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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Foreign Policy News and Commentary Update January 31, 2008

Foreign Policy News and Commentary Update January 31, 2008

Official: U.S. enemies 'eating our lunch' online - Charley Keyes (CNN, January 30): The man nominated to head public diplomacy at the State Department, James Glassman, said Wednesday that al Qaeda is doing a better job than the Bush administration in winning friends over the Internet. Glassman's comments Wednesday echoed a November speech by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in which he said the United States needs more speed, agility and cultural relevance in its communications.

Is Bad PR Really the Problem? Charles Peña (, January 30): Sadly, more than four years later, it would seem that we haven't made much -- if any -- progress in how to wage the war of ideas. It's still more about style over substance.

Rumsfeld: "Can we talk?" Philip Carter (Intel Dump, January 26):

Donald Rumsfeld's soft side: The former defence secretary isn't known for believing in public diplomacy. So why is he calling for a new US information agency?

Al-Qaeda's Propaganda Advantage and How to Counter It - Brigitte L. Nacos (Perspectives on Terrorism, issue 4, 2007; posted at International Military Forums, January 30): Washington has not found effective communication strategies to counter terrorist propaganda from al-Qaeda and like-minded groups and individuals.

The War Against Jihadism: Why can't we call the enemy by its name? We're going to have to in order to win - George Weigel (Newsweek, January 26):

Presentation of Final Report of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy - (U.S. Department of State, January 29): Secretary Rice:

Better U.S. image abroad: how to attain it? Presidential candidates cite intent to improve US stature, but retooling policies is complicated - Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor, January 30):

NATO can help in enhancing region's stability, says official Peninsula (January 30): "NATO can work closely with the nations of the [Middle East] region. It does not intend to impose anything but to develop knowledge, common training and being able to bring much more for peace and stability," NATO Assistant Secretary General, Public Diplomacy, Jean-Francois Bureau said.'

American Democracy is Riveting ? Roger Cohen (International Herald Tribune, January 30): A reason why the world is addicted to this US campaign with nine months still to go is "Obamania," now in overdrive with the Kennedy endorsemen. .

Vaudeville: Ten years after Monica, the Democratic presidential race is all about theatrics - Bernard-Henri Lévy (New Republic, January 29):

The Man Who Learned Too Little: In his final State of the Union, Bush makes more empty promises - Fred Kaplan (Slate, January 28): "America is a force for hope in the world because we are a compassionate people," Bush said toward the end of his State of the Union address. We know this to be true, at least in principle. It will take another president to demonstrate it.

Out of Gas - Dan Froomkin (, January 29): In his final State of the Union address, nothing President Bush said will undo the damage he has done to American interests abroad.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela - Amar C. Bakshi (, January 27): "Hanging off buildings are numerous photos of President Chavez in a red shirt inaugurating new bureaucracies to aid the poor. Despite much official signage and (un)official murals, I see no overt anti-American images."

Arming the Middle East Stephen Zunes (Foreign Policy in Focus, January 29; Common Dreams): The strongest anti-American sentiment that results may come as a consequence of U.S.-supplied weapons systems and ordinance that are never actually used in combat.

When is a War Not a War? Defining & Achieving Victory in Iraq - Todd Keister (American Diplomacy, January 29): The author calls for ruthless neutralization of the enemy, after which hearts and minds can be more readily won.

One Million Iraqis Killed; Humanitarian Crisis of Vast Proportions; 6 Bombings in Baghdad Juan Cole (Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion, January 31): A new professional poll carried out by a British firm in Iraq concludes that excess deaths from violence since March 19, 2003 through summer 2007 came to just over 1 million. Bush signed a law forbidding him from spending money to make permanent bases in Iraq but at the same time issued a signing statement making clear he had no intention of paying any attention to that or several other provisions in the legislation.

Tomgram: Bombs Away Over Iraq; Looking Up: Normalizing Air War from Guernica to Arab Jabour - Tom Engelhardt (TomDispatch, January 29): Maybe, sooner or later, American mainstream journalists in Iraq (and editors back in the U.S.) will actually look up, notice those contrails in the skies, register those "precision" bombs and missiles landing, and consider whether it really is a ho-hum, no-news period when the U.S. Air Force looses 100,000 pounds of explosives on a farming district on the edge of Baghdad.

Return to Fallujah, Part Two: "The Americans Bring Us Only Destruction" - Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch, January 29)
for part one, see

Choices at the End of the Surge - William M. Arkin (, January 31): The surge is over -- congratulations -- but the war is not.

The Next Iraq Phase - David Ignatius (Washington Post, January 30): The Iraqis want a restoration of full sovereignty, and they aren't likely to tolerate for much longer the American-run prisons or U.S. soldiers kicking down doors. Unless the planners take that political reality into account -- and reassure Iraqis and Americans alike that most U.S. troops will gradually be coming home -- they may be creating a new version of Mission Impossible.

A Report From Iraq: Nearly five years into the war, our correspondent, a former marine and assistant secretary of defense, surveys the battlefield and looks at what the year ahead has in store Bing West (, January 30): Petraeus called his campaign "the Anaconda Strategy," a reference to General Ulysses S. Grant's strategy in the closing stages of the Civil War. Similarly, Iraq will take years to sort out and settle down, requiring American steadfastness with progressively fewer American troops.

Partisan Retreat: Our inevitable withdrawal from Iraq could poison American politics for a generation - Jonathan Rauch (Atlantic Monthly, January/February ): The crucial decision the next president will make is not whether to withdraw forces from Iraq -- that is baked in the cake -- but how.

Iraq: Making It Someone Else's Problem Editorial (Brattleboro Reformer, January 29; Common Dreams): Iraq remains a basket case. Committing our soldiers to stay in Iraq for decades to come will not change this picture.'

More Neo-Con Military Advice (, January 27): The pace of the Iraq drawdown would appear to be the next big battle between the hawks and the ?realists? over Iraq (and Iran), and the neo-cons are trying to get their licks in against the 'realists' as early as possible.

Lebanon held hostage: Syria's efforts to block an assassination inquiry have produced a political stalemate Editorial (Los Angeles Times, January 30): Lebanon is in a state of full political paralysis, a stalemate engineered and enforced by its overlord, Syria. It has been without a president since Nov. 24. US, UN, French and now Arab League diplomats have failed to broker a solution.,0,6618053.story

Calls grow for shift in Afghan policy - David R. Sands (Washington Times, January 31): The Bush administration faces increasing pressure to make a major policy course correction on Afghanistan, shifting the focus from Iraq to fight a resurgent terrorist threat and build up the faltering government in Kabul.

Warning light on Kosovo - John Bolton, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Peter Rodman (Washington Times, January 31): An imposed settlement of the Kosovo question and seeking to partition Serbia's sovereign territory without its consent is not in the interest of the United States.

Kicking Democracy's Corpse in Russia - Editorial (New York Times, January 30): Very little remains of the democracy that struggled to be born in Russia after Communism's fall. The least Western democrats can do for their thwarted Russian counterparts is to frankly acknowledge this painful truth.

Who Lost Ukraine? It's not too soon to start asking - Reuben F. Johnson (Weekly Standard, January 30): About this time next year people may very well be asking "who lost Ukraine," by which time the train will have left the station a long time back, so to speak. American and EU officials need to be spending time worrying about -- and acting on -- this issue now, rather than listening to the happy talk of the Russian delegation from Davos.

Shattered Hopes: As Pakistan's parliamentary elections approach, the PPP's future is uncertain - Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Nick Grace (Weekly Standard, January 30): Since the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is Pakistan's only secular opposition party with true national reach, its weakening is significant for U.S. strategic interests.

Terror threat hitting home in Pakistan: Attacks aren't just a US concern, more Pakistanis say - Mark Sappenfield (Christian Science Monitor, January 30)

Al Qaeda Loves Bush: Thanks for the Free Advertising - William M. Arkin (, January 29): By framing a bigger battle between healthy nations and a marginal terrorist organization, the president is mightily adding to the al Qaeda mystique.

The 'War on Terror' Licenses a New Stupidity in Geopolitics: The language loved by Bush and Musharraf has translated into a global disaster bringing death and misery to millions Simon Jenkins (Guardian, January 30; Common Dreams)'

9/11 defines my generation - Christopher D. Geisel (Jerusalem Post, January 30): According to a 2007 Zogby poll, the vast majority of Americans consider the 9/11 terrorist attacks to be the most significant historical event of their lifetimes.

Don't Even Think About It : The war against "homegrown terrorism" is on. Enter the thought police - James Ridgeway and Jean Casella (Mother Jones, January 23)

Bush's much-maligned climate talks could yet help global-warming treaty: At the meeting of the world's biggest polluters in Hawaii this week, host US has a chance to show it is serious about action on climate change - Peter N. Spotts (Christian Science Monitor, January 30)

An All Abiding Faith in the Welfare-Warfare State by Jacob Hornerger

Hornberger’s Blog

Thursday, January 31, 2008

An All-Abiding Faith in the Welfare-Warfare State
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Among the more amusing political mantras in the presidential race is that of Mitt Romney. "Washington is broken," he declares, inevitably bringing cheers from Republican audiences. It's as amusing as the popular mantra employed by the Democrats: "Change!"

