Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How A Lobby Works in Foreign Policy Arena:
The AIPAC Policy Conference

Blog editor's note: For an excellent view of how a "model" lobbying campaign is conducted in the foreign policy arena, it may be instructive to look at the web site for the upcoming Policy Conference of The American Israel Public Affairs Commitee, which bills itself as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby." The March 5-7 conference in Washington, D.C. is about as well organized a conference of this sort as I've seen. It's theme this year is "You Can Help Stop Iran."

To access the site, see AIPAC

Saturday, January 28, 2006

How Do You Like Your Democracy Now, Mr. Bush? Hamas's stunning victory underlines the contradictions and hypocrisies in Bush's Mideast policies.

By Juan Cole
Friday 27 January 2006

Blog editor's note: Prof. Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, is a noted authority on the Middle East and a staunch critic of the Bush administration's policies in the region. You can find his web page at http://www.juancole.com/ It's well worth your while to visit this site from time to time. Here is his take on the recent Palestinian elections.

The stunning victory of the militant Muslim fundamentalist Hamas Party in the Palestinian elections underlines the central contradictions in the Bush administration's policies toward the Middle East. Bush pushes for elections, confusing them with democracy, but seems blind to the dangers of right-wing populism. At the same time, he continually undermines the moderate and secular forces in the region by acting high-handedly or allowing his clients to do so. As a result, Sunni fundamentalist parties, some with ties to violent cells, have emerged as key players in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine.

Democracy depends not just on elections but on a rule of law, on stable institutions, on basic economic security for the population, and on checks and balances that forestall a tyranny of the majority. Elections in the absence of this key societal context can produce authoritarian regimes and abuses as easily as they can produce genuine people power. Bush is on the whole unwilling to invest sufficiently in these key institutions and practices abroad. And by either creating or failing to deal with hated foreign occupations, he has sown the seeds for militant Islamist movements that gain popularity because of their nationalist credentials.

In Iraq, which is among the least secure and most economically fraught countries in the world, the Dec. 15 elections brought into Parliament a set of powerful Shiite fundamentalist parties and a new force, the Muslim fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front, which gained most of the votes of formerly secular-minded Iraqi Sunni Arabs. Some IAF politicians are suspected of strong ties to Iraq's Sunni insurgency. In Egypt, last fall's election increased representation for the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood from 17 to more than 70 seats in Parliament, making that group a key political player for the first time in Egyptian history. Decades ago, the party once assassinated a prime minister and attempted to assassinate President Gamal Abdul Nasser, but now maintains it has turned to moderation. It aims at the imposition of a rigid interpretation of Islamic law on Egyptians, including Egyptian women.

To read the full text, see Salon.com

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lawmakers Push for More Action on Iranian Nuclear Standoff

International Herald Tribune
January 22, 2006

Blog editor's note: For those interested in the interplay between domestic politics and foreign policy, there is no better case study than following the current Congressional chatter about Iran's alleged nuclear threat. Suffice it to say, a good number of the most vocal members of both the House and the Senate, whether Democrat or Republican seems to matter little, are said to be interested in becoming President. Could the momentum push us into yet another military conflict? Stay tuned...

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 - As the Bush administration and its European allies pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff, some top lawmakers from both parties pressed for a more vigorous approach today, including the option of military action.

"There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option," Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, "and that is Iran having nuclear weapons."

Mr. McCain, speaking on the Fox News Channel, added that concerns about Iran, along with what he termed the "wackos" in Venezuela - where President Hugo Chavez is one of the Bush administration's most ardent critics -- underscored the need for greater American energy independence.

Lawmakers on the Sunday morning talk shows also offered varying views of the meaning of the latest audiotape from Osama bin Laden. Some said it should raise serious concerns for a new attack on American soil, while others saw it as a sign that an increasingly isolated and possibly physically weakened Qaeda leader was struggling to remain relevant.

Senator McCain' call for an accelerated approach on Iran was echoed by a senior Democrat, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who was the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000.

