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Monday, May 31, 2010

Israeli Commandos Raid Gaza Aid Flotilla, Netanyahu Cancels Meeting With Obama

Israeli Commandos Raid Gaza Aid Flotilla, Netanyahu Cancels Meeting With Obama

The Associated Press reports that "Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing at least 10 passengers in a predawn raid that set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis":

Israel said the forces encountered unexpected resistance as they boarded the vessels. Dozens of passengers and at least five Israeli soldiers were wounded in the confrontation in international waters.

The Israeli military said in a statement: "Navy fighters took control of six ships that tried to violate the naval blockade (of the Gaza Strip) … During the takeover, the soldiers encountered serious physical violence by the protesters, who attacked them with live fire."

The Israeli raid has "triggered widespread condemnation across Europe; many of the passengers were from European countries. The raid also strained already tense relations with Israel's longtime Muslim ally Turkey, the unofficial sponsor of the mission, and drew more attention to the plight of Gaza's 1.5 million people."

Greater international attention and sympathy to the plight of Palestinians suffering under the Israeli-Egyptian- (and U.S.) enforced siege of Hamas-ruled Gaza is precisely what Israeli authorities were hoping to avoid. In the days and weeks leading up to the launch of the flotilla, the Israeli government and its American mouthpieces were hard at work both to downplay the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and to present the flotilla's sponsors as supporters of terrorism. (The evidence for the latter claim seems to amount to the usual game of "Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden," wherein everyone who has ever contributed money to a Palestinian cause is linked to global jihadism.)

Responding to claims that the aid flotilla itself represented a "provocation," Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine writes, well, yeah: "The whole point of the 'Gaza flotilla' was to get a reaction out of Israel and call international attention to the problem of the blockade of Gaza…like all other acts of civil disobedience it was designed to provoke a response."

Writing that the attack "is likely to create sustained international attention to the way Israel has treated the Gaza Strip in a way that nothing else has since the Gaza war and possibly since the beginning of the blockade," Ibish suggests we compare the flotilla "to the 'Mississippi Freedom Summer' in which young white Americans from around the country went to the bastion of Jim Crow in order to organize local African-Americans, register them to vote, educate them and confront segregation":

They knew it was a dangerous situation, and they were shocked but not surprised when James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were abducted and killed by the KKK as the project just got going. There were many other acts of quasi-official violence meted out to the volunteers, and while the organizers obviously would have preferred to have avoided all of that, they expected it and it was part of their strategy. The largely but not entirely unstated reasoning was that the country would continue to ignore massive violence directed towards the African-American community in Mississippi, but could and would not remain oblivious to similar violence directed towards young, white, middle-class college students from New York City and other metropolitan centers. This, indeed, proved the case. The violence directed at the Mississippi Freedom Summer shocked the conscience of the country and was among the numerous decisive moments in the civil rights movement that ultimately succeeded in dismantling the apparatus of formalized racism in the United States.

Like segregation in the American South, the siege of Gaza (and the entire Israeli occupation, for that matter) is a moral abomination that should be intolerable to anyone claiming progressive values. It's sad that it should require the deaths of non-Palestinians to finally shake the international community from apathy and inaction, but, as with the tragic murders of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, if it contributes to ending the situation then that's a positive outcome.

Unfortunately, the killings will also likely result in the strengthening of support for Hamas vis a vis more moderate Palestinian leaders, greater unrest and more violence, which is not.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a written statement that "the United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has expressed his "full backing" for the raid, has canceled his scheduled meeting tomorrow with President Obama.

London's Sunday Times: All the Nukes Unfit to Print? by MARSHA B. COHEN
May 30: The London Sunday Times is reporting that Israel is stationing three submarines equipped with cruise missiles off the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf. "Some of the cruise missiles are equipped with the most advanced nuclear warheads in the Israeli arsenal."

According to Uzi Mahnaimi, who authored the Times report, each of the three German-built Israeli submarines--named Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan--has a crew of 35 to 50, and "is commanded by a colonel capable of launching a nuclear cruise missile." At least one of the submarines will reportedly remain in the Gulf as a "permanent presence.' The submarines are said to be capable of remaining at sea for about 50 days and submerging up to 1,150 ft below the surface for at least a week.

An unidentified officer of Flotilla 7, to which the submarines belong, asserts that the deployment is designed "to act as a deterrent, gather intelligence and potentially to land Mossad agents." The Flotilla's commander, "Colonel O," is quoted as telling an unidentified Israeli newspaper: "We are an underwater assault force. We're operating deep and far, very far, from our borders."

"As usual, Mahnaimi quotes anonymous sources," observes Middle East analyst Ami Isseroff, Director of MidEastWeb for Coexistence. "He does mention an interview with Colonel O. in an Israeli newspaper, but does not name the newspaper for some reason, so we have no idea in what context O's remarks were made."

Mahnaimi has a long and consistent record -- for being wrong (at least thus far). Several previous Sunday Times pieces written or co-authored by Mahnaimi have hyped the threat of an imminent attack on Iran by Israel. On July 13, 2008, the headline above Mahnaimi's byline blared, "President George W. Bush backs Israeli Plan for Attack on Iran." Mahnaimi claimed that then-Senator Barack Obama's "apparent doubts about the urgency of the Iranian threat," had "intensified pressure on the Israeli hawks to act before November's US presidential election." At that point in time, Obama was still a long shot for the Democratic nomination. Nevertheless, Mahnaimi found an anonymous Pentagon official willing to opine, "If I were an Israeli I wouldn't wait."

On January 7, 2007, Mahnaimi claimed that Israel had drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment facilities with bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapons, if a conventional attack was ruled out and the US declined to intervene in halting Iran's nuclear progress. According to Mahnaimi, "several military sources" had informed him that Israelis would soon strike Arak, Isfahan and Nantaz." Conventional laser-guided bombs would open "tunnels" into the targets, into which "mini-nukes" would immediately be fired. This, according to Mahnaimi's informants, would reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

On March 13, 2005, Mahnaimi reported that the inner cabinet of Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister at the time, had given initial authorization for an attack on Iran during a meeting at Sharon's desert ranch. According to Mahnaimi, "Israeli forces have used a mock-up of Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant in the desert to practise destroying it. Their tactics include raids by Israel's elite Shaldag (Kingfisher) commando unit and air strikes by F-15 jets from 69 Squadron, using bunker-busting bombs to penetrate underground facilities." Nine months later, on Dec. 11, 2005, Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter claimed that the order to prepare for a possible attack on Iran had gone through the Israeli defense ministry to the chief of staff, with "sources inside special forces command" confirming that they had been at the highest stage of readiness for the operation for a week.

While Mahnaimi's latest Times report is receiving some coverage in the Israeli press, Mahnaimi's latest "revelations" seem to be taking a back seat to the ongoing coverage of the Israeli Defense Forces efforts to block the Gaza flotilla. From an Iranian perspective, Press TV is reporting that Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told the Mehr News Agency, "If the report on the entrance of Israeli nuclear submarines is true, this will be a threat to the Persian Gulf region's security." The Tehran Times also summarized Mahnaimi's report.

As of this writing, Mahnaimi's lack of credibility has yet to be pointed out in any Israeli or Iranian online news sources.

Mahnaimi's career as a sensationalist was launched on Nov. 15, 1998, when the Times published a claim by Mahnaimi and co-author Marie Colvin that claimed Israel had developed an "ethnic bomb" -- a bacteriological warfare agent that would only target Arabs. "Not only did this story have no basis in fact, it was also a scientific impossibility that should not have been believed by anyone who had taken an introductory course in human genetics," Isseroff pointed out in a scathing critique of one of Mahnaimi's more recent pieces predicting an imminent Israel attack on Iran: "...this absurd lie was parroted in respectable newspapers and is still cited by Web sites like 'Global Research' and 'anti-Zionist sites like Radio Islam." Isseroff notes that Mahnaimi has also been predicting the impending outbreak of war between Israel and Syria for the past decade.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

Flotilla: Israel's customary lethality now changes everything Posted by Helena Cobban

Flotilla: Israel's customary lethality now changes everything Posted by Helena Cobban

Israel's security forces have become accustomed over many decades to using lethal force against opponents, then claiming it was the opponents who "fired first". They have become accustomed, moreover, to their government and its cheerleaders around the world having such a dominant position in the media that they can hope to have this version of events generally accepted-- or at least, accepted by enough of the people in power around the world that they don't need to worry about the real facts getting out.

It seems they don't understand the 21st century.

The Freedom Flotilla organized by an international group of nonviolence activists and humanitarians has all along pursued textbook rules of nonviolent action. In particular they allowed their ships to be inspected by governments before they took them to sea, they continually announced their intention of taking the humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and they worked hard to make their action as visible as possible.

None of that stopped Israel from using deadly violence against them. The number of the dead among the hundreds of civilians on board the five boats is not yet clear. Israel's Ynet is reporting 15 dead. The BBC reports that Israeli Channel 10 TV is saying 19.

And then, just as if this were an Israeli death squad going in and killing someone in a distant village in the West Bank in the middle of the night, Israeli military and political leaders come out with the rote accusation that the victims had been the first ones to open fire.


