28 Feb 2005
The Independent on Sunday reveals that Comrade Tony and Her Majesty’s Government decided in April 2002 to follow the Bush Administration’s lead for War in Iraq, almost a year before the formal opening of hostilities.
Credit to the Indy for publishing but this isn’t really news to Rebel Yell. The line here has long been that Dick Cheney came to London in March 2002 to tell Comrade Tony that Afghanistan was now out of fashion and today’s look was regime change in Baghdad. Never mind that Osama might still be skipping around the mountains of eastern Afghanistan --- in early March, eight American troops (then considered, before 1500 US deaths in Iraq, a massive toll) were killed by an ambush in the botched Operation Anaconda. With the face that democracy had been brought to Kabul, Al Qa’eda was now little more than a diversion from the Bush Administration’s priority since January 2001: Saddam Must Go.
Officially the position was “the US does not target states on a day-to-day basis” but the tip-off was in the British announcement that a dossier on Iraq’s WMDs would be published by the end of March. Ah yes, that dossier. It didn’t beat the March deadline because the intelligence on Saddam’s arsenals of death wasn’t there. Indeed, it would take six more months --- after Cheney had proclaimed that Iraq was about to unveil nuclear weapons --- for MI6/Alistair Campbell/Comrade Tony to provide the fig leaf of “Saddam Able to Strike in 45 Minutes”.
So while we’re waiting for the unabridged version of the March 2003 legal opinion, which may or may not have been written by the British Attorney General, that told Parliament that the bombing of Baghdad was legit, how about adding a second request: what was the document in March 2002 that persuaded Comrade Tony that Saddam was an “imminent threat” who must be overthrown? Or was it simply Dick Cheney’s charm and winning smile?
27 Feb 2005
A couple of days’ forced break from the blog to consult with the little Rebels and to rework an academic article (on US political warfare and public diplomacy, in case anyone is taking notes).
A series of interesting encounters on Thursday-Friday. Open forum on Iraq at the Uni on Thursday night --- disappointing crowd (about 40) but some excellent presentations and Q and A. Given that Birmingham University Stop the War was sponsoring, inevitable that the opening line would be End Occupation Now. However, Kamil Malik, an Iraqi exile who lectures at Exeter University (and who has written several provocative opinion pieces in the Guardian), made a strong case that political, security, economic, and social situation is being made worse rather than better by the long-term US presence in the country. Salma Yaqoob, as usual, was articulate in her denunciation of US but was at her best when she put the question of what the continued Iraq question is doing to democracy in this country.
For me, the easy part is identifying the sleight-of-hand that US intervened in Iraq and remains there for concern for Iraqi freedom and democracy when, in fact, the goal was extension of American power, in immediate case by taking out Saddam and establishing US bases in Iraq as well as de facto American influence over Iraqi economy and in wider case by showing how US power could be extended anywhere. Tougher part is making clear the alternative to US occupation --- the wishes of the Iraqi people have to be paramount but how does one ensure that self-determination while working through the likely regional conflicts (notably in Kurdistan although the relationship between central Government in Baghdad and other cities such as Ramadi, Samarra, and Fallujah will probably be a long-term issue)? If one calls for an “international” presence to assist the Iraqis, what should that entail?
This in turn prompts wider thoughts about “intervention”, especially in light of the dismal record on Iraq in the 1990s that gave Bush Administration to shock and awe the world into an American-led invasion in 2003. Once again, the so-called thoughtful we’re-not-Bushmen-or-neoconservative-or-neoliberal commentators are trashing the “Left” either to make spiteful comments (Francis Wheen condemning Paul Foot even as he praised him in the Guardian) or to offer well-intentioned but shallow observations ( in the Guardian again, Brian Brivati falling into the trap that the “neoliberals” were able to take the moral high ground in “shaping new democracies” and countering with the remedy of a strong Iraqi central government and welfare state --- all well and good if Brivati ever coped with the obstacles and manipulations of the “neoliberals” to guard against such an outcome).
