Monthly Archives: March 2011

Syria Coming to a Boil

By Eric Margolis

 

Libya, in spite of its oil treasures, is strictly a sideshow in the great game of nations. We should be keeping our eyes on highly strategic Syria, a potentially combustible nation of 22.5 million that lies at the very heart of what we call the Mideast.

Sizeable demonstrations have erupted in the Syrian port city of Latakia, Homs, and in three smaller southern towns, including Daraa, where, during World War I, Lawrence of Arabia was captured and tortured by the Turks. There have been small demonstrations in the capital, Damascus. The tough Syrian army has been deployed in many urban areas.

It was inevitable that the revolutions and uprisings sweeping across the Mideast would reach Syria, which has been ruled with an iron hand by the Asad family since 1970. Now, Syria’s neighbors are watching Syria’s gathering storm with a mixture of alarm and uncertainty.

Syria has been isolated for over three decades. Damascus is under siege from the United States because of its opposition to Israel and championing of the Palestinians. US trade and arms sanctions have seriously damaged Syria’s weak economy and military forces.

Persistent hostility from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq, all three dominated by the US, have further isolated Syria among the Arabs. Until recently, Turkey and Syria were also at scimitar’s drawn, but relations have greatly improved.

Israel regularly threatens war against Syria because of the vital support Damascus gives to Lebanon’s Hizbullah movement and Palestinians. Israel’s virtual annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights and expulsion of over 125,000 Syrians from the Heights by Israel in 1967, and land expropriation by 19,000 Israeli settlers, remain inflammatory issues. Israeli heavy artillery atop Golan is within range of Damascus.

Syria’s once powerful armed forces are by now almost totally outdated thanks to US sanctions, the collapse of Syria’s main arms supplier, the Soviet Union, and Damascus’ lack of hard cash to buy modern weapons from abroad. As a result, Syria’s 1980’s-vintage air and land forces face Israel’s mighty military machine that could crush Syria in days.

Syria is a highly sophisticated nation whose rich, though often tragic history, dates back to the dawn of time. Damascus is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. Syria has always been one of the two poles of the Arab world, along with its rival Egypt.

The world-view of Syrians is shaped by the fact that under the Ottoman Empire, Syria, or Shams, as it is called in Arabic, consisted of today’s Syria, Lebanon, parts of Iraq and southeastern Turkey, Jordan, Palestine and much of central and northern modern Israel.

More than half of historic Syria was stripped away by the rapacious French and British during World War I. Syria has never accepted this national rapine.

Syrian-Lebanese relations are particularly fraught because France tore away the Mount Lebanon region from Syria as late as the 1920’s and created the protectorate of Lebanon to maintain French influence on the Levantine coast.

Damascus refuses to accept Lebanon’s independence, insisting it is still an integral part of Syria. The British imperialists did precisely the same thing with the sheikdom of Kuwait, detaching it from historic Iraq. Iraq’s late leader, Saddam Hussein, sought to assert his nation’s historic claim to Kuwait – with dire consequences.

What makes Syria so dangerous and volatile is its repressive and narrow political system. Former strongman Hafez Asad and his son Basher, the current president, come from the Alawi, a small, secretive religious minority from the mountains near Latakia said to be an offshoot of Shia Islam. Sunni Muslims regard the Alawi, who mix Shia and Christian beliefs, as dangerous heretics, even pagans.

In the 1960’s, the armed forces filled up with impoverished Alawis, who had trouble finding work elsewhere. By the time Gen. Hafez Asad seized power in one of Syria’s endless coups, the armed forces and many of the eight or nine secret police organizations, had become dominated by Alawis.

To put down growing unrest to Alawi rule, and attacks by Sunni militants, a draconian Emergency Decree was promulgated in 1963, which remains in force until today. A key demand by protestors in Syria is repeal of this hated martial law that curtails all freedoms and allows summary arrest without trials.

The Asad’s iron hand gave Syria its first and only stable government since World War II. No one knows what will happen if that steely grip is released.

As of this writing, reports are coming from Damascus that President Basher Asad may repeal the Emergency law and amend the constitution which mandates that the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party will be the “leader of Syria’s regime and society.”

Even such an important change might not vent sufficient popular steam to avert a major explosion.

Basher Asad’s challenge is to muzzle the Ba’ath Party Old Guard and enacting important reforms without allowing the lid to blow off pressure-cooker Syria where thirty to forty years of anger, frustration and calls for revenge boil just below the surface.

Some 75% of Syrians are Sunni Muslim. Alawis and Druze, another secretive mountain group, make up about 13% of the population, followed by Kurds, Armenians, Jews, and Circassians, whose Caucasian forebears were victims of Russian ethnic cleansing in the 19th century.

Christian Syrians, who make up 10% of the population, can trace their roots all the way back to the birth of the faith. Many support the Asad regime out of concern their often favored status as part of the commercial elite would vanish under a Sunni-dominated government.

Sunni have long chaffed against rule by “heretical” Alawis, as well as under the two draconian Asad regimes and their feared secret police, the “Mukhabarat.” Islamists have long been active in Syria’s underground, inviting savage repression from the regime.

In 1982, this writer was present when Sunni Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama rose up against the Asad regime. The rebellion was put down by the Army, led by the brother of Hafez Asad, Rifaat. Thousands were killed and part of the inner city leveled by heavy artillery. The Islamists were beaten into submission- at least until now.

After invading Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration’s neocon crusaders were eager to attack Syria and overthrow the Asad regime. Israel urged a US attack. Syria was and remains a key ally of Iran, the only Arab one, and Tehran’s beachhead in the Levant. Note that Syria’s Alawi are close to Iran’s militant Shia.

But it soon occurred to even the dullest minds of the Bush White House that if the devil-we-know-Asad is overthrown, who would replace him? The unavoidable answer was the Muslim Brotherhood – and that term frightened Washington a great deal. So Syria was spared, “faut de mieux,” as the French say.

This time around, if the Asad regime falls, it could just as well be replaced by Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, that may be thirsting for revenge. A bloodbath could ensure, plunging Syria into political chaos and violence and running the risk of drawing Syria’s unloving neighbors and the Western powers, notably France, into the fray.

I had a long talk about this danger with President Bashar Asad’s chief advisor, the very smart, and worldly Bouthaina Shaaban, who is much in the news these days. Her view is that Asad the younger and his coterie of technocrats will slowly but surely achieve modernizing reforms and put Syria on the path to democracy. Madame Shaaban told me that Western intrigues against Syria, and Israel threats, have played a major role in keeping the nation under siege mentality and delaying meaningful reform.

A big change in Syria was expected when the youthful Bashar Asad took power. It did not happen. The conservative Ba’ath Old Guard thwarted any major changes.