They still just don't get it. It's not "Washington" that is broken. It's the welfare-warfare state that Americans have lived under all their lives that is bankrupt in every sense of the term—morally, financially, and economically. People still just don't want to face that harsh reality. For them, the welfare-warfare state is everything. That's why many of them think it's just a matter of changing the identity of people who are running the system.

Consider the welfare state. What part of it isn't an absolute mess? Social Security? Medicare? Medicaid? The dollar? Education? Home mortgages? Foreign aid?

Every one of them is in crisis. Yet, people continue to pray for a political miracle, even while looking everywhere for scapegoats on which to blame the woes of their beloved welfare state. The most popular scapegoat, of course, is illegal immigrants. "They're coming to take our welfare!" is the popular refrain, ignoring the quite obvious fact that the vast majority of illegal immigrants come here to work and improve their lives through labor. It's only because the welfare state forces their participation through mandatory school-attendance laws, government-owned hospitals, and Medicaid that causes them to "take" people's welfare.

It's also amusing how people combine the welfare state with their religious beliefs. The more the government helps others, the more Christian everyone feels. Former Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards, who wants the welfare state to finally abolish poverty, is a good reflection of this mindset. But of course so is Republican President Bush who just this week endorsed increased federal funding of church-based drug-rehab programs.

Speaking of how religious the welfare state has made us, it's also somewhat amusing how people continue trying their best to use the welfare state to get into everyone else's pocketbook while, at the same time, using every tax device imaginable to protect their own pocketbooks from being looted by everyone else.

Meanwhile, while people are going to church every Sunday, no doubt to celebrate how religious everyone is because of the welfare state, no one ever discusses the holy welfare state's attitude toward illegal aliens, who are among the world's poorest people. Perhaps the feeling is that when Jesus said that God's second-greatest commandment is "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," God only meant one's next-door neighbor and certainly not citizens from other countries.

In any event, be prepared for more scapegoats, especially as the economic situation continues to deteriorate. While conservatives lambaste the illegal aliens, the liberals are now starting to chime in against the evil capitalist lenders. We'll soon be hearing the condemnation of those horrible market creatures, the speculators. And as prices continue to soar, one of the favorite demons will be the price-gougers. Oh, and be sure to be prepared for the standard calls for price controls to protect us from all those greedy businessmen who are raising their prices to make all those "excess" profits.

What about the warfare state? Well, things aren't faring there any better. The drug war? What bigger fiasco than that? Except of course Iraq. Iraq is now a country filled with terrorists who want to attack America, or so they tell us. Never mind that before the warfare state's invasion of Iraq, there were no terrorists in Iraq who were trying to attack America. Of course, that enables the government to assume more power over Americans in order to protect them against all these new terrorists. I suppose some people might consider that a success. Did I mention Afghanistan, where opium dealing, murder, rape, and bombs have become a normal part of everyday life?

As the welfare-warfare state continues to crack at the seams, Americans will have no one to blame but themselves as things go from bad to worse. As they chant and cheer their empty mantras, not only do they continue to behave uncivilly to themselves as well as their foreigners, they continue to obstinately embrace their welfare-warfare state, believing that they will be saved by continuing to put their all-abiding faith in this immoral and debauched system.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


The Next Disaster: Return to Afghanistan by Saul Lindau

The Next Disaster
Return to Afghanistan


After six plus years, the war in Afghanistan drags on. The media occasionally cites casualties, but if it doesn't involve NFL veteran Pat Tillman's execution by his own comrades, Afghanistan gets sparse attention. A few stories feature the growing number of Afghan and Iraq War vets on American streets. But the aspiring candidates ignore such "blowback." Instead, they demonstrate verbal aggression, a characteristic thought necessary for victory. "We've got to get the job done there [Afghanistan]," Barack Obama asserted without specifying what the "job" is. (AP, Aug 14, 2007)

Obama called for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and sending them to "the right battlefield," Afghanistan and Pakistan. To pressure Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to act against terrorist training camps, Obama would use military force -- if he became President -- against those "terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans." (Bloomberg, Aug 1, 2007)

In mid January, Bush dispatched 3,200 additional marines to Afghanistan. Curiously, the uncurious media didn't ask why US and NATO forces continue to fight there. Nation Building? With little or no budget for reconstructing the country?

Junior partners, the British leaders, haven't learned lessons any better than their Yankee counterparts. Defense Minister Des Browne predicted British troops could stay there for "decades." Did he not learn that from 1839 to 1842 British troops fought in Afghanistan so they could take that sphere away from Russia? Now, NATO makes war there, says Browne, to insure that it would not again "become a training ground for terrorists threatening Great Britain."

In the 19th Century, the British Empire suffered disastrous losses when it invaded Afghanistan and erected a puppet regime in Kabul -- just as the United States did (Hamid Karzai) after Bush's 2001 invasion. The puppet fell quickly when the British could not quell resistance. By 1842, Afghan mobs attacked Englishmen who remained in Kabul. The British army retreated toward India, its officers believing they had negotiated safe passage. Afghan "insurgents" slaughtered some 16,000 English soldiers.

In 2001, the British and other NATO forces marched in to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden and overthrow the Taliban. Six plus years later, Bin Laden remains hidden -- probably in Pakistan -- and the Taliban have returned to Afghanistan to mount a major insurgency in areas they once controlled. In addition, Afghani farmers have produced bumper opium crops that end up as heroin in western cities and profits for the Taliban leaders who tax the growers. Like its British-backed predecessor, the US puppet government in Kabul controls virtually no territory.

Browne omitted that terrorists have found training grounds elsewhere -- in English cities, for example, and on the web. They can buy from hardware or agricultural stores -- lest anyone forget where the Christian Oklahoma bombers (pre 9/11) got their explosives. The US army provided training to Timothy McVeigh, convicted and executed for his role in the Oklahoma City explosion. Those bombers didn't need Afghanistan; nor did the fiends who blasted the Madrid train station, or the killers who hit the London underground. European and US cities offer ample meeting places and the US and British armed forces have taught hundreds of thousands of young men and women to kill with efficiency.

The Russians had also failed to grasp lessons of fighting a people determined to resist. Approximately 15,000 Red Army soldiers died from 1979 until 1988 when the Soviets withdrew. The humiliation speeded the implosion of the Soviet Union.

Bush ignored these facts as well as centuries of experience when he ordered the invasion of Afghanistan. Indeed, the lack of success in Afghanistan has not stopped the major presidential candidates from pledging to stay the course there. Wars of choice in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq have shown that Americans and their European junior partners don't easily tolerate taking casualties abroad, especially in wars their leaders cannot successfully explain.

The overwhelming sentiment against Iraq will turn to Afghanistan as casualty rates continue or accelerate. Yes, the Taliban government harbored Bin Laden and offered training to would-be militants but, ask millions of people, which country supplied the funds for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan? Saudi Arabia, our dear and loyal ally! Who paid for the madrasas (religious schools) where the young Afghan boys and teens learned their religious ideology ­ including beating an effigy of George Bush I ­ and got military training?

Pakistan ­ another ally ­ not only hosted the madrasas, but offered Bin Laden and gang ample protection before and after 9/11. Bush chose to hit Afghanistan and Iraq, countries whose involvement was secondary or non-existent. No major candidate addresses this issue. The press screams the question every day ­ through its silence.

As additional US marines land they will discover in Afghanistan that the old tribal forces continue to struggle for power. The largest, the Pashtuns, have shown sympathy to the Taliban. Some tribal leaders or their fathers received CIA aid during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. They used none of it to build the country, but rather fought with each other in the post Soviet era and made it possible for the Taliban to enter and take control.

Key Pakistani generals promoted the Taliban in the early 1990s, and their zealous brand of Islam spread deeply inside their country, including within military and intelligence circles. When assassins struck Benazir Bhutto on December 27, they delivered a severe body blow to secular government.

The tribal forces unleashed by "Charlie Wilson's War (it was really Ronald Reagan's and CIA Chief William Casey's war to weaken the Soviet Union) had no interest in changing Afghanistan into a modern democracy; another dependable cog in the big wheel of corporate globalization.

Bush's neo con advisers, however, threw "democracy" at the public much as TV preachers intone Jesus while offering to cure their flock's ailment with a little pressure from silver-crossed palms blessed by God. They had no plans to transform this ancient land and people into poorer carbon copies of themselves.

Afghans have proved more resistant to Western efforts to change their old life into one of a consumer society than new bacteria are to antibiotics. William Pfaff in an excellent January 16 column quotes Rory Stewart, head of the Turquois Mountain Foundation in Kabul. The United States and its western allies "should accept that we don't have the power, knowledge or legitimacy to change those societies."

Stewart noted that "War has eroded social structures and entrenched ethnic suspicion....Power is in the hands of tribal leaders and militia commanders. Much of Afghanistan is barren and most people cannot read or write....The local population is at best suspicious of our actions." Stewart claimed that in at least one province, Helmand, " is more dangerous for foreign civilians than it was two years ago before we deployed our troops." (Jan. 16, 2008, Tribune Media Services) Bush's argument relies on fear, not fact. If the Taliban retakes control, the West would be threatened.