Around the world-- and perhaps even inside Israel-- it is already clear that very few people indeed believe that version of events. And indeed, the diplomatic/strategic repercussions for Israel around the world are already starting. There are even reports that PM Netanyahu might cancel or postpone his Wednesday trip to Washington.

A Special Place in Hell / The Second Gaza War: Israel lost at sea We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam. By Bradley Burston

A Special Place in Hell / The Second Gaza War: Israel lost at sea
We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam.
By Bradley Burston

A war tells a people terrible truths about itself. That is why it is so difficult to listen.

We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second. For Israel, in the end, this Second Gaza War could be far more costly and painful than the first.
Protest at Israeli ambassador's residence in Ankara

Turkish police stand guard in front of the residence of Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy during a pro-Palestinian protest in Ankara on May 31, 2010.
Photo by: Reuters

In going to war in Gaza in late 2008, Israeli military and political leaders hoped to teach Hamas a lesson. They succeeded. Hamas learned that the best way to fight Israel is to let Israel to what it has begun to do naturally: bluster, blunder, stonewall, and fume.

Hamas, and no less, Iran and Hezbollah, learned early on that Israel's own embargo against Hamas-ruled Gaza was the most sophisticated and powerful weapon they could have deployed against the Jewish state.

Here in Israel, we have still yet to learn the lesson: We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam.

Of course, we knew this could happen. On Sunday, when the army spokesman began speaking of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in terms of an attack on Israel, MK Nahman Shai, the IDF chief spokesman during the 1991 Gulf war, spoke publicly of his worst nightmare, an operation in which Israeli troops, raiding the flotilla, might open fire on peace activists, aid workers and Nobel laureates.

Likud MK Miri Regev, who also once headed the IDF Spokesman's Office, said early Monday that the most important thing now was to deal with the negative media reports quickly, so they would go away.

But they are not going to go away. One of the ships is named for Rachel Corrie, killed while trying to bar the way of an IDF bulldozer in Gaza seven years ago. Her name, and her story, have since become a lightning rod for pro-Palestinian activism.

Perhaps most ominously, in a stepwise, lemming-like march of folly in our relations with Ankara, a regional power of crucial importance and one which, if heeded, could have helped head off the First Gaza War, we have come dangerously close to effectively declaring a state of war with Turkey.

"This is going to be a very large incident, certainly with the Turks," said Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the cabinet minister with the most sensitive sense of Israel's ties with the Muslim world.

We explain, time and again, that we are not at war with the people of Gaza. We say it time and again because we ourselves need to believe it, and because, deep down, we do not.

There was a time, when it could be said that we knew ourselves only in wartime. No longer. Now we know nothing. Yet another problem with refraining from talks with Hamas and Iran: They know us so much better than we know ourselves.

They know, as the song about the Lebanon War suggested ("Lo Yachol La'atzor Et Zeh") that we, unable to see ourselves in any clarity, are no longer capable of stopping ourselves.

Hamas, as well as Iran, have come to know and benefit from the toxicity of Israeli domestic politics, which is all too ready to mortgage the future for the sake of a momentary apparent calm.

They know that in our desperation to protect our own image of ourselves, we will avoid modifying policies which have literally brought aid and comfort to our enemies, in particular Hamas, which the siege on Gaza has enriched through tunnel taxes and entrenched through anger toward Israel.
For many on the right, it must be said, there will be a quiet joy in all of what is about to hit the fan. "We told you so," the crowing will begin. "The world hates us, no matter what we do. So we may as well go on building [Read: 'Settling the West Bank and East Jerusalem'] and defending our borders [Read: 'Bolster Hamas and ultimately harm ourselves by refusing to lift the Gaza embargo']."

Hamas, Iran and the Israeli and Diaspora hard right know, as one, that this is a test of enormous importance for Benjamin Netanyahu. Keen to have the world focus on Iran and the threat it poses to the people of Israel, Netanyahu must recognize that the world is now focused on Israel and the threat it poses to the people of Gaza.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Toxic Oil Spill Rains Warned Could Destroy North America

Toxic Oil Spill Rains Warned Could Destroy North America

Faber: Nations Will Print Money, Go Bust, Go to War…We Are Doomed by Andrew Mellon

Faber: Nations Will Print Money, Go Bust, Go to War…We Are Doomed
by Andrew Mellon

Today the leading Austrian economic think tank, the Ludwig von Mises Institute held a conference at the University Club in Manhattan in which Marc Faber, famed contrarian investor and publisher of the “Gloom, Boom and Doom Report” gave his perspective on the financial crisis and his outlook for the future.

Marc Faber

Below are his main points and entertaining quotes:

* Central banks will never tighten monetary policy again, merely print, print, print
* Bubbles used to be concentrated in 1 sector or region in the 19th century, but off of the gold standard this concentration has ended
* “The lifetime achievement of Greenspan and Bernanke is really that they created a bubble in everything…everywhere.”
* “Central banks love to see asset prices go up,” and their policy reflects their desperation to perpetuate this
* US housing bubble that Greenspan could not spot (even though he has recently spotted bubbles in Asia) stands in stark contrast to that of Hong Kong in 1997, where prices fell by 70%, yet none of the major developers went bankrupt; this was a result of a system not built on excessive debt like that of the US
* “You have to ask what they were smoking at the Federal Reserve,” during the housing bubble, as prices were increasing by 18% annually when interest rates started to steadily rise in 2004
* Over the last couple of years, when the gross increase in public debt has exceeded the gross decrease in private debt, markets have risen, whereas when private debt growth has outpaced public debt growth, markets have tanked
* The next 3-5 years will be highly volatile

* Americans must re-think what constitutes a safe asset; in a “traditional” period, one would generally rank from most to least safe assets: cash, Treasuries, corporate bonds, equities, commodities
* However, last year Economist Gregory Mankiw articulated the position which according to Faber essentially echoes that of Fed #2 Janet Yellen and pervades much of the Fed generally, that “The problem is that people are saving money instead of spending, and we have to get the bastards spending to keep the economy going,” so the key is to inflate the money supply at something like 6% per annum
* Thus, Faber says “As far as I’m concerned, the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates at 0, precisely 0…in real terms”
* As such, cash and longterm bonds will be a bad place to hold one’s money; equities are an avenue to preserve wealth (but this is a risky proposition, given the effects of rampant currency depreciation); precious metals are a sound place for wealth preservation
* As for the US being the most important economy for the world, there is a sea change going on right now; recently car sales in emerging economies (such as Brazil, China) are outpacing those of the US, Europe and Japan; oil consumption in emerging markets is increasing, while in the developed world it is contracting; the whole world does not depend on American consumption anymore – 60% of total exports are now going to the emerging world when one includes E. Europe; the US is still a large economy but it is not growing, while the growth in the emerging world is and will continue to be strong
* “People still think of emerging market economies as poor cousins, but because 80% of the world’s people are here, in aggregate the consumption is huge.”; these are not saturated markets and they are growing rapidly
* “Everybody should have 50% of their money in the emerging world, outside the West.”; people should also keep the custody of their assets overseas
* Contrary to what the talking heads are saying, markets are not out of control, central banks are out of control printing money
* The drivers of growth in the emerging world will be the urbanization of India and China; stocks won’t necessarily rise in the short term, but there will be significant growth in Asia in the long run
* The shift in economic power from West to East has been remarkable in speed, largely due to the rapid industrialization of the emerging world and the speed at which information travels today
* There will be a massive increase in resource-intensive industries and new export markets, met with increased volatility and tension around the world
* The supply/demand characteristics of oil are great due to the need for oil in China, India, rest of Asia
* Oil is the top priority for China, as they are now a net importer
* US has a huge strategic advantage over China given that we have access to our own oil, and that of Mexico, Canada, the Middle East and off the western Coast of Africa, in addition to the ability to travel on the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean; meanwhile, China sources 95% of their oil from the Middle East, and while they are building pipelines throughout Eastern Europe for example, their oil supply points in terms of ports for example are limited, and the US has defense bases surrounding these areas; Chinese subs could sink our boats however; the Russians are also not happy about our forces being in the region, and tensions will grow as the need for natural resources in these nations grows
* Eventually, there will be war and one will want physical commodities “not paper from UBS or JP Morgan”
* In war, cities will not offer safety because one can get bombed, water may be poisoned, electricity shut off; instead, one should buy a house in the middle of nowhere/on the countryside
* The tremendous economic Sophism of the day is that a nation can print its way into prosperity; “If debt and money printing equaled prosperity then Zimbabwe would be the richest country.”
* “Mugabe is the economic mentor of Ben Bernanke.”
* Our fiscal situation is much more horrendous than it is made out to be; total debt (public and private) as a percentage of GDP counting unfunded liabilities is an astounding 800% of GDP, more than double that during 1929
* Sovereign credits in the Western world are all bankrupt, but before bankruptcy governments will print money; US government leaders will try to postpone the hour of truth, pushing the problems off till succeeding Presidents and Congressmen
* If deficits didn’t matter as many like Economist James Galbraith argue today, why should citizens even pay taxes? It would make everyone happier if they didn’t
* Faber is sure that the economists in academia are intelligent and they study the textbooks hard, but they study the wrong textbooks and are totally inconsistent in their philosophy
* In an environment of money-printing and high volatility that exists in the US and that will be created by future policy, physical gold is the best thing to own
* Once currency depreciation does take place, stocks may become very cheap, as happened when the Mexican peso depreciated by 95% in the early 80s, as the fund managers invested in Mexican equities completely undervalued them after currency collapse
* In a nutshell Faber says he is essentially bearish on everything, though he favors commodities (especially physical precious metals and agriculture), owning a house in the countryside, equities in emerging markets tied to resources (especially necessities like water and oil) and healthcare, and most of Asia including especially Japanese stocks
* There is no means of avoiding a total collapse in the West; at the first train station in 2008, the financial system went bust but didn’t die, at the next station nations will go bust (though this could take 5-10 years or less), but first they will print money as this is the most politically tenable option, and ultimately the world will go to war
* All of us will be doomed

Bear in mind that Faber said all of this quite matter-of-factly.

Even if you disagree with his points on the trajectory of the West, it cannot hurt to understand and prepare for the worst case scenario while still hoping for the best.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Ignoring al Qaeda’s ideology is a threat to US national security

Ignoring al Qaeda’s ideology is a threat to US national security

from Counterterrorism Blog by Walid Phares

In preparation for the publicizing for the new National Security Strategy by the Obama Administration, Mr John Brennan, White House Advisor on Counter Terrorism said the President’s strategy "is absolutely clear about the threat we face." From such an announcement one would project that the new narrative would be as precise as it should be. That is to define the ideology and the goals of the forces we're facing, namely the Jihadists, either Salafists or Khomeinists. Unfortunately, it was just the opposite. M. Brennan said the Obama Administration doesn’t "describe our enemy as 'Jihadists' or Islamists," because (as he argued) Jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenant of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one's community." He added that "the use of these religious terms would "play into the false perception" that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are "religious leaders and defending a holy cause, when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers." In reality, abandoning the use of terms such as “Jihadists” or even “Islamists” in defining the threat is a strategic set back in the war of ideas fought against al Qaeda, the Taliban, Shabab al Jihad, Hezbollah, the Pasdaran and all other adherents to Global Jihadism. It is the equivalent in a classical war, of banning the use of radars, AWACs and broadcast. In short, this is a shortcut to utter self defeat.

The premise of the new national security doctrine regarding the identification of the threat and the appropriate names to use is flawed in its root. Linguistically Jihad doesn’t translate into “Holy Struggle,” for the latter in Arabic is “al Nidal al muqaddass.” In its substance Jihad doesn’t mean a purification of oneself in abstract, like Yoga. Theologically it is a call for efforts on behalf of Allah (Jihad fi sabeel Allah) which could take different forms, some of which could be in the battlefield. It is originally a theological notion that US Government officials have no business in defining or redefining as M. Brennan and the national security doctrine of President Obama are attempting to. The United States secular Government shouldn’t enter the fray of stating that Jihad is legitimate or illegitimate from a theological standpoint. Instead they should identify if a particular ideology self described as "Jihadist" is or isn't a source of threat and radicalization.

الجهاد Jihad is a Theological Notion
الجهادية Jihadism is an ideology

However, and that’s the Administration’s second intellectual mistake, “Jihadism” is not the same thing as Jihad: the first is an ideological notion while the latter is originally a theological notion. The Administration’s experts have tried to link Jihadism, and thus the “Jihadists” to the controversially debated concept of Jihad. This is academically flawed: For Jihadism is a movement in contemporary times and their ideology has been established for almost a century. There are geopolitical in nature and involved in conflicts, wars and radicalization. More importantly they’ve declared a war against the US and have waged it for decades. Whatever is the debate about Jihad as a notion, the Jihadists exist in reality and they are the foes of democracies.

An AP story posted on April 7 reported that President Obama's advisers will remove religious terms such as "Islamic extremism" from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy and will use the rewritten document to emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror. It added that “the change is a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventative war and currently states: "The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century." This means that the Obama Administration is saying there is no such thing as “Militant Islamic Radicalism” thus the US narrative should not talk about ideology as a threat to national security. But banning all terms that identifies the threat other than describing it as “extremist” or “violent” not only is scholarly wrong but would in turn constitute a threat to America’s national security. Extremism and Violence are abstract terms used to describe an ideologies, movements and organizations. But “description” is not “identification.” One can say the Nazis or the Bolsheviks are extremists but one must identify the threat before describing it.

For while it is positive to refine and improve the quality of US rhetoric, and thus select the best words to identify the enemy’s identity and doctrines, cleansing the official narrative from all words allegedly “Islam-related” would simultaneously eliminate the very words and terms that determine and specifies the particular network and world vision which are at war with the entire international community including the United States but also the moderate Arabs and Muslims. Arguing that abandoning terms such as “Muslim Terrorists” may be helpful in narrowing the identification process to the very movement and ideologies involved in the threat. Rejecting generalizations against communities is the right thing to do, but eliminating the naming of the actual enemy would be a disaster on many levels. Indeed, the Administration’s experts have accordingly advised for deleting terms such as Jihadists, Jihadism, Salafism, Khomeinism, Takfirism and even Islamists. But these are the vital identification codes for the entire web engaged in war, indoctrination, incitement and Terrorism first against Muslim societies and also against Western and American democracies. These are ideological and political identifications of the threat without which US national security would be as blind as if during WWII word such as Nazism and fascism or during the Cold war, words such as Soviets and Communists, would have been dropped from the rhetoric. The terms Jihadists and Islamists are not descriptive of Islam or Muslims but of the forces which claim to do so. If we drop these very words we would be doing exactly what the Jihadists want us to do: linking them to the entire community instead of separating them from the majority of Muslims. If we accept the premise advanced by some advisors that Jihadism is Islam and mentioning it negatively would offend the Muslim world, al Qaeda wins.

The AP says these revisions “are part of a larger effort about which the White House talks openly, one that seeks to change (…) how the United States talks to Muslim nations.” This is a worse argument as the public debate and narrative in the Muslim majority countries precisely uses this terminology 24/7. How is it arguable that terms such as al Jihadiyya, al Salafiyya, al Islamiyun, al Khomeiniyun, al Takfiriyun are used in on Arab airwaves, in print and in the blogosphere to depict the radicals, extremists and Terrorists from Morocco to Pakistan, and White House advisors claim such words would offend if used in that sense in English? There is something very odd here. If these terms define the enemy within the Arab and Muslim world, who are we trying to confuse here? The only possible answer is that these words would be banned, so that the American public doesn’t use them not that the Muslim world is offended. This looks like a war of ideas to disable American citizens' understanding by making them believe that the very words that Arabs and Muslims use to isolate the Terrorists also offend them.

Dr Walid Phares is the author of Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America, and of The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Robert Fisk: Power to change If America can't broker peace in the Middle East, is it time for the Russians to step in? They have a long history with the region – and aren't hobbled by an Israeli lobby Robert Fisk, The Independent

Robert Fisk: Power to change

If America can't broker peace in the Middle East, is it time for the Russians to step in? They have a long history with the region – and aren't hobbled by an Israeli lobby

Robert Fisk, The Independent

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AP Photo

I've always claimed that somewhere across the Atlantic – or perhaps somewhere over the Mediterranean – there lies a geopolitical fault line, perhaps a screen or curtain, through which the loveable old West (once called Christendom) sees the Middle East, and then misinterprets all it observes. An Iranian offer of peaceably resolving its nuclear program becomes a threat and a cause for sanctions. Forthcoming elections in Egypt are seen as another step towards democracy rather than further one-party rule by an 81-year old dictator.

The start – yet again – of "indirect" peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis becomes another partial success for US peacemaking rather than a shameful symbol that there is no hope for the Palestinians. Yet more...
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China's Unstable North Korean Toehold

Nosing around China's border with North Korea last December I found myself wondering--as usual--why I'd had to travel so far to learn a very obvious truth. (Yes, this is another complaint about the fecklessness of our media.) In this case, I realized from local conditions that, in our lifetime, China would not sign on to any genuine pressure on North Korea. Even now that the North stands accused of gratuitously sinking a South Korean warship, China's will do little more than tut-tut and equivocate and make soothing noises. I wrote a column soon after my return from the Chinese border city of Hunchun, explaining the nature of the bond between the two countries. As the U.S. turns up the heat on Pyongyang and Beijing to help in the process, the column acquires fresh urgency....
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Sleepwalking with Iran

I can't figure out who is actually directing U.S. policy toward Iran, but what's striking (and depressing) about it is how utterly unimaginative it seems to be. Ever since last year's presidential election, the United States has been stuck with a policy that might be termed "Bush-lite." We continue to ramp up sanctions that most people know won't work, and we take steps that are likely to reinforce Iranian suspicions and strengthen the clerical regime's hold on power.

To succeed, a foreign-policy initiative needs to have a clear and achievable objective. The strategy also needs to be internally consistent, so that certain policy steps don't undermine others. The latter requirement is especially important when you are trying to unwind a

Is Europe Headed for a a Meltdown Edmund Conway, Daily Telegraph

Mervyn King, the Bank of England Governor, summed it up best: "Dealing with a banking crisis was difficult enough," he said the other week, "but at least there were public-sector balance sheets on to which the problems could be moved. Once you move into sovereign debt, there is no answer; there's no backstop."

In other words, were this a computer game, the politicians would be down to their last life. Any mistake now and it really is Game Over. Or to pick a slightly more traditional game, it is rather like a session of pass-the-parcel which is fast approaching the end of the line.
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THE ROVING EYE : Iran: Obama's other oil spill by Pepe Escobar

THE ROVING EYE : Iran: Obama's other oil spill
from Asia Times Online :: Asian news hub providing the latest news and ...
Nobody but washed up neo-conservatives, the Israel Lobby and full spectrum dominance fanatics can win from President Barack Obama's attempt to sink the emergence of non-United States-centric diplomacy that Brazil and Turkey's nuclear deal with Iran epitomizes. By drilling hard for United Nations sanctions on Iran, Obama has the political equivalent of another Gulf oil spill on his hands. - Pepe Escobar (May 27, '10)

Obama's National Security Strategy: real change or just 'Bush Lite?' from Shadow Government by Peter Feaver

Obama's National Security Strategy: real change or just 'Bush Lite?' from Shadow Government by Peter Feaver The roll-out of President Obama's National Security Strategy tries to frame the strategy as a repudiation of his predecessor's. But the reality is that the new strategy is best characterized as "Bush Lite", a slightly watered down but basically plausible remake of President Bush's National Security Strategy. If you only read the Obama Team's talking points, or only read the mainstream media coverage, which amounts to the same thing, this assessment may come as a big surprise. But if you actually read the Obama's NSS released today, and President Bush's most recent NSS released in 2006, the conclusion is pretty obvious.

* President Bush's NSS emphasized effective, action-oriented multilateralism to address the challenges of the day: to "strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends" and to "develop agendas for cooperative action with the other main centers of global power." Obama's NSS emphasizes "comprehensive engagement" built on the "cornerstone" of our traditional allies but expanding outwards to include "more effective partnerships with other key centers of influence."
* Bush's NSS emphasized that our national security did not rest solely on material factors (eg., the balance of military forces) but also on the strength and appeal of our moral values, especially America's commitment to defend and advance "human rights protected by democratic institutions." Obama's NSS makes the same point: "The United States rejects the false choice between the narrow pursuit of our interests and an endless campaign to impose our values."
* Bush's NSS recognized that international institutions were flawed but essential and thus needed to be reformed. Obama's NSS makes the exact same point: "we need to be clear-eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions that were developed to deal with the challenges of an earlier time and the shortage of political will that has at times stymied the enforcement of international norms. Yet it would be destructive to both American national security and global security if the United States used the emergence of new challenges and the shortcomings of the international system as a reason to walk away from it. Instead, we must focus American engagement on strengthening international institutions and galvanizing the collective action that can serve common interests..."
* Bush's NSS identified the most urgent threat to be the nexis of WMD proliferation (especially nuclear), terrorists, and state sponsors of terrorism. Obama's NSS makes the same determination, "there is no greater threat to the American people than weapons of mass destruction, particularly the danger posed by the pursuit of nuclear weapons by violent extremists and their proliferation to additional states."
* Bush recognized that the war on terror would require all elements of national power, from military to law enforcement to soft power, and Obama's NSS makes the same point.
* Obama's NSS even explicitly endorses America's prerogatives to use military force well before it is a last resort -- "While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can (emphasis added)" -- and unilaterally -- "The United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend our nation and our interests." (emphasis added)

Perhaps the most striking continuity is in the recognition that America must lead. This was an important theme of Bush's NSS. Effective action depended on American leadership - "the international community is most engaged in such action when the United States leads." The conclusion of the 2006 NSS hammered home the point:

The challenges America faces are great, yet we have enormous power and influence to address those challenges. The times require an ambitious national security strategy, yet one recognizing the limits to what even a nation as powerful as the United States can achieve by itself. Our national security strategy is idealistic about goals, and realistic about means. There was a time when two oceans seemed to provide protection from problems in other lands, leaving America to lead by example alone. That time has long since passed. America cannot know peace, security, and prosperity by retreating from the world. America must lead by deed as well as by example."

Obama's NSS similarly emphasizes America's "global leadership" and "steering those currents [of international cooperation] in the direction of liberty and justice" and "shap[ing] and international order" because " global security depends upon strong and responsible American leadership." Leadership goes beyond seeing the world as it is and includes transforming the world according to America's interests and values or, as Obama puts it: "In the past, the United States has thrived when both our nation and our national security policy have adapted to shape change instead of being shaped by it." Even the extra focus on rebuilding America at home (what the NSS deems "renewal") is justified not merely as an end in itself (which it surely is) but also as a means to another end of expanding America's global influence. To those who hoped Obama would embrace American decline, this NSS should come as something of a shock.


Measured in word-count, the biggest difference between Obama's NSS and his predecessor's is the long section devoted to domestic policy, both economic and social. The premise behind discussing domestic policy in an outwardly focused national security strategy is a reasonable one: our ability to meet global challenges and opportunities is a function of our national power and the foundation of national power is the health of our economy and domestic society. Moreover, the biggest change since the 2006 NSS is the global and domestic economic crisis. Downplaying the domestic determinants of power would seem odder than addressing them directly, as this NSS does. However, by this logic, there is no obvious place to draw the line between what belongs in this document and what does not -- economic strength depends on the productivity of the workers which depends on their education and their health which depends on their fitness which depends on their emotional and spiritual well-being which depends on ... and so on. Reading the domestic policy section one gets the sense that the authors struggled with where to draw the line and probably erred on the side of inclusion.

Substantively, perhaps the biggest difference (which earns the "Lite" moniker) is that Obama's NSS uses a blurry soft-focus approach where Bush's NSS was more sharply delineated. Bush labeled the ideology ("militant Islamic radicalism"), Obama leaves it a bit vague ("a far-reaching network of hatred and violence). Bush named the country that posed the most urgent threat (Iran), but Obama only describes the features of such a country. Bush labeled the values ("democratic"), Obama generally discusses values without the label.

In a document so long, there are also curious omissions: only the slightest reference to Latin America; no recognition of the challenge posed by Venezuela and neo-Bolivarism; barely any mention of Southeast Asia (despite all of the ballyhooed "America is back" nonsense); the climate change desiderata are mentioned but the Copenhagen setbacks are not; and lots of discussion of the goals in Iraq and Afghanistan and much less discussion of the threats and challenges that might impede those goals.

There are other tonal differences. Bush's NSS led with the observation that the country was at war; Obama's NSS moves that point to the second paragraph. Bush's NSS was written with an eye to explaining to Bush critics why controversial policies were pursued. Obama's NSS engages Obama critics much less often in the text. Bush's NSS was shorter and stayed in President Bush's terse "voice"; Obama's NSS is longer, perhaps reflecting Obama's more florid "voice" but also perhaps reflecting the contribution of many more authors to the final document.

Grading the NSS is hard. As I do with difficult student grading, it is best to give it a provisional grade and to read and reflect on it some more before posting the grade with the registrar. Overall, I think it earns a respectable B-, but I reserve the right to raise or lower the grade as warranted.

The NSS scores better on some elements of the grading rubric I proposed than others. By embracing the outlines of the post-Cold War and post-9/11 grand strategy that has guided U.S. policy thus far, it is basically as strategic and coherent in outline as its predecessors; the harder test is in the application of this broad outline to specific cases like Iran or North Korea (a matter I will take up in a later post). It is not particularly persuasive, but mainly because it does not engage the reasonable critiques of Obama's record. For that matter, it is not particularly candid -- there is no recognition that Obama has been trying to implement this strategy for over 15 months and has a record of both successes and failures to explain. The frequent cheap shots at President Bush come off as defensive and perhaps even reflective of a deeper insecurity (which might also explain why the roll-out has tried to downplay areas of continuity). Yet I think it does a pretty good job of being confident without arrogant, especially in discussing American leadership. Assessing whether it is wise requires going beyond the rhetoric to evaluate the implementation, and here there might be room for debate (and more blogging!). To pick just one non-trivial example, everyone agrees that America's fiscal challenges constitute a grave challenge for national security, but not everyone would agree that Obama's new health care plan and stimulus package have helped alleviate the fiscal burden.

Grading the media's coverage thus far, however, is comparatively simple: they have earned a failing grade that borders on malpractice. It appears that even reporters who were given advanced copies have been content merely to parrot superficial talking points built around caricatures rather than do serious analysis. Some handy grading rules of thumb: any reporter who limits the comparison to the Bush 2002 NSS (and worse just to parodies of the 2002 NSS) flunks the assignment; any reporter who pretends that the Bush National Security Strategy consisted entirely of preemption and unilateralism flunks the assignment; any reporter who looks only at the NSS rhetoric not the NSS-in-action, meaning the actual performance, flunks the assignment. So far, both the AP and the Washington Post have flunked. The New York Times did slightly better; it only quotes the 2002 NSS, but was far more nuanced in comparing the Obama rhetoric to Obama reality and noted that for all the talking points, Obama's NSS leaves open all of the same options, including the use of preemptive military force.

A US nuclear submarine crosses into Strait of Hormuz from DEBKAfile

A US nuclear submarine crosses into Strait of Hormuz
from DEBKAfile

Western sources confirm Tehran's report that an Iranian naval patrol Thursday, May 27, detected a US nuclear submarine sailing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which most of the oil produced by Persian Gulf states passes on its way to world markets. The arrival of a US nuclear submarine in the Persian Gulf also ties in with rising Middle East war tensions. It confirms an debkafile's May 20 report that President Obama had decided to boost US military strength in the region.

Al-Qaeda in the New National Security Strategy from Marc Lynch

Al-Qaeda in the New National Security Strategyfrom Marc Lynch by Marc Lynch

The Obama administration's new National Security Strategy is about to be unveiled today. I got hold of an advance copy of it yesterday, and then joined about a dozen other people at the White House to talk about it with three senior administration officials (on background). It's an impressive document, and goes a long way towards providing a coherent framework for American foreign policy and national security which makes sense of what the administration has been doing and offers a roadmap to where it wants to go. From my perspective, the most interesting -- and strongest -- part of the NSS deals with the administration's new approach to al-Qaeda. The most problematic is the gap between its strong commitment to civil liberties and the rule of law and its practice thus far with regard to things like drone strikes.

The NSS lays out "a comprehensive strategy" in what it repeatedly calls a war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, one "that denies [al-Qaeda and its affiliates] safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity." It defines this in narrow terms: "this is not a global war against a tactic -- terrorism or a religion -- Islam. We are at war with a specific network, al-Qa'ida, and its terrorist affiliates." It places this war within the perspective of broader foreign policy concerns, and warns against overreaction to terrorist provocations -- pointing out, correctly, that al-Qaeda's strategy hopes to trigger such American overreactions, leading to counterproductive political responses and interventions which drain our resources, alienate our friends, and radicalize Muslims around the world. Much of the NSS can be read as a multi-level, robust strategy to prevent such self-defeating responses, while doing everything actually necessary to disrupt and defeat the threat which actually exists.

The strategy outlined in the NSS closely tracks what I describe in detail in my forthcoming CNAS paper on the subject, which Spencer Ackerman describes briefly here. This robust strategy makes a mockery of the political attacks against the administration for ignoring the threat posed by al Qaeda or "pretending that we are not at war" (in the words of Dick Cheney, the man most responsible for supporting al Qaeda's strategy by falling into their every trap and fueling their narrative at every opportunity). Its practice largely follows and builds upon the course corrections of the last two years of the Bush administration, which quietly abandoned most of the failed policies of the 2001-2006 period. It actually expands some of those practices -- notably the drone strikes, but also the aggressive campaigns against safe havens in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. At the same time, it takes advantage of the Presidential transition and Obama's personal appeal to reap the gains of a fresh start with other countries and publics. And its Global Muslim Engagement strategy seeks to build robust relations with Muslims around the world on issues beyond terrorism, denying al Qaeda the ability to define their relations with America and to argue that America is at war with Islam. This broader Muslim Engagement is somewhat underplayed in the NSS, though, placed in a minor supporting role rather than as the key part of the overall strategy against al Qaeda which it is -- an issue I discuss at some length in the forthcoming June CNAS report. It is also beginning to adapt to the seeming new pattern of attempts to target the U.S. homeland, as previewed in John Brennan's appearance at CSIS yesterday.

The NSS doubles down on the President's May 2009 National Archives speech, insisting that "we need durable legal approaches consistent with our identity and our values." I was delighted to see such a vigorous and prominent place for these concerns, which were central to the Obama campaign and administration's rhetoric. But, as I pressed the senior administration officials on yesterday, there are serious concerns about whether the U.S. is actually meeting those commitments. If they seriously believe that demonstrating our commitment in practice to civil liberties and the rule of law is vital to our national security -- which I think they do believe, and which I do believe -- then how can they reconcile that with the way drone strikes are being used, with the perpetuation of Bush era practices governing surveillance, with the use of military commissions, and so forth?

Some of these problems aren't really their fault, given the toxic political environment and the determination by many of their opponents to politicize terrorism and make every aspect of it a wedge issue. They can't easily create a durable legal foundation without Congress or the courts. They have done many things which they can do unilaterally, such as the ban on torture, and they are slowly emptying out Guantánamo by finding takers for its detainees. But nevertheless, this seems to me to be a dangerous hole in the overall strategy which needs more careful attention and higher priority in their deliberations --- on a case by case basis, and as part of the overall strategy.

Overall, then, I am very pleased with the new National Security Strategy. It marks a clean break with the past. In 2006, the NSS declared America's war with "radical militant Islam" to be the single most important overarching framework for its relationship with the world. The 2010 NSS clearly meets that threat, but defines it far more narrowly and places it within a much broader context. I will leave it to others to work through its arguments about the domestic and economic context, the adaptation to rising powers and the recognition of declining American primacy, the concern with nuclear proliferation and disarmament, and more. From my perspective, the new NSS gets the big things right and offers a clear and effective framework for American foreign policy and national security in the coming years.... even as potentially dangerous potholes can be seen in the road ahead. (Sorry for that last line... I got stuck in traffic on the Beltway on the way to the meeting in the White House, and potholes are on my mind.)

Obama’s New Security Strategy Looks Much Like the Old One by William Pfaff

Obama’s New Security Strategy Looks Much Like the Old One
by William Pfaff, May 27, 2010

President Barack Obama’s speech to the West Point graduating class last Saturday was meant to convey a “new” American national security strategy, less evident in his words than in the manner in which the White House pitched the speech to the press, the press following official inspiration.

Gates, Congress, and Obama: Mutually Assured Debacle

At Huffington Post's Political page, find a new commentary on the unhappy direction now being taken in the debate over the Pentagon budget: mutually exclusive, short term thinking is reinforcing all the worst in our business as usual.

Find this commentary at and below:

Gates, Congress, and Obama: Mutually Assured Debacle
Winslow T. Wheeler

Rather than addressing the fundamental problems in our military forces, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Congress, and President Obama are focused on mutually exclusive short term, tactical goals. With each going their separate way, none is likely to succeed, except in making our massive defense problems even worse. A historic opportunity to tame a voracious source of our horrific federal debt is being squandered by short sighted games, some of them abysmally selfish.

Massive problems in our defenses? Huh? One more time: At a post World War II high in inflation adjusted dollars, we have the smallest Navy and Air Force we have had since 1946, and the Army is just barely above its post World War II low. Our major equipment inventories are, on average, older than at any point in the last sixty years. The current Pentagon plan is to make both problems worse, at higher cost.

Just since 2000, the shrinkage and aging has continued despite $1 Trillion dollars added to the "base" Pentagon budget - and we have spent yet another trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. None it paid for; it's all new debt.

President Obama has convened a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to address the unaffordability of this and other federal spending; his going-in position is to exempt the Pentagon from restraint.

Secretary Gates might seem an exception to this gloomy review, but he is not. Last year and again this spring, he got things off to an interesting start by telling us about his heartburn with a litany of classic Pentagon problems. This year's list includes -

* Excessive military officer bloat and civilian overhead that gobbles 40 percent of Pentagon spending, robbing the fighting forces of resources they clearly lack;

* Trying to keep up with a defense department healthcare plan conceived in the days when money was thought to be free; its annual costs have zoomed from $19 billion per year to $50 billion;

* Throwing money at contractors for such things as writing government reports on their own goods and services for an additional $23 billion, and

* Overspending on ill-conceived, unnecessary or unaffordable hardware, including whole categories such as aircraft carriers, destroyers, and submarines; to say nothing of his year's two examples trotted out for public ridicule: the C-17 aircraft and a second, back-up engine for the very problematic F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Unfortunately, much like last year, Gates has started capitulating as soon as he finished complaining. Last year, he folded early and often on the C-17 transport when he permitted his spokesman to wave more C-17s through when House Appropriators slathered them into a supplemental spending bill, and then again into the regular Pentagon spending bill. This year, having opined against over-ambitious aircraft carrier force levels on May 3 to the Navy League and on above-inflation military pay raises on May 8 in Kansas, Gates told the press on May 20 he was not so "crazy" as to oppose the House Armed Services Committee when it blithely ignored his recommendations.

Much like he did last year with the hyper-expensive, under-performing F-22 fighter, Gates is retreating to make his stand on the more limited domain of isolated hardware systems: the second F-35 engine and the C-17 transport. His selection of the GE/Rolls Royce alternative engine for the F-35 as a core issue is stunningly weak. Despite the arguments on Capitol Hill that try to paint the matter as black and white, for or against the pork of the second "unnecessary" engine, Gates' substantive case is not nearly so clear. Before the anti-second engine conclusion became a political imperative inside the Pentagon, some analyses there favored a competitive second source, and in 2009 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) came to the same conclusion.

With Gates focused on the House of Representatives where the second engine fight is coming to a head, the C-17 porkers in the Senate are laying in wait to ambush him. There, as evidenced by a lopsided 34 to 64 tally on a McCain amendment last fall to stop more C-17 procurement, the Boeing porkers have the votes, even though their case for that faulty airplane is pathetically weak. (We have already bought more than even the Air Force wants of this not-so long range, not our heaviest lifter, not able to land anywhere, $250 million [each] aircraft.)

Gates has been fighting his uphill hardware battle alone. That was not the case last year when he had the fulsome backing of the White House on the F-22. Gates and Obama jointly articulated an unmistakably hard veto threat: If Congress adds a single F-22 to any defense bill, it will be vetoed. Period. This year, Gates is left hanging out to dry by a White House that seems dazed by the prospect of being called anti-defense for contemplating a veto of a defense bill in an election year. Gates has been permitted to say only that he will recommend a veto to the president, and - pathetically - he told the press on May 20 that the president "probably would have waved me off" if he weren't going to support him. After 30 years of hearing both hard and malleable veto threats as a staffer on Capitol Hill, I can tell you that this one is squishy soft.

But Gates has not just the White House to blame; he has himself.

The only way to win a fight in Washington is to be in it. Not only has Gates demurred to contest some of the fights he picked, he may be departing the battlefield altogether. Asked, again on May 20, if he were "staying here through the end" to fight out these issues, he responded vaguely "We'll see," thereby boosting the rumors, now rife, that he is leaving - likely after the November elections. Ignoring Gates, both in Congress and in the Pentagon, is about to become a no-cost exercise.

With the only seeming adult in Washington on defense issues (Gates) leaving and the White House playing Hamlet on veto threats, the children in Congress will continue to foul the budget with any and everything they can imagine will make them look good to voters in November. That is a pricey exercise, and it means taking good ideas, such as a competitive source selection for jet fighter engines, and making it into a piñata for contractors. If the second F-35 engine is funded, as sure as the sun rises Congress will dole out F-35 contracts to both GE and Pratt & Whitney, rather than mandate multiple knock-down drag-out competitive fights, year after year - the only way to achieve lower costs and better engines.

And so, the defense mess will self-perpetuate: still more money will buy us an even smaller, older, less capable force. For not keeping his blood lust up for the fight, even departing the trenches, Gates will probably lose the limited contests he has chosen to fight. Obama, clueless and meandering on defense budget issues to the point of making himself irrelevant, will lose the only secretary of defense who even talks about making a difference. Congress, happy as a clam with unlimited money to squander however it pleases, will prove - yet again - the final arbitrator of the terms and conditions of our defense demise.
Winslow T. Wheeler
Straus Military Reform Project
Center for Defense Information
301 791-2397

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Christian Science Monitor Former CIA officer on Iran: Brazil and Turkey are vital checks and balances By Graham E. Fuller

Christian Science Monitor
Former CIA officer on Iran: Brazil and Turkey are vital checks and balances

Shouldn’t the world welcome the actions of two significant, responsible, democratic, and rational states to intervene and help check the foolishnesses of decades of US policy on Iran?

By Graham E. Fuller
posted May 24, 2010 at 1:14 pm EDT
Washington —

If Washington thinks it now faces complications on getting United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran, that’s not the half of it. A greater obstacle is the subtle change introduced into international power relationships by the actions of Brazil and Turkey that has accompanied it.

These two medium-size powers, Brazil and Turkey, have just challenged the guiding hand of Washington in determining nuclear strategy towards Iran. They undertook their own initiative to persuade Iran to accede to a deal on the handling of nuclear fuel issues. Not only was that initiative entirely independent, it moved ahead in the face of fairly crude American warnings to both states not to contemplate it – even though it closely paralleled one offered to Iran last year that fell through, mainly due to Iranian maneuvering and its fundamental distrust of Washington’s intent and blustering style.

Adding insult to injury, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan both had the temerity to actually succeed in their negotiations with Iran while Washington was publicly predicting their certain (and hoped for) failure.

Are the Iranians simply engaging in another con game, playing for time – a maneuver at which they excel? Or has something more profound taken place?

First, it is not only the terms of the deal that matter, but the messengers and atmospherics. Washington for decades has dealt with Iran – almost always indirectly – with considerable truculence and belligerence as the background music to “negotiations.” This is business as usual – the world’s sole superpower demanding others to agree to its strategy of the moment.

When Mr. Lula and Mr. Erdogan came to Tehran, the game was entirely different. It wasn’t the content so much as the negotiators, the venue, and the atmospherics. Tehran did not feel this time that it was acceding to superpower pressure, but to a reasoned and respectful request by two significant peer states in the world with no record of imperialism in Iran. In one sense, the deal was almost bound to succeed. What Iran wants as much as anything in this world is to blunt US dominance of the international order, and especially its ability to dictate terms in the Middle East.

If Iran is to yield at all on nuclear policy, what better device than to accede to two respected and successful states that were themselves defying Washington’s wishes in even attempting negotiations? If Tehran had refused that offer, it might have torpedoed the very concept of independent alternative, non-American efforts in international strategy. It made all the sense in the world for Iran to say “yes” this time to this combination of approach.

The same goes for China and Russia. After the Lula-Erdogan success, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately proclaimed her own success at garnering Russian and Chinese support for enhanced sanctions against Iran – a stunningly insulting response to the remarkable accomplishment of Brazilian and Turkish negotiation. These states are, after all, immensely important to US regional and global interests. To blow them off like that was a major blunder, not just in terms of Iran, but in broader global strategy. The rest of the world has surely taken further negative note that Washington’s game remains depressingly familiar.

But do we really believe Clinton has in fact garnered Russian and Chinese support? Just as Tehran had every incentive to accept a proposal from “equals,” offered with respect instead of bluster and threats, so too Russia and China have every reason to welcome this initiative from Brazil and Turkey. Yes, the terms of the agreement do matter somewhat, but what is far more important for them is the slow but inexorable decay of US ability to deliver international diktats and to have its way. This is what Chinese and Russian foreign-policy strategy is all about. Neither of these countries will, in the end, permit the US hard-line approach to win out over the Brazilian-Turkish one in the Security Council, even if the Brazilian-Turkish deal requires a little tweaking. Russia and China champion the emergence of multiple sources of global power and influence that chip away at dying American unipolar power.

China and Russia, of course, represent the alternative polarity in the emerging struggle to end American hegemony in international affairs. But of greater moment, they now witness the political center in international politics shifting away from Washington as well. These two countries that defied American wishes are not just some Third World rabble-rousers scoring cheap points off the US. They are two major countries that are supposedly close friends of the US This makes the affront even crueler.

These events are profound signs of the times. The problem with unipolar power is that without checks and balances it invariably becomes subject to error and foolishness. On occasion, Americans actually believe in checks and balances when it comes to our own Constitution. Microsoft may be a great corporation, but nobody wants it to have a monopoly on IT.

Similarly in the world, international checks and balances are valuable safety valves. When Washington moves into its fourth decade of paralysis and incompetence in handling Iran, still unable even to speak to it – just as it cannot bring itself to talk to Cuba after 50 years – it has exacerbated the problem, strengthened Iran and the forces of radicalism in the Middle East, polarized emotions and, worst, failed in all respects. Shouldn’t the world welcome the actions of two significant, responsible, democratic, and rational states to intervene and help check the foolishnesses of decades of US policy? That is what checks and balances are all about and why the center is shifting.

And, who knows? “Rogue states” – a term beloved in Washington in reference to recalcitrant countries that don’t toe the Washington line – may more readily come to accede to new approaches free of the old imperial techniques of interventionism and ultimatums. Meanwhile, the US is rapidly running the risk of becoming its own “failed state” in terms of being able to exercise competent and effective international leadership since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Graham E. Fuller is the former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA and author of numerous books on international politics, including the forthcoming “A World Without Islam” (August 2010).

© 2010 Global Viewpoint Network/ Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Israel Does Not Have The Firepower To Stop Iran's Nuclear Program from War News Updates by Bookyards Israel Arms May Not Be Enough To Stop Nukes -- Washington Times

Israel Does Not Have The Firepower To Stop Iran's Nuclear Program from War News Updates by Bookyards
Israel Arms May Not Be Enough To Stop Nukes -- Washington Times

Strategist suggests cutting Iran's power.

As the Obama administration continues to pursue a diplomatic solution for Iran's nuclear weapons program, Israel in recent years has extended the range of its bombers, launched sophisticated spy satellites and developed a more accurate ordnance-dropping system.

The reasons are clear: Israel is now in a position to send scores of F-16Is and F-15Is on the 1,000-mile penetration of Iranian airspace to try to disable the regime's far-flung network of nuclear research and uranium-enrichment facilities.

Read more ....

Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons Chris McGreal in Washington The Guardian, Monday 24 May 2010

Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons
Chris McGreal in Washington
The Guardian, Monday 24 May 2010

Exclusive: Secret apartheid-era papers give first official evidence of Israeli nuclear weapons

The secret military agreement signed by Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, and P W Botha of South Africa. Photograph: Guardian

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.

The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of "ambiguity" in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa's post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky's request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week's nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel's attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a "responsible" power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

A spokeswoman for Peres today said the report was baseless and there were "never any negotiations" between the two countries. She did not comment on the authenticity of the documents.

South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.

The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975. Polakow-Suransky writes in his book published in the US this week, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's secret alliance with apartheid South Africa. ( At the talks Israeli officials "formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal".

Among those attending the meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.

The memo, marked "top secret" and dated the same day as the meeting with the Israelis, has previously been revealed but its context was not fully understood because it was not known to be directly linked to the Israeli offer on the same day and that it was the basis for a direct request to Israel. In it, Armstrong writes: "In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in RSA (Republic of South Africa) or acquired elsewhere."

But South Africa was years from being able to build atomic weapons. A little more than two months later, on 4 June, Peres and Botha met in Zurich. By then the Jericho project had the codename Chalet.

The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: "Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available." The document then records: "Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice." The "three sizes" are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.

The use of a euphemism, the "correct payload", reflects Israeli sensitivity over the nuclear issue and would not have been used had it been referring to conventional weapons. It can also only have meant nuclear warheads as Armstrong's memorandum makes clear South Africa was interested in the Jericho missiles solely as a means of delivering nuclear weapons.

In addition, the only payload the South Africans would have needed to obtain from Israel was nuclear. The South Africans were capable of putting together other warheads.

Botha did not go ahead with the deal in part because of the cost. In addition, any deal would have to have had final approval by Israel's prime minister and it is uncertain it would have been forthcoming.

South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs, albeit possibly with Israeli assistance. But the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.

The documents confirm accounts by a former South African naval commander, Dieter Gerhardt – jailed in 1983 for spying for the Soviet Union. After his release with the collapse of apartheid, Gerhardt said there was an agreement between Israel and South Africa called Chalet which involved an offer by the Jewish state to arm eight Jericho missiles with "special warheads". Gerhardt said these were atomic bombs. But until now there has been no documentary evidence of the offer.

Some weeks before Peres made his offer of nuclear warheads to Botha, the two defence ministers signed a covert agreement governing the military alliance known as Secment. It was so secret that it included a denial of its own existence: "It is hereby expressly agreed that the very existence of this agreement... shall be secret and shall not be disclosed by either party".

The agreement also said that neither party could unilaterally renounce it.

The existence of Israel's nuclear weapons programme was revealed by Mordechai Vanunu to the Sunday Times in 1986. He provided photographs taken inside the Dimona nuclear site and gave detailed descriptions of the processes involved in producing part of the nuclear material but provided no written documentation.

Documents seized by Iranian students from the US embassy in Tehran after the 1979 revolution revealed the Shah expressed an interest to Israel in developing nuclear arms. But the South African documents offer confirmation Israel was in a position to arm Jericho missiles with nuclear warheads.

Israel pressured the present South African government not to declassify documents obtained by Polakow-Suransky. "The Israeli defence ministry tried to block my access to the Secment agreement on the grounds it was sensitive material, especially the signature and the date," he said. "The South Africans didn't seem to care; they blacked out a few lines and handed it over to me. The ANC government is not so worried about protecting the dirty laundry of the apartheid regime's old allies."

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Measures drawn up against Iran

U.N. Security Council considers measures against Iran
The U.N. Security Council may take measures against Iran for its failure to comply with previous council resolutions and cooperation requests made by the International Atomic Energy Agency. A draft resolution, written by the U.S., forbids any state to help Iran in commercial nuclear activities. It also recommends limits on the actions of banks, individuals and military units connected to possible nuclear weapons and missile development in Iran. However, the draft "stresses the willingness of China, France, Germany, Russia and the USA" to "resume dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue without preconditions.

Carrots and Sticks for Iran - Center for Strategic and International Studies

Carrots and Sticks for Iran - Center for Strategic and International Studies

Lessons from Iran - Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute

Lessons from Iran - Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute

Russian Hand Behind Iran Swap Deal - Vladimir Radyuhin, The Hindu

Russian Hand Behind Iran Swap Deal - Vladimir Radyuhin, The Hindu

How to Salvage the NPT Conference - Daniel McGroarty, RealClearWorld

How to Salvage the NPT Conference - Daniel McGroarty, RealClearWorld

Behind Euro Drama, Real Global Danger - E. Conway, Daily Telegraph

Behind Euro Drama, Real Global Danger - E. Conway, Daily Telegraph

The US-Israel Crisis is Far From Over - Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post

The US-Israel Crisis is Far From Over - Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post

Iran: The Limits to Sanctions - Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations

Iran: The Limits to Sanctions - Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations

US nuclear talks risk collapse over Middle East plan

US nuclear talks risk collapse over Middle East plan

Wrangling over goal of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East threatens to bring month-long conference to halt

White House Pushes for Initial Steps Toward Mideast WMD-Free Zone

White House Pushes for Initial Steps Toward Mideast WMD-Free Zone
By Elaine M. Grossman

Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration hopes to interest Middle East nations in embracing modest steps, such as preliminary talks and confidence-building measures, aimed at eventually establishing a regional zone free of all weapons of mass destruction (see GSN, May 12).

The Logic of a Nuclear-Free Mideast Interviewee: Nabil Fahmy, Ambassador in Residence, the American University in Cairo

The Logic of a Nuclear-Free Mideast
Nabil Fahmy, Ambassador in Residence, the American University in Cairo

Since the 1995 Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, Egypt has led a movement to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. But so far, that effort has not succeeded because of "Israeli refusal to participate" and the lack of Western pressure on Israel to do so, says Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to the United States from 1999 to 2008 and now a top Egyptian expert on arms control. As to Iran, Fahmy says that there is opposition to further sanctions not only from Arab states that are irritated with Israel's refusal to join the NPT, but also from countries like Brazil and Turkey, which just negotiated a deal in which Iran will ship about half of its nuclear fuel to Turkey. A zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East would create "a nuclear symmetry" and create uniform obligations and verification controls, says Fahmy.

How Financial Reform Gets Done (Not)

How Financial Reform Gets Done (Not)

Today provided yet another example of how the best government money can buy works. The Senate majority leader Harry Reid suffered an embarrassing defeat when his effort to pass a motion for cloture, which would have stopped debate on the financial reform bill, failed due to two Democrat and one Republican defection among the votes he thought he had. And the naysayers are the typical "teki no teki wa mikata" (enemy of enemy is friend) alliances that are routine in politics. The Republicans are virtually united against the bill (the only defections are the two senators from Maine); the two rogue Democrats, Maria Cantwell (Washington) and Russ Feingold (Wisconsin) are opposed because the feel the bill is not tough enough (Cantwell wants votes on two amendments).

This tempest in a teapot is engaging distraction. Why have political commentators been hesitant to connect the dots between the "no incumbent left standing" movement and the lack of meaningful financial reform?

Despite an impressive amount of scrambling to get tougher amendments added at the last minute to the Senate bill (which before we get too excited, still has to be reconciled with the House version), most of the proposals either amounted to much less than their headline billing suggested. or conversely, were ineptly conceived, with the result that the the industry howling that they would be monstrously disruptive was actually correct, which allows the banks to gut or block those measures.

David Dayen at FireDogLake (hat tip Richard Smith) has some is a welcome exception:

It's not that voters had any knowledge of this when they went to the polls yesterday. It's that they've seen shenanigans like this consistently for the last five years. They've seen it on the Military Commissions Act and the Iraq funding bill in 2006, the FISA bills in 2007 and 2008, TARP in 2008, the health care bill in 2009, and now FinReg in 2010. They've seen defeat grabbed from the jaws of victory over and over and over again, and they simply have lost all trust in this crop of elites to do the job. And it's hard to argue with the public on this one.

This piece of his post caught my eye:

All through this time, Chris Dodd filed an amendment to gut the strongest piece of his own bill – the derivatives piece "authored" by Blanche Lincoln. I say "authored" because it was completely obvious that she was handed this tough bill for the benefit of her re-election, and even though that wasn't secured last night, on the very same night they submitted the weakening piece in the form of a manager's amendment. Instead of spinning off the lucrative swaps trading desks from the big banks, the bill as amended would let the systemic risk council, made up of agencies who opposed the proposal, "study" the provision, until making a (foregone) decision in two years. Lincoln says she'll fight against the weakening amendment – oh, we'll see about that.

Yves here. If the derivatives language was indeed provided to Lincoln as a bit of useful pre-election theater, the process is every bit as cynical as I thought. Readers no doubt know I am no fan of big financial firm chicanery, and a card carrying hater of credit default swaps (for background, see here). But the Lincoln amendment is guaranteed not to happen. The industry is correct in howling that implementing it would be hugely disruptive (the dealers themselves are the biggest users of plain vanilla interest rate and FX swaps; their trading volumes would overwhelm any independent swaps dealer). Banking industry expert Josh Rosner noted by e-mail,

[The amendment] would move bank derivative activities into a new shadow system where end users begin to build insufficiently regulated dealer businesses (which the banks/i-banks would buy an unconsolidated interest in).

Yves again. So the amendment (supposedly) creates a huge flurry of initial press about how tough she and the Dems are to those nasty banks, but then gets quietly excised or watered down to irrelevance when no one is looking. And by mid-term elections, the assumption is no one in the chump public will understand what the bill does or doesn't do. The key element is that the Dems can say they have a banking reform notch in their belts as a talking point.

Another headfake is Volcker Rule (which would require banks that can access emergency facilities like the deposit window to exit proprietary trading) as now embodied in the Merkley-Levin amendment. Economic of Contempt and your humble blogger seldom see eye to eye, but he is 100% correct on this one:

The biggest problem with Merkley-Levin is that its authors appear to confuse "definitions with more words" with "more specific definitions" (and thus less of that evil regulatory discretion). Merkley-Levin prohibits "proprietary trading," which it defines very broadly, and then creates 9 categories of "permitted activities" (listed in section (d)(1) of the amendment). The categories of "permitted activities," which function like exceptions to the definition of "proprietary trading," are so ridiculously broad that they completely swallow the amendment's prop trading ban.

Yves again. He shreds it in lurid detail. Yet Merkley is either a great actor or is completely unaware that he has been played for a fool (see 1:45-2:05 on this clip).

Not that it matters, his amendment was one of the two that was to be sidelined by the cloture vote today. I don't understand this tactically; letting empty "reforms" go forward would seem to be a win/win. But the Republicans seem to be sticking to the "all regulation is an expansion of government and therefore bad for Main Street" script.

Some otherwise astute commentators appear to have fallen for the industry's posturing. It has taken the position that it is non-negotiable and complain vigorously over every possible change that might be foisted on it, no matter how minor. That allows it to (later, with convincing-sounding squeals of pain) give ground on issues that are not a big deal or it can compensate for with little inconvenience.

For instance, one apparent win in the Senate bill was the insertion of a provision allowing the powers that be to oversee debit card fees to merchants (personally, as I have discussed earlier, I see debit cards as a bad product for consumers, since they serve much the same function as an ATM card with vastly less security). But credit card networks had sorta forced merchants to take debit cards (they were effectively co-sold with the credit card merchant accounts, and since credit card customers spend more per transaction than the norm, it was in a vendor's interest to accept credit cards), expect them to reverse their model, doing more to steer merchants and customers back to credit cards (their old model) and improving the profitability of the credit card product by cutting or eliminating frequent flier miles. So while this indeed is a win for merchants, it's quite another matter to think this is going to make a lasting dent in the returns the industry makes form the debit/credit cards payment complex. As the credit card reform initiative has shown, the banks have proven to be masters at finding new ways to extract income when the old mechanisms are blocked (and remember, that assumes this measure survives reconciliation with the House bill).

One exception that has oddly gotten virtually no press (perhaps a sign it is destined to die a quiet death in due course) is an amendment added to the Senate bill last week by Susan Collins of Maine, which would require banks with more than $250 billion in assets to have higher capital ratios, and would disallow inclusion of trust preferred securities in Tier 1 capital (hat tip John Bougearel). Shiela Bair supports the measure and Geither opposes it, which is revealing since the Treasury Department has said it is in favor of measures to make it more costly for mega banks to be mega banks as a way to force them to streamline…and the main measure was to be via higher capital charges for really big players.

The Geithner position, as Richard Smith discussed last week, is now to defer to Basel III, the new international bank capital standards which are currently under development, which conveniently could not possibly go live before 2016. The argument is on one level sensible, that the US needs to adopt standards that are reasonably consistent with those implemented abroad. However, on another level, it assures a race to the bottom if industry enablers masquerading as regulators use "harmonisation" as an excuse to do as little as possible. Since Europeans are very attached to their "universal banking" model, don't expect Basel III to impose much in the way of extra demands on really big banks.

So despite the theatrics in Washington, I recommend lowering your expectations greatly for the result of financial reform efforts. There have been a few wins (for instance, the partial success of the Audit the Fed push), but other measures have for the most part been announced with fanfare and later blunted or excised. Even though the firestorm of Goldman-related press stiffened the spines of some Senators and produced a late-in-process flurry of amendments, don't let a blip distract you from the trend line, that as the legislative process proceeds apace, the banks will be able to achieve an outcome that leaves their dubious business models and most important, the rich pay to industry incumbents, largely intact.

More on this topic (What's this?) The Second Leg of the Great Depression Was Caused by European Defaults

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U.S. Says Only Reason for Talks with Iran Is Enrichment Halt Analysis by Gareth Porter*

U.S. Says Only Reason for Talks with Iran Is Enrichment Halt
Analysis by Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2010 (IPS) - The agreement on draft Security Council resolution sanctions against Iran has grabbed the headlines on the Barack Obama administration's response to Iran's nuclear swap proposal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. But the more consequential response is the acknowledgement by the U.S. State Department Monday that the administration is not willing to hold talks with Iran unless it agrees to a complete halt in uranium enrichment.

That announcement was accompanied by the revelation that the objective of the original swap proposal last autumn was to get Iran to agree to eventually to suspend its enrichment programme.

The Obama administration had not previously declared publicly that it was demanding an end to all enrichment by Iran, and had suggested directly and indirectly that it wanted a broader diplomatic engagement with Iran covering issues of concern to both states.

The new hard line ruling out broader diplomatic engagement with Iran and the new light on the strategy behind last year's swap proposal confirms what has long been suspected - that the debate within the Obama administration last year over whether to abandon the demand for an end to Iranian uranium enrichment as unrealistic had been won by proponents of the zero enrichment demand by late summer 2009.

U.S. State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said Monday the United States would not negotiate with Iran on its proposal to send 1,200 kilogrammes of low enriched uranium to Turkey to be replaced with 120 kilogrammes of fuel rods for its Tehran Research Reactor, unless the Iranians agree to take up the broader subject of their nuclear programme - and specifically an end to their uranium enrichment programme.

Responding to a question about the U.S. willingness to meet with Iran on the new proposal, Crowley said, "[I]f it's willing to engage the P5+1, "then it has to commit that it's willing to engage the P5+1 on its nuclear programme."

The P5+1 groups the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

Crowley noted that Iran had offered to have discussions with "the international community" but not about its nuclear programme. "[I]n our view, the only reason to have that discussion," Crowley said, "first and foremost, would be to address our core concerns in the - with regard to Iran's nuclear programme."

Crowley revealed for the first time that the original proposal for Iran to swap 1,200 kilogrammes of low enriched uranium for 120 kilogrammes of uranium enriched to nearly 20 percent roughly a year later "was meant as a means to a larger end, which was to get Iran to fundamentally address its – concerns the international community has".

He went on to explain that "the fact that Iran...continues to enrich uranium and has failed to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, as has been called for in the U.N. Security Council resolutions: that's our core concern."

Crowley was clearly suggesting that the talks which were supposed to follow Iran's acceptance of the deal would be focused on ending its nuclear enrichment programme rather than on addressing the sources of conflict between the United States and Iran.

Last October, the swap proposal was presented as a "confidence building measure" that would gain enough time for a broader diplomatic dialogue between Iran and the United States to take place. It would allow the Obama administration to argue with Israel that Iran had temporarily given up its "breakout capability" by transferring most of its low enriched uranium abroad.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the lame duck director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), declared on Oct. 21 that the swap agreement "could pave the way for a complete normalisation of relations between Iran and the international community".

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly argued, moreover, that the swap proposal implicitly accepted Iran's right to enrich uranium, although nothing in the proposal addressed that issue.

The history of the swap proposal shows, however, that its origins were intertwined with the objective of halting Iranian uranium enrichment.

Gary Samore, Obama's chief adviser on nuclear proliferation, devised the swap deal. He had published a paper in December 2008 with co-author Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution proposing that the new administration demand that Iran's LEU be exported to Russia to be converted into fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor in order take away Iran's nuclear "break-out capability".

Ironically, it was Ahmadinejad's public suggestion of interest in a straight commercial deal under which Iran would send LEU to any country that would enrich it to 20 percent for the Tehran Research Reactor that led to the formulation of the swap proposal.

Samore simply shifted the focus of that proposal from Bushehr to the Tehran Research Reactor, and it quickly became a P5+1 initiative to temporarily strip Iran of nearly 80 percent of its low enriched uranium.

Samore was known to be a strong proponent of demanding that Iran end its uranium enrichment programme, who privately expressed certainty that Iran intends to manufacture nuclear weapons. He had publicly expressed pessimism that Iran would accept any proposal demanding an end to enrichment without a credible military threat, whether by the United States or Israel.

Before entering the administration Samore had advocated offering a lifting of economic sanctions, assurances against regime change and even normalisation of relations as inducements to accept that demand.

No Iranian regime could have accepted a complete end to enrichment as part of a deal with the United States, however, because of popular support for the nuclear programme as a symbol of Iran's technological advancement.

Proponents of the zero enrichment option were confident enough to leak to the press the fact that the aim of broader talks with Iran would be to end enrichment entirely. The Washington Post reported Oct. 22, 2009 that U.S. officials commenting on the proposed uranium swap "stressed that the deal would be only the first step in a difficult process to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and that suspension remains the primary goal".

Now the administration has given up whatever flexibility it had previously retained to adjust its position in the face of a firm Iranian rejection of the zero enrichment demand. That position portends a continuation of high and possibly rising tensions between the United States and Iran for the remainder of Obama's administration.

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