There are at least two major factions within the Asad regime. The “old guard” wants to crush all dissent, pointing to events in other Arab nations. The younger, reformist camp wants to end martial law and create a real parliament and free press. Syria’s important merchant class is strongly in favor of opening the economy and society, and seeing the last of Syria’s wretched “Arab Socialism” that mixed the worst of East European economic quackery with Arab inertia and tribalism.

Events inside Syria are far too complex for Washington to understand right now. Ending sanctions against Syria, restraining Israel’s interventionist hawks, and applauding democrats from the sidelines is the best thing the US can do for the time being. Syria is no place for the usual US bull in the china shop behavior.

 


Extremism

By:Ahmed Quraishi  

Mr president,

While the international community rightly worries about extremism in the Middle East, we are giving a pass to a dangerous development: the rise of religion-based hatred in Europe, America and India. I would like to seize this opportunity to draw EU’s attention to a dangerous development that needs to be arrested and eliminated in its infancy. We still have time to support the good work of civil society groups in these three regions to stop this trend.

The twenty-first century’s first act of genocide based on intolerance and xenophobia took place in India, the largest democracy. In 2002, over 2,000 Indian citizens were picked up from their homes, shops and streets; men, women and children, and were burned alive. Those burned alive included a man called Mr Jafri, a member of the party that holds Mahatma Gandhi as an icon. He was burned alive and his only fault was that he belonged to the wrong religion.

Mr President, on 23 January 1999, Australian priest Graham Staines and his two underage boys Timothy and Philip were burned alive inside their car by a mob of Indian extremists. Twelve years later, the killers of Graham and his two kids are stronger today politically in India than at any other time.

In Europe, until recently a bastion of freedom and admirably so, xenophobes are not just raising their heads, they are coming to power. In the United States, an American politician is preparing a parliamentary witch-hunt of US citizens of Muslim heritage. My organisation and its members are alarmed at Germany’s new interior minister’s anti-Islam statement that offends German Muslims. We are alarmed to see strands of fascism infiltrating some governments in Europe.

An editorial writer in Paris wrote a comment in the International Herald Tribune calling Germany’s new interior minister ‘an international embarrassment’.

The New York Times has described this dangerous trend in Europe in this one line: ‘Not much spreads fear and bigotry faster than a public official intent on playing the politics of division.’ The paper was talking about Peter King, a US legislator spreading hate against American Muslims.

We see a trend in Danish cartoons, in the anti-Islam film in the Netherlands, the banning of Muslim headscarf in France, and the ban of mosque minarets in Switzerland. And now we have an act of religious extremism and hatred committed by two Americans who claim to represent our great religion, Christianity.

It is not enough to condemn acts of lunacy like the burning of Islam’s holy book by two US citizens. The US government must move to ban the denigration of any religion. In this context, we endorse OIC member states’ draft resolution on Defamation of Religions and urge all governments and NGOs to endorse it.

This trend must be nipped in the bud for Europe and the US to stake their claim to being bastions of freedom.

We urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to take note of the fact that denigrating religions and beliefs strengthens the hands of extremists everywhere. Deliberate denigration of any religion must be considered an act of extremism.

World Muslim Congress strongly urges the Council to take note of the backward slide in the great ideals of the Durban Declaration over the past decade. Let’s arrest the backward slide while we can.

My organisation joins the civil society groups and the good people in Europe, United States and India in combating this rising trend of discrimination and xenophobia in these regions.

Lastly, my organisation would like to thank the Lutheran Bishop of Berlin, Markuz Droge, for his condemnation of German interior minister’s attempt to single out Muslims in Germany for hate.

(Extracted from a statement delivered by the writer recently to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on behalf of the World Muslim Congress. The writer works for Geo TV).

NOTE:This is a crosspost.

Long-term Afghan Presence Likely to Derail Peace Talks

By:Gareth Porter   

The announcement by U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defence Michele Flournoy in Congressional testimony Mar. 15 that the United States would continue to carry out “counter-terrorism operations” from “joint bases” in Afghanistan well beyond 2014 signaled that President Barack Obama has given up the negotiating flexibility he would need to be able to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban leadership.

Flournoy’s revelation meant that the administration intends to maintain a long-term troop presence in Afghanistan regardless of any negotiated settlement with the Taliban, as a source familiar with internal deliberations on Afghanistan confirmed to IPS.

Given that commitment to the U.S. military, a U.S. negotiator or foreign mediator would not be able to propose a complete U.S.-NATO troop withdrawal in return for a Taliban commitment to end its armed resistance and cut its ties with al Qaeda. That has long been viewed as the core bargain underlying a potential peace agreement.

Months of conversations with Taliban leaders who had been detained by the Pakistanis last year revealed that the Quetta Shura, the council of Taliban leadership, was ready to negotiate a deal, according to a source who has been thoroughly briefed on those interrogations.

The Taliban informants were in agreement that such a deal would have to involve complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, the source said.

Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and veteran U.N. diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who co-authored a study on negotiating peace in Afghanistan published last week, concluded that a “guaranteed withdrawal of foreign forces…would almost certainly be part of a deal,” as they wrote in the New York Times last Tuesday.

Even if the Taliban were to agree to the U.S. demand for severing its relationship with al Qaeda, however, the present administration policy, apparently reached during the strategic review last December, calls for the United States to continue to deploy at least Special Operations Forces (SOF), according to the source familiar with administration deliberations.

In the event of an agreement with the Taliban, the SOF units would not target the Taliban but would be used to hunt down al Qaeda personnel and to ensure that Afghanistan is not a source of instability in the region, IPS was told. The same policy decision also calls for retention of U.S. airpower at Bagram Airbase based on the same justification.

Despite the uniform position of Taliban leaders on the issue, the official assumption underlying the present policy is that the Taliban would choose to negotiate an agreement allowing a limited U.S. military presence in the country, according to the knowledgeable source. IPS was told that a key factor in the administration’s calculus is that it would be relatively easy politically for the United States to keep SOF units and airpower – as distinct from infantry troops — in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Ironically, SOF units have generated the greatest popular antagonism to the foreign military presence, because of targeted raids that have hit the wrong individuals and killed civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for an end to U.S. SOF raids on a number of occasions – most recently on Nov. 13, 2010.

“They have to go away,” Karzai said of the targeted raids. “If there is any raid, it has to be done by the Afghan government within the Afghan law.”

Obama’s acceptance of the principle that U.S. SOF units and airpower should remain in Afghanistan indefinitely was apparently part of the strategy adopted officially last December after being leaked to the New York Times by Pentagon officials in mid-November.

That strategy, presented to the NATO summit meeting in Lisbon in November, paralleled the Obama administration strategy in Iraq, which claimed that the phase of U.S. combat had ended in August 2010 after a transition to Iraqi responsibility for security, with remaining U.S. forces supposedly involved only in training, advising and supporting the Iraqi forces.