Interview with Iranian television later Thursday night on Bush’s trip to Europe. I listen to Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations pay tribute to the President’s reconciliation tour and then offer the response that the trip is more a sign of American weakness (the Bushmen having to deal with pressure from European Government on Iran and China and with the sapping of American economic and military resources in Iraq). Am told sharply that “some people might have that perspective” but, of course, the Bush Administration doesn’t have that perspective because they’re riding high from Bush’s “mandate” from the November election and the Iraqi elections in January. Obviously, the “some people” who think otherwise are 1) deluded 2) anti-American 3) French 4) all of the above. Once again, confirmed in my opinion that the “independent” CFR can’t function outside of the “US leads, others follow” paradigm.
Friday with a knowledgeable observer of the Canadian political scene who meets staff and students at an informal coffee roundtable and then lunch. His thoughts on every subject from relations with the US to the political significance of ice hockey to the position in Quebec in Canada are riveting. Most interesting conversation, in my opinion, is on the reasons for Canadian rejection (for now) of US missile defence system. Contrary to my impression, this isn’t simply a matter of Canadian domestic politics but a considered political and military stance, one which is likely to lead to a short-term cooling of relations between Washington and Ottawa. No doubt Dr Coleman would disagree, but I sense that once again the Bushmen are having to deal with an unexpected resistance.
24 Feb 2005
Well, here’s the non-headline of the day:
Bush: 'One Voice' Vital to Deal With Tehran
Schroeder Agrees That Iran Must Not Develop Nuclear Weapons
George says, “It's vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn't have a nuclear weapon,” and Gerhard responds, “We absolutely agree that Iran must say no to any kind of nuclear weapon, full stop.”
Now if the German Chancellor jumped in with, “Well, actually, we think it might be cool for the ‘mullahs’ (George’s phrase for the Iranian leadership) to have a few nukes. Shake things up by pointing ‘em at Tel Aviv, maybe have one locked on Camp Victory outside Baghdad. Sneak one into the shoes of an international terrorist going non-stop to D.C.”, that would be news. This, on the other hand, is piffle.
And, for the moment, irrelevant piffle. Two different quarters --- Poot-Poot in Russia and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed el-Baradei --- say that Iran is not on verge of nuke weapons and, indeed, that there is no evidence of recent Iranian research and development towards that objective. No, the US goal has never been not no nukes in Tehran but no mullahs --- just as WMD was the pretext for taking out Saddam, so the ghost A-bombs were going to be the raison d’etre for liberation of the Iranians.
So here’s the buried lead. George says, “We've just started the diplomatic efforts, and I want to thank our friends for taking the lead and I will -- we will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions.” If that isn’t a misstatement or a diversion, the US Government for the moment has accepted that the EU 3 have the lead --- Condi Rice’s bluster about Iran two weeks ago (and even the weekend’s Iran-Syria Axis of Ultimate Evil) haven’t trumped the insistence of France, Germany, and even Britain that political engagement still rules. Score one for soft power of the European, rather than the American, variety.
Attached below is a report of a meeting in Washington State last week, featuring Scott Ritter. I would take the claim of an attack on Iran in June with a large grain of salt, as there's no clear source --- let's suggest that there certainly might be contingency plans to hit Iranian nuclear facilities but that nothing has been agreed.
The assertion on the altered Iraqi election results, however, deserves some consideration. In combination with the clear manipulation, or at least mismanagement, of the election in Kurdistan, it suggests that the US is still trying to curb the United Iraqi Alliance. It complements this morning's news that Iyad Allawi is going to make an effort to outflank the UIA's choice for Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, probably by approaching "moderate" Sunni groups and the Kurdish groups for support.
