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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Corrupting Influence Of Oil Money

The Corrupting Influence Of Oil Money

By Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel

The world has never looked better for the Big Five oil companies. This morning, Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, announced its "second-quarter profit rose 14 percent, to $11.68 billion, the highest-ever profit by an American company.

On Joe Klein and the Jewish Neoconservatives by Daniel Levy, Huffington Post

Daniel Levy
On Joe Klein and the Jewish Neoconservatives

July 31, 2008 The Huffington Post

You may have missed it, but renowned Time columnist Joe Klein and the Jewish neoconservative blogosphere are at war with one another. The reason this is more important than an argument on who sits where in shul is that Klein has refused to cower, and as a respected member of the mainstream media is pushing back against one of the uglier and more debate-restricting phenomena of recent years. Here is what Joe had to say on 'Swampland', his blog on the Time website

There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003... Happily, these people represent a very small sliver of the Jewish population in this country...I remain proud of my Jewish heritage, a strong supporter of Israel...But I am not willing to grant these ideologues the anonymity they seek...I believe there are a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who are pushing for war with Iran because they believe it is in America's long-term interests and because they believe Israel's existence is at stake. They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous. They are also bullies and I'm not going to be intimidated by them.

It came in response to the latest outburst from Podhoretz Jr. at the Commentary blog: "As for his [Klein] use of classic anti-Semitic canards, I am happy to report that the Jewish people will long survive Joe Klein". Mazal Tov, Joe, you have became a thing that the Jewish people will survive, no less.

All of this came on the heels of an earlier and none-too-friendly exchange of letters between Klein and the Anti-Defamation League, when the latter saw fit to attack Klein over his characterization of the role of the Jewish neoconservatives in the run-up to the Iraq War. Joe stood his ground then, too, effectively dismissing the claim of anti-Semitism and explaining that "most Jews disagree with their [the Jewish neocons] politics and many Jews are disgusted with their behavior."

I would suggest that this is not just Klein's private kerfuffle: it matters to Jewish America, to America and Israel too, and to being able to have a more serious conversation about anti-Semitism in the future.

The Klein thesis shared by a great many commentators and analysts (this writer included) goes something like this: Bush administration policies in the Middle East have had disastrous consequences for the US; Israel too is in a less secure and worse place as a result of these policies; ultimate responsibility for all this lies with the president himself and his hawkish and close group of senior aides--principal among them Veep Cheney; the neoconservatives played an important role in providing an ideological framing for these policies; within that neoconservative world there operates a prominent and tight-knit group of Jewish neocons who are ideologically driven in part by an old school Likudist view of Israeli interests.

Were the Jewish neocons in control and did they make the fatal decisions? No. Are all Jews neoconservatives or are all neoconservatives Jews? Please! Are the Jews or Israel to blame for the Bush Middle East debacle? Get outta here.

Something did happen though -- there was a failure within the mainstream, Jewish and non-Jewish, to identify the existence of a particular Jewish neoconservative narrative and then to challenge that narrative as being fundamentally flawed in its reading of both American and Israeli interests. One of the causes of that vacuum was the abuse and cheapening of the term anti-Semitism as it was hurled at many who went after Podhoretz, Perle, Feith, and co. They tried, and sadly rather successfully, built a wall of untouchability. Klein is taking his shofar or trumpet to that wall, as many have done before, but Joe is particularly MSM, and therefore important.

Too many Jewish communal leaders and institutions made the mistake of not standing up and speaking out more against the right-wing excesses of a small minority of their co-religionists. Some even embraced and feted the neocons -- a mistake AIPAC particularly excelled in and something I get the impression that AIPAC is at least partially trying to walk itself back from. Israeli leaders, interestingly enough, appear to be less enthusiastic -- there is evidence that Prime Minister Sharon thought the Iraq War not to be a good idea and outgoing Prime Minister Olmert has begun proximity talks with the Syrians.

Similar mistakes are being made with the far-right Christian Evangelical Zionists, and John Hagee's group CUFI. Can there be a more vile poster-boy for Israel than Hagee?!

Polls consistently show that American Jewish opinion is in a very different place. Over a decade ago, J.J. Goldberg described how what he called the "new Jews", who were out of sync with the majority, assumed the mantle of leadership in the American Jewish community. In his book Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment, Goldberg claimed that a set of facts had emerged by the mid-1970s that transformed organized Jewry, based around the 1967 Israeli military victory, the role of the Soviet Jewry campaign in Soviet-US relations, and the belated rise of popular Holocaust awareness with its attendant "never again" maxim. This created the counter-revolution of the "new Jews" -- a passionate minority of defensive nationalists, driven by a terrible vision, living amidst an overwhelming majority of still optimistic Jewish liberals. To quote J.J. Goldberg, "their defiance was so strident, and their anger so intense, that the rest of the Jewish community respectfully stood back and let the new Jews take the lead."

The "new Jews" of Goldberg's 1997 book are today's Jewish neoconservatives, and the reason this is so important right now is the issue raised by Joe Klein -- their aggressive advocacy of a military strike against Iran, a position that again places them out of step with the majority of American Jews. There have been a series of articles advocating such military action. It is true that such voices are also heard in Israel (and some even appear in the New York Times op-ed page, most notably this truly horrific and pathetically argued piece by Benny Morris).

I would argue that Israel has made a strategic mistake in making the gevalt approach so central in its response to suspected Iranian nuclear ambitions. Israel is stronger than that and it also has the capacity to deter Iran. It also has U.S. support. It is worth remembering that Israel, evidently, has not attacked Iran, so in practice, at least so far, the military is not the preferred option. In their declarations, Israeli leaders express a preference for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear question. And prominent ex- and even current officials have endorsed American engagement with Iran as the best option, including ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy and ex-Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami. In private, Israeli leaders are apparently more circumspect. This report appeared some time ago in Haaretz about Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel...Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears.

I will not go too deeply into the Iran policy debate, but a more compelling case than that of Podhoretz and co. is that military action would be a disaster for Israel, for America, and for the American Jewish community, too.

The problem for the American Jewish community would not seem to be with exposing the objectionable positions of Jewish neoconservatives and then having a debate. The danger is in the opposite approach -- in creating the impression that the Jewish neoconservative voice is the Jewish voice, or that of the "pro-Israel" lobby, and in drowning out, or more accurately, suppressing the voice of the majority. That would be a way to not only increase the risk of an extremely dangerous policy being pursued and to make support for Israel the partisan domain of the far-right bomb-bomb-bomb Iran crowd, but it would also cede the ground to those who are emptying the charge of anti-Semitism of all meaning. And those are good enough reasons for Joe Klein's cause to be our cause too.

A Thought Experiment Should Obama Escalate the War in Afghanistan?

With both presidential candidates anxious to increase the US military presence on the ground and in the air in Afghanistan, the Washington community would appear to have achieved a consensus. Perhaps, but that does not mean it's a good idea. Pentagon insider Franklin ("Chuck") Spinney, now sort of retired and at sea in the Mediterranean, fully explains.

This article appeared in CounterPunch on July 30 and can be found at and below.

A Thought Experiment
Should Obama Escalate the War in Afghanistan?


In a recent essay, entitled "Obama's Politics of Change: Afghanistan & Gore's Transformative Vision," I noted in respect to the early phase of our war against the Taliban that --

"In the fall of 2001, intel reports said there were between 40-60,000 Taliban, but when we quickly "defeated" them, the intel folks could only account for 6-8000 captured, wounded or killed. Nevertheless, the Pentagon brass and Bush quickly declared victory, even though it was clear at the time that the Taliban headed for the hills in classical guerrilla/Sun Tzu fashion -- when faced with superior force, disperse! That's a no-brainer in some circles but not those inside the Beltway. Now we are saying the Taliban are "regrouping" when is not clear they ever degrouped."

Some people objected to my characterization of of the Afghan Was as being a loser, saying the Afghan war is a morally good that must be prosecuted to a victorious end. While tautological reasoning may be comforting, particularly when it is other people's blood that is being spilt, it is important to ask oneself how a victory might be achieved. Is this merely a question of throwing more troops and bombs at at the problem, or is there more to it than that?

This article references two documents which may help the committed escalator determine whether it is a good idea to ramp up our efforts in Afghanistan with more troops, more military force, more "precision" bombing, which means more collateral damage, including more innocent civilian deaths, and is likely to breed more resentment, and more radicalization. Or whether the inept Mr. Bush and his neocon henchmen have created the conditions for another classical guerrilla war in Afghanistan, not unlike that created by the Soviets in the early 1980s which created misery for them in the late 1980s.

In this regard, readers would do well to remember that (1) Soviets had an easy ride for the first few years, while the Afghan guerrillas leaned how to fight them through a process of trial and error; and (2), that the Soviets reached a point where it became clear that pouring in more Soviet troops and increasing the firepower created more problems than it solved. Which begs the question: Is escalating the war in Afghanistan becoming a yawning trap, into which Mr. Obama and the Democrats seem eager to plunge?

At the heart of this question is the nature of the conflict in Afghanistan, specifically the question of whether or not it has mutated into something that is more akin to a classical guerrilla war as opposed to being part of a Fourth Generation War against al Quaeda. The two attachments below may help the reader to appreciate the different dimensions of this consideration.

