DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Friday, July 10, 2009
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Posted by News Service at 3:09 AM
On a rainy day in 1993, I sat with my parents at the opening ceremonies of the Holocaust Museum and heard President Clinton, who was doing nothing to stop the genocide in Bosnia, suggest that the genocide in Bosnia must be stopped, because never again can we allow genocide to occur. My mother laconically whispered that "he talks about Bosnia as if he is somebody else." I was reminded of her distinction between the president and the rest of us when I read a piece on this magazine's website by my haver Michael Walzer, who made the same distinction but for the opposite end. He wished to exonerate the president. His subject was President Obama's stony reluctance to condemn the Iranian regime's theft of the election and its repression in the streets. "What Obama says must be guided by what he has to do," Walzer wrote, referring to the challenge of the nuclearization of Iran. "The rest of us are much freer." And so "we need to be clear about who we are and what we stand for and why we oppose the religious zealots and tyrants who have ruled Iran for the last decades." But the president need express, or teach, no such clarity. "Heads of state," who can "defend political principles" if they wish, "have other things to do." This was the stirring slogan of Walzer's exemption of the president from moral leadership in the midst of one of the greatest explosions of democratic energy in our time: "For liberals and leftists--opposition and nothing else; for state diplomats--handshakes and negotiations."
With their defense of Obama's dilatoriness about the revolt in Tehran, American liberals compromised themselves. They succumbed to the Council on Foreign Relations view of the world. So it is important to be clear that the strong articulation of American principles by the American president when those principles are being bravely upheld by a people in revolt against a dictator--this is not only a statement of emotion, it is also an element of strategy. It emboldens the right side. It allies the United States with peoples against regimes, which is almost always the surest foundation for the American position. (I am not an Iran expert, unlike almost everyone I meet, but I find it hard to imagine that the young men and women suffering the blows of the Basij would not welcome our support, that they are in the streets with angry thoughts of Mossadegh. If these events have shown anything, it is that their enemy and our enemy are the same.) There is nothing more sweepingly in the interest of the United States in the Middle East than the withering away of the theocracy in Iran. Every blow struck against the structure of state power in Iran is a blow struck against Hezbollah and Hamas; and a blow has at last been struck. This is one of those instances in which our planners may have some use for our principles. I understand the urgency of the nuclear issue, of course. I doubt that those centrifuges will be negotiated away; but if there is any hope for diplomacy, it lies in a political transformation in Tehran.
I do not agree that Obama's diffidence about liberation and human rights is owed entirely to a fear of nuclear proliferation. He has another commitment. He is determined to be the un-ugly American. This excites him. He is consecrated to an engagement with the Muslim world, which is not entirely consistent with a consecration to democracy. Even as the brutality of the ayatollahs was increasing, Obama made a point of referring graciously to "the Islamic Republic of Iran," as if it would be a slander against Islam or Iran to refer to the regime in a less legitimating manner. (The commentators are declaring a "crisis of legitimacy" in Iran, but there can be no crisis of legitimacy where there is no legitimacy.) Why does Obama care so much for Khamenei's good opinion? Khamenei will blame the West whatever the West does, because he believes that the West is forever to blame. Khamenei responded to Obama's rapture in Cairo with this. And soon, if he is to act according to his plan, Obama will have to sit down with Ahmadinejad. Perhaps he will shake his hand. Perhaps he will he wear a green tie. There are many ways for an American to be ugly or un-ugly. The hearts of millions are about to be broken. They will look to the president of the United States. Will his mincing cease? Will the realist get real? In recent days Obama has begun--not under pressure, of course--to "condemn" and to "deplore." The oppressed people of Iran may now endure what other oppressed peoples have endured: the learning curve of an American president. It is the insult that history adds to their injury.
