Guest Blog

May 7 2009
The World Bank: Becoming the World's Economic Good Guys?

Ali Yenidunya, University of Birmingham

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On 26 April, Robert Zoellick, the head of the World Bank, told a news conference,  that poor countries are paying a heavy price in the deepening global economic crisis. According to Zoellick:

- In 2008 more than 50 million people, most of whom are children and women, fell under the threshold of extreme poverty, measured as earnings of $1.25 a day.

- Most of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals could not be met because of the economic crisis.

- In 2009, between 55 and 90 million more people will fall into extreme poverty. The number of those suffering chronic hunger will pass 1 billion.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner added on the same day: “The global economic crisis threatens to reverse gains in fighting poverty.” So, in contrast to earlier crises, governments of developed countries are warning that the situation behind the poverty curtain is getting worse, with irrecoverable effects in these regions unless there are urgent interventions.

To meet this challenge, Zoellick suggested that those countries who promised to donate funds should fulfil their promises soon, increasing their contributions where possible. New employment opportunities should be created to advance global economic growth, with new investment projects of $55 billion in Africa.

For Geithner, investment banks working with the World Bank should be more transparent in their assistance. They should direct investment effectively to fulfil long-term development goals and address poverty. The International Monetary Fund should ensure more representation of developing countries.

The troubling question lurks, "What if these measures are not taken?" For Zoellick, if the current crisis is not ameliorated, there will be a humanitarian disaster in poor countries: "There is a widespread recognition that the world faces an unprecedented economic crisis, poor people could suffer the most and that we must continue to act in real time to prevent a human catastrophe."

These steps are not marginal; there is a sense of concern for the most deprived when the global economy is likely to shrink by 1.3 percent this year. Still, I wonder whether the descendants of today's 'conscientious' problem-solving guys will have enough concern and courage to criticize the cyclical dynamics of global capitalism when, after an upturn, there is again the possibility of maximising profits.

April 23
Israel-Palestine: The Political Wreck on Netanyahu's Track
Ali Yenidunya, University of Birmingham

A month ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened a conference in Jerusalem. In contrast to other high-profile meetings such as that last week with US envoy George Mitchell and in May or June with President Obama, this was a quiet affair. However, the Jerusalem Wealth Management Conference, featuring Netanyahu’s participation, was far from insignificant.

The conference’s concern was difficulties with investments in Palestine and Israel, both for individuals and for companies. Amongst those considering the matter were the Bank of Israel, the Ministry of Trade, the International Monetary Fund, the Association of Banks in Palestine, the US Embassy in Israel, the new Israel-Palestine Chamber of Commerce, and the PalTel (Palestinian Telecommunications) Group. Discussions were in three main panels: Israeli Inc. as a Grade A Destination, Israel's Investment Opportunities, and Investment in the Palestinian Economy.

This, however, was a conference with political as well as economic significance. It was no less than a forum for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strategy towards the Israeli relationship with Palestine. In his commitment to “economic peace initiatives”, he was also drawing the line against a political two-state resolution. Netanyahu was once again declaring that peace talks could focus on building the Palestinian economy and its governing institutions, but there was no need for them to engage other issues such as settlements, refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and borders.

While there is no record to dissent from the gathered bankers, financiers, and investors to Netanyahu, the weakness --- possibly even the folly --- of his approach was clear. A progressive peace plan cannot be achievable merely through “investment”, strengthening the Palestinian economy and the economic relationship between Israel and the West Bank.

Economics might be the fundamental for a Marxist approach, determining the political superstructure in and between societies. It might underpin the McDonalds theory of Economic Liberalism bringing political change. It does not, however, work in the Israeli-Palestinian case.

Economics cannot deal with a Hamas organization which claims that it is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and which has been successful in convincing many of those people, not only since its 2006 election victory in Gaza but also, amidst Operation Cast Lead, in the West Bank. Economics cannot make Hamas move its feet faster in negotiations with Fatah for a unity government or raise its voice for the principles of the US-EU-Russia-UN Quartet: the recognition of Israel, denunciation of the armed struggle, and adherence to the agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority.

Nor can economics fit Israel’s attempt to alienate Hamas with a “Divide & Rule” strategy, effectively removing Gaza from consideration. Indeed, the strengthening of the economic structures of the West Bank will complicate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by adding problems such as the widening gap of incomes between Gazans and inhabitants of the West Bank and possible corruption amongst Palestinian officials. Nor will West Bank prosperity go unchallenged by Hamas, which will seek to undermine any advances that do not benefit Gaza as well.

Far from bolstering his prospective ally in negotiations, Netanyahu’s statement has alienated Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Until the formation of the Netanyahu coalition, which occurred just after the Jerusalem conference, Abbas was making no complaints. However, as soon as the new Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, made clear --- in blunter terms than those of his Prime Minister --- that Israel would not follow the 2007 Annapolis process for a two-state resolution, followed by Netanyahu’s explicit preference for an economic track over a political one, Abbas came out in opposition to Tel Aviv’s plans: “The Palestinian issue is not an economic problem. This is, first and foremost, a political case.”

Even if Abbas is in a relatively weak position, compared to the new Israeli Government, his shift runs Netanyahu’s economic strategy into a cul-de-sac. The Obama Administration, in return for its political investment in an Israeli-Palestinian (and wider regional) solutions, will expect concessions from each side. Netanyahu, with his priority on economic discussions, is effectively trying to rule out any such concession on his part.

Washington may get some short-term benefit from a newly-opened plant or (as occurred two weeks ago) a “security center” in Jericho, but these will not be sufficient as the year moves on. Success in its “attack on crisis”, as well as its War on Terror which is not called a War on Terror, demands a public breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian political deadlock. Otherwise, the only winner will be the outsider, Hamas, who will feast on any setback for Abbas as well as Obama.

So, after this Jerusalem Wealth Management Conference, we should be watching not for the warm handshake from the US investor but the poke in Netanyahu’s chest from the Obama representative. “Engagement” demands some acceptance from the Israeli Prime Minister of a political track rather than an economic one because --- here is the paradox --- Tel Aviv cannot sustain economic development without the co-operation of the US Government.

February 9
A Sensible Consideration of "Islamist Terrorist"
Maren Schroeder

The British media continue to highlight the imminent danger of Islamic terrorists lurking within. This weekend, for example, The Daily Telegraph proclaimed, "Barack Obama has been warned by the CIA that British Islamist extremists are the greatest threat to US homeland security. .

So, amidst the headlines of fear, how great is the peril?

According to Europol’s 2008 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, less than one percent of all terror acts reported in Europe in 2007 were connected to Islamist terrorism. While the outcome of even a single successful attack, as in Madrid in 2004 or London in 2005, s horrifying, the actual risk of being a victim of Islamist attacks is infinitesimal.

In 2007, Europol received reports of 583 foiled, failed or successful terror attacks; of those, only four were committed by Islamist terror groups, none succeeded. Despite this minimal prevalence, Islamist terrorism is diligently persecuted. More than 25 percent of arrests for crimes connected to terrorist activities are linked to Islamist terror groups. This percentage would rise further were UK figures included:

As in 2006, the vast majority of the arrested suspects in the UK were in relation to Islamist terrorism. However, since these arrests were not reported as affiliated to any type of terrorism, they were not included in the statistics. For 2007, the arrests in the UK increased by 30 percent.

The disparity between Islamist attacks and arrests could be due to a disproportionate focus on Islamist terror or an as yet unreported number of current investigations into new plots. Still, the unique nature and origin of Islamist terrorism results in tough challenges for the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community.

Right- and left-wing terror groups aim to change society towards their extremist models. Single-issue terrorism seeks to change just one aspect of society, such as environmental practices. Ethno-national and separatist terror groups want international recognition and self-determination. Attacks are planned to ensure the survival of the attacker; members are considered valuable, skilled assets to the group, sometimes training for years. As a result of members’ close cultural and social ties to their country, infiltrating these groups and predicting their targets is possible; intelligence about them is attainable.

Islamist terror groups are different: infiltrating them is impossible for a non-Muslim agent, severely limiting the number of operatives available. The preferred delivery method is the suicide attack, often carried out after minimal training, ensuring quick availability of new extremists. Destruction of the target state and the establishment of a new Muslim world order are generally declared to be their aims.

Counter-terrorism measures, therefore, include arresting not just suspected Islamist terrorists but their entire support network --- political, ideological and financial backers are all targeted. This leads to a comparatively high number of people taken into custody, often not linked to an actual threat. As a consequence, according to the Europol report,  “Court proceedings in relation to Islamist terrorism have the highest acquittal rate: 31 percent of the defendants were found not guilty.”

Unsurprisingly, data collection is inconsistent. Amonst Europol states, reporting countries have their own definition of terrorism; attacks arising from extremism of any ilk are not included in the figures, as what constitutes extremism and what terrorism is a national decision. Right-wing extremism in Germany, for instance, is traditionally over-reported, but Austria and France, who exhibit a much higher tolerance towards right-wing groups in general, under-report it. Spain, frequently targeted by separatist terror group ETA , includes arson attacks on often empty buildings as terror attacks. The UK only reported two attacks altogether: the failed car bombs in London and the attack on Glasgow airport, omitting the cars blown up by animal rights activists.

One final, far from insignificant point. The report’s trend analysis states that “[t]he conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have a large impact on the security environment of the EU”. The threat of Islamist Terrorism is real, but it is neither as prolific nor as inevitable as politicians and journalists alike seem to insist. A more productive emphasis, indeed a necessary first step is  an acknowledgement that foreign policy on EU and national level could cause retaliatory terror attacks in Europe. It is in a less belligerent approach to certain Muslim countries that the risk of suicide attacks can be decreased.

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January 21
A Tale of Two Inaugurations
David Dunn, University of Birmingham  

David Dunn, Reader in International Politics at the University of Birmingham, was a Fulbright Fellow in Washington eight years ago. Watching from a distance this time, he has offered his thoughts on the meaning of the day and on Presidents Bush and Obama.

Resident in Washington in January 2001 as a Fulbright Fellow I was determined to witness the inauguration of the new President. My American friends were much more sceptical – “You’ll freeze to death and won’t get close enough to see anything” was the common line. On both points they were partly right, the temperature never ventured above freezing and my feet turned to ice standing on the muddy grass of Washington’s Mall, mostly watching the event on huge screens, occasionally glancing at the pin sized figures beyond. None of them elected to come with me - in part also because they weren’t celebrating the new administration. And yet I got a better sense of the occasion than I would have got watching it on TV, and certainly enough to know that eight years later this will be a very different event.

While the weather and ceremony will remain points of continuity Obama’s inauguration will differ in many ways. Bush’s first inauguration was marked by massive protests with crowds chanting loudly about the stolen 2000 election. Viewing the police dogs and horses I decided against joining in, fortuitously as it turned out as the protestors weren’t allowed on to the Mall. Despite this, however, their cries of “Hail to the Thief” were a constant background to the relayed address to the assembled crowd. Despite what was seen and heard on TV the event represented a divided Washington and a divided country. By contrast the mood in 2009 will be one of universal celebration of the election of a candidate widely seen as the antidote to eight years of Bush and his administration’s policies.

The pre-event celebrations were also of a different order. While bands played on the Mall for Bush they did so to a smaller and to a much less inclusive crowd. Indeed in January 2001 the focus was on presidential balls not parades, events which were all cowboy boots, Stetsons and swagger, symbols of the Presidency to come which played squarely to its own political base rather than to the nation as a whole. There was a mood of the Texan Republicans taking over political Washington, not coming in to work with it. This time round with a 70% approval rating and a mood of national celebration the contrast could not be more marked. Obama’s inauguration is an all inclusive event. A celebration of what is possible through the democratic process, an event as much about out reach and inclusivity as it is possible to imagine.

Expectations of the inauguration address are also quite different. For the famously anti-intellectual and inarticulate Bush little was expected and the words were quickly forgotten. By contrast the world will hang on every word and phrase uttered by Obama. Part of the reason for this is the different word the two Presidents were bequeathed. Bush inherited a country at peace with a budget surplus and an economy enjoying the fruits of a long economic boom. For Obama the task is more demanding, America is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the American and world economies are in the largest crisis for seventy years. People expect more of Obama largely because they need to. The skills he displayed as a presidential candidate who came from nowhere to defeat first the Clintons and then McCain and the Republican Party show a wily politician and a shrewd strategist. They also show a leader focused on uniting his country and ending divisions internationally too. As well as the obvious celebration of the inauguration of America’s first black President this historic occasion of the first black president there is also what else that represents, that Obama optimises the antithesis of the cleavages that have divided America. He is the antidote to President Bush’s black and white approach to politics.

Watching the inauguration this time from a far reminds me what an unusual spectacle the occasion is. There is no real equivalent at home or elsewhere in Europe, accept perhaps in the very different form of a coronation which last occurred of course in the UK in 1953. In part because the event follows many weeks after the election itself it is also one irresistibly redolent with expectation. It offers a firmer sense of demarcation between governments than the furniture shifting at No 10 Downing Street. A more categorical punctuation mark between presidencies than would otherwise occur. And in 2009 more than most occasions it reinforces the power of democratic renewal in American and beyond.

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October 1
America and Disability: The Sin of Omission

John Matlin, University of Birmingham  

As my wife and I spent most of September touring northern California and Oregon, I though that with sights like Yosemite, Crater Lake and The Avenue of Giants, it is little wonder that some Americans believe they live in God’s country.

That view must have been tested during Hurricane Ike. Yet we saw the best of American spirit as the inhabitants of Galveston , Texas , shared precious water and food with the volunteers who came to help. It was a generosity that I witnessed when I was in New York on 11 September 2001. In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center , our hotel on 54th and 6th was home to many out-of-state firemen who worked 24-hour shifts and came to the hotel to sleep before returning to clean up the site.

However, Americans can exhibit a flip side, namely their attitude to physical disability. On my first trip to America , some forty years ago, I saw Manhattan from the Jersey shore, I watched the foundations being laid for the World Trade Centre, and I discovered that the word “funky” was useful for all kinds of situations. But nobody could offer an explanation for a simple question. Why were all American dollar bills the same size and colour? How would a blind person distinguish between a Washington ($1) and a Franklin ($100) and denominations in between? Today, nothing has changed, even if a difference in size of notes or Braille under the picture would solve the problem.

There seems to be something in the American psyche about desiring and seeking physical perfection. Just watch the plethora of US television advertisements for products which will make one look “better”: i.e., slimmer, younger, fitter, healthier. The medication alone which appears in advertisements could stock a large pharmacy. Meanwhile, West Coast news television channels offer “Barbies”, young, pretty, white, blonde presenters who squeak through pinched nasal passages and whose reporting skills are limited. Their male counterparts are inclined to be older but generally handsome with flashing eyes.

Form over content, sound bites over analysis. It is not a phenomenon limited to television. Take a look at the politicians. Barack Obama chose a running mate who could play Cary Grant, at the same time ignoring the likes of Barney Frank. Frank is a former university professor and US Congressman since 1981 who is chairman of the influential House Financial Services Committee. He is also an overweight, balding man who speaks with a broad Boston accent. Clearly he is not visual vice-presidential material.

The concentration on image would be funny if it did not have such serious implications. The Beijing Paralympic Games took place during our trip, but most Americans probably never knew. I did not see one television item on the Paralympics, whether on daily news programmes or on the numerous sports channels. I read a local newspaper most days, but only one mention was made in the Sports Results Section of The Oregonian, noting a gold medal had been won by an American.

Let me contrast the treatment of the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000 with Atlanta in 1996. I was in Sydney for the Olympics. Although my schedule did not allow me to wait there another three weeks for the start of the Paralympics, there was no difficulty finding out about the forthcoming event. As I travelled around Australia , every night on television news there were reports of torch ceremonies and items on competitors and their families. The splendid opening and closing ceremonies were shown in full on network television, and coverage of the Games themselves was extensive. Australia celebrated the triumph of achievement over physical handicap.

In Atlanta , the Paralympics were treated as an embarrassment. Facilities, such as wheelchair ramps, were not available. The Olympic Village itself was reduced in size as units were occupied by locals. Most insulting of all, the flags of competing nations, clearly visible during the “proper” Olympics, were removed and only replaced after vigorous protest. The treatment of Paralympians in Atlanta was so bad that the International Olympic Committee, which awards the Games, tightened its rules considerably for both Athens and London . In Sydney , such action was unnecessary.

In a country where evangelism is important to many people, why do the American media turn their back on persons who are physically handicapped when they compete in athletic endeavour? Is there still a belief that God’s wrath is visited on their people in the form of disability? Surely, the disabled athletes should be feted and celebrated, but either the media is leading the censorship of achievement or is led by the perception that American viewers, listeners and readers do not want such reporting. I cannot tell which is the true reason for neglect, but either way, I feel the need to reply to America : Shame on you.

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September 18
How Effective is the Palin Effect?
John Matlin, University of Birmingham  

American presidential politics is nothing if not gladiatorial. It is even Darwinian in terms of survival of the fittest in a two-year battle for victory. It is also often predictable: when “the latest thing” arrives on the scene, the American media feasts upon it, first like epicures but eventually like vultures. On the West Coast, where I have been the last fortnight, the Republican nominee for Vice President, Sarah Palin, has dominated the political news media at the expense of all other candidates. The question is: will that dominance push John McCain to victory or finally doom his campaign?

By her admission, Palin is a pit bull, albeit with lipstick. Swept up by her aggression, the Republican base warmed immediately to this gun-toting, pro-life Hockey Mom. From the “get go”, as they say over here, she laid out her stall as a Republican through and through, someone who the party could trust to preserve the values of Reagan and George W. Bush and who would lambast the Democratic opponents.  Unlike her new boss, she had no history of flip-flops over important Republican base issues, such as creationism. Furthermore, she had the important attribute of “experience” of life outside the beltway.

It is emerging that “experience”, in Palin’s case, means a short-lived career as a presenter of television programmes town councilor in Wasilla , Alaska , before election as mayor and then state governor. Yet, with the presentation of this record, it is as if George Orwell has been writing the script of 1984 in 2008. According to Republican commentators, Palin has life experience while all Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for Vice President, knows is how to legislate; so much for 38 years as a Congressman and chair of influential Senate committees, such as Judiciary and Foreign Relations. Furthermore, the Republicans considered it appropriate to “manage” Palin’s press interviews until the media have learned to treat her with “respect and deference”. Palin good, First Amendment rights bad. Hopefully, the attempts of McCain’s campaign manager to manage the rules of the televised Vice Presidential debate will not end in apoplexy

Satirists are beginning to have a field day at the Republicans’ expense. When challenged about his affluent lifestyle and, in particular, the several houses at his disposal courtesy of his wealthy wife, McCain resorted to the non sequitur that he spent five years in Vietnam as a prisoner of war. Palin’s recent interview on the ABC television network  produced huge guffaws when she was unable to recite the Bush Doctrine. “Never mind”, said Jon Stewart, “nor can Bush

Is the Palin Effect starting to wear off? The trouble about being “the latest thing” in a faddist society is that fads fade quickly. There are seven weeks to go until the election and soon the Democrats will focus their attack, in general on the fitness of Republicans to run a failing financial sector and the US economy, in particular on the fitness of a forty-something inexperienced Alaskan to take on the leadership of the country, should John McCain die or leave office.

Common sense dictates that Democrats will win in November but when did common sense ever determine the results of an election?  Perhaps the saddest indictment of the electoral system was voiced to me by a Coast Guard veteran, who said that he ought to vote Republican because of that party’s support of the services and McCain’s war record but that his head told him Obama was the right person to lead. However, he added, it makes little difference because if the Republicans are within ten percent of victory on election-day, they will steal the votes they need. This was not just his opinion, he told me, but the concerns of many with whom he served. I can only cling to the hope that, on Election Day, he will be proved wrong.

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September 2
Scrambling for Energy: 
The Important Story Hidden by the "New" Cold War
Atticus Finch, University of Birmingham

Well, it’s been another few days of what my daddy calls fussin’ and faffin’ over the Russian-Georgian conflict. The headline gathering was the emergency summit of the European Union. Predictably, given the domestic politics and the realities of the situation vis-à-vis Moscow , a couple of leaders (Brown of Britain, Sarkozy of France) were allowed to blow hot smoke. Then the EU put out a rather cautious warning of “strategic realignment” if Russia didn’t change its behaviour, supported by token suspensions of talks on trade and energy co-operation. Equally predictably, most in the British and American press blew even hotter smoke about “weak-willed”, “lily-livered” Europe .

(The unexciting reality --- unexciting because it doesn’t live up to the billing of New Cold War --- is that Europe and Russia, with the US Government watching on the side, are manoeuvring for an agreement in which international forces will go into the buffer zone between Russia and Georgia. Where exactly that buffer zone starts and ends and who will be in the international force, rather than the posturing over NATO alignments and missile defence, will be the key questions in weeks ahead.)

Meanwhile, a more intriguing struggle is unfolding. For those preferring the good v. evil storyline, the Russians are involved but so are a lot of other folks:

1). The Financial Times reports from Turkey that a section of the BTC pipeline was damaged by an explosion the day before the Russian-Georgian conflict erupted over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Kurdish separatists claim responsibility for the explosion, which temporarily bottlenecked and then stopped the flow of both oil and natural gas.
 
2) The east-west railroad tracks of Georgia were put out of action with the demolition of a railroad bridge near Gori after Russian troops came through the tunnel connecting Ossetia to Georgia . Simultaneously the Russian Navy blockaded the approaches to the port town of Poti and then landed assault troops to secure the oil terminal. 
 