SCOTT RITTER SAYS U.S. PLANS JUNE ATTACK ON IRAN, 'COOKED' JAN. 30 IRAQI ELECTION RESULTS
By Mark Jensen
United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
February 19, 2005
Scott Ritter, appearing with journalist Dahr Jamail yesterday in Washington State, dropped two shocking bombshells in a talk delivered to a packed house in Olympia's Capitol Theater. The ex-Marine turned UNSCOM weapons inspector said that George W. Bush has "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, and claimed the U.S. manipulated the results of the recent Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.
Olympians like to call the Capitol Theater "historic," but it's doubtful whether the eighty-year-old edifice has ever been the scene of more portentous revelations.
The principal theme of Scott Ritter's talk was Americans' duty to protect the U.S. Constitution by taking action to bring an end to the illegal war in Iraq. But in passing, the former UNSCOM weapons inspector stunned his listeners with two pronouncements. Ritter said plans for a June attack on Iran have been submitted to President George W. Bush, and
that the president has approved them. He also asserted that knowledgeable sources say U.S. officials "cooked" the results of the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.
On Iran, Ritter said that President George W. Bush has received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for June 2005. Its purported goal is the destruction of Iran's alleged program to develop nuclear weapons, but Ritter said neoconservatives in the administration also expected that the attack would set in motion a chain of events leading to regime change in the oil-rich nation of 70 million -- a possibility Ritter regards with the greatest skepticism.
The former Marine also said that the Jan. 30 elections, which George W. Bush has called "a turning point in the history of Iraq, a milestone in the advance of freedom," were not so free after all. Ritter said that U.S. authorities in Iraq had manipulated the results in order to reduce the percentage of the vote received by the United Iraqi Alliance from 56% to 48%.
Asked by UFPPC's Ted Nation about this shocker, Ritter said an official involved in the manipulation was the source, and that this would soon be reported by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in a major metropolitan magazine -- an obvious allusion to New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh.
On Jan. 17, the New Yorker posted an article by Hersh entitled The Coming Wars (New Yorker, January 24-31, 2005).
In it, the well-known investigative journalist claimed that for the Bush administration, "The next strategic target [is] Iran." Hersh also reported that "The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer." According to Hersh, "Defense Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran. . . . Strategists at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked
to revise the military's war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran. . . . The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans' negotiated approach [to Iran] cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act."
Scott Ritter said that although the peace movement failed to stop the war in Iraq, it had a chance to stop the expansion of the war to other nations like Iran and Syria. He held up the specter of a day when the Iraq war might be remembered as a relatively minor event that preceded an even greater conflagration.
Scott Ritter's talk was the culmination of a long evening devoted to discussion of Iraq and U.S. foreign policy. Before Ritter spoke, Dahr Jamail narrated a slide show on Iraq focusing on Fallujah. He showed more than a hundred vivid photographs taken in Iraq, mostly by himself. Many of them showed the horrific slaughter of civilians.
Dahr Jamail argued that U.S. mainstream media sources arecomplicit in the war and help sustain support for it by deliberately downplaying the truth about the devastation and death it is causing.
Jamail was, until recently, one of the few unembedded journalists in Iraq and one of the only independent ones. His reports have gained a substantial following and are available online at dahrjamailiraq.com.
Friday evening's event in Olympia was sponsored by South Puget Sound Community College's Student Activities Board, Veterans for Peace, 100 Thousand and Counting, Olympia Movement for Justice & Peace, and United for Peace of Pierce County.
23 Feb 2005
It may be a bit early to evaluate the 2005 Bush Grand Tour of Europe (or, at least, of Belgium and Slovakia). After all, he still has to get through face-to-faces with Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder, whose re-election was openly opposed by Administration officials, and with his former friend Vladimir Putin --- once called “Poot-Poot” by Dubya, now being set up as the next Joe Stalin in Bush’s speech to NATO.
Then again, given all the post-Valentine’s Day guff about Bush’s reconciliation with Europe, a reality check might be in order. You only have to read the transcript of Bush’s speech on Monday where he opens with thanks to his Belgian host, “Guy, I mean, Mr Prime Minister”, to see the staged aw-shucks, this country boy is so pleased to be in Yur-rup bonhomie. The meaning is between and behind the lines.