Yes and no. No Republican has explained why the Bush administration didn't do anything about genocide in Darfur. OK, so I will explain. In the 17th century there was a great war that lasted 30 years. Appropriately enough, it was called the 30 years war. Nobody was sure why the war was fought, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Germany lost Alsace and got trampled over by several different countries and private armies. At the end of 30 years everyone was tired of the whole thing and made the Peace of Westphalia, which is called that because it was made in two treaties in Osnabruck and Munster It was decided that each state could have its own religion according to its own king or government. Thus was born the modern system of states. The Westphalian system enshrined what had long been a tradition in international relations - since ancient times, and what is still a tradition today: no interference in internal affairs of other countries. As a person, Barack Obama may have the greatest sentiments regarding shooting of demonstrators in Tehran or Tienanmen or genocide in Sudan. As President of the United States he cannot interfere in the internal affairs of another country. That's true whether he is a Democrat or a Republican in the USA or a Monarchist. in Belgium.
Posted by News Service at 2:26 AM
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Thousands protest in Iran, defying crackdown vow
By The Associated Press
In some places, police struck hard. Security forces chased after protesters, beating them with clubs on Valiasr Street, Tehran's biggest north-south avenue, witnesses said.
Posted by News Service at 6:08 PM
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Michael Totten talks with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg about The Real Quagmire in the Middle East.
MJT: You have talked to Hamas people. Should the Israelis or Americans talk to them?
Goldberg: I don't know what they'd get out of it.
MJT: What did you get out of it when you did it?
Goldberg: A first-hand understanding of how they think. People in the United States find it hard to understand how people in Hamas and Hezbollah think. It's alien. It's alien to us. The feverish racism and conspiracy mongering, the obscurantism, the apocalyptic thinking – we can't relate to that. Every so often, there's an eruption of that in a place like Waco, Texas, but we're not talking about 90 people in a compound. We're talking about whole societies that are captive to this kind of absurdity.
Really worth reading the entire article
Posted by News Service at 4:01 PM
The Administration's distancing of itself from Israel is likely to empower those who believe that American support can be degraded.
By JEFF ROBBINS
In his new book, "One State, Two States: Resolving The Israel/Palestine Conflict," historian Benny Morris recounts the lugubrious history of Palestinian refusal to actually accept Israel as a Jewish state in the heart of the uniformly Muslim Middle East. Morris examines the widespread rejection by Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general of a two-state solution that, he points out, has been "a constant refrain of Palestinian leaders … throughout the history of the Palestinian national movement," up to and including the present.
The refusal of Palestinian politicians, academics and clerics to stipulate that they accept a permanent Jewish state existing next to a Palestinian state is, of course, at once a dirty little secret and the 800 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to the debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
For over 80 years, as Morris notes, Palestinians have "persuasively demonstrated" that they do not want any Jewish state in the region, regardless of the boundaries, and regardless of the settlement policy pursued by this Israeli government or that one. The Palestinian rejection of any Jewish state has not merely been the recurring theme of the conflict, but the dominant one. Thus, in the 1930s, the Palestinians rejected a proposed two-state solution that would have created a Jewish state in less than 20 percent of Palestine. In the 1940s, the Palestinians rejected the United Nations partition plan which created a Jewish state on less than half of the arable land in Palestine. From 1948 to 1967, when Israel had no presence in Gaza, the West Bank or East Jerusalem, the Arabs created no Palestinian state. After the 1967 war, when Israel accepted the land-for-peace formulation in UN Resolution 242, the Arab world, including the Palestinians, rejected it. In 2000, when Israel supported a plan put forth by President Clinton that would have created an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem comprising all of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank, the Palestinians rejected this too, instead commencing a campaign of bombings that left 1,100 Israelis dead and, not incidentally, 4,000 Palestinians dead as well.
And in 2006, when Israel unilaterally and forcibly removed thousands of settlers from the Gaza Strip, abandoning any Jewish presence there, Palestinians responded by rocketing Israeli civilian centers, eventually leaving Israel with the unenviable choice between abandoning ever greater numbers of its civilians to daily Palestinian rocket attacks, on one hand, or entering Gaza to stop those attacks, with the inevitable harm done to civilians there, on the other. For its part, the Hamas leadership, which had assassinated many of its opponents and achieved a military takeover of Gaza, was more than content to trade hundreds of Palestinian lives in Gaza for the international criticism of Israel which Israel's efforts to protect its civilians from these rocket attacks would reliably trigger.