3) British Petroleum shut down their Azeri operations (primarily natural gas) at Supsa. Their spokesman acknowledged that the Russians impeded their operations and that the Kurds had physically damaged their transshipments by bombing the BTC pipeline. While the BTC is again open, BP has not reopened its Supsa operations. Basically Russia has scared the Caspian republics out of transiting their oil and natural gas through the Caucasus .

4)  Kazakhstan, which had been developing the Tengiz crude oil export terminal that they own and operate at the Georgian port of Batumi , isn ow indicating that it would "prefer to export its oil through Russian pipelines crossing Russia's territory".

5) Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, Asia's largest oil concern, inked a twenty-year deal with Iraq,  estimated to be worth $1.5 to $3 billion, to develop production of 150 to 200 million barrels per day. This is the first  major deal to be struck with the Iraqi National Oil Company since 1972, the year before American oil companies were thrown out of Iraq . Meanwhile, any planned future deals involving US companies like Chevron, EXXON/Mobil, CONOCO/Phillips will not be acted upon (as their spokesmen have made abundantly clear) until Iraq has been “stabilized”.

So, all fussin’ and faffin’ aside, Russian activity in Georgia signals a significant power shift in the control of the Caspian energy base under Moscow ’s aegis. Whether the Bush Administration fully understands this, given its focus on the “hard power” of military forces and strategic alignments, is unclear.

Meanwhile, who benefits? Russia , Kurdistan , Iran, and Uzbekistan . Who has suffered a setback? Georgia , the US , and the Caspian Republics

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August 21
An Old Ethnic War and a 'New' Russia
Chris Emery, University of Birmingham

The Western media’s approach to the current conflict between Georgia and Russia has emphasised the immediate diplomatic context: Georgia ’s NATO application, declining relations between Washington and Moscow , Vladimir Putin’s dominant political influence in Moscow , the BTC pipeline, the ramifications for Iranian nuclear negotiations, and US missile defence. Beyond all this, however, is a continuation of an inter-ethnic and inter-national civil war in Georgia which Russia , and specifically Putin, has appropriated for a wider strategic agenda.

If the broad ethnic and national lines of the conflict inside Georgia are relatively unchanged, Russia’s participation in it shows just how far it has come since Tbilisi’s’ last major effort to pacify its two most troublesome regions. Back in 1992 and 1993, Moscow was economically in the pocket of the West, but it was barely reconciled to the collapse of its South Caucasus Empire and, for a short period in October 1993, on the very brink of civil war.  At that time, it was the West’s (and particularly Bill Clinton’s) resolute support for Russian leader Boris Yeltsin that helped Yeltsin prevail, as Washington refrained from criticism of the harsh repression and level of violence that he adopted. Now, however, events point to a strong Russia , economically, politically and militarily confident, that can defy American wishes. Certainly the Russian people seem to be unified behind the political colossus that is Putin and, for the most part, are keenly supportive of his actions in Georgia .

It was a Bolshevik army that ended Georgia ’s short-lived independence in 1921. Abkhazia was established as a Soviet republic, with Russians and Georgians  encouraged to move into the region and Georgian promoted as the official language. A year after the Soviet Georgian government was formed, Moscow created the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast. Again Georgian was enforced as the official language, though Ossetian culture was respected and its language (part of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family) was taught in schools.

Whereas Moscow once chose to rule the Ossetians and Abkhazia through Tbilisi , Putin’s differing ambitions in Abkhazian and South Ossetia reflect the wider ethnic and national demographic context of the two separatist regions. In 1926, just 6.7% of those living in Abkhazia indentified themselves as ethnically Russian. By 1959 that figure had risen to 21.4%, due largely to Moscow ’s encouragement of Russian settlers.  Still, this does not necessarily translate into an Abkhazian embrace of membership of the Russian federation . Abkhazians are grateful to receive Russian arms and political support and Moscow is glad to give it,  but this is only part of Putin’s wider strategy, one in which the Ossetians are key.

In South Ossetia, barely more than 2% have ever identified themselves as ethnic Russians, but paradoxically there is a greater “national” sentiment in South Ossetia which can be manipulated by Putin. Of the estimated 700,000 ethnic Ossetians, only 36,000 reside in South Ossetia with well over 500,000 living in the Russian Federation , mainly in Northern Ossetia, a part of the Russian Federation that absorbed some 70,000 South Ossetian refugees around 1990.

The media talk about the Ossetian Diaspora forging strong relations with Russia , but they rarely refer to their common cause: fighting Chechen and Ingush Muslims. Between 1989 and 1992 Ossetian militia battled Ingush fighters in a conflict which saw allegations of Ossetian ethnic cleansing in the Prigorodny District. The Russian state, whose strong anti-Ingush feeling can be traced to allegations of Nazi collaboration during World War II, intervened in a barely disguised act of support for the Ossetians. At best the Russian stance can be described as strongly pro-Ossetian, at worst, one may claim that Russian state forces actively allied with and even led Ossetian fighters in acts of ethnic cleansing.

It is not surprising, therefore, that many South Ossetians seek to rejoin their kin in North Ossetia under the protection of the Russian Federation . The sentiment is manifest in the holding of Russian passports by 70% of the population. Indeed, it was that demonstration of affinity that helped Putin justify Russia ’s intervention.

The net result of this action is uncertain. A referendum in South Ossetia to join the Russian federations is certainly a possibility and would represent a huge strategic coup for Moscow . Tbilisi will do all it can to avoid this, but it is doubtful that ethnic Georgians will ever live in a Georgian South Ossetia. At the moment they are not even permitted to return to their homes whilst their Ossetian neighbours begin the painful task of rebuilding. In Abkhazia, absorption into the Russian state is far less likely, but independence and informal alliance with Moscow are possibilities. The best Georgia can probably hope for is a much looser confederation, but Tbilisi ’s offer of extensive autonomy has for some time fallen on deaf ears. One new, key reality is certain: Georgian troops are unlikely to enter South Ossetia again.

The West essentially has two choices with Moscow . Engagement, the more constructive path, would require at least partial recognition of Russia ’s perspective. For Moscow , the West has armed a Georgian state that killed upwards of 2000 Russian citizens in its bombing campaigns. If the West wants to portray this conflict as a vehicle for a resurgent neo-imperial Russian nationalism, it must also acknowledge the maverick opportunism of Georgian President Saakashvili and the highly charged nationalist twang of his rhetoric.  NATO enlargement will remain a key sticking point, with Moscow ’s perception that it is as an inherently anti-Russian Cold War anachronism unlikely to change.

The revisionist school within Cold War studies, spawned by William Appleman Williams, once urged the West to rethink its attitude to Russian foreign policy, taking into account the trauma of its wartime experiences and asking what role the West played in Moscow ’s sense of vulnerability. Fifty years later, is the demonising of Moscow , or the narrow labeling or its foreign policy as intrinsically nationalist and aggressive, another temptation for which a future generation of scholars will chide us?

But perhaps Western Europe can play a critical role in defusing the confrontation. EU peacekeepers seem the most suited to maintain the fragile peace that exists; the Georgians never considered the previous Russian ‘peacekeepers’ as acceptable and the prospect of American peacekeepers is a non-starter with Moscow. The EU could find both sides asking it to play a constructive role

And there may be a more unexpected buffer. On the face of it, the recent conflict in Georgia was not an ‘energy war’. It was not even a war that had a significant impact on the energy market. Several hundred miles away, however, lay Iran . Those inclined to Machiavellian interpretation might argue that Russia has no interest in Iran ’s international rehabilitation, as this would purely introduce a strong competitor on the gas market.

As such, perhaps the main insulation for Georgia (and Ukraine ) from the Russian ‘gas weapon’ would be the opening up of the Iranian market. How this will affect Russia ’s attitude to Iran in the UN Security Council is unclear. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Russians will seek to repair their damaged international reputation, and it is not far-fetched to look at ongoing negotiations with Iran as an ideal situation for Moscow to appear constructive in the eyes of the world. In every crisis there may be an opportunity, even if it is difficult to see how any of them will benefit President Saakashvili.

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August 18
Freedom and Terror: The Strange Case of Aafia Siddiqui
Karina Bracken

Two weeks ago, it was announced that a Pakistani US-trained neuroscientist, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, is to go on trial in New York for the assault and attempted murder of a US soldier while in American custody in Afghanistan .

Siddiqui was initially held by the US military on suspicion of having links with al’Qaida, and the public account of her alleged actions reads like a How to Guide for any terrorist, with images that would keep an American military general awake at night.  According to US authorities, Siddiqui was “grabbing hold of a rifle belonging to one of the soldiers who was trying to arrest her and firing two shots at [the soldiers], while shouting phrases like ‘My blood be directly on your head ’”. None of the US soldiers or FBI agents who were in the room at the time was wounded, but Ms Siddiqui was shot in the arm when one of the soldiers returned fire with a pistol. During the struggle Ms Siddiqui reportedly shouted in English “that she wanted to kill Americans”, which seems to be the requisite behaviour for self-respecting terrorist in American custody --- especially when surrounded by US soldiers and FBI agents.

This week US officials further stated that they arrested Siddiqui on 17 July “in possession of recipes for explosives and chemical weapons, as well as details of landmarks in the United States , including in New York ”. (As every trained neuroscientist/terrorist knows, these items must always be kept together.) Siddiqui is accused of having links with suspected high-ranking al’Qaida operatives who are currently detained at Guantánamo Bay .

So far, so open-and-shut regarding Siddiqui’s perfidy and guilt. It is, however, an incomplete narrative. What was not reported in the American press were the furious protests that erupted in Pakistan after Siddiqui’s family disputed the American military’s version of events. According to the Siddiquis, Aafia was not arrested last month; rather, she has been held by the US military ever since her disappearance from her home in Karachi five years ago. She went missing along with three of her children, all of whom are yet to be located. (The FBI denies having Siddiqui in their custody during these years; however, the official FBI website shows that they have been actively “searching” for her since 2003. Alongside two photographs and Siddiqui’s details, the agency has clarified, “Although the FBI has no information indicating this individual is connected to specific terrorist activities, the FBI would like to locate and question this individual.”)

In an interview with her lawyer in New York , Siddiqui reiterated that she has been held for the last few years (she is now unable to tell how long) and subjected to torture at the hands of her American captors, most likely at Bagram Bay in Afghanistan . Her lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, told the press that Siddiqui has not yet obtained sufficient medical treatment for her bullet wound. Sharp declined to give details of Siddiqui’s subjection to psychological and physical abuse, but Siddiqui’s sister Fauzia told reporters that Aafia had been “raped repeatedly”. US officials have declined to comment.

Ms Sharp suggests that it is the upcoming presidential election that led to the decision to put Dr. Siddiqui on trial through the regular criminal courts rather than sending her to Guantánamo Bay . Ms Sharp further contended that New York was chosen because it was home to the Twin Towers that were destroyed by al’Qaida, so sentiment there would be most prejudicial top Ms Siddiqui. 

Aafia Siddiqui was the first woman to be sought by the US in connection with al’Qaida. Whatever the merits of that prosecution, her allegations and those of her family raise troubling questions amidst the recent history of “extreme interrogation” by the US military and intelligence service. The claims of Ms Siddiqui’s sister that she has been repeatedly rape in custody is far from the first time that the US military has been charged; one only has to review the treatment of  suspected female members of the Vietcong by US soldiers and US sponsored forces.

The Siddiqui family’s allegations of rape against the US forces will  not be investigated. There will be no call for an enquiry or condemnation from the White House. Because Siddiqui is a terror suspect, she does not deserve the fruits of our Western justice system. Because she is not of Western origin, even though she was a US resident and her disappeared children have American citizenship, the tense American relationship with Pakistan is likely to impede the justice that she, or her family, may seek.

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August 18
Freedom and Terror: The University of Nottingham Case
Hicham Yezza

[This article is reprinted from The Guardian. ---- SL]

The UN's committee on human rights has just published a report criticising Britain's anti-terror laws and the resulting curbs on civil liberties. For many commentators the issues raised are mostly a matter of academic abstractions and speculative meanderings. For me, it is anything but. These laws have destroyed my life.

On May 14 I was arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act - on suspicion of the "instigation, preparation and commission of acts of terrorism": an absurdly nebulous formulation that told me nothing about the sin I had apparently committed. Once in custody, almost 48 hours passed before it was confirmed that the entire operation (involving dozens of officers, police cars, vans, and scientific support agents) was triggered by the presence on my University of Nottingham office computer of an equally absurd document called the "al-Qaida Training Manual", a declassified open-source document that I had never read and had completely forgotten about since it had been sent to me months before.

Rizwaan Sabir, a politics student friend of mine (who was also arrested), had downloaded the file from the US justice department website while conducting research on terrorism for his upcoming PhD. An extended version of the same document (which figures on the politics department's official reading list) was also available on Amazon. I edit a political magazine; Rizwaan regularly sent me copies of research materials he was using, and this document was one.

Within hours of my incarceration I had lost track of time. I often awoke thinking I had been asleep for days only to discover it wasn't midnight yet. My confidence in the competence (and motives) of the police ebbed away. I found myself shifting my energies from remaining cheerful to remaining sane. In the early hours, I was often startled by the metallic toilet seat, crouched in the corner like some sinister beast.

For days on end, I drew cartoons and wrote diary entries in the margins of Mills and Boon novellas. I spent hours reciting things to myself: names of Saul Bellow characters, physics Nobel prize winners, John Coltrane albums, anything to keep the numbness away.

I'm constantly coming across efforts being made to give detention without charge the Walt Disney treatment: the crushing weight of solitary confinement is painted as a non-issue; the soul-sapping nothingness of the claustrophobic, cold cell is portrayed as a mild inconvenience. Make no mistake: the feeling that one's fate is in the hands of the very people who are apparently trying to convict you is, without doubt, one of the most devastating horrors a human being can ever be subjected to. It is (to misquote Carl von Clausewitz) the continuation of torture by other means.

"Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear," goes the tautological reasoning of the paranoia merchants calling for harsher, ever more draconian "security" measures - as we saw throughout the 42-days debate. They should read Kafka: nothing is more terrifying than being arrested for something you know you haven't done. Indeed, it is the innocent who suffers the most because it is the innocent who is tormented the most. The guilty calculates, triangulates, anticipates. The innocent doesn't know where to start. The answers and the questions are absolute, unbreachable, towering conundrums.

I underwent 20 hours of vigorous interrogation while entire days were being completely wasted by the police micro-examining every detail of my life: my political activism, my writings, my work in theatre and dance, my love life, my photography, my cartooning, my magazine subscriptions, my bus tickets.

Aspects of my life that would have been seen as commendable in others were suddenly viewed as suspect in my case for no apparent reason other than my religious and ethnic background. I was guilty of being that strangest of creatures: a Muslim who reads; who studied engineering yet writes about Bob Dylan; was a vocal opponent of the Iraq war yet owns all of Christopher Hitchens' writings; admires Terry Eagleton yet defends Martin Amis; interviews Kazuo Ishiguro, listens to Leonard Cohen, goes to Radiohead concerts, all of which became the subject of rather bizarre questioning.

This is not all: outside, lives are shattered, jobs are lost, marriages are destroyed, minds are damaged, friends and families are traumatised - often irrevocably so. My parents, whom I wasn't allowed to call, could barely get any sleep throughout the ordeal. Many of my Muslim university friends were, and still are, worried about being targeted themselves. For most of my loved ones, despite my innocence, nothing will ever be the same again. I'm now jobless, facing destitution and threatened with deportation from the country I've called home for nearly half my life.

Immense pressure is exerted on law enforcement agencies by their political mandarins to produce "results": pressure to produce a higher number of arrests but also the corollary, more dangerous, impulse to justify them at any cost. Naturally, through a perverted but pervasive circularity in the logic, lack of evidence becomes the very justification for requesting "more time". The government claims that checks and balances will ensure extensions to detention periods are based on verifiable and compelling arguments. I beg to differ: in my case, the judge was simply bullied by streams of technospeak until she had no option but to grant extra time.

Fighting terrorism is a serious matter and needs to be tackled in a serious way - not through empty gimmicks sustained by fear-mongering and alarmist rhetoric. The real danger is that we are witnessing a slide from the essential purity of habeas corpus into a Britain where the innocent are detained until proven guilty.

· Hicham Yezza, an activist and writer, was released without charge after six days in custody, immediately rearrested on immigration charges and issued with a removal order to Algeria, after which he was held for a further 27 days; he is still awaiting a conclusion to his deportation case

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July 29
Nottingham and Academic Freedom: An Update

Heartfelt thanks to all those who wrote after last week's blog and the subsequent publication of the letter in the Times Higher Education. I was particularly moved by this response from Munab Younis:

"
I am a Muslim studying politics here at the University of Nottingham, and you expressed quite accurately the outrageously patronising nature of the university's actions. It is indeed the case that the university thinks it can 'protect me' from my (seemingly genetic) predisposition to becoming the wrong sort of terrorist by threatening to call the police if I attempt to study them.
Meanwhile, I am permitted to study declassified CIA and U.S. military manuals - most of them, horrifically brutal - because, well, they're not 'terrorist materials'.

"The climate of fear and suspicion that has grown on our campus has become quite intolerable and we need people to speak out."

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July 21
Terrorism's Victory: The Prosecution of Understanding
An Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham
Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

[This letter is prompted by an edict handed down to staff at the University of Nottingham, which in turn follows the questioning and detention of two Nottingham staff and students for possession of research materials related to Al-Qa'eda. Rizwaan Sabir was freed after six days, but Hicham Yezza still faces deportation to Algeria.]

 

"There is no 'right' to access and research terrorist materials. Those who do so run the risk of being investigated and prosecuted on terrorism charges. Equally, there is no 'prohibition' on accessing terrorist materials for the purpose of research. Those who do so are likely to be able to offer a defence to charges (although they may be held in custody for some time while the matter is investigated). This is the law and applies to all universities." --- Colin Campbell, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham University (THE, 17 July 2008)

 

Let it be noted: the leaders of a prominent University in Britain has caved in to the Culture of Fear. This is an institution which should be celebrating the contributions of its staff and students to knowledge and analysis, which should be at the forefront of free thinking, discussion, and debate. Instead, its officials sacrifice their scholars to a craven bending of the knee before Government authorities who can no longer distinguish between threat and reflection, before those gatekeepers of “common sense” who show no sensibility to our ability to think without falling prey to extremism, and before --- wherever they may be --- those who have carried out violence these past years not only to kill us but to bully us into giving up those liberties and qualities which should have enabled us to rise above their intimidation.

 

I know --- I should be careful. I have had the highest respect for the academic culture at the University of Nottingham. I have come close to working there, and some of my closest friends and colleagues are proud members of its staff. Only last month, I was privileged, very privileged to attend the retirement celebration of a Nottingham Professor whom I consider to be one of the finest, most gracious minds not only of our generation but of many before and after.

 

I may jeopardise the relationship I have with colleagues at Nottingham if I write like this, not because of their reaction but because --- in line with the very attitude that I am criticising --- others who may put up obstacles. But it is because of the esteem that I have for those colleagues and for their valuing of free thought that I must write. To do otherwise is to raise a white flag.

 

This is not a question of “access and research [to] terrorist materials”. No page or picture frame or moving image is “terrorist” in and of itself. It is how that material is used, let us say, to fan the flames of division and hostility that can lead to acts of violence. The problem was never the type-set pages of Mein Kampf; rather, it was in the use of those pages to justify bigotry, racism, war, genocide. The problem was never Marx’s Das Kapital or Mao’s Little Red Book or Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations or the Koran or the Bible. It was, still is, and always will be the manipulation of those texts to justify the taking of lives.

 

Vice-Chancellor, do you think that --- through your denial of texts to us --- that you make us safer? Do you think that, by denying us our ability to think, consider, criticise that you shelter us from harm? Do you think that you protect us from ourselves, prevent us from becoming extremists? If you do, you are reducing your staff, your students, your administrators, your trustees to no more than children incapable of judgement? You go in one step from being a proud university to a fortress of ignorance.

 

I am proud that, before and after 11 September 2001, I have worked in a British system in which my supervisors, my colleagues, my friends, my students have not only read these documents, essays, and books but have used them to construct responses, critiques, and publications which show that we are not enslaved either to the “terrorist” or to an ill-defined “War on Terror”. I think that each and every one of them deserves your highest praise, not your suspicion

 

Would you like me to name their names, Vice Chancellor? I will do so, but not to subject them to the surveillance and petty prosecutions that accompanied the past “naming of names”. Would you like me to cite their works, their contributions to public debate, their contributions to the vibrancy of not only academic culture but of everyday life? I will do so but not to have them denigrated as your suspects.

 

“There is no 'prohibition' on accessing terrorist materials for the purpose of research. Those who do so are likely to be able to offer a defence to charges.” Thus we are allowed freedom of thought under the caution that we are guilty before being proven innocent. Perhaps you know, Vice Chancellor, of other societies in other times who have also maintained their standard. Perhaps you know where scholars, students, citizens have been advised that they may read their books and then, as those books are burned, explain why they have not committed a crime. Perhaps you know of those not-so-distant times when people have been threatened, arrested, terrorised in the name of protecting them from “terror”. Perhaps you know the instances where those scholars, students, citizens --- if they were able to do so --- fled to countries and communities where they could read, think, speak without fear of detention.

 

Perhaps you know that one of those countries was (and still is) Britain. Perhaps you know that some of those individuals who escaped the restrictions on their rights and freedoms came to British universities. They studied here, worked here, left their mark (as they read Mein Kampf, the works of Stalin, the proclamations of Osama bin Laden) in their scholarships, their supervision of others who would eventually take up academic posts.