The Taliban will remain after the West grows weary of this enigmatic war. Paddy Ashdown, the UN's new envoy to Afghanistan, warned: "We are losing in Afghanistan - and rather than militarily, we are losing the political mission - and in large part we are losing because there has been a complete failure of the international community to co-ordinate its efforts."

That failure, he continued "relies on the fact that we believe, for some bizarre reason, that we have such a unique system of government in our own countries ­ by the way, not a view shared by many of our citizens - that we believe we have a right to impose it lock, stock and barrel, along with the values and everything that goes along with it, on other countries with the use of B-52s, tanks and rifles." (Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, January 17, 2008)

Little thought or planning preceded Bush's order to invade and occupy Afghanistan. The war makers assumed their traditional omnipotence, that from noble intentions (or rhetoric) a stable and prosperous nation would somehow develop. It didn't happen, but the Taliban returned, and gained strength and confidence. Bush responds by dispatching more US forces, already overstretched and overstressed, to bring force into a place where it has traditionally proven ineffective.

Before the next appropriation, Members of Congress and the media might read a few verses of Rudyard Kipling on older wars in that region:

"And after-ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station-
A canter down some dark defile-
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail-
No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares-shoot straight who can-
The odds are on the cheaper man." ("Arithmetic on the Frontier")

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His new Counterpunch book is A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD. His new film, WE DON'T PLAY GOLF HERE is available on dvd from

Who's hiding under our umbrella? by Paul Kennedy

International Herald Tribune
January 30, 2008

Who's hiding under our umbrella?

By Paul Kennedy


It has rained virtually every day since I arrived in Cambridge a few weeks ago, so lots of umbrellas are about. Being tall, and with Cambridge's sidewalks being narrow, I am frequently hit by them.

In English, the umbrella has also been widely and usefully extended into the larger realms of everyday life, politics and even grand strategy. It has come to mean gathering different entities together under the shelter of an overarching roof.

In the realm of world politics, for example, students of the Cold War learn that, to deter possible Soviet aggression, the United States placed a "strategic umbrella" over NATO Europe and Japan, declaring it would fight if their independence was threatened by the Soviet Union.

The details of those arrangements are not for this column. Instead, our focus will be on the complex relationships between the "provider" of the strategic umbrella and the countries that shelter underneath it. For example, consider the complaints by American Congressmen and media over the past few decades that the country's European and Japanese allies have been taking economic advantage of the fact that the United States was providing for most of their own national security.

Under President Ronald Reagan, approximately 6 percent of the GDP of the United States was spent on defense, whereas the Europeans tended to spend only 2 to 3 percent and the Japanese a miserly 1 percent, although all faced a common enemy. Thus the American taxpayer bore a disproportionate burden for the overall defense spending, whereas those sheltering under its umbrella spent more on social or consumer goods, or saved while the U.S. went further into debt. This "free riding" was not fair - a complaint that, at first sight, seems quite valid.

Still, hegemonic empires usually carry a heavier burden and pay a larger cost, than those nations gathered under its strategic umbrella. Thus, a well-to-do farmer in 2nd-century Andalusia or Oxfordshire would certainly have appreciated being part of the Pax Romana and having security without much direct cost. Yet the Romans themselves, in providing the "international public goods" of long-lasting peace and uninterrupted commerce, also benefited from the growing wealth of their overseas domains, plus the flow of grains, olives, tin, timber and all the rest.

In any case, there was the matter of pride. You didn't abandon your Number One position, and the control it gave you, just because some provincial farmers were getting fat.

Then there is the example of that "second" Roman Empire, the world system at the time of the Pax Britannica. Inward-looking American historians might not admit this, but probably the single most important explanation for the remarkable rise of the United States in the 19th century was . . . well, Great Britain.

For most of the time, the Royal Navy blocked any possible continental European intrusions into the Western Hemisphere, allowing the United States to keep defense spending extremely low. Secondly, British investors poured millions of pounds into the development of American cities, railways, insurance companies and agriculture; for example, much of the cattle industry of the Western prairies was funded by banks in Scotland. The Scottish bankers benefited, and the ranchers and cowboys even more.

Finally, and despite increasingly higher tariffs against their own exports, the British never abandoned free trade (at least not until 1932, when the Depression forced them to give preferences to their colonies over foreign goods). They provided the greatest open market for American foodstuffs, raw materials and manufactures. The fledgling United States thus grew big under the British umbrella, until it no longer needed that protection and could stand up on its own right.

Today, the United States, like Rome and Britain in their time, is the provider of international public goods. Who, after all, has deterred North Korea from driving south and plunging East Asia into war? And whose warships and aircraft deployed in the Gulf offer protection to oil tankers headed for Japanese and European ports? Whose citizens carry by far the largest weight in taxes per household in order to maintain this Pax Americana?

All this, however, is part of that unwritten bargain between the single Great Power that provides the strategic umbrella and the nations that shelter under it. In the best of circumstances, each partner, large or small, benefits. But what happens when the "free riders" secure too many of the public goods or, perhaps more importantly, are perceived by the citizens of the Number One power as taking too great an advantage of the pax provider? What if the consensus between the umbrella-holder and those hiding below breaks down?

This is a question that will be increasingly asked in the years to come. It is already being asked in a few circles, as we strive to understand the larger implications of the enormous surpluses of sovereign wealth funds, the soaring cost of raw materials (especially oil and gas), the weakening of Wall Street's once-great banks, and the increasing purchase of American assets by dollar-rich Asian and Middle Eastern enterprises.

The argument goes something like this: The United States has recently expended vast amounts of money, blood and energy in fighting two Iraq wars. On each occasion, the White House had its own secular reasons for going to war (to punish aggression, to protect American consumers from catastrophically high gas prices, and so on). But the chief beneficiaries were clearly our Arab allies like Saudia Arabia and the Gulf states, together with East Asia and Europe, which depend much more than the U.S. does on the uninterrupted flow of Middle East Oil. How convenient to live under the American strategic umbrella.

Yet all the fighting by the U.S. armed forces in those wars has not been able to prevent the great rise in the price of oil and gas, which hits petroleum-dependent Americans hard but puts billions of dollars into the pockets of certain free riders in the system. As the United States takes its economic hits - and while the White House insists on record defense spending to maintain its hegemonic "umbrella strategy" - foreign financial interests are steadily acquiring American companies, especially banks. And Wall Street houses now paying the price for their reckless stoking of dubious subprime loans have little alternative but to sell; as I write, some chief executive will be flying to Dubai or Singapore to sell off a chunk of the firm's assets.

Those bankers, and the free-market economists who service them, will assure you that such asset sales are perfectly O.K. Asian and Arabic sovereign wealth funds are extremely discreet and cautious. They do not play politics. They are not asking for a seat on the board. They have to invest their monies somewhere. So this is just a normal commercial transaction. Stop worrying.

Well, if you think that way, then nothing can be done to help you. But every sensible homeowner or farmer or small businessman knows that, once you take out a loan (mortgage) from another party, or sell a share of your property, a subtle or not-so-subtle power relationship has changed. To a greater or lesser degree, you have become dependent upon other players who can probably influence you more than you can influence them. And in this case, since hundreds of other companies and banks are doing the same, the collective result is that the United States is ceding influence.

Each individual sale of assets may make perfect sense to the company needing a cash insertion. The larger consequence implies a shift in the global economic balances and, in the longer term, the global political balances.

What, in sum, we may be witnessing is a fraying of the U.S.-directed international "strategic umbrella" system that has been in operation since 1945. The system was battered before (in the Gold Standard crisis of the early 1970s), but the global boom of the past 20 years allowed its recovery. Now it is under strain again. Perhaps sensible fiscal and taxation policies by the next White House administration will keep things afloat - that is, keep the umbrella upright for the next few decades. Or perhaps not.

This is not a matter that should concern American politicians alone. The larger point is that all of us, free riders included, depend upon the provision of international public goods. If the country guaranteeing those services is heading for trouble, so, probably, are the rest of us, wherever we live on this tight little planet.

Paul Kennedy is a professor of history and director of International Security Studies at Yale University. This Global Viewpoint article was distributed by Tribune Media Services.

© 2008 The International Herald Tribune |

What is Mahmoud Abbas waiting for?

24 - 30 January 2008
Issue No. 881

What is Mahmoud Abbas waiting for?

It appears clear to all but the Palestinian president that resistance, not supine collaboration, is the only strategic option, writes Ghada Karmi*

With the appalling death toll in Gaza, relentless assaults on the West Bank (in which negotiations chief Ahmed Qurei's own bodyguard was killed), and Israel's blatant settlement expansion, one must wonder what Israeli atrocity, if any, would make the Palestinian president change course. True, last week he raised with his colleagues the possibility of suspending peace talks with Israel if it persisted in its assaults, but he has not acted. Why not?

Surely Gaza's plight should have been enough to outrage him, as it has done legions of people across the globe. The crowning act in a catalogue of murders took place on 15 January when Israeli tanks and helicopters invaded the Zaytoun district of Gaza, killing 19 people and wounding 50 in just 24 hours. The following day, Israel's army killed another three Gazans, and the day after it bombed the Gaza Interior Ministry, killing one woman and wounding 46 others. Many more will die after this week's power shutdown across 80 per cent of the Strip.

