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Sunday, August 31, 2008

OSC: Russia- Iran Alliance?

OSC: Russia- Iran Alliance?

Article from the Russian press proposing a strategic alliance between Russia and Iran.

By Juan Cole

Pundit on Possible Russia-Iran Alliance To Counter 'Unfriendly' US Moves. Continue

An Intellectual Genealogy of the Just War-A Survey of Christian Political Thought on the Justification of Warfare

An Intellectual Genealogy of the Just War
A Survey of Christian Political Thought on the Justification of Warfare
by Keith Gomes

An Intellectual Genealogy of the Just War (Full Article PDF)

This paper will briefly outline the development of the just war doctrine, with special emphasis on the developments in Christian thought which ultimately influenced modern international legal documents . Numerous legal documents, such as the Geneva Conventions (1864-1948) contain within them references to just war. More recent attempts to codify the just war include the Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty entitled Responsibility to Protect. In examining the development of Christian thought with respect to war, I will illustrate the link between developments within Christian philosophy, the precepts of the Bible, and ultimately, the eventual universalisation of certain elements of Christian morality through the intermediary of natural law.

The need for just war criteria represents the efforts of Western cultures to regulate and restrict violence by establishing rules which specify the situations in which war can be legitimately used as a tool in international statecraft, as well as by setting out rules which govern ethical conduct during combat. However, today these regulations and restrictions are not confined to only Western cultures but, because of developments in international law and the establishment of international organisations such as the UN, this once Western narrative is seen to have universal relevancy, and to a large extent, universal appeal and applicability. While this paper will focus mainly on the rules dealing with the decision to go to war, both sets of rules arise from the same intellectual narrative which recognises recourse to violence not as the preferential modus operandi for dealing with disputes, but the exception. Both sets of rules trace their genealogy to developments in Christian thought, and understanding this genealogy is important, not only for academics, but for military strategists and foreign policy planners alike, since it highlights that these rules are never static because the rationale for these rules is situated in various historical contexts, and interpretations vary depending on the prevailing socio-political atmosphere. This, therefore, always leaves open the possibility that at the very least, the interpretations of these rules can be modified, or at the most, that the rules themselves ought to be more closely scrutinised, given that Christianity itself is constantly evolving and reinventing itself to retain contemporary social, political and ethical applicability.

An Intellectual Genealogy of the Just War (Full Article PDF)

Public Diplomacy and National Security

Public Diplomacy and National Security
Lessons from the U.S. Experience
by Bruce Gregory

Public Diplomacy and National Security: Lessons from the U.S. Experience (Full PDF Article)

Calls to build greater civilian capacity in national security are well founded, and public diplomacy is high on the list of essential capabilities that must be strengthened. U.S. public diplomacy’s principles and methods are rooted in 20th century models of communication, governance, and armed conflict, which contribute to an inability to learn from recent experience and foster real change. This article defines public diplomacy, describes forces shaping the context of 21st century public diplomacy, and identifies five lessons from recent experience that point the way to change: abandon message influence dominance; drop the war on terror narrative; leverage knowledge, skills, and creativity in civil society; emphasize net-centric actors and actions; rethink government broadcasting and adapt to new media.

Ask most strategists today about national security reform and one answer is assured: strengthen civilian capabilities to meet 21st century challenges and relieve an overburdened military. High on the list of capabilities to be strengthened is what variously is called public diplomacy, strategic communication, and “winning the war of ideas.” The Defense Department’s 2008 National Defense Strategy laments that the U.S. is unable to communicate to the world what it stands for as a society. The State Department calls for new public diplomacy approaches and getting the “war of ideas right” in the battle against today’s terrorist threat. Seven years after 9/11, the nation’s leaders agree. Public diplomacy is crucial to national security and must be improved.

These calls for change sound strikingly familiar. The 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy also urged “effective public diplomacy” – “a different and more comprehensive approach” in “a war of ideas to win the battle against international terrorism.” Lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, and the 9/11 Commission were in early agreement on the same diagnosis, inadequate public diplomacy in an ideological struggle, and the same solution, transform tools designed for a different era and use them more effectively.

Why then has there been no real change? It’s not that U.S. leaders lack for advice. Experts in and out of government wrote more than thirty reports on public diplomacy during the past seven years. Failure to turn report recommendations into business plans and action is part of the answer. But much of the challenge lies in learning from experience.

What is public diplomacy? What can be learned? And how might it change for the better?

Public Diplomacy and National Security: Lessons from the U.S. Experience (Full PDF Article)

The Disasters that Await a New President

The Disasters that Await a New President

Date 2008/8/30 11:20:00
Paris, August 28, 2006 –- The Bush administration has lived by a strategy of tension, and will go out from office bequeathing the wars it has started, and the ill-will it has created, to its successors, to compromise those who come after.
Guantanamo and the "black sites" abroad will be left, and the probably more than one thousand U.S. military bases abroad, presumably including the 50 bases (currently) that Washington still wants to keep in Iraq after the troops go home, if they go home. And of course the administration's outsourcing arrangements for torture and kidnapping abroad will be left to a new administration.
Whether it is Barack Obama or John McCain who enters the Oval Office in January, he will confront an inheritance of eight years of foreign policy abuses, failures and unresolved dilemmas, and in a climate of international crisis in the Caucasus and clash with Russia, expected by Richard Cheney and others in the Bush administration to promote McCain's election.
If this does elect McCain, it should pose no great problems for him because he is a man of simple commitment to the policy line of his predecessors: of military interventions in the Muslim world to win victory over the terrorists, and political interventions to control troubled European and Caspian-Crimean regions, and deter the new Stalin (or is it Hitler?; Stalin was not at Munich).
This conservative interventionism, in a Manichean politico-intellectual framework of Virtue and Freedom confronting Evil, leaves the Bush administration's successor with continuing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, indirectly in Somalia, plus probable domestic crisis in Pakistan before the presidential inauguration arrives. The progress of Islamic integrist and tribal forces linked to the Taliban continues in Pakistan without an apparent solution that would satisfy Washington.
In all of these cases the American intervention is itself the principal continuing cause of conflict – something which in the American policy community is generally inadmissible. In none of these conflicts is America capable of providing a solution. Even in Iraq, which Bush and the neoconservatives now tout as a success, all that has happened is that the U.S. has pitilessly wrecked the country, and now the Iraqis have grown weary of fighting.
The war in Somalia that sets Somalian warlords and an "Islamic Courts" rebel coalition against an unsuccessful Ethiopian military occupation, engineered by the CIA, will be waiting for the new American administration, since any solution involving the Islamists is verboten to Washington.
The Georgian-Ossetian-Abkhazian-Russian drama will have worsened by January, and U.S.-Russian bilateral relations been envenomed (if no worse), as well as trilateral relations among the U.S., Russia, and the hapless and doubly intimidated NATO Europeans, incapable of taking an initiative in their own interest.
The neo-conservative determination that America must dominate at any cost a Hobbesian world driven by greed and self-interest has won the day. The television-rattled public fails to grasp just what this means, and for eight years the Democrats have been frightened into silence by the threat of being outed as unpatriotic.

Senator Joseph Biden, according to the analysts, was made the Democratic vice-presidential nominee because he knows everything about foreign policy. But everything that he knows about foreign policy is just what everybody else in Washington knows and thinks, and would never dream of questioning. There's the problem.
An Obama-Biden administration would lower the rhetoric of the war on terror and enter global negotiations with Iran. It would emphasize the common interest of the U.S. and Iran in the stabilization of Iraq and Afghanistan. It would acknowledge the political and social importance of Hamas and Hizbollah in the real world.
It would start over again with Israel-Palestine negotiations. Those backing the Obama candidacy talk about a "New Marshall Plan" for the Middle East (resembling Condoleezza Rice's proposals last month in Foreign Affairs), offering a "generational" program to lift the Middle East "from misery" and make it democratic, pro-American, and friendly to Israel. Alas, we have heard all that before; the United States is incapable of doing it; and the problem of the Middle East isn't money.
The leaders of such a new administration would negotiate with American allies rather than blackmail and bully them. They would resume good relations with international organizations and make good-faith use of them. They would protect the sovereignty of Georgia and Ukraine. They would be firm with Russia. They would protect western energy sources. They will fight injustice wherever they find it, even if that means more war. They say they will make a better world. The skeptic wishes good luck to them.
© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.

This article comes from William PFAFF
The URL for this article is:

e can't afford more troops
We can't afford more troops
Saturday, August 30, 2008

As the presidential campaign enters the final stretch, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is likely to reveal how he plans to deal with the record-setting $490 billion budget deficit that President Bush will leave behind. Once the election is over, however, the winner will need to figure out how to bring his campaign promises into line with fiscal realities. One place to start is the Bush administration's decision to expand the Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 active duty personnel.

McCain and Obama both have endorsed the increase. After the election, the winner should consider three questions: Can we afford a bigger military? Do we need it? What kind of signal are we sending to the rest of the world?

Each soldier and Marine costs about $100,000 per year in pay, housing, health care and other benefits. Adding 65,000 people to the Army and 27,000 to the Marine Corps will add about $9 billion annually to the Defense Department's personnel costs. And that doesn't include the costs of training and equipping those troops.

The personnel buildup comes as the Army is experiencing a huge backlog in its equipment modernization accounts — more than $50 billion, according to Larry Korb of the Center for American Progress. Pentagon experts also are concerned about this imbalance. David Chu, under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, recently argued that the Defense Department's growing personnel costs are squeezing out modernization in all of the services.