 

If you do not know that, Vice Chancellor, maybe I can explain as well as atone for my anger. The professor who opened the door to my career at Birmingham, a scholar who left Nazi Germany as a teenager to work on the grounds of Oxford, admiring the British system that only saved his life but allowed him to build that life as one of our finest historians --- he took up his first chair at Nottingham at the age of 39. He was proud of that. So proud that, on the day I was offered my post here, he set me two challenges. First, he said with a smile, beat 39. Then, he added, always be inquisitive, always realise what you do not know, always put yourself in the position of another (the President, the General, the infantryman, the groundskeeper, and, yes, the “terrorist”). Then, and only then, would I have earned the right to put my thoughts and my work before others.

 

At the age of 37, on one of the greatest days of my life, I was able to give a Professorial lecture at Birmingham. But pondering your words, I realise that my false pride was in meeting my mentor’s first challenge. The real pride should be that, as I quoted both “American fundamentalists” and “Islamic fundamentalists” in that lecture, I was not giving way to either of those groups, laying down my ability to think and judge. I could not be reduced to the “us” following an injunction to avoid scandalous, dangerous texts. And in reading those texts, I did not become part of “them”.

 

This, with respect, is why I write. And why I will defend any of my colleagues who continue to pursue their research at risk of your approbation or the prosecution of any misguided law. And why I hope that one day, you will not feed the Culture of Fear with your proclamations, but challenge it (and the terrorists) in your defense of academic freedom.

 

[I write this in a personal capacity, as my own opinion which is no way should be taken as the opinion of the University of Birmingham.]

 

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July 2
After Lisbon, What Next for the Trans-Atlantic?
Colette Mazzucelli, Molloy College

Crisis Mode is Not an Option

The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty on June 12, 2008 by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6% of citizens voting prolongs the internal policy debate about external relations in the European Union (EU). Previous treaty revisions, particularly the Single European Act, signed in 1986, and the Treaty on European Union, signed in 1992, introduced reforms that led to substantial policy innovations. Notable among those are the internal market and the Euro.

The Lisbon Treaty introduces modifications to the Union’s international profile, including a permanent President of the European Council, a High Representative of the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and an EU diplomatic service. Ireland’s negative vote must not provide the excuse for another period of introspection. In the aftermath of failed referenda in France and the Netherlands during 2005, the demise of the European Constitutional Treaty led the Union to turn inward. In the present global environment, a crisis mode only serves to fuel the external perception that the EU is a ‘diminishing asset’ just as more is expected of Europe from its allies, particularly the United States. Sadly, Ireland’s vote reveals that the Union has acted on credit vis-à-vis its allies and other third party actors. Those who expected the Lisbon reforms to be implemented by January 1, 2009 still believe the Treaty will eventually come into force. Others like Czech President Vaclav Klaus have declared that the Lisbon Treaty project ended with the Irish vote and that ratifications cannot continue. Across the Atlantic, Lisbon still matters in what may be identified as the assets-expectations differential.

The Union’s leaders have decided not to take any decisions to address the Irish referendum until later this year. Steps are likely to be taken during France’s program for the Trio Presidency, which begins on July 1. France will be followed by the Czech Republic in January and Sweden in July 2009. There are several options on the table to move ahead, which the Trio leadership must consider. These include the prospect of a second Irish referendum, negotiating a new treaty, or accepting a Union in which some member states integrate more fully, and quickly, than others. Realistically, there is neither the desire nor the intention to reopen treaty negotiations. Presently, the Union continues to operate under the rules of the Nice system articulated in the text negotiated under the French Presidency in 2000. The Nice Treaty was initially rejected by the Irish population in a 2001 referendum only to be approved in a second vote by which time the original text had been modified.

The Crux of the Differential

Despite the failure of the Irish referendum, the EU continues to function well in a whole host of areas related to the internal market and the single European currency. Even in external relations and foreign affairs, the European Commission and the High Representative in the Council, Mr. Javier Solana, continue their work with the member states and third party actors throughout the world. The Lisbon Treaty’s rejection puts on hold a number of fundamental changes to the EU’s system of decision making. These changes add more complexity to the system without necessarily enhancing its legitimacy.

The EU has genuine assets to offer, which its allies, particularly the United States, expect will be put on the table in coming months. The EU’s tendency to turn inward corresponds to its own disappointed expectations about the treaty reform process. In external relations, the member states do not require Lisbon to maximize their assets as they move ahead with ad hoc initiatives. The E3 diplomacy vis-à-vis Iran is now complemented by EU sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Defense cooperation among the big Six, which Mr. Sarkozy has already proposed, can advance in the coming months with skillful diplomacy. French defense initiatives raise concerns for the Irish who remain attached to a policy of neutrality. The French Presidency’s focus on the big member states risks alienating other small members as well as those European institutions, Commission and Parliament, which have no competence in defense.

Such tensions are likely to spill over into the Lisbon reflections. The political dynamics of failed expectations matter inside the EU. Expectations from Washington, likely to come from the next Democratic or Republican Administration, are intrinsically different.  The US expects that European countries will demonstrate leadership identifying compromises in which their individual and collective assets contribute solutions to challenges the respective Unions must face together. The assets-expectations differential speaks directly to the painful reality the United States acknowledges as a legacy of successive Bush 43 Administrations. As other powers rise in relation to America and Europe, neither continent can be successful acting on its own.     

Merkel’s Leadership: A Lengthy Electoral Campaign 

In an influential essay, Kori Schake (‘The US elections and Europe: The coming crisis of high expectations,’ Center for European Reform, November 2007) focuses attention on Chancellor Angela Merkel as the leader in transatlantic relations who knows how to “identify problems, take initiatives, craft agreements other countries can support, and then turn to the US for the contribution needed to close or enforce the deal”.  In the run up to the November election, the German Chancellor demonstrates the ability and interest to work with the candidate elected as the next American president.

It is important to understand that the 2009 German campaign for the Chancellorship has unofficially begun. This is the political reality, which has significant implications for transatlantic and intra-European relations. It is not yet clear which candidate Chancellor Merkel will run against in the September 2009 federal elections. The Left’s rise to the position of the fourth largest party in the Federal Republic speaks to the radicalization of politics amidst popular apprehension concerning a range of issues, including globalization and immigration. The candidate emerging as a likely choice to run against the Chancellor is the present foreign minister in Merkel’s grand coalition, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. By the end of 2008, it should be clear whether Foreign Minister Steinmeier will oppose Chancellor Merkel in federal elections. It is difficult to imagine how in the next year Germany might contribute to a host of transatlantic policy initiatives, ranging from domestic security to out-of-area engagement, for which the United States relies on its support.

NATO’s 60th Anniversary Summit: Prospects for US Reengagement 

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In retrospect, November 9, 1989 transformed the postwar environment. The years after September 11, 2001 fundamentally altered America’s perception of its own vulnerability, thereby contributing to the construction of a unique narrative. The structural change two decades ago takes precedence in terms of the impact on US relations with Germany and its European neighbors. The two sides of the Atlantic still grapple with the demise of the Cold War in their search for new ways to engage during the 21st century.    

One prominent issue at the top of the French Presidency’s Council agenda this fall is defense. This is a dossier where President Sarkozy aims to make genuine progress. After years of policy making outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) integrated military command structure, France is serious about reintegration. Nonetheless, the closing of bases in country may hold the NATO issue hostage. Negotiations must take place to set preconditions and respect specific French caveats to a full reintegration into the military command structure. Only time will tell if President Sarkozy can identify the internal compromises to allow reintegration and mitigate the domestic opposition within the French army and conservative elements in his own political coalition. The price of reintegration may be tensions within the French-German relationship concerning NATO out-of-area engagement.   

The most pressing issue for the United States with its European allies is to gain their commitments to increase contributions in Afghanistan. The NATO Anniversary Summit in April 2009 poses difficulties of timing, engagement, and, most importantly, agenda. The timing will be early in the new American administration. For Mr. McCain, his initial months in office will likely be devoted to filling the ranks of policy makers after 8 years of Republicans in office. For Mr. Obama, the first 100 days will hardly provide the opportunity to prepare intensively for such an important diplomatic meeting. In the face of challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan / Pakistan, and Iran, the US will likely rely on the EU to address a difficult situation in newly independent Kosovo. The Balkans is the only area within Europe where NATO is still potentially relevant. The challenge to NATO’s legitimacy is addressed to the extent that its members are willing to engage out-of-area to address unconventional threats – the earthquake in Pakistan, the violence in Darfur. These are crises in areas where France is more likely to send an expeditionary force and where Germany, owing to its particular domestic situation, is not.

The challenge for the NATO Anniversary Summit is to define an agenda for US re-engagement in the midst of tremendously difficult internal political situations, particularly in the Federal Republic. The early timing requires that the agenda be focused tightly, which necessitates out of the box thinking on both sides of the Atlantic. The key to success is to reengage the United States in a way that brings France and Germany on board despite their diverse internal situations. If France and Germany, as Summit hosts, can agree, the likelihood of the other members identifying their interests in an eventual compromise is greater. On the US side, it is not too early to contemplate possible choices for US Secretary of Defense that could establish a bi-partisan consensus in policy making. One name that has already been suggested is Senator Chuck Hagel, an Eisenhower Republican who has taken issue with his party on a range of issues, particularly Iraq.  The stakes at the NATO Anniversary Summit are high. This is why the significant obstacles to success must be addressed, sooner rather than later, by Republicans and Democrats alike.    

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July 1
The Bush Legacy
John Matlin, University of Birmingham

Of late, much has been written of the so-called legacy of the 43rd president. “Legacy” is defined as something one bequeaths. It has a lasting quality. The probable legacy of Bush’s foreign policy has been widely discussed, together with some of the problems of his domestic policy, for example the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina

Good, substantial evidence of the Bush legacy will be found in the rulings of the Supreme Court. Bush has filled two vacancies on a bench already largely nominated by Republican presidents. Should Mr Obama become the 44th president, he will likely find the Supreme Court not so much a legacy from his predecessor, more a poisoned chalice.

Two decisions of the Supreme Court this week indicate the nature of rulings which can be expected from this Supreme Court. First, “the Millionaire’s Amendment”, part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, was struck down. The law sought to impose special rules in races where a candidate financed his or her own campaign. For example, candidates for the House who spent more than $350,000 entitled opponents to receive triple the usual amounts - $6,900 rather than $2,300 – from individual contributors. The intention was to level, to an extent, the money playing field. Justice Alito gave the majority opinion and was supported by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice s Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas. Alito’s rationale for rejecting the law was that asymmetry imposed by the law was unacceptable and dismissed the compensation element intended to combat greater financial resources.  For the striking justices, not only is money equated to speech but it is equated to power too.

The second Court decision affirmed that the Second Amendment protected the right of an individual to own a gun in all circumstances. How the justices ignored the phrase in the Second Amendment, “linking the right to the maintenance of a “well-regulated militia”, is difficult to understand. Scalia‘s opinion was that the intention of the framers was to prevent elimination of the militia, hence the amendment was not restrictive. Since the amendment actually says the opposite, one has to scratch one’s head at the ability of a lawyer to overturn meaning. This reactionary justice would likely find that nine camels can indeed dance on the head of a pin. 

Scalia was supported by the other usual suspects, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito. One wonders if these justices will become known as the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse, harking back to FDR’s New Deal court. It is very doubtful that a Democratic president will be tempted to increase the numbers of Supreme Court justices to protect his legislative agenda, no matter how right-wing and provocative the rulings may be. Accordingly, the Bush legacy will endure to the disappointment of those with fond memories of justices like Brandeis and to the rulings of the Warren and Burger courts.

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June 27
When the US Offends its Allies

Dr Abdullah Al Shayji

Recently, there has been public outcry in several of the GCC states after a series of very public snubs by Washington . In a report issued last week, the U.S. State department criticized and blacklisted many of the Gulf nations because of their “weak performance” in tackling Human Trafficking.  On the 13th June, the US Treasury Department froze the assets of a Kuwait-based charity organisation, Revival of Islamic Heritage Society while linking it to Al Qaeda. Finally at the end of May the US House of Representatives approved a legislation that would allow the United States to sue the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) under its antitrust laws. Dr. Abdullah Alshayeji, a professor of International Relations at Kuwait University, has kindly given permission to reprint his article, first published in the Gulf News.  He asserts in comments to us that his piece expresses: “The GCC states’ unprecedented display of anger at Washington unnecessarily targeting its strategic allies” despite “their invaluable contribution to stability in the region.”

 
 
Abdullah Alshayeji, Dr Abdullah Al Shayji is a Professor of International Relations and the Head of the American Studies Unit- Kuwait University.

 We can sense growing suspicion in the asymmetric relationship between the US and the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states due to America 's divergent view and position on GCC issues, which the member states - collectively and individually - deem as either unfriendly or interfering in their domestic affairs.

 The GCC states are frustrated at Washington 's lack of gratitude and appreciation for their invaluable contribution to stability and security in the region and for pursuing the path of moderation in the Middle East .

 As part of the axis of moderation, the GCC plays a major role in Iraq , ensures energy security and generates sovereign wealth.

 But it was all ignored by the US Congress when the US House of Representatives approved a legislation that would allow the United States to sue the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) under its antitrust laws.

 New York Times columnist, Thomas Evan, too joined the fray and wrote an opinion article titled "Sue OPEC".

 With the unprecedented increase in oil prices which is now hovering around $140 per barrel, only the GCC states can calm the world's fears of rising oil prices. Saudi Arabia took the initiative and increased its daily oil output by 200,000 barrels and also held a conference to address the significant relationship between the oil producing and oil consuming countries.

 Furthermore, the GCC is a regional power house and this year's accumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to reach nearly $1 trillion, up from $800 billion last year.

 The major clout that the GCC has is its dominant status of a soft power in terms of oil and gas output. In addition, their collective sovereign wealth makes the GCC states a global world player, compensating for their lack of size and lack of hard power.

 As the Economist put it, "The Gulf added $215 billion to its stock of foreign assets in 2007, the IIF calculates. This hoard is divided between the region's central banks, its sovereign-wealth funds and its wealthy sovereigns.

 It added up to $1.8 trillion by the end of last year, by the IIF's estimates, and more like $2.4 trillion, according to Brad Setser of the Council on Foreign Relations and Rachel Ziemba of RGE Monitor."

 The US State Department's Eighth Annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) or modern day slavery, published in early June was deemed offensive by the GCC states.

 The US insists that the report is "dedicated to ending human trafficking, a deeply dehumanising form of exploitation. In virtually every country around the world, including the United States , men, women and children are held in domestic servitude, exploited for commercial sex, coerced into work in factories and sweatshops. In some, children are forcibly recruited as soldiers".

 Mark Lagon, the US State Department's senior adviser on human-trafficking elaborated: "For the last four years, the weak performance of several nations in the Gulf has been the matter of great concern and disappointment."

 But he added that he was "happy to report that the UAE and Bahrain continued to make significant improvements, notably the UAE. It is a model in the region."

 The report kept the other four GCC states in the blacklist with threat of sanctions against Kuwait , Oman , Qatar and Saudi Arabia because their governments have taken serious steps to deal with "trafficking in people".

Display of anger

The GCC countries dismissed the report as "unjustified" and their foreign ministers chastised the US in an unprecedented public display of anger. The statement by the foreign ministers said that they "deeply regret the wrong information on the GCC states contained in a US State Department report for 2008 on human trafficking".

In a serious tone, they added, "[This information] aims to practice unjustified pressure for political ends," and asked the US to "revise its unfriendly policy towards GCC countries".

The divide between the US and the GCC widened further when the US Treasury Department, not to be outdone by the State Department, froze the assets of a Kuwait-based charity organisation, Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS).

It is one of the most respected charity organisations, managed by the Salafi group. The Salafis, along with their allies, won 10 seats or 20 per cent of the seats in Kuwait 's parliament in the elections held last month. In the new Cabinet, there is also a senior minister belonging to this group.

Without providing any material evidence to support its claim, the US has accused the charity organisation of supporting and funding Al Qaida.

In his report, the US Treasury Department's Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has alleged "RIHS of using charity and humanitarian assistance as covers to fund terrorist activity and harm innocent civilians, often in poor and impoverished regions".

Furthermore, the report accuses the senior leadership of RIHS of being "aware of both legitimate and illegitimate uses of RIHS funds".

RIHS offices have also been closed or raided by the governments of Albania , Azerbaijan , Bangladesh , Bosnia-Herzegovina , Cambodia , and Russia over suspicion that the charity is allegedly linked with the funding of terrorism.

The decision by the US Treasury Department has raised many eye-brows in Kuwait and has led to official and public outcry. In a show of solidarity and support, the Emir of Kuwait, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, met with the leaders of RIHS and praised their charitable works in all parts of the Muslim world.

The Cabinet called the US allegations baseless and the parliament and its Speaker accused the US of interfering in Kuwait 's sovereignty. They also reminded the US that it was living in a glass house and should not throw stones at others.

In reference to the dismal human rights record of the US , they stated that Washington has no moral authority to lecture other nations because it doesn't practice what it preaches.

The strategic partnership between the US , the dominant power, and the GCC, its junior partners, should be based on mutual trust and respect, and nurtured by mutual appreciation and gratitude as both sides need each other.

Even though such an unhealthy environment won't affect the strategic relationship between them, it will exacerbate unneeded tension and foster an unhealthy environment that won't benefit either side.

   

June 26
Reading Israeli Intentions on Iran
Ray Close

[Ray Close, a former CIA official and perceptive observer of the Middle East, has sent us the following commentary on an interview in Mother Jones with Yossi Melman, correspondent specialising in intelligence matters for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. Both Melman's remarks and Close's commentary are, we think, the shrewdest assessment of the recent Israeli military exercises and the theory that they are a forerunner to an attack on Iran. --- SL]

Based on what I have heard from Israeli friends of my own, I would say that Melman's remarks
are a fair description of what the most sensible and balanced Israelis feel, and I think their common sense will prevail.  I only wish I had the same confidence in the prudent judgment of some lame ducks I can think of in Washington.

I think the extensive international press coverage of the Israeli exercise indicates that they are probably NOT planning to attack Iran, at least in the immediate future. They seem to have deliberately called attention to their activity, as if disappointed that the world had not been
sufficiently impressed by the display of power and "strategic reach" that they had demonstrated. That supports the theory that it was an effort to send a political message (to their own people as well as to the world) just as much as it was a practical military training exercise. The Israelis place an exceptionally high value on the element of surprise. Every aspect of their military experience over the years since 1948 has taught them that.  In this
case, if they were planning to attack Iran, they would have hit first, and boasted about it only afterwards.

What to Make of a Recent Israeli Military Exercise:
Interview with Israeli Intel Correspondent

LAURA ROZEN, MOTHER JONES

While many people are concerned about whether the Bush administration plans to carry out a parting shot strike on Iran's nuclear program before it leaves office, most policy experts in and out of government I've interviewed think that is unlikely, for a lot of reasons. But the U.S., of course, is not the only actor to consider.

Today came reports that Israel carried out a large-scale military exercise over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece earlier this month that clearly seemed to have Iran in mind. More than 100 F-16 and F-15 fighter planes and rescue helicopters were involved in the Israeli military exercise, according to Pentagon and other US government officials cited in a report today in the New York Times. "Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the militaryʼs capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iranʼs nuclear program," the paper reported. The exercise was so large, U.S. officials told the paper, it was implied that Israel wanted not only Iran, but the US and other allies, to be aware of it.

I asked Yossi Melman, intelligence correspondent for Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Iran, how to interpret the reported Israeli military exercise (Israeli officials have not commented on it). I also asked him about Israel's timeline for contemplating a possible go-it-alone strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, should diplomacy, international sanctions and other measures be judged to fail.

Mother Jones: How to interpret the exercise?

Melman: The Israeli Air Force and all the other agencies are preparing tentative contingency plans. This has been going on for many many months. Israel's air space is limited, so you need to fly over the sea, but to practice you also need land. To do it over Turkey will not be sufficient (1500-1800 km) and politically sensitive. So there is an Israeli Greek security agreement [for this purpose] and that's what they are doing.

Now does it mean an imminent attack? Far from that. I don't see at the moment an Israeli cabinet which has the nerve to take such a decision. But as I wrote in my book and in my newspaper and in various international forums recently, Israel will probably do it as a last resort.

MJ: What is Israel's thinking on timing?

Melman: Of course they will wait. Israel will never do it before having some sort of understanding (tacit or not) with the U.S. administration. If they decide to do it, it will not be before spring - mid 2009 most probably, end of 2009, unless they realize something dramatic is boiling up in Iran. I think they will wait also for Iran's presidential elections to see if [Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] is reelected. (Those Iranian presidential elections are May or June 2009).

MJ: Do you think there is a possibility that increased diplomacy and international sanctions could succeed? I was at a forum today where both speakers - including Patrick Clawson - who you've interviewed - expressed some degree of mild optimism that reinvigorated multilateral diplomacy might succeed to persuade Iran to some sort of agreement on its nuclear program. And that it would be far preferable to the military option. Former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy has also expressed the belief that negotiations with Iran could succeed. What are your thoughts about this? And indeed, about the highly politicized question in the U.S. presidential race about whether Washington should pursue direct diplomacy with Iran? (before contemplating such "last resort" options)?

Melman: I favor direct talks between the U.S. and Iran. But I am very pessimistic about the success of any talks or diplomacy. As long as China and Russia are not part of the loop no diplomatic pressure would succeed. Yet there is a need to exhaust the diplomatic path, if only to show domestic audiences that the West is not trigger happy or a war monger.