The Afghanistan strategy identified the end of 2014 as the equivalent of the transition to a limited U.S. role in Iraq. But it anticipated tens of thousands of troops remaining in Afghanistan after the transition for purportedly non-combat roles, just as some 50,000 U.S. combat troops remained in Iraq after the transition date. They have continued to participate in combat.

What was not leaked to the Times in November, however, was that both SOF units and airpower would remain behind for combat purposes.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in her Feb. 18 speech that negotiations would begin with the Karzai government on a new “Strategic Partnership Declaration”, which she said would “provide a long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation in the areas of security, economic and social development and institution building.” But she gave no hint that the administration had already decided to keep forces and base access indefinitely beyond 2014.

The first meeting on that “Strategic Partnership Declaration” took place in Kabul Mar. 13-14. The U.S. and Afghan delegations issued a two-paragraph statement that made no reference to the question of continued U.S. troops or access to bases. That suggested that the discussion was still at the level of principles and generalities.

In her prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee Mar. 15, however, Flournoy referred for the first time publicly to the post-2014 military presence. “I anticipate that some U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan in order to train and assist the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) and conduct combat counter-terrorism operations,” she said.

But someone had also tipped off Senator Joseph Lieberman, generally considered the most militarist member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to ask Flournoy and Petraeus about what could be one of the most sensitive aspects of the new policy.

Lieberman asked Flournoy to comment on the possibility of a “jointly operated system of bases in Afghanistan between us and the Afghans” after 2014. That brought an unambiguous confirmation by Flournoy that the U.S. was committed to leaving troops in Afghanistan indefinitely to conduct “joint counter-terrorism operations”.

Petraeus likened “the concept of joint basing, the concept of providing enablers for Afghan operations and so forth” as “frankly similar to what we have done in Iraq since the mission changed there” and said it would “also be appropriate in Afghanistan”.

Petraeus acknowledged, however, that “we’ve got nearly four years to go until that time.”

The determination to use the Senate testimony to ensure that the policy was publicised appears to have been related to the knowledge that Obama administration was finally moving to get negotiations with the Taliban started – and that making explicit the policy of maintaining military forces in Afghanistan indefinitely would scuttle the chances for starting such talks.

The decision to launch an “increased diplomatic effort” on Afghanistan was also made in conjunction with the December strategy review, according to Flournoy’s Mar. 15 statement. The first move by the administration was to make it clear that what had appeared to be preconditions for negotiations with the Taliban – an end to all ties with al Qaeda and recognising the constitution of Afghanistan – were actually going to be the outcomes of negotiations with the Taliban.

The diplomatic track was to be pursued through a regular tripartite meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan scheduled for Feb. 23-24, according to knowledgeable sources. It had to be rescheduled after the Jan. 27 detention of CIA consultant Raymond Davis by Pakistani authorities in Lahore on murder charges.

Nevertheless, the clarification of administration negotiating policy was included in a speech by Clinton at the Asia Society Feb. 18. And the tripartite meeting had been rescheduled for Mar. 26.

The Pentagon apparently wanted the still covert policy of long-term U.S. combat presence in Afghanistan to be explicit and on the record before the process of sounding out the Taliban had gone too far.

(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).

NOTE:Oroginally posting link:http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55028

Is Judiciary Equipped Enough to Deal Insurgency?

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive 

Jawad Raza Khan   

Jind-ullah men responsible for Ashura attack in Karachi escaped through a dreadful attack on police, right in the courts premises. CIT building in Karachi has been bombed by a suicide attacker, high value targets feared to be escaped. Two brothers gunned down in Feroze wala courts, incidentally in police custody. Security agencies are frustrated due to no or delayed actions against the apprehended terrorists.

These types of headlines are easily digestible in a Bollywood action packed, high voltage BHAI LOG movie but a country who is fighting the most sophisticated form of warfare in the history of mankind is putting its survival on stake by neglecting it.Readers, this is real and very recurrent in Pakistan.

Warfare is now an interlocking system of actions, political, economic, psychological, and military-that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country. I got this definition of modern warfare (terrorism) from a book written by Roger Trinquier, a French writer “Modern Warfare a French view”. Thanks to the writer that he has written it as French view because we are always excited to apply foreign researches on our own people and land without its necessary analysis and expected impacts on our own society.

When Westerners discuss counter insurgency operation in a third world country like Pakistan they always make religious intolerance and economy as an imperative to be looked in. They also claim to be believer of the fact that for a successful counter insurgency operation after flexing the military muscle, education and economic activity needs to be flooded in. We all believe in it and make our priorities and plans as per the same precedence; incidentally we apply it without scrutinizing our own strong and weak points with our culture and religion in the backdrop.

Swat insurgency finds its roots in incompetent judicial system which was not like that before 1969; people of Swat use to enjoy an efficient and speedy justice system. The slogan was very timely, smartly and comprehensively used by the TTP Swat, at first, the Taliban gained public support with promises of speedy justice. But public beheadings and floggings outraged many in Swat, a former tourist paradise beneath lush mountains.

Pakistan Army operated in a highly professional manner to out root the terrorists, and the world saw another exodus in the form IDPs from Swat valley. Military muscle did the trick, many were killed, rest apprehended and the planet witnessed one of the speediest returns of IDPs after a successful counterinsurgency operation which has no such precedence in the history of Warfare.

In the basic concept of military doctrine decision factors are mission, enemy, terrain and resources but this modern and unique warfare cannot rule out one most important factor and i.e. the inhabitants. In case of Pakistan the state of affairs of its citizens can be easily drawn from the state of fatalities received by the local people during terrorist activities. It must also be borne in mind that these brave residents are also playing a role of combatants in this type of warfare, rather to be fair and square they have suffered more than the combatant soldier.

Fatalities in Terrorist Violence in Pakistan: 2003- 2011

Year Civilians Security Forces (SFs)
2003 140 24
2004 435 184
2005 430 81
2006 608 325
2007 1523 597
2008 2155 654
2009 2307 1011
2010 1796 469
2011* 226 98
Total 9620 3443

Security agencies along with their intelligence tentacles have been able to arrest many of the terrorists and claimed to have broken numerous networks as well. If, I just total up the number of terrorists apprehended in Swat, FATA and in other parts of the country as shown on media, their number without exaggeration will be in thousands. On the other hand, to deal these thousands of prisoners of war there are only 41 ATCs (Anti Terrorist Courts) all over Pakistan with mere 11 in the most affected province of KPK.

The quantity analysis of the justice machinery will seems to be more promising if we analyze the efficiency of courts qualitatively. It can be summarized in just one sentence “Not a single capital punishment has been awarded and executed to any terrorist in Pakistan. On the other hand Pakistan have seen the most brutal part of this insurgency with deplorable economy, social problems, psychological trauma, power shut downs and loss of precious human lives.