To read the full text, see New York Times

War's stunning price tag

By Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz
Los Angeles Times commentary
January 17, 2006

LINDA BILMES, a former assistant secretary of Commerce, teaches public finance at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. JOSEPH STIGLITZ is a professor at Columbia University. He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001.

LAST WEEK, at the annual meeting of the American Economic Assn., we presented a new estimate for the likely cost of the war in Iraq. We suggested that the final bill will be much higher than previously reckoned — between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, depending primarily on how much longer our troops stay. Putting that into perspective, the highest-grossing movie of all time, "Titanic," earned $1.8 billion worldwide — about half the cost the U.S. incurs in Iraq every week.

Like the iceberg that hit the Titanic, the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface. Our calculations include not just the money for combat operations but also the costs the government will have to pay for years to come. These include lifetime healthcare and disability benefits for returning veterans and special round-the-clock medical attention for many of the 16,300 Americans who already have been seriously wounded. We also count the increased cost of replacing military hardware because the war is using up equipment at three to five times the peacetime rate. In addition, the military must pay large reenlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to reenlist reluctant soldiers. On top of this, because we finance the war by borrowing more money (mostly from abroad), there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt.

Our study also goes beyond the budget of the federal government to estimate the war's cost to the economy and our society. It includes, for instance, the true economic costs of injury and death. For example, if an individual is killed in an auto or work-related accident, his family will typically receive compensation for lost earnings. Standard government estimates of the lifetime economic cost of a death are about $6 million. But the military pays out far less — about $500,000. Another cost to the economy comes from the fact that 40% of our troops are taken from the National Guard and Reserve units. These troops often earn lower wages than in their civilian jobs. Finally, there are macro-economic costs such as the effect of higher oil prices — partly a result of the instability in Iraq.

We conclude that the economy would have been much stronger if we had invested the money in the United States instead of in Iraq.

To read the full text, see Los Angeles Times

Confidence Game
Iraq has taught us that 'unknown unknowns' make lousy targets. Will Washington heed that lesson when it responds to Tehran breaking its nuclear seals?

By Christopher Dickey

Jan. 10, 2006 - Lest we forget amid all the second-guessed accusations and explanations in the air these days, the Bush administration did not launch its invasion of Iraq some 2,200 dead Americans ago because it knew Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It invaded because it did not know. We went to war—and remain mired in that war—because of a hunch.

Remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s famous little discourse on "unknown unknowns" in the summer of 2002, just as Washington and London were secretly committing themselves to invasion? He'd been asked about claims that Saddam's WMD arsenal and links to terrorists were worse than many analysts thought. Undeterred, Rumsfeld explained that lots of intelligence only comes to light years after the fact, and that proves you just can't know everything. "There are no knowns," he said. "There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know."

To read the full text, see MSNBC.MSN.COM

The west has picked a fight with Iran that it cannot win
Washington's kneejerk belligerence ignores Tehran's influence and the need for subtle engagement

Simon Jenkins
January 20, 2006

Never pick a fight you know you cannot win. Or so I was told. Pick an argument if you must, but not a fight. Nothing I have read or heard in recent weeks suggests that fighting Iran over its nuclear enrichment programme makes any sense at all. The very talk of it - macho phrases about "all options open" - suggests an international community so crazed with video game enforcement as to have lost the power of coherent thought.
Iran is a serious country, not another two-bit post-imperial rogue waiting to be slapped about the head by a white man. It is the fourth largest oil producer in the world. Its population is heading towards 80 million by 2010. Its capital, Tehran, is a mighty metropolis half as big again as London. Its culture is ancient and its political life is, to put it mildly, fluid.

All the following statements about Iran are true. There are powerful Iranians who want to build a nuclear bomb. There are powerful ones who do not. There are people in Iran who would like Israel to disappear. There are people who would not. There are people who would like Islamist rule. There are people who would not. There are people who long for some idiot western politician to declare war on them. There are people appalled at the prospect. The only question for western strategists is which of these people they want to help.

To read the full text, see Guardian

Pity the Region

The Nation
February 6, 2006 issue

Blog editor's note: This is a review of "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East" by Robert Fisk, a sweeping political history of the troubled region and its equally troubled interaction with the West. Don't be intimidated by the book's size. If you are genuinely interested in understanding what's going on today in that part of the world, this is a good place to start.