A recent report in Newseek entitled "The Taliban's Baghdad Strategy," offerss a well-informed description of the Taliban's approach to the conflict in Afghanistan. It describes how the Taliban are pursuing a strategy to systematically undermine the authority of the government of Mr Karsai, a man who, it should be remembered, the West, particularly the United States, put into place as the President of Afghanistan, and who, according to some reports, might be receiving financial support from Pakistan's rival India. Is this Taliban strategy something new and peculiar to the so-called Global War on Terror -- a war that Mr. Bush, the Pentagon, and now apparently many of Obama's defense advisors, seem to think they can prosecute successfully by relying on more boots on the ground coupled to more "precision firepower?"

Or is the Afghan War more in the nature of a modern guerrilla war, wherein a government established and propped up by unwanted outsiders with their own agendas usually becomes a critical losing vulnerability?

I have also attached below portions of a briefing that may help some of us to understand these latter questions. It contains three slides #91, #92, & #108 from the late Colonel John R. Boyd's legendary briefing of the philosophy and conduct of war, Patterns of Conflict, which was written well before the Taliban even existed. Boyd's aim in Patterns of Conflict was to synthesize a unified understanding of the fundamental nature conflict by examining the history regular and irregular war. Boyd was not a warmonger, but he recognized war is often unavoidable, and his aim was to understand it in a way that it could be prosecuted successfully at the lowest possible cost to society and in a way that reduced the possibility of future conflict. The three slides of his 193-slide briefing describe part of his understanding of the nature of modern guerrilla warfare (i.e., #91 & #92) as well as the nature of a successful counter guerrilla operations (i.e., #108). I picked them because they are the most pertinent to the simple exercise described below.

I want readers to perform a little thought experiment by comparing the information in Newsweek article to that in Boyd's Boyd's generic observations about the conduct of a guerrilla campaign in Slides #91 and #92. If you agree that the information in the Newsweek report mesh at least enough with the ideas in these slides to warrant further thinking, then ask yourself if Mr. Obama and the Democrats, together with their Afghan and Nato allies and the American public are willing and capable of undertaking the kind of counter-guerrilla campaign that meets ALL of the conditions of Boyd's Slide #108?

And if the answer is NO in either of these two steps, maybe it is time for the US to leave. BUT if you still want to escalate the war and the hemorrhage of blood and treasure in Afghanistan, then you owe it to yourself to come up with some more realistic ideas than those in Slide #108 about how to successfully escalate this war. Simply saying it is a GOOD war may be comforting but it is not enough. Simply saying it is a question of WILL may work as a substitute for thought, but it is no strategy. If staying the course is your choice, then what is needed is a strategy that will work in the real world.

There is one point in this simple exercise that serious readers ought to bear in mind: While these three slides give the essential gist of Boyd's understanding of the guerrilla warfare, he would be the first to warn that one must be very careful not to think of them as an isolated modules or checklists -- they exist in a larger strategic and grand strategic fabric, but I think they are sufficient to get this thought experiment going, at least as a first cut. The venturesome, particularly those who answered NO to the comparisons of this thought experiment, can download Patterns of Conflict in its entirety here.

Franklin "Chuck" Spinney (born 1945, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio) is an American former military analyst for the Pentagon who became famous in the early 1980s for what became known as the "Spinney Report", criticizing what he described as the reckless pursuit of costly complex weapon systems by the Pentagon, with disregard to budgetary consequences. Despite attempts by the his superiors to bury the controversial report, it eventually was exposed during a United States Senate Budget Committee on Defense hearing, which though scheduled to go unnoticed, made the cover of Time Magazine March 7, 1983. Chuck Spinney retired from the Pentagon after 33 years and currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean.

Slides 90, 91, and #108 of John Boyd's Patterns of Conflict]---------



· Capitalize on discontent and mistrust generated by corruption (real or imagined), exploitation, oppression, incompetence, and unwanted presence of existing regime to evolve a common cause or unifying theme as basis to organize and maintain mass popular support through a militant political program.

· Set-up administrative and military organization, sanctuary, and communications network under the control of the guerrilla political leadership without arousing regime's intelligence and security apparatus. Build-up a shadow government, with "parallel hierarchies", in localities and regions that can be made ripe for insurrection/revolution by infiltrating cadres (vanguards) who can not only subvert existing authority but also convert leaders and people to guerrilla cause and organizational way.

· Exploit subversion of government and conversion of people to guerrilla cause to create an alien atmosphere of security and intelligence in order to "blind" regime to guerrilla plans, operations, and organization yet make "visible" regime's strengths, weaknesses, moves, and intentions.

· Shape propaganda, foment civil disorders (such as rallies, demonstrations, strikes, and riots), use selected terrorism, perform sabotage, and exploit resulting misinformation to expand mistrust and sow discord thereby magnify the appearance of corruption, incompetence, etc., and the inability of regime to govern.

· Employ tiny cohesive bands for surprise hit-and-run raids against lines of communications to gain arms and supplies as well as disrupt government communication, coordination, and movement. Retreat and melt into environment when faced by superior police and armed forces.

· Disperse or scatter tiny guerrilla bands to arouse the people (and gain recruits) as well as harass, wear-out, and spread-out government forces while larger bands, or mobile formations, concentrate to wipe-out his dispersed, isolated, and relatively weak fractions by sudden ambush or sneak attack.

· Play upon the grievances and obsessions of people (via propaganda, re-education, and selected successes) as well as encourage government to indiscriminately take harsh reprisal measures against them in order to connect the government with expanding climate of mistrust, discord, and moral disintegration. Simultaneously, show (by contrast) that guerrillas exhibit moral authority, offer competence, and provide desired benefits in order to further erode government influence, gain more recruits, multiply base areas, and increase political infrastructure hence expand guerrilla influence/control over population and countryside.

· Demonstrate disintegration of regime by striking Cheng/Ch'i fashion, with small fluid bands and ever larger mobile formations, to split-up, envelop, and annihilate fractions of major enemy forces.

· Defeat existing regime politically by showing they have neither the moral right nor demonstrated ability to govern and militarily by continuously using stealth/fast-tempo/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of small bands and larger units in cooperation with political "agitprop" (agitation/propaganda) teams as basis to harass, confuse and ultimately destroy the will or capacity to resist.



· Capitalize on corruption, injustice, incompetence, etc., (or their appearances) as basis to generate atmosphere of mistrust and discord in order to sever moral bonds that bind people to existing regime.

· Share existing burdens with people and work with them to root out and punish corruption, remove injustice, eliminate grievances, etc., as basis to form moral bonds between people and guerrillas in order to bind people to guerrilla philosophy and ideals.

· Shape and exploit crises environment that permits guerrilla vanguards or cadres to pure-up guerrilla resolve, attract the uncommitted, and drain-away adversary resolve as foundation to replace existing regime with guerrilla regime.

· Guerrillas, by being able to penetrate the very essence of their adversary's moral-mental-physical being, generate many moral-mental-physical non-cooperative (or isolated) centers of gravity, as well as subvert or seize those centers of gravity that adversary regime must depend upon, in order to magnify friction, produce paralysis, and bring about collapse.

· Guerrillas shape or influence moral-mental-physical atmosphere so that potential adversaries, as well as the uncommitted, are drawn toward guerrilla philosophy and are empathetic toward guerrilla success.



· Undermine guerrilla cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of people--rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite. *

· Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption. Select new leaders with recognized competence as well as popular appeal. Ensure that they deliver justice, eliminate grievances and connect government with grass roots. *

· Infiltrate guerrilla movement as well as employ population for intelligence about guerrilla plans, operations, and organization.

· Seal-off guerrilla regions from outside world by diplomatic, psychological, and various other activities that strip-away potential allies as well as by disrupting or straddling communications that connect these regions with outside world.

· Deploy administrative talent, police, and counter-guerrilla teams into affected localities and regions to: inhibit guerrilla communication, coordination and movement; minimize guerrilla contact with local inhabitants; isolate their ruling cadres; and destroy their infrastructure.

· Exploit presence of above teams to build-up local government as well as recruit militia for local and regional security in order to protect people from the persuasion and coercion efforts of the guerrilla cadres and their fighting units.

· Use special teams in a complementary effort to penetrate guerrilla controlled regions. Employ (guerrillas' own) tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, surprise hit-and-run, and sudden ambush to: keep roving bands off-balance, make base areas untenable, and disrupt communication with outside world.

· Expand these complementary security/penetration efforts into affected region after affected region in order to undermine, collapse, and replace guerrilla influence with government influence and control.

· Visibly link these efforts with local political/economic/social reform in order to connect central government with hopes and needs of people, thereby gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.

· Break guerrillas' moral-mental-physical hold over the population, destroy their cohesion, and bring about their collapse via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast-tempo/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort.

· * If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides!