The number of dead in Gaza has been rising steadily for months. Last November 36 Gazans were killed. In December this figure jumped to 60, and in the first two weeks of January 55 have so far died. Last week, Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, announced the closure of all crossings into Gaza, cutting off the pathetically small amount of food, medicine and other essentials that had been entering the Strip. What was already a humanitarian crisis in Gaza following Hamas's election to office in 2006 is now likely to become a full-blown disaster. A whole generation of Gaza's resistance leaders has already been wiped out by Israeli targeted assassinations. Undeterred by legality or consequences, Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, pledged to increase the attacks until "the firing of rockets stops", but this is not the main objective. Israel's actions clearly show it aims to destroy Gaza, economically and structurally, and annihilate its every means of resistance.

Nor has the West Bank, supposedly Abbas's domain, been spared. The Israeli army has repeatedly invaded towns and villages there, carrying off scores of Palestinians in the process and destroying acres of cultivated land. In one such operation in Nablus on 5 January, 23 people were seized, including several Fatah members. This elicited a rebuke from Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, which changed nothing. Meanwhile, Israel announced it would build 1,000 new homes to expand the Har Homa settlement currently choking Bethlehem, and swell the already bloated Maale Adumim settlement in East Jerusalem. Another settlement sprang up in the Ras district of Hebron, linking Kryat Arba and Tel Rumeida, the most intolerable settlements for Palestinians to bear. In addition, and despite Israeli undertakings to the contrary, outposts, illegal even under Israeli law, still proliferate across the West Bank.

Given such ample proof of Israeli ill intent, it is legitimate to ask why the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not halt this charade, call an end to a peace process conducted on such terms, refuse to lead an authority that has neither power nor resources, and whose main function, no matter what its members imagine, is to safeguard the Zionist project. A conviction is growing in some Palestinian circles that the PA should terminate negotiations with Israel and transform itself from the present failed organisation, supine before Israeli and Western diktat, into a leadership body of a people under occupation.

There is much merit in such a course. It calls Israel's bluff in spinning out the peace process interminably while it consolidates its grip on Palestinian land; it frustrates Western attempts to protect Israel, by way of bribing the Palestinians -- to the tune of over $7 billion -- into settling for a fraction of their legitimate rights; and it incidentally helps to improve the PA leadership's image, now widely regarded as quislings and Western puppets. But most importantly, it re-establishes reality for the Palestinians that there is no state-in-being; that they are an occupied people who must fight by every means for their freedom. And to this end, they must set aside internecine enmity and factionalism.

None of it will happen, however. Despite the manifest failure of the "peace process" to date and Israel's increasing gains at Palestinian expense, Abbas and his colleagues want to continue with the process. Though Arafat was a case apart, it is the same error he made over Oslo and set the pattern for subsequent Palestinian strategy. Simply put, this regards Palestinians as too weak to impose any terms against the might of Israel, America and Europe. So they can only hope to salvage something from this line-up by acquiescing to the demands of these powers, even at the expense of Palestinian rights -- so the theory goes. Abbas has added his own ingredient to this mixture by rejecting all forms of armed resistance, believing that Palestinian passivity will succeed better than force. Security collaboration with Israel (a euphemism for thwarting Palestinian resistance), the inability to defend even PA officials and Fatah members against Israeli assaults, helplessness in the face of Israel's violations of all agreements, and current paralysis over the horrors unfolding in Gaza are all consequences of this strategy.

Clearly the strategy has failed. No amount of collaboration, passivity and obedience to the other side has worked. The Palestinian situation is far worse today than in 1993, and a different approach is needed. The Palestinians may be weak, but they have one major strength: the power to say "No". Imagine if they now refused to negotiate with Israel on current terms, dismantled the PA as the scapegoat and whipping boy for Israeli occupation it has become, and established a leadership of resistance that refused to cooperate while under occupation. Such a move would wreck the whole construct so carefully designed by Israel and its allies and whose pivot is Palestinian acquiescence. President Bush would have no trophy to save him from total ignominy; Israel would face a rebellious Palestinian population without leaders to do its dirty work; and Europe would have to confront its own ignoble complicity with the occupation by its funding of it. Above all, Palestinians would regain their self-respect and their right to resist, and their cause would once again unite the Arab world against its enemies. Fear of such an outcome, disastrous to Israel and its allies, is the Palestinian trump card, if they care to use it.

* The writer is author of Married to Another Man: Israel's dilemma in Palestine .

Fallout from the Gaza Earthquake by Patrick Seale

Whether you agree with British commentator Patrick Seale's undisguised biases or not, there is much to ponder in his analysis.

Fallout from the Gaza Earthquake
by Patrick Seale Released: 29 Jan 2008
The mass break-out of some 700,000 Palestinians from Israel's open-air prison at Gaza has profoundly changed the political landscape of the Middle East. In magnitude, it can be compared to the impact on Europe of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nothing will be the same again. There can be no return to the past.

All the main actors in the drama -- Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, the European Union and the United States itself -- will have to rethink their policies in the light of new realities.

The most striking of the new realities is that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza -- who had been reduced to abject misery by Israel cruel siege -- will never again accept being locked up. Gaza must be allowed to breathe, to trade, to be supplied with the basic necessities of life, and to live normally.

If Egypt, under Israeli and American pressure, were to attempt to bottle up the Gazans once more, this could trigger riots in Cairo, which could destabilize President Husni Mubarak's regime. Egypt must now walk a tightrope between Israeli and American pressure and the new reality of its relations with the Gazans.

The whole question of Gaza's relations with the outside world must now be reviewed. Israel can no longer dominate and control every aspect of Gaza life -- its airspace and territorial waters, its imports and exports, its taxation system, and all movements in and out of the territory.

As Israel's role shrinks, Egypt's will expand. The situation in Gaza provides Egypt with a major opportunity. If it conquers its fears and acts boldly -- if it refuses to be cowed by Israel and the United States -- it has a chance to recover the leadership of the Arabs. With some vision and imagination, Egypt could demonstrate to the world what can be made of Gaza and its people, once they are allowed some freedom.

Egypt must negotiate control of the Rafah crossing directly with Hamas. It can no longer afford to be complicit in Israel's siege of Gaza. Its own Egyptian public opinion, as well as Arab opinion as a whole, will no longer tolerate it. But it needs to go further than that.

Egypt has to be Gaza's advocate with the international community. Gaza's infrastructure, shattered by Israel, needs to be rebuilt. Its port and airport need to be brought back to life, and reopened for business. Egypt could benefit commercially, because Gaza is a considerable market. Egypt could also benefit politically, because helping Gaza rise from the dead could draw the poison from President Mubarak's conflict-ridden relations with the Muslim Brothers, who are his regime's major domestic opponents.

Saudi Arabia also has a major role to play because of its moral and political authority and its immense financial resources. Arab money will be needed to restore Gaza to health. Egypt and Saudi Arabia must work together to mediate the paralyzing feud between Hamas and Fatah, and unite Palestinian ranks.

They must persuade Europe and the United States -- and a reluctant Israel -- that if Arab-Israeli peace talks are to get anywhere Hamas must be included. Having broken out of physical isolation in Gaza, Hamas' political isolation must now in turn be ended. There can be no forward movement in the region towards either peace or security without engagement with Hamas.

This is bad news for Mahmud Abbas, President of the hapless Palestinian Authority and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. They had hoped to show that their talks with Israel could yield results. But they have failed to secure the removal of a single West Bank checkpoint or the dismantling of a single illegal Israeli outpost, let alone progress with the core issues of borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

The boycott of Hamas -- imposed by Israel and the United States and accepted by the cowardly Europeans after Hamas won the democratic Palestinian elections of January 2006 -- was an act of political folly. It can no longer be sustained. That EU diplomats cannot speak directly to Hamas is an absurdity that should immediately be corrected.

On a visit to Paris last week, Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak mouthed the old bankrupt thinking, thereby doing his reputation no service. He told Le Figaro (January 26-27): "We have nothing to say to Hamas. We speak to them when we interrogate them in our prisons." The world knows what Israel's 'interrogations' are like. Barak is the prime architect of the policy of attempting to starve Gaza into submission. This policy has failed.

Israel has suffered a major political and strategic defeat. Its collective punishment of a whole Arab population has backfired. The Palestinians have not surrendered, but continue to resist. Israel's image has been badly damaged and its policies widely denounced as cruel, immoral, and a blatant violation of international law.

In strategic terms, Israel's deterrent posture, on which it sets such store, has suffered a blow vis-à-vis Hamas, much like the blow inflicted on it by Hizbullah in the 34-day Lebanese war of 2006. These two non-state actors -- Hamas and Hizbullah -- are challenging Israel with asymmetric warfare on two fronts. Their message is simple: If you hit us, we will hit you.

Israel's pre-eminence has been dented, but its military and security establishment, obsessed with the outdated notion of military superiority over the whole region, refuses to accept it. It still believes that the Palestinians will give up the struggle if enough of them are killed.

In the two years 2006 and 2007, Israel killed over 800 Palestinians, including 126 children, maimed and wounded thousands of others, and smashed a whole society by its repeated incursions, raids, and targeted assassinations. This month alone it has killed over 60 Palestinians. The disproportion with Palestinian action is striking: Since 2004, only eleven Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza.

