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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Passover, Brisket and Bond Market Vigilantes

Passover, Brisket and Bond Market Vigilantes

Is There A Poison Pill In The New START Agreement? And Is It Called Missile Defense?

Is There A Poison Pill In The New START Agreement? And Is It Called Missile Defense?

Questions Persist Over Arms Pact's Missile Defense Terms -- Global Security Newswire

Russia yesterday reaffirmed its right to withdraw from a pending successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty if the United States bolstered its missile defense forces past a certain degree, possibly throwing into question a compromise the countries had reached on the issue, the Washington Times reported (see GSN, March 29).

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week approved the final terms of the pact, which would require the United States and Russia to both lower their respective strategic arsenals to 1,550 deployed warheads. Each nation's fielded nuclear delivery vehicles -- missiles, submarines and bombers -- would be capped at 700, with another 100 allowed in reserve. The leaders are expected to sign the document in the Czech capital of Prague on April 8.

Missile Defense has always been the sticky point in any U.S.-Russian nuclear arms agreement. The fact that it should be coming out now before the treaty is even signed is a bad omen that tells me that if the U.S. continues with its missile defense program, the Russian's will eventually walk away from the treaty.

After The Moscow Subway Bombings, Russia's War In The Caucasus Heats Up

After The Moscow Subway Bombings, Russia's War In The Caucasus Heats Up

MOSCOW — Two bomb attacks aimed at the police killed at least 12 people in the volatile North Caucasus region of Russia on Wednesday, according to the Russian prosecutor’s office, further heightening security concerns two days after deadly suicide bombings struck the Moscow subway.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin said he did not rule out that Wednesday’s attacks in Dagestan, near the border with Chechnya, could have been organized by “the same group” behind the Moscow subway bombings. Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s president, called the two sets of attacks “links of the same chain.”

Read more ....

The Illusion of Nuclear Disarmament. US-Russian START Treaty: A Comprehensive Flicker by Eric Walberg

The Illusion of Nuclear Disarmament. US-Russian START Treaty: A Comprehensive Flicker

by Eric Walberg

The American Conservative May 1 2010 Normalizing Relations President Obama’s speeches signal a desire to treat Israel like any other country. Now events have converged to test his resolve. by Scott McConnell

The American Conservative
May 1 2010
Normalizing Relations

President Obama’s speeches signal a desire to treat Israel like any other country. Now events have converged to test his resolve.

by Scott McConnell

President Obama has probably studied the first President Bush’s standoff with Israel. Then as now, the issue of contention was Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and Jerusalem. George H.W. Bush was hopeful about moving toward a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In the last days of the Reagan presidency, the Palestine Liberation Organization had finally laid down the only significant diplomatic card in its possession, accepting UN Resolutions 242 and 338, recognizing Israel’s right to exist within its 1967 borders and limiting its aspirations to a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. In May 1989, Secretary of State James Baker addressed AIPAC’s annual Washington conference. After praising Israel’s commitment to democracy and role as a strategic partner, Baker went on to say, “Now is the time to lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel. … Forswear annexation. Stop settlement activity. Allow schools to reopen. Reach out to the Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights.”

AIPAC’s delegates gave Baker a chilly reception. Relations between Israel’s Likud Party Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President Bush were frosty as well. Bush believed Shamir had lied to him about settlements in East Jerusalem, which the United States (and every other country) considered occupied territory. The embryonic peace process stalled.

But after driving Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, Bush and Baker returned to the Palestine issue. In May 1991, Israel asked the administration for a $10 billion loan guarantee. The funds were to be used to settle immigrants from the former Soviet Union. At the time, Israel was building settlements at breakneck pace, and Baker and Bush both labeled them an obstacle to peace. Shamir was confident Israel’s clout in Congress would force the president to relent and turn over the money. Bush worked to ensure no funds could be used for construction beyond Israel’s 1967 borders. When AIPAC held an “education day” in Congress to press for the loans with no strings attached, Bush went public with a denunciation, depicting himself as “one lonely little guy” battling thousands of lobbyists. Some American Jews were bothered by the language, but the country was supportive, backing the president by two- and three-to-one margins. Bush stuck to his guns through the following summer, when Israeli voters tossed out Likud and elected Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party by a decisive margin. He then released the loan guarantees. The peace process, which came tantalizingly close to producing a two-states-for-two-peoples agreement by the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, would begin.

A principal lesson is that an American president can prevail in a showdown with Israel over settlements. But the Bush-Shamir dispute also highlights the centrality of the settlement issue. Pro-Israel commentators have gone into overdrive apologizing for Israel’s “gaffe” of announcing that 1,600 new homes for Jews would be built in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country. Bibi Netanyahu decried this “regrettable incident, done in all innocence, which was hurtful and certainly should not have occurred.” (The “hurtful” part is especially rich, as if the injury was to Biden’s self-esteem and not to America’s national interest.)

But, of course, the issue is one of substance, not timing, just as it was in 1991. It can be difficult for outsiders to grasp what is at stake in these seemingly endless battles over the building of neighborhoods in a few contested acres. But the 22 percent of Palestine that remained for the Palestinians after the 1948 armistice has, since 1967, been sliced and diced by Israeli settlements, by roads connecting the settlements to one another and to Israel proper, and by checkpoints and roadblocks designed to hinder Palestinian commerce and normal life. Israel’s East Jerusalem settlements supplement a policy of slow- motion bureaucratic population removal —Palestinians are routinely denied residency permits, permission to live with a spouse, authorization to build. Palestinians in Bethlehem have a difficult time visiting a Jerusalem-based doctor or lawyer or parent ten minutes away. Quite apart from its sacred status to Islam, Jerusalem is the center of bourgeois Palestinian life, a place where the majority of professional families have their roots. A Palestinian state without a capital in East Jerusalem is as much an absurdity as a Jerusalem stripped of an official Jewish presence.

In recent months, the battle of neighborhoods has been intensifying. In January, an Israeli court evicted several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, another East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood, and Jewish settlers were moved in. Thousands of Arabs and Jews have marched together in weekly demonstrations to protest this ethnic cleansing by housing court. Likewise, there have been regular demonstrations in Bil’in, where the route of Israel’s “separation wall” severs the Arab village from its farmland. Settlement-building has been incessant; 10 percent of Israelis now live in the occupied territories, four times the number that did so in 1993.

But if new settlements with their roads and checkpoints and the separation wall have transformed the physical geography of the West Bank since the first George Bush confronted Shamir, the moral geography of the region and how it is perceived in the United States may be changing more rapidly—and not in Israel’s favor.

One of the most interesting developments—not to my knowledge ever quantified—is the dramatic growth in the number of Americans who have become well-informed about Israel from a critical perspective. This group, far too diffuse to be called a coalition, includes some anti-Zionists, but its vast majority favors a two-state solution. It is composed of Christians and Jews and an increasing number of Muslims. It includes congressmen who tour the region under non-Israeli auspices, young people who volunteer on the West Bank, a talented coterie of bloggers, and a proliferation of Jewish peace groups, stretching from the establishment-oriented J Street leftward. Whereas informed skepticism about Israeli claims was once limited largely to American diplomats who served in the region, today its base may be ten times larger. For the first time in U.S. history, the pro-Palestinian side has a competitive voice in the public discourse—far smaller than the Israel lobby’s but growing every day.

In December 2008, Israel initiated a war against the Palestinian population of Gaza, then under the rule of Hamas. For over a year prior, there had been an uneasy but viable ceasefire, which Israel broke with some “targeted killings” in November. Hamas responded with rocket fire. Gaza was without serious military defense during the three-week campaign, and the IDF had its way, killing 1,400 Palestinians, using white phosphorous against civilian targets, and destroying much of Gaza’s infrastructure while suffering a handful of casualties. Several American congressmen who visited Gaza in the weeks after were appalled at the destruction and disturbed by Israel’s use of American weaponry to carry it out.

Shortly thereafter, Judge Richard Goldstone was named by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate Israeli and Hamas actions during the Gaza war. A highly accomplished international jurist, Goldstone has been described as nothing less than an archetype of Jewish liberalism, a believer in the rule of law and in human rights, a Zionist with a daughter living in Israel. His scathing report about Israeli conduct in the war opened up the possibility that the war’s initiators, the leaders of Israel’s centrist Kadima Party, could be arrested and charged with war crimes if they traveled abroad. The United States used its power in the UN to constrain the writ of the report, but in public-relations terms, the stain on Israel was there for the world to see.

At the same time, Israel began to be increasingly linked in the public mind with the term “apartheid.” Jimmy Carter used it in his bestselling book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. In interviews, he explained carefully that Israel itself was not an apartheid state, and Palestinian Arabs living in Israel proper possessed civil rights. But for 40 years, Israel has been ruling over Arabs on the West Bank, and the growth of settlements and Jews-only roads and checkpoints has created a de facto apartheid system. Some Israeli leaders have used the term to warn of their country’s fate in the absence of a two-state solution. And indeed there are parts of Israel now visible to anyone with Internet access that resemble South African apartheid conditions or worse. The New York Times website recently posted a video of Israeli settlers, newly moved into an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, singing songs in praise of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein. It is hard to know how much such scenes have altered American perceptions, but clearly the racist settlers are a world away from the “Exodus” performances of Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint.

A milestone in this shifting moral climate was the face-off between Andrew Sullivan and Leon Wieseltier. Gay, Catholic, and eclectically conservative, Sullivan is an extremely popular political blogger. Combining moral seriousness and whimsy, he manages to post on dozens of topics every day. After initially supporting the Iraq War, he revised his view and in the last few years has become increasingly critical of Israel and occasionally of the role of the Israel lobby. Leon Wieseltier—the longtime literary editor of The New Republic and Sullivan’s colleague when the latter edited the magazine in the early 1990s—is known for prose drizzled with displays of philosophical erudition and is author of the award-winning book Kaddish, an exploration of Jewish liturgy.