Winslow T. Wheeler
Straus Military Reform Project
Center for Defense Information
1 301 791-2397 (office)
301 221-3897 (cell)

Moscow Advances Military and Economic Ties with Tehran - by Aleksei Matveyev - 2008-07-31

Moscow Advances Military and Economic Ties with Tehran
- by Aleksei Matveyev - 2008-07-31

U.S. is on brink of survival crisis, according to Moscow - 2008-07-29

U.S. is on brink of survival crisis, according to Moscow
- 2008-07-29

Mike Whitney What's Going on in Afghanistan

Mike Whitney
What's Going on in Afghanistan

GOIN NUKE: 25 nuclear countries could become nuclear in future as Non-Proliferation Treaty fails

GOIN NUKE: 25 nuclear countries could become nuclear in future as Non-Proliferation Treaty fails Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, says if the unraveling of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty continues, it may be because of the Indian exception to the NPT and could lead to the development of 25 nuclear states. He notes that five countries with nuclear weapons were grandfathered into the treaty. US, UK, Russia, France, China. Now there are nine. Add India, Pakistan, N. Korea, and Israel.

Bitter Lemons Middle East Roundtable July 31, 2008: Iraq: Stabilizing? Normalizing?
Middle East Roundtable

Edition 30 Volume 6 - July 31, 2008

Iraq: Stabilizing? Normalizing?

• Implications of the security improvement in Iraq - Ghassan Attiyah
The Iraqi arena remains preoccupied with the American-Iranian conflict.

• Iraqi developments are inextricably linked to Turkish security - Ahmet O. Evin
Developments in Iraq bring to mind Humpty Dumpty.

• Iran is part of the solution, not the problem - Reza Molavi and Ariabarzan Mohammadighalehtaki
Iran believes that the presence of Arab embassies in Baghdad will not pose a threat to its interests.

• Amman worried by Iraq's mountain of problems - Rana Sabbagh-Gargour
Jordanian circles feel the American military assessment is exaggerated and self-flattering.

Implications of the security improvement in Iraq
Ghassan Attiyah

In the past few months, Iraq has witnessed developments that point to a relative improvement in the security situation and a transformation toward greater regional political openness.

The security improvement manifested itself in the Iraqi army operations against al-Sadr militias, especially the Mahdi army and the so-called Special Groups, which reduced their presence in regions that had previously been strongholds, especially in Basra and Sadr City. The government has stressed on more than one occasion that the Sadr wing as a whole is not targeted, and on the ground the military command was the main target. Later, the military campaign moved to Amara close to the Iranian border, which is considered the most important Iranian entry point to Iraq for smuggling.

It was striking that the halt to fighting came after Iranian mediation, which raises the question of Iran's role and the nature of its alliances with Shi'ite forces in Iraq. It is well known that all Islamic Shi'ite parties have relations--to varying degrees--with Iran, especially with the Jerusalem Brigade of the Revolutionary Guards that is headed by General Suleimani, Iran's strongman in Iraq. Iranian mediation was decisive in ending the Shi'ite-Shi'ite fighting as Iran sees itself as standing to lose the most from such fighting. Shi'ite-Shi'ite conflict may force some to choose between the American ally or the Iranian friend and this is something Iran does not want at present.

The initiative of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to act against the Mahdi army came about without complete coordination with the Americans. Only when the campaign faced difficulties did American and British troops intervene--especially when more than 1,000 soldiers from the Iraqi forces in Basra had to give up their positions to Sadr's forces. American and British intervention played a decisive role when more than 800 soldiers joined the British base near Basra airport and planes and helicopters were deployed to assist government troops. This effective US and British intervention reflected back on Iran, which felt it was not ready for a full confrontation with the US. The end of the fighting thus came as an Iranian necessity.

The measures that were taken in Basra may not have been well planned, according to American sources, but the results benefited the government in surprising ways, contributing to a change of perception of the government on the Iraqi street. After the chaos of the militias, the military victory was welcomed by the masses, showing the government as a non-sectarian party. This in turn had a positive impact on persuading Sunni parties, who supported the government's actions, to re-engage and has led to talk of the return of Sunni parties to government. Meanwhile, the mistakes of the Sadr wing--which lacks effective control and command--caused revulsion among its popular base in the same way that the behavior of al-Qaeda has repulsed many Sunni forces, making room for them to join al-Sahwa (the awakening) factions.

The fact that the Iraqi government stands before district council elections next October places the government's military measures in a completely different political context. The Sadr wing is considered real competition to the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC, formerly SCIRI) headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and the Da'wa Party headed by al-Maliki. It is worth noting that the Sadr wing did not participate in past local elections, handing SIIC complete control, and its decision to contest these elections made the Sadr wing a target. Reducing its influence will serve the SIIC.

Indeed, all parties in the Iraqi government approved the strikes against the Sadr wing for their own reasons: the Kurds wants to get rid of any party that rejects the concept of federation while the Sunni party (al-Tawafuq) suffered from the sectarian cleansing policy of Sadrists.

The crackdown on the Sadr wing and the accompanying public criticism of Iran's role were also welcomed by Arab governments, who have been under US pressure to open up to Baghdad as a reward and to show encouragement. The United Arab Emirates' foreign minister visited Iraq, followed by al-Maliki's visit to the UAE and Jordan. It was also announced that the king of Jordan would visit. Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and the UAE announced that they would appoint ambassadors to Baghdad. Finally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came.

All of this serves to support the Iraqi government, which has suffered isolation from its Arab neighbors. However, there hasn't been a unified strategic Arab change and doubts will remain until additional steps are taken that will clarify the Iraqi government's position vis-a-vis Iran.

Iraqis do not doubt the security improvement but are suspicious about its sustainability. The sectarian split between Shi'ites and Sunnis is still deep and can explode at any moment, and some of the security improvement is due to the sectarian separation through walls and mutual displacement. Meanwhile, the armed resistance continues. Al-Qaeda is regrouping after it avoided clashes with Iraqi and American troops in Mosul and is settled now in Diala and other areas. The al-Sahwa factions still harbor doubts over the ruling Shi'ite parties and might act against them. Kurdish fears are mounting as the Iraqi parliament fails to solve any of their outstanding concerns. The local elections law has not been ratified yet, nor have the major issues of oil and Kirkuk been addressed. UN efforts on these matters have not been successful so far in face of the Kurdish resolve regarding the disputed regions.

Still, the Iraqi arena remains preoccupied with the American-Iranian conflict, which has become something of a chess game (a game invented in Iran) with each party trying to score points off the opponent. Thus the reduction in influence of the Mahdi army was balanced by Iran's success in mobilizing Shi'ite parties against the security agreement with the US.

Iran feels it does not need to rush any decisions on Iraq because it is waiting for the results of the next US presidential elections and will wait to deal with a new president. It is hoping to deal with Barack Obama, who affirmed his commitment to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 16 months and expressed a readiness to hold unconditional negotiations with Iran.

American weariness in Iraq and Afghanistan might help Iran reach an agreement with the US administration whereby Washington's approval of the Iranian role in Iraq is traded for Iranian support for America in Afghanistan.- Published 31/7/2008 ©

Ghassan Attiyah is the director of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy, which he founded in August 2003.

Iraqi developments are inextricably linked to Turkish security
Ahmet O. Evin

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the Turkish parliament's March 1, 2003, vote that disallowed American troops to move through southeastern Turkey and open a second front of attack from the north on Iraq. Washington's frustration and anger over that vote have gradually subsided and the differences over Iraq between Turkey and the US appear to have been bridged. Both Washington and Ankara insist that there is significant and visible improvement in Iraq's security situation. Both governments utilize, as if to convince skeptics, the same mildly optimistic tone in emphasizing their overriding objective to see Iraq stabilized.

Who doesn't? Not a minute should be lost in putting an end to Iraq's painful humanitarian crisis as well as to the prevailing chaos there that continues to pose a serious security threat to the region and beyond. But the task is not easily accomplished and, despite arguments to the contrary, there is room for skepticism regarding the prospects of achieving stability in Iraq. Just as these lines are being written, a suicide bombing took place in Kirkuk that killed 35 people and wounded over 200. Is the violence spreading north, as some fear in the wake of these developments?

Violence on the same scale as witnessed in Baghdad, central provinces or south in Basra is highly unlikely to occur in the north because of topographic (mountains) and demographic (size and concentration of population in urban areas) reasons. Moreover, ethnic and confessional cleavages pose far less of a threat in the north because of solidarity among the Kurds, who represent an overwhelming majority of the population there. Nevertheless, neither the existence of a comparatively less violent province, nor statistics of decreasing casualties in the capital and surrounding provinces, nor the apparent success of the Iraqi security forces' operation last March in Basra can be said to constitute convincing evidence of increasing stability. Sadly, developments in Iraq bring to mind Humpty Dumpty; immensely difficult challenges will have to be met before the country can be put back together again.

Among the internal challenges, the most important one is to reestablish the armed forces as a credible, coherent, professional institution of the state that commands loyalty and respect. Legislation passed by the Iraqi parliament on January 12, 2008, to allow former Baath members to return to government service is a step in the right direction for both reconciliation and strengthening government by bringing back experienced cadres. But it will take time to get back on duty a critical mass of former officials and then to integrate them into the new environment.

The political arena, including particularly the relationship between central and regional administration, is likely to be affected in the foreseeable future by the tensions and polarization across the country. The party-slate system adopted for national elections has resulted, not unexpectedly, in a race to win favor from party leaders, thus deflecting attention from pressing issues of national concern. Ideological polarization (along ethnic or sectarian lines) is a collateral damage of the party-slate choice that puts party loyalty before representation. Although the legislation governing provincial administration, passed last spring, aims to curb the power of national government over local communities, it remains to be seen whether representation at the local level will help to solve problems of particular communities or add strains to the relationship between green zone politicians and local administrators.