Hamas has repeatedly offered Israel a long-term truce of twenty years and more, but on condition that Israel renounces violence and that the cease-fire be extended to the West Bank as well as to Gaza. Hamas also insists that Israel open the border crossings and release Hamas parliamentarians from prison.

In other words, Hamas is seeking a mutual ceasefire and a truce based on something like a balance of power -- or a balance of terror. Israel's leaders are far from ready to accept such terms. They still harbour the illusion that Palestinian nationalism can be crushed by brute force, much as they believe that Hizbullah, too, can in due course be disarmed and destroyed.

Several prominent Israelis have joined in the outcry against their government's policies. They include Jessica Mantell, executive director of B'Tselem, the Israeli information center for human rights in the Occupied Territories, and Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions.

Halper wrote last week: "The desperate people who surged into Egypt… deserve the respect and gratitude of every person who cherishes a better world based on human rights and dignity. As an Israeli Jew, I have been saddened and mortified that my own people, after all they have experienced, cannot see what they are doing to others."

John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, has described Israel's actions in Gaza as a "serious war crime," for which its political and military officers should be prosecuted and punished.

Only a sincere and serious effort to make peace with all the Palestinians -- Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority -- on the basis of the 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem can ensure Israel's long-term security. Unfortunately, there is no sign that this obvious truth has dawned on either the Israeli leadership or Israel's hawkish American friends.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright © 2008 Patrick Seale

Released: 29 January 2008
Word Count: 1,273

Rights & Permissions Contact: Agence Global, 1.336.686.9002, or 1.212.731.0757

Allies fall short on Iraq aid pledges by Matt Kelley, USA Today

The cost of unilateralism revealed. Not much of a coalition in evidence. No one feels any obligation to clean up after the Lone Ranger.



Allies fall short on Iraq aid pledges

Matt Kelley

WASHINGTON — Nearly five years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, allied countries have paid 16% of what they pledged to help rebuild the war-torn country, according to a report scheduled for release today.

Foreign countries have spent about $2.5 billion of the more than $15.8 billion they pledged during and after an October 2003 conference in Madrid, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The biggest shortfalls in pledges by 41 donor countries are from Iraq's oil-rich neighbors and U.S. allies: Saudi Arabia spent $17.4% and Kuwait 27% of the $500 million each had pledged more than four years ago, according to a separate report released last month by Congress' Government Accountability Office. Spokesmen at both countries' U.S. embassies did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.

The United States, so far, has spent $29 billion to help rebuild Iraq, the inspector general's report says. Congress has approved an additional $16.5 billion.

The lack of aid from Arab countries in particular infuriates Rep. Gary Ackerman, who heads the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East.

"They're charging $100 per barrel of oil, making record fortunes, lecturing everyone else, and then they stiff everybody, including their cousins who they contend to be so very concerned about," the New York Democrat said in an interview.

From 2003 through 2006, Saudi Arabia exported about $95 billion in crude oil to the USA, as its average price more than doubled from $25 to $56 a barrel, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

President Bush met with Saudi, Kuwaiti and other leaders two weeks ago during a trip to the Middle East. Bush discussed "the need for countries in the region to offer their support" during those talks, and the Arab leaders all pledged their help, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in an e-mail.

The United Arab Emirates, one of the countries Bush visited, has spent about $62.6 million of the $215 million it pledged, UAE Embassy spokeswoman Nora Abusitta said in an e-mail.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, named by Bush in 2006 as an international envoy on Iraq aid, said in a telephone interview that obstacles to international aid for Iraq include high levels of violence and corruption and the inability of the Iraqi government to manage its budget.

"A lot of work remains to be done," he said.

Iraqi Women Face Greater Danger, Fewer Rights by Anne Garrels

Yesterday's "All Things Considered" aired a report by Anne Garrels on this subject yesterday, January 29. I am grateful to Ellis Wisner and Chas Freeman for bringing it my attention and suggesting it might be of broader interest.

Iraqi Women Face Greater Danger, Fewer Rights

by Anne Garrels

Listen Now add to playlist
All Things Considered, January 29, 2008 · Most everyone in Iraq has suffered because of violence, but the lives of women have been, perhaps, affected the most.

Their right to go where and do what they wish has been dramatically restricted by the rise of Islamist parties and extremist groups.

Women's rights groups report that in the past six months, more than 100 women have been killed in the city of Basra for wearing make-up or what is deemed Western clothing. Those who dare to defend them have also been attacked and, in some cases, killed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Moral Degeneracy of Alternative Rationales for Invading Iraq

Hornberger’s Blog

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Moral Degeneracy of Alternative Rationales for Invading Iraq
by Jacob G. Hornberger

One of the most disappointing parts of the Democratic-controlled Congress has been its refusal to conduct a formal investigation into whether President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and other U.S. officials knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally presented false rationales for invading Iraq.

Everyone knows that Bush and his associates issued many statements that later turned out to be false regarding Saddam’s WMDs. But it seems that most everyone in Congress (with some exceptions, of course) automatically accepted the official explanation that it was all just an honest mistake — that there was no mal intent to deceive the public into supporting the invasion.

That’s a shame, especially in a moral sense, given the enormous consequences of the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of people are now dead. Countless are maimed. Families have been decimated. Millions have fled the country. Museums have been ransacked. Neighborhoods have been religiously segregated. Prisons are overflowing. Torture, suicide bombers, terrorists. For all practical purposes, the country is destroyed.

Prior to the invasion, Bush presented two alternative rationales for invading — the dire WMD threat posed by Saddam and spreading democracy. The primary rationale — the one that scared most Americans into supporting the invasion — was the WMD threat that Americans were facing from Saddam. Recall Condoleezza Rice’s famous statement about smoking guns and mushroom clouds. Recall Colin Powell’s famous WMD charts before the UN.

Later, after the WMDs failed to materialize, Bush and his associates immediately shifted their primary rationale from WMDs to helping the Iraqi people achieve democracy.

An interesting aspect of relying on these two alternative rationales is that it makes both rationales suspect. Suppose China was about to unleash a nuclear attack on the United States. Does anyone honestly believe that U.S. officials would announce that emergency steps were being taken to defend the United States from this attack but that, alternatively, another reason for going to war would be to help the Chinese people achieve democracy?

That would be crazy. If a foreign nation attacks your country, as Japan did at Pearl Harbor, that nation becomes an enemy nation. Wouldn’t defense of your nation from such an attack be your only priority? How many Americans would be fighting to defend their country from a Chinese invasion while, alternatively, fighting to help the attackers achieve democracy?

There is another interesting aspect to the WMD rationale. Once it was discovered that there were no WMDs, there had already been many Iraqi people killed and maimed by U.S. forces. Wouldn’t you expect Bush and other U.S. officials to express at least some remorse over this very grievous error? After all, once the discovery was made that Saddam had in fact been telling the truth about the WMDs, one alternative would have been for President Bush to have announced, “I have made a very bad mistake. I thought Saddam was about to unleash WMDs on the United States and I led Americans into thinking that and fearing that. It now turns out that I was mistaken and that Saddam really had destroyed his WMDs. Yet, I have taken many Iraqi lives. I wish to apologize for my mistake and am hereby ordering the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces to the United States.”

Instead, Bush didn’t skip a beat. There was no apology, no remorse, no regret, no repentance over what was obviously one of the most important mistakes in history. They just kept moving forward with the invasion, quickly shifting to the democracy-spreading rationale. In other words, in the wink of an eye Iraq was shifted from the ranks of an enemy nation to the ranks of a friendly nation where U.S. officials were killing countless people in the name of helping the survivors achieve democracy.

Throughout the 1990s U.S. officials had one goal, as manifested by their brutal sanctions against Iraq: the ouster of Saddam from power and his replacement with a U.S.-approved stooge. If both the WMD rationale and the democracy-spreading rationale were nothing more than intentional deceptions designed to achieve that goal, what greater moral degeneracy than that, especially given the horrific consequences to the Iraqi people?

One would think that given all the horrible consequences, the duly elected representatives of the people in Congress would want to conduct a formal investigation into what would seem to be a rather important question: Did U.S. officials, from the president on down, knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally present fake and false rationales for their invasion and occupation of Iraq? Unfortunately, one gets the impression that all too many members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, would rather not know.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Free Trade, Sovereignty, and Big Government

ree Trade, Sovereignty, and Big Government
by Jacob G. Hornberger

I’m befuddled by those people who are worried about a conspiracy regarding a super-highway between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

It seems that what concerns the super-highway opponents is the possibility that the governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico will combine into one super-government, such as the European Union, and adopt a unified currency, much like the Euro.

So far, so good. I can understand why advocates of liberty would be concerned about a super-big government and a super-big-government fiat currency.

However, this is where things get murky because oftentimes it seems that the opponents of such a plan also oppose free trade. Even worse, they sometimes seem to endorse big-government efforts out of Washington, D.C., to interfere with free trade.

First of all, let’s keep in mind that in every trade both sides to the transaction benefit, from their own individual perspective. The fact that both sides voluntarily enter into a trade is confirmation of that phenomenon. The reason that each side benefits is that each party to a trade gives up something he values less for something he values more.