Generally centrist, Wieseltier is a staunch defender of Israel. “We’re the cops,” he once said of his magazine’s role in policing the Washington debate on the Mideast. In February, Wieseltier posted a long essay accusing Sullivan of displaying “venomous hostility toward Israel and the Jews.” The “rants” Wieseltier cited in evidence were in the main Sullivan’s expressive critiques of Israeli policies—the “pulverization of Gaza,” the “daily grinding of Palestinians on the West Bank”—and the assertion that “standing up to Netanyahu’s provocations” would help the U.S. “advance its interests in the region and the world.”

What happened next invites a point of comparison. In the mid ’80s, the editor of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, launched a campaign against Joe Sobran, then a senior editor at National Review. Sobran was a less judicious and far more reactionary writer than Sullivan, but there was nonetheless a fair degree of overlap between what he was writing about Israel then and what Sullivan is writing now. Under pressure from Podhoretz, NR founder William F. Buckley wrote an editorial affirming that “the structure of prevailing taboos respecting Israel … is welcome” and that Sobran, in full “knowledge of the reigning protocols,” had transgressed them, giving rise to “suspicions of anti-Semitism.” NR henceforth disassociated itself from Sobran’s syndicated columns. This was the first step along the way to the severance of Sobran from the magazine. Outside the National Review orbit, Sobran’s career unraveled. Apart from a few paleoconservatives, few took time to lament the hit.

In Sullivan’s case, almost the opposite occurred. Much of the liberal blogosphere rose to his defense. Wieseltier was widely mocked, most effectively perhaps by Matthew Yglesias, who observed that a former Bolshevik minister of justice had said that “execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more” than execution of the guilty. Yglesias added, “flinging baseless charges of anti-semitism is the essence of [The New Republic’s] commentary on Israel.” In the Washington intellectual blogosphere at least, the “structure of prevailing taboos” concerning Israel had eroded nearly out of existence.

The newest and potentially most decisive development in this American conversation about Israel, the settlements, and the Palestinians arose, by chance or design, at almost precisely the moment that the vice president and secretary of state were denouncing Israel’s settlement policy. Mark Perry reported in Foreign Policy that Gen. David Petraeus of Central Command had dispatched a team of officers last year to the Middle East to take a reading of America’s position. In January, they reported to the Joint Chiefs that the conduct of Israel toward the Palestinians was causing Muslims throughout the region to conclude that the administration was weak. The message was delivered in dramatic terms and reportedly shocked the White House. Petraeus reiterated the finding in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment. … Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with government and people in [the region].”

Such analysis is hardly new: one could have heard variations on it from almost any American Mideast specialist over the past 40 years. But it has usually been discounted by political Washington, a murmur from the foreign-affairs bureaucracy that could be ignored.

But Petraeus is no mid-level Arabist or anonymous retired general. He is the military’s best-known commander, admired for apparently turning around the conflict in Iraq and touted by conservatives as a potential president. While his statements were a frontal challenge to the Israel lobby’s claims that America’s and Israel’s interests are identical, his stature seemed to render him immune to the defamation typically showered on those making this argument.

The Petraeus intervention may prove a case study in the role of unintended consequences in history. Both he and Vice President Biden stressed the increased danger American troops now face because of perceptions that the U.S. is anti-Muslim and weak because of its deference to Israel. Ironically, it was in great part because of Israel and its American lobby that U.S. soldiers were in this position to begin with. A parade of Israeli leaders had professed to American audiences that Saddam Hussein was the new Hitler whom the United States had to take out, and it is well documented that pro-Israel voices within the administration worked relentlessly to ignite the Iraq War. Of course, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had to be inclined to listen to them. But as Stephen Walt has pointed out, it is inconceivable that the United States would have attacked Iraq had Israel and its American friends argued against such an invasion.

And so the United States is now there, and the security of its troops depends considerably on cooperation with Arab friends and the effective neutralization of those less friendly. As a society, the United States is thus much more engaged with Arab perceptions than it was before March 2003. The patronizing generalizations of Israeli Orientalism about the “Arab mind” have lost much of their cachet in Washington, as the United States has had to expand its base of specialists to deal with the Arab world. A fair number are in the military and report to General Petraeus.

The result is that two streams of anti-settlement, pro-peace-process discourse have begun to merge and reinforce one another. The realist argument about Israel—which can be traced from President Truman’s secretary of state George Marshall through Kennedy and Johnson aide George Ball to Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer—now appears to have the patronage of American’s most respected military commander. The pretense that America’s and Israel’s interests in the Middle East coincide completely is being challenged at the highest level and may never recover.

At the same time, the humanitarian argument, rooted in observation of Israeli oppression and Palestinian suffering, is disseminated more widely than ever. It reaches Americans through the Internet, through congressional visits, through the work of Israeli peace and human-rights monitoring groups, through the burgeoning communities of international solidarity workers, through church groups, through Richard Goldstone. Expressions of unconditional solidarity with Israel—such as Joseph Lieberman’s claim that we must not quarrel in public because Israel is “family”—are of course as common as ever. But they often give off the musty scent of Soviet bloc boilerplate in the 1970s and ’80s—words that many recite ritualistically but fewer and fewer say with conviction.

A gap in the line has been opened, but no one yet knows whether Obama will push through it. Chas Freeman, the veteran diplomat whose appointment to chair the National Intelligence Council was scuttled by objections from Israel lobbyists, says, “The president gets it”—that his appreciation of the centrality of these issues was manifest in his Ankara and Cairo speeches. Freeman views the showdown as an historic juncture: “the first time anything resembling an assault on an entrenched interest that many have recognized is contrary to American interests” has taken place. The moment has the potential to unite “Obama as the commander in chief with the visionary who spoke in Cairo.” But Obama’s track record is not reassuring, Freeman admits. He notes that the president has a “pattern of laying out a sensible strategic doctrine followed by delegating its implementation to people who may work to subvert it or who have their own agendas.”

Progress does not seem possible with the current Netanyahu government. But Israeli governing coalitions last, on average, 18 months, and some fall more quickly. (Netanyahu was sworn in a year ago.) George H.W. Bush had the leverage of Israel’s extraordinary request for a $10 billion loan guarantee, which Obama lacks. But there are many steps short of a cut-off of American aid that the administration could use to prod Israelis toward the two-state solution the majority of them say they want.

Biden and Clinton’s condemnations of East Jerusalem settlement-building were a start. The U.S. could choose not to veto a UN resolution condemning the occupation. It could suspend or downgrade military or intelligence cooperation with Israel as Ronald Reagan did after the invasion of Lebanon. It could end tax deductions for U.S.-based organizations that fund settlements.

In a broader sociological sense, the United States and Israel are plainly moving in different directions: America has been striving to become less racist and is inexorably becoming more multicultural. So are all the Western democracies. Israel, founded on the idea that Jews, like other peoples, should have their “own” state, is animated by an ethnonationalism that seems, in the Western world at least, increasingly anachronistic. Meanwhile, Israeli racism is on the upswing. I know no one on the Israeli Right who has proffered a suggestion for what Israel might do with the Palestinians in the absence of a two-state solution: the choices would seem to be either to grant them democratic rights in what would then become a binational state or solidify the current West Bank apartheid and rule over a growing Arab population while denying it equal rights.

The moment for decisive action is seldom obvious, but the first polls could hardly be more favorable to Obama: there is roughly a 50-50 split in Israel over whether settlement-construction in Jerusalem should be stopped, and Americans approve Obama’s position on the settlements by nearly a 5-2 margin (likely more than their approval of any other presidential initiative). With the Biden trip and the Petraeus report, the Obama administration has crossed its Rubicon in dealing with Israel. What remains to be seen is whether the president recognizes this.

Scott McConnell is editor at large of The American Conservative.

The American Conservative welcomes letters to the editor.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

U.S., India Agree on Processing Spent Nuclear Fuel (Update1)

U.S. and India officials have reached a deal on procedures for reprocessing used nuclear fuel. Under the terms, India would be able to reprocess U.S. nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency rules and permit U.S. companies to take part in its civil nuclear energy industry, according to the U.S. State Department. Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Majority Of Americans Now Favor Keeping Guantanamo Open CNN Poll: Big Shift On Closing Of Guantanamo Bay Facility

Majority Of Americans Now Favor Keeping Guantanamo Open

CNN Poll: Big Shift On Closing Of Guantanamo Bay Facility -- CNN

Washington (CNN) - Attitudes about the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have changed dramatically since President Barack Obama took office, according to a new national poll.

Support for closing the facility has dropped 12 points over the past 14 months, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicates.

Shortly before Obama's inauguration, 51 percent of Americans said they thought the facility in Cuba should be closed. Now that number is down to 39 percent, and six in ten believe the United States should continue to operate Guantanamo.

The poll, released Sunday, suggests independent voters are contributing to the 12 point overall drop.

Read more ....

Israel Tests It's Missile Defense System

Israel Tests It's Missile Defense System

Israeli Air Force Conducts First In Series Of Tests Of Country's Missile-Defense Systems -- Haaretz

The Israel Air Force conducted a first test late last week of all air defense systems connected to the country's missile defense. The test was completed to examine how the various systems would behave if a barrage of missiles were launched against Israel from a variety of distances - from the Gaza Strip to Iran.

Over the next few years, the Israel Defense Forces is set to acquire several active anti-missile defense systems: Iron Dome, for missiles fired from a maximum distance of six kilometers, and which will be operational in the coming months; Magic Wand and Arrow 3, for longer distances, which are still in development and expected to be deployed in about two years.

The systems will be operated by the air force air-defense units. Over the past year, work on the operational doctrine of the systems has been underway, which will seek to combine the various systems in the most effective way.

Read more ....

Obama Blames China Jeffrey Folks

Obama Blames China
Jeffrey Folks

Obama has spent the first fifteen months of his presidency blaming others for his mistakes, so it is not surprising that he is now blaming foreign competition for the continuing loss of jobs at home. More

Iraq After the Elections by Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation)

Iraq After the Elections by Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation)
Despite signs that Iraqis are disenchanted with sectarian politics, the electorate's votes still broke sharply along communal lines.

Saudi Arabia’s Royal Revolution by Patrick Seale

Saudi Arabia’s Royal Revolution by Patrick Seale
Saudi Arabia is changing very rapidly. What is striking to any visitor is that the revolution taking place is not only in the physical and architectural environment but in the Saudis’ minds.

Basketball Skills and the Middle East by Rami G. Khouri

Basketball Skills and the Middle East by Rami G. Khouri
Barack Obama’s skills as a basketball player will serve him well if they complement the lessons he learned in his three other life personas: law professor, community organizer, and politician.

THE MOGAMBO GURU Cowboy economics

Cowboy economics

Hidden costs of US's drone reliance

Hidden costs of US's drone reliance
The United States' expansion of unmanned aircraft strikes in Pakistan has inflicted severe damage on the Pakistani Taliban. But drones have been less effective in Afghanistan. There, evidence shows that while drone strikes wear down the will of insurgents, they also give policymakers the illusion of quick, seemingly costless success. - Brian M Downing (Mar 30,

THE ROVING EYE Iraq squeezed between US and Iran

Iraq squeezed between US and Iran
Sectarianism is the only winner to emerge so far in post-election Iraq. As the struggle to form a ruling coalition pits United States-backed Iyad Allawi against Nuri al-Maliki, the Iran-aligned present prime minister, neither is likely to succeed. But one thing's certain: violence will erupt in the Sunni backlash if Allawi, whose coalition won the most seats for the National Assembly, fails to take power. - Pepe Escobar

Obama kickstarts India's nuclear deal By MK Bhadrakumar

Monday, March 29, 2010

Very Good Reason to Believe Home Prices Will Collapse By Peter Schiff

Very Good Reason to Believe Home Prices Will Collapse

By Peter Schiff

Given the massive support for real estate already afforded by record-low interest rates and massive federal tax and policy incentives, there are very good reasons to believe that home prices will indeed collapse when these crutches are removed. Continue

Is America ‘Yearning For Fascism?’ By Chris Hedges

Is America ‘Yearning For Fascism?’

By Chris Hedges

Is The Google China Pullout The Prelude To A Serious Global Conflict? from Business Insider by Gregory White

Is The Google China Pullout The Prelude To A Serious Global Conflict?
from Business Insider by Gregory White

The trade war with China the U.S. is currently slipping into could lead to the great war to define the 21st century, according to Clif Droke Momentum Strategies Report.
That call is based upon the belief that Google's withdrawal from China, with U.S. backing, is the first American step in the build up to a trade war. China's unwillingness to revalue their currency for the benefit of the U.S. economy is a key Beijing foray.
Clif cites Niall Ferguson's latest book, The Ascent of Money, which notes that the only possible path for the world towards an anti-globalization environment the scale of that prior to World War I would be an economic or political conflict between the U.S. and China.
The result of a deteriorating trade and political environment prior to World War I was the biggest conflict in European history. Droke says we might be due for another outbreak, 100 years later, in 2014.
Join the conversation about this story »
See Also:

* Maybe We Should Sell New York To The Chinese

Can Obama avert a fiscal catastrophe

Can Obama avert a fiscal catastrophe?

Earthquake and Tsunami in Chile: The Militarization of Natural Disasters

Earthquake and Tsunami in Chile: The Militarization of Natural Disasters

Blame-game over war ship's sinking By Donald Kirk

Here's The Truth About The Korean Incident: Nobody Knows What Happened, But The Water Is Littered With Sea Mines

What happened last Friday that caused a South Korean warship to get ripped apart?

Nobody knows.

But Asia Times has a good report on why an incident like this shouldn't be a huge surprise:

Now both South Korea and the US want to tamp down tensions, to find the evidence that explains away the explosion, which claimed the lives of up to 46 of the ship's 104 sailors in the worst incident to occur in the disputed waters off the west coast of North and South Korea since the Korean War. The last thing anyone wants to hear is that North Korea was responsible.

The truth may be difficult to fathom for the simple reason that both South and North Korea have mined the sea on either side of the NLL. Both presumably know where they planted their mines, but they may have drifted in the strong currents that roil the Yellow Sea. The North Koreans may not be sophisticated enough to have deliberately set off a mine beneath the ship, and the waters are not believed deep enough for a submarine to have found and fired on the target.

Whoever was responsible, the explosive was huge enough to tear the 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan apart, trapping the 46 missing sailors in the aft of the ship as it plunged to the bottom. The rest of the vessel apparently stayed afloat long enough for the other sailors to get out, many of them plunging into the sea before it too slipped below the waves. It was not until Monday, 69 hours after the blast on Friday, that South Korean navy vessels found the missing aft portion, blown about 50 meters away from the main section.

Read the whole thing at Asia Times >

With Health Bill, Obama Has Sown The Seeds Of A Budget Crisis from Clusterstock by Robert Samuelson

With Health Bill, Obama Has Sown The Seeds Of A Budget Crisis
from Clusterstock by Robert Samuelson

From Washington Post:

When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody's Investors Service -- the bond rating agency -- published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama's health-care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook.

Should the United States someday suffer a budget crisis, it will be hard not to conclude that Obama and his allies sowed the seeds, because they ignored conspicuous warnings. A further irony will not escape historians. For two years, Obama and members of Congress have angrily blamed the shortsightedness and selfishness of bankers and rating agencies for causing the recent financial crisis. The president and his supporters, historians will note, were equally shortsighted and self-centered -- though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain.

See Also:

* CBO: Obama Is Underestimating His Deficits By $1.2 Trillion

Obama's Afghan drop-in from Stephen M. Walt by Stephen M. Walt

Obama's Afghan drop-in
from Stephen M. Walt by Stephen M. Walt

Here's how Obama defined the strategy in his remarks:

Our broad mission is clear: We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies. That is our mission. And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear: We're going to deny al Qaeda safe haven. We're going to reverse the Taliban's momentum. We're going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people.

And our strategy includes a military effort that takes the fight to the Taliban while creating the conditions for greater security and a transition to the Afghans; but also a civilian effort that improves the daily lives of the Afghan people, and combats corruption; and a partnership with Pakistan and its people, because we can't uproot extremists and advance security and opportunity unless we succeed on both sides of the border. Most of you understand that."

If that's what the President really thinks, we are going to be there for a long, long time.

Treasuries Find Greenspan’s Canary Fainting in Mine

Treasuries Find Greenspan’s Canary Fainting in Mine

The 'Long War' quagmire The doctrine, which posits an 80-year or so war against insurgents in the Middle East to South Asia, needs more scrutiny.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Neoconservatives, Loyalty and Logic Joe Klein, Time

Neoconservatives, Loyalty and Logic Joe Klein, Time
The most important condition for Israel--a condition agreed upon by the entire international community, including the Bush Administration in which Abrams served--is the cessation of settlement building on Palestinian lands.

Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran

Imagining an Israeli Strike on Iran

David Sanger, New York Times
Would Israel take the risk of a strike? And if so, what would follow?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Leaked CIA Report: "Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters" In Waging Endless Wars

Leaked CIA Report: "Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters" In Waging Endless Wars

A leaked CIA report says:

Public apathy enables leaders to ignore voters.

The report is discussing apathy among the French and German people to their countries' involvement in the war in Afghanistan, but the same is true to the apathy of Americans towards the Iraq and other wars as well.

For a little background on the manipulation of public opinion, see this and this.

Geopolitics: The US Russia Pipeline Wars - Engdahl

Geopolitics: The US Russia Pipeline Wars - Engdahl

Ralph Nader Congress, Israel and U. S. National Security

Ralph Nader
Congress, Israel and U. S. National Security

Bouthaina Shaaban The Mullen-Petraeus Report on the Middle East

Bouthaina Shaaban
The Mullen-Petraeus Report on the Middle East

Friday, March 26, 2010

US Caves On Iran Sanctions U.S. Softens Sanction Plan Against Iran -- Wall Street Journal

US Caves On Iran Sanctions
U.S. Softens Sanction Plan Against Iran -- Wall Street Journal

VIENNA—The U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran in order to win support from Russia and China for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among provisions removed from the original draft resolution the U.S. sent to key allies last month were sanctions aimed at choking off Tehran’s access to international banking services and capital markets, and closing international airspace and waters to Iran’s national air cargo and shipping lines, according to the individuals.

Read more ....

More News On Iran Sanctions

US softens Iran sanctions plan to win support: report -- AFP

Report: US softens Iran sanctions plan -- YNET News,7340,L-3868162,00.html

U.S. Easing up on Iran and Yuan -- World Market Media

Six Major Powers Hold Conference on Possible Iran Sanctions -- Voice of America

China to join in talks on sanctioning Iran over uranium -- Washington Post

Russia says may support Iran nuclear sanctions -- Reuters

Russia's Lukoil flees Iran -- UPI

Obama's European Foreign Policy - Rich Lowry, National Review

Obama's European Foreign Policy - Rich Lowry, National Review

A U.S.-China Cold War over Resources - Mahmoud Habboush, The National

A U.S.-China Cold War over Resources - Mahmoud Habboush, The National

Bibi’s Hollow Victory by Patrick J. Buchanan

Bibi’s Hollow Victory
by Patrick J. Buchanan, March 26, 2010
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"The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."

With this defiant declaration, to a thunderous ovation at AIPAC, Benjamin Netanyahu informed the United States that East Jerusalem, taken from Jordan in the Six Day War, is not occupied land. It is Israeli land and Israel’s forever, and no Palestinian state will share Jerusalem. Israel alone decides what is built, and where, in the Holy City.

With his declaration and refusal to walk back the decision to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, which blew up the Biden mission, "Bibi" goes home a winner over Barack Obama.

But it is a temporary triumph and hollow victory — over Israel’s indispensable ally. For the clash revealed that the perceived vital interests of Israel now collide with vital U.S. interest in the Middle East.

We have clarity. There is now visible daylight between U.S. and Israeli policy for all the world to see. And America cannot back down without eviscerating her credibility in the Arab and Muslim world

What are the major points of contention?

To Netanyahu, withdrawal from Gaza was a strategic blunder that led to a Hamas takeover and rockets on Israel. That blunder will not be repeated with the West Bank. Israel had a hellish time forcing 8,000 Jews to leave Gaza and will not force 250,000 Jews to leave ancestral lands on the West Bank to create a Palestinian state where the possibility will always exist that Hamas will win at the ballot box and become the government. As for Jerusalem, its city limits are now Israel’s permanent borders. Annexation is irreversible.

The American position?

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory. Building there violates international law. Peace requires a sharing of Jerusalem, return of almost all of the West Bank and withdrawal of the Jewish settlers. And any land annexed by Israel must be compensated for with Israeli land ceded to the Palestinians.

That the U.S. position is not anti-Israel is attested to by the fact that Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert came close to a peace with the Palestinians based on these principles.

Netanyahu, however, does not accept them. For he won office denouncing them, and in his ruling coalition are parties that not only opposed withdrawal from Gaza, they oppose a Palestinian state.

Given the irreconcilable positions, the deadlock, why will Israel not prevail as she always prevails in such collisions? Why would Bibi’s "No" to Obama’s demand for a halt to the building of settlements and a cancellation of the 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem not be the final and irrevocable answer that Obama must grudgingly accept?

Answer: There is a new party to the quarrel: the U.S. military, in the person of Gen. David Petraeus.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, in January, a delegation of senior officers from Petraeus’ command were sent to brief Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen.

"The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CentCom’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israel’s intransigence on the Arab-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that (George) Mitchell himself was … ‘too old, too slow and too late.’"

Mullen took this stark message — that America was seen as too weak to stand up to Israel, and the U.S. military posture was eroding in the Arab world as a result — straight to the White House. Hence, when Joe Biden was sandbagged in Israel, he apparently tore into Bibi in private.

"This is starting to get dangerous for us," Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. "What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Yedioth Ahronoth further reported: "The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and U.S. policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops."

Biden was saying Israeli intransigence could cost American lives.

Each new report of settlement expansion, each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As this message has now been delivered by Gen. Petraeus to his commander in chief, Obama simply cannot back down again. If he does not stand up now for U.S. interests, which are being imperiled by Israeli actions, he will lose the backing of his soldiers.

U.S.-Israeli relations are approaching a "Whose side are you on?" moment. Either Bibi backs down this time — or Obama loses his soldiers.

Netanyahu and Obama are at a point of no return By Akiva Eldar

Netanyahu and Obama are at a point of no return
By Akiva Eldar

The strife between Israel and the United States concerns something far bigger than the proximity talks with the Palestinians. As far as President Barack Obama and his senior advisers are concerned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame for nothing less than damaging the standing of the the Middle East and the Muslim world.

Just as Netanyahu received his standing ovation at the AIPAC conference, Obama and his advisers were ruminating over an altogether different convention - the Arab League begins a meeting Tripoli on Saturday. For the Americans, Netanyahu's Likudnik speech and the Shpeherd Hotel project matched in embarrassment the scandalous announcement of construction in East Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden's visit here.

This year's Arab League summit will be the scene of struggle between the allies of Iran and the allies of American, and the violation of the status quo in Al Quds - Jerusalem - has direct implications for the balance of power between the sides. Over the last few weeks, Americans have been giving life support to the Arab Peace Initiative, born at the League's summit in Beirut 2002 and set to be on the agenda this week.
The absence of Egyptian President Mubarak, who is recovering from an operation in Berlin, doesn't make it any easier for the U.S. to resist the efforts of Syria and Libya to suspend or possibly even terminate the peace initiative. The al-Mabhouh assassination, insulting as it was to the rulers of the Gulf, doesn't do much for the other proponents of the initiative, King Abdullah of Saudia and King Abdullah II of Jordan. The Saudi king had asked the Quartet for clarifications about Israel's latest moves in Jerusalem and specifically about Netanyahu's statement of intent for the Arab part of the city.

The messages coming to the White House from Riyadh and Amman, then, were starkly clear: If you don't rein in your Israeli friends, Tehran won't be the only Middle East capital where American flags will burn.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decisively supported General David Petraeus, the first American military man in years to describe Israel as a strategic burden on the U.S. Gates said America's rivals in the Middle East are abusing the standstill of the political process between Israel and the Arabs. He stressed that he had no doubt a lack of peace in the region was influencing American interests there.

Netanyahu had been hoping to buy time until September's Congressional elections, which coincide with the deadline he set for the settlement freeze. But with America's strategic interest on the line, Bibi's favorite political game (playing the Jewish community and Congress against the White House and the State Department) isn't working anymore. Obama decided his moderate Middle East coalition is more important than Netanyahu's extremist one. This is a point of no return.

Showdown at the settlements corral: can Obama remake the Bush-Baker classic?

Showdown at the settlements corral: can Obama remake the Bush-Baker classic?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

China and Russia Pressed Iran to Accept U.N. Deal

China and Russia Pressed Iran to Accept U.N. Deal
Ellen Barry and Andrew Kramer, The New York Times
Russia disclosed on Wednesday that Russian and Chinese envoys had pressed Iran's government to accept a United Nations plan on uranium enrichment during meetings in Tehran early this month but that Iran had refused, leaving "less and less room for diplomatic maneuvering."
Full Article

United States and Russia Reach Nuclear-Arms Deal

United States and Russia Reach Nuclear-Arms Deal
Mary Beth Sheridan and Philip P. Pan, The Washington Post
ChuThe United States and Russia have reached a deal on their most extensive nuclear arms-control agreement in nearly two decades, the Kremlin announced Wednesday. The pact appeared to represent President Obama's first victory in his ambitious agenda to move toward a nuclear-free world.

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) would replace a 1991 pact that expired in December. Experts called the new agreement the most significant arms-control accord since the 1993 signing of START II, which the Russians never ratified.
Full Article

For the IMF, read China

For the IMF, read China
from Asia Times Online :: Asian news hub providing the latest news and ...
European politicians should swallow their pride over whether the International Monetary Fund should bail out Greece. After all, that is not much different from the United States getting its funding, with the risks involved, from China. - Axel Merk

US peeks into China's nuclear fortress from Asia Times Online

US peeks into China's nuclear fortress
from Asia Times Online
A report by a United States think-tank that reveals details of China's nuclear warhead storage facilities in the mysterious Taibai mountain complex was probably not well received in Beijing. However, it paints a very positive picture of the rigid and reliable system of controls put in place by the Communist Party. - Peter J Brown (Mar 25, '10)

Obama recalls bunker-buster bomb kits to bar Israeli strike on Iran DEBKAfile Special Report

Obama recalls bunker-buster bomb kits to bar Israeli strike on Iran
DEBKAfile Special Report
March 20, 2010, 6:54 PM (GMT+02:00)

Advanced BLU-100 recalled by President Obama

Shortly after the flare-up of a US-Israel row over new homes in East Jerusalem, US president Barack Obama ordered a consignment of Joint Direct Attack Munitions- JDAM already on its way to Israel to be diverted to the US Air Force base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. This step in mid-March, the pointer to a US arms embargo for preventing Israel attacking Iran's nuclear sites, is first revealed here by debkafile's military sources.

Netanyahu flies home amid disagreement with Obama on key issues

Netanyahu flies home amid disagreement with Obama on key issues
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 24, 2010, 9:36 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tags: Jewish housing in E. Jerusalem Netanyahu Obama
Netanyahu leaves amid standoff with Obama

US president Barack Obama kept on turning the screw on Israeli minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday, March 24, after their harsh conversation Tuesday: Netanyahu was told bluntly to issue a White House-dictated public pledge to eschew further construction in East Jerusalem, or else face a US presidential notice condemning Israel and holding its government responsible for the failure to restart indirect Israel-Palestinian talks. This standoff was unsolved when Netanyahu flew home that night.
Read more


By Michael B. Kraft

State Department and non-government experts have told Congress that a biological weapons attack is a clear and present danger and that countering the threats overseas is essential to protect the United State.

The issues were discussed at a hearing Thursday by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade on "the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats," chaired by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California).

Mr. Vann H. Van Diepen, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, testified that “The biological threat has several important components, including intent from groups that have expressed interest in obtaining biological weapons and expertise, emerging infectious diseases that create new opportunities for havoc, and growing biotechnology capacity in areas of the world with a terrorist presence.”

The State Department official said “a biological weapons attack is a real and present danger, particularly in light of the 2001 anthrax attacks.” He added that “We have tangible evidence that Al Qa’ida leadership directed a focused effort to develop the capability to conduct a biological threat with anthrax.” He did not elaborate.

At the hearing, Prof. Barry Kellman, President of the International Security and Biopolicy Institute (ISBI), said “Homeland security is international security and vice versa. We cannot wall ourselves from worldwide bio-attacks.”

He added that “global biopreparedness must be a high foreign policy priority of the United States, working with our allies and the international system. This means having a global network of stockpiled medicines linked to delivery systems to get them to where they are needed quickly with effective plans to ensure smooth distribution.”

Steven Rademaker, a former assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, who also served on the Congressionally mandated WMD Commission added that: “ It is possible …with proper preparation and with effective detection and monitoring, to mitigate the damage caused by a biological attack. Indeed, highly effective response capabilities are probably our most effective means of preventing a biological weapons attack. “If terrorists or other potential attackers are satisfied that any biological attack on us will likely fail, in the sense that it can be expected to cause few or no casualties due to our ability to rapidly detect and mitigate the effects of the attack, they will be much less interested in attacking us with such weapons.”

During the March 18 hearing, subcommittee chairman Rep.Sherman placed into the record the extensive survey
that the ISBI prepared at the panel’s request on U.S. government agencies, policies and programs to help other countries strengthen their biosecurity. (The study, which co-authored, included interviews with many government officials. I am a board member of the ISBI, a non-profit organization that was established last year.)

For additional details on the testimony at the House hearing see my report on the blog section of the ISBI web site.
March 21, 2010 04:52 PM

Jonathan Cook The Jerusalem "Compromise"

Jonathan Cook
The Jerusalem "Compromise"

Greek Mess, Euromess, Western Nations Mess, World Mess? by Immanuel Wallerstein

Greek Mess, Euromess, Western Nations Mess, World Mess? by Immanuel Wallerstein
Greece's problems are indeed Germany's problems. Germany's problems are indeed the United States' problems. And the United States' problems are indeed the world's problems.

The US-Israeli Feud by Rami G. Khouri

The US-Israeli Feud by Rami G. Khouri
At stake here are two critical issues: Israel’s colonization policies, and America’s subservience to Israel. Will Israel continue colonizing Arab lands? Will the United States make sovereign, independent decisions on its Middle East policies?

Historic Change or Rhetoric? by Rami G. Khouri

Historic Change or Rhetoric? by Rami G. Khouri
Obama has just brought real change domestically with health care reform legislation. This strengthens his hand in Middle East mediation, where several factors have brought the crisis into new focus -- providing new possibilities.

Saudi Arabia’s Royal Revolution by Patrick Seale

Saudi Arabia’s Royal Revolution by Patrick Seale
Saudi Arabia is changing very rapidly. What is striking to any visitor is that the revolution taking place is not only in the physical and architectural environment but in the Saudis’ minds.

COUNTERFACTUAL A curious history of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program. by Jane Mayer

A curious history of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program.
by Jane Mayer

“Courting Disaster” (Regnery; $29.95)
by Marc A. Thiessen

In September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks on America, another devastating terrorist plot was meant to unfold. Radical Islamists had set in motion a conspiracy to hijack seven passenger planes departing from Heathrow Airport, in London, and blow them up in midair. “Courting Disaster” (Regnery; $29.95), by Marc A. Thiessen, a former speechwriter in the Bush Administration, begins by imagining the horror that would have resulted had the plot succeeded. He conjures fifteen hundred dead airline passengers, televised “images of debris floating in the ocean,” and gleeful jihadis issuing fresh threats: “We will rain upon you such terror and destruction that you will never know peace.”

The plot, of course, was thwarted—an outcome that has been credited to smart detective work. But Thiessen writes that there is a more important reason that his dreadful scenario never came to pass: the Central Intelligence Agency provided the United Kingdom with pivotal intelligence, using “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by the Bush Administration. According to Thiessen, British authorities were given crucial assistance by a detainee at Guantánamo Bay who spoke of “plans for the use of liquid explosive,” which can easily be made with products bought at beauty shops. Thiessen also claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the primary architect of the 9/11 attacks, divulged key intelligence after being waterboarded by the C.I.A. a hundred and eighty-three times. Mohammed spoke about a 1995 plot, based in the Philippines, to blow up planes with liquid explosives. Thiessen writes that, in early 2006, “an observant C.I.A. officer” informed “skeptical” British authorities that radicals under surveillance in England appeared to be pursuing a similar scheme.

Thiessen’s book, whose subtitle is “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” offers a relentless defense of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies, which, according to many critics, sanctioned torture and yielded no appreciable intelligence benefit. In addition, Thiessen attacks the Obama Administration for having banned techniques such as waterboarding. “Americans could die as a result,” he writes.

Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is “completely and utterly wrong,” according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006. “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.,” Clarke said, adding that Thiessen’s “version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006.” Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London’s public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, “used exactly the same materials.”

Thiessen’s claim about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed looks equally shaky. The Bush interrogation program hardly discovered the Philippine airlines plot: in 1995, police in Manila stopped it from proceeding and, later, confiscated a computer filled with incriminating details. By 2003, when Mohammed was detained, hundreds of news reports about the plot had been published. If Mohammed provided the C.I.A. with critical new clues—details unknown to the Philippine police, or anyone else—Thiessen doesn’t supply the evidence.

Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert who is writing a history of the Bush Administration’s “war on terror,” told me that the Heathrow plot “was disrupted by a combination of British intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, and Scotland Yard.” He noted that authorities in London had “literally wired the suspects’ bomb factory for sound and video.” It was “a classic law-enforcement and intelligence success,” Bergen said, and “had nothing to do with waterboarding or with Guantánamo detainees.”

"Courting Disaster” was published soon after a terrorism scare—the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, an alleged affiliate of Al Qaeda, to blow up a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Day—and the book has attracted a wide readership, becoming a Times best-seller. Recently, Thiessen was hired by the Washington Post as an online columnist. Neither a journalist nor a terrorism expert, he got his start as a publicist for conservative politicians, among them Jesse Helms, the late Republican senator from North Carolina. After Bush’s election in 2000, he began writing speeches for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and, eventually, became a speechwriter in the Bush White House.

In his book, Thiessen explains that he got a rare glimpse of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program when, in 2006, he helped write a speech for President George W. Bush that acknowledged the program’s existence and offered a spirited defense of it. “This program has given us information that has saved innocent lives,” Bush declared. (My own history of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies, “The Dark Side,” mentions this speech, and says that it supplanted a different version, prepared by Administration officials who disapproved of the interrogation program; Thiessen, in his book, disputes my reporting, insisting that although “many edits” were suggested by critics of abusive tactics, there was “no rival draft.”) In an effort to bolster the President’s speech, the C.I.A. arranged for Thiessen to see classified documents, and invited him to meet agency interrogators. He says that he emerged convinced of the program’s merit. While researching his book, he was granted extensive interviews with several of the program’s key architects and implementers, including Vice-President Dick Cheney; Michael McConnell, the former director of national intelligence; and Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director. The book, whose cover features a blurb from Cheney, has become the unofficial Bible of torture apologists.

“Courting Disaster” has a scholarly feel, and hundreds of footnotes, but it is based on a series of slipshod premises. Thiessen, citing McConnell, claims that before the C.I.A. began interrogating detainees the U.S. knew “virtually nothing” about Al Qaeda. But McConnell was not in the government in the years immediately before 9/11. He retired as the director of the National Security Agency in 1996, and did not rejoin the government until 2007. Evidently, he missed a few developments during his time in the private sector, such as the C.I.A.’s founding, in 1996, of its bin Laden unit—the only unit devoted to a single figure. There was also bin Laden’s declaration of war on America, in 1996, and his 1998 indictment in New York, after Al Qaeda’s bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The subsequent federal trial of the bombing suspects, in New York, produced thousands of pages of documents exposing the internal workings of Al Qaeda. A state’s witness at the trial, a former Al Qaeda member named Jamal al-Fadl, supplied the F.B.I. with invaluable information about the group, including its attempts to obtain nuclear weapons. (Fadl did so without any coercion other than the hope of a future plea bargain. Indeed, the F.B.I., without using violence, has persuaded dozens of other suspected terrorists to coöperate, including, most recently, the Christmas Day bomber.)

In order to make the case that America was blind to the threat of Al Qaeda in the days before 9/11, Thiessen skips over the scandalous amount of intelligence that reached the Bush White House before the attacks. In February, 2001, the C.I.A.’s director, George Tenet, called Al Qaeda “the most immediate and serious threat” to the country. Richard Clarke, then the country’s counterterrorism chief, tried without success to get Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national-security adviser, to hold a Cabinet-level meeting on Al Qaeda. Thomas Pickard, then the F.B.I.’s acting director, has testified that Attorney General John Ashcroft told him that he wanted to hear no more about Al Qaeda. On August 6, 2001, Bush did nothing in response to a briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.” As Tenet later put it, “The system was blinking red.”

Thiessen presents the C.I.A. interrogation program as an unqualified success. “In the decade before the C.I.A. began interrogating captured terrorists, Al Qaeda launched repeated attacks against America,” he writes. “In the eight years since the C.I.A. began interrogating captured terrorists, Al Qaeda has not succeeded in launching one single attack on the homeland or American interests abroad.” This is not exactly a textbook demonstration of causality. Moreover, the claim that American interests have been invulnerable since the C.I.A. began waterboarding is manifestly untrue. Al Qaeda has launched numerous attacks against U.S. targets abroad since 9/11, including the 2004 attack on the Hilton Hotel in Taba, Egypt; the 2003 and 2009 attacks on hotels in Indonesia; four attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi; and the assassination of Lawrence Foley, a U.S. diplomat, in Jordan. In 2007, Al Qaeda attacked Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, killing two Americans and twenty-one others, in a failed attempt to assassinate Cheney, who was visiting. Indeed, Al Qaeda’s relentless campaign in Afghanistan has helped bring about the near-collapse of U.S. policy there. In Iraq, the Al Qaeda faction led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

Terrorism experts have advanced many reasons that Al Qaeda has not managed a successful attack inside the U.S. since 9/11. For one thing, Peter Bergen suggests, America, in addition to improving its security procedures, “has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on improving intelligence.” This effort has involved better coördination between the C.I.A., the F.B.I., and the international community, as well as tightened surveillance.

Thiessen’s impulse, however, is to credit C.I.A. interrogators at every turn. He portrays the agency’s coercive handling, in 2002, of Abu Zubaydah—he was subjected to beatings, sexual humiliation, temperature extremes, and waterboarding, among other techniques—as another coup that saved American lives. Information given by Zubaydah, Thiessen writes, led to the arrest, two months later, in Chicago, of Jose Padilla, the American-born Al Qaeda recruit. But Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent, has testified before Congress that he elicited Padilla’s identity from Zubaydah in April, 2002—months before the C.I.A. began using its most controversial methods. Soufan, speaking to Newsweek, said of Zubaydah’s treatment, “We didn’t have to do any of this.” Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, has described Soufan as “one of the most impressive intelligence agents—from any agency.” Thiessen dismisses Soufan’s firsthand account as “simply false,” on the ground that another F.B.I. agent involved in Zubaydah’s interrogation—whom Thiessen doesn’t identify—told the Justice Department’s inspector general that he didn’t recall Soufan’s getting the information.

Thiessen, citing the classified evidence that he was privileged to see, claims that opponents of brutal interrogations can’t appreciate their efficacy. “The assessment of virtually everyone who examined the classified evidence,” he writes, is that the C.I.A.’s methods were justified. In fact, many independent experts who have top security clearances, and who have had access to the C.I.A.’s records, have denounced the agency’s tactics. Among the critics are Robert Mueller, the director of the F.B.I., and four chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Last year, President Obama asked Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, to give a classified briefing on the program to three intelligence experts: Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska; Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel to the C.I.A.; and David Boren, the retired Democratic senator from Oklahoma. The three men were left unswayed. Boren has said that, after the briefing, he “wanted to take a bath.” In an e-mail to me, he wrote, “I left the briefing by General Hayden completely unconvinced that the use of torture is an effective means of interrogation. . . . Those who are being tortured will say anything.”

Tellingly, Thiessen does not address the many false confessions given by detainees under torturous pressure, some of which have led the U.S. tragically astray. Nowhere in this book, for instance, does the name Ibn Sheikh al-Libi appear. In 2002, the C.I.A., under an expanded policy of extraordinary rendition, turned Libi over to Egypt to be brutalized. Under duress, Libi falsely linked Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s alleged biochemical-weapons program, in Iraq. In February, 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave an influential speech in which he made the case for going to war against Iraq and prominently cited this evidence.

Thiessen never questions the wisdom of relying on C.I.A. officials to assess the legality and effectiveness of their own controversial program. Yet many people at the agency aren’t just worried about the judgment of history; they’re worried about facing prosecution. As a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility notes, the agency has a “demonstrated interest in shielding its interrogators from legal jeopardy.”
“Courting Disaster” downplays the C.I.A.’s brutality under the Bush Administration to the point of falsification. Thiessen argues that “the C.I.A. interrogation program did not inflict torture by any reasonable standard,” and that there was “only one single case” in which “inhumane” techniques were used. That case, he writes, involved the detainee Abd al-Rahim Nashiri, whom a C.I.A. interrogator threatened with a handgun to the head, and with an electric drill. He claims that no detainee “deaths in custody took place in the C.I.A. interrogation program,” failing to mention the case of a detainee who was left to freeze to death at a C.I.A.-run prison in Afghanistan. Referring to the Abu Ghraib scandal, Thiessen writes that “what happened in those photos had nothing to do with C.I.A. interrogations, military interrogations, or interrogations of any sort.” The statement is hard to square with the infamous photograph of Manadel al-Jamadi; his body was placed on ice after he died of asphyxiation during a C.I.A. interrogation at the prison. The homicide became so notorious that the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John Helgerson, forwarded the case to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution. Thiessen simply ignores the incident.

Thiessen also categorically states, “The well-documented fact is there was no torture at Guantánamo.” One person who would disagree with this remark is Susan Crawford, the conservative Republican jurist whom Bush appointed to serve as the top “convening authority” on military commissions at Guantánamo. Last year, she told Bob Woodward, of the Washington Post, that there was at least one Guantánamo detainee whose prosecution she couldn’t allow because his abuse “met the legal definition of torture.”

Perhaps the most outlandish falsehood in “Courting Disaster” is Thiessen’s portrayal of Obama and the Democrats as the sole opponents of brutal interrogation tactics. Thiessen presents the termination of the C.I.A. program as a renegade action by President Obama, who has “eliminated our nation’s most important tool to prevent terrorists from striking America.” Yet Thiessen knows that waterboarding and other human-rights abuses, such as dispatching prisoners into secret indefinite detention, were abandoned by the Bush Administration: he wrote the very speech announcing, in 2006, that the Administration was suspending their use.

In fact, the C.I.A.’s descent into torture was ended by an outpouring of opposition from critics inside and outside the Administration—including officials within the C.I.A., who registered their concerns with Helgerson. In 2004, Helgerson wrote a pointed confidential report questioning the legality, the medical safety, and the humaneness of the program, which spurred conservative, Bush-appointed lawyers in the Justice Department to withdraw arguments that had been made to justify the program. F.B.I. officials and military leaders, including the four-star General John Vessey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, turned against the Bush Administration interrogation program. So did Senator John McCain; he later described waterboarding as torture. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that American officials had to treat Al Qaeda suspects humanely, or face charges of war crimes.

Thiessen’s effort to rewrite the history of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program comes not long after a Presidential race in which both the Republican and the Democratic nominees agreed that state-sponsored cruelty had damaged and dishonored America. The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Netanyahu leaves U.S. disgraced, isolated and weaker By Aluf Benn
Netanyahu leaves U.S. disgraced, isolated and weaker By Aluf Benn

Details emerging from Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington remain incomplete, but the conclusion may nonetheless be drawn that the prime minister erred in choosing to fly to the United States this week. The visit - touted as a fence-mending effort, a bid to strengthen the tenuous ties between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama - only highlighted the deep rift between the American and Israeli administrations.

The prime minister leaves America disgraced, isolated, and altogether weaker than when he came.

Instead of setting the diplomatic agenda, Netanyahu surrendered control over it. Instead of leaving the Palestinian issue aside and focusing on Iran, as he would like, Netanyahu now finds himself fighting for the legitimacy of Israeli control over East Jerusalem.

The most sensitive and insoluble core issues - those which when raised a decade ago led to the dissolution of the peace process and explosion of the second intifada - are now being served as a mere appetizer.

At the start of his visit, Netanyahu was tempted to bask in the warm welcome he received at the AIPAC conference, at which he gave his emotional address on Jerusalem.

Taking a page from Menachem Begin, he spoke not on behalf of the State of Israel, but in the name of the Jewish people itself and its millennia of history.

His speech was not radical rightist rhetoric. Reading between the lines, one could spot a certain willingness to relinquish West Bank settlements as long as Israel maintains a security buffer in the Jordan Valley.

But at the White House, the prime minister's speech to thousands of pro-Israel activists and hundreds of cheering congressmen looked like an obvious attempt to raise political capital against the American president.

Knowing Netanyahu would be reenergized by his speech at the lobby, Obama and his staff set him a honey trap. Over the weekend they sought to quell the row that flared up during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's trip here two weeks ago, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Netanyahu's response to the ultimatums Washington presented to him as "useful."

Special envoy George Mitchell made a televised visit to the prime minister's bureau Sunday to invite Netanyahu to the White House. Washington, it seemed, was trying to make nice.

Far from it. Just when Netanyahu thought he had resolved the crisis by apologizing to Biden, Clinton called him up for a dressing down.

This time as well, Netanyahu almost believed the crisis had passed, that he had survived by offering partial, noncommittal answers to the Americans' questions. Shortly before meeting with Obama, Netanyahu even warned the Palestinians that should they continue to demand a freeze on construction, he would postpone peace talks by a year.

His arrogant tone underscored the fact that Netanyahu believed that on the strength of his AIPAC speech, he could call the next few steps of the diplomatic dance.

But then calamity struck. At their White House meeting, Obama made clear to his guest that the letter Netanyahu had sent was insufficient and returned it for further corrections. Instead of a reception as a guest of honor, Netanyahu was treated as a problem child, an army private ordered to do laps around the base for slipping up at roll call.

The revolution in the Americans' behavior is clear to all. On Sunday morning Obama was still anxiously looking ahead to the House of Representatives vote on health care - the last thing he wanted was a last-minute disagreement with congressmen over ties with Israel.

The moment the bill was passed, however, a victorious Obama was free to deal with his unruly guest.

The Americans made every effort to downplay the visit. As during his last visit in November, Netanyahu was invited to the White House at a late hour, without media coverage or a press conference. If that were not enough, the White House spokesman challenged Netanyahu's observation at AIPAC that "Jerusalem is not a settlement."

The Americans didn't even wait for him to leave Washington to make their disagreement known. It was not the behavior Washington shows an ally, but the kind it shows an annoyance.

The approval of construction at the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah, announced before his meeting with Obama, again caught Netanyahu unawares. Apparently the special panel appointed after the Ramat Shlomo debacle to prevent such surprises failed its first test.

Netanyahu is having his most difficult week since returning to office, beginning with the unfortunate decision to relocate the planned emergency room at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center and lasting through his humiliating jaunt through Washington.

Returning to Israel today, Netanyahu will need to work hard to rehabilitate his image, knowing full well that Obama will not relent, but instead demand that he stop zigzagging and decide, once and for all, whether he stands with America or with the settlers.
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An Empire Decomposed: American Foreign Relations in the Early 21st Century

Readers might be interested in the speech below by Committee for the Republic President Chas Freeman. In this Chas traces many of the missteps of today's US global posture to a mythologized narrative among the US foreign policy elite of how the Cold War was "won." Text below. It is also available at: (

An Empire Decomposed: American Foreign Relations in the Early 21st Century

Remarks to the Foreign Affairs Retirees of Northern Virginia
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Arlington, Virginia, 24 March 2010

Americans are accustomed to foreigners following us. After all, for forty years, we led the industrial democracies against the former USSR and its captive entourage. After the Soviet collapse, we bestrode the world as its sole colossus. For a while, we imagined we could do pretty much anything we wanted to do on our own. This, in the opinion of some, made followers irrelevant and leadership unnecessary.

Still, on reflection, we thought things might go better with a garland of allies and a garnish of friends. So we accepted some help from NATO members and some other foreign auxiliaries in Afghanistan. And, when we marched into the ambush of Iraq, we recruited a few other nations eager to ingratiate themselves with us to tag along in what became known as "the coalition of the billing." In the end, however, in Iraq, it came down to us and our faithful British collaborators. Then, without even a "yo! Bush," the Brits too were gone. And when we looked for other allies to follow us back into Afghanistan, they weren't there.

All this should remind us that power, no matter how immense, is not by itself enough to ordain leadership. Power must be informed by vision, guided by wisdom, and embodied in strategy if it is to inspire companions and followers. We're a bit short of believers in our leadership these days, not just on the battlefields of West Asia but at global financial gatherings, the United Nations, meetings of the G-20, among human rights and environmental activists, in the world's regions, including our own hemisphere, and so forth. There are few places where we Americans still enjoy the credibility and command the deference we once did. A year or so ago, we decided that military means were not always the best way to solve problems and that having diplomatic allies could really help do so. But it isn't happening.

The excesses that brought about the wide-ranging devaluation of our global standing originate, I think, in our politically self-serving reinterpretation of the Cold War soon after it ended. As George Kennan predicted, the Soviet Union was eventually brought down by the infirmities of its system. The USSR thus lost its Cold War with America and our allies. We were still standing when it fell. They lost. We won, if only by default. Yet Americans rapidly developed the conviction that military prowess and Ronald Reagan's ideological bravado – not the patient application of diplomatic and military "containment" to a gangrenous Soviet system – had brought us victory. Ours was a triumph of grand strategy in which a strong American military backed political and economic measures short of war to enable us to prevail without fighting. Ironically, however, our politicians came to portray this as a military victory. The diplomacy and alliance management that went into it were forgotten. It was publicly transmuted into a triumph based on the formidable capabilities of our military-industrial complex, supplemented by our righteous denunciation of evil.

Many things followed from this neo-conservative-influenced myth. One conclusion was the notion that diplomacy is for losers. If military superiority was the key to "victory" in the Cold War, it followed for many that we should bear any burden and pay any price to sustain that superiority in every region of the world, no matter what people in these regions felt about this. This was a conclusion that our military-industrial complex heard with approval. It had fattened on the Cold War but was beginning to suffer from enemy deprivation syndrome – that is, the disorientation and queasy apprehension about future revenue one gets when one's enemy has irresponsibly dropped dead. With no credible enemy clearly in view, how was the defense industrial base to be kept in business? The answer was to make the preservation of global military hegemony our objective. With no real discussion and little fanfare, we did so. This led to increases in defense spending despite the demise of the multifaceted threat posed by the USSR. In other words, it worked.

Only a bit over sixty percent of our military spending is in the Department of Defense budget, with the rest hidden like Easter eggs in the nooks and crannies of other federal departments and agencies' budgets. If you put it all together, however, defense-related spending comes to about $1.2 trillion, or about eight percent of our GDP. That is quite a bit more than the figure usually cited, which is the mere $685 billion (or 4.6 percent of GDP) of our official defense budget. Altogether, we spend more on military power than the rest of the world – friend or foe – combined. (This way we can be sure we can defeat everyone in the world if they all gang up on us. Don't laugh! If we are sufficiently obnoxious, we might just drive them to it.) No one questions this level of spending or asks what it is for. Politicians just tell us it is short of what we require. We have embraced the cult of the warrior. The defense budget is its totem.

Of course, our virtue as Americans is self-evident, at least to us. Our military power is famously irresistible. Those with the power to do good have the duty to do it. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave us a virtual monopoly on global military power. It followed that we must use our power to impose our values on others abroad unfortunate enough to have different mores. Or so the neocons argued, in a sort of parody of the beliefs of America's long-vanished, Christian Wahhabis – my Puritan ancestors. Hence, Operation Iraqi Freedom. Liberal interventionists often join the neocons in their eagerness to remake the world in our image. Hence, the war to secure Afghanistan for feminism and other undeniably worthy causes not normally associated with that country. Americans are learning the hard way that armed evangelism and the diplomacy-free foreign policy associated with it give birth to more enemies than they kill. But what's done is done. We're addicted to military surges and the substitution of campaign plans for strategies. We just can't seem to quit.

The many trillions we spent on perfecting our capability to use force against our Soviet enemies included paying billions of dollars to universities and research institutes to develop doctrine for influencing foreigners by coercive means. To date, there has been no comparable effort to research how to persuade others to do things our way without whacking them. Problems without military components get lower priority. That is why we strain to relate issues like climate change to future military tasks. Two generations of decision-makers have been taught that only the threat or the use of force can really change foreign minds or produce decisive results. Of course, to change minds at home we draw on bonds of friendship, seduce, inveigle, coax, wheedle, beguile, or make it worth their financial while for them to do things our way. Few of us would consider it appropriate or effective to seek our compatriots' cooperation by pulling a gun or pistol-whipping them. Foreigners are a different matter. In American politics, common sense now stops at the water's edge.

Amazingly, as an example, we retain a touching faith in sanctions as an instrument of coercive influence. Our diplomacy follows a predictable pattern. It begins with bluster, experiments with covert action, then proceeds to demands that others join us in sanctions, which become a diplomatic end in themselves. When sanctions fail – as they always do, we put the bombers in the air and the tanks on the dirt. Somehow, the thought that foreigners could, like Americans, be induced rather than bombarded into seeing it as in their interest to do things our way is seldom, if ever, considered. After all, they're not like us. The only language they understand is that uttered by firepower. Only wimps attempt to reason with such people.

Given our idiosyncratic and often counterproductive preference for military solutions, it's hardly surprising that we have lost our political hegemony. Equally clearly, the neo-liberal dogma of deregulation and the "bankster" capitalism it fostered on Wall Street have been discredited. The wingnut notion that fiscal deficits don't matter has been disproved. All these developments, and the military adventurism that catalyzed our fall from global grace, have indeed brought disrepute on our country. Other nations are indeed strengthening. Yet, America remains the only military power with worldwide reach, the safe haven of rattled foreign investors, the possessor of the single most important reserve currency, and by far the largest economy and market in the world. Much to the distress of proponents of higher culture everywhere, our entertainment industry and universities retain preeminent appeal to the world's youth. In short, the United States continues to possess unmatched fundamentals. Our decline – if that is the word – is self-inflicted. So is the collapse of our self-confidence.

It is hard to believe what we have done to ourselves. It is harder still to know where to start to diagnose it and to begin to prescribe appropriate solutions. I have no experience in domestic politics. I cannot explain how the Congress became so venal and corrupt – a forum dedicated almost completely to the sale and trading of favors on behalf of special interests – or why we have allowed our political, economic, and social systems to decay to the extent they have. I do not know how we decided we were OK with foreign nations excelling us in an ever-growing range of social and economic indicators. I will stick to what I know, which is foreign affairs.

The bottom line in that arena? Without really understanding what we've done, we have thoroughly militarized our approach to foreign policy. It has come to the point that the Secretary of Defense (of all people) feels obliged to complain about the atrophy of civilian instruments of influence and the incapacity of non-military elements of our national security apparatus to manage programs abroad. He's right to do so. Civilian incapacities leave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to do a mediocre job of diplomacy and development instead of the superb job they can do as war fighters.

But it's not just that military forces, funding, and capabilities dwarf those of the Department of State, related agencies, and the Foreign Service. (So, of course, do those of the intelligence community.) Budgets can be plussed up, and to some extent this is happening. More than a quantitative problem, however, our statecraft deficit and crisis of civilian capacity are qualitative problems. They have to do with decades of underfunding, malorganization, deprofessionalization, inattention to training and professional development, and – let's face it – sometimes truly catastrophic leadership by elected officials and political appointees. And they have to do with civic illiteracy amongst Americans.

As the Chinese saying has it: "three feet of ice didn't freeze in a one day of cold." These problems took time to reach their current severity. They can be fixed. But this will take time as well as money. And fixing them will be politically demanding to say the least.

Among other things, it will require stripping the congressionally mandated barnacles from the ship of state. The foreign affairs agencies must be reorganized to deal with the world beyond our borders rather than to appease special interest groups at home. To placate particular blocs of voters, Congress has created a bewildering Rube Goldberg-type array of wheel-spinning bureaucratic entities – bureaus, ambassadors-at-large, special coordinators, czars, and the like. These establishments make it look as if we're taking special interests seriously. So what if their work eats resources but doesn't connect to much in the real world beyond our borders? We have knocked together a Department of State that even gifted managers find unmanageable and a policy process that produces more platitudes than strategy.

Regaining diplomatic effectiveness will require an unprecedented emphasis on training and professionalization. The concept of the foreign service as a refuge for dilettantes went out of style a while back. Replacing dilettantes with campaign gerbils, as we did in Iraq, was not an improvement. But our foreign service is not only amateurish, untrained, and unreflective in comparison with our military, it is far less trained and professional than the foreign services of other great and middle-ranking powers. It should not surprise anyone that retired flag officers, rather than foreign service officers, are now being appointed to some of our most difficult ambassadorial assignments. What can one say of a so-called profession that cannot present the best qualified candidates for its own most senior and demanding positions? What's happening confirms the militarization of our diplomacy. It also reflects a judgment about the professional incapacities of our career diplomats.

Meanwhile, new employees and a whole lot of contractors are being rushed to the diplomatic front with next to no training beyond brief familiarization with government operations. Well, why not? After all that's how we train the third of our ambassadors whose principal qualification for diplomacy is wealth and political connections. In other countries, civilian control of the military is paralleled by political control of diplomacy, that is, a foreign policy whose goals are set by elected and appointed national leaders but whose implementation is carried out by experienced professionals. We are now alone among nations in imagining that political appointments should be made directly to the diplomatic battlefields on which policy must be implemented. We let our ambassadors learn their trade through trial and error on the job. We expect their career subordinates to cover for them. As a nation, we have less margin for error than we used to have. We can ill afford diplomatic operations that are so much less competent and professional than the related operations of our armed services.

Given the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, we need to leverage our huge natural advantages as a nation into restored international leadership. Rather than allowing others to rearrange the world to their gain and our loss, we need to shape the global trends and regional events that bear on our interests and values. To be able to do this, we must, no less than other nations with which we compete and cooperate, develop and insist upon professional standards from the bottom to the top of our diplomatic services.

The last election seemed to herald the demilitarization of our foreign policy and a return to diplomacy. So far it hasn't worked out that way. The reason is the political culture bequeathed to us by the four decades of the Cold War and the decade and a half of national hubris that followed it. The notion that military phenomena are the only significant element of national security policy would be regarded elsewhere as simple-minded. It is, however, the politically correct view among our elite. This accounts in part for the strange pattern of American military activism and diplomatic default in regions like the Middle East.

Since very few Americans have any idea what diplomats do or what diplomacy is, it is hardly surprising that they imagine it as appeasement and the avoidance of strife rather than a means of cultivating support for US positions and sizing up adversaries while setting them straight about US interests. Nothing in their educational experience, on their television screens, in popular fiction, or in movie theaters gives Americans any basis for understanding where diplomacy begins or ends or what it can or can't do. Of course, a public that is so ignorant of geography that it cannot distinguish Australia from Iraq on a world map and so parochial that it is aware of no connection between Judaism and Islam might not know what to do with diplomacy even if it understood it. Yet the international alternative to diplomacy is violence – either violence from us or violence against us. Our schools and colleges don't just fail to prepare Americans to deal with the challenging world we live in. They reinforce dysfunctional approaches to the world and dumb us down about it while reassuring us that we are the best and most virtuous.

Erroneous assumptions and assertive ignorance about foreign societies are self-reinforcing. Polls show that Americans do not want more foreign news in part because they feel they lack the background to understand it or to see how it links to the fate of our country or themselves. For this and many other reasons (including often obvious ideological biases), our news oligopolies filter what they report about the world beyond our borders. The net effect is to reinforce blind spots and prejudice rather than to challenge stereotypes or provoke thought about why U.S. policies often seem to produce backlash rather than progress toward their declared objectives.

Perhaps this sort of contempt for the intelligence of the American people explains our leaders' evident fear of candid discourse on an expanding range of international issues. Take, for example, our pathetic national inability to do demand management. Without the insatiable demand of North American addicts, neither drug lords nor the current bloodletting in northern Mexico would exist. Americans sell Mexican cartels the guns they use to kill anyone who gets in the way of supplying other Americans with drugs. Yet our politicians, to the extent they take account of the issue at all, talk about supporting the Mexican authorities, not about ending the American drug culture that is the source of the problem or curbing the gun sales that make it so lethal. Or think about the last presidential election, in which candidates promised the American people both cheap gas at the pump and lessened dependence on oil imports. Or consider our efforts to deal with Muslim terrorists with global reach while denying that our subsidies for Israel and our own invasions and occupations of Muslim lands have anything to do with motivating their attacks on us. Dumb-downs, demagoguery, and denial do not provide a basis for resumed global agenda-setting by the United States.

The absence of American leadership is conspicuous in a widening range of international problem areas – the precarious transnational role of the dollar, the missing peace process in the Middle East, the all-but-abandoned effort at trade liberalization, Russia's still undefined relationship to Europe, the eroding rule of international law, the wobbling US-Japan alliance, accelerating climate change, contriving a satisfactory Chinese role in global governance, and many other arguably less momentous matters come to mind. Then there are perplexing issues we can neither defer nor evade, like how to cope with spreading hostility in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how to extricate ourselves from Iraq without throwing it either to Iran or into turmoil – or both. I have not exhausted the list. Doing nothing about so many international issues – or letting them drift to all-too-plausible ruin – should not be an acceptable option for our country.

What, then, are the prospects for a renewal of effective American international leadership? And, if it is not forthcoming, what – other than vacuum – will replace it?

I have discussed a few prerequisites for a revival of American diplomacy. These include a more sophisticated understanding of foreign affairs by citizens and their representatives; the reorganization of our foreign affairs agencies to focus on U.S. national interests abroad rather than to posture for special interests at home; the development of a more professional civilian presence abroad; and the appointment of better qualified officials at policy-making levels in Washington. Until these pieces are in place, it is hard to see how the United States can conceive or implement strategies for foreign affairs that require robust contributions of a political, economic, cultural, or informational nature to complement those of our military.

There are two ways to reform our educational system, government structure, career development programs for diplomats and development specialists, and inappropriate use of political appointees. One is effortless. We can wait for disaster to impose recognition of the need for change. This is a time-honored American tradition. Think of our failure to prepare for Pearl Harbor; think of Sputnik or Hurricane Katrina. The other way is arduous. We can try tackling our deficiencies before they do more damage to us and the world. I see heads shaking in disbelief that we might actually attempt any such thing. The collapse in our national confidence is a problem too. European friends who have not been here for a while tell me they are struck by the extent to which the vaunted optimism and can-do spirit of American society are now in eclipse. The dominant motif in our politics is pessimism and partisan rancor, coupled with a deep cynicism about Washington's capacity to acknowledge, let alone mount rational responses, to the challenges we face as a nation and people.

If pessimism proves justified – if we cannot do what is required to pull our diplomatic act together – we must expect a further decline in our power to shape the world order and what happens within it. For the past decade or more, in the absence of American leadership and engagement, the focus of problem solving has been devolving to the sub-global and regional levels. It has been moving beyond our control. This trend is accelerating.

China and others are experimenting with new policies and monetary groupings to hedge the dollar. Events in the Middle East are taking their own perilous course, not only undirected but often uninfluenced by us. Trade deals at the bilateral and regional level fill the vacuum left by the disintegration of the Doha Round. Russia and Europe are working out a separate peace without regard to stated American interests. Since the United States no longer polices its own behavior, other nations have begun to do so, issuing arrest warrants for U.S. officials engaged in actions, like extraordinary rendition and torture, that violate international law. American-sponsored practices on matters like the law of the sea are being set aside in favor of interpretations that disadvantage us. Japan is charting a course to an unknown destination, without apparent benefit of American counsel. U.S. relations with Turkey are in free fall. In the absence of a global regime for climate change, major polluters are each doing their own thing. For the first time in decades, China is picking diplomatic fights with the United States and we are preparing to pick fights with it. Brazil is staking out positions at odds with our own on a widening range of global and regional issues. I could but will not go on.

Let me instead sum up. The United States remains militarily supreme but increasingly unable to work its will politically or economically on the global or regional stages. America's fundamentals are sound. Our diminished influence is much more the result of dysfunctional behavior and organization – diplomatic incapacity aggravated by militarism – than of national weakness. Be that as it may, the world now looks elsewhere for leadership. With the inherited international system no longer working and no one in charge, an increasing number of urgent issues fester unattended. A resurgence in American leadership is needed. Such a resurgence is possible. It is, however, unlikely that our politicians or public will muster the determination to bring it off until catastrophe imposes it.

In the absence of reinvigorated U.S. diplomacy, others – including allies and friends as well as enemies – will craft solutions to issues in ways that exclude us. Solutions like that may benefit them. As likely as not, they will adversely affect the well-being and domestic tranquility of the United States. Opportunities to advance our national interests will meanwhile be lost. This is, in fact, already happening. An increased defense budget and greater capacity to use violence against foreigners will not turn this around – even if supplemented by additional diplomats and development specialists. That will certainly be the case if these civilian augmentees are neither professionally qualified nor properly trained.

The Cold War taught us to put military matters first. In the 21st Century, it has become clear that this does not work. As John Maynard Keynes once remarked, "the difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones." To preserve both our liberties and our prosperity, Americans need to rediscover our values, remake our government, and reinvent our current militaristic approach to international relations. We have the potential to renew ourselves and the power to play a revitalized role at the center of world affairs. The longer we wait to do this, the harder it will be. Why not start now?