Moreover, an overriding emphasis on elections as the sole indicator of democratic development (thus also reflecting a conceptual confusion of democracy with elections, which constitute a necessary procedure for the maintenance of an established democratic system that is characterized by sustainable institutions) has deflected attention from the way in which decisions are made and consensus achieved in tribal societies. It is the culture of tribal consultation, shared by all ethnic and sectarian groups, that is likely to facilitate the acceptance and implementation of political decisions countrywide.

As far as the neighborhood is concerned, Iraq's stability is essentially linked to Turkey's own security interests. Turkey has been actively contributing to Iraq's reconstruction and security by means of investments, trade, technical assistance and training of Iraqi security forces. It was instrumental in establishing recently a Strategic High Level Council, co-chaired by the prime ministers of the two countries, with the objective of enhancing cooperation on concrete projects. Also, increased cooperation with Iraq's Kurdish leadership has followed US-Turkey cooperation in intelligence exchange that has allowed the Turkish armed forces to accurately target PKK hideouts in northern Iraq. During his visit to Turkey last March, President Talabani identified the PKK as a common threat to both Iraq's and Turkey's national security. Ankara has welcomed Iraq's provincial elections and has begun communicating directly with Massoud Barzani as the leader of the local administration. Despite occasional disruptions, Kirkuk oil is now flowing to the Ceyhan terminal at the rate of 800,000 bbd.

All of these positive developments are consistent with Turkey's aim to achieve regional cooperation by means of having "zero problems" with neighbors. But Iraq is more than a mere neighbor: developments there are related inextricably to Turkey's domestic security as well as its transatlantic relations. Also, Turkey's ability to support Iraq is necessarily limited, given the enormous challenges the country faces. Sharpened sectarian divisions, moreover, have resulted in substantially increased Iranian influence among the Shi'ite communities in Iraq. Though both Ankara and the Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq may see a window of opportunity for future cooperation, how Iran might shape its policies toward the north remains to be seen. In any case, the Iran factor is likely to pose yet another difficult challenge to achieving stability in Iraq and the region.- Published 31/7/2008 ©

Ahmet O. Evin is founding dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Sabanci University. He is a professor of political science at Sabanci and is a member of the board of directors of Istanbul Policy Center.

Iran is part of the solution, not the problem
Reza Molavi and Ariabarzan Mohammadighalehtaki

Britain withdrew from the Persian Gulf in 1971, leaving behind a security vacuum that only the Shah could fill. With America's support, Iran under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi became the policeman of the Persian Gulf. But with the advent of the Islamic Revolution, power in the Gulf region was dispersed among the United States, Iraq, Iran and to some degree Saudi Arabia.

More recently, the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq as the strategic counterweight to Iran has changed this dynamic entirely; the Islamic Republic of Iran has been able to expand its influence in the Middle East, Africa, Transcaucasia and beyond. The United States and the European Union now face the question of how they can mitigate potential threats to their interests if Iran succeeds in consolidating its new position as the leading power in the region.

For Iran, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was "a miracle come true". Not only was Iran's sworn enemy (Saddam Hussein) removed, but the very Shi'ite and Kurdish groups that sided with Iran during its eight-year war with Iraq have become the main players on the Iraqi political scene.

Iran was the first country to recognize the Iraqi Governing Council that was established under the US occupation in 2003. Iran has continued its support to embrace the new Iraqi government of 2006. The al-Dawa party to whom current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki belongs had its headquarters based in Tehran during Saddam's rule of terror. The same is true for the departed Ayatollah Hakim and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), currently known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

The Iraqi Kurds have a long history of proximity to Iran. When the Iraqi government used chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1988, Jalal Talabani (currently president of Iraq, then head of PUK) sought safety in Iran. In 1991, when a popular uprising liberated almost all of Kurdistan including Kirkuk and the Iraqi army retaliated with an iron fist, Kurds in massive numbers fled to Iran and Turkey, but it was only the government of Iran that kept its borders open against all uncertainties and hazards.

Tehran's regime has no interest in undermining the current government of Iraq. In fact, Iran's constructive role in Iraq has gone beyond the new Iraqi government to include the new Iraqi army as well. SCIRI, for instance, asked its members to enter the new Iraqi army and police force. This was a positive step and Iranians deserve credit for it.

There are three reasons for the recent calm and stability in Iraq, one of them less well-known. The two obvious explanations are the Americans' 2007 surge, which even the Democrats now concede was a success, and the establishment of the Sahwa (awakening) forces. The third, less discussed reason is the fact that Iran did its best to help the Iraqi government in its effort to stabilize the situation in Iraq. It was Iran that advised Muqtada al-Sadr to dissolve the Mahdi army, thereby preventing a major clash between it and the Iraqi armed forces. Later, when the Baghdad operation took place and supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr refused to give up their guns, once again it was Iranian mediation efforts that saved the day and stopped escalation of the conflict in Sadr City.

Normalization in Iraq will clearly take time and patience; currently it is at the beginning phase of a long journey. One positive development that took place recently and further enhanced efforts at normalization and stabilization in Iraq was the visit of high-ranking Arab delegations followed by the promise of reopening Arab embassies in Baghdad. Other visits by dignitaries such as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were equally important.

In contradiction to the line take by the Arab media, Iran actually praises the normalization of relations between Iraq and its Arab neighbors. This position does not derive from sheer benevolence; rather, it is anchored in national interests. First, Iran, which until recently was the only Shi'ite country in the world, is "over the moon" to see the predominantly Sunni governments of the Arab states recognizing the Shi'ite government of Iraq. Previously, Iranians did not dare dream of a day when countries such as Egypt and the UAE would be ready to recognize a Shi'ite Iraq.

Second, Iran believes that the presence of Arab embassies in Baghdad will not pose any threat to its interests in the region. The Iranian regime is under the impression that the Arab states are too unpopular with their citizens to be able to challenge its influence. Even when an immense influx of money from rich Arab states was invested in Iraqi Sunni militia groups, Iran argues, they could not turn the tide in their own favor.

In conclusion, Iran is part of the solution in Iraq, not the problem. Iran seeks stabilization in Iraq as a long-term strategy. Naturally, the Iranians have influence in Iraq and, like any other country involved in Iraq, they wish to maintain it.- Published 31/7/2008 ©

Reza Molavi is executive director of the Centre for Iranian Studies at Durham University, UK. He is also senior research associate at The Centre for Strategic Research, a unit of the Expediency Council of Iran. Ariabarzan Mohammadighalehtaki is a PhD student at the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, UK.

Amman worried by Iraq's mountain of problems
Rana Sabbagh-Gargour

King Abdullah of Jordan abruptly postponed a visit to Baghdad in early July without clear explanation. His trip is still on, Jordanian officials say, but they want to keep its timing secret to ensure the personal security of a king whose country, because of its cozy ties with Washington, is an avowed enemy of al-Qaeda. Jordanian intelligence gathering led to the killing of an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq last year.

No Sunni Arab head of state has visited Baghdad since the US toppled Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in 2003, allowing Iran to spread its radical version of political Islam across Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, rattling moderate countries like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Jordan is keen to see Iraq stabilize and does not support any hasty withdrawal of US forces. It is following the efforts of Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is trying to strike a balance between Washington and Tehran while reconciling with aloof Arab neighbors and curbing sectarian tension.

Amman does not trust him or his political intentions. But it says it wants to give him the benefit of the doubt until early 2009. Many officials fear Maliki wants to ensure his political survival beyond elections next year by recalibrating his divisive dependence on Iran while maximizing gains from an unpopular strategic security pact that his country is negotiating with Washington. For this, he needs to make regional diplomatic gains and win over Sunni powerhouses like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Amman was among the first Sunni Arab capitals to appoint a new ambassador to Iraq several weeks ago in a clear sign that it wanted better ties with its eastern neighbor, once a major trade partner and full oil supplier at below-market prices. This flexibility allowed Iraq to renew an agreement to sell oil to Jordan at discount rates and eased Washington's pressure on Iraq's neighbors to support Maliki through renewing diplomatic ties and scrapping debts.

A stable and unified Iraq means a lot to Jordan, which does not want to grapple with the possibility of Iraq exporting Shi'ite extremist groups and al-Qaeda fighters, of the kind who staged Amman's first suicide bombings in November 2005.

Iraq's stability will also curtail the power of Iran and encourage the repatriation of over 550,000 Iraqis who have fled to Jordan since 2003, taking some pressure off the fragile demographic balance, security and strained public services. A serious Iraq reconstruction effort will benefit the Jordanian economy, facing a global energy and food crisis.

Jordanian officials and commentators say the security environment in Iraq continues to improve, thanks in part to a surge of 30,000 additional US troops in 2007 under a controversial strategy approved by US President George W. Bush. Major violence indicators have been reduced by between 40 and 80 percent from pre-surge levels, according to the twelfth quarterly report in June measuring stability and security in Iraq. The extra combat power has largely been withdrawn as Washington looks set to announce further cuts in its 147,000-strong force this year.