The old in-your-face Bush has been put away (his advance guard, Condi Rice, giving the signals two weeks ago) because the limits of “our way or the highway” have been exposed. It’s American, not European, troops who continue to die almost every day in Iraq and it’s American billions being spent and mis-spent in that venture. Conversely, it’s the European contribution to peacekeeping in Afghanistan that helps hold some of the fabric of the post-Taliban country together, and it’s Europeans who have the lead position in the Balkans re-development. Meanwhile, just the US finds itself checked on any assertive policy towards North Korea, because China is in the way, so it can’t get to Iran without going past the “EU 3” of Britain, Germany, and France as well as Russia.
Beyond the rhetoric, the surface of co-operation will be held together with the NATO announcement that it will help train Iraqi security forces (French contribution: one officer; Belgian: some chocolates, I think). But we’re in a wait-and-see period regarding Iraq. It’s not even a question of the new interim Government, probably to be led by Ibrahim al-Jafari of the Da’wa Party. Not much is going to happen regarding the US occupation or the economic situation for several months, pending haggles over the Constitution and jockeying for internal position such as the evolving situation in Kurdistan.
And the US has new challenges. The most striking feature of Bush’s speech to NATO, noted by US newspapers, was his challenge to Putin to bring democracy back to Russia. Since the Bushmen have been allowing Russia a free hand in Chechnya and were very muted in their response to Putin’s crackdown on provincial government and his jailing of business leaders, why fuss now? Well, could it be because Putin gave Washington a public slapping when he not only refused to stop Russian assistance to the Iranian nuclear programme but also acquitted Tehran of all charges of development of nuclear weapons?
If you have to have a headline, how about this? Two years, the Bush Administration was trying to split the EU into “old Europe” and “new Europe”. Bush’s words this week are a de facto admission of failure. “New Europe”, for economic reasons, is not to become America’s veto on France, Germany, or any of the old troublemakers. What’s more, if the US really wants a showdown with Poot-Poot, it’s going to need old and new Europe at its side.
The old fox, Jacques Chirac, has got it pegged. He accepted a nice dinner with Bush, gave a few appropriate words, and then promptly announced he was going to confer with the Germans about reform of NATO to ensure a greater European role. This isn’t reunion. This is jockeying for position. And the race is no closer to being finished than it was before the War in Iraq.
CANUCKISTAN IS BACK!
Well, well, having given the appearance of due loyalty to the Big Country to the South, the Canadian Government looks like it's going to pull a fast one and "not partake fully" in the yet-to-be-proven US missile defence programme.
"Not partake fully" is yet to be defined, but it appears that this is one case where public opposition to a US-led initiative has finally overtaken a political leadership worried about upsetting the Bushmen (take heed, Tony Blair?). Without a clear majority, the Martin Government needs a partner if it wants to dance with the American tune. And, if the Conservatives finally agree to be that partner, what price will have to be paid?
For now, let's just say that those annoying technical problems which have prevented implementation of the Save-the-World-Defence for more than 20 years are now joined by some political nuisances.
As always, when in doubt, Blame Canada...
22 Feb 2005
After conferring with my little Rebels over the weekend, back to the Blog. Later, some questions about the appointment of John Negroponte as National Intelligence Director and a gaze with wonder at the Bushman's visit to Europe (and many in the media following the spin that this is reconciliation).
