Saturday, September 15, 2007

Humor from Egypt: Honor in Journalism

Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, has a developed sense of humor, not unlike that of comrade Stalin. After jailing editors for publishing "rumors" that he is ill, Mubarak had this to say:
"The ignorance of some [writers] of the facts and [their] going too far in publishing lies and false information, is an issue that has nothing to do with the freedom of press but aimes [sic] at causing chaos," ....
Mubarak stressed that press freedoms were not stifled but that everyone who violates the journalism's[sic] covenant of honor or puts the nation's safety in peril must be punished."
The covenant of honor of Egyptian journals, and the ignorance of the writers are never at issue as regards Israel or Jews. Despite a peace treaty that supposedly bans incitement, Egyptian newspapers routinely publish anti-Semitic cartoons, articles alleging that Hitler didn't finish the work of killing the Jews, articles alleging the truth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and similar fare. All these are apparently within the "journalism's code of honor," Egypt style, as was a recent and wholly fallacious report claiming that an Israeli unit had executed prisoners of war in the 1967 Six Day War.  
Ami Isseroff

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thomas Friedman: Iraq Through China's Lens

Thomas Friedman: Iraq Through China's Lens

Something is out of balance with America today. Looking at the world from here, it is hard not to feel that China has spent the last six years training for the Olympics while we've spent ourselves into debt on iPods and Al Qaeda.

After 9/11, we tried to effect change in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world by trying to build a progressive government in Baghdad. There was, I believed, a strategic and moral logic for that.

But the strategy failed, for a million different reasons, and now it is time to recognize that and focus on how we insulate ourselves from the instability of that world — by having a real energy policy, for starters — how we protect our security interests there in more sustainable ways and how we get back to developing our own house.

By now it should be clear that Iraq is going to be what it is going to be. We've never had sufficient troops there to shape Iraq in our own image. We simply can't go on betting so many American soldiers and resources that Iraqis will one day learn to live together on their own — without either having to be bludgeoned by Saddam or baby-sat by us.

So either we get help or get out. That is, if President Bush believes staying in Iraq can still make a difference, then he needs to muster some allies because the American people are not going to sustain alone — nor should they — a long-shot bet that something decent can still be built in Baghdad.

If the president can't get help, then he has to initiate a phased withdrawal: now. Because the opportunity cost this war is exacting on our country and its ability to focus on anything else is out of all proportion to what might still be achieved in Iraq by our staying, with too few troops and too few friends.

Iraqis can add. The surge has brought more calm to Iraq largely because the mainstream Iraqi Sunnis finally calculated that they have lost and that both the pro-Al Qaeda Iraqi Sunnis and the radical Shiites are more of a threat to them than the Americans they had been shooting at.

The minute we start withdrawing, all Iraqis will carefully calculate their interests. They may decide that they want more blood baths, but there is just as much likelihood that they will eventually find equilibrium.

Israeli air incursion: Israel attacked missile batteries in Syria

Among the many theories about the Israeli strike in Syria, this one has a ring of versimilitude:
'IAF attacked missile batteries; Assad advisors pushing for retaliation' Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST Sep. 12, 2007
Advisors to Syrian President Bashar Assad are pressuring him to respond to the alleged IAF attack by "landing a blow to an Israeli target," The Kuwaiti daily Al-Jareeda reported Wednesday.

According to the report, Israel targeted long-range missile batteries that were brought to Syria from Iran.

The report said that five IAF fighter jets carried out the attack.

Again, there is no reason offered as to why Israel is keeping mum about the strike. They did not do so in the past. The most logical explanation is that the target was a Russian-manned radar or missile installation or perhaps an electronic listening post, like the one that did so much damage in the recent Lebanon war. That would be a good reason for Israel to keep silent about the target. Russian-manned radar would make a crucial difference in any war with Syria, since it would provide the air-defense umbrella that would allow Syrian aircraft to operate over Israel. Russians would probably not allow the Syrians to man the most advanced systems. The actual function of the radar may have been intended to protect Russian ports on the Mediterranean, but in a war, it could be used to provide missile cover.
Ami Isseroff

What the Israeli air strike in Syria was about: Yet another theory

The Israeli air incursion or strike in Syria has provoked wide speculation. The only real fact reported thus far is that the Turks found empty fuel tanks jettisoned by one or more aircraft. Jerusalem Post, following CNN, reported that Israel had attacked "Iranian targets" in Syria and added ground troops to the story.  A New York Times report fleshes out that story, but also offers delicious hints about nuclear targets in Syria.
A Defense Department official said Israeli jets had struck at least one target in northeastern Syria last Thursday, but the official said it was still unclear exactly what the jets hit and the extent of the bombing damage.....