In March 1991 Shiites in southern Iraq were being slaughtered en masse. President George H.W. Bush had called upon the Iraqis to topple Saddam Hussein after the US-led coalition defeated the Iraqi army in Kuwait. The Shiites heeded the call with vigor and savagery, as did their Kurdish countrymen in the north, but now the reconsolidated Baathist regime was striking back, killing tens of thousands. Using helicopter gunships that Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf rashly permitted them to operate under the terms of the previous month's cease-fire agreement, as well as ground forces, Saddam's forces pulverized the rebellion. Many of the mass graves that have been recently unearthed are from this period.

While this was going on the Americans stood by and watched, often literally. One of the more disgraceful moral lapses in US history, this moment of "betrayal" fundamentally recast Shiite identity in Iraq. Advocates of the latest invasion--who were caught off-guard by the lukewarm reception Iraqi Shiites accorded their would-be liberators in 2003--seem to have slept through that part of the movie. US officials up and down the line did little to mitigate, much less end, the suffering of the Shiites, perhaps in deference to the wishes of their ally Saudi Arabia, for whom the prospect of a Shiite-dominated Iraq is no more inviting now than it was then. Only Iran offered substantial help, which would later yield dividends in credibility for Tehran and for groups it supported, as the elections in Iraq have revealed.

To read the full text, see The Nation.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

IAF intelligence: Iran beefing up air defenses

Arieh O'Sullivan
Jan. 12, 2006

A recent research project by the IAF [Israeli Air Force] has determined that in the summer of 1981 Israel did not have a clear picture of the impact a strike on Iraq's nuclear reactor would have, but chose to attack anyway.

Prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the bombing, condemned by the world at the time, thus inaugurating what became known as the "Begin Doctrine," Israel's policy of launching a pre-emptive strike to prevent any of its enemies acquiring nuclear weapons.

It is the Begin Doctrine which repeatedly has been invoked lately regarding Iran and Israel's response to its suspected efforts to produce nuclear weapons. The internal IAF research paper shows that the feasibility of a successful military operation need not be total in order for Israeli leaders to order such a strike. This appears to abate a recently published US army report that claims Israel has no viable military option against Iranian nukes.

To read the full text, see JERUSALEM POST.com

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The General
History Interrupted

The New York Times
January 8, 2006

"LOOK, the Jews are not easy people," Ariel Sharon, one of the least easy of people, said late one evening in 2004 on his farm in southern Israel. "Maybe that's the reason they managed to exist, I would say, for thousands of years." He chuckled.

"You cannot defeat Jews," Israel's prime minister went on. "You can maneuver them. You maneuver them, they maneuver you. I would say it's endless maneuvers."

It is hard to imagine Mr. Sharon's own gambits at an end. Having outmaneuvered Jew and gentile, enemy and ally alike, Mr. Sharon at 77 was losing ground at this writing to the invincible opponent he had also cheated more than once. It should have surprised no one - though it did - that he was caught, in this struggle, in mid-maneuver. Having torn up the Jewish settlements he founded in the Gaza Strip, he had been on his way to tearing apart the right-wing party he founded, Likud, in favor of a new, centrist party that was going to do - well, it may be that only Mr. Sharon knew exactly what, and some wondered if even he did.

He almost certainly planned to pull some Israeli settlers out of parts of the West Bank, but how soon, and from which areas? Did he envision signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians from behind the West Bank barrier he mapped out? One that would provide them sovereignty in a viable state? Or did he want to cage the Palestinians in barricaded enclaves like Gaza? Its ends still unknown, its ultimate achievements still uncertain, one of the most audacious exercises of leadership in Israel's history came to an abrupt close at a moment of resounding ambiguity.

"We will never know the real answer," said Tzaly Reshef, a founder of the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now. He said that his own feelings about Mr. Sharon were mixed. "Some good friends who share my views remember only the last two years," he said. "I remember the whole history of Sharon.