Meanwhile, a few immediate points that raise an eyebrow:
1. A brief report in US media that Bashir Assad has removed the Head of Syrian Military Intelligence and replaced him with Bashir's brother-in-law --- is this a sign that the Assad leadership might be upset over a "maverick" intelligence operation in the killing of Rafik Hariri or is Assad consolidating grip over key agencies precisely because he is making a push in Lebanon? Personally, I'm going for the former, but see the long and thoughtful e-mail below
2. Reports that US troops are going to go in Ramadi, a la Fallujah in November, to crush the resistance. A sign that freedom's march in Iraq is about to overrun the last outposts of insurgency or yet another search-and-destroy mission in a list that will get longer? Well, since there are reports of trouble in Samarra, which the US forces had supposedly "pacified" last October, I'll go for the latter.
3. An outstanding and disturbing piece by Nir Rosen in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. Rosen followed up with an interview on CNN which summarised: Kurdish leadership, supposed by most of the Kurdish populace, are going to seek independence but will play the "federal" game as long as this allows them to build up power. The disturbing part is that the "federal" approach could easily come undone with tension in Kirkuk.
A colleague has e-mailed the following. I find it incisive, prompting
questions even as it offers answers, so reproduce it in full. A couple
of immediate reactions --- the observation in 3 makes sense when one
notes that the leading Lebanon "voices" in Western media after Hariri's
assassination have been Walid Jumblatt and Amin Gemayel, former
President and a leader of the Christian Phalangists. The observation
about Bashir Assad in 5 is troubling, offering an alternative
perspective to my speculation that the assassination may have been
carried out by Syrian services without Assad's knowledge. The
observation in 6 needs no further elaboration to make its point.
"Robert Fisk, the Independent's Middle East correspondent (who has lived
in Beirut for years) tends to be my guide through the contortions of
Levantine politics. Having talked to my Lebanese relatives, the
following appears to be going on;
1. Syria has always regarded Lebanon as part of 'Greater Syria' and
still has substantial numbers of troops stationed there 15 years after
the civil war ended. When we were driving to Baalbek in the Bek'aa
Valley a few weeks ago we had to stop at a Syrian army checkpoint. Most
Lebanese (particularly the middle classes and particularly the
Christians) loathe the Syrians - Lebanese people often tell 'Syrian
jokes'. Syria is generally regarded as a backward, shabby, uneducated
Arab society which contrasts to Lebanon's (and particularly Beirut's)
traditionally cosmopolitan image. Remember that a substantial proportion
of Lebanese do not regard themselves as Arabs, but as European -
oriented Phoenicians. The country still has very close links with France
- Chirac was a close friend of Hariri and attended his funeral in a
2. The current Lebanese president and his cronies are pro-Syrian. When
we were in Beirut during new year (driving every day past the spot where
the bomb that killed Hariri was planted), my wife remarked on the number
of official looking pro-Syrian posters all over the place and also on
the number of Hezbollah & pro-Iranian posters which festoon the roads.
These would obviously not be allowed if the Syrians weren't sponsoring
Hezbollah and were pals with the Iranians.
3. When I was there over New Year the local papers were full of articles
about a meeting between the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the wife of
a prominent Christian phalangist leader currently in jail for
assassinating a former Lebanese president. These two groups were
slitting each other's throats in the Chouf Mountains during the Civil
War (the bombed out buildings are still there). These two former sworn
enemies are united in a common cause - to get the Syrians out of
Lebanon. Hariri threw his huge financial and political weight on behind
this a few weeks ago - and was quickly assassinated.
4. Hariri was hugely popular in Lebanon. He single handedly financed the
renaissance of downtown Beirut from a bombed out, shot up wasteland full
of rabid dogs and corpses to an elegant pastiche of its former glory (
it's a bit like an up-market shopping mall, but it seems rather snooty
to criticize it like that given the history of the city). The rebuilt
buildings also provide a backdrop to a new anti-sectarian spirit in the
city. It's 'cool' for young Beiritis from all religious backgrounds to
'hang out' in the city's bars and clubs (we spent New Year's Eve in a
club called '1975' (the year the civil war started) - decorated like a
bomb shelter with bullet holes in the wall in which people smoke shisha
out of old ammunition cases. Beirut is also a hugely popular vacation
destination for Gulf Arabs - particularly from Saudi and Kuwait - who
come there to open $3000 bottles of champagne, smoke Cohiba cigars,
dance on tables, drive around in their $70,000 customized Hummers and
attend 'Super Night Clubs' replete with sexy Russian 'dancers'. One can
imagine that angry young Islamic fundamentalists regard the city as a
pit of Satan.