If enlarging the force were essential, then the United States could go deeper into debt to pay for it. Five years ago, most independent defense experts believed that we needed to enlarge our ground forces to occupy and stabilize Iraq. However, the likelihood of our keeping a large force in Iraq for another three or four years is very low, no matter who wins the election. So by the time the military services reach the ceilings that Congress authorized — 547,000 for the Army and 202,000 for the Marine Corps — those troops won't be needed in Iraq.

We do need to increase the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. There, however, we do not need the huge footprint of an occupying army, but a number of small units capable of advising, equipping and training Afghan security forces. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said as much in his National Defense Strategy.

Of course, the next president will have to think about security issues beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. He must consider the full spectrum of circumstances under which military power may be needed, from humanitarian relief operations to regional conflicts to full-scale war with a global adversary, and he has to consider the likelihood that these crises could happen simultaneously. The next president also will know that our ground forces are not large enough to mount even one sustained major regional conflict — at least, not if we go it alone.

This is where the signal sending comes in. The Defense Department's budget request for fiscal year 2009 is $515 billion, and that does not include tens of billions in "emergency" funding that the department has requested for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Total U.S. defense spending exceeds the combined spending of our likely adversaries and dwarfs the spending of our principal allies.

The message we're sending is clear: We would prefer to go it alone than to work on the hard, complex diplomacy needed to build and sustain alliances. Ironically, the more we spend on military capability, the more we will need to spend, because we lose the ability to bring other resources to bear on international problems.

Is this the trajectory our country should continue to follow? Given recent tensions with Russia and instability in Pakistan, should we not show our allies that their support is essential and that their advice will be taken seriously?

It is not likely that McCain or Obama will back off his campaign commitments. However, the next president will have to dig this nation out of the deep hole that his predecessor has left behind. By scaling back on plans to enlarge the military, the next president can take one small step toward restoring fiscal sanity — without sacrificing security. He also will send an important signal: The United States wants to engage with the rest of the world, not bully it.

Dorn, a professor of public policy, was under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness during the Clinton administration.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hottentot Morality by Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

Hottentot Morality

"If he steals my cow, that is bad. If I steal his cow, that is good" - this moral rule was attributed by European racists to the Hottentots, an ancient tribe in Southern Africa.

It's hard not to be reminded of this when the United States and the European countries cry out against Russia's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two provinces which seceded from the Republic of Sakartvelo, known in the West as Georgia.

Not so long ago, the Western countries recognized the Republic of Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia. The West argued that the population of Kosovo is not Serbian, its culture and language is not Serbian, and that therefore it has a right to independence from Serbia. Especially after Serbia had conducted a grievous campaign of oppression against them. I supported this view with all my heart. Unlike many of my friends, I even supported the military operation that helped the Kosovars to free themselves.

But what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as the saying goes. What's true for Kosovo is no less true for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The population in these provinces is not Georgian, they have their own languages and ancient civilizations. They were annexed to Georgia almost by whim, and they have no desire to be part of it.

So what is the difference between the two cases? A huge one, indeed: the independence of Kosovo is supported by the Americans and opposed by the Russians. Therefore it's good. The independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is supported by the Russians and opposed by the Americans. Therefore it's bad. As the Romans said: Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi, what's allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to an ox.

I do not accept this moral code. I support the independence of all these regions.

In my view, there is one simple principle, and it applies to everybody: every province that wants to secede from any country has a right to do so. In this respect there is, for me, no difference between Kosovars, Abkhazians, Basques, Scots and Palestinians. One rule for all.

THERE WAS a time when this principle could not be implemented. A state of a few hundred thousand people was not viable economically, and could not defend itself militarily.

That was the era of the "nation state", when a strong people imposed itself, its culture and its language, on weaker peoples, in order to create a state big enough to safeguard security, order and a proper standard of living. France imposed itself on Bretons and Corsicans, Spain on Catalans and Basques, England on Welsh, Scots and Irish, and so forth.

That reality has been superseded. Most of the functions of the "nation state" have moved to super-national structures: large federations like the USA, large partnerships like the EU. In those there is room for small countries like Luxemburg beside larger ones like Germany. If Belgium falls apart and a Flemish state comes into being beside a Walloon state, both will be received into the EU, and nobody will be hurt. Yugoslavia has disintegrated, and each of its parts will eventually belong to the European Union.

That has happened to the former Soviet Union, too. Georgia freed itself from Russia. By the same right and the same
logic, Abkhazia can free itself from Georgia.

But then, how can a country avoid disintegration? Very simple: it must convince the smaller peoples which live under its wings that it is worthwhile for them to remain there. If the Scots feel that they enjoy full equality in the United Kingdom, that they have been accorded sufficient autonomy and a fair slice of the common cake, that their culture and traditions are being respected, they may decide to remain there. Such a debate has been going on for decades in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec.

The general trend in the world is to enlarge the functions of the big regional organizations, and at the same time allow peoples to secede from their mother countries and establish their own states. That is what happened in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Serbia and Georgia. That is bound to happen in many other countries.

Those who want to go in the opposite direction and establish, for example, a bi-national Israeli-Palestinian state, are going against the Zeitgeist - to say the least.

THIS IS the historical background to the recent spat between Georgia and Russia. There are no Righteous Ones here. It is rather funny to hear Vladimir Putin, whose hands are dripping with the blood of Chechen freedom fighters, extolling the right of South Ossetia to secession. It's no less funny to hear Micheil Saakashvili likening the freedom fight of the two separatist regions to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The fighting reminded me of our own history. In the spring of 1967, I heard a senior Israeli general saying that he prayed every night for the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abd-al- Nasser, to send his troops into the Sinai peninsula. There, he said, we shall annihilate them. Some months later, Nasser marched into the trap. The rest is history.

Now Saakashvili has done precisely the same. The Russians prayed for him to invade South Ossetia. When he walked into this trap, the Russians did to him what we did to the Egyptians. It took the Russians six days, the same as it took us.

Nobody can know what was passing through the mind of Saakashvili. He is an inexperienced person, educated in the United States, a politician who came to power on the strength of his promise to bring the separatist regions back to the homeland. The world is full of such demagogues, who build a career on hatred, super-nationalism and racism. We have more than enough of them here, too.

But even a demagogue does not have to be an idiot. Did he believe that President Bush, who is bankrupt in all fields, would rush to his aid? Did he not know that America has no soldiers to spare? That Bush's warlike speeches are being carried away by the wind? That NATO is a paper tiger? That the Georgian army would melt like butter in the fire of war?

I AM curious about our part in this story.

In the Georgian government there are several ministers who grew up and received their education in Israel. It seems that the Minister of Defense and the Minister for Integration (of the separatist regions) are also Israeli citizens. And most importantly: that the elite units of the Georgian army have been trained by Israeli officers, including the one who was blamed for losing Lebanon War II. The Americans, too, invested much effort in training the Georgians.

I am always amused by the idea that it is possible to train a foreign army. One can, of course, teach technicalities: how to use particular weapons or how to conduct a battalion- scale maneuver. But anyone who has taken part in a real war (as distinct from policing an occupied population) knows that the technical aspects are secondary. What matters is the spirit of the soldiers, their readiness to risk their lives for the cause, their motivation, the human quality of the fighting units and the command echelon.

Such things cannot be imparted by foreigners. Every army is a part of its society, and the quality of the society decides the quality of the army. That is particularly true in a war against an enemy who enjoys a decisive numerical superiority. We experienced that in the 1948 war, when David Ben-Gurion wanted to impose on us officers who were trained in the British army, and we, the combat soldiers, preferred our own commanders, who were trained in our underground army and had never seen a military academy in their lives.

Only professional generals, whose whole outlook is technical, imagine that they could "train" soldiers of another people and another culture - in Afghanistan, Iraq or Georgia.

A well developed trait among our officers is arrogance. In our case, it is generally connected with a reasonable standard of the army. If the Israeli officers infected their Georgian colleagues with this arrogance, convincing them that they could beat the mighty Russian army, they committed a grievous sin against them.

I DO NOT believe that this is the beginning of Cold War II, as has been suggested. But this is certainly a continuation of the Great Game.

This appellation was given to the relentless secret struggle that went on all through the 19th century along Russia's southern border between the two great empires of the time: the British and the Russian. Secret agents and not so secret armies were active in the border regions of India (including today's Pakistan), Afghanistan, Persia and so on. The "North-West Frontier" (of Pakistan), which is starring now in the war against the Taliban, was already legendary then.

Today, the Great Game between the current two great empires - the USA and Russia - is going on all over the place from the Ukraine to Pakistan. It proves that geography is more important than ideology: Communism has come and gone, but the struggle goes on as if nothing has happened.

Georgia is a mere pawn in the chess game. The initiative belongs to the US: it wants to encircle Russia by expanding NATO, an arm of US policy, all along the border. That is a direct threat to the rival empire. Russia, on its part, is trying to extend its control over the resources most vital to the West, oil and gas, as well as their routes of transportation. That can lead to disaster.

WHEN Henry Kissinger was still a wise historian, before he became a foolish statesman, he expounded an important
principle: in order to maintain stability in the world, a system has to be formed that includes all the parties. If one party is left outside, stability is in danger.