With above in foregoing, you may not be astonished to hear that, there are round about 2000 pending cases in ATCs of Pakistan against the apprehended terrorists.

If you start digging out the reasons for this unjustifiable in justice, that to, in a war hit country, it triggers the blame throwing game. The Chelan was not properly filed; no sufficient evidence has been provided by the prosecutor. There is no witness of the crime scene. In turn most of the apprehenders are set free. Ready to operate with more conviction and determination against the innocent Pakistani people.

It seems that our nation and security forces has learnt the art of living with and operating against this menace, respectively, but our decaying judicial system has not been able to cope up with this violent change. The independent judiciary is a real hope for this bereaved nation, but it looks that they are more busy with:

  • Political issues
  • Power shift formulas
  • Constitutional probes
  • And most astonishingly Rights of GEO and Cable Operators

It makes me remind of Winston Churchill during world war II, when his aides used to come and inform him about the number of German sorties ready to bomb London and his question use to be the same every time, Are the people of England getting justice? Indeed sounds strange! But has mammoth logic behind it.

It should also be taken into consideration that England at that time was fighting a conventional war and we are in the midst of a cruel and horrifying insurgency, where inhabitants now demand smart and efficient judicial moves by the Judiciary more than ever.

The role of Parliament expected in this connection is far superior to the performance it has shown over the period of three years. Following is suggested in this regard.

  • The constitutional amendments required for speedy and efficient justice to be finalized
  • Parliament as executive has to provide workable solution to the judiciary so that it can play its extremely vital part, when the nation is at war.

There is yet another constitutional way out from this fiddly situation, if we dealt with these anti state elements captured by security forces as Prisoner of War (PoW). Military courts for execution of these cases can be a better solution for sharing this load with judiciary. Civil courts and military courts working hands and gloves can steer the ship of our nation to safety. This may look unorthodox but is certainly constitutional, provided the three main can sit and sort it out at the highest level.

Difficult decisions are required to be taken when national interest is at stake.

Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it. (Winston Churchill)

(The writer is based in Islamabad & a free lance writer).

It’s Time for a New Policy Face in Afghanistan

By: John Grant

 

Here’s a modest proposal for President Obama and our policy wizards to consider:

General Petraeus has provided laudable service to his great nation by pulling counter-insurgency theory from the wreckage of Vietnam and giving it CPR; and after his predecessor self-immolated in Rolling Stone, he stepped in and assumed command of US forces in Afghanistan.

But, now, as a New York Times military analysis makes very clear, the mission in Afghanistan has moved on into new territory. Also, according to an independent think tank known as PHOOA, it is time to replace the good General Petraeus with a new commander more appropriate to the reality of the mission.

The new candidate is Bozo The Clown. PHOOA (pronounced P-Hoooah!) is an acronym for Pull Head Out Of Ass. It’s time to put someone in charge who perfectly symbolizes the reality of current US war policy in Afghanistan, which is simply in-your-face absurdity.

Reading the latest news from Afghanistan – especially as we approach the annual commander’s briefing to Congress – is reminiscent of that famous Monty Python routine where the Black Knight’s arms and legs are cut off, yet he insists, “It’s just a flesh wound. C’mon, you pansy!”

Sure, we could bomb them “into the stone age,” and we could muster the resources to keep troops there forever. And our troops are as tough and as brave as any on the planet. But every sign indicates it is our vast national wealth and far superior firepower that allows us to stay while the logic of our occupation runs out of gas. As in late Vietnam, saving face is now our most important mission.

We insist on remaining committed to an enterprise dependent on vast and unaccountable amounts of US tax resources, involving notorious levels of US and Afghan corruption, countless outright lies and delusions, the usual degree of high-powered incompetence, and finally, the resultant destruction and killing.

The reason a policy becomes absurd is that it is formulated at the top from ten thousand miles away based on reasoning and political motivations far removed from the battlefield. Absurdity is defined as: “The state of being ridiculous or wildly unreasonable.”

But don’t take it from me. According to the Times analysis, high-ranking, deployed officers are finding it an absurd mission. Consider the colonel who had the bravery to speak to a New York Times reporter – at the colonel’s insistence, anonymously.

“You can keep trying all different kinds of tactics. We know how to do that. But if the strategic level isn’t working, you do end up wondering: How much does it matter? And how does this end?”

This officer characterized the gap between our soldiers’ day-to-day, on-the-ground reality and the strategic decisions and demands coming from Washington and Central Command as “the great disconnect.” This, of course, is exactly the disconnect that characterized the endgame in Vietnam, a disconnect created by the fact the war made no sense and was ultimately untenable. Tragically absurd.

As General Petraeus plans for his annual appearance before Congress next week, he is telegraphing to reporters like New York Times’ Carlotta Gall that the war is going well. At the same time, he’s busy apologizing for the pilots of Apache gunships whose lethal flying machines ran down nine terrified little kids and turned them into smoking, blackened mush.

President Hamid Karzai was so incensed by this event, for the first time, he refused to accept Petraeus’ apology, though it was just as earnest as the dozens of other apologies he or his predecessors have made for the same thing. When the nine kids were rat-a-tat-tatted into ground meat, the Afghans were still getting over the 65 civilians we were so sorry for gunning down in February.

A pattern has developed in how the US responds to these incidents.

The initial, reflexive response right out of the gate is to muddy up the waters. Well-trained flaks always stress that the facts are not clear, implying the incident isn’t as bad as the Afghans say it is. Usually, it is claimed that our pilots or soldiers are confident they were shooting at legally killable enemy insurgents. Yes, there may have been some “collateral damage,” and the US forces are always terribly sorry about that. An investigation is announced to get to the bottom of the confusion created by the incident. There is an unstated insinuation that the Afghans are backward, conniving people driven by some anti-western motivation.

In the end, after weeks of PR minimizing the agonizing deaths, somewhere on page 14 of The Times there will be a story saying the investigation has confirmed X number of civilians were tragically and accidentally killed and that the United States — at this point, it’s usually the ISAF or International Security Assistance Force — will pay restitution and renew its efforts to kill fewer civilians in the future.

Sometimes, the US suggests that Afghan civilians are intentionally injuring their own children to claim reimbursement from the US forces. According to a report by an anonymous attendee at a meeting between General Petraeus and President Karzai on February 20, Petraeus suggested the Afghans had either invented stories of injuries or, more sinisterly, they had actually burned their kids.

Rear Admiral Greg Smith, an ISAF flak, went farther. He first conceded the military had “initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned.” Then, he added this: “We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be.”

There is an incredible amount of fudging, speculation and innuendo in all that. I certainly don’t know enough, in this case, to say Admiral Smith is “lying.” But I’ve been in the military in Vietnam and I’ve worked in a PR office, and I know damn well he’s not telling the truth. Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt made famous a term for what Admiral Smith is up to: Bullshitting.