5. President Assad's son is far wilder and more unpredictable than his
cautious father. Hariri's assassination has provided a perfect
opportunity to forge a front with another rogue state.
6. This assassination has united the Lebanese - I shudder to think what
will happen next - particularly if the Israelis get involved and if the
US strikes Syria or Iran."
19 Feb 2005
A few hours after writing the previous blog, I read the latest screed of wisdom from Robert Kagan, the analyst who has re-made international relations as “Americans are Tough, Europeans are Wimps”.
Apparently Kagan has discovered that the scare stories of Shi’a parties in Baghdad cozying up to Tehran are all coming from close-minded liberals, you know, the dreaded New York Times and Washington Post (which somehow happens to feature the columnist Robert Kagan), Robert Scheer, Democratic strategist James Carville. (Perhaps someone could introduce Mr Kagan to Mr Rebel Yell, who is not so scared of the impending Iraqi-Iranian Axis of Islamic Evil.)
Funny how it’s the liberals painting the impending clash of civilisations, given that it was Kagan’s close buddies, e.g., William Kristol, who were warning up to a year ago that an Iraq with influential clerics like Ayatollah al-Sistani and parties like the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Republic of Iraq would be mad, bad, and dangerous. I guess it was “liberals” in the US military who put Najaf, the holiest city in Iraq for Shi’as and the base of al-Sistani, under siege in 2003, “accidentally” hitting the Holy Mosque with shellfire. And I’m guessing Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are ultra-lefties, since it was their scheme to airlift the “secular” Shi’a Ahmed Chalabi from exile into the Presidency of Iraq, balancing the mad mullahs in the Persian Gulf.
Now it could be that Kagan is just having a bit of a laugh: “Only kidding! Let’s take out the whole anti-American lot with a bunker-buster and we’ll be in the Ramallah oilfields by morning!” But I fear it’s a more mundane academic truth.
Since 1996, initially outside the Administration, then inside it, US power-brokers like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith were banking on the installation of a Chalabi to restore the proper order. When that plan toppled almost as quickly as Saddam’s statue, they backed Allawi, hoping against hope that he could do enough in the elections to stay inside the Government. He didn’t.
What’s more, any hope of portraying Sistani (who is Iranian, having moved to Najaf in the 1950s) as a threat disappeared when the Ayatollah helped broker the cease-fire in Najaf in August 2004, taking the Americans out of their political and military stalemate with the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr. So the fall-back strategy had to be acceptance of the Shi’a religious parties at the helm in Baghdad, coupled with not-so-subtle pressure against Tehran (e.g., the elevation of the Iranian nuclear issue, leaked stories of US special forces and surveillance planes operating inside Iran, “freedom” radio broadcasts) and the hope that the new Iraqi government could be split off as “moderates”.
Kagan isn’t even the first salesman of this new policy --- Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post, who often serves as a conduit for off-the-record Administration sources, has been pushing reconciliation with Sistani and the Shi’a religious parties for months. I guess I’m just amused that, for the hope of a fresh slant, Kagan has to take a pop at the dreaded “liberals” for getting it wrong because, heaven knows, the Bushmen and their “expert” allies have had it right all along.
I was at my desk when the Flash came that President Bush had appointed John Negroponte as the first National Intelligence Director. More than 24 hours later, I’m still trying to take in the news. My favourite moment of coverage was a former CIA official, John MacGaffin, telling the Washington Post, “What could be better than someone who has served in all these places where butting heads was necessary, but not outright murder?” I can only presume that Mr MacGaffin’s tongue was firmly wedged in his cheek when he offered that soundbite, since Negroponte made his Ambassadorial name in Honduras between 1981 and 1985, when the Government and paramilitary death squads were offing thousands of opponents. As the Baltimore Sun concluded in 1995 after reviewing human rights reports, "Time and again...Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives."
