’s never crossed your mind that the religious hatred you have helped unleash could turn once again against us. Of course not, we’re insiders in this society now: Our synagogues grace the toniest of suburbs; our rabbis speak flawless English; we Jews are now effortlessly white. Barely anyone even remembers that folks in Lower Manhattan once considered us alien and dangerous, too.

Peter Beinart

The inclination to go from the particular to the general -- to blame a people for the acts of a few -- is what has always fueled pogroms and race riots. History shows that it is a natural tendency and it will literally run riot if not controlled. It is the solemn obligation of elected leaders to restrain such an urge -- to be moral as well as political leaders. Obama almost pulled that off, but he flinched.

Yes, he couldn't.

Richard Cohen

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The floods in Pakistan

Natural disasters are testing times for governments as Bush found out during Katrina. The current floods in Pakistan have been a test for the Zardari/Gilani government which it seems to have failed miserably. That it would not be able to cope with the natural disaster was a given. The poor infrastructure which is a reflection of the lack of governance made it certain that the government could not respond. Zardari compounded the problem by showing a lack of sensitivity that put Bush in Clinton territory.

President Asif Zardari's trip to France and Britain as the floods raged last week created an image of an indifferent, arrogant leadership, say critics. Already unpopular, Zardari faced protests on Saturday at a rally for his Pakistan Peoples party in Birmingham, with one demonstrator trying to throw a shoe at him.

"Even when governments can't cope, they can at least show empathy. That was missing," said Ayaz Amir, a newspaper columnist and member of parliament for the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (N). "Who was the first person on the scene? The army chief. This has really cost [Zardari] heavily. This image will linger.

"The image of President Zardari visiting his chateau in France, while there was devastating flooding in Pakistan: this will have long-term effects."

... images of what some have dubbed Zardari's "joy ride" have played continuously on Pakistani TV, adding to public anger.

Zardari's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), with the help of a compliant police force, decided to shoot the messenger.
Transmission of Geo TV was blocked in some parts of the country and copies of The News and the daily Jang burnt in a few areas of Karachi and Sindh on Sunday as the media group gave coverage to the hurling of shoes at President Asif Ali Zardari during his party address in Birmingham.

Many offices of cable operators in Karachi were set ablaze by angry activists of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Newspaper vendors were robbed of copies of The News and the daily Jang upon the direction of PPP leaders, besides, PPP workers were accompanied by police officials in hurling threats at cable operators and hawkers, sources told the media.
While the US is trying to turn the floods into an opportunity to win hearts and minds it is not alone in this endeavor. The groups most active in relief operations are the Islamist groups which are accused of being fronts for jihadi organizations. More rains are forecast.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kayani marches on

There are several short term advantages to the extension (more a second term than an extension) granted to General Kayani as the head of Pakistan's armed forces. By all accounts he is a competent officer who is well liked by the US brass. As the US looks for an exit strategy it will be useful to have a known quantity in place in Pakistan which will likely be important to whatever strategy Washington (or more specifically the Pentagon) comes up with. Kayani served as deputy military secretary to Benazir Bhutto and so is familiar with the current president and his entourage. I am sure there is a comfort factor here for Zardari. Kayani also served as the head of the ISI which gives him familiarity with the section of the military most closely involved (to put it mildly) with the various factions in the Taliban. He has also tried to distance the military from the internal politics of Pakistan - though this might just be window dressing.

These short term advantages may be overstated. While Kayani is competent there really is no dearth of competent officers in the Pakistan Army, including those in line to take over Kayani's job. Most of the senior officers of this generation have been trained in the US and would have no difficulty continuing the conversation with the US. While the others in line for the job do not have Kayani's ISI experience they have other experience that would come in handy. For example, the top candidate for the post Khalid Wynne has extensive experience in Baluchistan which is going to be one of the trouble spots in the coming years. He commanded the 41st Infantry Division in Quetta and headed the Southern Command in Quetta. His familiarity with the situation on the ground in Quetta may be as important as Kayani's familiarity with the Taliban. Finally, given the state of the military's reputation in Pakistan it is highly unlikely that anyone would undo Kayani's actions in trying to disentangle the military from the civilian government. As far as involvement of the military in politics the very fact of the extension is evidence of the involvement of the military in politics

Despite any short term advantages there are several long term disadvantages to this extension. There is more than a whiff of US influence in the granting of the extension. This will make any actions Kayani takes to go after the Taliban suspicious to an already conspiracy minded Pakistani public. The extension granted to Kayani brings an end to the military careers of the officers who were up for his job. This has to generate ill will in an army that is already ambivalent about the task it is being asked to do. The suspicion of the public and the softening of support within the military will make Kayani a weaker partner for the US during his second term. Finally, this was a lost opportunity to make a hero in a country that badly needs heros. Everybody knew that an extension (if not a second term) was Kayanis for the asking. Doing a Cincinattus and accepting retirement would have cemented his reputation as an incorruptible "soldier's soldier." One of the most effective actions by a general in recent times was the resignation of the Turkish Chief of General Staff Necip Torumtay in December 1990. His resignation blocked Turkey's participation in the first gulf war and its President Turgut Ozal's ambition to redraw Turkey's boundaries to include Kirkuk and Mosul. By not accepting this extension Kayani might have served his country and his institution, and incidentally US goals, much better.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Best commentary on the firing of the general

From whoisioz:
On the other hand, I am glad to live in a world where the ongoing slaughter of civilians is a resume-builder but badmouthing the boss is a firing offense.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Right to Impose Collective Punishment

Collective punishment has a new name the "right of economic warfare" according to an article from McClatchy:

Israel imposed severe restrictions on Gaza in June 2007, after Hamas won elections and took control of the coastal enclave after winning elections there the previous year, and the government has long said that the aim of the blockade is to stem the flow of weapons to militants in Gaza.