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June 26
Iran's Nuclear Programme and the Latest "Western" Proposal
 
Mohammad Rezaie, University of Birmingham

Javier Solana, the chief European negotiator, was in Tehran last weekend and discussed the file on Iran’s nuclear programmes. Accompanied by the directors of the foreign ministries of all the “5+1” countries except the United States, Solana delivered a long-awaited package of proposals to the Iranian Foreign Minister and held talks with Saeed Jalili, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator.
 
Solana’s package was delivered to Iran as President Bush was touring Europe. Even ahead of Solana’s trip, Bush was using strong language to warn Iran about the consequences of rejecting the offer. He said that “all options are on the table”, implying the readiness of the United States to use force if necessary, and he lobbied hard to win the support of US allies in Europe for another round of sanctions at the UN or, if resisted by China and Russia, by the EU countries with the United States.

On Saturday, when the speaker of the Iranian government repeated Tehran’s position rejecting any suspension of uranium enrichment, Bush wasted no time in criticising Iran for dismissing out of hand what he called a generous offer. This immediate reaction was interpreted by some analysts as an attempt to show that the offer was effectively dead on arrival, although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to soften the US position by saying that the US would await the formal reaction. She repeated Bush’s words that all options were on the table but tried to allay concerns that the US was inching towards military option by stating that American energies were focused on diplomacy.
     
The Iranian Government has now said that it will give its response after thorough examination of the offer, emphasizing that these answers would depend upon how its own proposals are treated. In another sign that Iran will give due consideration to the 5+1 offer, Speaker of the Parliament and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said that the parliament will study the package “with alertness”.

The content of the 5+1 package is similar to the package delivered to Iran in 2006. Even some Western journalists and diplomats have said the package is merely an enhanced or  refreshed version of 2006 package. The suspension of enrichment as a precondition for the official start of the negotiation with 5+1 countries; at the same, the package  recognizes Iran’s rights in accordance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and offers technological and economic incentives to Iran, including the construction of light water reactors.
 
If the new offer is, more or less similar to the 2006 offer, why did its drafters did not take into consideration the advancement by Iran in its peaceful nuclear activities during the last two years? Why do they insist on inclusion of a precondition in their offer when they know how sensitive this issue is in Iran? It seems that the 5+1 countries are only interested in portraying a positive image of a new initiative while in reality failing to put forward any constructive ideas. Furthermore, they also hope that, in the present internal situation of Iran with the Iranian people facing an economic embargo and the fear of  future sanctions and even an attack, the Iranian Government would be pressured into accepting the  package.

The carrot and stick policy is not going to work with Iran; rather it will worsen the situation. The talk of military strike against Iran, raised again before and during Solana’s visit, has complicated the situation, making it harder for the EU President to present his case genuinely and succeed. The smoke coming out of Western chimneys also incidates that embargoes are moving to a different level, with the sanctions and freezing of the assets in Europe of the largest Iranian bank, Bank Melli, and the listing  of  certain individuals and companies who must not enter Europe. What makes these steps even more counter-productive is that they have been taken  while Iran is still investigating the Solana offer.

In such a context, the 5+1 countries are jeopardizing diplomacy with Iran, who perceives that negotiations are superficial when compared with other economic and diplomatic action. Pressures from outside will unite most Iranians regardless of their political affiliations, only hardening the position of the Government.

If the 5+1 countries genuinely want to achieve a settlement, they would be wise to work for a genuine resolution on the issue of atomic energy. The key is to find common elements in the Solana package and the Iranian proposal, working with pragmatists such as Ali Larijani, once the key negotiator and now the Head of the Iranian Parliament.. 

----------------------

June 25
That US Prsidential Election (So Far)
 
Reg Whitaker, York University (Toronto)/University of Victoria

The American presidential contest has gripped the world. Even in the convulsive last stages of the Bush catastrophe, even as America’s image abroad falters, and its influence wanes, the American political system has somehow asserted the kind of magnetic mass attraction that once characterized Hollywood and American television: Hillary Clinton rising phoenix-like from the humiliation of Monica Lewinsky to become the first woman at the door of the White House; Barack Obama as some kind of unlikely fiction thought up by a screenwriter on hallucinogens (“a black guy whose middle name is Hussein comes out of nowhere and sweeps the nation…”); McCain a war hero captured and tortured by the Communists who comes riding out of the West to clean up Washington. What a show!

Apart from the show, which is indeed entertaining, and digging a little deeper, this is really a good news, bad news story.

We can get the good news out of the way quickly enough, as it has already been widely trumpeted. The Democratic contest pitted candidates representing two hugely significant groups in American life hitherto excluded from the highest office: African-Americans and women. More than 140 years after the Civil War and the end of slavery, an African-American stands a very good chance of attaining the presidency. In the course of the Obama/Clinton contest, a huge number of new voters, especially among young Americans who had been abandoning the political realm for years now, flocked to the polls with apparent high enthusiasm. This seems surely to indicate a rejuvenation of American democracy at the very moment that Washington under Bush has sunk to new lows in arrogance, reckless incompetence, and ethical squalor.

One bad news reflection on Obama’s victory can be dismissed. The bitter claims of some feminist supporters of Clinton that male chauvinism and hatred of women had brought down their candidate, while understandable at an emotional level, do not stand up to analysis.

Much has been made, quite rightly, of the appalling male chauvinist attitudes on display in the media. But the Hillary-the-Nutcracker snickers were all coming, without exception, from the usual suspects on the Right (of whom, to be sure, there are no end on radio and television). None of these people, however, are Democrats. Within the Democratic party, there was little evidence that sexism was at play in the vote. 

Quite the contrary: although Hillary called in all the feminist themes when she finally was forced to endorse Obama, she had played fast and loose with gender throughout her campaign. Her insistent self-identification as a military hawk had led to her support for Bush’s Iraq fiasco – a major reason for her failure to capture the large antiwar constituency in the Democratic party – and to her ‘ready, aye ready’ for a replay fiasco over Iran (she would “totally obliterate” the country if Ahmadinejad attacked Israel). This was classic overcompensation for the perception that a woman might be considered weak on national security, but it played directly into the hands of Obama who had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. The irony was that Obama much better represents the supposed feminine style of leadership (consensual, collaborative, and compromising) than the relentless Alpha Dog battler Hillary - a point not lost on the Right, already readying an attack on Obama as an effeminate girly-man.

Midway through the campaign, Hillary began putting on a new face: a pistol-packin’, deer-huntin’, beer and whiskey chuggin’, NASCAR drivin’, God-fearin’, good ole girl with balls. Bizarre as this might seem for an ostensible feminist, it worked with the white working class male voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other rustbelt areas – the old Reagan Democrats – who flocked to her side. So much for a male backlash!

In retrospect, it turns out that Hillary only took a slim majority of all female votes. Older white women overwhelmingly endorsed her, while younger women went preponderantly for Obama. Among those between 35 and 65, only a small margin was registered for Hillary. Almost all of Hillary’s supporters will eventually rally to Obama in a contest with McCain who wants to make abortion illegal again and represents all the old militarist and aggressive foreign policy stands and hard-eyed right-wing social policies that women tend to distrust. Already one poll has shown a staggering 19% gender gap in Obama’s favour among women.

So much for the good news. There is also much about this campaign that is less bright and encouraging, and this is worth discussion since it has had so little play.

First, the appalling length of the campaign. It sometimes seems as if it will never end. What began sixteen months ago finally ground to one short-term resolution on June 3, when Obama squeezed out the final few delegate pledges needed to put him irretrievably over the top and assured of nomination.

Of course, this was only the end of the beginning: another half year will wear on through the presidential election proper, with Obama-McCain debates replacing Obama-Clinton debates as semi-weekly television fixtures (McCain wants weekly ‘town-halls’ throughout the summer); interminable panels of talking heads doomed to repeating the same things over and over; bloggers talking at and past other bloggers in self-referencing internet loops; non-stop funding appeals that compete shrilly with the evangelicals and the 1-800 ‘call now!’ con-artists; continuous rounds of candidates shaking hands, posing for photo-ops, tossing out the same banal campaign McNuggets stop after stop to audiences that must seem finally interchangeable, indistinguishable, to the numbed protagonists.

In late November, one candidate will pass the finish line (barring another Florida hanging-chad debacle) and then be thrown into a furious two months of appointments and patronage dispensing as the new White House is organized, followed by the inauguration in January 2009. The next morning, the new President will finally begin Day One of his four-year term. He might be forgiven at this point, especially if he turns out to be the 72 year old McCain, to wonder at the wisdom of a system that puts potential presidents through a nomination and election process as grueling, or more grueling, and at least half as long, as the job itself. A serious question is what effect this marathon 24/7 campaigning has on the human beings who are the presidents-in-waiting? Is this the training ground any rational person would devise for the job of running the most powerful nation on earth, with a finger on the nuclear trigger awaiting Hillary Clinton’s famous 3 a.m. call on the red phone in the White Hose bedroom? Or is it instead the kind of discipline designed to break a wild horse or lobotomize an otherwise autonomous individual?

One is reminded of Henry Adams’ 1880 novel Democracy, in which his protagonist, Mrs. Lee, is shocked to see at the White House “two seemingly mechanical figures, which might be wood or wax, for any sign they showed of life…the President and his wife… stiff and awkward by the door, their faces stripped of every sign of intelligence, while the right hands of both extended themselves to the column of visitors with the mechanical action of toy dolls.” Mrs. Lee is struck by the fact that “in all that crowd there was no one besides herself who felt the mockery of this exhibition…They thought it a democratic institution, this droll aping of monarchical forms….To her it had the effect of a nightmare, or of an opium-eater’s vision. She felt a sudden conviction that this was to be the end of American society; its realisation and dream at once. She groaned in spirit.”

Adams’ America was a pre-electronic media and pre-internet world. Today everything is speeded up to manic intensity, demanding that candidates be on call and on camera at all times. The media old and new are on permanent war footing, which in this context means not so much coverage of evolving policy as a relentless gaffe watch. The panoptic gaze sweeps into every nook and cranny of the candidates’ existence and of everyone associated with them in any way, however peripheral. An offhanded but ill-chosen word is fed back relentlessly to cow a candidate and ensure that their message is made yet blander and yet paler. Behold how Obama’s word “bitter” with reference to the bypassed working class was whipped into a firestorm of faux populist indignation that may well have cost him crucial votes in the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries, and may still cost him in November.

Offensive sermons by pastors in churches that candidates may have attended are circulated relentlessly on YouTube to discredit the hapless church-goers: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as Obama albatross was matched by a pair of hate-spouting evangelicals attached to McCain. All had to be cast off publicly and denounced. Nobody, it seems, in either camp would dare suggest that the idle ravings of distantly affiliated religious zealots might be considered irrelevant to the worthiness of the candidates themselves.

Now that Hillary has been dispatched, politically prurient attention has turned to Obama’s wife, Michelle, who made a single injudicious remark about being proud of her country for the first time. We may confidently expect this one remark to be regurgitated ad nauseum from now to November, with the clear implication that Obama, associated with someone not only female and black, but manifestly un-American, is unfit to be President.

The effect of this non-stop surveillance is a process of relentless homogenization. Each candidate has certain niche constituencies they deliberately cultivate, which may have negative spinoffs with regard to other constituencies, but this is limited as much as possible, while potential negatives are frantically pared and sanded down by the teams of spin doctors and image makers to the ultimate extent possible.

The day after clinching the nomination, Obama was before AIPAC, the American-Israeli lobby, practically groveling to escape rumours of an anti-Israeli bias and in the process burning his bridges to a rational, unaligned Middle Eastern stance. To please AIPAC’s more-Zionist-than-the-Israelis hardliners, he even called into question the one issue with which he had rightly taken on both Clinton and McCain: daring to talk to Ahmadinejad, rather than threatening bombing and obliteration as opening diplomatic salvoes. It was a saddening spectacle for anyone with hopes that Obama might actually represent ‘change’ in America’s relations with the world. Perhaps in office, he will show more courage and independence, but the point is that the dynamics of the campaign force candidates into corners that they will later have to work their way out of, at the cost of being accused of ‘flip-flopping’ (apparently a dire sin) and of betraying the lobbies that cynically intimidated them into conformity during the election.

This process of homogenization and dilution is not only interminable, but staggeringly expensive. Already, even before the party conventions formally anoint the two candidates, the campaigns have cost four times as much as the entire presidential election of 2000 when George Bush unveiled what was then seen as a fund-raising machine non pareil. The figures now head toward $900 million, and by the time the November election is in the books, it may well be past $2 billion. Obama has opted out of the shambolic public funding arrangement, so as not to limit his astonishing ability to bury his opponent in money. Much has been made of Obama’s capacity to raise vast sums in small donations from individuals online, a process cited as a kind of financial grassroots democracy, but remarkable as this is, it should not hide the fact that he also benefits from a massive move by corporate America away from the now discredited and discreditable Bushites, apparently in as much bad odour in many Wall Street boardrooms as in Main Street coffee shops. The Obama campaign gets a pile of corporate money despite the Senator’s liberal voting record, just as John McCain’s campaign organization is thick with the very lobbyists he likes to pretend are targets of his ‘reforming’ zeal.

The show may be highly entertaining, but the production is very costly, and the bankrollers must have deep pockets. Just how much change and reform can anyone realistically expect to emerge at the other end of a machine that funnels in big bucks and funnels out sausages deliberately processed for inoffensive blandness?

Good news, bad news? Who knows? But we have to hand it to the Americans: no matter how much they have screwed up around the world, “it’s still the same old story, the fight for love and glory”, as the song played by Sam for the exiled Yank Bogart in Casablanca said.

There’s no business like show business.

----------------------

June 20
Roundtable Reponse to "The Real Persian Puzzles"

Yesterday's Watching America put forth a series of considerations of political and economic developments in Iran. Responses soon came in from Lizzie Telfer and Chris Emery, both of the University of Birmingham, and Seyed Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran. My thanks to all of them --- SL]

EMERY:

 

I think that, like in the US, the economy will obviously dominate the next Iranian election --- as it did the last. Policy to combat inflation will be key within this struggle and an area which Ahmadinejad has received possibly the most criticism. Remember that THE previous Central Bank governor, Ebrahim Sheibani, quit last year over differences with Ahmadinejad over interest rate policy. Danesh-Jafari, another finance minister, was recently removed in April, again over differences of inflation policy. (Ahmadinejad's recent decision to order banks to sharply cut interest rates, against expert advice, was the cause of Danesh-Jafari's exit.)
 
For Ahmadinejad, there is little point in acknowledging that his ambitious (and often bizarre) economic policies are misguided and require an overhaul. There is no time for any reforms or reversals to take effect before the election. As such, he will continue to blame sinister external and internal forces as the source of Iran's economic malaise. His problem is that the anti-corruption line, so effective when outside government in 2005, is unlikely to be as effective in 2009.
 
On the other hand, high inflation obviously hurts the poor a lot more than the rich. In this context, Ahmadinejad's social justice agenda and populist rhetoric blaming elite economic interests could tap into a traditional suspicion of these groups (characterised, for example, as the 'sugar', 'housing' or 'cement' mafias). This will not convince the conservative politicians, who have already pointed out that Ahmadinejad was warned of the inflationary consequences of his 2006 and 2007 budgets.
 
The question is whether the opposition of the traditional conservatives, and their support for other candidates, will translate into real electoral damage. A good place for opponents to start would be to point out that high oil revenues and economic growth have only really helped the rich who have also spent recent years lucratively speculating in the housing and property markets.
 
This context could actually aid a Khatami resurrection. Khatami can come in with a proven, if mixed, commitment to fiscal discipline. He can also demonstrate that inflation has soared since his administration ended. He faces a situation however, where the reformist movement he nurtured has been reduced to political insignificance. I can also see a mirror of McCain's cynical 'Hamas would rather Obama wins' tactic being used against Khatami, although I'm not sure how the West's undisguised joy at the prospect of a Khatami government would play in Iranian politics. 
 
In any event, Fars reported yesterday that Khatami has written letters to leading figures in Iranian politics asking for their assessment of his chances..
 
"Khatami, a strong opponent of the current president, has formed a coalition with the faction close to ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, which however lost last March’s parliamentary elections to conservatives."
 
The so-called peripheral issues (Ahmadinejad's policies that you highlight as symbolic) are only relevant as they relate to these economic issues. I don't see differences on the nuclear issue, or foreign policy in general, being that important, especially given that Larinjani's first speech as leader of the Majiles was bullish on the nuclear issue. The question will really be how Larijani will make a bag of rice or a chicken cheaper for normal Iranians --- this might take a heavy dose of populism that I'm not sure he possesses.

 

TELFER: 

 

1) I would question whether Ali“Larijani [the Speaker of the Parliament] commands respect amongst a wide section of the Iranian political” elite. His depth of support in the Majles [the Iranian Parliament] is disputable. It is important to consider that when he won his landslide victory for the speakership on 28 May, Larijani was unopposed. His only rival, former Speaker Gholamhoseyn Haddad-Adel, had dropped out of the race.  Although he had clear backers in Qom, such ass the conservative Militant Clergy Association and the Qom Theological Seminary Association, their influence in the Majles is uncertain andboth have disavowed having backed him for the speakership. 

 

What makes Larijani unpopular among most reformists and even some conservatives in Iran is his utter devotion to Ayatollah Khamene’i. During Larijani’s 10-year tenure as head of the state television (IRIB), he allowed Hoseynian, now one of Larijani's strongest cheerleaders in the Majles, to blame the 1998 serial killings of dissidents on the reformists.  He permitted members of the security services to film political prisoners giving fabricated confessions, aired a fake political teaser to destroy Khatami's presidential bid, and selectively broadcast portions of a conference in Berlin which led to imprisonment of many Iranian intellectuals. The accusations resulted in Larijani being banned from attending cabinet meetings.  These defamation campaigns created a wide impression that Larijani was a puppet of the conservative camp. It is rumours of his disagreements with Ahmadinejad that are now reviving his reputation and his entirely-by-appointment political life.

 

Care should be taken before we label Larijani as either a moderating force or a main rival to Ahmadinejad, particularly as Iranian newspapers are still finding justification to peg him as an “ally” of the President.  It is important to bear in mind that Larijani has never explicitly addressed his differences with Ahmadinejad in public. The most prominent aspect of Iranian policy in the West is the nuclear issue; while Larijani is well-known for “vociferously attacking Ahmadinejad’s nuclear policies, this has been in private. 

 

It is this private talk which has endeared Larijani to western analysts and the western public who believe he must be more pragmatic and moderate than the current president.  However, I think we must avoid the tendency of reading one’s own opinion/views into the Iranian popular will.  Larijani assumed his role as chief of the negotiating team only after relentlessly criticizing then President Mohammad Khatami's policies on the nuclear issue. The novice diplomat earned three U.N. Security Council resolutions against Tehran in less than a year, leading him to depart his most unglamorous position in a short time amidst ill feelings.

2) Choosing Ayatollah Khamene’i as a barometer for assessing who has support and what implication that support has in the Iranian politics could be misleading.  Moreover, there have been suggestions that Ahmadinejad’s current campaign is with Khamenei’s blessing. 

 

3) Again, I think we should be careful about creating a simple Ahmadinejad/ Larijani divide. I doubt Larijani himself has much chance of being elected president.  Ahmadinejad will likely be opposed in the next election by credible candidates, possibly by Khatami if not Rafsanjani and by a few others.  Rafsanjani has enough power within the governing institutions and also among the reformist and conservatives to deal with this new wave under Ahmadinejad. Another prominent figure, Tabasi from Mashhad, is very powerful and definitely will react to him.  

 

Larijani appeared to join forces with Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf in the leadup to the recent parliamentary election to challenge Ahmadinejad's faction. Qalibaf did much better than Larijani in 2005 (he won 14% of the vote) and has positioned himself ever since as Ahmadinejad's main challenger in 2009. If the Larijani-Qalibaf alliance holds (which is by no means guaranteed after the recent support to Larijani from the United Fundamentalist Front- a group allied to Ahmadinejad) and if Larijani uses his position as speaker to attack Ahmadinejad on behalf of Qalibaf, then they would pose a formidable challenge to Ahmadinejad. 

EMERY:

I particularly agree with Lizzie's point about Khameini's support being misleading- he has spent the last 20 years perfecting a strategy of tactically extending his blessing to several opposing individuals and groups- in short he likes to play people off each other. His blessing can be partial, superficial, even genuine --- but always tactical.

MARANDI:

Larijani does have quite a bit of support. The fact that not a single MP from any of the main factions voted against him is very revealing. All of the reformist MPs (from differing factions) voted for him as well.

I take issue with some of the charges against Larijani, such as the claims of fabricated confessions, "fake political teasers", and broadcasts of the Berlin conference leading to the imprisonment of people. It is true that Larijani was expelled from one cabinet meeting --- if I remember correctly, that was because IRIB aired a live interview with Mr. Hussainian about the serial killings of dissidents --- but President Khatami later went to see Larijani, to apologize.

As for current politics, I am not aware of any newspaper calling Larijani an ally of the president. His disagreements with the president are well documented. In fact, that is why he resigned. 

Any specific focus on Larijani wth respect to the nuclear issue should be treated with caution.  None of the main political players in Iran --- Rafsanjani, Larijani, Khatami, Ahmadinejad, Karrubi, and Ghalibaf --- believe that Iran should suspend the enrichment of uranium. 