Recently, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told The Washington Post that the Palestinians had once again rejected a two-state solution. Former Prime Minister Olmert, Abbas told the Post, had recently offered an independent Palestinian state comprising all of Gaza, a capital in East Jerusalem and 97 percent of the West Bank - - and Abbas had flatly rejected this as well. "The gaps," Abbas said, without elaboration, "were too wide."
In the meantime, Abbas refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, telling the Post that he preferred to let the passage of time take its course, confident that American and international pressure on Israel would further weaken Israel's position. "Until then," Abbas said, "in the West Bank we have a good reality…the people are living a good life." And just last week, despite yet more stories in the western media that Hamas was at last "moderating" its position on Israel, Hamas informed former President Carter, whose credulousness on the conflict is a source of some wonderment, that as it had previously made clear, it would never recognize Israel's right to exist under any circumstances.
The problem with these facts is that they get in the way of an increasingly fashionable orthodoxy: that it is Israeli settlements on the West Bank that are the obstacle to peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Despite the record recounted so soberingly by Morris, this is a line that is advanced by Palestinian supporters in the West with great vigor, even as Palestinians have been proclaiming somewhat indiscreetly that, actually, the trouble with Israel has nothing to do with settlements and everything to do with its existence, which, three generations after Israel's founding, remains unacceptable.
Morris rather elegantly characterizes the bobbing and weaving of Palestinian spokespeople who profess moderation while continuing to reject Israel's right to exist as "elisions, disingenuousness and vagueness." It might be described less gently as mendacity. Nevertheless, the line that it is Israeli settlements that are the problem, and Prime Minister Netanyahu's reluctance to remove them that is the fundamental impediment to peace, has attained a certain gospel-like adherence in certain quarters and, increasingly, among Democrats. As Dennis Ross and David Makovsky write with understatement in their own new book, "Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East," "those on the left…tend to dismiss ideological opposition to Israel's existence."
For Democrats who voted for Barack Obama, but who regard the encirclement of Israel by well-armed fanatics pledged to its destruction with some alarm, the President's treatment of Prime Minister Netanyahu on the occasion of their first meeting has provoked a certain unease. The Obama Administration's pointed and singular focus on Israeli settlements while downplaying the underlying problem of Palestinian rejectionism, the extensive leaking aimed at letting the world know what little regard the Administration has for Israel's newly-elected leader, and Vice President Biden's ostentatious scolding of Israel's supporters at a recent AIPAC conference, can all be regarded as part of a master plan, intended to bring the Arab world into the peace process by demonstrating that American policy toward Israel has changed. Under this theory, Obama's stiff-arming of Israel might be viewed as the diplomatic equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, intended to improve the desperate situation of President Abbas and empower Abbas and other relative moderates to persuade the Arab masses to finally accept a Jewish state.
The risk, of course, is that rather than enhancing the stature of moderates and reducing the influence of those who openly pronounce that what they really seek is the disappearance of Israel, the Obama Administration's gambit will have the opposite effect. The record of Palestinians professing in the West to accept a two-state solution while assuring their own people that they refuse to accept any such solution is incontrovertible, and does not appear to have evolved to any meaningful degree, as Morris points out.
The Administration's purposeful distancing of itself from Israel is likely to empower those who have always believed, and who continue to believe, that in the fullness of time, American support for Israel can be degraded, and with it Israel's ability to survive. Those in the Arab world who have counseled that that is the case—and there are many of them—will take the Administration's insistence that it wishes to be "an honest broker" as evidence that, at long last, American support for Israel has begun to erode, and that it is only a matter of time before it is no longer necessary for them to pretend that it is a two-state solution in which they are interested. If this proves to be the case, the Obama Administration, while intending to be helpful, will have inadvertently dealt whatever prospects exist for Middle East peace a serious blow.
Mr. Robbins served as a United States Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva during the Clinton Administration. He is an attorney at Mintz Levin in Boston.
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Posted by News Service at 12:32 AM
Monday, July 6, 2009
By Daniel Williams
July 6 (Bloomberg) -- Jamal Tahir Bakr, police chief of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, expected the euphoria over the U.S. withdrawal from Iraqi cities to end, just not so quickly.
A car bomb blew up a city bazaar and killed 37 people on June 30, the official withdrawal date. It put an end to any illusion that the U.S. pullout, coupled with heightened control by the Iraqi police and army, would bring peace, he said.