To read the full text, see New York Times

He never intended an equitable solution in Israel

Henry Siegman
Sunday January 8, 2006

Blog editor's note: Henry Siegman is director of the US/Middle East Project and former head of the American Jewish Congress

In a remarkable transformation, the man now lying in a coma in an Israeli hospital has emerged these past five years as the single most dominant political personality in Israel's history, overshadowing even Ben-Gurion's mythic role as founding father of the state.
Most Israelis came to believe that Ariel Sharon was the only person able to solve the Palestinian conflict. Alternatively, if the conflict were to continue, he was the man they trusted to manage it in a manner that assured Israel's stability and security.

This view of Sharon is only partly correct. He was, indeed, uniquely able to make the compromises without which an agreement with the Palestinians is unattainable. It is difficult to imagine another Israeli leader who could retain popular support for the return of most of the West Bank, along the lines suggested in the Clinton proposal of January 2001, and compensate Palestinians for the retention by Israel of the major settlement blocs adjoining the pre-1967 border with comparable territory within Israel. The same is true of allowing the Arab-populated parts of Jerusalem to serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

If it were true that a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians incorporating these unavoidable 'concessions' were the strategic goal of the 'new' Sharon, his departure from the political scene would be grievous. But Sharon had no intention of making such concessions, nor is there any basis for the expectation that there will ever be a Palestinian leader willing or able to accept an agreement that does not include these provisions.

To read the full text, see Observer

Iraq now terrorist central: analyst

By Martin Abbugao in Singapore
Agence France-Presse

IRAQ has replaced Afghanistan as the nerve centre of global terrorism by militant groups whose ability to regenerate, despite setbacks, means that suicide bombings and other mass-casualty attacks remain a serious danger in 2006, analysts said.

Three major developments are likely to define the security landscape this year, Singapore-based terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna told a forum organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) last week.
"The first is that al-Qaeda has morphed or transformed from a small group into a terrorist movement," he told diplomats, academics, officials and business executives.

"So today the threat is not so much from one single organisation called al-Qaeda but from the global jihad movement."

To read the full text, see News.Com.AU

Iraq war could cost US over $2 trillion, says Nobel prize-winning economist
· Economists say official estimates are far too low
· New calculation takes in dead and injured soldiers

Jamie Wilson in Washington
January 7, 2006

The real cost to the US of the Iraq war is likely to be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion (£1.1 trillion), up to 10 times more than previously thought, according to a report written by a Nobel prize-winning economist and a Harvard budget expert.
The study, which expanded on traditional estimates by including such costs as lifetime disability and healthcare for troops injured in the conflict as well as the impact on the American economy, concluded that the US government is continuing to underestimate the cost of the war.

The report came during one of the most deadly periods in Iraq since the invasion, with the US military yesterday revising upwards to 11 the number of its troops killed during a wave of insurgent attacks on Thursday. More than 130 civilians were also killed when suicide bombers struck Shia pilgrims in Karbala and a police recruiting station in Ramadi.

The paper on the real cost of the war, written by Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2001, and Linda Bilmes, a Harvard budget expert, is likely to add to the pressure on the White House on the war. It also followed the revelation this week that the White House had scaled back ambitions to rebuild Iraq and did not intend to seek funds for reconstruction.

To read the full text, see Guardian

Bush using a little-noticed strategy to alter the balance of power

By Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Jan. 06, 2006

WASHINGTON - President Bush agreed with great fanfare last month to accept a ban on torture, but he later quietly reserved the right to ignore it, even as he signed it into law.

Acting from the seclusion of his Texas ranch at the start of New Year's weekend, Bush said he would interpret the new law in keeping with his expansive view of presidential power. He did it by issuing a bill-signing statement - a little-noticed device that has become a favorite tool of presidential power in the Bush White House.

In fact, Bush has used signing statements to reject, revise or put his spin on more than 500 legislative provisions. Experts say he has been far more aggressive than any previous president in using the statements to claim sweeping executive power - and not just on national security issues.

"It's nothing short of breath-taking," said Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University. "In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible, and pre-empted the judiciary."