He cited as an example the "Holy Alliance" of the great powers that came into being after the Napoleonic wars. The wise statesmen of the time, headed by the Austrian Prince Clemens von Metternich, took care not to leave the defeated French outside, but, on the contrary, gave them an important place in the Concert of Europe.

The present American policy, with its attempt to push Russia out, is a danger to the whole world. (And I have not even mentioned the rising power of China.)

A small country which gets involved in the struggle between the big bullies risks being squashed. That has happened in the past to Poland, and it seems that it has not learned from that experience. One should advise Georgia, and also the Ukraine, not to emulate the Poles but rather the Finns, who since world War II have pursued a wise policy: they guard their independence but endeavor to take the interest of their mighty neighbor into account.

We Israelis can, perhaps, also learn something from all of this: that it is not safe to be a vassal of one great Empire and provoke the rival empire. Russia is returning to our region, and every move we make to further American expansion will surely be countered by a Russian move in favor of Syria and Iran.

So let's not adopt the "Hottentot morality". It is not wise, and certainly not moral.

The Democrats In Denver

Kucinich's convention speech edited.

The Hill reports that the Obama campaign has, at times, been "tightening the
reins on campaign speeches and stressing that speakers emphasize a
rags-to-riches theme." Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) had one line redacted
rom his speech, which suggested some conservatives need to serve time in
prison. The original line read: "They're asking for another four years - in
a just world, they'd get 10 to 20."

Chas Freeman wrote:
Norman Birnbaum wrote the following for Spiegel online. It's the sort of forthrightly insightful and witty commentary that is now almost entirely absent from the dumbed-down media in our country. Addressed to a foreign audience, it deserves to be read by those whose politics it is describing.

The Democrats In Denver Norman Birnbaum

I've been at Democratic conventions and regret missing some of the livelier parties at this one. There is very little else to regret. Television has given the essentials. For every Denver blog worth reading, there are ten which are evidence only for their authors' self-important obtuseness and querulousness . Why, however, should unknown citizens not have the same right as our media stars---to make fools of themselves? The major theme of newspaper and television reporting, sedulously repeated by bloggers claiming that they have independent perspectives, was entirely exaggerated. Would the Clintons, defeated in their bid to return to power, take their revenge by somehow sabotaging or stealing Obama's show? Of course not: the Clintons, above all, have no taste for permanent residence in the political wilderness. To give less than full support to Obama would be to risk being blamed for his defeat, should that happen. Should he win, despite their efforts to defeat him, his revenge would be pitiless.. In either case, the Clinton's chances for a return to power of some sort would be very reduced. The Clintons are intelligent. They know that each American election has its own dynamics, and that the outcome of this one does not depend upon their pushing their followers to the voting stations. They also know that those who voted for Senator Clinton in the primaries and are reportedly ready to vote for McCain or abstain will, in their great majority, vote for Obama. The rest are the candidate's to win, or lose, and that is not up to them.

The fact that the Clinton's twinned speeches calling for Obama's election were treated as great events attests only the absence of real events at the Convention. There have been Democratic conventions in which the issues facing the nation were openly, strenuously, sometimes violently debated: racial equality in the late forties and through the sixties, , the war in Vietnam immediately thereafter. One would never gather, in Denver, that the Democratic Party is quite seriously divided on war and peace, on the balance of state and market, on the contending powers of Federal and state government. True, conventions are supposed to unify parties, allow them to temporarily set aside their differences for the sake of winning the Presidency and achieving working majorities in House and Senate.

The difficulty is that they are not solely internal party gatherings. They are also supposed to be occasions on which the parties address the nation, reintroduce themselves to the voters, present new champions as well as honoring departing old Olympians. These functions are often in striking contradiction with one another. Honesty and openess were not salient at Denver, and the tiresomely repeated term "diversity" meant mostly that there are many ways in which to say "Yes."

Controlled and stage managed by the Obama machine with a rigour that would not have been out of place in a People's Republic (every speech was edited, and sometimes parts of these were censored), the convention was utterly devoid of debate. It was a fair, a Kermesse, with a fair showing of rock stars, film actors and actresses, miscellaneous celebrities of every sort (but few or no scientists, perhaps in deference to outreach to the Biblical literalists.) And, of course, there were the rich, buying shares of power or at least proximity to it.

There was, at the end, a very large compensation. Obama introduced himself to a surprised and even fascinated American public in 2004 with a speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston. The candidate (as he was then) for the Senate from Illinois had an unusual appearance, life history, and message: it was time for a new politics which would put the divisions of the past generation behind us. In Denver, with substantial numbers of Democrats and half the nation doubting his capacity to master the challenges of the Presidency, he met his critics head on. In a speech remarkable for joining specific policy prescription and larger vision, sobriety and passion, personal commitment and a call to the citizenry to rise, he took the offensive. For better or for worse, American Presidential contests are not only matters of competing programs and social projects, different cultural and social blocs, clashing political traditions. They are also personal combats. At Denver, Obama threw back at McCain the question of which of the two had a Presidential temperament. It remains to be seen how McCain and the Republicans will answer, but one consequence was instantly clear: the Democrats at Denver were inspired.

How did the speech affect the nation? We will not know, even when the polls give us their answers. There are some fifty thousand historians, political scientists, social psychologists, in our universities. Fifteen thousand political journalists were at the convention. There are thousands of chroniclers and writers, and innumerable veterans of recent politics not at all reticent about sharing the lessons they have learned. We can add the professional advisors and consultants who live not for but from politics---thousands in Washington alone. They have one thing in common: they cannot really predict how and why our citizens will vote. (The historians are still arguing about the elections of 1832,)

Now, on to the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Minnesota for the Republican convention. It will look different: :far whiter, and more masculine and older. The conventions will quickly merge, in public memory, with a campaign sure to be bitter and close. The larger world will make itself felt. The Europeans, whether they know it or not, are rendering McCain considerable service----by legitimating Bush's aggressive (and hypocritical) confrontation with Russia. The ultimate result, to be sure, will be a consequence of our own history. If it is as open as our progressivist ethos claims, Obama will win. If we suffer, as our pessimists fear, from what Freud called the repetition compulsion, McCain will enter the White House. The Democratic Convention (and its imminent Republican sequel) will count only as an historical footnote. Serious readers know, however, that frequently footnotes contain the key to the text.

Friday, August 29, 2008

And None Dare Call It Treason

And None Dare Call It Treason
by Patrick J. Buchanan
August 22, 2008

Who is Randy Scheunemann?

He is the principal foreign policy adviser to John McCain and
potential successor to Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski as
national security adviser to the president of the United States.
But Randy Scheunemann has another identity, another role.
He is a dual loyalist, a foreign agent whose assignment is to get
America committed to spilling the blood of her sons for client
regimes who have made this moral mercenary a rich man.

From January 2007 to March 2008, the McCain campaign paid
Scheunemann $70,000 – pocket change compared to the $290,000 his
Orion Strategies banked in those same 15 months from the Georgian
regime of Mikheil Saakashvili.

What were Mikheil's marching orders to Tbilisi's man in Washington?
Get Georgia a NATO war guarantee. Get America committed to fight
Russia, if necessary, on behalf of Georgia.

Scheunemann came close to succeeding.

Had he done so, U.S. soldiers and Marines from Idaho and West
Virginia would be killing Russians in the Caucasus, and dying to
protect Scheunemann's client, who launched this idiotic war the
night of Aug. 7. That people like Scheunemann hire themselves out to
put American lives on the line for their clients is a classic
corruption of American democracy.

U.S. backing for his campaign to retrieve his lost provinces is what
Saakashvili paid Scheunemann to produce. But why should Americans
fight Russians to force 70,000 South Ossetians back into the custody
of a regime they detest? Why not let the South Ossetians decide
their own future in free elections?

Not only is the folly of the Bush interventionist policy on display
in the Caucasus, so, too, is its manifest incoherence.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says we have sought for 45 years to
stay out of a shooting war with Russia and we are not going to get
into one now. President Bush assured us there will be no U.S.
military response to the Russian move into Georgia.

That is a recognition of, and a bowing to, reality – namely, that
Russia's control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and occupation of a
strip of Georgia cannot be a casus belli for the United States. We
may deplore it, but it cannot justify war with Russia.

If that be true, and it transparently is, what are McCain, Barack
Obama, Bush, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel doing committing
the United States and Germany to bringing Georgia into NATO? For
that would commit us to war for a cause we have already conceded, by
our paralysis, does not justify a war.

Not only did Scheunemann's two-man lobbying firm receive $730,000
since 2001 to get Georgia a NATO war guarantee, he was paid by
Romania and Latvia to do the same. And he succeeded.

Latvia, a tiny Baltic republic annexed by Joseph Stalin in June 1940
during his pact with Adolf Hitler, was set free at the end of the
Cold War. Yet hundreds of thousands of Russians had been moved into
Latvia by Stalin, and as Riga served as a base of the Baltic Sea
fleet, many Russian naval officers retired there.

The children and grandchildren of these Russians are Latvian
citizens. They are a cause of constant tension with ethnic Letts and
of strife with Moscow, which has assumed the role of protector of
Russians left behind in the "near abroad" when the Soviet Union
broke apart.

Thanks to the lobbying of Scheunemann and friends, Latvia has been
brought into NATO and given a U.S. war guarantee. If Russia
intervenes to halt some nasty ethnic violence in Riga, the United
States is committed to come in and drive the Russians out.