Thus, people’s standard of living can rise through the simple act of exchange. Suppose, for example, that one person has 10 apples and another person has 10 oranges. They trade 4 apples for 6 oranges. Both sides have benefited from the trade even though the apple owner gave up only 4 apples and the orange owner gave up 6 oranges. From their own individual perspective, they both gave up something they valued less for something they valued more. The standard of living of both persons went up.

A corollary of this principle then is: Whenever any government rule, regulation, edict, or law interferes with people’s ability to trade, it is interfering with their right to improve their standard of living.

Therefore, it becomes obvious from both a moral and utilitarian standpoint that people should be free to engage in mutual acts of trade without governmental interference. This is, in fact, the situation in the domestic United States, which is the largest free-trade zone in the world. By and large (with some exceptions, such as drug laws), people are free to transport goods across borders within the United States without governmental interference. That freedom is a major contributing factor to the relatively high standard of living experienced by Americans.

Obviously, these principles apply not only to trades with other Americans but also with people in other countries. Again, to the extent that two people, regardless of citizenship, enter into a mutual trade, they are both benefiting. Otherwise, they wouldn’t enter into the exchange.

Thus, the ideal, from the standpoint of freedom, is a situation in which Americans are free to enter into trades with anyone in the world. That would mean, obviously, that Americans could buy and sell across international borders as easily as they buy and sell across state borders.

That is, just as we don’t have customs officials at state borders to prevent goods from crossing state lines, there would be no customs officials at international borders to prevent goods from crossing international lines. People would be free to trade with others, both foreign and domestic, without governmental interference.

That’s what genuine freedom, free trade, and free enterprise connote — an absence of government interference.

Yet, it seems that in their opposition to a unified political body and a unified currency, opponents of that plan sometimes support governmental suppression of free trade. Their seem to think that since a unified governmental unit will interfere with U.S. sovereignty, so would free trade, an odd conclusion given that there is no governmental involvement in free trade. (Again, the reason it’s called “free” is because it’s free of governmental interference). Moreover, as we all know, each state of the Union continues to maintain sovereignty and jurisdiction over the territory within its boundaries despite the fact that goods are crossing back and forth across state borders every day.

Moreover, in order to regulate and interfere with the millions of trades that would ordinarily take place across borders, it is obvious that one needs a very centralized, powerful government operating along the border, perhaps even with military troops, to interfere with such trades. It’s impossible to reconcile that position with a purported opposition to “big government” because it obviously takes a big government to perform that task.

So, what about the so-called super-highway? Well, as libertarians have long held, socialism in any endeavor, including highways, is not a good thing. But given that the American people have delegated the responsibility of highways to the government, why would it surprise anyone that governments build highways to facilitate trade. Isn’t that one of the justifications for the Interstate Highway System — that it facilitates the movement of goods across borders? Why would the principle be any different across international borders?

Those who are opposed to a unified government consisting of the governments of Mexico, Canada, and the United States are on the right track. But we must take care that we don’t permit that concern to lead us into opposing freedom and free trade.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Stephen Kinzer Hits the Road for Peace with Iran

Full, with links and formatting here:

To no-one's surprise, President Bush once again used his State of the
Union address to promote confrontation with Iran. He reaffirmed the
U.S. position that U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran is
pre-conditioned on Iran suspending enrichment of uranium, which
virtually guarantees that serious diplomacy cannot take place. He
again blamed Iran for violence in Iraq, although even if Bush's
accusation were true - that Iran is "funding and training militia
groups in Iraq" - it wouldn't be doing anything that the U.S. isn't
doing to a much greater degree. Predictably, the President didn't
mention that according to the Pentagon, it's Saudi Arabia, not Iran,
which is the biggest source of "foreign fighters" in Iraq, although of
course the country with the most "foreign fighters" in Iraq is the
United States, by many orders of magnitude. And of course he faults
Iran for supporting Hizbollah and Hamas, while the U.S. promotes a
policy in Lebanon and Gaza that encourages civil war.

By "staying the course," President Bush maintains a climate of tension
with Iran that could result in military confrontation at any moment,
that prolongs the US occupation of Iraq by impeding a political
resolution to the conflict, undermines efforts to resolve conflicts in
Lebanon and Palestine politically, and restricts the political space
for democratic forces in Iran.

Many hoped the release of the new Iran National Intelligence Estimate,
which concluded that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program,
would eliminate the danger of a U.S. attack on Iran. But President
Bush has disowned the Iran NIE, and apparently the Iraqi government
thinks the danger of a U.S. attack on Iran is significant enough that
they want a commitment that the U.S. will not attack Iran from Iraqi
territory as part of an agreement for extending the presence of U.S.
troops in Iraq.

A sustained public education campaign is necessary to force a change
in U.S. policy. On February 7, starting in Los Angeles, award-winning
journalist and author Stephen Kinzer will begin a 22-city tour to warn
of the danger of a U.S. military confrontation with Iran and to push
for a change in U.S. policy towards real diplomatic engagement with

Kinzer is the author of "All the Shah's Men," which tells the story of
how the U.S. organized a coup that overthrew the democratic government
of Iran in 1953, and how that event has impacted U.S.-Iran relations
ever since. The book has just been re-issued, with a new foreword,
"The Folly of Attacking Iran."

Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy

Bush fails to convince Arab states about Iran by Mahamad Bazzi

Bush fails to convince Arab states about Iran


BEIRUT -- Worried about the waning power of the Bush administration, Sunni Arab regimes aren't confronting Iran, as the U.S. would like, but instead appear to be cozying up to the Shi'a nation and its firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On his highly touted visit to the Middle East earlier this month, Arab leaders showered President George W. Bush with gifts and praise, all the while sizing up whether his lame-duck administration was capable of containing Iran. The answer, apparently, was no, because the president had not even left the region before critics began attacking him.

"In his confrontational remarks about Iran, he offers no carrot, no inducement, no compromise -- only the big U.S. stick," wrote the Arab News, a Saudi paper that often reflects the government's position. "This is not diplomacy in search of peace. It is madness in search of war."

The aftermath of Bush's visit signals the demise of an alliance between Washington and authoritarian Sunni Arab regimes -- Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states -- that tried to counter Iran, a non-Arab country that is the tip of what Jordan's King Abdullah famously described as the emerging "Shiite crescent," stretching through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Each side has helped fuel a proxy war in Iraq, with the Sunni regimes backing Sunni militants and Iran supporting Shi'a militias.

The largely Sunni Gulf states still view Shi'a Iran as a significant threat, but they now favor negotiation with Tehran instead of confrontation.

Bush tried to convince the Arab states, especially the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, to isolate Iran. But the Emirates have substantial banking and economic ties with Tehran. And in recent months, Saudi Arabia has taken significant steps to reach out to Ahmadinejad.

In early December, with tacit Saudi approval, Ahmadinejad addressed the Gulf Cooperation Council, an Arab bloc formed to resist Iran. Later in the month, Saudi King Abdullah invited the Iranian president to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca.

In a region ruled by kings and despots, Ahmadinejad has worked hard to cultivate his image as a populist hero. Ironically, he has become more popular among Arabs than his own people, who are frustrated by his inability to deliver on promises to improve a stagnant economy, root out corruption and redistribute oil wealth. When Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust or threatens Israel, his rhetoric resonates more with Arabs than Iranians.

Ahmadinejad is a Shi'a Muslim and a Persian in a region dominated by Sunni Arabs. Historically, Arabs have been fearful of Iran's cultural and political influence. But he plays the anti-American and anti-Israel cards in an attempt to transcend the Persian-Arab rift and Sunni-Shi'a tensions, which are on the rise because of the Iraq war.

His rhetoric works. "He has the courage to stand up to America and Israel," an Egyptian civil servant told me over sips of mint tea in a Cairo coffee house a few months ago. "What other leader in the world is doing that?"

For its part, the Bush administration has become so unpopular that even its staunchest allies are trying to publicly distance themselves from it. And this strategy appears to be working for the Saudis, judging by the reaction in the U.S. media and on the Arab street. The Saudis are also hedging their bets -- flirting with both the Americans and the Iranians.

King Abdullah began this public break from the Bush administration last March, when he denounced, for the first time, the U.S. military presence in Iraq as an "illegitimate foreign occupation." The king was reflecting the view of many Arabs who blame the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein's minority Sunni regime in Iraq for emboldening Iran.

Arab leaders also blame the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian talks on Bush's refusal for seven years to actively engage in Middle East peacemaking, until the recent Annapolis summit. Even limited progress on peace efforts could provide diplomatic cover for the Sunni Arab states to cooperate more closely with the U.S. -- and work to isolate Iran.

But Arab leaders see little hope that Israelis and Palestinians will be able to carry out substantial negotiations that would lead to a peace deal by the time Bush leaves office next January.

The traditional centers of power in the Arab world are very nervous about the growing influence of Iran: its nuclear ambitions, its sway over the Iraqi government and Shi'a militias, its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and its alliance with Syria (which some Arab regimes accuse of being a traitor to the Arab cause).

Contrary to widespread impression, Arab leaders are not worried that Iran will export the cultural and theological aspects of Shiism; rather, they're afraid of political Shiism spreading to the Arab world through groups like Hezbollah.