Officials in Washington said that the most likely targets of the raid were weapons caches that Israel's government believes Iran has been sending the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah through Syria. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah's primary benefactors, and American intelligence officials say a steady flow of munitions from Iran runs through Syria and into Lebanon....

One Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea. The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria.

"The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left," the official said. He said it was unclear whether the Israeli strike had produced any evidence that might validate that belief.

Both theories have the same drawback. If Israel had evidence of a nuclear installation, or if Israel was hitting Iranian arms supplies, one would think the Israeli government would be very happy to supply reconnaisance photos to justify the incursion. Proof of Syrian/Iranian arms supplies to Hezbollah would not be good for Syria, nor would proof that they are developing a clandestine nuclear program.  
Ami Isseroff

Monday, September 10, 2007

What Israel Lobby?

Arab Lobby anyone? Jeff Robbins confesses:
 Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, I received a call from a major defense contractor asking for a favor. I was serving as president of the Boston chapter of the World Affairs Council, a national organization that debates foreign policy, and the defense contractor was one of the Council's principal sponsors.
The Saudi Arabian government was sponsoring a national public relations campaign to cultivate American public opinion, and was sending Saudi emissaries around the country to make the case that Saudi Arabia was a tolerant, moderate nation worthy of American support. Would the Council organize a forum of Boston's community leaders so
that the Saudis could make their case?
While this was patently no more than a Saudi lobbying effort, we organized the forum, and it was well-attended by precisely the slice of Boston's political and corporate elite that the Saudis and their defense contractor benefactor had hoped for. The Saudis maintained that their Kingdom should be regarded as a promoter of Middle East peace, and that the abundant evidence that Saudi Arabia was in fact promoting a virulent brand of extremist Islam should be discounted.

Saudi Arabia paid for the trip of its emissaries to Boston, for the Washington, D.C.-based public relations and lobbying company which organized the trip, and for the Boston public relations and lobbying company that handled the Boston part of the visit. And it drew upon the resources and relationships of the defense contractor, which sells hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, to support and orchestrate its public relations effort.

The billions in petrodollars Arab states spend in the U.S. for defense, construction, engineering and consulting contracts position them nicely to win friends in high places, and friends are what they have. That is true all over the world, is true in this country, and has been true for quite some time. As U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull noted 60 years ago, "The oil of Saudi Arabia constitutes one of the world's great prizes." His successor, Edward Stettinius, opposed the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East, stating "It would seriously prejudice our ability to afford protection to American interests, economic and commercial . . . throughout the area."
The Saudis and their allies have not been shy about supplementing their considerable leverage in the U.S. by targeting expenditures to affect the debate over Middle East policy by funding think tanks, Middle East studies programs, advocacy groups, community centers and other institutions.

To take one obvious example, just last year Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal donated $20 million each to Harvard and Georgetown Universities for programs in Islamic studies. Prince Alwaleed, chairman of a Riyadh-based conglomerate, is the fellow whose $10 million donation to the Twin Towers Fund following the Sept. 11 attacks was rejected by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the Saudi Prince suggested that the U.S. "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinians."
Georgetown and Harvard had no apparent qualms about accepting Prince Alwaleed's money. The director of Georgetown's newly-renamed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center rejected any suggestion that the Saudi magnate was attempting to use Saudi oil wealth to influence American policy in the Middle East. "There is nothing wrong with [Prince Alwaleed] expressing his opinion on American foreign policy," he said. "Clearly, it was done in a constructive way."

What Robbins forgot to mention, is that a far more potent Arab lobby consists of the Aramco oil company and various U.S. petroleum firms. Add to that the voices of the largish U.S. diplomatic corps deployed in Arab countries, and professional U.S.  racists like Tanya Hsu, and you have a very potent mix.
Ami Isseroff