This is the situation in which the interventionists have placed our
country: committed to go to war for countries and causes that do not
justify war, against a Russia that is re-emerging as a great power
only to find NATO squatting on her doorstep.

Scheunemann's résumé as a War Party apparatchik is lengthy. He
signed the PNAC (Project for the New American Century) letter to
President Clinton urging war on Iraq, four years before 9-11. He
signed the PNAC ultimatum to Bush, nine days after 9-11, threatening
him with political reprisal if he did not go to war against Iraq. He
was executive director of the "Committee for the Liberation of
Iraq," a propaganda front for Ahmad Chalabi and his pack of liars
who deceived us into war.

Now Scheunemann is the neocon agent in place in McCain's camp.

The neocons got their war with Iraq. They are pushing for war on
Iran. And they are now baiting the Russian Bear.

Is this what McCain has on offer? Endless war?

Why would McCain seek foreign policy counsel from the same
discredited crowd that has all but destroyed the presidency of
George Bush?

"Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence ... a free people
ought to be constantly awake," Washington warned in his Farewell
Address. Our Founding Father was warning against the Randy
Scheunemanns among us, agents hired by foreign powers to deceive
Americans into fighting their wars. And none dare call it treason.

Patrick J. Buchanan is co-founder and editor of The American
Conservative . He is also the author of
seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong and A Republic Not
An Empire. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary

Bush Is Pouring Gas on Afghanistan's Bonfire


Bush Is Pouring Gas on Afghanistan's Bonfire
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig
Posted on August 27, 2008,

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind forward with their terrible human toll, even as the press and many Americans play who gets thrown off the island with Barack Obama. Coalition forces carried out an airstrike that killed up to 95 Afghan civilians in western Afghanistan on Friday, 50 of them children, President Hamid Karzai said. And the mounting bombing raids and widespread detentions of Afghans are rapidly turning Afghanistan into the mirror image of Iraq. But these very real events, which will have devastating consequences over the next few months and years, are largely ignored by us. We prefer to waste our time on the trivia and gossip that swallow up air time and do nothing to advance our understanding of either the campaign or the wars fought in our name.

As the conflict in Afghanistan has intensified, so has the indiscriminate use of airstrikes, including Friday's, which took place in the Azizabad area of Shindand district in Herat province. The airstrike was carried out after Afghan and coalition soldiers were ambushed by insurgents while on a patrol targeting a known Taliban commander in Herat, the U.S. military said. Hundreds of Afghans, shouting anti-U.S. slogans, staged angry street protests on Saturday in Azizabad to protest the killings, and Karzai condemned the airstrike.

The United Nations estimates that 255 of the almost 700 civilian deaths in fighting in Afghanistan this year have been caused by Afghan and international troops. The number of civilians killed in fighting between insurgents and security forces in Afghanistan has soared by two-thirds in the first half of this year.

Ghulam Azrat, the director of the middle school in Azizabad, said he collected 60 bodies after the bombing.

"We put the bodies in the main mosque,'' he told the Associated Press by phone, sometimes pausing to collect himself as he wept. "Most of these dead bodies were children and women. It took all morning to collect them."

Azrat said villagers on Saturday threw stones at Afghan soldiers who arrived and tried to give out food and clothes. He said the soldiers fired into the crowd and wounded eight people, including one child.

"The people were very angry," he said. "They told the soldiers, 'We don't need your food, we don't need your clothes. We want our children. We want our relatives. Can you give [them] to us? You cannot, so go away.' "

We are in trouble in Afghanistan. Sending more soldiers and Marines to fight the Taliban is only dumping gasoline on the bonfire. The Taliban assaults, funded largely by the expanded opium trade, are increasingly sophisticated and well coordinated. And the Taliban is exacting a rising toll on coalition troops. Soldiers and Marines are now dying at a faster rate in Afghanistan than Iraq. In an Aug. 18 attack, only 30 miles from the capital, Kabul, the French army lost 10 and had 21 wounded. The next day, hundreds of militants, aided by six suicide bombers, attacked one of the largest U.S. bases in the country. A week before that, insurgents killed three foreign aid workers and their Afghan driver, prompting international aid missions to talk about withdrawing from a country where they already have very limited access.

Barack Obama, like John McCain, speaks about Afghanistan in words that look as if they were penned by the Bush White House. Obama may call for withdrawing some U.S. troops from Iraq, but he does not want to send them all home. He wants to send them to Afghanistan, or to what he obliquely terms "the right battlefield." Obama said he would deploy an additional 10,000 troops to Afghanistan once he took office.

The seven-year war in Afghanistan has not gone well. An additional 3,200 Marines were deployed there in January. Karzai's puppet government in Kabul controls little territory outside the capital. And our attempt to buy off tribes with money and even weapons has collapsed, with most tribal groups slipping back into the arms of the Taliban insurgents.

Do the cheerleaders for an expanded war in Afghanistan know any history? Have they studied what happened to the Soviets, who lost 15,000 Red Army soldiers between 1979 and 1988, or even the British in the 19th century? Do they remember why we went into Afghanistan? It was, we were told, to hunt down Osama bin Laden, who is now apparently in Pakistan. Has anyone asked what our end goal is in Afghanistan? Is it nation-building? Or is this simply the forever war on terror?

Al-Qaida, which we have also inadvertently resurrected, is alive and well. It still finds plenty of recruits. It still runs training facilities. It still caries out attacks in London, Madrid, Iraq and now Afghanistan, which did not experience suicide bombings until December 2005. Al-Qaida has moved on. But we remain stuck, confused and lashing about wildly like a wounded and lumbering beast.

We do not have the power or the knowledge, nor do we have the right under international law, to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. We are vainly trying to transplant to these countries a modern system of politics invented in Europe. This system is characterized by, among other things, the division of the Earth into independent secular states based on national citizenship. The belief in a secular civil government is to most Afghans and Iraqis an alien creed. It will never work.

We have blundered into nations we know little about. We are caught between bitter rivalries among competing ethnic and religious groups. We have embarked on an occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan that is as damaging to our souls as it is to our prestige and power and security. And we believe, falsely, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war.

We divert ourselves in our dotage and decline with images and slogans that perpetuate fantasies about our own invulnerability, our own might, our own goodness. We are preoccupied by national trivia games that pass for news, even as the wolf pants at our door. These illusions blind us. We cannot see ourselves as others see us. We do not know who we are.

"We had fed the heart on fantasies," William Butler Yeats wrote, "the heart's grown brutal from the fare."

We are propelled forward not by logic or compassion or understanding but by fear. We have created and live in a world where violence is the primary form of communication. We have become the company we keep. Much of the world--certainly the Muslim world, one-fifth of the world's population, most of whom are not Arab--sees us through the prism of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. We are igniting the dispossessed, the majority of humanity who live on less than two dollars a day. And whoever takes the White House next January seems hellbent on fueling our self-immolation.

Chris Hedges' column, now weekly, appears Mondays on Truthdig.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, is a Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute. His latest book is Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians.

© 2008 Truthdig All rights reserved.
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Welcome to history by Shlomo Avineri

Welcome to history
Shlomo Avineri
August 29, 2008

In 1989, American philosopher Francis Fukuyama saw the breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe as "the end of history": After the fall of fascism in World War II, now came the end of the second kind of totalitarian regime. In using a term taken from Hegelian philosophy, Fukuyama argued that history had come to its climax and that the victory of democracy, liberalism and the capitalist market economy meant that humanity had come to its ultimate and universal end: the realization of freedom - personal, political and economic.

There was something intoxicating about this victory cry. Fukuyama's article reverberated enormously and was to a considerable extent responsible for the feeling of near-messianic euphoria that enveloped practical statesmen upon the collapse of the Soviet regime. Even people who had never heard of Hegel and his philosophy of history took delight in the intellectual significance that Fukuyama had afforded to communism's downfall.

However, many people treated this analysis with skepticism; especially its implicit assumption that while it did lead to the opposite of Marxism, it was one-dimensional, linear and deterministic in the same way. If in Marxism all roads led to communism, for Fukuyama all roads are supposed - inevitably, and from within an inner law - to lead to democracy and a market economy. The structure's architecture was impressive, but were the bricks and mortar indeed there?

The doubts were confirmed when it became clear that not all the post-communist countries were doing the same thing: Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary succeeded in the transition to democracy and a market economy, but in Russia there were more complex developments. The Soviet republics in Central Asia developed into classic third-world dictatorships and the complex ethnic disputes in the former Yugoslavia proved that when communism vanishes, classic national conflicts often surface, not a vision of universal, democratic and liberal harmony.

The events of recent weeks in Russia and China, which are ostensibly quite different, only magnify the extent of Fukuyama's mistake. In one there is a brutal war, while in the other there is a stunning sports spectacle. But both of them indicate that what is happening before our eyes is far from the end of history.

On the contrary, to a large extent it is the return of history. The war between Russia and Georgia - whose outcome has been in effect the dismemberment of Georgia - indicates that after the weakness and crumbling during the Boris Yeltsin era, Russia is again becoming a power sending a bullying message to its neighbors. What happened in the Caucasus is reminding many people that Russia has never been a nation state in the usual sense of the term, but has always been an empire - whether in czarist or Soviet guise. And under Vladimir Putin it is again becoming what it had been in the past.