The group's strong performance against a far superior Israeli military during the July 2006 war has electrified the Arab world, and it offers a stark contrast to Arab rulers appeasing the United States. Arab regimes fear that their Sunni populations will be seduced by Iran and Hezbollah's message of empowering the dispossessed -- creating a new and potent admixture of Arabism and Shi'a identity.

There is some precedent for this. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini inspired revolutionary zeal among nationalists throughout the Arab world. The revolution's aftershocks were felt for a long time in the Middle East, helping, indirectly, to give rise to some militant Sunni movements and inspiring Shi'as in Lebanon and Iraq.

And this is why Saudi rulers are suddenly talking tough against America. Threatened by this new challenge from Shi'as, the Saudis are trying to reassert their role as leaders of the Arab and wider Muslim world.

The Saudis and other Arab regimes are most concerned with their own survival. Of course, they will remain staunch U.S. allies and always be wary of Iran's ascendance. But they will ignore Bush's pleas and continue hedging their bets by appeasing Teheran. It's the only way to survive in a tough part of the world.

Mohamad Bazzi, the former Middle East bureau chief for Newsday, is a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Foreign Policy News and Commentary Update January 28, 2008

Final State: Rather than review a troubled record, President Bush aims for some last-year achievements Editorial (Washington Post, January 29): Mr. Bush does have the opportunity to finish with a flourish in foreign affairs.

Bush's End Game ? Review & Outlook (Wall Street Journal, January 29): Even a lame duck President has more power to influence events than anyone else on the planet. That's especially true on foreign policy, where he can do much in the next year to aid his successor.

The State of the Union Editorial (New York Times, January 29): After six years of promises unkept or insincerely made and blunders of historic proportions, the United States is now fighting two wars and the civilized world still faces horrifying dangers ? and it has far less sympathy and respect for the United States.

The Seven-Year Slide - Rahm Emanuel (Washington Post, January 28): Bush inherited a nation that was respected on the international stage; he will leave behind one reviled by many around the world. A Pew poll of 10 nations found that in 2001, 58 percent of respondents viewed America favorably; today, that number is 39 percent. Our foreign policy should include a diplomatic offensive to win back the international goodwill that has been squandered over the past seven years.

Oprah Goes Arab - Pierre Tristam (Pierre's Middle East Issues Blog, January 25):

Latin anti-Americanism a concern - Mike Leonard (, January 27)

Subprime stakes and globaloney - Arnaud de Borchgrave (Washington Times, January 28): The world is flat for some, flat broke for many more. America's predatory lenders, subprime mortgage brokers, various and sundry con artists, combined forces to blind America's monetary sentinels, rip off the world, and give America's democratic capitalism a bad name.

Don't Open a Third Front in Pakistan William M. Arkin (, January 28): "The more conventional military might we threw at Iraq and Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa and elsewhere -- the more forces we stuffed into the region in the Gulf states and the Caucasus - the more we activated latent forces of discontent and hatred. U.S. military forces now "occupy" a half dozen Muslim countries in the region, and I can't help but think what many see are uniforms of subjugation and killing."

From Hoover Press: Anti-Americanism in Europe: A Cultural Problem, by Russell A. Berman (Business Wire, January 23): Anti-Americanism in Europe: A Cultural Problem (Hoover Press, 2008) is being released by the Hoover Institution as part of its new Hoover Classics series.

What You Didn?t Know About This Woman - Joel Hilliker (, March): Pakistan is a nuclear-armed incubator of Islamism. Of its four provinces, the two bordering Afghanistan
Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province are out-and-out ruled independently by Islamists. Passionate anti-Americanism is virtually the state religion, faithfully practiced by both politician and peasant.

Rising Anti-Americanism in Russia - Alastair Gee (US World & News Report, January 18)

Russia Center to Study Western Democracy - Associated Press (New York Times, January 28): The Kremlin is tired of Western criticisms -- that Russia is becoming more authoritarian, human rights are violated, journalists are at risk and elections are rigged. Now the Kremlin is trying to turn the tables on the West, setting up a think tank its founders say will expose the flaws of Western democracies. With offices in New York and Paris, the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation will study democracy and human rights in Europe and the United States.

A Cold War redux is seen on the horizon: Though the U.S. plays down tensions, some observers say Russia sees advantages to being an enemy - Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times, January 29): Although U.S. officials are publicly playing down the rising tension, a series of conflicts has prompted some within the Bush administration to conclude that, for domestic and geopolitical reasons, Russia is now more comfortable with the U.S. as an enemy than an ally.,0,3965848.story

Gates calls for bipartisan work on Iraq: The Defense secretary says presidential candidates should be thinking ahead about the war on terrorism - Peter Spiegel (Los Angeles Times, January 28): Gates' search for a post-Sept. 11 version of the Cold War consensus shows that while he is a member of the Bush administration, he also considers himself a part of the larger U.S. foreign policy establishment. Many of his policy initiatives -- including his call for additional funding for the State Department and other instruments of U.S. "soft power" -- are unlikely to be resolved any time soon.,1,1684724.story

A Cynical Effort to Save Bush's Legacy Ivan Eland (, January 28): No matter what Bush's successor does -- continue to hold his or her finger in the dike (the most likely scenario) or withdraw U.S. forces -- Iraq is likely to face a full-blown civil war down the road.

Iraq's No. 1 problem: Bush may have to withdraw his support for Nouri Maliki if the prime minister continues to slow progress - Bing West and Max Boot (Los Angeles Times, January 28): Bush should not repeat in Iraq the mistake he has already made in Russia and Pakistan: overly personalizing relations with another country. The U.S. should support democracy in Iraq, not Maliki per se.,0,6909999.story

Gulf provocations: What to do - James Lyons (Washington Times, January 29): With the recent incidents in the Gulf, it appears a similar set of rules and regulations incorporated in the U.S.-Soviet "Incidents at Sea Treaty" could be applied as modified for naval operations in the Gulf.

No More Coups: What Bush Must Tell Musharraf - Jackson Diehl (Washington Post, January 28): The problem lies in a shrinking group of administration officials -- including President Bush -- who refuse to abandon Musharraf.

A European Climate Plan: An intriguing approach that meshes well with bills on Capitol Hill ? Editorial (Washington Post, January 28): The world is looking to the United States for leadership on global warming. Without it, developing nations such as China and India have no reason to be a part of the solution.

McDonald's to Grow China Business - Mei Fond Wall Street Journal, January 29): Fast-food giant McDonald's Corp. plans to accelerate its growth in China by opening 125 new outlets in the country this year, 18% more than in 2007, senior executives said.

New global report: Freedom is on the march -- backward Edward M. Gomez (SF Gate, January 28): In different regions of the world, democracy is on the march -- but not necessarily in a promising, hopeful, forward direction. That's the news from Freedom House, a U.S.-based think tank with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York.

Torturing Syntax: Spin vs Propaganda Cyrano 2 (Cyrano's Journal: Thomas Paine Corner, January 28): For George Bush and his government to continue to deny that waterboarding is 'torture' is not just an egregious abuse of media spin. It is an outright lie.

Global-Market Woes Are More Personality Than Nationality - Jared Sandberg (Wall Street Journal, January 29): The biggest challenge to Americans is recognizing that in many corners of the world, people put relationships before business, says Frank Acuff, who has had to update his book, "How to Negotiate Anything with Anyone Anywhere Around the World" because customs are moving targets.

The Stallone Factor - Chris Suellentrop (New York Times, January 29: Is the fourth
'Rambo' movie a film-length argument for a hawkish, McCain-like foreign policy?

Condoleezza Dream Team: McCain and Rice '08! - Peter Huestis (Wonkette, January 28): Condi's been a gal-on-the-go, a veritable Mary Tyler Moore of the diplotaunte circuit. She traipsed from Switzerland to Germany and then all the way to Colombia and back again. More importantly, using advanced Wonkette Shoe Identification Technology, we can reveal the shocking news that Madame Secretary has shifted her footwear allegiance from Ferragamo to Manolo.

Ha'aretz Rates the Candidates

Ha'aretz Rates the Candidates

Philip Giraldi

January 29, 2008

It is perhaps no surprise that the media and chattering class in Israel are following the U.S. presidential nominating process with an intensity not to be seen anywhere else. The interest is somewhat odd, given that no fundamental shift in the U.S.-Israel relationship appears possible. Apart from Ron Paul, who has no chance to be nominated, no candidate is likely to challenge the "special relationship." Some critics of Middle Eastern policy have been hopeful that Barack Obama, who has less baggage on the issue than the other candidates, might approach the Israel-Palestine conundrum with a more open mind. Such hopes are fleeting, as Obama has adopted an increasingly strident pro-Israel line to make himself more electable. This line was apparently crafted by his key adviser on the region, Dennis Ross, a former State Department official who was the key negotiator between Palestinians and Israelis under President Bill Clinton. Ross has invariably tilted in the Israeli direction by defining most regional problems in terms of Israeli security concerns. When he is not advising Obama, Ross is now a "distinguished fellow" at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the strongly pro-Israeli Washington think tank that was founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He is also a Middle East analyst for Fox News.

Israeli interest in the outcome of the election is legitimate, because the billions of dollars in U.S. economic and military aid are seen by most Israelis as crucial to their country's prosperity. For this same reason, it is worthwhile for Americans to note just how the Israeli media evaluates the various candidates' pro-Israel credentials. The Israeli national interest is clearly not identical to that of the United States, except possibly to AIPAC, but it would be difficult to discern the difference based on the comments being made by American presidential candidates. Indeed, many of the candidates sometimes seem as if they are actually running for office in Israel.