Larijani, Ahmadinejad, Rohani, and Khatami have never determined Iran's nuclear policy. It has always been the Supreme National Security Council that has made the decisions with the approval of the leader. In fact, the restarting the nuclear program began during the last weeks of the Khatami preidency. However, Larijani has become popular among academics and many
others in Iran because of the way in which he forced the IAEA and Solana to accept
that 6 key questions about Iran's nuclear program have been resolved.

Regarding Ayatollah Khamenei: he is the most credible political figure in Iran and he has strong support among almost all of the major political groups in thecountry. As for the claims that he is backing Ahadinejd's campaign, he has always supported the president who is in office (Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad). If he doesn't the government could
become very weak and even fall.


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June 17
How to Fight Terrorists
Rami Khouri

[This essay by our colleague Rami Khouri is reprinted from Middle East Online. --- SL]

WASHINGTON - The 9/11 attack against the United States happened nearly seven years ago -- time enough, you would think, for the United States to come to grips with the causes and nature of terror. I am puzzled by how American society as a whole, with few exceptions, continues to react to the terror phenomenon with heated anger, rather than the cold analysis required to understand and defeat it.

As Americans conduct their foreign policy with the expressed aim of reducing terrorism, their policy often has precisely the opposite effect of increasing and stimulating terror in a whole new generation of youth.

Americans tend broadly to express understandable anguish about terror that emanates from Islamic societies. They point to conditions -- poverty, dictatorship -- and institutions -- radical mosques, madrasas -- that they see as the main cause of terrorism. Having lived in predominantly Islamic societies most of my life, my sense is that a more useful approach would be to ask why individual Muslims occasionally become radicalized to the point where they engage in terror, including suicide bombings where they take their own life, while the overwhelming majority does not accept or practice terror.

A healthy debate is underway in the United States on this issue, as more and more Americans undertake the hard research and analysis required to grasp what transforms ordinary young men and women into inhuman killers. One important discussion revolves around the argument by Marc Sageman, author of the books Understanding Terror Networks and the more recent Leaderless Jihad. Sageman, a sociologist and forensic psychiatrist, argues that the major terror threat around the world today does not emanate primarily from Al-Qaeda and its centrally planned spectacular operations.

Rather, he says the new wave of terrorism that more urgently requires our attention “is composed of homegrown young wannabes who dream of glory and adventure, who yearn to belong to a heroic vanguard and to root their lives in a greater sense of meaning. Inspired by tales of past heroism, they hope to emulate their predecessors, even though, for the most part, they can no longer link up with al-Qaeda Central in the Pakistani badlands. Their potential numbers are so great that they must now be seen as the main terrorist threat to the West.”

The key to Sageman’s analysis is his understanding that the process of radicalization of ordinary young men and women comprises two elements: their own life conditions, and their outrage at seeing other Muslims mistreated around the world. His book Leaderless Jihad offers strong evidence for the fact that we now witness a “third generation” of Islamist jihadi warriors or terrorists who see themselves as defending the entire Islamic community of believers: after Osama Bin Laden and colleagues in Afghanistan, and then the young men who conducted the 9/11 operations.

Today’s third generation comprises individuals who do not connect with Al-Qaeda, but become radicalized in their home communities all over the world, and hook up with others through networks mainly organized on internet chat forums. Sageman summarized his analysis concisely in a recent newspaper op-ed article: “The process of radicalization consists of four prongs, which need not occur in sequence. Here's the recipe: having a sense of moral outrage; seeing this anger as part of a ‘war on Islam’; believing that this view is consistent with one's everyday grievances; and mobilizing through networks.”

One of the terrible ironies of the past seven years has been that governments purporting to fight terror actually may be promoting it. The American-led global war on terror, heavily pro-Israeli Middle Eastern policies, and invasion of Iraq, plus the increasingly repressive police and security operations of Arab and Asian regimes, and the many Arab-Asian domestic political systems chronically frozen in their autocratic mode all play a role in the radicalization of a new cohort of terrorists.

The most potent intersection of radicalizing vectors is between an Arab citizen’s mistreatment by his or her own government, and seeing other Muslims assaulted, mistreated, jailed and killed in their own homes by American, Israeli, or other foreign armies. This is compounded by leading Western political leaders who routinely speak of radical Islamic violence and terror as being the greatest threat of this generation. That exaggerated nonsense, demagogic political rhetoric, and dangerous confluence of ignorance and vengefulness by leaders who appear totally obsessed by an ugly phenomenon is what baffles Arabs (and terrorizes their own Western citizens).

And these Western leaders only aggravate the terror threat by adding to it their own fear-mongering politics, moral mediocrity, and intellectual confusion.

Important breakthroughs are being made in scholarly analyses of terror threats in the United States and other lands, but the parallel political and policy advances that could help to alleviate the terror phenomenon remain largely absent in the United States. It is no surprise that terror remains a global growth industry that is changing shape, but not losing force.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

----------------------

June 13
Who is Making Tehran's Iraq Policy?
Farideh Farhi

[Farideh Farhi's analysis is reprinted from Juan Cole's Informed Comment website. --- SL]

I have to admit that I am quite mystified by the never-ending search for finding the one person that “really” makes policy in Iran. The latest example of this search can be found in David Ignatius’s Washington Post column in which we are informed that it is really not the “bombastic” Ahmadinejad but the “soft-spoken” commander of the Qods Force of Islamic Revolution’s Guard Corps (IRGC), Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani, “who plays a decisive role in his nation's confrontation with the United States.” Soleimani’s name has in fact been in the news for a while because of his reported role in brokering the cease-fire that restored calm in Basra in March.

Perhaps it is the history of the United States’ dealings with most Middle Eastern countries (Israel and Turkey excepted) and the tradition or habit of dealing with one man as the ultimate decision maker that creates the hope or aspiration to find the one person that holds the key to Iran’s policy making process. Or perhaps it is the tendency, when in doubt or short evidence, to go with the fad of the moment.

I understand that it is now in vogue to talk about the IRGC in general and the Qods Force as the THE power in Iran (with consequential impact throughout the Middle East). I have not found this argument to be very convincing. My take continues to be that the military in Iran has traditionally been and continues to be under civilian control, even if the Guards hierarchy as well as its individual members have and do play an important role in Iranian politics. The birth of the Islamic Republic was inextricably linked to the Iran-Iraq War and as such it should not be surprisingly to anyone that the body and individuals that played important roles in that war continue to be influential. Ironically, to my mind, the comparable country in this regard has always been Israel, another Middle Eastern political system born and bred in war.

In any case, even if there has been a rise in the power of hard-line IRGC men, I find the focus on one individual quite unpersuasive, particularly since the sources that have talked about Soleimani’s key role in Iran are all from outside of Iran (in the case of Ignatius' piece, the source is one “Arab who meets regularly with Soleimani”).

This is not to say that someone like Soleimani has no influence in Iran's decision making process. From what I understand, although I cannot be sure, Soleimani sits in the committee for regional affairs of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council-- consisting of him as well as the chief of intelligence of IRGC, the deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs (who also heads the Foreign Ministry's Iraq Desk), Mohammd Reza Baqer, a team of experts on Iranian-Arab relations and Iran's ambassadors to Arab countries (Hassan Kazemi-Qomi in the case of Iraq). Focusing in particular on developments in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories, the task of this committee is to advise on the appropriate policies to be pursued. But the final decision makers are civilians (some well known because of their institutional positions and others like the head of supreme leader Khamenei's security office, the cleric Asghar Hejazi or his chief of staff Mohammad Golpayegani - also a cleric - wielding less publicized influence).

Furthermore, regarding Iran’s Iraq policy, I just can't believe that Soleimani wields more (or for that matter less) influence or has more input in the decision making process than let us say the current head of IRGC, Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jaafari, who prior to his current position was in charge of setting up IRGC's Strategic Center, a center tasked with drawing up a new command structure and military strategy, preparing the country for the changing regional environment and the kind of foreign military confrontation it may have to face; or Iran’s Iraq ambassador Kazemi
Qomi, reportedly himself a former Qods force member.

These key individuals and many others must be in constant interaction to set and reassess policies that are partially shaped by a long-term interest in a relatively calm Iraq that maintains close political, economic, and security relations with Iran and also developed in reaction to Iraq’s complex domestic dynamics and US plans for that country.

Within this context one does not need to search for a scheming and all powerful individual like Soleimani to figure out that the Iranian leadership as a whole, in all its contentious variety, would have to be engaged in constant conversation and planning (and at times improvisation) about how to stunt plans that would make the US military presence in Iraq permanent or make that country a launching pad for an attack on Iran (rejection of this possibility was by the way precisely the assurance Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was repeatedly giving Iranian leaders in his current visit to Tehran).

One also doesn’t have to be a genius to guess that, hunkered down in a security and paranoid mode due to the escalating economic and political pressures (not to mention military threats) faced in the past couple of years, the Iranian policy makers are trying very hard to convince the Bush Administration, from my point of view hopefully successfully, that an attack on Iran will be costly.

----------------------

June 10
Academic  Freedom: Update on the Hicham Yezza Deportation
Scott Lucas

Mr Yezza's case is still with Home Office legal advisors. Meanwhile, like many others, I raised my concern over the prosecution of the case with UK immigration authorities.

I received this reply on 6 June:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your e-mail regarding ‘Hicham Yezza’.

Your support and comments have been received; unfortunately we are unable to discuss individual cases specifically as the UK Border Agency is bound by the Data Protection Act.

If you would like to add any further comments regarding this matter please address them in writing to:

UK Border Agency
Lunar House,
40 Wellesley Road,
Croydon,
Surrey,
CR9 2BY
 

Yours Sincerely, 

UK Border Agency
Public Correspondence

Encouraged by this full and forthright response, I wrote:

Dear Sir/Madam:
 
I appreciate that this is your standard response to enquiries regarding immigration cases. And I appreciate that, as Mr Yezza has made it clear that he would like the particulars of his case publicised widely to highlight issues regarding interrogation, detention, and deportation, the Data Protection Act in this case is being used to protect British authorities rather than the individual.
 
That said, my letter raised significant issues --- beyond the individual case --- regarding academic freedom and rights of the suspect. I would be grateful if these could receive due consideration and, when relevant to this case, would be applied justly and fairly.

Well, I've just checked my inbox, and the British authorities have acted promptly again on my concerns (I know you're way ahead of me, but I'll print this anyway):

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your e-mail regarding ‘Hicham Yezza’.

Your support and comments have been received; unfortunately we are unable to discuss individual cases specifically as the UK Border Agency is bound by the Data Protection Act.

If you would like to add any further comments regarding this matter please address them in writing to:

UK Border Agency
Lunar House,
40 Wellesley Road,
Croydon,
Surrey,
CR9 2BY
 

Yours Sincerely, 

UK Border Agency
Public Correspondence

----------------------

June 9
Readers Respond

On "Where's Ehud?" (Watching America, June 6)

In this case, the message is not quite accurate in saying that "Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times mentioned Olmert's discussions with the President...."  There were several mentions of the visit in the Post and not only on the meeting with Sharansky as Lucas states. He is right that none told the story that [the Israeli newspaper] Yediot Achronot did about a possible attack on Iran, except for one article in which the Post expressed skepticism about Bush's willingness to unleash another war in the region. 

That article didn't do much to overcome my worries about that possible action, and Lucas is right about the poor coverage of the Olmert visit, including the Times' failure.  However, some of that is probably because it is generally assumed (including by the Administration) that Olmert is on the way out, and everybody understands that for both Olmert and all those politicians greeting him in the US the charades are for domestic political consumption.

Andrew Martin

On "Drawing the Curtains on the Presidential Primaries" (Watching America, June 5)

Although, I would never vote for any of the American presidential candidates, I think McCain is less disgusting than Obama. McCain was awful from the start, but Obama has sold his soul to the devil piece by piece. A couple of hours before his speech [on June 4], I was on Al Jazeera saying that the language of Obama will be almost identical to that of McCain. I was wrong --- he was far worse. Obama is a greater threat to the world than McCain, because of the color of his skin. It gives legitimacy to his racist support for the racist and murderous regime occupying Palestine.

Seyed Mohammad Marandi

----------------------

June 4
Academic  Freedom: Update on the Hicham Yezza Deportation

Hicham Yezza, the University of Nottingham administrator detained over the downloading of an Al-Qa'eda training manual from the website of the US Department of Justice, obtained a court order last Friday delaying his deportation to Algeria. Clips of  last Wednesday's demonstration at the University, which brought out more than 500 people in support of postgraduate Rizwaan Sabir and Mr Yezza and of the principle of academic freedom, are available on YouTube. Media attention, spurred by the demonstration, led to an interview with Mr Yezza in last Saturday's Guardian.

The battle is far from over, however. Mr Yezza has been been moved to his fifth detention centre, probably near Dover, in anticipation of his next deportation hearing on 16 July. A public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the University, with speakers including former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, to discuss the issues and next steps.

We continue to be concerned that, if the British Government perceives a decline in attention to this case, it will move quickly ---- irrespective of legal or moral considerations --- to complete the removal of Mr Yezza to Algeria.

----------------------

June 3
Don't Expect a Big Change in US Foreign Policy
Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh, University of London

[Our thanks to the authors for permission to reprint this article from the Wall Street Journal's opinion pages of 2 June. A response has been posted on Watching America. --- SL]

Want more George W. Bush foreign policy? Elect John McCain – or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Regardless of who wins in November, the current foreign policy will live on in the next White House.

None of the main candidates has disavowed the war on terror. Each has called Mr. Bush tactically deficient. But the debate over the war on terror is over how, where and when. The candidates have all argued that they would do a better job of fighting it.

Administrations bequeath foreign policies to their successors that are then tweaked, but rarely transformed. The seeds of Ronald Reagan’s Cold War strategy were sown in the defense buildup of the later Jimmy Carter years. President Bush’s purported “obsession” with Baghdad began in the hawkish statecraft of Vice President Al Gore. In 1998, Bill Clinton made regime change official U.S. policy, and in 2003 Mr. Bush made it a reality.

The last great liberal hope to win the White House – Bill Clinton – committed more troops to more parts of the globe than any president since World War II. Since the end of the Cold War, America has undertaken at least nine military interventions overseas, under three presidents of both parties in two distinct historical eras (pre- and post-9/11). This history suggests that the next great liberal hope – Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton – would probably continue the trend.

Furthermore, the departure of Mr. Bush will hardly leave the nation’s foreign relationships in tatters. Despite much American introspection, Euro-liberal sniping and Latin American leftist fantasizing, the quantity and quality of America’s formal friendships have endured, if not actually increased, since 2001. Eighty-four governments, out of a world total of some 192, are formally allied with the U.S.

Foreign leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel clearly see that their true interest resides in maintaining and renewing their relationships with the U.S. Few governments have prospered by severing such bonds. In Asia as well, nations are looking to strengthen their ties to America. China needs the U.S. market. India is moving toward America, not away.

The number of America’s foes hasn’t grown under the Bush administration. The actual number of our enemies can be counted on one hand: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela. With the exception of the latter, all these enmities predate Mr. Bush and his successor will inherit them.

Certain aspects of anti-Americanism are essentially immune to what any president does. The U.S. can bomb Christians to protect Muslims, as it did in Bosnia in 1994-1995 and Serbia in 1999, and still somehow augment the fury of radical Islamists.

It’s also important to remember that we’re winning the war in Iraq. A President Obama would risk too much with a precipitous withdrawal, especially if it was just to fulfill an early campaign pledge that was adopted more to establish blue water between him and Mrs. Clinton than to reformulate the war on terror. Mr. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war is empirical – “it didn’t work” – rather than ideological.

Mr. Obama is capable of changing his position to reflect events on the ground. He is not dedicated to a peacenik vision of immediate withdrawal. He will not desert Iraq if doing so puts U.S. national security at risk.

The desire to get rid of George W. Bush will not make his replacement any less vociferous and committed to the current president’s pursuit of American prosperity and security. As such, rising expectations in and outside America for rapid foreign-policy transformation are likely to lead to disappointment. As a Romanian proverb reminds us: “A change of leaders is the joy of fools.”

Messrs. Lynch and Singh, academics at the University of London, are the authors of After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

----------------------

June 2
Turning a Corner with Tehran?
Germany's Place in the US-Europe-Iran Triangle
Colette Mazzucelli, Molloy College

The recent election of Ali Larijani, a rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as speaker of the Iranian parliament sends a message that the West and the world must know how to read. ran’s present economic course has left a country flush with oil revenues reeling from inflation with blackouts last winter during which its people had neither heat nor electricity.  Given that the country’s growing youth population is dissatisfied with the state of the economy ahead of the summer 2009 elections, do parliamentary changes at the top foreshadow a different government in Tehran next year?

Mr Larijani, a pragmatist and the former lead Iranian negotiator in nuclear talks with the West,  resigned his post on Iran's National Security Council last October. His return to influence thorugh the Parliament is a striking development in the ever shifting balance among numerous competing power centers in Iran. Mr Larijani clearly has the support of the country’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose voice is decisive in policymaking.  His new role is likely to motivate the Iranian parliament to present a more effective challenge to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s unpopular decisions. 

His elevation as speaker is also significant because of its timing. It comes ahead of important elections in Europe, including the German federal elections, as well as the US Presidential and Congressional  elections. The official view from Washington is that Mr. Larijani’s rise is a continuation of the present regime with which the Bush administration refuses to negotiate unless preconditions are met. In the run-up to the November elections, however there are calls from experienced policymakers, including Zbigniew Brzezinski and General William Odom, for the United States to adopt a ‘dramatically different diplomatic approach’ whose objective, in their analysis, is to ‘help bring Iran back into its traditional role of strategic cooperation with the United States in stabilizing the Gulf region’. For a country like Germany, this offers  opportunities, amidst its evolving relations with Medvedev’s Russia evolve, to be instrumental in the Iranian predicament. Berlin can manoeuvre with a new administration in Washington, between its E3 partners, France and Britain, and with negotiations among the 27 members of the European Union.

Redefining the Triangle - Balancing Moscow and Engaging Washington

The very public transatlantic rift over the Iraq war led Germany, France, and Russia to oppose the military actions of the United States and Great Britain. The present context in the Middle East gives the Merkel government a chance to redefine the German-American-Russian triangle in a different configuration.

The logistics of a phased withdrawal from Iraq are likely to emerge amidst the reality that the United States must work diligently to retain a presence for reconstruction, not occupation, over a prolonged time period. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has repeatedly called for Germany and other large European states to increase their involvement in Afghanistan. To date, the Merkel government has not agreed to increase Germany’s military contribution, even though at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, France and Romania demonstrated solidarity with Washington with an agreement to provide increased commitments of soldiers.

These issues of co-operation with Washington intersect with the Iranian question. As the Merkel government faces the challenges of Russia’s opposition to the transatlantic agreement on missile defense, the Federal Republic continues to negotiate constructively in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to keep Russia and China on board in negotiations with the Islamic Republic. It can do so with some signs of pressure upon Iran, given that a third round of sanctions against Iran was agreed to, without dissent, earlier this year and that the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, which Mr. Larijani has criticized, has raised concerns about a new generation of centrifuges the Iranians are developing at the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz.

The window of opportunity over the next year is for Germany to strengthen its relations with the new Russian president in a way that retains his constructive support for multilateral diplomacy on Iran. Russian leaders are likely to accompany the European Union’s High Representative Mr. Javier Solana, as well as their German, French, British, and Chinese counterparts, in an upcoming meeting to induce the Iranians to accept a package of enhanced incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

American leaders do not intend to participate in the meeting, however. Thus the strategic opportunity emerges, as the German government develops relationships with the next administration, for Berlin to encourage direct US diplomatic engagement with Iran at the level of a special envoy who has the confidence of the new president.

Dual Tracks on Iran – German Interests in the E3 and EU

Germany has the chance to pursue a dual track within European circles to address the Iranian predicament. The E3 track is now firmly embedded within the E3 + 3 discussions at the United Nations, but as Germany is the only non-nuclear member of the E3, its diplomacy can demonstrate a renewed commitment to the principles of the Nonproliferation Treaty regime. Highlighting the threat to the planet that proliferation represents, Germany can stake out a position of both moral necessity and the prudence of realist policys.

For several years, the Iranian predicament has profiled the E3’s participation in global diplomacy, even as the challenge of proliferation has revealed the potential limits of the European Union as a global actor. Among EU members, Germany and Austria have significant commercial interests in Iran. In part this explains why, despite the expectation of American policymakers that the Union would implement its own sanctions independent of those agreed in UNSC Resolution 1803 this past March, the EU has not taken further collective action against the Islamic Republic. 

Thus Germany finds itself in a critical position, given that the electoral contexts in Berlin and Tehran are likely to be fluid during the coming year.Berlin must work with Vienna, Paris, the smaller members, and Brussels institutions in a European concert grounded in precedents for imposing sanctions based on human rights. At stake is more than a demonstration of the Union’s normative influence as an alternative leadership model for the 21st century. Their objective is to construct a solid multilateral coalition around the imposition of EU sanctions against Iran on the basis of universal human rights violations. The Merkel government has the chance to make a difference in relations between the Iranian regime and its population by matching actions and convictions in the ‘nation-European’ interest. This is an ethical imperative to prevent the weapons proliferation that will surely lead to increased regional impoverishment as well as greater incentives for world powers to perpetuate the global arms trade, thereby sustaining a race to acquire nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

 

----------------------

May 29
Report on the Nottingham Demonstrations
for Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza

Maria Ryan, University of Nottingham

When I spoke two days ago to Dr. Bettina Renz (School of Politics & IR and Rizwaan Sabir's personal tutor), we were worried that if there were just a few of us a the demo we might get arrested for reading out the Al Qaeda handbook. We needn't have worried: there were hundreds of us, from first year undergrads to senior professors. There were banners everywhere and (not to be taken too literally of course) orange jumpsuits, including one worn by me with 'Lecturer' written on the back. Several members of academic staff read from the Al Qaeda handbook, followed by a student.