After the suppression of the Chechens - the continuation of a long and brutal war that Russia conducted against them in the 19th century - Moscow is returning to assert its regional hegemony. For the Georgians - and for anyone who knows a bit of history - this policy constitutes a return to what has already happened twice: when (czarist) Russia annexed the Georgian kingdom in 1801 and when (Soviet) Russia annexed the social democratic Georgian republic in 1921 - incidentally, also on the grounds that it was helping the Ossetians.

A return to the signs of Russian neo-imperialism was already on the horizon in recent years: sophisticated repression of the opposition - whether by neutralizing potential opponents through quasi-legal means or mysterious murders of independent journalists - and the concentration of economic resources in the regime's hands. There is also continuing pressure on Ukraine at a time when energy prices are providing an effective tool to use on Europe, accompanied by Putin's bullying rhetoric.

In Beijing we were witness to something else - but not so different. China freed itself long ago from communist ideology, but the Communist Party today constitutes the most palpable manifestation of the Confucian heritage of order, discipline, hierarchy and harmony imposed from above - all according to the Chinese imperialist tradition, with the party instead of mandarins. Industrial capitalism is burgeoning in the shadow of a Confucian regime that embodies multidimensional power - all this amid a total ignoring of human rights and the oppression of national minorities, as in Tibet.

It was impossible not to be impressed by the spectacular performances of the Olympic ceremonies, but the more spectacular they were, the more frightening they were - in their power, their ability to put the masses to work, the iron discipline that seemed it had not been imposed from above but had sprung from the tens of thousands of smiling participants. After all, the Nazi spectacles at the mass rallies at Nuremberg and the Berlin Olympics in 1936 were stunning - and scary, and many good people were amazed by their artistic beauty. Who can deny that Leni Riefenstahl's films, with their amazing pictures and rousing music, could set millions marching, in part because of the inherent aesthetic allure?

After the communist intermezzo, both Russia and China are returning to the bosom of their history. The two histories are different - in one case imperial bullying, in the other Confucian discipline. However, what they have in common is a centralist and hierarchical government and a submissive population. There is power here and perhaps also beauty of a certain sort, but freedom, democracy and liberalism are absent. Welcome to history.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mikheil Saakashvili's Achievements

Mikheil Saakashvili's Achievements

William Pfaff

Paris, August 26, 2008 – The overwhelming reaction in American and European comment on the Russian riposte to Georgia's attack on Russsian "peacekeeping" forces in South Ossetia has been that Russia showed too much of its claws. It should now be ostracized or penalized for "overreaction" to an attack on its soldiers.

This response evades acknowledgement that the real damage Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili has done has been to the United States and NATO, and to Georgia itself, which for the foreseeable future will now remain a nation of limited sovereignty, and an awkward embarrassment to its western allies.

It will have Russian troops indefinitely stationed on its territory to protect South Ossetia and Abkhazia, henceforth self-declared independent entities under Russian protection (or eventually annexed to Russia at their own request). The Russians, at this point, prefer the first solution, because as they like to emphasize, it follows the precedent of Kosovo's self-proclamation of independence from Serbia in February of this year, under American sponsorship.

The crisis has been a turning point in current international relations because it demonstrated that the United States could not or would not defend Georgia, despite the widespread international impression that Washington, after having trained Georgia's troops and showily displayed the Saakashvili government as its protégé, was in some way implicated in the Georgian attack on South Ossetia, and on the Russian soldiers legally there under international mandate.

Those Russian soldiers had been there for 16 years under an international agreement following a first Georgian attempt to "recover" the linguistically and historically distinct South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of them autonomous Russian -- and subsequently Soviet -- protectorates or regions since 1810.

Now U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney says he is going to visit Georgia next week, after visits to Azerbaijan and Ukraine -- which no doubt are in need of some bucking-up after this display of Russian fury and of American "diplomatic restraint" (meaning lack of a rational alternative). American naval vessels are in the Black Sea, and one of them, a destroyer, has delivered some humanitarian supplies to a southern Georgian port.

Another U.S. vessel, an unthreatening Coast Guard cutter, is scheduled to make another delivery Wednesday [August 27] to the port of Poti, patrolled by Russian forces and with nearby Russian check-points.

The Russians have darkly declared their suspicion that American vessels have been delivering arms to Georgia at other places along the coast. Even though the Russians destroyed all that was left of the new American military equipment and installations recently given to Georgia, even Saakashvili is unlikely to want to start up the war again. At least just now; unless Cheney is going to bring with him the 82nd Airborne Division and the Sixth Fleet. That of course is what Saakashvili seemed to expect the night when his invasion turned into a debacle. "Where is America?" he cried out, "Where is the Free World?"

He has since received reassurances from presidential candidate John McCain and vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, both fans of the unsuccessful Georgian liberator.

This has been an inane and stupid affair, except for the unfortunates who got killed or maimed, or lost their homes, or have been ethnically cleansed by one side or another during the past days and are now grieving refugees.

The United States left Saakashvili and the Georgians twisting in the wind, after telling them they were going to belong to NATO and help spread democracy in the Caucasus. Ukraine and the Baltic states have been given the lesson that great powers do not go to war against other heavily armed great powers in order to fight the ancient sectarian or linguistic grievances of client countries, even when those are prospective NATO members.

Poland and the Czech Republic had thought it prudent to humor the obsession of Washington and its arms manufacturers with building a missile-defense system ostensibly against the threat of Iran's committing suicide. Now they find that Russia is furious about a project that is no more than an industry-pleasing and money-making boondoggle to Washington politicians.

Israel now finds Syria talking with Moscow arms suppliers. Russian cooperation with the U.S. is now expected to cease on such matters as Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah; counterterrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, and oil and gas supplies to Europe.

Why? As far as one can make out, because a certain number of policy types in the Clinton and Bush II administrations, and in the Pentagon, decided that it could be a cost-free demonstration of American power and intimidation to build NATO right up to Russia's front door. They might even detach some of Russia's historical dependencies and protectorates – just to show who's Number One.

© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.
Thiis article comes from William PFAFF

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Georgia is the graveyard of America's unipolar world

Georgia is the graveyard of America's unipolar world
Russia's defiance in the Caucasus has brought down the curtain on Bush senior's new world order - not before time
Seumas Milne
Thursday August 28 2008
The Guardian

If there were any doubt that the rules of the international game have changed for good, the events of the past few days should have dispelled it. On Monday, President Bush demanded that Russia's leaders reject their parliament's appeal to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Within 24 hours, Bush had his response: President Medvedev announced Russia's recognition of the two contested Georgian enclaves.

The Russian message was unmistakable: the outcome of the war triggered by Georgia's attack on South Ossetia on August 7 is non-negotiable - and nothing the titans of the US empire do or say is going to reverse it. After that, the British foreign secretary David Miliband's posturing yesterday in Kiev about building a "coalition against Russian aggression" merely looked foolish.

That this month's events in the Caucasus signal an international turning point is no longer in question. The comparisons with August 1914 are of course ridiculous, and even the speculation about a new cold war overdone. For all the manoeuvres in the Black Sea and nuclear-backed threats, the standoff between Russia and the US is not remotely comparable to the events that led up to the first world war. Nor do the current tensions have anything like the ideological and global dimensions that shaped the 40-year confrontation between the west and the Soviet Union.

But what is clear is that America's unipolar moment has passed - and the new world order heralded by Bush's father in the dying days of the Soviet Union in 1991 is no more. The days when one power was able to bestride the globe like a colossus, enforcing its will in every continent, challenged only by popular movements for national independence and isolated "rogue states", are now over. For nearly two decades, while Russia sunk into "catastroika" and China built an economic powerhouse, the US has exercised unprecedented and unaccountable global power, arrogating to itself and its allies the right to invade and occupy other countries, untroubled by international law or institutions, sucking ever more states into the orbit of its voracious military alliance.

Now, pumped up with petrodollars, Russia has called a halt to this relentless expansion and demonstrated that the US writ doesn't run in every backyard. And although it has been a regional, not a global, challenge, this object lesson in the new limits of American power has already been absorbed from central Asia to Latin America.

In Georgia itself, both Medvedev's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia's independence and Russia's destruction of Georgian military capacity have been designed to leave no room for doubt that the issue of the enclaves' reintegration has been closed. There are certainly dangers for Russia's own territorial integrity in legitimising breakaway states. But the move will have little practical impact and is presumably partly intended to create bargaining chips for future negotiations.

Miliband's attempt in Ukraine, meanwhile, to deny the obvious parallels with the US-orchestrated recognition of Kosovo's independence earlier this year rang particularly hollow, as did his denunciation of invasions of sovereign states and double standards. Both the west and Russia have abused the charge of "genocide" to try and give themselves legal cover, but Russia is surely on stronger ground over South Ossetia - where its own internationally recognised peacekeepers were directly attacked by the Georgian army - than Nato was in Kosovo in 1999, where most ethnic cleansing took place after the US-led assault began.

There has been much talk among western politicians in recent days about Russia isolating itself from the international community. But unless that simply means North America and Europe, nothing could be further from the truth. While the US and British media have swung into full cold-war mode over the Georgia crisis, the rest of the world has seen it in a very different light. As Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's former UN ambassador, observed in the Financial Times a few days ago, "most of the world is bemused by western moralising on Georgia". While the western view is that the world "should support the underdog, Georgia, against Russia ... most support Russia against the bullying west. The gap between the western narrative and the rest of the world could not be clearer."