Ha'aretz, the more liberal of the two Israeli English language newspapers, assesses the presidential candidates in a monthly feature called "The Israel Factor: Ranking the Presidential Candidates," which rates the candidates from 1 to 10, with 10 being "best for Israel" and 1 being worst. The most recent "Israel Factor" appeared on Jan. 17. It should be noted that Republican Congressman Ron Paul is not included in the rankings because the Israeli panelists believe that to do so would be a "waste of time."

Rudy Giuliani is, not surprisingly, Tel Aviv's favorite son. He rates an 8.37 based on stirring rhetoric such as "Israel is the only outpost of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and the only absolutely reliable friend of the United States" and "the people of Jerusalem and the people of New York City are shoulder-to-shoulder; and the people of America and the people of Israel are shoulder-to-shoulder, in the fight against terrorism." While in New York, Rudy picked up valuable points for having Yasser Arafat thrown out of a concert at Lincoln Center in 1995 and for turning down $10 million in post-9/11 aid from a Saudi prince when the prince had the temerity to question U.S. policy in the Middle East. Giuliani reiterated his anecdotes about Arafat and the Saudi prince in the most recent Republican debate, but it is not clear whether dissing the same Arabs twice with the same story is good for extra points or not. Giuliani had an 8.75 in last month's ranking, so he clearly is slipping and has to come up with some new material to regain his edge.

Hillary Clinton is a surprise number two in the Ha'aretz ranking, with a 7.62. She gets top grades for demanding that the U.S. embassy be shifted from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and also for some of her effusive affirmations of Israeli exceptionalism, calling it a "beacon of what democracy can and should mean." Hillary is apparently not familiar with the face of democracy in the West Bank territories that are still occupied. Nor is she shy about suborning U.S. interests to any old scheme for regional domination dreamed up by Israeli politicians, as she has also said that "the security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East." Hillary is a strong supporter of keeping Arabs out of Israel: "The top priority of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, and that is why I have been a strong supporter of Israel's right to build a security barrier to keep terrorists out. I have taken the International Court of Justice to task for questioning Israel's right to build the fence." (Note: A fence is about five feet high and is designed to keep horses and cattle from straying. Most people call Israel's 20-ft.-high solid masonry construction a wall, and large segments of it are built on Arab land.) Hillary apparently has not encouraged Chelsea to enlist in either the IDF or the U.S. armed forces, but she has no problem pounding on America's traditional European allies to make them do Israel's bidding. Addressing AIPAC in 2005, she said, "A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, but it is not just unacceptable to Israel and the United States. It must be unacceptable to the entire world, starting with the European governments and people."

John McCain, once the neocons' anointed as the candidate best equipped to light the flame of freedom in the Middle East, rates a strong but disappointing 7.12. Never having met an Israeli he couldn't admire and an Arab he couldn't disdain, he has said, "There can be no comprehensive peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians until the Palestinians recognize Israel, forswear forever the use of violence, recognize their previous agreements, and reform their internal institutions." "Between" would appear to imply a certain reciprocity, but John probably skipped his English classes at the Naval Academy. Like Hillary, he believes that good fences make good neighbors, and he is happy to help steal someone else's land to help out a friend: "The Oslo accord failed because it was based on the premise that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples could live peacefully together. The security fence will test whether they can live peacefully apart." He is also more than generous with American taxpayers' money: "America must provide Israel with whatever military equipment and technology she requires to defend herself, above and beyond what we supply today if necessary."

Mitt Romney only rates a 6.5 in spite of his courageous refusal to provide Massachusetts state troopers to protect former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami during his visit to the U.S. in 2006. As he put it at the time, "State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel." Mitt, a self-described deep thinker, apparently was unaware that Khatami is a moderate who was in the U.S. in an attempt to establish dialogue to avert war. Khatami has never advocated jihad or the elimination of Israel. In the latest presidential debate, Romney called for "good schools" in the Arab world that are not "Wahhabi schools," a generalization that left some observers who actually know about the Middle East gasping.

Former candidate Fred Thompson, also at 6.5, scored some points in the Republican debate when he gave sage advice to the Iranians harassing U.S. naval vessels: "One more step and they would have been introduced to those virgins that they're looking forward to seeing." And then there is poor Mike Huckabee at a pathetic 6, an also-ran among stalwart Republicans seeking to kick Arab butt and go toe-to-toe with the hated mullahs. Mike is all for sending Iranians molesting U.S. ships to see the "gates of Hell" and is noted for his willingness to consider a Palestinian state located somewhere in the Arab world but not anywhere on the West Bank, which he considers part of Israel. He has visited Israel nine times, but apparently his standing around waiting for the Second Coming so he can be Raptured up to heaven doesn't impress the Ha'aretz panel.

At the bottom of the heap? Yes, it's Barack Obama with a 5. He has tried to demonstrate that he is true blue when it comes to Israel by manfully supporting last year's invasion of Lebanon, which killed more than 1,000 civilians and caused billions of dollars worth of damage: "I don't think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel's response to take some action in protecting themselves." I suppose that, in spite of the bad grammar, that came off a bit too eggheaded, not to mention mealy-mouthed. Obama lived for a while in Indonesia, which is known to be overrun with Muslims. He could himself be some kind of crypto-Islamofascist, and a few years ago he had some nice things to say about Palestinians. You lose, Barack.

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Death Squads Undoing Surge's Progress by Joseph Galloway

More cautionary words about the surge from Jo Galloway of McClatchy Newspapers. Thanks to Douglas Macgregor for drawing this to our attention.

Miami Herald
January 29, 2008

Death Squads Undoing Surge's Progress

By Joseph L. Galloway

Some weeks ago, I issued a small warning against prematurely celebrating victory in the U.S. surge in Iraq because the level of violence has dropped, a phenomenon that I argued had far more to do with the Iraqis than it did with the Americans.

In recent weeks, however, a wave of assassinations by al Qaeda in Iraq and by Shiite Muslim militiamen is threatening the American-paid tribal leaders and fighters of the Sunni Awakening Councils, which are at the heart of the reduced violence in some of the most dangerous places in Iraq.

The Awakening Councils and their Sunni sheiks have stopped the insurgent attacks on American troops in Anbar province and turned on the Sunni jihadists they'd sheltered for years.

This seismic shift virtually ended the violence in bloody Anbar and helped dampen the killings in Diyala province north of Baghdad and in some of the worst neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital. This and a six-month cease-fire by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia are far more responsible for the improved security in Iraq than the temporary increase in American troops is.

Assassinations of council leaders and sheiks, however, have spiked since Osama bin Laden called the 80,000 tribal volunteers ''traitors and infidels'' in a recent videotaped lecture.

Suicide bombers and ambushes have killed more than 100 Awakening Council leaders and several tribal sheiks, and that has American commanders worried. U.S. officials say they believe that Sunni militants have mounted most of the attacks, but that some have been carried out by Sadr's militia or by the Iranian-backed Badr Corps, which has close ties to Iraq's Shiite-led government.

The Sunni council members see it differently. They say the Shiite militias and their friends in the U.S.-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are the biggest threat to them, with al Qaeda in second place.

Either way, it's bad news for the American commanders, who've cooperated with their former Sunni enemies against the wishes of the Baghdad government and worked hard to spread the model to other areas where the Sunni extremists are strong.

The assassinations pose a serious threat of renewed violence if the Sunni groups do an about-face and resume their insurgency against Iraq's central government or, worse yet, begin fighting the Shiite militias and government forces as the United States tries to draw down its forces in Iraq to pre-surge levels.

The stated purpose of the American surge -- sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq and bringing the total number there to 160,000 for a limited time -- was to buy time and security so the Iraqi government could make some progress toward national reconciliation.

With virtually none of the Bush administration's political benchmarks achieved to date, U.S. officials have pointed to the Iraqi parliament's recent passage of a law that supposedly would roll back some of the worst effects of purging former members of Saddam Hussein's predominantly Sunni Baath Party from the government and the military.

Sunnis, however, now say the much-acclaimed new law does nothing of the sort and, in fact, will likely strip the few remaining Sunnis of their government jobs.

All of this underscores what every U.S. military commander in Iraq has said over and over again -- that there can be no U.S. military victory in Iraq, only a political solution among the Iraqi people. President Bush, however, has steadfastly ignored that good judgment in the pursuit of his impossible dream. Recent developments also sound a cautionary note about the optimistic pronouncements by briefers in Baghdad and Washington about how al Qaeda in Iraq has been routed, is on the run, is licking its wounds, has been decimated and otherwise is in its last throes.

There's no question that the homegrown Iraqi chapter of al Qaeda has been hurt and driven back, but there also is no question that the Islamists are rebuilding, refitting and once again making their presence felt by attacking their former Sunni allies.

If the U.S. commanders can't find some way to shield their new Sunni friends from the death squads -- both the Sunni militants and the Shiite militias -- then a rising tide of violence will sweep away both the surge and the shaky calm it has brought.

Joseph L. Galloway is a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers.