Self-fulfilling prophecy: ‘Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq inspiring Taliban attacks in Afghanistan’

August 23, 2008

[Wreckage from the July car bombing at the Indian Embassy in Kabul ]

Comment: Fruits of of the Iraq war — hint: it’s not the export of freedom, democracy or stability across the region. If there’s any connection between Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s this:

(Daily Times) — “The emergence of more dramatic attacks, reaping larger casualties, reflects experience gained from insurgent battlefields such as Iraq, said Afghan analyst and writer Waheed Mujda.

“There are lots of people coming from Iraq to share their experiences with Taliban. It’s Al Qaeda which designs the attack and the locals who implement it,” he told AFP. Taliban commanders had warned at the beginning of the year they would intensify attacks, Mujda said. “They were saying that they would carry out more suicide attacks and expand their activities to new areas to areas near Kabul. Now we see that they did what they had said,” he said…” Click for full article

(Robert Fisk also argues this point in his sobering article on the rise of suicide bombers)

Fareed Zakaria on John Mccain’s schizophrenic foreign policy

August 19, 2008

[Fool me thrice. Here we go again.]

Comment: I just came across this article from Fareed Zakaria that’s a few months old, nonetheless I find it a relevant critique of John Mccain’s extraordinarily belligerent and foolish foreign policy — especially in light of his aggressive rhetoric vis a vis Russia following recent events in Georgia. The fact that Americans still obsess over the possibility Barack Obama may meet with enemy foreign leaders (which in fact represents a continuum, not a break with past American foreign policy) rather than fearing Mccain’s highly disturbing vision, proves just how susceptible the American public is on issues of foreign policy. Everybody is afraid to question the judgment of a man who was tortured lest they be labeled unpatriotic — you know the story by now. If America votes this man into office we deserve him.

(Newsweek) — “On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil-but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama’s suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain’s proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous-that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers.

It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war…

The neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

The G8 was created to help coordinate problems of the emerging global economy. Every day these problems multiply—involving trade, pollution, currencies—and are in greater need of coordination. To have a body that attempts to do this but excludes the world’s second largest economy is to condemn it to failure and irrelevance. International groups are not cheerleading bodies but exist to help solve pressing global crises. Excluding countries won’t make the problems go away.” Click for full article

Israel developing strong ties with China

August 9, 2008

Comment: In keeping with the Olympic spirit…

(Haaretz) — “I keep hearing compliments about the ancient culture of the Jewish people and the old tradition,” says Nadai, who took up his post in China about a year ago, “and about the ability to build a modern country out of them in a span of 60 years. These comparisons make the Chinese feel close to us: They, too, have a glorious tradition and they, too, are trying to develop a modern country quickly. They feel that they have something to learn from us.

“Only recently a large team of Chinese state television employees visited Israel for a period of three weeks, to research the ‘Israeli miracle.’ Now they are visiting several places in the world that used to have large Jewish communities, in order to examine the Jewish community’s influence on its surroundings. Their idea is to try to decipher the secret of the Jews’ success.”

Nadai says that, “as a diplomat who has served in other countries in the past, I can say that there are no parallels today to such an attitude toward Israel and the Jews…” Click for full article

On Israel and the coup d’etat in Mauritania

August 7, 2008

[Western Saharan Nation of Mauritania. BBC images]

For those of you who didn’t notice, Mauritania had a coup on Aug 6. Ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waqef represented the first democratically elected government in the Western Saharan nation. Mauritania was also one of only three Arab League nations to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. There is no evidence yet that the new military junta will alter its friendly ties with Israel (or that they will succeed in lowering food or gasoline prices in the country). However Israel is monitoring the situation closely and the new Israeli ambassador to Mauritania, Miki Arbel, will delay his departure.

In fact, among the military junta’s primary grievances against the Abdallahi government was its overtures to Islamic hardliners in Mauritania with alleged ties to an al-Qaida-affialiated terror network believed operating in north Africa. That and the presidential decree ordering their dismissal hours before the coup.

So it would seem the new guys are at least secular minded/anti-Islamist, although clearly it’s not the same thing as being pro-Israel (think Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein etc.) If nothing more the coup serves as a reminder to Israel of the fragility of any diplomatic agreement it signs with flimsy governments — and some of its diplomatic partners in the region indeed have flimsy, unpopular governments like that of the Palestinian National Authority’s Fatah.

And recall that the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, showing that even seemingly strong governments can dissapear in a flash, and with it any agreements signed with Israel. Nobody knows what will happen in Egypt after Mubarak dies, but he’s made that fatal flaw of a man in his 70s not grooming a viable successor, save for his son Gamal (nobody in Egypt wants Gamal). Even Nasser and Sadat — both far more popular leaders than Mubarak — didn’t have such audacity.

And when Mubarak of Egypt or Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas goes, don’t think a Jeffersonian democracy will step in. The Muslim brotherhood in Egypt has a strong following and may step in if a secular government fails to hold its grip on power, just as Hamas (the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) may take over Palestinian leadership even in the West Bank.

The al-Assad regime in Syria has never been at peace with Israel. Yet still, should it be overthrown in a coup — far from unprecedented in Syria, although the al-Assad regime has been remarkably resilient — the Muslim Brotherhood will be its most likely replacement. That would be an even worse situation for Israel. So if nothing more, the coup in Mauritania can serve to remind Israel of these unpleasant realities, before it becomes too comfortable with the current situation or trades land for peace with a flimsy partner. Agreements can become null and void overnight, but land can’t be taken back once ceded away.

ICG Report on Iraqi Refugees

August 5, 2008

[Slightly outdated refugee map from UNHCR. The number has risen to approximately 2 and a half million]

“This is a humanitarian tragedy, but it is more than that. Rich in oil, Iraq today is bankrupt in terms of human resources. It will take decades to recover and rebuild. Because most refugees come from what used to be the (largely secular) middle class, their flight has further impoverished Iraq and potentially deprived it of its professional stratum for a decade or more. The period of exile should be used to teach refugees new skills to facilitate their eventual social reintegration and contribution. There is every reason to assist host countries in that endeavour…” Click for full article

Comment: I was just wondering — if things are so much better and more free in Iraq now than under Saddam, why did 2 and a half million Iraqis leave their homes, families and livelihoods behind to live in squalid conditions in neighboring countries which lack the infrastructure to accomodate them and where, out of desperation, many are forced into prostitution and crime? Why do so few of them have plans to return in the foreseeable future? Is it because they’re too stupid to realize how much things have improved in their country like John Mccain realized after his helicopter gunship-secured tour through the Baghdad marketplace? Are they too blind to see? They must not get Fox News over there, and unfortunately don’t know the truth.

[Iraqi refugees on the Syrian border. If only they had access to Hannity and Colmes]


August 5, 2008

A four-year-old girl was left behind by her parents at Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday afternoon as her family made its way to Paris. Only after taking off, the parents were informed by a flight attendant that they had forgotten one of their five children in IsraelClick for full article

U.S. to explore upgrades for Israel’s missile defense capabilities

July 29, 2008

Comment: I blogged on this topic earlier, noting that ballistics expert Dr. Nathan Farber’s appeal to bring the Phalanx interceptor system and other systems to the Western Negev received far too little attention — while Israel awaits the slow completion of Iron Dome. This would help Israel take a more defensive posture in the short term while giving the country more breathing space to contemplate a long term political solution. By no means do I believe the advent of any weapons system could solve this problem, of course. Now it appears Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has come around, making the acquisition of these systems a key issue in his current U.S. visit, largely to the credit of Dr. Nathan Farber and Ha’aretz for pushing the story. Kudos. (I did my part, but let’s face it nobody reads my blog)

(Haaretz) — “[Israeli Defense Minister] Barak is considering purchasing or borrowing several Phalanx automated cannons from the United States. The cannons intercept incoming mortar shells and short-range rockets, and would be used to defend Sderot and other Negev towns from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The defense minister was expected to ask Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to appraise the Phalanx’s performance.

That assessment will be used to help the government decide whether to bring the anti-missile system to Israel.

The new development comes after a series of articles in Haaretz, in which Dr. Natan Farber – an expert in ballistic missiles from the Technion – expressed his support for the project.

However, several Defense Ministry officials said the Phalanx system is not effective enough, and argue that Israel should focus on developing the Iron Dome defense system, which will not be ready before 2011…” Click for full article

‘Muslim Brotherhood Goes on Facebook’

July 29, 2008

Comment: Making it one step easier for the Mubarak regime to identify and arrest members of the Muslim Brotherhood… if they can figure out how to use Facebook.

“The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has launched a discussion forum on Facebook, the popular social networking website. A group of young Muslims decided to put the Muslim Brotherhood on Facebook after they received the go-ahead to do so from the Brotherhood’s second-in-command, Muhammad Habib. The creators of the project decided to call themselves an “electronic student cell of the Muslim Brotherhood” and their aim to to push for the return of an Islamic Caliphate [a Muslim state]…” Click for full article

On Samir Quntar’s homecoming and Lebanese/Arab Culture

July 22, 2008

[Being Civilized]

Comment: Those familiar with the field of Middle Eastern Studies know the culture debate (i.e. blaming all the ills of Arab/Muslim society on culture, rather than on hard political, economic factors etc.) is nothing new. French scholar Maxime Rodinson referred to the tendency of ‘Orientalists’ (or scholars of the Orient, which has now become a dirty word) to attribute all actions of Muslims to their religion as Theologocentrism. Mahmood Mamdani of Colombia University has a good survey of the culture debate in his Foreign Affairs piece Wither Political Islam?, in which he sides against the culturists.

While it’s clear that culture cannot account for all of these ills, let’s face it, the ‘victory’ rallies for Samir Quntar in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon — given what he did — epitomize a deep sickness in Arab culture and society. In what other region would the populace consider ‘victory’ as involving a war that results in 1,200 deaths and many more maimings, a ruined country and $5 billion in economic damages, all for the perceived humiliation of Israel and the successful return, among other lesser prisoners, of this unsavory character, Quntar? What kind of inferiority complex must there be for that to constitute ‘victory’?

To be fair, as the below Jerusalem Post article points out, not all Lebanese are in fact happy about Quntar’s release — not because he killed a baby — but because many of them who are opponents of Hizbullah worry about the domestic implications of another Hizbullah victory.

(Jerusalem Post) — “(Eyal) Zisser said the response in Lebanon was completely different from one that would have been seen in Israel due to cultural differences. Israel wouldn’t use the return of soldiers for political gain, and the celebration in Israel would have been about “the return of the individual,” and not victory, he said. “This is something you can only find in primitive societies,” said Zisser.

So why is there a need to celebrate the return of a terrorist known to have killed a child? “When you have an ideology that Zionism is the epitome of evil, when you dehumanize your enemy, you can justify anything,” said Litvak. “He didn’t kill a child. He killed a Zionist.”

Moshe Maoz, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University, said the need to defeat Israel was deeply entrenched in the Arab culture.

“Anything they can recover from the feeling of humiliation [following past losses against Israel] is welcome,” Maoz said… Click for full article

‘Attacking Iran Could Backfire Badly’

July 22, 2008

[Shipping Lanes in the Strait of Hormuz]

Comment: The Iranian problem: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

“But Moshe Ma’oz an Israeli Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem… told The Middle East Times that any attack on Iran would be an “absolute disaster.”

“I doubt very much that Iran will attack first. All the Iranians need to do is close the Gulf of Hormuz and thereby threaten the West’s supply of oil if they want to flex their muscles. They will not strike first but if attacked their ability to retaliate on a significant scale is worrying,” explained Ma’oz…” Click for full article