Why that should be so isn't hard to understand. It's not only that the US and its camp followers have trampled on international law and the UN to bring death and destruction to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early 1990s, the Pentagon warned that to ensure no global rival emerged, the US would need to "account for the interests of advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership". But when it came to Russia, all that was forgotten in a fog of imperial hubris that has left the US overstretched and unable to prevent the return of a multipolar world.

Of course, that new multipolarity can easily be overstated. Russia is a regional power and there is no imminent prospect of a serious global challenger to the US, which will remain overwhelmingly the most powerful state in the world for years to come. It can also exacerbate the risk of conflict. But only the most solipsistic western mindset can fail to grasp the necessity of a counterbalance in international relations that can restrict the freedom of any one power to impose its will on other countries unilaterally.

One western response, championed by the Times this week, is to damn this growing challenge to US domination on the grounds that it is led by autocratic states in the shape of Russia and China. In reality, western alarm clearly has very little to do with democracy. When Russia collapsed into the US orbit under Boris Yeltsin, his bombardment of the Russian parliament and shamelessly rigged elections were treated with the greatest western understanding.

The real gripe is not with these states' lack of accountability - Russian public opinion is in any case overwhelmingly supportive of its government's actions in Georgia - but their strategic challenge and economic rivalry. For the rest of us, a new assertiveness by Russia and other rising powers doesn't just offer some restraint on the unbridled exercise of global imperial power, it should also increase the pressure for a revival of a rules-based system of international relations. In the circumstances, that might come to seem quite appealing to whoever is elected US president. is the graveyard of America's unipolar world
Russia's defiance in the Caucasus has brought down the curtain on Bush senior's new world order - not before time

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gulf States Remain wedded to Dollar

International Herald Tribune
Gulf states remain wedded to dollar
By Landon Thomas Jr.
Monday, August 25, 2008

RIYADH: As oil prices soared and the value of the U.S. dollar plunged, a chorus of academics and policy experts took up the cry that Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf countries should abandon their currency peg to a depreciating dollar to help combat the social ravages of inflation that were spreading across the region.

The brief, put forth by the likes of Alan Greenspan and the Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, made impeccable theoretical sense: with Gulf economies riding an oil boom, higher interest rates and stronger currencies were needed, not the reverse. Currency traders took heed.

But that argument made only limited headway in Saudi Arabia. And now, with the dollar's modest comeback and oil's retreat, policy makers in the region have been bolstered in their resolve to keep the peg in place and accept the consequences of higher inflation if need be.

"The peg is here to stay, no ifs or buts," said Muhammad Al-Jasser, the vice governor of the central bank who oversees the financial management of Saudi Arabia's soaring dollar reserve base.

Sitting in his spacious office on the top floor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency's postmodern headquarters, the academic in Al-Jasser - he has a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Riverside - relishes the to and fro of the debate.

But the policy maker in him takes a different view: the Saudi authorities have long said that a precipitous revaluation would increase investor uncertainty as well as shrink the government's budget surplus and its foreign exchange reserves. Plus, they say, it is not the exchange rate that is causing the price spiral.

"Inflation in our case and in this point of time is not a monetary phenomenon," Al-Jasser said during an interview last month. "It is driven more by government and private sector spending, coupled with the global boom in China and India. Wages are flexible here."

Flexible they may be, but that is cold comfort for millions of immigrant workers who swarm to countries throughout the Gulf - not just Saudi Arabia but the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait as well - in search of a better life.

Consider Sher Bahader, a cab driver here in the nation's capital, who ticks off the items that have soared in price since inflation hit a 30-year high. Milk, food and, most acutely, rent.

"Too many things are expensive; its very, very difficult," said Bahader, 57, who works seven days a week from 4 in the morning to 11 at night to make enough to send to his five children and wife, who live in a small village in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. "If the oil price is high, that is good for the Saudi Arabian people, but not for the poor man."

The root of the problem is clear. Inflation is high and rising: 10.7 percent in Saudi Arabia as of April, up from 1 percent in 2003; 14 percent in Qatar for the first quarter of 2008; and 12 percent for the United Arab Emirates as of March.

But even as Gulf central bankers and outside prognosticators quarrel over how to respond to the situation, the intellectual divide between Gulf central bankers and outside prognosticators also highlights the gap that often exists between the prescriptions offered by academics and policy outfits in Washington, New York and Cambridge and the grittier realities that face policy makers in their home countries.

Indeed, academics are right when they say that the lower interest rates that dollar-pegged Gulf economies must adhere to have fueled a development boom that has resulted in major supply constraints.

In a part of the world that prizes stability of all kinds, however, it was always unlikely that countries like Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would abruptly revalue and watch their budget surpluses disappear just to appease outside experts - or dyspeptic taxi drivers for that matter.

Especially when memories of oil at $10 a barrel and gaping budget deficits remain vivid.

"The Gulf countries have opted to inflate," said Brad Setser, an international financial analyst at the Council of Foreign Relations who was one of many arguing that the Gulf countries should forgo the dollar link. "If oil revenues are going up 500 percent you can afford to pay your workers more. But that will just add to the inflationary spiral."

It is not just the academics either: the world's credit ratings agencies have recently warned that higher inflation in the coming years could lead to social unrest in the region even as the agencies themselves conclude that the large internal and external surpluses rule out a downgrade.

And on Aug. 11, the International Monetary Fund said that over time, if inflation persisted, Saudi Arabia should consider tying the riyal to a broader basket of currencies, as Kuwait has done.

Because they are paid in riyals and dirhams and then convert them back into dollars to send their wages home, foreign workers, who are estimated to comprise 50 percent or more of the work force in Gulf countries, have felt the punishing brunt of the dollar's slide.

Pay has increased for many imported workers, but it is not enough to compensate for rising food prices and, even more important, the soaring monthly rent, which accounts for 25 percent of the inflation index.

That creates something of a Catch-22 for local governments: to reduce housing costs, they must slake their thirst for inexpensive foreign labor. But that will hinder the region's planners in accomplishing the ambitious development projects intended to provide economic stability and employment opportunities for currently underemployed nationals, whatever the price of oil.

Such a quandary means little to Mahmood Gabar, a 36-year-old taxi driver from Egypt who, carrying only a high school diploma, was drawn to Abu Dhabi 15 years ago by the prospect of robust wages and permanent work. For years he made enough to enjoy a young man's life in the emirates and send more than enough back to his family in Cairo.

But over the past five years, the cost of renting the cramped 7-square-meter, or 72-square-foot, room he shares with two other workers shot up from 800 dirhams a month to 3,000, leaving him little to send home to his wife and newborn daughter.

"I won't stay here anymore," he said, his voice rising in frustration. "I am in the emirates 15 years and I have nothing."

Crisis of lies and hysteria: The principal lesson of the Russian-Georgian conflict is that Nato must not be expanded further

Crisis of lies and hysteria
The principal lesson of the Russian-Georgian conflict is that Nato must not be expanded further
Jonathan Steele
Monday August 25 2008
The Guardian

After a fortnight of conflict on the ground and a flurry of propaganda and debate in European capitals the South Ossetian crisis is winding down. One of the abiding images - a Russian masterstroke - will be the moving concert given by world-renowned Valery Gergiev, a South Ossetian, and the Mariinsky orchestra in the ruins of Tskhinvali, the town the Georgians destroyed.

Another unforgettable memory will be Georgia's flak-jacketed president cowering on the ground as a Russian plane flies over the town of Gori. Bravado turning into humiliation is a metaphor for the whole foolish adventure. Georgian men are hospitable and engaging, but fond of bombast and empty macho gestures. Unlike the Chechens, who have fought Russians for centuries, Georgians prefer poetry and vineyards to the challenge of war.

President Mikheil Saakashvili epitomises the style, made worse in his case by the lies he served up to deceive foreign opinion. He boasted of defeat. Georgia was being swallowed up, Tbilisi was on the verge of occupation, Russia was using weapons of mass destruction.

The biggest lie was his attempt to airbrush the fact that he created the crisis by launching an artillery barrage on the South Ossetian capital, which killed scores of civilians and 15 Russian peacekeepers. It was absurd to think Russia would not retaliate. So the next lie was to claim Russia's leaders had prepared a trap. In fact, they were taken by surprise as much as the Ossetians. Russia's initial response had the hallmarks of hasty improvisation - though, as the crisis unfolded, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin showed increasing determination to exploit Saakashvili's folly by preventing South Ossetia and Abkhazia from ever being forced back under Georgian rule.

Saakashvili and many of his western backers used ludicrous analogies to hype the crisis - from Poland in 1939 to Hungary in 1956, even though it is clear South Ossetians welcomed Russian aid and now want to break from Georgia once and for all. The more accurate comparison was Kosovo. Suppose Serbia's leaders were suddenly to kill US peacekeepers, fire rockets at civilian houses in Pristina and storm the town, wouldn't the Americans be expected to expel the invaders, even if the UN still recognises Kosovo as legally part of Serbia?

Russia's destruction of Georgia's radar stations, its military and naval bases, and several bridges in order to degrade the country's military capability looks similar to Nato's attacks on Serbian infrastructure in 1999. Instead of confining itself to Kosovo in seeking to protect Albanian civilians from ethnic cleansing, Nato bombed deep into Serbia proper. What Russia did to Georgia was disproportionate, but less so than Nato on Serbia a decade ago.