Total security incidents have fallen to their lowest levels in four years. Coalition and Iraqi forces' operations against al-Qaeda have degraded its ability to attack and terrorize the population. Maliki's government succeeded in Basra and Baghdad's Sadr City against Shi'ite militias, particularly the Mahdi army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iranian-supported Special Groups. The revitalization of sectors of the Iraqi economy and local reconciliation efforts has also helped.

But Iraq still faces a mountain of problems: sectarian rivalries, power struggles within the Sunni and Shi'ite communities, Kurdish-Arab tensions, endemic corruption and organizing provincial elections as early as October. Any of those could rekindle widespread fighting that is not over yet.

The underlying dynamics in Iraqi society that blew up US military hopes for an early exit shortly after the fall of Baghdad might have changed in important ways in recent months, say several Jordanian officials, strategists and commentators. But this does not mean they share the optimistic assessment repeatedly cited by Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq who is seen as the main architect of the surge policy.

These circles feel the American military assessment is exaggerated and self-flattering as it glosses over many realities on the ground. Hence, it should not be openly applauded. True, the systematic sectarian killings have all but ended in the capital. Yet this is largely due to tight security and a strategy of walling off entire areas purged of minorities in 2006. A fatwa issued by Sadr last summer banning sectarian killings has restrained his followers. But the Sadrists are in hibernating mode, waiting for re-activation orders from Iran.

"Al-Qaeda received several painful blows over the past months that have impacted its influence," says one Arab official. But this could only be temporarily. "The terror group has not been dismantled since it was able to regroup its fighters, to continue recruitment of new followers and to enjoy safe supply routes vital for sustaining its operations," he said.

Al-Qaeda's Iraqi fighters were instructed to relocate to safer areas within Iraq, while many of the foreign fighters were told to move to Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan and the Maghreb. This could be a major reason for increasing violence in Afghanistan, for a series of suicide attacks that ripped through northern Africa several months ago and for Monday's deadliest suicide attack in Baghdad in months.

But for now, Maliki, Iran and the US have a stake in stabilizing Iraq. More domestic quiet in Iraq will increase prospects of elections that could guarantee the future of Iranian influence under Maliki.

And President Bush does not want more trouble in Iraq to play in favor of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who wants to pull all US troops out of Iraq by 2010 to focus on the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.- Published 31/7/2008 ©

Rana Sabbagh-Gargour is an independent journalist and former chief editor of the Jordan Times.

The bad side to the 'good war'

The bad side to the 'good war'
From the outset in 2001, the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan has been the "good war", fought against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda guests. This belief prevailed, even as the war in Iraq turned "bad". Now, the weight of occupation and the rising number of civilian deaths is shifting the resistance toward a war of national liberation, and no foreign power has ever won that battle in Afghanistan. - Conn Hallinan (Jul 31, '08)

Neo-Cons Make Their War Aims in Iraq Clearer



Neo-Cons Make Their War Aims in Iraq Clearer

Jim Lobe

Since the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began making increasingly clear that it wanted a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, neo-conservatives have been making increasingly clear that they want none of it, and that their hope all along was to establish a permanent military presence to assert U.S. power in the heart of the Middle East.

Their position has become more explicit over the course of the last three weeks as Maliki, combined with McCain's attacks on Obama's withdrawal plan, effectively moved the debate over how long U.S. troops would stay in Iraq — and for what purpose — in a direction that is causing growing unease among the hawks inside the administration and out. Since then, not only has the Bush administration signed on to a "time horizon" demanded by Maliki, but Maliki himself effectively endorsed Sen. Obama's proposed timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops by mid-2010. Finally, Sen. McCain, the neo-cons' candidate, allowed (however cluelessly and however much he has since tried to confuse the issue) that the 2010 timetable was "pretty good", subject, of course, to "conditions on the ground."

This evolution appears to be deeply troubling to the neo-cons, not so much for the reasons they most often cite — that a democratic transition in Iraq is too fragile to endure the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and/or that a resurgence of sectarian violence and even civil war would deal a devastating blow to U.S. (already severely diminished) credibility and influence in the region (although that is indeed a major neo-con worry) — as for the concern that Washington will lose Iraq as a base from which to project its military power in the region, particularly against Iran.

Consider the way the Wall Street Journal's editorial writers reacted after Maliki first suggested during a visit to the United Arab Emirates on July 7 that his goal was "terminating the foreign presence on Iraqi lands and restoring full sovereignty [to Iraq]."

"Our view is that Iraq and Mr. Maliki would benefit from striking a security agreement this year while Mr. Bush is still in office. Despite Iraq's impressive security gains, Iran can still do plenty of mischief through its 'special group' surrogates. The U.S. can help deter Iranian trouble, especially with Iraq elections scheduled for this year and next.

"Inside Iraq, a significant long-term U.S. presence would also increase the confidence of Iraq's various factions to make political compromises. And outside, it would improve regional stability by giving the U.S. a presence in the heart of the Middle East that would deter foreign intervention [Emphasis added, but not the unintended irony.] This is the kind of strategic benefit that the next Administration should try to consolidate in Iraq after the hard-earned progress of the last year."

The Journal went on to suggest that all of the talk about withdrawal emanating from Iraq is just a lot of nonsense and bluff anyway. "Our sense is that, with the exception of the Sadrists, all of Iraq's main political factions want the U.S. to remain in some significant force," it claimed.

Writing one day later, on July 10, in Commentary's Contentions blog, Max Boot repeated some of the same talking points.

"Despite recent gains in security," he wrote, "the situation remains fragile and U.S. forces will need to remain in Iraq for years to nurture this embattled democracy — and not so incidentally to protect our own interests in the region." [Emphasis added.] At the time, Boot worried that Maliki's rhetoric — this was even before Maliki endorsed Obama's proposal — might have serious implications for the U.S. presidential campaign. "The danger is that rhetoric intended for domestic political consumption in Iraq will warp our own political discussion by providing fodder for those who, like Obama, are now citing the success of U.S. forces, as they once cited their failure, as evidence that we can pull out safely."

It's obvious that Boot was prescient, at least on that point, as he felt compelled to go after Maliki hammer and tongs after the prime minister endorsed Obama's 2010 timetable. In a Washington Post op-ed July 23 entitled "Behind Maliki's Games," he expressed his fury, accusing the premier essentially of being anti-American and hypocritical ("hardly an unwavering friend of the United States — at least in public. …[H]e was not a proponent of the U.S.-led invasion"); serial ingratitude ("Even now, when the success of the surge is undeniable, Maliki won't give U.S. troops their due"); cluelessness when it comes to military matters ("Keep in mind also that Maliki has no military experience and that he has been trapped in the Green Zone, relatively isolated from day-to-day life. For these reasons, he has been a consistent font of misguided predictions about how quickly U.S. forces could leave"); and lacking in any real authority ("Of course, if the Iraqi government tells us to leave, we will have to leave. But, the prime minister's ambiguous comments notwithstanding, the Iraqi government is saying no such thing…").

But it fell to Charles Krauthammer, presuming to know the private thoughts of both McCain and George W. Bush, to return to the theme of why the U.S. needs to have a military base in Iraq in a July 25 op-ed entitled "Maliki Votes for Obama" shortly after Maliki blessed Obama's plan.

"McCain, like George Bush, envisions the United States seizing the fruits of victory from a bloody and costly war by establishing an extensive strategic relationship that would not only make the new Iraq a strong ally in the war on terror but would also provide the U.S. with the infrastructure and freedom of action to project American power regionally, as do U.S. forces in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

"For example, we might want to retain an air base to deter Iran, protect regional allies and relieve our naval forces, which today carry much of the burden of protecting the Persian Gulf region, thus allowing redeployment elsewhere."[Emphasis added]

Now, of all of these guys, Krauthammer is, of course, the most direct, and even he, like the others, suggests that the U.S. military presence would be for deterrence only. (The American Enterprise Institute put out a press release Friday in which it announced Fred Kagan's assessment that "America can best avoid a conflict with Iran by maintaining a strong force in Iraq.") But, of course, neo-cons have long distrusted deterrence as a strategic doctrine, particularly as it relates to the "mad mullahs." (It was, after all, the Journal's same editorial board that, among many other hysterical pieces over the last few years, published Bernard Lewis' apocalyptic op-ed nearly two years ago that predicted a nuclear strike on Israel for August 22, 2006, because President Ahmadinejad believed that was the date of the 12th Imam's return.) Thus, one might assume that, at least for the neo-cons, the purpose of such a long-term presence may be for more than just deterrence, despite the fact that all of the major actors inside Iraq (with the possible exception, I suppose, of the former Sunni insurgents who enlisted in the Awakenings movement) are clearly dead-set against the U.S. using Iraqi territory as a launching pad for military adventures against their neighbors, particularly Iran.

