‘Qatar, Playing All Sides, Is a Nonstop Mediator’

July 9, 2008

Qatar’s Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani in Lebanon for crisis talks

(The New York Times) — “In the past month, after Qatari diplomats brokered a landmark peace deal for Lebanon in talks here, this tiny emirate on the Persian Gulf has enjoyed a brief moment of giddy celebrity. Editorialists praised the Qatari emir as a modern-day Metternich. Huge billboards went up on the road to the Beirut airport, proclaiming, “We all say: Thank you Qatar.” An ice cream shop in downtown Beirut put out a sign offering a Doha Agreement Cone. But the Qataris did not linger over their diplomatic triumph. They were too busy trying to solve every other conflict in the Middle East…” Click for full article


On Israel, the truce and U.S. presidential candidates

June 18, 2008

(The Nation) — “John McCain says he won’t talk to Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Barack Obama might talk to Syria, but he’s having nothing to do with Hezbollah and Hamas. I guess they know something that the Israeli government doesn’t. Over the past couple weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that Israel is simultaneously, but separately, conducting talks with Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas… Hamas’ prime minister says that he expects the talks to succeed. Though neither McCain nor Obama will endorse the Egyptian-sponsored talks, the Israeli national security cabinet has backed them. I guess it’s a good thing those militant, pro-Israeli Jewish voters in Florida can’t vote in Israel…” Click for full article

Comment: The real experts, who have lived and breathed this conflict up close, have noted for years that American-Jewish supporters of Israel (though well-intentioned) are often more militant, unrelenting and naive about the depths of the Israeli-Arab conflict than Israelis themselves. Fouad Ajami, in his book The Dream Palace of the Arabs, similarly observed that many Arab expats and intellectuals living abroad often latch on to the most radical pro-Palestinian positions as a manifestation of their frustrations about the region they left, the failure of progressive movements (which they had supported) to materialize, and of their dreams which never came true.

The fact of the matter is that AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), is a right-wing organization with a more extreme agenda than the Israeli government. When John Mccain and Barack Obama spoke at AIPAC earlier this month they treaded carefully within boundaries acceptable to them.

But Israel is the country at war with Hamas. It fought a brutal war with Hizbullah two years ago, and faced off with the group during the drawn out occupation following the first Lebanon War. Israel fought three wars with Syria (including many more skirmishes and large-scale battles over the years) and the two countries have never been at peace. So as a matter of principle, if talking to these foes is good enough for Israel, why can’t it be good enough for John Mccain and Barack Obama? Somebody should ask them that in their next debate. It’s difficult to talk with such vile organizations, but, unfortunately not talking to them doesn’t make them go away.

Both presidential candidates and “still president Bush” as Jon Stewart hilariously calls him, could learn a lesson in tough love from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who spoke before the Israeli Knesset this week with nothing but love and admiration for the country, but included important criticisms (over borders, settlements etc.) as one friend to another. In the United States the framework for debate is far more limited and lacks sophistication. It’s best summed up by our two choices; whether to align ourselves with Norman Finkelstein or Alan Dershowitz. I’ll take none of the above please. Mild criticism, friendly criticism, constructive criticism i.e. anything less than total support for the Israeli right wing (or to the right of the Israeli right wing) gets warped into being anti-Israel. Sarkozy is (rightly) credited with being the most pro-Israeli French president since pre-Charles de Gaulle days, but he didn’t shy away from criticizing the behavior of the Israeli government, the way Bush did in his pandering speech before the Knesset weeks earlier, which drew widespread condemnation.

It’s doubtful whether Israel’s truce with Hamas, set to begin on Thursday, will resolve anything in the longterm, but it seems like a step in the right direction at least. Historically, truces between the two sides have only resulted in temporary lulls in fighting. Then again, if violence could solve this problem there would have been peace years ago. Those opposed to the truce may take comfort in the fact that’s its failure will mean a return to the status quo. For an opposite point of view, Guy Bechor has written a quite convincing op-ed in Ynet in which he examines the geopolitical implications of the truce, ultimately concluding that Israel has made a historic mistake that will keep the burden of Gaza on its shoulders forever. Pessimists like myself don’t expect that there will ever be peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The best we can hope for are long periods of calm. A truce is a good example of that.