Signing statements don't have the force of law, but they can influence judicial interpretations of a statute. They also send a powerful signal to executive branch agencies on how the White House wants them to implement new federal laws.

In some cases, Bush bluntly informs Congress that he has no intention of carrying out provisions that he considers an unconstitutional encroachment on his authority.

To read the full text, see KnightRidder

Our Presidential Era: Who Can Check the President?

New York times
January 8, 2006


Not since Watergate has the question of presidential power been as salient as it is today. The recent revelation that President George W. Bush ordered secret wiretaps in the United States without judicial approval has set off the latest round of arguments over what the president can and cannot do in the name of his office. Over the past few years, the war on terror has led to the use of executive orders to authorize renditions and the detention of enemy combatants without trial - for which the Bush administration has been called to account by our European allies. The treatment of detainees has also given rise to concerns in Congress about the prerogatives of the chief executive: both houses recently voted to limit the president's authority to employ C.I.A. or other executive agents to engage in cruel and inhumane interrogations. The limits of presidential power will almost surely be a major topic of discussion during Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin this week.

The stakes of the debate could hardly be higher: nothing is more basic to the operation of a constitutional government than the way it allocates power. Yet in an important sense, the debate is already long over. By historical standards, even the Bush administration's critics subscribe to the idea of a pre-eminent president. Administrative agencies at the president's command are widely understood to be responsible for everything from disaster relief to drug approval to imposing clean-air standards; and the president can unleash shock and awe on his own initiative. Such "presidentialism" seems completely normal to most Americans, since it is the only arrangement most of us have ever known.

For better or worse, though, this is not the system envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. The framers meant for the legislative branch to be the most important actor in the federal government: Congress was to make the laws and the president was empowered only to execute them. The very essence of a republic was that it would be governed through a deliberative legislature, composed carefully to reflect both popular will and elite limits on that will. The framers would no sooner have been governed by a democratically elected president than by a king who got his job through royal succession.

To read the full text, see New York Times

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bolton Plans to Restart Stalled Efforts to Restructure U.N.

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post
January 2, 2006; A07

UNITED NATIONS -- John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he will start the new year by reinvigorating stalled efforts to restructure management of the world body, beginning with a controversial push to seek assurances that the Security Council's five major powers will be guaranteed posts on a new Human Rights Council.

Bolton said in an interview that the Bush administration wants to ensure that the United States is never again denied membership in the United Nations' principal human rights body, as it was in 2001, when Austria, France and Sweden defeated a U.S. bid for membership in the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission. But his initiative would also boost efforts by China and Russia, two permanent council members with troubled rights records, to gain membership in the new body.

The proposal is part of a broader drive by Bolton to place the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- at the center of U.N. decision making. But an official involved in the negotiations warned that creating fresh privileges for the council's most powerful states "would turn off a large chunk of the membership."

To read the full text, see Washington Post.com

Review of the Year: Iraq
View From Baghdad: Bush and Blair plot their exit strategy as a nation falls apart at the seams.

By Patrick Cockburn
The Independent UK
30 December 2005

This was the year in which the US admitted it was not going to defeat the insurgency. It was the ebb tide of American and British power in Iraq. By the end of the year both countries were urgently looking to withdraw their troops in circumstances not too humiliating to themselves and without precipitating the complete collapse of the Iraqi state.

The failure of the US and Britain to win the war does not mean that the two-and-a-half year uprising among the Sunni Arabs has achieved all its aims. The beneficiaries from President George W Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003 are not the Sunni but the Iraqi Shia and the Kurds. Outside Iraq, the country which has gained most from the fall of Saddam Hussein is Iran.

The year began and ended with elections. The first, on 30 January, was critical in demonstrating the electoral power of the Shia community. The United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shia parties, triumphed. This was hardly surprising since the Shia make up 60 per cent of the Iraqi population. But it was a political earthquake in Iraq after so many centuries of Sunni dominance. The verdict of the January poll was confirmed by the election on 15 December for the National Assembly, which will sit for four years.

To read the full text, see Truthout.org