But Krauthammer's language is particularly revealing, especially for a self-described "democratic realist", for the contempt it shows for Iraqi public opinion. His talk of "seizing the fruits of victory" by "mak[ing] the new Iraq a strong ally in the war on terror" and his notion that the U.S. "might want to retain an air base…" suggests, let us say, a rather imperial state of mind, something that belongs more to the 19th century than the 21st. Indeed, in reading Boot, the Journal's editorial and op-ed pages, and other neo-con writings, one can't help but get the impression that, for them, decolonization never happened. (Boot deserves credit for conceding the U.S. would have to go if the Iraqi government tells it to do so, but remember that his book, "Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power," was a paean to the early days of American imperialism.) Neo-con efforts to discredit Maliki by arguing that he's only bluffing, that he doesn't have any idea of what is best for Iraq, that he has consistently overestimated Iraqi military capabilities, and/or that he is trying to manipulate U.S. public opinion in order to ensure the election of a candidate that will be more "pliable" in future negotiations should all be seen in this light. And while they sometimes concede that Maliki could be be playing to growing nationalism and popular resentment of the U.S. occupation that may actually reflect the views of a strong majority of the Iraqi population, it really doesn't make a great deal of difference . Hence, the patronizing language of the Journal, in particular, whose editorial board clearly believes that it knows better than the Iraqis what is good for them.

This imperial attitude — it's worth remembering that the 92-year-old Lewis, from whom many neo-cons derive their (usually extremely limited) knowledge about the Arab world, is a product of the British Empire — was particularly in evidence last Friday in the person of Kimberly Kagan at a very interesting forum (which I also attended) at the U.S. Institute for Peace, as noted by two Middle East experts, Helena Cobban and Marc Lynch, whose blogs, and, respectively, are widely read by regional specialists here in Washington. In her blog, Cobban quotes Kagan as repeatedly insisting that it's really up to the U.S. to decide what it wants to do in Iraq. Lynch noted the same on his blog:

"Kim Kagan shocked me with a comment made forcefully, twice, once towards the end of her prepared remarks and again at the opening of her closing remarks: the future of Iraq depends primarily on American decisions, not Iraqi decisions. I found this extraordinarily revealing: for her it really is all about us. This infantalizes Iraqis - and, as [Colin] Kahl would surely note, demands nothing of them, since it is American decisions and will which matter and not theirs. Such a world-view, characteristic of so much neoconservative foreign policy thinking, explains a great deal. How could one possibly contemplate drawing down American forces, after all, if American actions are the only actions that matter, American power the only power which matters, American decisions the only decisions which matter? Why would it matter what Maliki says, or what Iraqi politicians or public opinion polls say, if what really matters is only ultimately us?"

He wrote it better than I could.

Al-Qaeda hails 'revival' in Afghanistan

Al-Qaeda hails 'revival' in Afghanistan

Oozing confidence, al-Qaeda's operations commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu-al-Yazid, talks of the progress al-Qaeda is making in consolidating its position in Afghanistan and in attracting foreign jihadis to join the Taliban-led struggle against "infidel" invaders. Abu-Yazid's assessment is backed by Pakistan's eroding commitment to battle Afghan and Pakistani insurgents, to the extent that Islamabad is expected to redeploy troops to the Pakistan-India border. - Michael Scheuer (Jul 31, '08)

Strike on Iran still possible, U.S. tells Israel:


Strike on Iran still possible, U.S. tells Israel: Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense chief, is visiting as Washington is perceived to be softening its stance toward Tehran.

Paul Richter and Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON -- Bush administration officials reassured Israel's defense minister this week that the United States has not abandoned all possibility of a military attack on Iran, despite widespread Israeli concern that Washington has begun softening its position toward Tehran.
In meetings Monday and Tuesday, administration officials told Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the option of attacking Iran over its nuclear program remains on the table, though U.S. officials are primarily seeking a diplomatic solution.At the same time, U.S. officials acknowledged that there is a rare divergence in the U.S. and Israeli approaches, with Israelis emphasizing the possibility of a military response out of concern that Tehran may soon have the know-how for building a nuclear bomb.
"Is there a difference of emphasis? It certainly looks as though there is," said a senior American Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the sensitive talks.
U.S. and Israeli officials believe Iran is enriching uranium with the aim of building nuclear weapons.
Tehran says that it is engaged in a peaceful enrichment program for civilian energy purposes.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said in an interview that U.S. officials have often made it clear to Israeli officials that Washington prefers to try to mitigate the threat from Tehran by applying economic pressure.
"The military option, although always available, is not our preferred route," Morrell said.
"We have made that point clear to them and the world in our public statements and private meetings."
Barak left Israel for Washington amid reports in the Israeli press that he would try to talk the Bush administration out of what many Israelis perceive as a more conciliatory policy toward Iran.
On Tuesday, the Israeli Defense Ministry released a statement saying that Barak had told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that "a policy that consists of keeping all options on the table must be maintained."
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Barak said that there remains time for "accelerated sanctions" to try to persuade Iran to abandon the nuclear program.
Israeli officials were concerned in December when a key U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran had abandoned an effort to build a nuclear bomb. They also have noted with concern comments this month by Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that an Israeli airstrike on Iran would further destabilize the Middle East and compound the strain on overworked U.S. forces.
Also this month, in a rare move toward engagement with Tehran, a senior U.S. diplomat took part in international talks in Geneva about the nuclear program.
And U.S. officials have floated a proposal for opening a low-level diplomatic office in Tehran.
These gestures have taken place at a time of intensifying discussion in Israel about the wisdom of an Israeli military attack on Iran before the Bush administration leaves office.
A senior State Department official said Tuesday that Israel "is a sovereign state and we understand that they view this as an existential threat. And we take the threat that's posed by Iran seriously as well."
But the official, who asked to remain unidentified in keeping with diplomatic rules, said the administration is "pursuing the strategy we believe is the right one."
Gates, in an hourlong meeting with Barak, told the minister that the United States intends to consider providing radar to Israel that can detect ballistic missiles launched from Iran and supplying weapons to counter rocket attacks from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, according to a senior Defense official.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Unhappy America

The Economist
Unhappy America
Jul 24th 2008

If America can learn from its problems, instead of blaming others, it will
come back stronger

NATIONS, like people, occasionally get the blues; and right now the United
States, normally the world's most self-confident place, is glum. Eight out
of ten Americans think their country is heading in the wrong direction. The
hapless George Bush is partly to blame for this: his approval ratings are now
sub-Nixonian. But many are concerned not so much about a failed president as
about a flailing nation.

One source of angst is the sorry state of American capitalism (see article).

The "Washington consensus" told the world that open markets and
deregulation would solve its problems. Yet American house prices are falling
faster than during the Depression, petrol is more expensive than in the 1970s, banks are
collapsing, the euro is kicking sand in the dollar's face, credit is scarce,
recession and inflation both threaten the economy, consumer confidence is an
oxymoron and Belgians have just bought Budweiser, "America's beer".

And it's not just the downturn that has caused this discontent. Many
Americans feel as if they missed the boom. Between 2002 and 2006 the incomes
of 99% rose by an average of 1% a year in real terms, while those of the top 1% rose
by 11% a year; three-quarters of the economic gains during Mr Bush's
presidency went to that top 1%. Economic envy, once seen as a European vice,
is now rife. The rich appear in Barack Obama's speeches not as entrepreneurial
role models but as modern versions of the "malefactors of great wealth"
denounced by Teddy Roosevelt a century ago: this lot, rather than building trusts,
avoid taxes and ship jobs to Mexico. Globalisation is under fire: free trade is
less popular in the United States than in any other developed country, and a
nation built on immigrants is building a fence to keep them out. People
mutter about nation-building beginning at home: why, many wonder, should
American children do worse at reading than Polish ones and at maths than Lithuanians?

The dragon's breath on your shoulder

Abroad, America has spent vast amounts of blood and treasure, to little
purpose. In Iraq, finding an acceptable exit will look like success;
Afghanistan is slipping. America's claim to be a beacon of freedom in a dark world has
been dimmed by Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and the flouting of the Geneva
Conventions amid the panicky "unipolar" posturing in the aftermath of
September 11th.

Now the world seems very multipolar. Europeans no longer worry about
American ascendancy. The French, some say, understood the Arab world rather
better than the neoconservatives did. Russia, the Gulf Arabs and the rising powers
of Asia scoff openly at the Washington consensus. China in particular spooks
America-and may do so even more over the next few weeks of Olympic
medal-gathering. Americans are discussing the rise of China and their
consequent relative decline; measuring when China's economy will be bigger and counting its
missiles and submarines has become a popular pastime in Washington. A few
years ago, no politician would have been seen with a book called "The
Post-American World". Mr Obama has been conspicuously reading Fareed Zakaria's recent

America has got into funks before now. In the 1950s it went into a
Sputnik-driven spin about Soviet power; in the 1970s there was Watergate,
Vietnam and the oil shocks; in the late 1980s Japan seemed to be buying up America. Each
time, the United States rebounded, because the country is good at fixing
itself. Just as American capitalism allows companies to die, and to be
created, quickly, so its political system reacts fast. In Europe, political leaders
emerge slowly, through party hierarchies; in America, the primaries permit
inspirational unknowns to burst into the public consciousness from nowhere.

Still, countries, like people, behave dangerously when their mood turns
dark. If America fails to distinguish between what it needs to change and
what it needs to accept, it risks hurting not just allies and trading partners, but
also itself.

The Asian scapegoat

There are certainly areas where change is needed. The credit crunch is in
part the consequence of a flawed regulatory system. Lax monetary policy
allowed Americans to build up debts and fuelled a housing bubble that had to burst
eventually. Lessons need to be learnt from both of those mistakes; as they do
from widespread concerns about the state of education and health care.
Over-unionised and unaccountable, America's school system needs the same
sort of competition that makes its universities the envy of the world. American
health care, which manages to be the most expensive on the planet even though it
fails properly to care for the tens of millions of people, badly needs reform.