John Mccain’s track record on Iraq

June 12, 2008

[A casual stroll to the market, mingling with the locals]

Comment: Who but politically naive Americans (with apparently short memories) take John Mccain for an Iraq expert? Not to be critical or anything, but will somebody please tell me how a man with this track record on Iraq sells himself successfully to almost half of the country as the only candidate with enough foreign policy experience to get us out of the mess he helped create, in addition to being wrong on nearly every one of his predictions? The section below is taken from Mission Accomplished!, by the founders of the Institute of Expertology, a group which surveys expert opinion. They did an in depth study on the Iraq “experts,” and here is what they found from, among others, John Mccain, the “foreign policy expert” of the U.S. Senate… Click here for their full article in The Nation

How would American troops be greeted? “I believe…that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” (March 20, 2003)

Did Saddam Hussein have a nuclear program that posed an imminent threat to the United States? “Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon.” ( October 10, 2002)

Will a war with Iraq be long or short? “This conflict is… going to be relatively short.” (March 23, 2003)

How is the war going? “I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical.” (September 10, 2003)

How is it going (almost two months later, from the war’s “greatest critic”)? “I think the initial phases of [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise.” (October 31, 2003)

Is this war really necessary? “Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war.” (August 30, 2004)

How is it going? (Recurring question for the war’s “greatest critic”) “We will probably see significant progress in the next six months to a year.” (December 4, 2005)

Will the President’s “surge” of troops into Baghdad and surrounding areas that the senator had been calling for finally make the difference? “We can know fairly well [whether the surge is working] in a few months.” (February 4, 2007)

‘Afghan commandos discover 230 tonnes of cannabis in the desert’

June 12, 2008

[Not the kind of smoking they had in mind]

(The Independent) — “Afghan officials have announced a world record in the war on drugs after they unearthed more than 200 tonnes of cannabis buried in desert trenches. Two RAF Harrier jets were called in to bomb the 236.8-tonne cache, with a minimum street value of £225m. It was found by Afghan commandos who work with Britain’s Special Boat Service. Hundreds of grain sacks, stuffed full of hash were hidden deep inside six trenches. The entrances to the trenches were concealed with branches… The raid was one in a series of strikes against narcotics laboratories across southern Afghanistan last week…” Click for full article

Comment: I was gonna defeat the Taliban, but I got high. I could’ve rooted out Al Qaeda, but then I got high. I failed to create a sustainable democracy, and I know why… because I got high, because I got high, because I got high….

(Shout out to DC squared and Dovaleh Yehudi. Holla)

‘Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control’

June 7, 2008

[U.S. President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki: Who is pulling the strings here?]

Comment: Republican presidential nominee John Mccain came under intense fire for saying he wanted to stay in Iraq for another 100 years, so where’s the shitstorm over this? The U.S. is blackmailing Iraq by withholding $50 bn of Iraqi money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York until the Iraqi government signs a security agreement that will allow the U.S. to operate 50 military bases in Iraq, retain control over its airspace and win legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors there indefinitely. Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, who has broken this potentially explosive story, writes:

“Iraq’s foreign reserves are currently protected by a presidential order giving them immunity from judicial attachment but the US side in the talks has suggested that if the UN mandate, under which the money is held, lapses and is not replaced by the new agreement, then Iraq’s funds would lose this immunity. The cost to Iraq of this happening would be the immediate loss of $20bn. The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40 per cent of its foreign exchange reserves because Iraq’s independence is still limited by the legacy of UN sanctions and restrictions imposed on Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s.”

You can also read about it here in the Washington Post. This should finally expose the farce of Iraqi sovereignty, but U.S. officials will continue to get away with speaking of the “sovereign” Iraqi government with impunity before uncritical news pundits and a largely uninformed, uncritical American audience — although they seem to be gradually coming around in increasing numbers. Lou Dobbs rants and rages every night on CNN about the threat to American sovereignty posed by outsourcing of U.S. companies and jobs to foreign countries, can you imagine if another country had 50 military bases on U.S. soil, control over U.S. airspace and the ability to intervene in the U.S. Federal Reserve? I think his head would explode.

‘Dunkin’ Donuts accused of promoting terrorism’

June 5, 2008

[Rachael Ray: Threat to America?]

Comment: How unbelievably bigoted and asinine are those who attacked this Dunkin’ Donuts ad?

(The Independent) — “When Dunkin’ Donuts, the coffee and carbs chain, shot a smilingly wholesome celebrity cook for their latest latte ad, it hardly imagined it was about to find itself accused of “promoting terrorism”, but it wasn’t long before it got a sharp lesson in the soup of bigotry and stupidity that swills below the surface of the internet. Now the company finds itself at the centre of an even bigger storm for pulling the ad, accused of cowering in the face of an out-of-control conservative blogosphere… “The possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee,” Dunkin’ Donuts pleaded yesterday…” Click for full article

On Chelsea’s Ruthless Decision to Sack Avram Grant

May 26, 2008

[Avram Grant, Chelsea Football Club’s former Israeli Coach]

(BBC Football) — “It is a sign of the cut-throat nature of the modern game that a decent, dignified man is sacked three days after missing out on club football’s biggest honour by the width of a post and on the Premier League title on the last day of the season.

Chelsea will simply say – close but not close enough. Second is nowhere as far as billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is concerned and a man regarded as his friend has paid the price.