Then again, there’s no need to deal with a messy past. CNN reported the appointment with Negroponte’s CV from now to then: “Ambassador to Iraq, Member of Council on Foreign Relations, Ambassador to the UN, Deputy National Security Advisor, Ambassador to Mexico and the Philippines….” Honduras 1981-1985 was never mentioned.
18 Feb 2005
And, thinking about it, why not? The greatest threat to the Shi’a leadership, taking power for the first time in modern Iraqi history, is a challenge to their authority by Sunni groups. And, ironically, while the Americans stay rather than withdraw, they (and Iraqis who work closely with them) are the main targets for any insurgency. This offers no short-term prospect of liberation from occupation but al-Jafari and al-Hakim have time. After all, given the American vilification of Sistani and the Shi’a religious parties only 18 months ago, the US Government’s acceptance of a Shi‘a-led “democracy” in Iraq is a big advance in itself.
So as yet another de facto American Governor (Ambassador John Negroponte) leaves the Baghdad scene, the question looms: if the Shi’a-led Iraqi Government slow-plays its hand, not ruffling any diplomatic or military feathers but allowing the Bush Administration to get entangled with other enemies (Syria, Iran), how long can the US control the “liberation” of Iraq?
17 Feb 2005
[for music that goes great with reading this blog, click here]
Trying to understand the events in Beirut on Monday, when Rafik Hariri was killed by a car bomb, the most entangling moment was an encounter with this editorial in the New York Times:
“Mr. Hariri's assassination may frighten Lebanese critics of Damascus into temporary silence, but its long-term effect should be a renewed push for Syria to get out of Lebanon. The civil war that the Syrians arrived to tamp down ended in 1990. As the events of the past year painfully demonstrate, the main purpose of Syria's presence is to suffocate Lebanese independence.”
So do I have this right? Syrian troops occupying the Lebanon destabilise the country and suffocate its independence; however, foreign troops occupying a neighbouring country (Iraq) stablise it and guarantee its independence.
Sorry, a bit flippant, as we know that the troops in Iraq are the soldiers of democracy and freedom whereas the troops in the Lebanon are the tools of a regime which is most un-democratic and most un-free. But I wonder if this might open up some other un-flippant thoughts.
Within hours of the assassination, “Syria” was being convicted by the US Government and media. CNN’s live coverage of Hariri’s funeral turned into an on-screen trial of Damascus while Thomas Friedman even had the new Arab evildoers speaking Schwarzenegger Spanish: “Message from the Syrian regime to Washington, Paris and Lebanon's opposition: “We blow up prime ministers here. We shoot journalists. We fire on the Red Cross. We leveled one of our own cities. You want to play by Hama Rules, let's see what you've got. Otherwise, hasta la vista, baby.”
Well, an immediate if inconvenient caveat is that no one has yet been arrested for Hariri’s assassination. Indeed, there’s no specific evidence in the public domain. So all of the above regarding “Syria” is speculation. It may be speculation based on three decades of history from the start of the Lebanese Civil War to today, but so is alternative speculation featured on Al Jazeera that one of Hariri’s Lebanese rivals may be responsible or the leap of logic that Israel, which has carried out “targeted killings” in the Lebanon, may have a role.
If I was to go with speculation, I’d stick with one of my colleagues (supported by e-mails from other specialists on the region), whose immediate reaction was that the killing may have been carried out by Syria’s intelligence service without the backing or even the knowledge of President Assad and his advisors. But that makes matters far too complicated: it takes us into a half-century of plotting, conspiracy, and intrigue in which the Syrian intelligence services staked out their role not only against “Western” countries seeking changes of government in Damascus but also other groups and parties in Syrian politics. It forces us to consider a Syrian-Lebanese relationship which is linked to complex religious, ethnic, family, and political links bringing in not only the Israel-Palestine situation but also Iraq and Iran.