It’s understandable why Karzai would not accept Petraeus’ latest apology. Both men are politicians with critical constituencies, and even they know the situation is getting more and more absurd.

Their responses must play to their respective constituencies. Petraeus and his deep backfield of flakkery are playing not to Afghans, but to the US public and the US Congress — in order to keep the tax money coming and the war going. He naturally wants to deflect and minimize the image of our forces gunning down civilians. Meanwhile, Karzai, as the President of Afghanistan, has to stand up for his constituents, people who identify with the gunned down civilians.

In what may be the most bizarre civilian killing yet, on March 9 a US special operations night raid killed one of President Karzai’s cousins. There are many questions at this juncture, one being whether the raid was a Karzai clan vendetta with the US special operations team used as the weapon. No doubt, we’ll hear more in the future from flaks like Admiral Smith.

So once again General Petraeus is coming to Congress to sell the war in Afghanistan through 2014. The promise made to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year has gone the way of the other promises not to continue the Bush tax cuts and to close Guantanamo.

Why anyone might expect the next three years to produce anything other than more dehumanization and bloodshed is why the war has become an absurd expression of brute power and nothing more.

It’s time to bring in Bozo The Clown.

NOTE:The article was posted on Dave Lindorff’s blog.Link to original post: http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/505

 

 

Seize the moment in Mohali

Editor’s Note: Aman ki Aasha?

By:Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri   

Afridi and Dhoni’s boys have thrown a diplomatic challenge. Their World Cup Cricket semi-final clash in Mohali can make history if their respective leaders take out time to step beyond their shadows and exhibit statesmanship.

 

The invitation to view the match by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his counterpart in Pakistan, which has fortunately been accepted, is apt and timely. As the boys in green and blue exhibit their talent and expertise on the field, eight long hours of rubbing the shoulders between the prime ministers can make history. Away from the compulsions of diplomatic crisscross and an agenda to respond to their respective cabinets and constituencies, Mr Singh and Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani can put animosity behind and make a beginning that is free from the backlog of history.

India and Pakistan are in need of political peace and a policy prescription that should flow from the canons of the respective government’s party manifestoes. The tendency of empowering the civil-military bureaucracy to sort out issues had only complicated their solutions, if any. The outcome of the composite dialogue lies deep in the glaciers of mistrust. By all means it has only compiled a library of arguments, hypothesis and fiction. It had acted like putting the cart before the horse, thus stalemating the situation for all times to come. This has to change, and Mohali – like Jaipur, that former Pakistani president General Ziaul Haq made use of to do some off-the-record plain talking on the eve of Operation Brass Track, while witnessing a cricket match, can make the difference.

This is the time to put behind us the Kargil deception and the Mumbai carnage. This is the time to stop repeating the mantra of cross-border terrorism, and the (sic) jargon loaded with concerns and consequences. It’s time to explore the serenity of a shared history, a common culture and the indispensability of geography that could not be changed even if we manage to live after a nuclear holocaust. There is no dearth of examples in which hostile nation-states have succeeded in making peace, and have registered epochs of tranquility. Germany and France of yesteryears, and Ireland and England of contemporary times, are worth emulating.

Any breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations is like rewriting a script. Though many would love to do so, none finds it necessary enough to take up the task. Resultantly it lingers in a state of inertia. Retaining restrictions on trade, travel and tourism have become so dear and near to the respective establishments that any talk of let up is frowned with.

This sense of disgust has furthered the distances between the two neighbours, inevitably making room for hardliners to rule the roost. Leadership, unfortunately, is hostage to passions and privileges of the few, and
the majority has resigned to the notion of never being able to see the doves’ triumph. This is a pathetic equation and is realistically unbecoming for two rising nations and economies that have much in common than in contrast.

Let Mr Singh and Mr Gilani make some tough decisions then and there from the podium of the VVIP enclosure after the match. Though it may sound Utopian, it is perfect and extremely necessary to do: scrap the visa regime, throw open the borders for trade, rewrite a new curriculum, appoint a high-powered commission of persons of repute to find a way out for resolving territorial disputes, put flowers in the barrels of the gun, and re-synergize the nuclear infrastructure to turn around the industrial and energy needs of the sub-continent. This is not asking for the skies, but certainly a bold recipe by any means.

Having voted into power over the fundamental of making peace with the neighbours, they are free to seize the moment. All they need to do is to stand tall and get counted. Pakistan’s establishment has come a long way and is more than eager for a just peace with Delhi. India has to revisit Napoleon Bonaparte’s vision of making peace with its surroundings, and should do so in all grace and humility as the big brother in the region. Islamabad and Delhi do not have a Waterloo and should not invent one for reasons of expediency.

Irrespective of who wins the game on Wednesday, India and Pakistan can win peace for all times to come. On the field in Mohali, either of the side will win. But in the Manmohan-Gilani enclosure, both can triumph. Rather than adding to war hysteria between the cricket crazy nations, cheering and embracing the teams once the game is over can roll in a new confidence building measure. Let’s behave as a family that begs to differ but is in all agreement to respect each other. The World Cup will again be up for grab in the year 2015, but doves may not live to see the day.

Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri is Khaleej Times  Assistant  Editor (Opinion).

NOTE:This is a cross post from Khaleej Times.


Welcome to the new NATO quagmire

By Pepe Escobar  

The minute Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Anatolia news agency, “The coalition that was formed following the Paris meeting will abandon the mission and hand it over entirely to a single command system under NATO”, the issue was settled.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is about to enter the era of the double quagmire – as in Central Asia (Afghanistan) and northern Africa (Libya). And everyone thought NATO was supposed to be defending Europe from the commies. Libya now is an official victim of the endless war club.

This predictable coup de theater (see Endgame: Divide, Rule and roll with the oil Asia Times Online, March 25) does not alter the fact Odyssey Dawn remains an American war. Well, not a war, according to the White House, but a “time-limited, scope-limited military action”.

For the moment it’s a time-limited etc conducted by General Carter Ham, out of his Africom headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany (none among 53 African countries wanted Africom). Next week it will become a time-limited etc conducted by US Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s top military commander.

For all practical purposes it’s an all-American time-limited etc affair – enforced by Globocop NATO, with a handy Pentagon back up in the form of readily available “interdiction strike packages” – inimitable Pentagon speak for fighter jets loaded with missiles and ready to strike.

War by committee, revisited
As a crucial member of NATO and self-promoting preferential bridge between the West and the Muslim world, Turkey had to calibrate a very tricky strategy. The government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – with extensive business interests in Libya – spent the whole week making it crystal clear that the NATO mission must be totally restricted to protecting civilians, enforcing the UN arms embargo and providing humanitarian aid.

Predictably, the US and Britain were absolutely convinced that the military campaign in Libya could only be run by NATO.

The problem was how to deal with pesky France, led by neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy. The French government was lobbying hard for a joint Anglo-French military command – with France on top, bien sur.

The final decision spells out that NATO’s huge “assets” will run the whole show on the ground, while a political committee will provide the “governance”.

It’s a copy of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) arrangement in Afghanistan. (ISAF by the way does not provide much security and much less assistance). ISAF is led by NATO, and includes non-NATO countries such as Australia and New Zealand. The Libyan body will theoretically include those paragons of equality and equanimity – Gulf members of the Arab League. For the moment, that translates only into Qatar, which has pledged a huge fleet consisting of two Mirage fighter jets.

Sarkozy’s argument for France to lead was that a signal should be sent that the West was not once again imposing its will over a Muslim country. As if there’s much difference between NATO and a French-Anglo-Saxon committee.

But in the end Sarko dug his own tomb (where was Carla to teach her beloved Chou Chou some manners?) He treated the Turkish government like a bunch of illegal immigrants. France did not invite Turkey to last Saturday’s summit in Paris which was the prelude to the war, sorry, “time-limited, scope-limited military action”. Sarko wanted his Mirages to be the leading stars of the show.

Erdogan and Davutoglu saw right through it – the burning Sarko desire to launch not only the no-fly zone but his 2012 presidential re-election campaign as well. In a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said, “I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in [Libya's] direction, would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on.” To top it off, Sarko had made it clear numerous times that he is against Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, saying it belongs in the Middle East, not Europe.

The tawdriest part of the whole spectacle is that Sarko was propelled to grab the limelight on Libya by another shameless self-promoter, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, king of the chest-revealing white shirt, who flew to Benghazi sniffing a golden media opportunity, ingratiated himself with the “rebels”, and from there called Sarko and urged him to fulfill his glorious Arab liberator destiny.

But enough of these clowns. Which leaves Turkey on the spot. Last week, at the al-Jazeera forum in Doha, Davutoglu said, “The legal status and territorial integrity of states including Libya and Yemen should be protected.” Yet no one knows what NATO’s ultimate designs on Libya really are.

NATO will be in charge of enforcing the no-fly zone and the arms embargo. Sooner rather than later NATO will decide that’s not enough – that more air strikes on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are essential. Turkey has not signed up for that kind of action – and has already said it won’t.

When the NATO secretary general, Danish right-winger Anders Fogh Rasmussen, says something like, “we must think how NATO can assist North African countries in their transition to democracy”, Turkey better have an exit strategy, or at least a good explanation to the Muslim world when a deadly quagmire sets in. Otherwise, from a bridge between East and West, it will be reduced to a bridge to hell.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

NOTE: This is a cross post.

“Obama’s Mediaeval Call for Jehad into Libya” … Putin

    General Mirza Aslam Beg
    Former Chief of Army Staff     

     

    The Nobel Peace prize winner, Obama now has a war of his own making in Libya, because he was not at all satisfied with the wars he inherited from Bush. Now from his imperial presidency, he is hell-bent on taking this war to greater heights than even Bush could do in Afghanistan and Iraq. From the Eastern Room of the White House, he gave his toughest speech saying: “Libya was central to the whole wave of challenges in the Middle East and now is the opportunity to realign our interests, in pursuit of the UN resolution and all steps will be taken, short of the boots, to get Gaddafi.”

    It appears Obama is looking for another Kosovo or Kuwait, although Libya is altogether a different ballgame. In such great haste, the Operation Odessy Dawn was launched, killing hundreds of civilians, damaging Gaddafi’s air defense and military command and control systems. Hundreds of targets have been engaged by Tomahawk missiles, while the allied air forces of Great Britain, France, Italy and Canada, have engaged military targets around Benghazi and Tripoli. In fact a massive air attack has been launched without a clear-cut strategy, trying to restrain the “murderous madness of Gaddafi, and if necessary targeted actions will be taken,” (meaning assassination) as Sarkozy, the French President has declared. The Prime Minster of Great Britain, has warned “Gaddafi has lied to the international community. He must go, by whatever means possible.” Thus Gaddafi has become an end in itself for the West, making the war personal and that is where, this war launched in such haste, by this ‘Unholy Alliance,’ is likely to go haywire. Let us count the pit-falls:

    The war has no clear-cut objective. Is it to get Gaddafi dead or alive; or protect the civilians being killed by Gaddafi; or despite such display of ‘Shock and Awe’ can the airpower alone eliminate Gaddafi? The NATO airpower bombed Serbia for 78 days to get Milosevic, how many days the coalition air power will take to get Gaddafi? And suppose, Gaddafi gets eliminated, who can stop his son or some one else to carry the banner forward? And if the main objective is to gain control over the strategic oil producing regions of the country, that would be possible only by physically invading the land. Who amongst the allies would be willing to land troops and bell the cat? The air operations “would fast be sliding down the slippery slope into a full blown campaign of regime-change” and that won’t be fine with the State Department, without the troops on land.

    The air assault is not likely to produce even short-term gains. The conflict will prolong, with serious consequences. The Arab World opinion in particular and the Muslim World in general, will turn against the invasion of a Muslim country, which posed no threat to any of the countries of the ‘Unholy Alliance’. For sure, Gaddafi would emerge as the champion of the Arab cause. And the worst that will happen is that, very soon the Jehadis from Iraq, Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries, particularly the Takfeeris from Iraq will start pouring-in to liberate the Muslim land, as it happened in Afghanistan in 2001. The rebels in Libya are joining Gaddafi’s loyalists, to face the external threat, the same as the armed forces of Shah of Iran, joined the Islamic revolutionaries, to defeat the Iraqi invaders, in 1980-88. The powerful Salafi leader, Abu Masab, now has joined the Jehad against the ‘Crusaders’. In 1996, the CIA had bribed Abu Masab to assassinate Gaddafi, but failed. Now, he is getting arms and ammunition from Gaddafi. In fact, Libya is another Afghanistan in the making.

    Obama ignored Pentagon advice and also failed to consult the Congress for waging the war. Reportedly, in taking this decision, “Obama bowed to pressure from a triumvirate of women in his administration – Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice.” In fact Obama acted Pervez Musharraf, who in 2001, agreed to all the ‘Seven Conditionalities of Pentagon’ without consulting his cabinet or the military command and joined the immoral American war on Afghanistan – a neighbourly Muslim country, that had done no harm to Pakistan. Pakistan continues to suffer the consequences of this fatal decision. The Arab League and the OIC feel cheated, because the UN resolution was to impose a no-fly-zone over Libya, followed by sanctions, but it turned into a full-fledged attack by the Western Alliance. The distrust so created, will have serious consequences. The Invasion will also arouse Arab nationalism, that will assert itself, despite the divisions and dissentions within. The war by the international coalition will also dampen the democratic awakening in the Middle East and particularly risks changing that narrative in Libya.