Grant took on one of the toughest tasks in football when he succeeded Jose Mourinho in September. He was a man in sharp contrast to the charismatic, endlessly quotable “Special One” who was the headline writers’ dream and loved by every Chelsea fan.”

Bush pledges to Support Saudi Nuclear Power Program: Good Idea # 1,614,368

May 26, 2008

[BFFs: President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah]

(Democracy Now) — “You know, I’d like to know the insane asylum in which this policy was concocted. The idea of giving enriched uranium to the Saudis while threatening war with the Iranians for enriching uranium is astonishing. The idea that the Saudis are going to somehow lower the price of oil on the basis of possibly getting nuclear reactors in the future is just almost staggering to think about. It’s something, I guess, we’ve come to expect with the Bush administration…

We have to remember that when the Shah was in power in Iran so many years ago, he was in the process of buying thirty-six reactors, and had those reactors been completed before he fell to the Ayatollah, Iran would now have thirty-six reactors. So what the Bush administration is telling us is that this current Saudi government is always going to be in power and it’s perfectly fine for them to have nuclear reactors. We know that India and Pakistan built—both built nuclear weapons from their commercial atomic power programs, as perhaps did South Africa. And it’s just almost staggering to think about this prospect…” Click for full article

Comment: There was hardly a brouhaha over this story in mainstream media outlets, but it’s serious business. I don’t think even Bush opponents fully grasp the insanity of this administration. Harvey Wassermen, a Member of the anti-nuclear movement, hits all the important points in the above interview. Already 13 Middle East countries have expressed their interest in atomic energy programs, spurred in large part by their worries over Iran’s nuclear program, but also by long term energy fears and and Western governments’ reckless ambition to supply the nuclear technology to anyone interested. No matter that it’s the most volatile region in the world, or that’s its governments come and go, sometimes being replaced by highly unfavorable ones as seems to be the trend. Foresight: not a specialty of our foreign policy makers. The 21st century is going to be a juicy one.

WSJ: ‘Sex and the Sissy’

May 24, 2008

[One tough woman]

(Wall Street Journal) — “It is prissy. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are now complaining about the Hillary nutcrackers sold at every airport shop. Boo hoo. If Golda Meir, a woman of not only proclaimed but actual toughness, heard about Golda nutcrackers, she would have bought them by the case and given them away as party favors.”

Comment: A good comparison of how other major female political figures have dealt with (real) sexism in comparison to Hillary Clinton and her supporters’ absolutely far-fetched cries of sexism on the campaign trail. I listened to some of them on the major news networks cite examples of “misogyny,” including that Barack Obama brushed off his shoulders (a gesture mimicking rap artist JZ’s song “dirt off your shoulder”) in response to a Hillary campaign attack, that Obama pulled a chair out for Hillary in one of their debates and that Obama told Hillary she was “likable enough” in another one of their debates. Sorry, but such “evidence” couldn’t withstand a critical test in any serious forum, perhaps not even in a feminism course. They do a disservice to women who actually suffer from sexism in the workplace by discrediting the word. I agree that there were instances of sexism in the media (for example they constantly made fun of Hillary’s pantsuits etc. while nobody ever commented on Barack Obama’s wardrobe) but this is not the reason she lost. And the irony is that if you talk to most Hillary supporters they will actually argue that she won by citing their own popular vote count as well as grievances over what happened in Michigan in Florida. It seems they want to have it both ways. There are many valid reasons why Hillary’s campaign faltered (dishonesty, polarizing personality, disingenuousness, negativity, voters preference for Obama etc. — and, man or woman, who is guaranteed to win an election anyway?) and by all reasonable measures, sexism pales in comparison to those things. They should be ashamed. They’re not.

Israel at 60: ‘A Prophet Perplexed’

May 24, 2008

[“If you will it, it is no dream.” — Theodor Herzl (Altneuland) 1902]

Comment: From Benny Morris, Israel’s leading historian, on the father of Zionism Theodor Herzl’s imagined reaction to the state of Israel (pun intended) at 60.

(The Guardian) — “Herzl’s dream has been realised, but with the kinds of conflict and society he never foresaw… Herzl would have been aggrieved at – though probably not surprised by – the ostentatiousness of Israel’s nouveaux riches (and virtually all its rich, and there are a surprising number, are nouveaux), and appalled by the roughness, verging on vulgarity, of Israel’s streets – where reprehensible, downright dangerous driving and a certain macho callousness is the norm, and where knife fights occur almost nightly outside teenagers’ discos. Perhaps the deeply secular, anti-theocratic Herzl would have been most flummoxed and incensed by the (burgeoning) numbers, and correlated political power of the orthodox and ultra-orthodox (some 20-25% of the country’s Jews). He believed that God was dead, and religious Jews a dying breed…” Click for full article