Our local MP, Alan Simpson (Labour) came to support and received loud cheers for a cracking speech in which he was scathingly critical of the University (for lacking common sense), of the Police ("what a cock-up" they had made) and the government (for passing such draconian counter-terror laws that endanger the freedoms they are supposed to be protecting in the 'war on terror'). He gave full support to Hicham Yezza and made it clear that he thinks the 'visa irregularities' under which Hicham is now being held are trumped up political charges and called for the Home Secretary to intervene personally in this case. We marched around the campus in the pouring (really pouring) rain into the courtyard of the Trent Building, where the VC's office is. Then hundreds of people stood in complete silence for several minutes facing the VC's office, holding up banners, some with masking tape over their mouths. I have to say, the silence was very powerful. Very dignified. You could hear a pin drop. There were many people waving posters out of windows in support. After several minutes we continued out through the other side of the Trent court yard. The organisers managed to get Hicham on the phone and everyone gave him a big, big cheer. He sent a message thanking everyone for everything and asking them to continue the campaign.

Overall a big success, I think. Latest news is that the VC has now written to the Home Secretary about Hicham. We're continuing to write to MPs and urging everyone else to do the same. If anyone wants to, they would need the following details:

Name: Hicham Yezza; Home Office Reference Number: Y76064; held at Colnbrook Removal Centre; due for deportation to Algeria on Sunday.

Anyone with an opinion to express on this issue can contact Nottingham University at registrars@nottingham.ac.uk

 

----------------------

May 28
Reaction in Nottingham to the Student ‘Terror’ Arrests
Maria Ryan, University of Nottingham *

This Wednesday at 2pm staff and students at the University of Nottingham will hold a protest outside the main library in which members of academic staff will read out sections of the Al Qaeda handbook. This will be followed by a silent march to the Vice-Chancellor’s office to present him with petitions from both students and staff protesting at the University’s failure to support Rizwaan Sabir, a post-graduate student, and Hicham Yezza, a former student and current employee of the University, after their arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act two weeks ago.

The arrests have hit a nerve with academics here at Nottingham and, indeed, across the country. There is much to be concerned about: the criminalisation under any circumstances of possession of material that may be used for legitimate research purposes; the consequences of this for academic freedom; the extreme overreaction of the Police to Rizwaan’s downloading of this material (vital for his MA dissertation); their lack of awareness of the purpose of post-graduate research; the shameful failure of the University authorities to support freedom of research for its students and scholars; and finally, the imminent deportation of our colleague, Hicham Yezza, to Algeria due to alleged ‘visa irregularities’ (the details of which have yet to be revealed by Police).

Rizwaan is a passionate and extremely hardworking student who is a candidate for an MA in International Politics at Nottingham and will be writing a dissertation about Islamic extremism this summer. As all former post-graduate students will recall, the financial challenges of post-grad study can be as great as writing dissertations and theses themselves. After realising that the Al Qaeda handbook was 1,500 pages long, Rizwaan asked his friend Hicham (a member of staff—therefore allowed to print for free) to run the document off for him. Much like the collected speeches and statements of Osama Bin Laden, the handbook is a propaganda spiel against infidels and the West. Rizwaan confirmed today that it was, in fact, downloaded from the web site of the US Department of Justice , not the RAND organisation as previously thought. (An edited version is also available to purchase from Amazon.co.uk . There can be no doubt that this information is in the public domain. Yet in Rizwaan and Hicham’s case, downloading it resulted in arrest. In Rizwaan’s case (the one with which I am more familiar) his family home was raided, he was kept in isolation for six days and his family were forced to leave their home for several days.

The problem is that the law, as it stands, prohibits mere possession of material that is deemed by the Police to incite violence. But who decides whether something incites violence and under what criteria? What about those who acquire material for legitimate research purposes and material that is already in the public domain? How can researchers know which sources are allowed and which might be deemed unacceptable—especially given the wide public availability of the Al Qaeda handbook and other similar material on perfectly legal and legitimate web sites, including sites run by the US government. There are, at present, no exceptions in the Terrorism Act for genuine researchers. Possession of material deemed by the Police to incite violence is illegal under any circumstances. Thankfully, in Rizwaan’s case, common sense has prevailed and the law has been interpreted in spirit rather than to the letter; it is not in the public interest to prosecute those with no malign intent. But until there is a change in the law, such cases could reoccur. However, the issue goes beyond academic freedom: this implies two tiers to freedom of enquiry. What about the interested lay person, who wants to do more to understand the world around them? Shouldn’t such individuals also be free to read open source material that is in the public domain?

After my encounters with counter-terrorist police, I cannot say that I feel confident in their ability to investigate such cases in a well informed manner. Although the detectives I spoke to were counter-terrorism specialists, they were completely unaware of the nature of post-graduate research—that it should result in an original contribution to knowledge, that it would require searching for new sources of information. Neither did they realise that a web site ending in ‘.ac.uk’ is an official UK university web site. (Rizwaan had consulted the St Andrew’s site as the University has a useful archive of material online as part of its centre for terrorism studies.) They also seemed unaware that criticism of US foreign policy is widespread within the academy. Such a lack of awareness does not bode well given the extremely wide-ranging nature of the powers the police now have to arrest without charge. In this case, all that was required was a discreet chat with Rizwaan’s MA supervisor and members of staff who have worked with him. Instead, the Police had licence to raid the homes of both Rizwaan and Hicham and keep them both in solitary confinement for almost a week.

What has dismayed many of the students and staff here is the University’s complicity in the two arrests, for it was the University that informed the Police of Rizwaan and Hicham’s downloading of the document. There are numerous academics in the School of Politics & International Relations who research terrorism and download similar material without consequence. What made the University decide to tell the police about Rizwaan and Hicham, rather than simply check up on the situation with Rizwaan’s tutors? Instead of supporting academic freedom, a University spokesman told the Times Higher Education that the document was “not legitimate research material”—thus implicitly arguing that some areas of research should be off-limits. Stung by criticism, the University back-tracked and claimed that although registered students had “very good cause” to access material they required, they should not “send it on to any Tom, Dick or Harry”. But as Rizwaan commented today, if material is in the public domain, then it is there to be read by any Tom, Dick or Harry. The petition that will be handed to the Vice Chancellor calls on the University to acknowledge its lack of support for a legitimate post-grad researcher.

It also calls on the University to support Hicham Yezza, to whom our thoughts have now turned. After being released without charge, Hicham—a native of Algeria —was immediately re-arrested on alleged ‘visa irregularities’. That these charges have followed so hot on the heels of the previous allegations is worrying, especially since the Police have not released any information about the allegations against him. Hicham has lived in the UK for the last thirteen years as a law abiding and hard working resident. He is a former doctoral student at the University of Nottingham , where he now works in a non-academic capacity. He has been taken to Colnbrook removal centre and faces imminent deportation to Algeria . At Wednesday’s demonstration, we will also call upon Hicham’s employers—the University—to support his case.

Anyone wishing to register concern about the University’s conduct may do so by writing to registrars@nottingham.ac.uk

 

* The views expressed in this article are personal and do not represent the views of the University of Nottingham .

 

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May 14
The Presidential Campaign: What Next for the Democrats? 

[As part of Libertas' ongoing coverage of the US Presidential election, here's the latest inside discussion between David Dunn of Birmingham, Adam Quinn of Leicester, and Mark McClelland of Birmingham on the Democratic primaries. --- SL]

David Dunn: I think this captures the tragic destruction of the Clinton legacy very
well.

Hillary Clinton's suicidal gamble with race poison

Adam Quinn: Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

Interesting to have a look at the VP contenders in the adjoining article. I suspect Obama will pick either [Bill] Richardson (reward for early endorsement/Hispanic/Western state/experienced), or A. Woman (because he feels he needs a big gesture to Hillary's disgruntled base). Obviously, he'd be insane to pick Clinton, and I hope he resists any pressure to do it. She has a perfectly good career as a distrusted backbench Senator stretching out ahead of her, and no one should keep her from it.

Personally, I think Jim Webb [Senator from Virginia] would be a good pick. He'd shore up support with a certain type of floating voter, and could take the lead out of McCain's militarist pencil if the campaign turns to national security.

David Dunn:
Agreed, Clinton is best avoided for the VP slot and the more she damages
herself the less she needs to be accommodated. Whether she would take it is another matter too, having been VP already to Bill.  Best to give her the health portfolio instead, let her mess it up a second time and and keep her off his back.

Interesting how the debate has now moved to the VP slot. Richardson has too many smoking bimbos to be a serious contender so my money would be on any serious white Woman who is not Hilary.

Mark McClelland: I concur with all the remarks re Clinton for Veep. Also agree with Adam that Obama needs to pick a moderate with a bit of military bite --- yes, Webb would be an excellent choice, especially due to being Secretary of the Navy under Reagan (stop all those Reagan Democrats jumping to McCain).

Although he's been in the Senate less than two years, perhaps someone like Webb would have been a better candidate for President than Obama. This year should really have been a cakewalk for the Democrats to reclaim the White House. Instead one of the two leading candidates is, by some measurements, the most left-wing member of the Senate, and the other is instantly despised by many due to her surname. The GOP in general is performing absolutely catastrophically in the polls (even Senator Elizabeth Dole looks in trouble in North Carolina, of all places!), but the polls out of Minnesota and Michigan yesterday, for example, continue to show that Obama is going to have real trouble hanging on to 'safe' rustbelt Democratic territory against McCain. As a bit of context, Minnesota hasn't voted Republican in a general election since Nixon. This seems less to do with race, and more about Obama seeming to be an effete liberal, "Bittergate", etc.

While the GOP have played a very weak hand well by plumping for McCain, it may well transpire come November that the Dems have done the opposite with picking Obama. We may well end up with massive landslides for the Democrats in the House and Senate but still see them falling short of the White House.

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May 12
Four Days That Transformed the Middle East

Rami Khouri from Beirut

[Our friend and colleague Rami Khouri has just published this exemplary analysis of the last 96 hours in the Lebanon. His projection of what may now happen is incisive, provocative, and --- in the circumstances --- surprisingly hopeful. Thanks to Rami and Agence Global for allowing us to reprint this essay. --- SL]

Events in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon continue to move erratically, with simultaneous gestures of political compromise and armed clashes that have left more than 20 killed in the past week. The consequences of what has happened in the past week may portend an extraordinary but constructive new development: the possible emergence of the first American-Iranian joint political governance system in the Arab World. Maybe.

If Lebanon shifts from street clashes to the hoped-for political compromise through a renewed national dialogue process, it will have a national unity government whose two factions receive arms, training, funds and political support from both the United States and Iran. Should this happen, an unspoken American-Iranian political condominium in Lebanon could prove to be key to power-sharing and stability in other parts of the region, such as Palestine, Iraq and other hot 
spots. This would also mark a huge defeat for the United States and its failed diplomatic approach that seeks to confront, battle and crush the Islamist-nationalists throughout the region.

The brief, isolated, but intense clashes that occurred in the four days between Wednesday and Sunday threatened a total, Iraq-like collapse of Lebanon, with the Hizbullah-led alliance controlling power in the capital Beirut and other critical areas. The frantic pace of political and street action comprised and clarified four noteworthy developments, whose implications for the rest of the Middle East could be momentous:

1. When the government decided to challenge Hizbullah Tuesday by announcing it was sacking the Shiite army general in charge of airport security and dismantling Hizbullah's underground security telecommunications network, Hizbullah saw this as the first serious attempt by the government to try and disarm it. Hizbullah immediately challenged the government, warned it against these decisions, and made a show of force to protect its security and telecommunications system. When street clashes started in several parts of Beirut, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hizbullah-led opposition alliance quickly and roundly asserted its dominance over the US- and Saudi-backed government alliance. Put to the test, the new balance of power in Lebanon affirmed itself on the street for the first time in less than 24 hours.

2. All the Lebanese parties repeatedly indicated a preference for political compromise over communal war, but also showed they were prepared to fight if forced to. The persistent negotiations via the mass media included critical agreements on naming armed forces 
commander Michael Suleiman as the new president, resuming the national dialogue, forming a government of national unity, and revising the electoral law before holding parliamentary elections next year. Negotiating offers came in sequence from Hizbullah secretary-general and Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah, Future Movement head and Sunni leader Saad Hariri, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and the Shiite Amal movement of Hizbullah ally Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

3. The newly vulnerable government effectively backed down Saturday and reversed its two decisions, as Hizbullah had demanded. The street balance of power was translated into a new political equation inside Lebanon. Hizbullah and its allies had achieved on the street that 
which they had been asking for politically: the capacity to veto government decisions that were seen as threatening Hizbullah's security and resistance activities.

4. By immediately handing over to the armed forces those few buildings and strategic locations that they had taken over in Beirut, Hizbullah and its allies sent the signal that they did not want to rule the entire country, and that they trusted the army as a neutral arbiter between the warring Lebanese factions. Prime Minister Siniora sent the same message when he asked the armed forces and their commander Michele Suleiman to decide on the fate of the two contested government security decisions that had sparked Hizbullah?s move into West Beirut. The armed forces emerged as the powerful political arbiter and peace-keeper, effectively forming a fourth branch of government, and the only one that is credible and effective in the 
eyes of the entire population.

All factions have agreed to get armed gunmen off the streets and leave only the army and police as public security guardians. Now they are expected to follow up quickly by formally naming Suleiman as president (to which they have all agreed already), agreeing on a transitional national unity government of technocrats, and drawing up a new election law. The precise sequence of those events is one of the disputed points that must be agreed, but agreement may be easier now that the army has emerged as a pivotal arbiter and political actor.

The new domestic political balance of power in Lebanon will reflect millennia-old indigenous Middle Eastern traditions of different and often quarreling parties that live together peacefully after negotiating power relationships, rather than one party totally defeating and humiliating the other. Lebanon can only exist as a single country if its multi-ethnic and multi-religious population shares power. As the political leaders now seek to do this, they operate in a new context where the strongest group comprises Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamist Shiites and their junior partner Christian and Sunni Muslim Lebanese allies. They will share power in a national unity government with fellow Lebanese who are friends, allies, dependents and proxies of the United States and Saudi Arabia.   

If a new Middle East truly is being born, this may well prove to be its nursery.

@2008 Rami G. Khouri/Agence Global

 

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May 8
Another Campaign Update

Chris Emery from Virginia

Yea, Hillary is gone now. She needed to keep it much tighter in North Carolina and win Indiana more convincingly. Tax gimmick didn't work. Plus she is broke- having to lend your own campaign $6 million plus is pretty desperate. To be fair, I said Obama had to learn from PA- and he did. He dealt with the negative stuff (Rev. Wright) brilliantly and connected better with those outside his normal demographics. I think the super-delegates most of all needed convincing that he could learn from PA and they are broadly satisfied that he has. He needs to keep on this track. He will lose W Virginia and Kentucky- but no matter.

Next big question: the running mate. I'd go for Richardson- pick up some of those Hispanics that he has trouble attracting.

I think his camp should still be worried by the number of Hillary supporters who refuse to vote for him vs McCain. It still worried me, I have to say. Karl Rove was making a lot of this on fox. That said, McCain performed badly when I watched him talk and take questions on CNN. The Dems have a very effective TV add on the moment- which has him quoting 'I have no problem with US troops being in Iraq for 50, even 100 years'- repeated for effect. Even if he can talk his way out of that one- him admitting not being an expert on economics could be costly.

Incidentally, I keep hearing some seriously tragic stories about health insurance. One guy at the fencing club downtown was literally almost in tears explaining how everyday he wakes up with the fear that he would have to sell his house if his kids/wife got sick. Another had a car wreck a few years back and is totally crippled (no pun intended) by credit card debt and had his car repossessed. I don't see how Hillary's plan of making it illegal to be uninsured would help...

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April 24
Campaign Update

John Matlin on Electoral Math

  So, Hillary won Pennsylvania and the talking heads found more fuel to keep the Democratic candidates at the top of the news cycle. There are another ten primaries remaining to be decided and twelve million plus registered Democratic voters who may state their preference before the primary season runs its course. Yet camp spokespersons, who seem to feel that the November national election is put in jeopardy for the Democrats by continued fighting, suggest that Hillary should move aside or that Obama has lost ground irrevocably because he cannot “nail” his opponent. Newspapers criticise Hillary for her “attack tactics” and Obama for past “offences”, some when he was very young.

What some Americans do not want to accept is that they are witnessing democracy, American style. America elected Lincoln in 1860 with 40% of the vote and used sleight of hand in 1876 so that Hayes, aka His Fraudulence, took the White House. The country has come a long way. Everything is out in the open now. Clinton and Obama are taking huge lumps out of each other in the public gaze. The American public is getting a real contest with policy differences being aired and tested.

However, there is a fly in the ointment, namely the super delegates. Whatever happens in the remaining primaries, it is highly probable that neither Democratic candidate will win sufficient delegates to take the nomination. Therefore, the super delegates will decide the outcome, not the voters in the primaries. Two factors will be uppermost in the minds of super delegates. Uncharitable as it may be to say so, the first will be “interest”, or “what is in it for me?” Who knows what pork will be squeezed into the barrel for these delegates? Neither candidate can offer jobs in exchange for votes. This form of patronage is now a federal crime. However, nods and winks are hard to prove.

 Assuming that both super delegates and candidates are above “interest”, the outcome of the democratic contest will surely be decided on electoral math. There may well be “swing states” but all it takes to win the White House is for a candidate to take the eleven most populated states. The Electoral College, faithless electors excepted, will award the presidency to that candidate. Surely the super delegates will be guided by which of Clinton or Obama is best placed to succeed in states such as California , New York , Texas , Ohio , Michigan and the like. On current evidence, unlikely as it may seem, Mrs Clinton will get the nod.

 

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Chris Emery with the view from the US

I watched both HC and BO speeches live last night. Both were impressive, but Hillary's was easily her best yet and out trumped Obama in the inspiring rhetoric stakes. She also appealed directly for more money- and got it..$2.5 million in the next 3hrs after her speech. The commentary here is that Hillary is basically in general election mode and Obama isn't. That said, Obama talked much more about McCain than Hillary last night. Another general perception is that Obama will have to take lessons away from PA and engage more with blue collar voters and possibly go more negative.

The issue of negativity looks towards November- the basic reasoning being that if people criticise Hillary for being negative, they should wait and see what Obama would face from the Republican machine in Nov.

You are totally spot on about Clinton pitching to the super-delegates- I think it may actually be working. Her basic line is that, his college kids, blacks and educated middle classes are much more likely to vote Democrat regardless. The Latinos (a huge constituency that the super delegates will have to take account of), the blue collar workers and the oldies will be much more likely to vote McCain if faced with Obama. I think that the dems election is not about the policies (there is little difference) it's about power bases. To be fair, are the super-delegates really going to elect someone with such poor support amongst low income whites in key states such as Ohio and PA? Especially considering Hillary has the only realistic chance of taking Florida.

I think that if Hillary wins Indiana and cuts NC to less than 10 she will making a huge case to the super-delegates. She will have more money to spend in these states now.

The issue of money: commentators have argued that Hillary is keeping going despite Obama outspending her 2 or 3 to 1 and apparently having the support of the media. That's making people nervous. The guns and god issue may seem trivial to us- but it is HUGE in the right wing media at the moment. Even more trivial, though also continually mentioned, is his lack of a US flag pin badge- ridiculous, I know.

In short, I think Obama is the best candidate- but I'm just not sure he will be the next president. All I can say is that thank god something other than the pope or polygamous sects are on tv. The pope was literally wall to wall. Carter was universally slated for his recent ME trip as well (even by Obama, who has otherwise said encouraging things about engaging with 'enemies' such as Iran)

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Canuckistan Responds

Conversely, Canuckistan offers this shrewd post-Pennsylvania analysis, which is far from cheerful for Hillary Clinton:

Last night was just a setback on the way to Obama's ultimate victory. Despite Pennsylvania being a state that plays to Clinton's strength (particularly her appeal among the geriatrics and the poorly educated), Obama managed to cut a  20-point Clinton lead down to 10 and it probably would have been closer if not for Clinton's mudslinging. 

Now it's down to May 6. Obama will easily win North Carolina. On the surface Indiana would appear to be Clinton territory like Ohio and Pennsylvania, but polls show the state as a tossup. In states like Texas, Ohio and Penns. Obama started with a huge deficit in the polls and was unable to catch up. The trend has been for him to rapidly gain on Clinton wherever they go head-to-head and his campaign is still full of cash, well organized in Indiana (when I signed up for campaign updates I entered my old Indiana zip code and I get almost daily messages from the Obama campaign about events going on in my area) and will benefit from Indiana being next door to Obama's home turf of Illinois (Gary, Indiana is practically a Chicago suburb). 

What all of this means is that any momentum Clinton has will be blocked on May 6 with a big Obama victory in North Carolina and a likely victory in Indiana.Such a result will increase the pressure on Clinton to get out for the good of the party and will be a signal to uncommitted super

delegates to get on the Obama bandwagon before Clinton does even more damage to the Democratic election chances in the fall.
 