    By accepting the demand of the UN resolution, for a ceasefire, Gaddafi “in one move has reversed the most powerful argument behind the UN revolution,” and has prevented the massacre in Benghazi. Gaddafi would thus retain control over most of the land, and the rebels will lose popular support. The Russians and the Chinese did not veto the UN resolution, because they wanted the West to be militarily drawn into Libya, the same as in 2001, the Americans blundered into Afghanistan, with Russia and China supporting the UN resolution. The West expects to win the war quickly, but that is a pipe-dream and no victory is in sight and the expected military glory in Libya, is elusive as in Iraq and Afghanistan. No doubt, this war is Obama’s Kargil into Libya.

    The fact of the matter is that, another Muslim country has been invaded with such arrogance of power, which is seen as continuation of the last thirty years of state-sponsored terrorism against the World of Islam: such as, the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1978-80; the eight years war of liberation by the Afghans, from 1980 to 88; the eight years Iran-Iraq war from 1980-88); the first Gulf War of 1991; the nine years civil war in Afghanistan from 1992-2001; invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by USA and the allies, 2001; invasion and occupation of Iraq by USA since 2003; Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 and the on-going brutal wars in Palestine and Kashmir, together have caused the death of over six million Muslims and many more seriously wounded and maimed. And the crime continues, with new ferocity. What will be the outcome of this war on Libya – the “mediaeval call for crusades” as described by the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, explains the very hollowness of the civilized behaviour of the very civilized world. It is the Muslim World that would suffer with more death and destruction and pillage of yet another country, while, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Kashmir, continue to burn and bleed.

    The oppressors of the world have to give a chance to peace but that is not to be, because the New Great Game has just begun – the Saudi and GCC armed forces have entered Bahrain, under the watchful eyes of the West. The fire so lit, will spread far and beyond.


 

The US, Libya and Oil

The Price of the Ticket

By CONN HALLINAN 

Cynicism is not a healthy sentiment, and as the late Molly Ivins pointed out, it absolutely wrecks good journalism. But watching events in the Middle East unfold these days makes it a pretty difficult point of view to avoid.

Let’s take the current U.S bombing of Libya. The rationale behind United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians from being beaten, shot up, and generally abused.

But while this applies to Libya, it does not apply to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen, where civilians are also being shot up, beaten, and generally abused. Is this because Moammar Gadhafi is uniquely evil? Crazier and odder, certainly, but being in the “opposition” in any of those countries is not a path to easy retirement. Civil liberties don’t exist, prisons are chock full of political prisoners, and getting whacked if you don’t like the leader is an operational hazard.

So what’s it all about? Okay, here is the cynical joke: “Is it all about oil? Nope. Some of it is about natural gas.”

Too simplistic? Maybe, but consider the following.

1) In 2009, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that world oil reserves had “peaked” and that over the next several decades supplies would drop and prices would rise. There is some controversy over the study, but there is general agreement that easy-to-get petroleum sources are getting harder and harder to find.

2) Approximately 65 percent of the world’s remaining oil reserves are in the Middle East, as well as considerable amounts of natural gas. Iran has the second greatest reserves of gas outside of Russia.

3) The U.S.—with the largest economy in the world—uses around 21 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). Since it produces only 7.5 million bpd domestically, it imports two thirds of its oil. Its major sources are (in descending order) Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Iraq.

4) China—the world’s number two economy—uses about 8 million bpd, a demand that is projected to rise to 11.3 million bpd by 2015. Since it only produces 3.7 million bpd domestically, it too relies on imported oil. It main suppliers are (in descending order) Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, Russia, Oman and Sudan.

It is estimated that, sometime between 2030 and 2050, China will surpass the U.S. and become the world’s number one economy—provided that it can secure enough energy for its growing industrial needs. Insuring access to oil and gas is a major focus of Chinese foreign policy, particularly because Beijing is nervous about how it currently obtains its supplies. Some 80 percent are transported by sea, and all of those routes involve choke points currently controlled by the U.S. The U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain controls the Hormutz Straits, through which Saudi Arabian, Iranian, and Omanian oil passes. The Fifth also dominates the straits of Bab el-Mandab that control access to the Red Sea and through which Sudan’s oil is shipped into the Indian Ocean. In addition the Malacca Straits between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula is the major transit point for oil going to China. The U.S. Seventh Fleet controls that choke point.

China’s nervousness over its sea-based oil supplies is one of the major reasons behind Beijing’s crash naval program, its construction of ports in South and Southeast Asia, and its efforts to build land-based pipelines from Russia, Central Asia, and Pakistan.

The Chinese are also trying to cope with the fact that Iran, its second largest supplier of oil and gas, is currently under international sanctions that have reduced production and cut into China’s supplies. Beijing has invested upwards of $120 billion to upgrade Iran’s energy industry, but recently has had to cutback investments because its banks could end up being sanctioned for helping out the Teheran regime.

The Chinese are not the slightest bit cynical about why the U.S. is bombing Libya and not challenging Bahrain and Yemen: Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and Yemen’s port of Aden dominates the Red Sea. China can play chess.

As for Libya. The U.S. doesn’t get oil from Libya, but its allies in Europe do. And the current crisis is African Command’s (Africom) coming out party. Up to now the record of the spanking new military formation has been less than impressive. First, no one would host it, because the U.S. military in Africa makes the locals nervous. So it is still based in Germany. Then it coordinated the absolutely disastrous Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that ended up turning most of the country over to the extremist Shabab.

But Libya is a fresh slate for Africom, and that is making the Chinese even more nervous (and explains why they have been so cranky about civilian casualties in Libya). When Africom was in its infancy it war-gamed a military intervention in the Gulf of Guinea in case “civil disturbances: caused any disruptions in oil supplies. Angola, China’s other major African supplier, is in the Gulf of Guinea. It hardly seems like a coincidence that, at the very moment that African oil supplies become important, the U.S. creates a new military formation for the continent. Africom is currently advising and training the military forces of 53 countries in the region.

Okay, so here you are in Beijing. Your industries are clamoring for power. Media in the United States reflect a growing hostility toward you, with headlines in newspapers reading, “The Chinese Tiger Shows Its Claws,” and U.S. politicians routinely blame you for America’s economic problems. And the U.S. has basically puts its thumb on each one of your oil and gas sources. Nobody is cutting off any supplies at this point, but the implied threat is always there.

In end, it is not so much about oil and gas itself, as the control of energy. Any country that corners energy supplies in the coming decades will be in a powerful position to dictate a whole lot of things to the rest of the world. That’s not cynicism, its cold-blooded calculation. And right now a lot of people in the Middle East are paying the price of the ticket.

NOTE:This is a cross post from The Counter Punch.