There have been plenty of mistakes abroad, too. Waging a war on terror was
always going to be like pinning jelly to a wall. As for Guantánamo Bay, it
is the most profoundly un-American place on the planet: rejoice when it is shut.
In such areas America is already showing its genius for reinvention. Both
the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates promise to close
Guantánamo. As his second term ticks down, even Mr Bush has begun to see the
limits of unilateralism. Instead of just denouncing and threatening the "axis of
evil" he is working more closely with allies (and non-allies) in Asia to calm
down North Korea. For the first time he has just let American officials join
in the negotiations with Iran about its fishy nuclear programme (see article).

That America is beginning to correct its mistakes is good; and there's
plenty more of that to be done. But one source of angst demands a change in
attitude rather than a drive to restore the status quo: America's relative
decline, especially compared with Asia in general and China in particular.

The economic gap between America and a rising Asia has certainly narrowed;
but worrying about it is wrong for two reasons. First, even at its present
growth rate, China's GDP will take a quarter of a century to catch up with
America's; and the internal tensions that China's rapidly changing
economy has caused may well lead it to stumble before then. Second, even if Asia's rise
continues unabated, it is wrong-and profoundly unAmerican-to regard this
as a problem. Economic growth, like trade, is not a zero-sum game. The faster
China and India grow, the more American goods they buy. And they are booming
largely because they have adopted America's ideas. America should regard
their success as a tribute, not a threat, and celebrate in it.

Many Americans, unfortunately, are unwilling to do so. Politicians seeking a
scapegoat for America's self-made problems too often point the finger at
the growing power of once-poor countries, accusing them of stealing American
jobs and objecting when they try to buy American companies. But if America
reacts by turning in on itself-raising trade barriers and rejecting foreign
investors-it risks exacerbating the economic troubles that lie behind its current funk.

Everybody goes through bad times. Some learn from the problems they have
caused themselves, and come back stronger. Some blame others, lash out and
damage themselves further. America has had the wisdom to take the first
course many times before. Let's hope it does so again.

Forget the Surge - Violence Is Down in Iraq Because Ethnic Cleansing Was Brutally Effective

Forget the Surge - Violence Is Down in Iraq Because Ethnic Cleansing Was Brutally Effective
Juan Cole, Alternet, July 29, 2008

I want to weigh in as a social historian of Iraq on the controversy over whether the "surge" "worked." The New York Times reports:

McCain bristled in an interview with the CBS Evening News on (July 22) when asked about Obama's contention that while the added troops had helped reduce violence in Iraq, other factors had helped, including the Sunni Awakening movement, in which thousands of Sunnis were enlisted to patrol neighborhoods and fight the insurgency, and the Iraqi government's crackdown on Shiite militias.

"I don't know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened," McCain told Katie Couric, noting that the Awakening movement began in Anbar Province when a Sunni sheik teamed up with Sean MacFarland, a colonel who commanded an Army brigade there.

"Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others," McCain said. "And it began the Anbar Awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history."

The Obama campaign was quick to note that the Anbar Awakening began in the fall of 2006, several months before President Bush even announced the troop escalation strategy, which became known as the surge.

The only evidence presented for the thesis that the "surge" "worked" is that Iraqi deaths from political violence have declined in recent months from all-time highs in the second half of 2006 and the first half of 2007. (That apocalyptic violence was set off by the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006, which helped provoke a Sunni-Shiite civil war.) What few political achievements are attributed to the troop escalation are too laughable to command real respect.

Proponents are awfully hard to pin down on what the "surge" consisted of or when it began. It seems to me to refer to the troop escalation that began in February 2007. But now the technique of bribing Sunni Arab former insurgents to fight radical Sunni vigilantes is being rolled into the "surge" by politicians such as McCain. But attempts to pay off the Sunnis to quiet down began months before the troop escalation and had a dramatic effect in al-Anbar Province long before any extra U.S. troops were sent to al-Anbar (nor were very many extra troops ever sent there). I will disallow it. The "surge" is the troop escalation that began in the winter of 2007. The bribing of insurgents to come into the cold could have been pursued without a significant troop escalation, and was.
As best I can piece it together, what actually seems to have happened was that the escalation troops began by disarming the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad. Once these Sunnis were left helpless, the Shiite militias came in at night and ethnically cleansed them. Shaab district near Adhamiya had been a mixed neighborhood. It ended up with almost no Sunnis. Baghdad in the course of 2007 went from 65 percent Shiite to at least 75 percent Shiite and maybe more. My thesis would be that the United States inadvertently allowed the chasing of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs out of Baghdad (and many of them had to go all the way to Syria for refuge). Rates of violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, just because there were fewer mixed neighborhoods.

Will Petraeus Impose the Iraq Template on Afghanistan?

Will Petraeus Impose the Iraq Template on Afghanistan?
Assessing the Surge

General Petraeus's surge is widely credited with bringing down violence in Iraq to a level that allows for political development and the withdrawal of some US troops. The impact of the surge has recently entered into the presidential campaign, but the matter should not be another partisan issue debated with slogans. It is central to understanding developments in Iraq and expectations in Afghanistan, where the principles of the surge are likely to be put into practice. US officials think that they have written the pages of recent Iraqi history, but important passages have been written with Saudi and Persian pens.

The surge increased US troop levels in the Sunni center in order to begin a counterinsurgency program. Based on British and French experiences late in the colonial era, it sought to rid a small area of insurgents through military force then win over local support by providing government services and stimulating economic development. Upon consolidation in one locale, the cycle would be repeated in surrounding areas, spreading out gradually across the country in a manner that counterinsurgency advocates liken to an oil spot spreading across water. Looking at the political and military dynamics reverberating through Iraq over the last two years or so, one can see other forces at work that reduced violence – forces unrelated to the surge and the counterinsurgency principles upon which it rests.

A considerable portion of the violence in Iraq over the last several years did not stem from the insurgency or al Qaeda, rather it stemmed from animosities between the Sunnis and Shi'as. Those animosities developed into internecine sectarian fighting, triggered in part by spectacular al Qaeda bombings of Shi'a shrines and neighborhoods. Sectarian fighting led to Sunni emigrations into adjacent countries and to Sunnis and Shi'as abandoning mixed neighborhoods in favor of homogeneous ones guarded by local militias. These population shifts made sectarian violence less likely, and provided a breathing space during which both sides could ponder where civil war was taking them. This internal Iraqi dynamic accounts for a considerable amount of the decline in violence, especially in Baghdad.

The Sunni Arab tribes of Anbar and Diyala provinces shifted away from being important parts of the insurgency to partnering with the US against al Qaeda. It is difficult to link these events in Anbar and Diyala to the surge. There was no cycle of security-services-expansion as in counterinsurgency programs; instead, whole regions quickly and unexpectedly turned on al Qaeda. More importantly, the Sunni tribes began their cooperation with the US several months before the surge began. Al Qaeda's operations in those provinces and nearby Baghdad caused large numbers of Sunni casualties; and its personnel demonstrated little respect for the customs of local tribes. Tribal leaders approached US officers in the region and forged various local working relationships to expel al Qaeda, first in Anbar and later in Diyala.

There was an external dynamic in turning the Sunnis against al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia warned the US long ago that ousting Saddam Hussein would destabilize the region and open it up to Shi'a and Iranian influence if not domination. Wishing to stabilize a neighboring country and turn it into a new obstacle to Shi'ism and Iran, the Saudis used tribal diplomacy and monetary inducements (the two go hand in hand) with the elders of the Dulayim tribe, whose domain sprawls throughout Anbar and across the frontier into Saudi Arabia. Subsequent US inducements and counterinsurgency programs have sustained the working relationships, but the change was well underway and nicely funded beforehand. Perhaps at some later date we will be able to discern which was more important in the turnabout: US troops, who alternately use heavy-handed and benign methods; or the Saudis, who have long practice in dealing with coreligionists and tribal leaders.

Over sixty percent of Iraqis are Shi'a, most of whom live in the south – a region that has not had a significant US presence. The south was left to the British whose practices, after many arduous years in Northern Ireland, drew from counterinsurgency programs and placed emphasis on respecting the local population and avoiding insensitive uses of firepower – principles not always foremost in the minds of American troops until recently.

Furthermore, the Shi'a regions are greatly influenced by Iran, which of course follows the same branch of Islam. Key Shi'a political groups and their associated militias were formed in Iran during the long war between the two states; others were formed later under similar tutelage. Most if not all continue to obtain money from Iran. Since Saddam's ouster in 2003, trade has thrived between the two former enemies. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has long been conducting its own systematic policies to expand Iranian influence in southern Iraq. IRGC officers train and advise Shi'a militias; political cadres work with locals on development projects. In many ways, the US counterinsurgency effort parallels the IRGC program, which of course had been in effect for several years before the US program began in early 2007.

Iranian influence has kept disparate Shi'a factions, whose inclination is to settle matters through violence, reasonably in line – considering the chaos brought on in 2003. This has helped Prime Minister Maliki's frail government navigate through several political tempests. The IRGC has brokered ends to fighting between warring Shi'a militias and also between the Sadrists and the mainly Shi'a army, nominally under Maliki. Though no US official will ever admit it in public, it is clear that Iran has played a vital and unappreciated role in reducing violence and setting the stage for political development.