The immediate political response to Hariri’s assassination, beyond the outrage, grief, and confusion, was predictable. Just as the Bush Administration used 9-11 as a platform to take out one regional enemy in Saddam, so it is hoping to use Monday’s dramatic events as a basis for the long-term goal of destabilising and “modifying” if not overthrowing the Assad regime. (The Wall Street Journal’s editorial team, with its close links with the Bush Administration, carried a Warning to Damascus 10 days ago.)
But immediate responses bring unintended consequences. The de facto US conviction of Syria, including the withdrawal of its Ambassador from Damascus, may weaken Assad. In doing so, however, it could strengthen other Syrian factions and agencies, including the intelligence services, who will warn of the escalating American threat. And, of course, it has already fostered the announcement of a new Damascus-Tehran co-operation to resist aggression.
Of course Hariri’s assassination raises the political temperature in the region. But what has happened --- the rhetoric and the manoeuvring --- in the past 72 hours has taken it up several more degrees.
16 Feb 2005
Why start an “academic” blog?
From my perspective, scholars risk being outrun by the pace of events around the world. Last Sunday, 13 February, the spotlight was on the election results in Iraq and the dramatic façade (because the real action lay behind the vote tabulations) of democracy’s triumph, the numbers for each group that participated, and gestures of conciliation and inclusion toward the Sunni groups that didn’t.
A day later, the kaleidoscope is turned and the drama changes. Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, is killed by a car bomb. Suddenly a country which had dropped below the television screens and editorial pages, with one short-lived exception in 2004, moves from stable to unstable and Syria replaces Iran as this week’s Public Enemy for the US Government and much of the American media.
Meanwhile, North Korea vies for attention by declaring it has nuclear weapons even as the International Atomic Energy Agency, unrecognised by most of the US and British press, undermines US contentions that Tehran is on the verge of the Bomb. The possibility of Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, publicly hailed only weeks ago, gives way to thornier issues about settlements (and, in the Palestinian territorities, Hamas rather than Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas control the majority of local authorities). A minor document called the Kyoto Treaty comes into effect. Former “left-wing” guerrilla leaders lead the new Parliament in Uruguay, and Fidel Castro warns the United States against the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The easy way out of the complexity of events is the exit of the mantra. Freedom’s march against new enemies (c.f. the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal), the menace of the “neo-conservative”, the folly of internationalism (this week’s fool: United Nations, “Europe”, environmental NGOs), the folly of unilateralism, too much military intervention, too little military intervention.
Well, it makes provocative headlines. It makes quick-hitting blogs. And it also makes some damaging simplications. Last week Eason Jordan, the chief news executive of CNN, resigned after he was berated by Internet sites and some “mainstream” news organisations for remarks, made at one of the global seminars in Davos, Switzerland, that journalists had been targeted by both sides (not just the “terrorists” but also the US military) in the 2003 Iraq War.
In the furor that ensued over Jordan’s slight of “our boys” in the US military, no one considered, well, that there may be evidence that journalists were targeted. Anyone fortunate enough to see the documentary Control Room might recall the footage of US planes in attack formation as the offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi Television were bombed in Baghdad, killing Al Jazeera’s Baghdad correspondent, and I don’t recall there being a resolution of the circumstances in which the Hotel Palestine was hit by tank fire, killing three other journalists and cameramen.
Moaning about the pace of the cyber-world, amidst the pace of international events, is as effective as Canute’s holding back of the tides. Better to dip in, but with a few questions as well as supposed answers, with some information that might not fit easily with a headline agenda, with some challenges to the rhetoric. Better to offer alternative perspectives, not with the certainty of being right but with the hope of unsettling and challenging those who claim a universal perspective and an eternal “right” in the advance of their causes.