Nevertheless, Russia should pull back completely now. It should also have restrained South Ossetian militias from running amok against Georgian villages. Nato troops made little effort to stop revenge-seeking Albanians from looting and torching houses in the Serbian enclaves in Kosovo after Yugoslav forces were driven out. Russia's forces should have done better in Ossetia. They had the moral high ground but quickly forfeited it by not changing the patterns of military indiscipline and cruelty shown in Afghanistan and Chechnya as well as towards conscripts in their own ranks.

How and why Saakashvili acted remains unclear. Did he tell the Americans of his plans? If not, he emerges as even more of a hothead than many in Nato feared. If yes, did the Americans approve? Giving him the green light would have been incredibly irresponsible. If the US warned Saakashvili off and he went ahead anyway, he should be condemned as an ally from hell.

Did he think that by playing on ancient anti-Russian prejudice and hysterical cold war analogies he could swap an inevitable loss of territory for accelerated entry into Nato? If that was the gamble, it is paying off in some quarters. One of the grimmest aspects of this crisis was the degree to which John McCain emerged as an undiplomatic hawk. Before the crisis he was on record as calling Putin "a totalitarian dictator" and saying Russia should be expelled from the G8. As Russia came in to defend South Ossetia, he demanded it pay a "serious negative" price.

In Britain David Cameron showed similar wildness. Gordon Brown and David Miliband were little better. Instead of the relative even-handedness of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, New Labour followed the White House line. Could it not bring itself to utter any criticism of Saakashvili? Even as poodles, does this government not see that the next potential US president, Barack Obama, is more nuanced? He called on Georgia, as well as Russia, to show restraint.

That said, there is only a slight chance the US, under any president, will do the sensible thing, which would be to announce Nato expansion has reached its limit and that no invitation to Georgia - or Ukraine - will ever be issued.

The mantra is that Russia cannot have a veto on Nato membership. True, but by the same token no country has a right to join Nato, or the EU. Look at Turkey, which has been a loyal Nato ally for four decades but was not allowed to start EU membership proceedings until 2005 and still has no guarantee they will succeed. Neither Russia nor the applicants decide who enters the club. Its existing members do. Whatever the next US president thinks, and whatever other traditionally anti-Russian countries such as Poland and the Baltic states feel, there are European countries that see the danger of extending the Nato umbrella where the alliance's founders never meant it to go. Nato is not a global institution. It has no business looking for new members in the Caucasus or central Asia.

Nato and Russia are boycotting each other for the moment. But business will soon resume as western leaders see this was a manufactured crisis rather than the start of a new cold war or some cataclysmic shift in international relations. When Nato's foreign ministers met last week, France and Germany made that point. The alliance promised reconstruction aid to Georgia but no support for rushing it into Nato. Earlier this year, France and Germany had the courage to defy Washington and say it was too early to invite Georgia. They were right then, and are even more so now.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

Letting the Iraqis take control

Letting the Iraqis take control

The Bush administration has long refused to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. So why is it doing so now?

Lawrence Korb,

Monday August 25 2008 21:00 BST

When President George Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a declaration of principles for a long-term relationship between the US and Iraq in late November 2007, the US envisioned that the agreement would enable it to establish an extensive strategic relationship with an Iraq grateful for the blood and treasure the US spilled in liberating and stabilising that country.

The Bush administration believed that this kind of relationship would make a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal and unified Iraq a strong and dependable ally in the American global war on terror. Furthermore, it would ensure that our Iraqi allies would allow the US to maintain a permanent military presence in their country, provide the bases and freedom of action for these combat forces to project American military power throughout the greater Middle East, and serve as a bulwark against Iranian expansion.

In other words, the US would be able to project power regionally, as do US forces in Germany, Japan and South Korea. The administration believed that achieving anything less would be an admission of defeat and would empower our enemies in the war on terror.

The Bush administration was so confident about achieving these results quickly that it agreed not to ask that the UN mandate be extended past December 31 of this year and stated that the negotiations would be wrapped up on July 31. Moreover, the president and his supporters said that, of course, if the Iraqis wanted us to leave, we would, while simultaneously branding those who wanted to set a timetable for withdrawal as defeatists who would undermine the gains made by the surge.

However, on Friday, US and Iraqi negotiators completed a draft accord that demands that the US remove its combat troops from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the rest of the country by December 31, 2011. While American officials argue that these timetables for withdrawing American combat forces depend on conditions on the ground, this decision will not be made by the US alone, but in concert with the Iraqis, who do not see it as conditional. While speaking with tribal leaders today, Maliki said that the US and Iraq have reached an agreement on a final date for withdrawal.

Moreover, the draft accord could be rejected by the Presidential Council (which consists of the prime minister, the president, two vice-presidents and the head of the Kurdish regional government), senior Iraqi security officials and the Iraqi parliament. Since most of these officials, including Maliki, and the Iraqi people wanted all American troops out by the end of 2010, it is not a foregone conclusion that all of these groups will accept the 2011 deadline.

How did the Bush administration so misjudge the situation? Why did it agree to a timetable for withdrawal after disparaging those who took such a position as defeatists? Some would argue that the security situation has improved so dramatically in the past 18 months that a timetable has become more realistic. But on the same day that the details of the pact were revealed, General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, said the gains are not durable and that the US role is not anywhere near finished. And, President Bush has said repeatedly that when it comes to withdrawing US troops, he will be guided by the US commanders on the ground in Iraq.

The reason that the Iraqis want a timetable is that there is a broad Iraqi political consensus in favour of a US commitment to withdraw its forces from the country, and, while there does not yet exist a consensus among Iraqis as to what the new Iraq will be, a broad consensus does exist that no genuine, sustainable Iraqi unity can develop while the government continues to be underwritten by a large foreign military presence.

It is important to remember that Maliki opposed the surge of US troops and the US agreement to train and pay the Sunni insurgents, which became known as the Anbar Awakening. In late 2006, as President Bush was deciding on the next steps in Iraq, Maliki urged him to redeploy American forces to the outskirts of Baghdad and allow Iraqi forces to take control of Baghdad. And he has not only refused to incorporate more than a token number of these 100,000 Sunni insurgents, now known as the Sons of Iraq, into the Iraqi Security Forces, but he is also already arresting hundreds of the members of the Awakening movement.

In dealing with Iraq, the Bush administration has consistently demonstrated that it has little understanding of Iraqi history and culture. Just as the Iraqis would not greet any foreign armies as liberators, they are not going to accept a permanent military presence on their soil. These negotiations show that the Iraqis want to take control of their own destiny. We should let them do so. It offers them and us the best, if not the only, chance of gaining something positive from the mess we created.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A War to Start All Wars: Will Israel Ever Seal the Victory of 1948? Shlomo Ben-Ami

A War to Start All Wars: Will Israel Ever Seal the Victory of 1948?
Shlomo Ben-Ami
Foreign Affairs - August, 2008
The Zionist movement created a state that was admitted to the United Nations and aspires to have orderly relations with the international community. Yet this state continues to behave as if it were the old Yishuv bent on outsmarting a colonial occupier and the local Arab population. And the complex web of settlements it has spread across the West Bank now make negotiating a two-state solution a logistical nightmare.

Georgia War Rooted in U.S. Self-Deceit on NATO Analysis by Gareth Porter*

Georgia War Rooted in U.S. Self-Deceit on NATO
Analysis by Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, 23 Aug (IPS) - The U.S. policy of absorbing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, which was enthusiastically embraced by Barack Obama and his running mate Joseph Biden, has undoubtedly been given a major boost by the Russian military operation in Georgia.

In the new narrative of the Russia-Georgia war emerging from op-eds and cable news commentaries, Georgia is portrayed as the innocent victim of Russian aggression fighting for its independence.

However, the political background to that war raises the troubling question of why the George W. Bush administration failed to heed warning signs that its policy of NATO expansion right up to Russia's ethnically troubled border with Georgia was both provocative to Russia and encouraging a Georgian regime known to be bent on using force to recapture the secessionist territories.

There were plenty of signals that Russia would not acquiesce in the alignment of a militarily aggressive Georgia with a U.S.-dominated military alliance. Then Russian President Vladimir Putin made no secret of his view that this represented a move by the United States to infringe on Russia's security in the South Caucasus region. In February 2007 he asked rhetorically, 'Against whom is this expansion intended?'

Contrary to the portrayal of Russian policy as aimed at absorbing South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Russia and regime change in Georgia, Moscow had signaled right up to the eve of the NATO summit its readiness to reach a compromise along the lines of Taiwan's status in U.S.-China relations: formal recognition of the sovereignty over the secessionist territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in return for freedom to develop extensive economic and political relations. But it was conditioned on Georgia staying out of NATO.

That compromise was disdained by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. After a Mar. 19 speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Saakashvili was asked whether Russia had offered a 'Taiwan model' solution in return for Georgia stay out of NATO. 'We have heard many, many suggestions of this sort,' he said, but he insisted, 'You cannot compromise on these issues...'

Russia, meanwhile, had made it clear that it would respond to a move toward NATO membership for Georgia by moving toward official relations with the secessionist regions.

U.S. policymakers had decided long before those developments that the NATO expansion policy would include Georgia and Ukraine. They convinced themselves that they weren't threatening Russia but only contributing to a new European security order that was divorced from the old politics of spheres of interest.

But their view of NATO expansion appears to be marked by self-deception and naiveté. The Bill Clinton administration had abandoned its original notion that Russia would be a 'partner' in post-Cold War European security, and the NATO expansion policy had evolved into a de facto containment strategy.

Robert Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the Clinton administration and head of a three-year project for the State Department on reform of the Georgian National Security Council, says the U.S. project of Georgia's membership in NATO 'had to be seen by any serious observer as trying to substitute a Western sphere of influence for Russian' in that violence-prone border region of the Caucasus.

Some officials 'wanted to shore up democracy', said Hunter in an interview, imagining that NATO was 'a kind of glorified Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe' -- a negotiating and conflict prevention body to which the Russian Federation belongs.

But there were also some in the administration who 'genuinely wanted to contain the Russians by surrounding them', he added.

James J. Townsend, director of the International Security Programme at the Atlantic Council and formerly the Pentagon official in charge of European relations, said there was enthusiastic support in both the Defence Department and the State Department soon after Saakashvili took power in 2003 for integration of Georgia into NATO 'as quickly as possible'.

Townsend believes the project to integrate Georgia and Ukraine into NATO gained momentum in part because Washington 'was underestimating just how sensitive this is to Putin'. U.S. policymakers, he said, had observed that in previous rounds of enlargement, despite 'a lot of bluff and bluster by the Russians', there was no Russian troop movement.

Furthermore, policymakers believed they were proving to the Russians that NATO expansion is not a threat to Russian interests, according to Townsend. They did become aware of Russia's growing assertiveness on the issue, Townsend concedes, but policymakers thought they were simply 'making trouble on everything in order to have some leverage'.

In the end, the bureaucracies pushing for NATO expansion were determined to push it through despite Russian opposition. 'I think it was a case of wanting to get Georgia engaged before the window of opportunity closed,' said Townsend.

To do so they had to ignore the risk that the promise of membership in NATO would only encourage Saakashvili, who had already vowed to 'liberate' the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, to become even more sanguine about the use of force.

In the same Mar. 19 speech in Washington, Saakashvili minimised the problem of Russian military power in the region. He declared that the Russians 'are not capable of enforcing the Taiwan model in Georgia. Their army in the Caucasus is not strong enough calm down the situation in their own territory. I don't think they are ready for any kind of an adventure in somebody else's territory. And hopefully they know it.'

It was a clear hint that Saakashvili, newly encouraged by Bush's strong support for NATO membership, believed he could face down the Russians.

At the NATO summit, Bush met resistance from Germany and other European allies, who insisted it was 'not the right time' to even begin putting Georgia and Ukraine on the road to membership. But in order to spare embarrassment to Bush, they offered a pledge that Georgia and Ukraine 'will become NATO members'.

Hunter believes that NATO commitment was an even more provocative signal to Putin and Saakashvili than NATO approval of a 'Membership Action Plan' for Georgia would have been.

The Russians responded exactly as they said they would, taking steps toward legal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And Saakashvili soon began making moves to prepare for a military assault on one or both regions.

In early July, Rice traveled to Tsibilisi with the explicit intention of trying to rein him in. In her Jul. 10 press conference, she made it clear that Washington was alarmed by his military moves.

'The violence needs to stop,' said Rice. 'And whoever is perpetrating it -- and I've mentioned this to the president -- there should not be violence.'

David L. Phillips, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told the Los Angeles Times last week he believes that, despite State Department efforts to restrain the Georgian president, 'Saakashvili's buddies in the White House and the Office of the Vice President kept egging him on'.

But whether more specific encouragement took place or not, the deeper roots of the crisis lay in bureaucratic self-deceit about the objective expanding NATO up to the border of a highly suspicious and proud Russia in the context of an old and volatile ethnic conflict.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, 'Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam', was published in 2006.


A Really Bad Couple of Weeks for Pax Americana

A Really Bad Couple of Weeks for Pax Americana
Analysis by Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, 23 Aug (IPS) - Whatever hopes the George W. Bush administration may have had for using its post-9/11 'war on terror'' to impose a new Pax Americana on Eurasia, and particularly in the unruly areas between the Caucasus and the Khyber Pass, appear to have gone up in flames -- in some cases, literally -- over the past two weeks.

Not only has Russia reasserted its influence in the most emphatic way possible by invading and occupying substantial parts of Georgia after Washington's favourite Caucasian, President Mikhail Saakashvili, launched an ill-fated offensive against secessionist South Ossetians.

But bloody attacks in Afghanistan, and Pakistan, about 1,000 kms to the east also underlined the seriousness of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban insurgencies in both countries and the threats they pose to their increasingly beleaguered and befuddled U.S.-backed governments.

And while U.S. negotiators appear to have made progress in hammering out details of a bilateral military agreement that will permit U.S. combat forces to remain in Iraq at least for another year and a half, signs that the Shi'a-dominated government of President Nouri al-Maliki may be preparing to move forcefully against the U.S.-backed, predominantly Sunni ''Awakening'' movement has raised the spectre of renewed sectarian civil war.

Meanwhile, any hope of concluding a framework for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority by the time Bush leaves office less than five months from now appears to have vanished, while efforts at mobilising greater international diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment programme -- the administration's top priority before the Georgia crisis -- have stalled indefinitely, overwhelmed by the tidal wave of bad news from its neighbourhood.

''The list of foreign policy failures this week is breathtaking,'' noted a statement released Friday by the National Security Network (NSN), a mainstream group of former high-ranking officials critical of the Bush administration's more-aggressive policies. And a prominent New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, argued that the Russian move on Georgia, in particular, signaled ''the end of the Pax Americana -- the era in which the United States more or less maintained a monopoly on the use of military force.''

Indeed, Russia's intervention in what it used to call its ''near abroad'' was clearly the most spectacular of the fortnight's developments, both because of its unprecedented use of overwhelming military force against a U.S. ally heavily promoted by Washington for membership in NATO and because of the geo-strategic implications of its move for the increasingly-troubled Atlantic alliance and U.S. hopes that Caspian and Central Asian energy resources could be safely transported to the West without transiting either Russia or Iran.

While Russia did not seize control of the Baku-Tbili-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline or approach the area proposed for the Nabucco pipeline further south, its intervention made it abundantly clear that it could have done so if it had wished, a message that is certain to reverberate across gas-hungry Europe. Indeed, investors now may prove considerably less enthusiastic about financing the Nabucco project than before, dealing yet another blow to Washington's regional ambitions.

Russia's move also raised new questions about its willingness to tolerate the continued use by the U.S. and other NATO countries of key air bases and other military facilities in the southern part of the former Soviet Union, notably Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, over which Moscow maintains substantial influence.

As with Georgia, where the U.S. significantly escalated its military presence by sending over Russian protests 200 Special Forces troops in early 2002, Washington first acquired access to these bases under the pretext of its post-9/11 ''global war on terrorism''. But, while clearly important to its subsequent operations on Afghanistan, they were also seen as key building blocks -- or ''lily pads'' -- in the construction of a permanent military infrastructure that could both contain a resurgent Russia or an emergent China and help establish U.S. hegemony over the energy resources of Central Asia and the Caspian region in what its architects hoped would be a ''New American Century.''

As suggested by former Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani this week, Washington and, to some extent, NATO behind it, ''has intruded into the geopolitical spaces of other dormant countries. They are no longer dormant...''

Indeed, still badly bogged down in Iraq where, despite the much-reduced level of sectarian violence, political reconciliation remains elusive, to say the least, the U.S. and its overly deferential NATO allies now face unprecedented challenges in Afghanistan not entirely unfamiliar to the Soviets 20 years ago.

''The news out of Afghanistan is truly alarming,'' warned Thursday's lead editorial in the New York Times, which noted the killings of 10 French paratroopers near Kabul in an ambush earlier in the week -- the single worst combat death toll for NATO forces in the war there -- as well as the coordinated assault by suicide bombers on one of the biggest U.S. military bases there as indications of an increasingly dire situation. In the last three months, more U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

''Afghanistan badly needs reinforcements. Badly,'' wrote ret. Col. Pat Lang, a former top Middle East and South Asia expert at the Defence Intelligence Agency on his blog this week. ''Afghanistan badly needs a serious infrastructure and economic development programme. Badly.''

Of course, the Taliban's resurgence has in no small part been due to the safe haven it has been provided next door in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where Pakistan's own Taliban, which also hosts a rejuvenating al Qaeda, has not only tightened its hold on the region in recent months but extended it into the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Last week, it retaliated in spectacular fashion to airborne attacks on its forces by the U.S.-backed military in Bajaur close to the Khyber Pass -- the most important supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan -- by carrying out suicide bombings at a heavily guarded munitions factory that killed nearly 70 people near Islamabad.

Analysts here are especially worried that, having achieved the resignation last week of U.S.-backed former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the new civilian government will likely tear itself apart over the succession and the growing economic crisis and thus prove completely ineffective in dealing with Washington's top priority -- confronting and defeating the Taliban in a major counter-insurgency effort for which the army, long focused on the conventional threat posed by India, has shown no interest at all.

Indeed, the current leadership vacuum in Islamabad has greatly compounded concern here that the army's intelligence service ISI, which Washington believes played a role in last month's deadly Taliban attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, could broaden its anti-Indian efforts. This is especially so now that Indian Kashmir is once again hotting up, ensuring a sharp escalation in the two nuclear-armed countries' decades-long rivalry and threatening in yet another way the post-Cold War Pax Americana.

*Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy, and particularly the neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at