"People were getting hypnotized by the idea that normal times were here," Bakr said in an interview the day after the bombing. "It didn't make any difference how much you warned them, they had it in their heads. And then the bomb. The real situation is now clear: The problems are not over."
Too many conflicts are unresolved, Iraqis in Kirkuk say. An insurgency led by Sunni Muslims that rejects the Shiite Muslim- dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki persists. Kirkuk is rent by a long-running feud between the local Kurdish population and Arab Iraqis. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden warned al-Maliki on July 3 that the U.S. might disengage from the country if it reverts to sustained violence.
Iraqi police aren't prepared to take on the heavy burden of securing a city of 1 million people, its own officials say. There aren't enough of them. And the region around Kirkuk, which supplies 25 percent of Iraq's oil exports, doesn't get enough funds from the central government for more police.
"Normal? Maybe we were fooling ourselves," said Sadiq Mohammed Burhan, 56, who lost seven relatives in the bombing.
Iraqi inability to control violence as the U.S. makes its phased exit by the end of 2011 may hamper President Barack Obama's push to shift military resources to Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO allies there are fighting al-Qaeda, the global terrorist organization, and its Afghan allies.
Obama called the Kirkuk bombing "senseless" on June 30 and warned of "difficult days ahead," though he said the pullout was an "important milestone."
Al-Maliki labeled the urban withdrawal an Iraqi victory over "foreign occupiers" and said in a June 30 Baghdad speech that "the national united government succeeded in putting down the sectarian war that was threatening the unity and sovereignty of Iraq."
U.S. military officials blame the bombing on the Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent group made up of members of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Baathist party. The bomber parked his car, bought some groceries, put them atop the vehicle and walked off. As he faded into the crowd, the car exploded, incinerating shoppers, merchants and live chickens on sale.
Government television has run reports faulting Bakr's police for not patrolling properly and for lifting concrete barriers from the market area, which let unrestricted car traffic flood the bazaar.
After the bombing, the Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad ordered him to reinstall the barriers, Bakr said. His reaction: "We are supposed to have 13,000 police in Kirkuk. The government says it only has money for 11,000. We are the least protected city in Iraq."
Security forces have also become specific targets. Between July 2 and July 4, gunmen using silencers killed a soldier, a policeman and then another soldier and his brother on Kirkuk streets.
"We know they want to discredit the Iraqi security forces. This is a way of saying, the forces can't even protect themselves," said Major Christopher Norrie, operations officer with the U.S. army stationed outside Kirkuk.
Oil's decline from a peak of $145 a barrel last July to about $67 has reduced revenue, which Bakr says is one reason why he isn't getting enough police resources. He also says he suspects the central government is dragging its feet because the city council is dominated by Kurds.
Bids to develop two major oil fields in the region -- part of an effort to attract foreign petroleum companies and increase production -- failed on June 29 and 30 when companies couldn't agree on terms with the government.
Burdin Hickok, senior banking and finance adviser for the U.S. State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kirkuk, predicts that unrest may curb existing output at these fields and hinder exploration of unexploited reserves that potentially hold 6 percent of the world's oil.
The biggest risk to the area's oil production comes from Kurdish-Arab tensions, he said. Kurds, who control an autonomous region in northeastern Iraq, want to annex Kirkuk and nearby rural communities. Thousands of Kurds were expelled from the region during the 1970s by Hussein. Arab Iraqis insist that Kirkuk remain outside Kurdish control.
Residents of the burned-out market say the dispute was at the heart of the bombing: All of the victims were Kurds.
"The Arabs don't want to give us our rights," said Ghalib Jalal Shaqwan, whose brother survived after being burned in the explosion.
That is hindsight. The merchants themselves had lobbied to get cement barriers removed and told police they would hire their own security forces. They didn't.
"We didn't think we needed to spend the money," said Shaqwan, 30. "We believed things were getting better. Why else were the Americans leaving?"
One bomb changed everything. The sellers in the bazaar want constant police patrols. They want the barriers. And they want the Americans back.
"They should stay for 25 years," Shaqwan said as a clutch of bystanders nodded. "That's how long peace will take."
Posted by News Service at 10:00 AM