This represents a shift in Tehran's approach to bringing about a US departure from Iraq. No longer does Iran seek to oust the US by supplying weapons to militias and encouraging them to attrit American forces until the US public forced withdrawal. That approach was obviated by tepid opposition to the war in the US, the astonishing cohesion of US combat units, the decline of the Sunni insurgency, and the threat of devastating US air strikes. Iran now seeks to bring about as much stability in Iraq as possible and then to encourage the Shi'a parties to press for the US's departure.

Attention on the surge over the last eighteen months has entailed several costs. Various arrangements between US troops and tribal groups in the Sunni center have largely circumvented Sunni political parties, which were never as coherent as Shi'a counterparts. It might be quickly added, however, that the Shi'a parties are understandably wary of a strong Sunni region, and that they might find a fractured though reasonably stable Sunni region to be less threatening than a more or less unitary one after elections are held in the fall.

Concentrating on the Sunni region has come at the expense of allowing Iran to expand its influence with Shi'a parties and militias. Perhaps most importantly, fixation on the surge has rendered events in Afghanistan, at least until recently, into secondary if not tertiary issues. Meanwhile, the Taliban and al Qaeda have consolidated sanctuaries along the Pakistani frontier that are more formidable than anything the North Vietnamese had in Cambodia and Laos. From those sanctuaries, they have expanded their control of the Pashtun countryside in the south and enclaves in the north.

Events in Iraq are bewildering complex. When this is combined with personal vanity and bureaucratic parochialism, which typically overstate the influence of prized projects, administrative officials and key commanders might fail to grasp just what has happened in Iraq over the last two years. The fog of war and official mindsets are not conducive to understanding complex events, and the surge's impact on reducing violence is greatly inflated in Washington and the Green Zone alike. Similarly, much of the American public subscribes to this attractive storyline, resonant as it is with popular views of the resourcefulness and determination of their military. To paraphrase the venerable caution on simple causality: Post Petraeum, ergo propter Petraeum.

A likely though possibly harmful consequence of this is that General Petraeus, on becoming CENTCOM commander this fall, will confidently use the surge play book in Afghanistan, where the important if not decisive attendant dynamics might not be present.

Brian M. Downing is a veteran of the Vietnam War and author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at:

The End of Neo-liberalism by Joseph Stiglitz

The End of Neo-liberalism
Author: Joseph E. Stiglitz
21 July 2008 - Issue : 791

Joseph E. Stiglitz

NEW YORK – The world has not been kind to neo-liberalism, that grab-bag of ideas based on the fundamentalist notion that markets are self-correcting, allocate resources efficiently, and serve the public interest well. It was this market fundamentalism that underlay Thatcherism, Reaganomics, and the so-called "Washington Consensus" in favor of privatization, liberalization, and independent central banks focusing single-mindedly on inflation.

For a quarter-century, there has been a contest among developing countries, and the losers are clear: countries that pursued neo-liberal policies not only lost the growth sweepstakes; when they did grow, the benefits accrued disproportionately to those at the top.

Though neo-liberals do not want to admit it, their ideology also failed another test. No one can claim that financial markets did a stellar job in allocating resources in the late 1990's, with 97 percent of investments in fiber optics taking years to see any light. But at least that mistake had an unintended benefit: as costs of communication were driven down, India and China became more integrated into the global economy.

But it is hard to see such benefits to the massive misallocation of resources to housing. The newly constructed homes built for families that could not afford them get trashed and gutted as millions of families are forced out of their homes, in some communities, government has finally stepped in – to remove the remains. In others, the blight spreads. So even those who have been model citizens, borrowing prudently and maintaining their homes, now find that markets have driven down the value of their homes beyond their worst nightmares. To be sure, there were some short-term benefits from the excess investment in real estate: some Americans (perhaps only for a few months) enjoyed the pleasures of home ownership and living in a bigger home than they otherwise would have. But at what a cost to themselves and the world economy! Millions will lose their life savings as they lose their homes. And the housing foreclosures have precipitated a global slowdown.

There is an increasing consensus on the prognosis: this downturn will be prolonged and widespread.

Nor did markets prepare us well for soaring oil and food prices. Of course, neither sector is an example of freemarket economics, but that is partly the point: free-market rhetoric has been used selectively – embraced when it serves special interests and discarded when it does not. Perhaps one of the few virtues of George W. Bush's administration is that the gap between rhetoric and reality is narrower than it was under Ronald Reagan. For all Reagan's free-trade rhetoric, he freely imposed trade restrictions, including the notorious "voluntary" export restraints on automobiles. Bush's policies have been worse, but the extent to which he has openly served America's military-industrial complex has been more naked. The only time that the Bush administration turned green was when it came to ethanol subsidies, whose environmental benefits are dubious. Distortions in the energy market (especially through the tax system) continue, and if Bush could have gotten away with it, matters would have been worse.

This mixture of free-market rhetoric and government intervention has worked particularly badly for developing countries. They were told to stop intervening in agriculture, thereby exposing their farmers to devastating competition from the United States and Europe. Their farmers might have been able to compete with American and European farmers, but they could not compete with US and European Union subsidies. Not surprisingly, investments in agriculture in developing countries faded, and a food gap widened.

Those who promulgated this mistaken advice do not have to worry about carrying malpractice insurance. The costs will be borne by those in developing countries, especially the poor. This year will see a large rise in poverty, especially if we measure it correctly. Simply put, in a world of plenty, millions in the developing world still cannot afford the minimum nutritional requirements. In many countries, increases in food and energy prices will have a particularly devastating effect on the poor, because these items constitute a larger share of their expenditures.

The anger around the world is palpable. Speculators, not surprisingly, have borne more than a little of the wrath. The speculators argue: we are not the cause of the problem; we are simply engaged in "price discovery" – in other words, discovering – a little late to do much about the problem this year – that there is scarcity. But that answer is disingenuous. Expectations of rising and volatile prices encourage hundreds of millions of farmers to take precautions. They might make more money if they hoard a little of their grain today and sell it later; and if they do not, they won't be able to afford it if next year's crop is smaller than hoped. A little grain taken off the market by hundreds of millions of farmers around the world adds up. Defenders of market fundamentalism want to shift the blame from market failure to government failure.

One senior Chinese official was quoted as saying that the problem was that the US government should have done more to help low-income Americans with their housing. I agree. But that does not change the facts: US banks mismanaged risk on a colossal scale, with global consequences, while those running these institutions have walked away with billions of dollars in compensation.

Today, there is a mismatch between social and private returns. Unless they are closely aligned, the market system cannot work well. Neo-liberal market fundamentalism was always a political doctrine serving certain interests. It was never supported by economic theory. Nor, it should now be clear, is it supported by historical experience. Learning this lesson may be the silver lining in the cloud now hanging over the global economy.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Professor at Columbia University, received the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics. He is the co-author, with Linda Bilmes, of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict

From New Europe --


No Flip-Flopper: Obama Has Always Been Belligerent on Iran

No Flip-Flopper: Obama Has Always Been Belligerent on Iran
by Richard Lightner

John Pilger and Joshua Frank have written on Obama's centrist positions and I would like to add my supporting views. Senator Obama's views of late toward Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict are not shifts to the center or flip-flopping in his policies. The senator has always viewed Iran as a threat to world peace and has always supported Israel and current Israeli policy toward the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. Now, he merely expands on his already expressed beliefs that somehow were ignored or forgotten by his die-hard supporters. He is also on track with the Democratic Party leadership in Congress. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published two articles in the New Yorker magazine which laid out the collusion of both Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, and the fact that they are aware of current military action against Iran.

In his book, Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, Senator Obama wrote, "Our dependence on oil... undermines our national security. A large portion of the $800 million we spend on foreign oil every day goes to some of the world's most volatile regimes – Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and, indirectly at least, Iran... We need to maintain a strategic force posture that allows us to manage threats posed by rogue nations like North Korea and Iran... and to meet the challenges presented by potential rivals like China."

In a March 2007 speech to the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Obama blamed Hezbollah for the violence in Lebanon and, in turn, blamed Iran for supplying Hezbollah; claiming Iran is a major threat to world peace.

Then, in October 2007, Senator Obama criticized Senator Hillary Clinton voting in favor of a resolution to allow President Bush a "blank check" to attack Iran. Obama opposed the resolution which called an Iranian military unit a terrorist organization. He nevertheless views Iran as a threat to world peace.

In his June 4, 2008 speech before AIPAC, he continued the claim that, "Iran's President Ahmadinejad's regime is a threat to all of us... The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat... Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation. But that only makes diplomacy more important."

He continued to describe himself as a "friend of Israel" and a supporter of AIPAC. He proclaimed a bond between the United States and Israel that is "rooted in the shared values" of the two nations. His concerns extended to Holocaust deniers, such as President Ahmadinejad of Iran and "terrorist groups and political leaders committed to Israel's destruction... Those who threaten Israel threaten us," Obama stated. He will make sure Israel is armed to deal with any "threat."

These views parallel the mainstream of Democratic Party thinking. So, rather than surprise, it is important that critics realize that Obama is merely expanding on his statements and has always held a centrist policy with regards to Iran.