Neocon Foreign Policy

By Philip Giraldi

One of the enduring mysteries is why neoconservative foreign policy continues to dominate the Republican Party and also large parts of the Democratic Party even though that policy has been disastrous for the United States.  No one – not even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – is willing to call the two land wars currently underway in Asia successful and the hemorrhage of more than $12 billion a month to support the conflicts does nothing whatsoever for a struggling US economy unless one is a defense contractor.  Yet the view that the United States must use its waning power to remake much of the globe prevails.  The policy is in some circles underwritten by the myth that the United States is a special nation that makes it somehow immune to the history of the decline and fall of past empires.  The catch phrase “American exceptionalism” persists in the minds of presidential wannabes like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, both of whom conflate the country’s genuinely unique national qualities with a divine right to intervene militarily anywhere and at any time, a continuation in perpetuity of the nearly forgotten Bush Doctrine.

The neocon wordspinners are always ready with a glib turn of phrase to mask reality.  America is not poised to intervene or invade in their minds.  It is instead pursuing a “freedom agenda” and who can criticize freedom?  Tunisia, Egypt, and now even Libya are being welcomed as democracies in the making, though with the usual caveats lest democracy proceed too fast and in the wrong direction.  Hillary Clinton has made it clear that the Obama administration wants to see the proper kind of democratic development even as she privately moves to reassure remaining friendly despots in the Persian Gulf that the United States is not eager to embrace any more regime changes after Gadhafi goes.

As the situation in the Middle East stabilizes, the new enemy that is surfacing is the same old enemy: Iran.  Iran has not helped its own case by cracking down hard on protesters at a time when the region might be moving towards what amounts to a populist revolt against authoritarian governments.  But Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen have also opted for the iron fist, indicating that at least some rulers in the region will not hesitate to shoot their own subjects in order to survive.  Iran is, of course, a special case in the neocon mind because it potentially poses a threat to Israel, which is not the case in Manama, Riyadh, and Sanaa.

Republican presidential hopefuls have been making the rounds to polish their foreign policy credentials and there is no promise of peace in our times.  Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, and Mitt Romney were all recently in Israel where they pledged undying affection for Bibi Netanyahu and all his political progeny while Sarah Palin is doing the same this week.  Comments about facing down the Iranian nuclear threat are obligatory. Netanyahu himself recently upped the ante regarding Iran by declaring that military action will have to be taken against the country if sanctions do not end its nuclear program.  As sanctions are unlikely to accomplish that, it amounted to a demand that war should be the next phase.  Netanyahu even expressed a preference for who should do the attacking:  the United States.  He also stated his belief that Iran has enough nuclear material to make three bombs and expressed concern that Tehran is seeking to assume control over the oil fields in Saudi Arabia through a takeover of Bahrain, which has a Shi’ite majority.

So, per the Israeli government, Iran is not only seeking a nuclear weapon, it is also out to take control of a large chunk of the world’s oil supplies.  Of course, both assumptions could be challenged and there is considerable evidence, including the most recent US National Intelligence Estimate or NIE on Iran, that indicates that there continues to be no solid evidence that Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapon and is in no position economically or militarily to establish any kind of dominance over the Persian Gulf region.  But the problem is that the narrative being promoted by the mainstream media emphasizes the threat posed by Iran and does not attempt to provide information to the contrary so the American public unfortunately believes what it hears and sees.

Prominent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz even outdoes Israel’s prime minister in his assessment of the Iranian threat on a recent Huffington Post submission “Israel Has the Right to Attack Iran’s Nuclear Reactors Now.”  Iran’s alleged attempt to ship weapons “designed to kill Israeli civilians” to Hamas in Gaza is, for Dershowitz, an act of war justifying an armed Israeli response.  Dershowitz also claims, without citing any evidence whatsoever, that Iran might deliberately develop a dirty nuclear weapon that could be sent on a ship into Israeli waters and detonated.  He also cites the recent killing of an Israeli settler family in the illegal settlement of Itamar as evidence of how “weapons are used by Israel’s enemies against civilians in violation of the laws of war.”  He describes the Iranian regime as suicidal, willing to suffer great damage if it is able to enter into a nuclear exchange with Israel that it knows it will survive and Israel will not.  Dershowitz admittedly is completely shameless and will either invent or use any argument no matter how weak to justify any action taken by the Israelis, but as he is advocating military action that would inevitably draw the United States into yet another war, someone should perhaps challenge his scatterbrained assumptions about reasonable grounds for initiating a conflict.

As Dershowitz demonstrates, the sole immutable principle of neocon foreign policy is that it should benefit Israel.  Neoconservatives initially supported Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak because of his peace agreement with Tel Aviv, but they have now shifted away from that position and are urging the Obama Administration to liberate the Arabs.  They have been pressuring the White House to adopt a more aggressive policy in general, particularly vis-à-vis Libya.  They have generally viewed the Libyan situation as mechanism to revive their agenda to remake the Middle East following the model of the Bush “freedom agenda,” which combined the threat of military force with gentler forms of persuasion.  A successful armed intervention in Libya would vindicate the military option and could mean that using force will definitely be on the table for settling other disputes, including the long simmering problem posed by Iran.   President Obama has been understandably reluctant to get on board, but he finally agreed to take the initiative knowing that a successful Libyan action would be attractive, casting him as a successful wartime president and taking the heat off his own misadventures in Afghanistan.  But it would also put him under pressure from the blue dogs in his own party who join with the Republicans in demanding a more robust foreign policy across the board, which would include seriously threatening Iran.

There is also a seldom remarked upon secondary agenda for the neoconservatives as related to freedom for the Arab world.  As in the case of Iraq, many neocons would prefer to see democratic Arab nations that are divided by internal divisions and therefore not strong enough to challenge Israel rather than headed by dictators like Saddam Hussein who are hostile.  Developments in Eastern Europe over the past twenty years have revealed clearly that democracy does not necessarily bring with it unity of purpose or political cohesion, quite the contrary.  Small, weak, divided Arab states encumbered by a number of squabbling political parties work well for Israel and for its neocon friends.

Needless to say, the dominant neocon crafted foreign policy that still drives the Republican Party and that is all too popular elsewhere in Washington should be challenged by every American who believes more armed conflict in the Middle East could bring disaster.  What did not work in 2003 in Iraq will not work in 2011 in Iran and if there are no demands for change there will be another war, one that could easily have catastrophic consequences.  Using military force as the first option to change governments that Washington disapproves of is a concept that must be addressed directly and discredited.  If the notion persists that one more war can be fought and might have a good result, it could be the final straw that breaks the back of the American experiment in republican government.

(Philip Giraldi is a former “counter-terrorism” specialist and military intelligence officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and a columnist and television commentator who is the Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a group that advocates for more even handed policies by the U.S. government in the Middle East).

NOTE:This is a cross post from AntiWar.Com

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