Last week, after Israeli commandos killed nine volunteers on a Turkish-organized Gaza aid flotilla, Israel again said its aim was to stop the flow of terrorist arms into Gaza.

However, in response to a lawsuit by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, the Israeli government explained the blockade as an exercise of the right of economic warfare.

"A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using 'economic warfare,'" the government said.

The US State Department off the record said it didn't have anything to say. After three years of this:

Israel's blockade of Gaza includes a complex and ever-changing list of goods that are allowed in. Items such as cement or metal are barred because they can be used for military purposes, Israeli officials say.

According to figures published by Gisha in coordination with the United Nations, Israel allows in 25 percent of the goods it had permitted into Gaza before the Hamas takeover. In the years prior to the closure, Israel allowed an average of 10,400 trucks to enter Gaza with goods each month. Israel now allows approximately 2,500 trucks a month.

The figures show that Israel also has limited the goods allowed to enter Gaza to 40 types of items, while before June 2007 approximately 4,000 types of goods were listed as entering Gaza.

However, President Obama, eighteen months after taking office, says the situation is "unsustainable." So, everything is fine then.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and Israeli Statements

From Raw Story:

In what could be a serious blow to Israel's narrative on the killing of at least nine humanitarian activists making their way to Gaza through international waters, raw video by an Al Jazeera producer, who was filming during the raid, appears to provide evidence that the IDF opened fire on the flotilla even before boarding it.

Israeli forces assert they came under attack by the pro-Palestine civilian group, and video released by the IDF appears to show one soldier being tossed overboard amid a scuffle with unidentified individuals wielding melee weapons, like clubs and chairs.

However, in raw video captured by an Al Jazeera producer and published to YouTube late Monday, two journalists provide a play-by-play of the harrowing event as pops and cracks echo in the background. Even before the Israeli forces were aboard, one says, they were pelting the boat with tear gas and stun grenades, injuring numerous people.

Then he confirms the first death, saying the individual was killed by "munitions," but not specifying whether it was a bullet or something else. Then he confirms that Israeli forces were boarding the ship.

Another of the reporters featured in the video works for the Iranian network Press TV. "We are being hit by tear gas, stun grenades, we have navy ships on either side, helicopters overhead," he said. "We are being attacked from every single side. This is in international waters, not Israeli waters, not in the 68-mile exclusion zone. We are being attacked in international waters completely illegally."

"The organizers are telling me now, they are raising a white flag -- they are raising a white flag to the Israeli army," the Al Jazeera reporter said. "This is after one person has been killed; a civilian has been killed by munition. That number could be more ... Despite the white flag being raised, despite the white flag being raised, the Israeli army is still shooting, still firing live munitions."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heckuva job Kenny

It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.
Barack Obama, April 2, 2010

"For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore.
Now, from the day he took office as Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar has recognized these problems and he's worked to solve them. Often times he has been slammed by the industry, suggesting that somehow these necessary reforms would impede economic growth. Well, as I just told Ken, we are going to keep on going to do what needs to be done.

Just last year BP—who now likes to say BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum,” not British Petroleum—told the government that an oil spill like the one wreaking havoc in the Gulf was highly unlikely, so they didn’t need to install the remote controlled valves that could prevent an uncontrolled blowout.

Obama’s Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, was so taken-in by these false safety claims that his agency allowed BP’s offshore drilling plan to be “categorically excluded” from the required environmental impact review. Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Instead of protecting the public interest by conducting environmental reviews, Salazar’s agency rubber stamped BP’s drilling plan, just as it does hundreds of others every year in the Gulf of Mexico.


Since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded on April 20, the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico.

The waivers were granted despite President Barack Obama’s vow that his administration would launch a “relentless response effort” to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the gulf. One of them was dated Friday — the day after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was temporarily halting offshore drilling

- McClatchy Newspapers

Friday, May 21, 2010

The War is Making You Poor Bill

Alan Grayson keeps it simple (h/t John Ballard) .

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chomsky banned

Noam Chomsky and his daughter were denied entry by the Israelis on the Jordan/Israeli border. Here is an interview he gave to Al Jazeera. The interviewer is highly annoying. Chomsky is Chomsky.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Apartheid and Israel

John Mearsheimer recently gave a talk entitled "The future of Palestine: Righteous Jews versus New Afrikaners." While Mearsheimer believes the two state solution to be the best option he is very pessimistic about the possibility of ever achieving it.
The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.
He goes on to detail his reasons for why he feels the two state solution is a pipe dream. First, there are the "facts on the ground."
The main reason that a two-state solution is no longer a serious option is that most Israelis are opposed to making the sacrifices that would be necessary to create a viable Palestinian state, and there is little reason to expect them to have an epiphany on this issue. For starters, there are now about 480,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories and a huge infrastructure of connector and bypass roads, not to mention settlements. Much of that infrastructure and large numbers of those settlers would have to be removed to create a Palestinian state. Many of those settlers however, would fiercely resist any attempt to rollback the settlement enterprise.
Then there are the ideological hurdles.
From the start, Zionism envisioned an Israeli state that controlled all of Mandatory Palestine. There was no place for a Palestinian state in the original Zionist vision of Israel. Even Yitzhak Rabin, who was determined to make the Oslo peace process work, never spoke about creating a Palestinian state. He was merely interested in granting the Palestinians some form of limited autonomy, what he called “an entity which is less than a state.” Plus, he insisted that Israel should maintain control over the Jordan River Valley and that a united Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel. Also remember that in the spring of 1998 when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she was sharply criticized for saying that “it would be in the long-term interests of peace in the Middle East for there to be a state of Palestine, a functioning modern state on the same footing as other states.”
Then there is the quality of the Israeli leadership
An individual with the stature of David Ben-Gurion or Ariel Sharon – or even Yitzhak Rabin – might be able to stand up to those naysayers and push forward a two-state solution, but there is nobody with that kind of standing in Israeli politics today.
And the weakness of the American leadership
Every American president since 1967 has opposed settlement building in the Occupied Territories. Yet no president has been able to put serious pressure on Israel to stop building settlements, much less dismantle them. Perhaps the best evidence of America’s impotence is what happened in the 1990s during the Oslo peace process. Between 1993 and 2000, Israel confiscated 40,000 acres of Palestinian land, constructed 250 miles of connector and bypass roads, doubled the number of settlers, and built 30 new settlements. President Clinton did hardly anything to halt this expansion. Indeed, the United States continued to give Israel billions of dollars in foreign aid each year and to protect it at every turn on the diplomatic front.

One might think that Obama is different from his predecessors, but there is little evidence to support that belief. Consider that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama responded to charges that he was “soft” on Israel by pandering to the lobby and repeatedly praising the special relationship. In the month before he took office, he was silent during the Gaza massacre – when Israel was being criticized around the world for its brutal assault on that densely populated enclave.

So, no two state solution. Examining what is left the only viable option is an apartheid state. All very much in the realist mode. But then he seems to leave his realist moorings and predict a "happy ending." He suggest that the American Jewish community will be repulsed by the immorality of an apartheid state.
The bottom line is that Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state over the long term, because it will not be able to depend on the American Jewish community to defend its loathsome policies toward the Palestinians. And without that protection, Israel is doomed, because public opinion in the West will turn decisively against Israel, as it turns itself into a full-fledged apartheid state.

Thus, I believe that Greater Israel will eventually become a democratic bi-national state, and the Palestinians will dominate its politics, because they will outnumber the Jews in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
Uri Avnery does not like this "happy ending."
Except for a tiny group of dreamers, who can be gathered in a medium-sized room, there are no Israelis who dream of living in a bi-national state, in which the Arabs constitute the majority.
While he cannot fault Mearsheimer's logic he still feels that apartheid can be reversed and the two state solution is possible. How exactly that will happen Avnery does not know but he figures miracles have happened before. I certainly hope Avnery's miracle comes true because Mearsheimer's belief in the apartheid state causing sufficient revulsion in the diaspora to threaten Israel may be a bit of wishful thinking. From a report from 2006 by Guardian's long time South Africa and Middle East correspondent Chris McGreal (the whole report is well worth reading) :

Several years ago in Johannesburg I met a Jewish woman whose mother and sister were murdered in Auschwitz. After their deaths, she was forced into a gas chamber, but by some miracle that bout of killing was called off. Vera Reitzer survived the extermination camp, married soon after the war and moved to South Africa.

Reitzer joined the apartheid Nationalist party (NP) in the early 1950s, at about the time that the new prime minister, DF Malan, was introducing legislation reminiscent of Hitler's Nuremberg laws against Jews: the population registration act that classified South Africans according to race, legislation that forbade sex and marriage across the colour line and laws barring black people from many jobs.

Reitzer saw no contradiction in surviving the Holocaust only to sign up for a system that was disturbingly reminiscent in its underpinning philosophy, if not in the scale of its crimes, as the one she had outlived. She vigorously defended apartheid as a necessary bulwark against black domination and the communism that engulfed her native Yugoslavia. Reitzer let slip that she thought Africans inferior to other human beings and not entitled to be treated as equals. I asked if Hitler hadn't said the same thing about her as a Jew. She called a halt to the conversation.

Reitzer was unusual among Jewish South Africans in her open enthusiasm for apartheid and for her membership of the NP. But she was an accepted member of the Jewish community in Johannesburg, working for the Holocaust survivors association, while Jews who fought the system were frequently ostracised by their own community.

Let's hope Avnery is right.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Iran acquisition of nuclear weapons imminent!!!

At Muhammad Sahimi has looked at the warnings that Iran was about to acquire nuclear weapons in the next few years - since 1984. (h/t Eric Martin)

... in April 1984, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that West German intelligence believed that Iran could have a nuclear bomb within two years. Twenty-six years later, that bomb has not been produced.

On June 27, 1984, the late Sen. Alan Cranston was quoted by The Age, a broadsheet daily newspaper published in Melbourne, Australia, claiming that Iran was seven years away from being able to build its own nuclear weapon. ...

On April 12, 1987, David Segal published a piece in the Washington Post titled “Atomic Ayatollahs: Just What the Mideast Needs – an Iranian Bomb,” sounding the alarm about Iran’s forthcoming nuclear weapon.


In late 1991, in congressional reports and CIA assessments, the first Bush administration estimated that there was a “high degree of certainty that the government of Iran has acquired all or virtually all of the components required for the construction of two to three nuclear weapons.” In 1992, the CIA changed its mind and predicted that Iran would have nuclear arms by 2000, then pushed that back to 2003.

A February 1992 report by the House of Representatives suggested that Iran would have two or three operational nuclear weapons by February-April 1992.

And, of course, David Albright, the all-world nuclear expert, also weighed in in March 1992. In an article written with Mark Hibbs in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, he claimed that the spotlight had shifted to Iran and its nuclear program.

I almost forgot to mention the sensational reports in Europe in May 1992 by several right-wing European newspapers that Iran already had two nuclear bombs. “Iran has obtained at least two nuclear warheads out of a batch officially listed as ‘missing’ from the newly independent republic of Kazakhstan, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Two of the nuclear weapons were smuggled across the border from Kazakhstan into Iran last year [1991] and are now under the control of Reza Amrollahi, the head of the Iranian Organization for Atomic Energy.” Iran and Kazakhstan do not have common borders, and Amrollahi, who was privy to such an important state secret, was sacked by former president Mohammad Khatami in 1997 and has been living a quiet life in Tehran ever since as a professor.

Things got more interesting in early March 1992 when The Arms Control Reporter reported that by December 1991 Iran had four (not two) nuclear weapons, which it had obtained from the former Soviet Union, including a nuclear artillery shell, two nuclear warheads that could be launched on Scud missiles, and one nuclear weapon that could be delivered by a MiG-27 aircraft.

...On Jan. 23, 1993, Charles Radin of the Boston Globe quoted Gad Yaacobi, then Israel’s envoy to the United Nations, claiming that Iran was devoting $800 million per year to the development of nuclear weapons.

A month later on Feb. 24, new CIA Director James Woolsey (who would later play a leading role in the propaganda for invading Iraq) said that the U.S. was concerned about Iran’s nuclear potential, even though “Iran is still eight to ten years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon.”

Then, on March 21, 1993, U.S. News and World Report reported that North Korea and Iran had an agreement to develop nuclear weapons. On April 8, Douglas Jehl of the New York Times reported that the Clinton administration claimed that Iran had paid North Korea $600 million for further development of the Nodong missile to deliver nuclear or chemical warheads.

... Foreign Report claimed on April 22, 1993, that North Korea was supplying Iran with nuclear know-how and enriched uranium. In May 1993, it was reported that U.S. intelligence analysts had alleged that Iran had sought weapons-related nuclear equipment from Ukraine. It did not, of course, matter that both nations denied the allegations.

On June 25, 1993, the AFP reported that the Swiss were major suppliers for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. After Maariv in Israel repeated that claim, even Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin denied it, saying, “They do not know what they are talking about.” But the fabrication factory was producing nonstop. On Sept. 2, 1993, the Intelligence Newsletter reported that the French firm CKD was delivering nuclear materials to Iran. On Oct. 25, 1993, U.S. News and World Report used that great source of expertise for the mainstream media – unidentified intelligence sources – to claim that scientists working in the Soviet Union’s nuclear program in Kazakhstan sold weapons-grade uranium to Iran. And on Dec. 13, 1993, Theresa Hitchens and Brendan McNally of Defense News reported that the CIA “believes that Iran could have nuclear weapons within eight to 10 years.”


In January 1995, John Holum, the director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, testified before the Congress that “Iran could have the bomb by 2003.” Defense Secretary William Perry said that “Iran may be less than five years from building an atomic bomb.” ... in The Nonproliferation Review (Vol. 2, 1995), Greg Gerardi reported, “Current U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources estimate Iran will have nuclear weapons in a 5-10 year time frame.” Note how the time frame has become so mobile! David Albright weighed in again with an article titled “An Iranian Bomb?” in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 51 (March-August 1995).

... On April 29, 1996, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that he believed that “in four years, Iran may reach nuclear weapons.”

In 1997 Israel predicted a new date for Iran having a nuclear bomb: 2005

On Oct. 21, 1998, Gen. Anthony Zinni, head of U.S. Central Command, said Iran “could have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons within five years.” ... Steve Rodan claimed on April 9, 1998, in that model of truthfulness, the Jerusalem Post, “Documents obtained by the Jerusalem Post show Iran has four nuclear bombs.”

A CIA assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities publicized on Jan. 17, 2000, said that the Agency could not rule out the possibility that Iran possessed nuclear weapons. The assessment was based on the CIA’s admission that it could not monitor Iran’s nuclear activities with any precision.

Then the George W. Bush administration came to power, and Iran became an even more “imminent” threat. In the heyday of the warmongers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon delivered a classified version of the congressionally mandated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) on Dec. 31, 2001. It listed Iran among the countries that “could be involved in immediate, potential, or unexpected contingencies.”

Demonizing Iran became so fashionable during the Bush years that members of Congress began lying brazenly. A report by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), then chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, issued on Aug. 23, 2006, stated, “Iran has conducted a clandestine uranium enrichment program for nearly two decades in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement, and despite its claim to the contrary, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.” It also claimed that “Iran is currently enriching uranium to weapons grade using a 164-machine centrifuge cascade at this facility in Natanz” and “spent fuel from the LWR [light water reactor] that Russia is building for Iran in the city of Bushehr can produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for 30 weapons per year if the fuel rods were diverted and reprocessed.” As I explained elsewhere, all the allegations were lies. They provoked the IAEA to take the unusual step of sending an angry letter to Hoekstra. The letter took “strong exception to the incorrect and misleading assertion” that the IAEA had removed a senior safeguards inspector for “allegedly raising concerns about Iranian deception,” and it branded as “outrageous and dishonest” the report’s suggestion that he was removed for not adhering “to an unstated IAEA policy barring IAEA officials from telling the truth” about Iran.


In a more recent dire prediction, Amos Harel of Ha’aretz reported on July 11, 2007 that “Iran will cross the ‘technological threshold’ enabling it to independently manufacture nuclear weapons within six months to a year and attain nuclear capability as early as mid-2009, according to Israel’s Military Intelligence.”

Right after the Obama administration took over, Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times reported on Feb. 12, 2009, that the Obama administration had made it clear that it believed there was no question that Tehran was seeking the bomb.

And just the other day, Hillary Clinton claimed that Iran has violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Apparently, the secretary of state does not know that there is a vast difference – technically and legally – between violating the NPT and being in non-compliance with some provisions of the Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. An NPT violation happens when a member state develops a nuclear bomb, helps another state to do so, or transfers its nuclear technology to a non-member state.

Clinton should hire better lawyers who are loyal to the true national interests of the United States, not rely on pro-Israel “experts” who will settle for nothing short of military attacks on Iran.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The wit and wisdom of Barack Obama

Lifted wholesale from A Tiny Revolution:

It's one thing for heads of state to murder people. That's just part of the job description. It only becomes truly obscene when the people in charge start making jokes about the power of life and death they wield over others.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Barack Obama:

OBAMA: Jonas brothers are here, they're out there somewhere. Sasha annd Malia are huge fans, but boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I'm joking?

According to the New America Foundation, Obama has killed somewhere between 109 and 188 civilians with drones during his presidency.

Note also that, according to the Washington Post gossip column, this was one of Obama's "sharpest quips" at the White House correspondents dinner.

Via Charles Davis.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Our war against teenagers

Glenn Greenwald does have a way of getting to the heart of things.
Speaking of war propaganda, today is a very proud day for the U.S.: the military commission ordered by Eric Holder begins for Omar Khadar, a Canadian-born, Afghanistan-residing detainee encaged at Guantanamo for seven years -- since he was 15 years old -- on "war crimes" and "terrorism" charges that he was involved in a firefight with American military forces who, revealingly enough, were using a former Soviet military base as their outpost. Khadr was wounded in the battle, imprisoned at Bagram, then at Guantanamo, claims he was severely tortured into falsely confessing, and made worldwide news when a video of him weeping, begging for medical help, and crying for his mother during an interrogation was released. Apparently, if the U.S. Army invades a foreign country, anyone who fights against that invading force -- including a 15-year-old boy -- is a "war criminal" and a "Terrorist," even the Worst of The Worst, which is, of course, all that we're currently holding at Guantanamo. Now that's some robust propaganda.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

the other

The first sane comment I have seen about Comedy Central's marketing strategy for South Park (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

When the network that hosts the show starts getting all weird about it, though, that’s a problem for Muslims. Because this large media conglomerate is regularly and repeatedly signalling that, even if they’re willing to stand up to angry Baptists or Jews with hurt feelings, pissed off Muslims are so scary and weird and “other” that they have to be handled with kid gloves. I know plenty of fucked-up Christians who I’m sure have sent angry letters and phone calls to Comedy Central about South Park.

So, what Comedy Central is saying is that some death-threaty, angry, fundamentalist kill-joys, if they’re Christian, obviously don’t reflect the opinions of all Christians or warrant changing programming to accommodate. But some death-threaty, angry, fundamentalist kill-joys, if they’re Muslim, will be treated as if they are the legitimate authority on their religion and Comedy Central will respond in fear to them.

And fear is just the submissive expression of hostility.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit.

So says Dan Froomkin wondering whether any of "our" elected representatives cares about what appears in the wikileaks video.

So far (and I've done a bit of calling around) I haven't heard any member of Congress express any intention of holding an oversight hearing into the matter -- or even asking any questions at all.

They seem utterly uncurious about how exactly it was OK for a bloodthirsty-sounding helicopter crewman to open fire on a group of (apparently) armed men when all they were doing was milling around on a street corner -- not to mention how it was OK to target the Good Samaritan van driver who pulled over to help one of the injured men. (He was killed; his two small children were wounded.)

Even more than that, to be perfectly honest, I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit about the gruesome cover-up by U.S. forces in Afghanistan after they massacred five innocent civilians, including three women, two of whom were pregnant -- just this past February. Just not on video (as far as we know).

In case you missed it, the very same morning the WikiLeaks video was released, the New York Times confirmed reports by heroic Times of London correspondent Jerome Starkey that American Special Operations soldiers actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of the women as part of a cover-up. NATO headquarters, led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then backed them up and repeatedly tried to discredit Starkey and his story.

Is that standard operating procedure? Again, I haven't heard a peep of interest from the Hill -- despite the fact that Starkey himself has argued that it was not an isolated incident, and that U.S. and NATO forces are rarely held to account for the atrocities they commit.

Where's the outrage? Where's the responsibility? Where's the oversight? Hell, where's the basic curiosity? Has anyone on the Hill even asked any questions of the Pentagon or the White House? Hey, President Obama, are you OK with this?

Does your member of Congress give a shit?

He has a suggestion

Call them and let me know what you find out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wikileaks followup

AlJazeera has an analysis of the Wikileaks video with Julian Assange and Ivan Eland. Eland is basically representing the US military point of view (h/t Pulse):

Friday, April 16, 2010

A thousand words...

A Jewish settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street in Hebron, the West Bank. (h/t War in Context)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The cancer of unemployment

This is a visualization of the change in unemployment rates over the period of a year developed by LaToya Egwuekwe, a graduate student and member of the Machinists Union. It's scary. (h/t Paul Rosenberg)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Yes, but ...

Fafblog puts the Wikileaks video in context
Now, is this video disturbing? Of course. Were atrocities committed, innocents slaughtered, corpses desecrated and children maimed? Absolutely. But was it all done according to proper procedure? Ah, now, that's the question. We should all certainly be willing to support a full and complete investigation into the possibility of an official recommendation for preliminary motions toward an investigation, looking into the matter of whether or not the people here were properly murdered in triplicate, signed twice on the goldenrod form, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law. And we shouldn't rest until any guilty parties have been found, and strongly-worded disciplinary Post-Its firmly applied to their personnel files.

Apart from that, I don't think we have to spend much time thinking about this sort of thing - this is an isolated incident, just like this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this - and one has to accept a certain amount of rape, torture and murder with one's military. After all, if the military wasn't free to rape and torture people, then it certainly wouldn't be free to murder them; and if the military wasn't free to murder people, then it wouldn't be free to slaughter them en masse; and if the military wasn't free to slaughter people en masse, then what would we even have a military for?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Murder in our name

Wikileaks has released this video from a Blackhawk helicopter showing one example of the slaughter of Iraqis in 2007. The US had claimed that the helicopters reacted to an active firefight. What is totally nauseating is the murder of the neighbors who come to help the wounded. Watch.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ellen Lubell - a decent human being

Faced with all the daily crap it is sometimes easy to forget that the world is full of very decent human beings. The Talking Dog interviewed Ellen Lubell, the lawyer for one of the Guantanamo detainees (h/t Pulse). Ms Lubell represents Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian National.

Ellen Lubell: Our client, Abdul Aziz Naji, is from Algeria. His family is there and we’ve spoken with them a number of times. Aziz is 34 and he has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for nearly eight years. He’s very likeable. He is an observant Muslim. Despite having attended school only through the sixth grade, he is bright, insightful, and has an excellent memory. He readily expresses his feelings and views on issues. He is extremely appreciative of our efforts on his case and lets us know this frequently. He loves children and very much wants go get married and have his own.

When Aziz was living in Algeria, around the time he was 17 or 18, he and his brother were attacked by a group of terrorists. After that, his brother left the country and so did Aziz, after completing his required military service. He went first to Mecca on a pilgrimage, and then traveled to Pakistan to perform "zakat"- charitable work – as is required of observant Muslims. Aziz worked for a charitable organization in the mountains of Kashmir for only a few months when he accidently stepped on one of the many landmines still buried left in this war-torn region. The explosion blew off the lower half of his right leg. He was taken to a hospital in Lahore, where he was treated, and over the course of a year received rehabilitation and a prosthetic leg. He decided then that he would try to find a wife. He was directed by friends to another Algerian man living in Peshawar, who was known to be helpful in arranging marriages. Aziz visited the man and while he was there, the man’s house was raided by the Pakistani police. The raid may have been the result of the bounties that were offered by the US at the time to local people if they identified possible “terrorists” among them. The Pakistanis interrogated Aziz, concluded that he had done nothing wrong, and told him they would release him. Instead, they turned him over to the Americans. Aziz was taken to the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then on to Guantanamo.

When we took Aziz’s case, we were provided a file from the U.S. Department of Defense that included a list of allegations against him, with alleged “confessions.” None of the allegations or confessions was backed by any credible evidence. Ultimately, our view that the U.S. had no case against Aziz was validated by the Obama Administration, which cleared him in June 2009.
Though cleared he is still in Guantanamo. Lubell provides a summary of the various twists and turns of the case in the interview. The interview is well worth reading. What especially touched me was her response to the question about how she got involved in the case.
The Talking Dog: How did you first get involved in Guantanamo representation, and how has it effected your legal practice or your life in general?

Ellen Lubell: In 2006, after the media reported that three of the detainees had committed suicide, my partner Doris and I decided as a matter of conscience that we had to do something. Neither of us is a constitutional lawyer or even a litigator, but we were encouraged by colleagues at WilmerHale, who had already gotten involved in representing a group of detainees, to contact CCR and inquire about being assigned a client. We did so, and CCR explained that although representing a detainee would be very expensive (aside from our time), there would be a great deal of support available to us from our fellow attorneys. We decided to forge ahead and were assigned a client by CCR.

I’ve been changed in many ways by the experience. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most amazing lawyers in the country. I’ve had to become conversant with areas of law that are entirely new for me – constitutional law, federal court procedure, international law, and asylum law. I no longer keep my political opinions to myself. I no longer look at problems around me and think someone else will fix them. I’ve become terribly skeptical of everything I read in the newspaper. Most importantly, I’ve been changed by getting to know our client and his family. While it’s easy to see all the ways the life of a Jewish woman from Newton with a law degree differs from that of a young Muslim man from Algeria with only a primary school education, we’ve discovered so many things we have in common. We’ve been able to enjoy each other’s company, disagree and laugh, and trust each other. Despite the struggle, this is something I will value forever.

Brightens your day to know people like her exist. The Talking Dog has interviews with many people dealing with the legal aspects on The War Against Terror.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Suicide Terrorism and Lung Cancer

Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and author of "Dying to Win - The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism" gave a talk on the subject and its implications for the US occupation of Afghanistan. He repeats his basic thesis that the central objective of suicide terrorism is to force occupying armies to withdraw from the territories they occupy and backs it up with lots and lots of data. This motivation is as secular as you can get - no 72 virgins involved. He points out that prior to the US invasion of Iraq the biggest group of suicide attacks were conducted by the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist-Leninist/Hindu group, and even among Muslim groups 30% of the attacks were carried out by secular groups such as the PKK. His problem with people associating suicide terrorism with religion - mostly Islam - is that he feels that these misperceptions are "encouraging domestic and foreign policies likely to worsen our situation". One may not agree with all he says but much of what he says is very instructive.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Jundullah (Soldiers of God) has long been a thorn in the side of the Iranians and a continuing source of tension between Pakistan and Iran. The most recent was the suicide attack on October 18th of last year in Pishin which resulted in the death of several top officers of the revolutionary guards. The Iranians blamed the US and Pakistan with some justification.
A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.

Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.

A senior U.S. government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the U.S. to deal with such groups in that context.

Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the U.S. government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilize the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.


Besides condemning alleged Western support for Jundullah, the Iranian government sharply criticized Pakistan, from whose territory the bombers were said to have entered Iran, and demanded that Islamabad act against the group.

While any suggestion of a U.S. hand in Sunday's attack may be far-fetched, Iran is basing its accusation on the covert program begun by the Bush Administration during its second term in office that allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to efforts at destabilizing the regime from inside Iran. And while President Obama came into office promising a new era of engagment with Iran, it's not clear whether the covert program was ever suspended. Former Bush National Security Council officials Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett wrote recently in the New York Times of their conversations with Iranian leaders, saying "President Obama has had several opportunities to send ... signals [of good intent] to Tehran — such as ending Bush-era covert programs against Iran — but has punted." Iran has long suspected that groups such as Jundullah are supported as part of the covert campaign, and in 2007, ABC News alleged that Jundullah had secretly received advice and encouragement from U.S. intelligence officials.

The founder of Jundullah Abdulmalik Rigi (or more fancifully Emir Abdulmalik Baloch) who has personally claimed to have "executed" Iranians. It is reasonable to assume that the Pakistan Army intelligence service, the ISI has a hand in maintaining and funding the Jundullah. But, the ISI seems to have turned on its asset. The Iranians reported that Rigi was captured when the plane carrying him to Dubai was forced to land in Iran. Asia Times Online is reporting that
Baloch tribes in the Taftan area of Balochistan in Pakistan say Rigi was arrested inside Pakistan and then handed over to the Iranians. All that Iranian state television showed was a handcuffed Rigi being escorted by four masked commandos off a small aircraft.
If this is indeed true and the ISI is turning on its assets expect the assets to hit back. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a fanatical anti-Shiite group, which is closely linked with Jundullah has previously carried out some pretty brutal attacks in Pakistan. It might decide to do more of the same. The fact that ISI is turning on its assets might also cause some discomfort to other terrorist organizations previously supported by the ISI. Altogether an explosive situation.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why Marjah

So why did the US decide to invade Marjah? There is the somewhat Panglossian view from Stratfor:

Marjah is perhaps the quintessential example of a good location from which to base. It is in a region sympathetic to the Taliban; Helmand province is part of the Taliban’s heartland. Marjah is very close to Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, the religious center of the local brand of Islam, the birthplace of the Taliban, and due to the presence of American forces, an excellent target. Helmand alone produces more heroin than any country on the planet, and Marjah is at the center of that trade. By some estimates, this center alone supplies the Taliban with a monthly income of $200,000. And it is defensible: The farmland is crisscrossed with irrigation canals and dotted with mud-brick compounds — and, given time to prepare, a veritable plague of IEDs.

Simply put, regardless of the Taliban’s strategic or tactical goals, Marjah is a critical node in their operations.

And therefore, argue the authors, it makes perfect sense that Marjah should be the target. But if Marjah is important because it is close to Kandahar, "the birthplace of the Taliban," then why not attack Kandahar asks Steve Coll:
Routing the Taliban from Marja, where they had established a vicious and increasingly unchallenged shadow government, was undoubtedly necessary. I’m no military strategist, but it remains unclear to me why surging U.S. forces continue to invest their efforts and their numbers so heavily in Helmand. The axis of Taliban power, guerrilla infiltration, and money flows in southern Afghanistan lies somewhat to the East, along the routes between Kandahar and the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi, which serve as sanctuaries for senior Taliban leadership. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and a historical seat of power. From their birth in 1994, the Taliban have relied upon their ability to move freely between Kandahar, Baluchistan and Karachi.
Peter Bergen is also somewhat puzzled. Though like most other western commentators he tries to find a reason. Gareth Porter figures it is all a propaganda operation where the target is the US public. Have shown their strength and steely resolve in six months the Obama administration can start negotiating with the the Taliban from a "position of strength.

More at The Real News

The US Military claims the Marjah offensive as the first step in their counter insurgency plan. The Taliban are to be driven out rapidly followed by the delivery of a "government in a box" which will provide great governance to the Afghans - flower strewn road to follow. Steve Hynd at Newshoggers has been effectively debunking the "COINdinista" myth for a while - the Marjah edition is here. If this is truly counter insurgency it is not being done very well. Naming an operation against a Pashtun region with a Dari word - Moshtarak (together) - probably did not help in the hearts and minds department. And the folks that the US military is together with are themselves mainly Tajiks - again not a great recommendation to the rural Pashtuns.

The Taliban have their own view of why Marjah.

While both government and opposition papers denied that Marjah and Nade Ali had been chosen for clear, military and strategic reasons, the Taliban themselves had no such doubts. Judging by an interview with the Taliban commander in charge of Marjah, the movement regards the operation as part of an international imperialist conspiracy which renders Marjah and Nade Ali of special military and strategic importance. The interview with Mullah Abdul Rezaq Akhund, the Taliban commander in Marjah, was conducted in Pashto and posted on Cheragh Daily website.

The interview shows that seen through the Taliban's conspiracy prism, Helmand's geographic location gives the province strategic importance. In the interview, Akhund listed four primary reasons which, according to the Taliban, explain why Helmand is of great geo-strategic importance to Nato. The Taliban commander alleged that the US and the UK intend to set up surveillance centres along the border to collect Iranian military and intelligence data. Akhund further alleged that since Helmand is also close to Gwadar, a Pakistani port which is of economic significance to China, controlling Helmand allows Washington to curb the influence of its main economic rival in the region.

Giving Arbabzadeh the last word.
According to anecdotal evidence, Mullah Akhund's views reflect those of a majority in Afghanistan. The conspiracy theory comes in variations but common to all versions is a denial of the fact that the violence has local roots and that the problem is self-created and self-perpetuated. It is this denial that is moshtarak, or shared, by all parties, from the government to the opposition and the Taliban.

Friday, February 19, 2010

All hail Fafnir

The Fafblog gets to the heart of the matter:
So a coupla Israeli guys are hangin around in Dubai, havin a good time, checkin out the place, seein the sights, that building that looks like a boat, that island that's shaped like a bigger island, get a few drinks, catch a show, kill a Palestinian, maybe grab a coupla souvenirs for the kids an hit the road. Oh wait! Wait a second! Something went wrong there! Something happened there that was very, very wrong! Because in the course of doing those things, those people went and forged some British passports.

Well now it's one thing to kill Palestinians abroad and thousands more next door while starving whoever manages to survive and demolishing their homes, but sullying the honour and dignity of Her Britannic Majesty's Royal Passport? Well sir, that is just not cricket. That sounds to me like one a those less enjoyable English pastimes like badminton or stumpgouger or dead arabball.

Now it's pretty obvious to me that Britain and Israel have a lotta stuff to work out, a lotta trust issues. But if we sit down, talk it over, work it out, I think we can save this relationship. Maybe over a friendly game of dead arabball.

Tribalism today

There are two interesting posts - in a way related - by Greenwald and Sullivan:
Greenwald gives us the skinny on the definition of a terrorist.
Sullivan gives us a an understanding of the Catholic Bishops priorities when it comes to the sanctity of life.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Religious democracy - a bloody oxymoron

The idea of a religious democracy in any environment where there is even a minimal amount of religious diversity - including diversity within a particular faith - is being proven again and again to be a fantasy. Whether it be the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Jewish Democracy in the Middle East, all protestations of democracy come to naught when faced with the exclusionary nature of religious governance. Not that religions per se have to be exclusionary, but the moment decisions on how society should be run begins to be based on religious interpretations, the results are necessarily exclusionary. Despite being a Turcophile I have had some reservations about Ataturk's visceral hostility to religion. But perhaps he had his reasons. Lawrence of Cyberia, back after a long absence has her own take on Israel:
Israel's dilemma is that it wants to be viewed as a modern, humane, democratic state; but modern democracy requires equality. And if everyone under Israeli rule - Jewish, Muslim, Christian or otherwise - is an equal human being, then that is the end of the "Jewish state" in Palestine. It is Israel's own attachment to creating a state in historic Palestine where democratic rights are reserved in their fulness to only one of the peoples who live there that requires Palestinian human rights to be trodden on. To stop treading on Palestinian human rights - to stop routinely killing, exiling, disenfranchising and dispossessing Palestinians - is to give up the very policies that are necessary to build a Jewish state in a place where most people are not Jewish. To recognize that the annihilation of one's neighbors is a central element in one's own national ideology is a difficult and painful thing to do. It is much easier to invent an alternate reality, in which the denial of any rights to Palestinians is the result of an essential defect in their own collective nature.
The argument is not that Judaism or Islam or Christianity is incompatible with democracy. But when the state endorses a particular religion it commits itself to follow the tenets of that religion. And as any dynamic religion has to be capable of multiple interpretations and as the state will always try to maximize its control, it inevitably drifts towards more and more authoritarian interpretations of the religion. Consider the Islamic Republic of Iran in which the legitimacy of the "religious" government is viewed with suspicion by much of the religious orthodoxy. Jonathon Lyons explains:
In traditional Shi’ite thought, legitimate political authority may be exercised only by the line of the Holy Imams, the last of whom went into hiding to escape the agents of the rival Sunni caliphs and has not been heard from since 941. The return of the Hidden Imam, which will usher in an era of perfect peace and justice on earth, is eagerly awaited by all believers. Until then, all political power is seen as corrupt and corrupting by its very nature, and as such it must be avoided whenever possible.

Historically, this has served the Shi’ite clergy well, forging a close bond with the people, as intercessors with the state authorities at times of acute crisis, a privileged and influential position only rarely achieved by their Sunni counterparts. Yet, it stands in direct opposition to Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical religious notion of direct clerical rule and has been the source of underlying tensions within the clerical class for three decades. The dirty little secret of the Islamic Republic is the fact that it is seen as illegitimate by huge swathes of the traditional Shi’ite clergy.
The Shia clergy could afford their "populist" stance only as long as they were not part of the state. As part of the state they are subject to the need of the state to exert control - which has meant that they have become captive to the instruments of state used to exert control - the Revolutionary Guard and its Basiji militia. Religious democracy is an idea whose time has passed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Neal Conan - on the job

The Iraq war would have been more difficult had it not been for the help of the "liberal" media in preparing the way to war. A major player in this effort was NPR who turned the sickening crime of invasion into something Serious People needed to Seriously consider. Fawning interviews of liberal hawks by liberal icon Terri Gross helped blur the lines as did the "news" arm of NPR. Neal Conan, host of Talk of the Nation, was one who was especially good at staying on message. Today he was again on message helping to prepare the ground for a "strong response" to Iran. Talking to Mike Shuster about Iran's nuclear program Conan asks "what of Iran's neighbors.."(10:08 into the segment) Shuster replies:
... they always get nervous when there seems to be moments when there is greater tension between Iran and the United States because they fear they could be caught in the middle of any kind of shooting war if it were to break out ... they do not want to see anything like serious conflict break out
Clearly, Iran is not about to attack the US, so what the "neighbors" are worried about is aggression coming from the US. It is the US that arouses fear, not Iran. However, this does not conform with the message, so Conan simply reiterates his own contention of the neighbors being worried about Iran, not the US, and continues. Says Conan
..and the Neighbors are concerned not just about what goes on inside Iran but also inside Iraq vis a vis Iran
This might seem trivial but it was the use of continuous propaganda of this sort that helped pave the way to the war in Iraq. And NPR is relentless in its job of supporting the American imperial enterprise.

If you have previously supported NPR consider diverting that support to something like Free Speech TV

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Uriah Heep Presidency

Tariq Ali has a summary of some of the current administrations accomplishments in killing. A summary of the summary is provided by the image accompanying the piece.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Interrogation for information or pain

How to stop the flow of information.

After his conviction in April 2001, Ressam cooperated with federal authorities in hopes of winning a shorter prison sentence. He became a key source of information on the operation of al-Qaida in Western Europe and North America after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, providing information that led to the prosecution of some of the terrorist organization's top leaders.

But two years later he stopped cooperating. A court-appointed psychiatrist found that he was suffering from a mental breakdown after years in solitary confinement and repeated interrogations. When he was sentenced in December 2008, Ressam recanted everything he'd ever said as a government informant.

and how to interrogate in order to actually get information.

In the days following the failed bombing, a pair of FBI agents flew to Nigeria and persuaded Abdulmutallab's family to help them. When the agents returned to the U.S., Abdulmutallab's family came, too, according to a senior administration official briefed on the case. The family persuaded Abdulmutallab to work with the FBI, believing he would be treated fairly in U.S. courts, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

FBI officials continue to question Abdulmutallab, working in collaboration with CIA and other intelligence authorities, the official said. ... A law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, said Abdulmutallab has provided information about his contacts in Yemen, where an al-Qaida branch has claimed responsibility for the failed attack.

Though Jack Bauer would probably not approve.