By the way, the Democratic Party started running what strikes me as a rather effective anti-McCain ad that is a preview of one of the lines of attack for the fall.
https://www.democrats.org/page/contribute/fundTheAd

 

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April 18
Readers Respond

On Obama and the Working Class (Guest Blog and Watching America)

In the US

Problems: Economic downturn and abandonment  

 
Outlook - Optimistic.  Its people have civilisational confidence.  Therefore, immigrant peoples assimilate with ease. 
 
Answer - Embrace faith-based institutions. (sanctuary).  Ride it out.
 
In the UK

Problems: New Labour, multiculturalism becomes Islamisation, Sharia, Prosecution of clergy, Churches closing.

 
Remarks - The indigenous people lack civilisational confidence.  Church of England - a rotting carcass.  Clergy on trial.  Immigrant peoples fundamentally opposed to culture and traditions of indigenous people.  Consequence - democratic and cultural institutions threatened.  No sanctuary.
 
Answer - Find sanctuary.  Move abroad

On the British Government, Saudi Arabia, and the BAE Investigation (Freedom's Untidy)

"National security" by definition relates to keeping the nation safe. The BAE decision was made, surely, in the interests of British (don't know why it's bold) jobs as much as anything else. So the argument of national security is one I consider specious.
 
More interesting is the constitutional position. Is a cabinet decision permitted to pass by the Commons sufficient evidence of the will of Parliament? If so, the Courts should not intervene. Personally, I can see no argument that a PM decision not backed up by a Parliamentary resolution can represent the will of Parliament.
 
Sadly, BAE represents a throwback to the 70s and realpolitik. It's a pity that we seem unable to call a spade a spade.

On Anti-Muslim Bias

I just saw this in the Los Angeles Times; Gallup's latest survey on public opinion in the Islamic world; I myself was shocked to see some of the numbers.

Muslim True/False

What you think you know about them is likely wrong --- and that's dangerous

Winning hearts and minds -- the Bush administration, foreign policy wonks, even the U.S. military agree that this is the key to any victory over global terrorism. Yet our public diplomacy program has made little progress on improving America's image. Few seem to recognize that American ignorance of Islam and Muslims has been the fatal flaw.

How much do Americans know about the views and beliefs of Muslims around the world? According to polls, not much. Perhaps not surprising, the majority of Americans (66%) admit to having at least some prejudice against Muslims; one in five say they have "a great deal" of prejudice. Almost half do not believe American Muslims are "loyal" to this country, and one in four do not want a Muslim as a neighbor.


Why should such anti-Muslim bias concern us? First, it undermines the war on terrorism: Situations are misdiagnosed, root causes are misidentified and bad prescriptions do more harm than good. Second, it makes our public diplomacy sound like double-talk. U.S. diplomats are trying to convince Muslims around the world that the United States respects them and that the war on terrorism is not out to destroy Islam. Their task is made infinitely more difficult by the frequent airing of anti-Muslim sentiment on right-wing call-in radio, which is then heard around the world on the Internet....

Starting in 2001, the research firm Gallup embarked on the largest, most comprehensive survey of its kind, spending more than six years polling a population that represented more than 90% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. The results showed plainly that much of the conventional wisdom about Muslims -- views touted by U.S. policymakers and pundits and accepted by voters -- is simply false.

For instance, Gallup found that 72% of Americans disagreed with this statement: "The majority of those living in Muslim countries thought men and women should have equal rights." In fact, majorities in even some of the most conservative Muslim societies directly refute this assessment: 73% of Saudis, 89% of Iranians and 94% of Indonesians say that men and women should have equal legal rights. Majorities of Muslim men and women in dozens of countries around the world also believe that a woman should have the right to work outside the home at any job for which she is qualified (88% in Indonesia, 72% in Egypt and even 78% in Saudi Arabia), and to vote without interference from family members (87% in Indonesia, 91% in Egypt, 98% in Lebanon).

What about Muslim sympathy for terrorism? Many charge that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths, but studies show that Muslims around the world are at least as likely as Americans to condemn attacks on civilians. Polls show that 6% of the American public thinks attacks in which civilians are targets are "completely justified." In Saudi Arabia, this figure is 4%. In Lebanon and Iran, it's 2%....

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April 16
The Obama "Working Class" Furour: A Reply
Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham

After reading the comments about “bitter gate” I feel compelled to respond. Those who have posted have confused the attitudes of elite commentators with those of actual voters. In terms of the Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, repeated polls show, as Josh Marshall and others have pointed out, the “bitter” comment has had no appreciable impact. Obama remains within ten points of Clinton after starting more than twenty points back while he continues to widen his lead over Clinton nationally among Democratic voters. He will likely lose the popular vote in Pennsylvania but a projection by the Congressional Quarterly translates that into Clinton winning 53 delegates to his 50, hardly a decisive victory whichever way you slice it. That moves us on to May 3, when Indiana and North Carolina vote. Obama is well ahead in North Carolina and should win there easily. According to a new poll, he is also ahead in Indiana. Winning both of these states will provide him with renewed momentum and lead to even more super delegates joining his side. And, of course, he his setting records for fund raising while Clinton’s campaign is financially struggling.  In terms of him winning the Democratic nomination, it is a question of “when” not “if.”
 
This brings us to November. Recent national polls reflect the fact that John McCain has had largely a free ride while the Democratic candidates continue to sling mud at each other. Once the Democratic candidate is selected, and it will be Barack Obama, there will be a bounce in the polls to him that will wipe out any current advantage McCain has. The real campaign, however, doesn’t get going until the conventions and even then not until the fall and by that time new scandals and gaffes (whipped up by the 24-hour news culture) from both sides will have emerged that will have people forgetting a garbled comment months earlier just as the controversy surrounding Obama’s pastor has largely vanished. At that point McCain will have to overcome four key issues in order to win the election: the widespread unpopularity of the Bush administration, the continuing Iraq debacle, being a 71-year-old candidate (who has recently been rather gaffe-prone himself) running against a dynamic 47-year-old, and, most importantly of all, a major economic downturn. These are real factors that real voters care about  even if the media talking heads would rather battle over fluff.  

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April 15
Will Mud Stick? The Obama "Working Class" Furour

David Dunn, University of Birmingham:

Does this signal the end of BO?

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/opinion/14kristol.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print
 

Adam Quinn, University of Leicester:

It can't help, but I still think it's too late to derail him for the nomination (though of course I may yet be proven wrong).

Aside from the question of consequences, I marvel at Kristol's hypocrisy. He and his neocon cadres have been telling us for years that democracy promotion is the right response to 9/11 because:

Lack of economic opportunity + Absence of responsive political institutions = Islamic fundamentalism.

If factors other than sober theological contemplation can be cited to explain angry Muslims, then it how can it at the same time be outrageous to say economic and political grievances boost sharp-edged Christainity? The answer is, of course, that self-righteous Christians are the Republican base, while self-righteous Muslims don't in the main have votes in the America...
 

Mark McClelland, University of Birmingham

I agree it may be too late for the nomination, although this will boost Hillary's chances of a big win in Pennsylvania to keep her in the game.

The long-term prospects for November are more significant though. Obama cannot seem to energise blue-collar Democrats, and this 'bitter' episode is only going to make matters worse. The problem the Democrats seem to have is that while Obama seems to poll better than Clinton against McCain nationally, his support is not concentrated in the key swing states. A lot of his support is going to be 'wasted' in running McCain a bit closer than Clinton would across the south, but not bring him any benefit in the electoral college. Obama, while having a much better chance of pinching a couple of 'Red' states (Iowa and Colorado for example), will have to spend a lot more time than Clinton would shoring up rustbelt states in the midwest and north-east, that Clinton would carry relatively easily - Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan (and astonishingly, if the latest poll is to be believed - New York, where McCain leads Obama, but trails Clinton). All these states could come into play in a McCain-Obama fight, but I think are less vulnerable for the Dems if Clinton is the nominee.

Despite the consensus that Obama is the stronger candidate for November. I could easily forsee Clinton winning all the states that Kerry won in 2004, and stealing Ohio, but Obama, unable to connect with blue-collar Democrats, losing a couple of big rustbelt states that Kerry carried, and handing the White House to McCain, who will pick off blue-collar Democrats on national security.

For further analysis, see http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/04/mccains_electoral_college_math.html
 

David Dunn, University of Birmingham:

Notwithstanding what you say about Kristol's obvious hypocrisy I think that this issue, with its implied condescension, has caused Barak Obama serious, perhaps fatal damage. The separation of himself from "bitter"

Americans breaks the cardinal rule of politics, of placing yourself in a different category from the voter. This evidence of elitism, together with his voting record in the Senate and in Illinois which shows him to be considerably to the left of mainstream opinion, will be used without mercy by the Republicans if he becomes the Democratic Party candidate.

No matter how much America might be in need of change and supportive of the challenger, if the candidate alienates himself from being seen to be "one of us" his chances of election disappear. In 1988 Michael Dukakis was 17 points ahead in the polls but in displaying himself to be too much of an effete liberal, he lost to the uncharismatic George HW Bush.

So what does this mean for the nomination and election? It may well be too late to dump BO now, despite the electoral maths. For as well as calculating who can do best in November the Democrats must also calculate how much damage the choice of candidate will do to democratic turn out in the election. Neither calculation is easy. Nor is either candidate problem free. Obama's campaign has been largely content free and there is also the unknown factor of whether the country as a whole is ready to vote in a black candidate. Hilary is also encumbered by a huge amount of baggage from her previous time in the White House and may also prove unelectable. Factors outside of the campaign trail, however, may prove more significant than all of this. As General Patraous stated last week the situation in Iraq is extremely fragile. It is also largely beyond the control of the US forces there. If the situation flares up it could damage McCain who is closely associated with the "surge" and the policy in general. So the election may in the end come down to who Moktada al-Sadr thinks would be the best president in his interests in relation to his plans for the future of Iraq. Helping a candidate promising to bring the troops home sooner rather than later by instigating more violence may well prove more decisive that these comments in California.
 

Adam Quinn, University of Leicester

I enjoyed this today, from a former liberal turned liberal-basher. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/14/AR2008041402450.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

I see the long-running problem you identify, and acknowledge its reality: that Democratic presidential candidates, no matter how moderate their records and modest their backgrounds, end up running as Louis XVI in the public mind, while Republicans, no matter how rich and effete, end up running as a mixture of Rambo and the Man With No Name. With McCain v Obama the stage is set for just such a contest. Despite having started his career working for crumbs as a Chicago South Side community organiser, Obama will be portrayed as the face of the elite, while McCain can be spun as though he walked out of the Hanoi Hilton last week, ignoring the millionaire wife and life of scandal-provoking lobbyist-bought luxury lived since. This time, however, I doubt that it will work so well (or is it just hope?).

The McCain of today isn't as strong a candidate as he might have been eight years ago, while I think Obama has gifts that make him better able to fight back effective that his stiff, timid forerunners like Gore, Kerry and Dukakis. I still suspect McCain's biggest problem will be his age. Part of this is appearance - he increasingly appears, physically, to be the sort of old that doesn't so much solicit voters' respect and/or identification as their concern, not to say worry. Mentally, it has every sign of being a problem too. Most of the time when I've seen him of late he's seemed either tired or poorly-focused, prone to verbal failure of the sort that the Bushes have done so much to pioneer. One too many instances of mistakenly repeating that al-Qaeda is a tool of Iran (and he's done it more than once already) and people will have every reason to get worried about whether he's still on the ball. Then of course there's the notorious temper problem. Is an Andrew Jackson temperament viable in a Dr Phil age? Certainly whenever Bill Clinton turns puce the public turns off him further. Then there are the issues. As you say, he's identified with a war whose popularity is never coming back. He's also a self-acknowledged economics dunce in the midst of a meltdown, and to the extent he has expressed views on the subject of government action to avert Depression, they've resembled Herbert Hoover's. It's not only being out of touch to the left that loses elections: the Old Right managed to propel itself into electoral exile just the same way.

Obama on the other hand will present a startling contrast to voters in terms of physical vigor and verbal acuity when the contest becomes one-on-one. He has an articulacy and self-confidence, albeit an avowedly liberal self-confidence, that Kerry and Gore lacked. As for Dukakis, Obama's lack of record is actually a saviour in avoiding the replication of that case, as he can't be portrayed as tangentially responsible for likes of the Willie Horton fiasco, probably the most significant single assault of that campaign. I'd also hope that he knows better than to pose in a tank with a shirt and tie under his jumpsuit: a picture of elitism speaks more than a thousand words.

The nasty gaffe made in San Francisco was clearly a "boneheaded move" in the parlance, but hardly worse than a track record of outright lying to the public, which Clinton carries, and also a well-remembered history of condescending to 'those people' ('I'm not some Tammy Wynette figure standing by my man', 'I suppose I could have stayed at home and baked cookies...' etc.). Try reading 'It Takes a Village' (as I'm sure the Republicans have) and coming away with the idea that she's not every inch the patronising liberal of lore. No amount of effort to portray herself as Artemis the hunter can, in my estimation, redeem Hilary Clinton in the eyes of the sort of Red-state voters she fantastically alleges to be better equipped to reach out to than Obama. She's already well-known to these people and what they know they don't like and never have. Present polling aside (a big statement, but such polling is of notoriously dubious worth in the period before proper one-on-one- campaigning starts) aside, I think Hillary's the risky choice given McCain's proven ability to tempt independents and her abysmal record of polarisation. Her strength in Pennsylvania, beyond demographics, is boosted by primary rules that make it very hard for anyone other than longstanding registered Democrats (I think the re-registration cut-off is six months) to vote.

The Dukakis logic may work the other way in this case, as far as Obama's concerned. After all, he isn't the flyaway front-runner against McCain by any means - he needs to work hard to get himself heard by people who previously haven't been listening because they weren't in the Democrat primary process. The real question is which candidate do you have most confidence in to make things better for himself rather than worse over the course of a weeks-long campaign in which a vision needs to be advanced, and in which every word will be analysed and every gesture studied for signs of flaw. I worry a little about Obama's mouth on the basis of this 'bitter' row. But if I was a McCain man, I'd be terrified at the thought...

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April 9
Wandren PD: 
Power Down the Transmitter --- The Potential of Listening Exercises

Following the last post a few people asked me how I’d define, international communication, public diplomacy or cultural relations. The frame of reference for the blog is to look for ideas which influence the way foreign populations act. This in Christopher Ross’s phrase is a “multidimensional enterprise”. In this enterprise Wandren PD is channel neutral to slightly mis-use a phrase from marketing communication.

 

Wandren PD is open to the influences of all dimensions of international communication, both human and mediated, whether from PR, PD, Cultural Relations or elsewhere. A good example of this cross fertilization of ideas comes from Kathy Fitzpartrick’s recent work which shows the possible benefits of applying PR methods to public diplomacy.

 

The possibilities for international communication exist in degrees of emphasis on a spectrum between listening and telling. This spectrum is discussed in detail in chapter 3 of the recent book Options for Influence.

 

Listening exercises

For this post I’ll focus on the sometimes overlooked potential of a listening exercise to influence the way people act; if it is done consciously, genuinely and publicly. Listening can sometimes achieve more in changing people’s behaviour than talking to them. This may seem unappealing in a world where getting the message out, has become a dominant mentality; an environment in which listening does not appear to have much of a role.

 

However, a message can be transmitted in more ways than the sound bite. Showing a willingness to listen can open up new territory for negotiation or collective action.

 

Clearly, there is a danger that listening exercises will not be credible, if they are perceived as an act, and that a pre-ordained action will be taken regardless of what is said. Instead it is crucially important that organisations engaging in listening exercises are willing to put in the appropriate time, effort, and, most importantly openness to the comments they may hear.

 

Can’t we just use polling data?

What makes a listening exercise different from the use of polling, echo chambers and focus groups is that it changes the power relationship between the groups involved. Ok, focus groups and echo chambers allow a broader range of response than polling. However, there is still a dynamic in which the respondents are required to engage in answering on certain issues which will have been determined by the host as part of the preparation process.

 

The recent Canadian eDiscussions represent a positive development in using online engagement as part of the planning process. However, they “request that your responses to the eDiscussion be directly related to these questions”. So no straying off into putting your views on other issues! (there is a moderator). In structuring the engagement in this way it maintains a hierarchy where participants are only allowed to talk about what they are asked to talk about.

 

Anyone that has taken part in a poll will recognise this hierarchy and will have experienced being required to put your mark in a predefined box (either actually or metaphorically) in response to predetermined questions on a topic chosen by the polling organisation  (or their client). Occasionally when agonising over the answers, none of which express your opinion, there is a desire to create a new box, in which to write your actual opinion.

 

What can listening exercises do about this?

Listening exercises provide a method of engagement through which both sides can change the perspective from which they view the other.

 

Listening exercises are initiatives which consciously focus on inverting the hierarchy to engage with participants on their terms. Rather than asking for information on specific issues, participants are asked what questions an international actor should be asking if they want to have a better understanding of who the participants are, what they think and why they think it. 

 

Understanding someone’s opinion is not always a matter of getting them to answer a question structured through your reference points, assumptions and ways of understanding. Truly understanding the answer comes through listening to answers structured through the participants’ social and cultural assumptions or language. That means engaging in discussion on the participants’ terms and within their frameworks of understanding. 

 

This sounds like a whole lot more effort - why bother?

Can’t polls and focus groups be refined to put them into the social and cultural language of the audience? Yes, largely (and to be clear I’m not saying that polls are no use – merely that there are times when listening exercises may be a useful alternative). However, polls and focus groups will defined by the international actor and always have a hierarchical producer and participant structure.

 

The power of genuine listening exercise is that it is on the terms defined by the participants. By inverting the traditional power relationship it is possible to demonstrate that an actor is genuinely open to others views.

 

The answers in a listening exercise have the potential to be richer, as the questions:

1) Resonate with the participants, as they are expressed within their own frameworks of understanding.

2) Will provide answers that are more likely to be on issues which matter to the participants, as it covers the areas they decided mattered.  

3) Provide an opportunity for participants to express themselves in their own terms rather than be confined by those of the ‘host’ or pollster.     

 

In addition, while polling and focus groups are largely information gathering endeavours, listening exercises provide the potential to build habits of engagement – creating an opening for an ongoing dialogue.

 

For example, if an international actor has a reputation for being arrogant, dogmatic and unwilling to consider other viewpoints, this can create tension. If such an actor merely informs the target audience that they have the wrong perception, such an approach is unlikely to be successful. This is because the message mimics and reinforces the very impression it is trying to counter. Polls and focus groups may provide information about the causes of this tension. However, a listening exercise can do more than just gather information; it can challenge the underlying assumptions through being a working model of openness.  As such, there is potential for participants to view the international actor in a different way and to act differently in response.

 

In line with the current vogue is for talking about two-way communication, (though many still put less effort into actually doing it) a listening exercise provides the potential that in understanding the views of participants, when expressed in their terms, an international actor may even find new ways to act differently and to engage more effectively.  

 

As such the three potential benefits of a listening exercise can be summarised as

1) Richer information on which to base future action

2) A demonstration of a genuine desire to listen – creating the potential for habits of engagement to develop

3) The listening exercise may uncover alternative ways of engaging, that questions redefined by the international actor may not. 

 

(An earlier and shorter version of this can be found in Ali Fisher and Aurélie Bröckerhoff, Options for Influence: Global campaigns of persuasion

in the new worlds of public diplomacy )

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April 1
Welcome to Wandren PD
New Approaches to Communications and Diplomacy

Libertas is pleased to break new ground in the consideration of foreign policy and public diplomacy with a new blog, Wandren PD.  

Wandren PD is written by Dr Ali Fisher, Director of Mappa Mundi Consultants and our long-time partner in the study of academic and professional approaches to public diplomacy. After his doctorate and key articles on the formation of American Studies in Europe , Ali moved to the British Council, where he headed their cultural relations think tank, Counterpoint. While at the Council, he and I hosted a March 2007 conference on public diplomacy, which in turn has led to a collection of essays to be published later this year.

Mappa Mundi Consultants is a specialist international communication consultancy, which advises on the relationship between public and cultural diplomacy and issues such as climate change, inter-faith discussion, and political strategy.

As Ali puts it, this blog will “discuss ideas for alternative approaches to international communication, drawing on the influence of new technology in the search for new possibilities and ways to reuse old ideas. It is a testing ground for possibilities.” Libertas is honoured to join him in this effort. --- Scott Lucas
 

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March 25
Looking at the War in Iraq: A Reader Responds

Wow!  Never considered this myopic view of the "defining representations", but then again Liam Kennedy may not have seen the photographs of the bodies of the tortured, mutilated dead of many nationalities.

"The photographs documenting abuse at Abu Ghraib are without doubt the most significant iconic imagery of the war to date. "

With flummoxed cordiality and respect,

Your American Friend

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March 24
Libertas Feature: Looking at the War in Iraq

Today: Jay Romano's "Exhaustion of Looking"
Liam Kennedy, University College Dublin

[The full-size image has been posted by Jay Romano on Flickr.]

As we mark the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq I pondered which images we would take away from this war as the defining representations. There are many contenders. The photographs documenting abuse at Abu Ghraib are without doubt the most significant iconic imagery of the war to date. But there are many other images competing for this dubious privilege. Professional photojournalists, whether embedded or not, have produced provocative and memorable images. Civilian and soldier journalists have supplemented the mainstream media imagery with alternative visions of life in the war zones.

One of the features of this war is that it has been contiguous with a revolution in both media and military affairs that has messed up the boundaries between information, news and propaganda, and between professional and amateur news reportage. While the Pandora’s box effect of this can be exaggerated it has meant that representation of US foreign policy has become open and volatile. To be sure, media and military elites are fast learning to contain representations that disturb the established orders of producing and disseminating imagery of US foreign policy in action. But there is a vast and growing imagery of the war that seeps beyond these constraints.

Some of the most significant imagery seeps from within. I am thinking in particular of the imagery being posted by serving US soldiers, most of whom are armed with the technology and knowhow of digital media production. Digital cameras, cameraphones, and photoblogs are the media that have proved visually commensurate to the war in Iraq, and they are facilitating the making of one of the most complete documentations of an army at war ever recorded. Not that the documentation is taking place with such a sense of history not to mention co-ordination, but it is ongoing and the archive that is slowly growing will be an amazing historical and educational resource in years to come. Right now, it is a fascinating supplement to mainstream visual journalism, opening real-time windows on the American soldier at war.

Soldiers are taking photographs and posting them online in large numbers, some within dedicated web clusters, others in a more ad hoc fashion. For most, the motivation is to share imagery of their experiences with friends and family; for some, there is a desire to provide alternative perspectives on the war and counter established media coverage. Amidst this, the photography of one soldier has stood out for me, that of Jay Romano who has posted several hundred images on his flickr site, though claims to have 18,000 images taken during his tours and which he yet plans to edit and publish online. What he has put on flickr is an extraordinary gallery that compares with the very best of professional imagery. Romano is not a typical soldier photographer, he had training in photojournalism before he went to Iraq. But he is clear enough about his primary allegiance as a soldier, while he dryly notes that ‘with journalists being as rare as a unit function sponsored by Budweiser…how can I not take on the burden of documentation’.

At the end of his final tour in 2007 Romano posted the image "Exhaustion of Looking" with the following commentary:

I leave you this image. For me, a lot can be said and a lot can be heard about what we did over there. One of those things is how I will always remember the countless blank stares we received from the people we were supposed to be helping, supporting and fighting for. I've done much hard thought into why and have come up with a conclusion based on trying my hardest to take myself out of my own current situation; I couldn't come up with a better expression given all the mess surrounding this conflict. If this was my life, my world...the indifference makes sense. For a pseudo-American civilian life I've now found myself in, these stares have left me guilty. There's a certain detachment many of us "over there" have spoken about during our time over there. And it is true if you look at how we have evolved our warfighting. I come home and see where this indifference and detachment has come from.

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March 18-19
Libertas Special: An Alternative Analysis of the Iranian Elections

 

Last weekend, I read the British and American media's representation of the elections in Iran. With few exceptions, I was disappointed and even angered by shallow representations that were of little use. I felt that until we move beyond the sweeping labels --- 'hardliner', 'conservative', 'reformist' --- all we will have is propaganda and rationalisation posing as analysis. Even worse, I am concerned that this so-called media coverage could underpin the continuing effort to isolate Tehran and prevent any dialogue about issues inside and beyond Iran. 

 

So I sent out an e-mail to the Libertas community asking for fresh considerations of the significance and possible consequences of the elections. Within hours, I had a range of thoughtful, illuminating responses. 

 

Please feel to comment on these analyses on the Libertas discussion board.

 

 --- Scott Lucas

 

 

Bijan Khajehpour, Atieh Group

18 March

Iran's parliament contains 290 seats, however, the representatives of large cities are the deputies who carry a national political agenda as opposed to the provincial deputies who focus on the immediate needs of their constituencies. MPs from towns and villages have one major priority:
resources and assistance to develop their own region, therefore, their behavior in the future Majles will depend on their access to resources rather than on national and political agendas.  In the first year of the new Majles, those resources will be connected to the government and those
MPS would be very careful not to undermine the government's position. Hence, one can conclude that local MPs representing small constituencies have strong local agendas but weak political loyalties. For an indication of where the Eighth Majles will stand politically - both on foreign policy
and domestic policy - it will be more important to identify who has won the urban areas than who has won in total. Occasionally, we will find very engaged local MPs (eg. Mr. Borujerdi from Borujerd), but of the 290 MPs in the Majles, it is believed that only a maximum of 70 are interested in and able to influence national policy making.  Obviously, their guidance will
have an influence on the provincial MPs in critical votes, but one should avoid dividing the Majles along factional lines, as loyalties will change with shifting political realities;

 

Although the final composition of the Majles will have to await the second round of elections, Tabnak, the electronic mouthpiece of the Larijani-Qalibaf-Rezai coalition announced that the moderate conservatives have won at least as many seats as the rival "Union of Conservatives" in
several important cities. Meanwhile, the reformists are happy to retain their healthy minority in parliament "given the circumstances". Essentially, we will have a Majles with no clear majority and an ongoing bargaining process between factions, individuals etc. to design
initiatives and agree on bills, motions etc.

All in all, the composition of the Majles has not changed much, but now that there is a more clear picture of how much government policy is supported by the public (measured by the direct support for the pro-Ahmadinejad lists across the country), it will be easier to develop new policy agendas in all power centers.  As such, I believe that there will be bold initiatives in the new Majles (such as redefinition of subsidy policies, scrapping of the petrol rationing etc.).

Interestingly, the current mood may even encourage the existing Majles (in
place until June) to come up with some new schemes, as the deputies have
nothing to lose.

The Atieh Group is a business consulting firm in Tehran.

 

 

Professor Massoumeh Ebtekar
former Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

 

15 March

I voted yesterday with millions of Iranians.The nationwide voter turnout is estimated to be between 55-60%.

 
The Reformists could compete for only about one third of the 290 seats in the Majlis due to the widespread disqualification of the Council of Guardians. Nevertheless the Reformists are hopeful, since they are well aware of their high popularity among the people. It is clear that people taking part in elections have high hopes invested in a change for the better here.

Regional and international developments are noteworthy as well. The English Aljazeera asked for a live telephone interview the other day. They wanted to hear my reaction on the resignation of the Commander of American forces in the region, Admiral William Fallon. He had apparently spoken to Esquire newsmagazine about his reluctance to follow the administration's line in planning for a potential attack against Iran. I told them this is a indication of the deepening drifts within the adminstration and the military apparatus on their strategy vis a vis Iran. It is also an indication of the opposition that exists to the radical neocon ideologues. Fallon probably realized that any attack against Iran would ignite the whole region, destabilize many other states and thereby begin a chain reaction. He was also aware of the military preparedness of Iran and the fact that the Iranian administration is very very different from that of Saddam or the Taliban.
 
In any case I told Al Jazeera that when these matters arise come up before our national elections, they negatively influence the democratic processes in our country. If America is true in its claim to support democracy and freedom in the world, it should change its antagonistic and arrogant approach on Iran. That approach has only made things more difficult for the democratic movement in Iran.

Massoumeh Ebtekar was Vice President of Iran in the Khatami Administration. She is now a Tehran City Councillor and President of the Center for Peace and Environment. This comment is reproduced from her blog "Persian Paradox".

 

 

Professor Farideh Farhi

Independent Scholar

 

16 March Iran’s parliamentary (Majles) elections finally took place on Friday March 14. It usually takes a few days for things to settle and take stock of what really happened. This is particularly so since a good percentage of the seats (about 20 percent in the provinces and even perhaps 50 percent
or so in Tehran) will have to be determined in the second round. This is because none of the candidates were able to receive the necessary 25 percent of the cast ballot for those particular seats. In fact, throughout Iran very few candidates were able to take anything close to 50 percent of the vote. I guess this is what happens when close to 4500 candidates
participate in elections held for a 290 seat (207 constituencies) parliament.

It is also difficult to take stock of what happened because various players and their connected newspapers, news agencies, and websites are also into the business of spinning the results of this election to their favor. So here is my half-baked attempt (half-backed since the counting of
Tehran vote is not over yet) to come up with some conclusions that also take into account the history of recent Majles elections in Iran.

1. Turnout. There is talk of a 65 percent turnout. I am a bit skeptical of this figure and expect the percentage to go down to around 60 or even a bit less after the whole process is over and the numbers for big cities are counted. In the past few Majles elections, the percentages have varied
from the low 51 percent in the Seventh Majles (2004) to 67 percent in the Sixth (2000) and 71 percent in the Fifth (1996) Majles elections.

These numbers are for the whole country. The numbers in larger cities,particularly Tehran, are lower and this year is reported to be around 40 percent (I actually would be surprised if it is this high in Tehran itself, although such a percentage or even a bit higher for the whole Tehran province is believable. They were about 56 percent for the Fifth, 47 percent for the Sixth, and 37 percent for the Seventh Majles). My sense is that the percentages were higher in this election than the 2004
election (when the en masse disqualification of reformist Majles deputies led to calls for boycott,; something that didn’t happen this time). But they will be below the 1996 and 2000 Majles elections when there was a real sense that the results of those elections could lead to a change of direction in the country.

2. General Results: No one expected this election to lead to a reformist or centrist win. The “engineering” (mohandesi-ye entekhabat or election engineering is actually a term openly used in Iran to talk about this election) that went with the process of disqualification assured that the
reformists had only candidates for about a third of the seats in the provinces and many of those candidates were not well-known. In the city of Tehran, after the reversal of some disqualifications, reformists and centrists did end up having separate lists (with about half of them in common) for all thirty seats but many of the candidates were again not well known. In addition, lack of resources and control of the media by conservatives made campaigning very difficult. So the victory shouts of many conservative outlets, proclaiming 70 percent win for the so-called
"principlists" deserves only a “but of course and what else did you expect” response.

What was always at issue was how well the reformists/centrists and the more pragmatic conservatives critical of President Ahmadinejad’s economic policies and management would do (and conversely how badly his supporters do). The reformists/centrists are hoping for a stronger minority status (both in terms of numbers and more influential candidates), while the more
pragmatic conservatives are hoping for a stronger presence particularly in the leadership of the Majles as a means to create a working majority in a more centrist and effective Majles (more on conservative divisions below). The Seventh Majles had been criticized for being weak and ineffective on economic issue vis-à-vis an erratic and yet forceful president.

With results in, as incomplete as they are, it seems to me, one should expect an even more fractured Eight Majles than the Seventh one. But this same Majles has the potential to move to the center with effective leadership on the part of pragmatic conservatives; with pragmatic
conservatives, centrists, or even perhaps reformists working together to put up more resistance to Ahmadinejad’s expansionist economic policies and erratic management. The reported low number of incumbent returnees (33%) should also give the new leadership a chance to mold this Majles in a pragmatic direction if there is political will. This at least is the expectation the so-called more pragmatic conservatives, such as Ali Larijani - Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator - who was elected with over 75 percent of the vote from Qom, have placed on themselves or have created. Whether they can pull it off, is of course yet to be seen.

Note that this is a very limited expectation about improving the management of the economy and does not include any challenges in the foreign policy arena; nor does it include major shifts in the domestic political arena. The only important political ramification of the potential rise of a more centrist/pragmatic conservatism in Majles is the challenge that individuals rightly or wrongly associated with it, such as Ali Larijani or Tehran mayor Mohammad Qalibaf, may pose to Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election. But that election is more than a year away and
it is just too soon to start speculating about it. These folks have to raise their profile throughout the country (not only in Tehran) before the next election and prove themselves more popular than they have been in the past, in order to challenge Ahmadinejad successfully.

3. Reformist Performance: Given what they had to work with, the reformists actually did better than expected (especially for seats where there were common candidates between the two main reformist/centrist groups: The Reformist Coalition and National Confidence Party). This election should give reformist and centrist parties a boost in positively assessing their participation in the election process and continuing to organize throughout Iran.

In the provinces they won about 35 seats and they are reportedly in contest for another 15 seats or so in the second round (they had 39 seats in the Seventh Majles).The way it looks, it is their higher than expected performance in the provinces that may be causing a bit of post-election
engineering or tampering in Tehran results.

The initial reports from Tehran suggested that reformists had done well but the numbers coming out so far only has the reformist list header,Majid Ansari (the chair of Budget Committee in the Sixth Majles and a current member of the Expediency Council), in the top thirty (29th to be
precise). Tehran results are important because they are usually treated as reflection of how well different tendencies do throughout the country. As such, it will be considered a major setback to conservatives if reformists and centrists, who did have complete lists of candidates for this city, do
too well in Tehran. Tehran is also important because its candidates have more of a national profile and accordingly more impact in shaping opinion and policies.

The way it looks, the top 15 or so candidates in Tehran, who all happen to be from the main principlist list will make it in the first round while most top reformist candidates have to compete with other principlists in the second round for the next 15 seats. A similar process occurred in the
2006 municipal elections for the city of Tehran. The reformists did well but with a little bit of post-election engineering the number of their winning candidates was reduced. I am guessing that something similar will happen in this election and their number of their winning candidates will
be reduced to about 5 or 6 (if they are lucky) instead of 15 or 16! This is just yet another dimension of the strangeness of Iranian politics. Conservatives still worry about the process at least appearing somewhat legitimate or acceptable to significant domestic players; and reformists
and centrists taking whatever they can get as being better than nothing in terms of impact.

One more point about reformist performance is that they did surprisingly well in a couple of important cities. Tabriz in East Azerbaijan province is particularly worth noting. This city has six seats and reformists/centrists, because of disqualifications, only had one candidate. And he was initially the only one that was able to get into Majles in the first round (as I write this post, a news alert came saying that the Tabriz data was reassessed and two principlist candidates were
also seated in the first round!). The principlist candidates all ran well behind this reformist candidate, suggesting that other reformists would have done well had they not been disqualified. As such, the conservatives did indeed have a good reason for all the disqualifications!!

One particular reformist candidate that I have been following is from the city of Qazvin. He is current deputy and frequent government critic. He was initially disqualified and re-qualified in the last minute. His easy win was clear early on but the delay in voting results raised fear that
some tampering was about to take place but his win was ultimately announced late in the day.

It will be a while before I can do a detailed study of provincial differences but provincial differences are there and should be noted. Part of the difference lay of course in the fact that in some provinces, reformists simply didn’t have candidates but this doesn’t mean that they
won in every seat they contested. Reformists, for instance, did fairly well in Kerman and Kordestan but not in South Khorasan (although they did pick up one seat out of four)). In the southern province of Bushehr, those associated with the United Principlist Front (this is the group generally associated with Ahmadinejad’s government) did particularly badly, losing every seat decided in the first round to either reformists or independents. In Kordestan, the alternative principlist list may win two seats out of six but the UPF list did not win even one seat.

4. Conservative Success or Divisions?: The conservative Kayhan newspaper reports that in the provinces 147 out of the already decided seats of 204 have gone to the principlists (with about 25 going to independents). My numbers, generated out of the matching of the names of the winning
candidates and the pre-election lists, suggests that the number of independents elected so far is as high as forty (and more may get elected after the second round). To be sure some of these independent candidates,like the husband and wife team that was re-elected in Esfahan, are
conservative but this is not necessarily the case regarding the less well-known candidates, many of whom had reason to hide their reformist leanings in order to avoid vetting.

More importantly, the number of principlist winners cannot be considered as constituting a unified bloc in Majles. This is because despite a concerted effort to come up with a unified list under a coalition of conservative parties and organizations called the United Principlist Front (UPF), the conservatives ultimately ended up offering two major lists. UPF is identified more closely with Ahmadinejad’s administration while the Comprehensive Principlist Front (CPF) is identified loosely, but not formally, with more pragmatic conservatives critical of Ahmadinejad’s
economic policies and management. The pre-election negotiations even assured that the UPF list had some government critics in it.

Because of these negotiations, these two lists ended up having many joint candidates (for instance, in the city of Tehran they had 9 shared names) but quite a few of their candidates were not joint, ultimately bringing into question the idea of conservative unity. My numbers are rough at this point but suggest that out of the 120-130 self identified conservatives who won in the provinces, about 70 of them are not joint candidates ---; about 40 are exclusive UPF candidates while about 30 are exclusive CPF candidates. This means that even if we accept that all the shared candidates are Ahmadinejad supporters (which I do not think is a correct
thing to do), so far the total number of Ahmadinejad supporters is less than 50 percent of elected deputies.

This of course is the result of an engineered election. Without such an engineering, the popular sentiments may be best reflected in the districts that were really contested, A reformist analysis reported in Aftabnews, close to former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, suggests that out of the 102
provincial seats that were contested, supporters of the government’s line only gained 35 seats while the rest went to more pragmatic conservatives, reformists, and independents. If this outcome can be generalized to the whole country, this is not good news for Ahmadinejad but I am not
convinced if it can.


5. Women’s Performance. This is my last point about these elections for now. Women did miserably in this election. As far as I can tell, only 3 women have been elected in the first round, none of them reformists. Two are deputies in the current Majles and one is a new one from Khorasan Razavi Province (city of Mashad), replacing the one female conservative
deputy who lost in the Ardebil Province. The Tehran list has a handful of women in the top 50 but at most one or two have chance to be seated in the first round. There are also a few women in contention in the second round throughout the country. But these numbers may portend an even lower presence of women in the Eight than the Seventh Majles (I think there were
less than 10 in the Seventh Majles).

 

Farideh Farhi is an independent researcher and an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.. This analysis is reprinted from the website Informed Comment.

 

 

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March 13
Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows:
The Next US Vice President
 

John Matlin, University of Birmingham 

Respected columnist and astute political observer, David Broder, has written today in The Washington Post of the possibilities and ramifications of Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton taking the VP spot in what Bill Clinton has described as “an almost unstoppable ticket.” As both candidates take larger and larger lumps out of each other’s hides in a brutal primary campaign and as each become more indignant at what the other (or their representatives) has said (or is alleged to have said), it becomes increasingly unthinkable that either individual would agree to take the second seat.

But Americans are a forgiving lot, often with very short memories, so whilst the possibility of a “Dream Ticket” might appear remote now, this writer will not be surprised to find a change of heart by the loser, come the August Convention, if not before. Broder reminds us of the heated, public debate between Kennedy and Johnson at the 1960 Democratic Convention and how shocked he was 48 hours later when Johnson, then Senate Majority leader, accepted the VP spot. This was hardly an isolated incident. Remember George Bush senior describing his opponent’s fiscal proposals as “voodoo economics”? Just a few weeks later, Bush was out on the stump, defending Reagan’s self-same policies.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, what people like Clinton and Obama seek is power. Their calculations factor in the White House as the most important American power centre. Whilst the Senate is attractive, its lure is tempered by the necessity to be collegiate and to work with others in the same place. Of course, any President who does not seek good relations with Congress governs at his peril, as Jimmy Carter would testify, but there is a huge difference between being one in one hundred Senators and the only one in the White House. 

The vice presidency has ceased to be a political backwater. It can no longer be described justifiably in terms of “warm spit”. Arguably, the current vice president has turned the post into a major power centre, something that would not escape either Democratic contender. 

In the UK, we are used to the loser of two rival politicians receiving the butcher’s chop, yet the recent past shows us that times may have changed. Brown and Blair managed to co-exist for more than fourteen years, albeit at a cost.  In America, there is a culture of bringing politicians together.

So, I, for one, will not be surprised to find the emergence of the Democratic Dream Ticket later this year. I do not know if it will be Obama/Clinton or vice versa. I would just like to be one of the flies on the wall when it comes to discussing Bill Clinton’s place in an unofficial triumvirate. The experience of ancient Rome might suggest it could end in tears. As Don King would say, “only in America”.

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March 11
America's Political and Media Hooligans
Rami Khouri, American University of Beirut

 

[This essay, published by our colleague and friend Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy, is reprinted from Agence Global.] 

 

NEW YORK -- My travels around the United States for the past two weeks, during an intense political moment leading up to two crucial presidential primaries Tuesday, have reinforced my sense of a dark hole in public political life in this country:

At a time when the United States is deeply involved militarily in the Arab-Islamic region of the world, serious, balanced and in-depth analysis or coverage of this region and its people remain elusive.

Other issues that are important for America’s well-being, such as climate change, education reform, or immigration, are covered with much more depth, accuracy and balance.

The political campaigns, especially among conservative Republicans, have aggravated an already grim situation. Republican front-runner John McCain in particular wastes no opportunity to rally his supporters with emotional commitments to use every ounce of energy in his body to fight “radical Islamic militants.” He’ll chase them to the “gates of hell,” he thunders. And the happy crowd roars approval -- not quite sure who the radical Islamic militants are, or why the combined powers of the world’s mightiest democracies and allied Third World tyrannies have not even chased the rascals out of the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, or suburban London, let alone to hell itself.

The crescendo of McCain’s simplistic appeal is always that “I’ll never surrender!” and the happy crowd roars again, secure in the knowledge that surrender is not an option -- though still blissfully confused about whom exactly one might surrender to if surrender were ever an option.

Other intellectual hooligans and cultural skinheads -- like Glen Beck on CNN every night -- reflect a widespread tendency among conservative media commentators and hosts to replace sensibility with emotion, to act tough when that is easier than being smart and realistic.

Fox News panders to similar sentiments, simultaneously affirming a determination to fight bad Muslims and terrorists who threaten the United States, while proudly waving the American flag as an emotional symbol of one’s commitment to… something -- though what that something is remains unclear.

I suspect that the emotional patriotism and macho militarism that increasingly define the conservative side of the United States -- half the country, probably -- have increasingly come to serve as a substitute for consistent ideology and sound foreign policy. Many scholars, religious leaders, business-men and -women, and civil society groups increasingly reflect the best of American traditions, by making the effort to grasp that a few criminal Arabs-Muslims in the world are dwarfed by the billion-plus law-abiding Muslims, and 300 million-plus Arabs who share most American values.

The political and media public space, however, is dominated by images, words and innuendo that overwhelmingly portray Arabs-Muslims who are violent, extremist, religiously fanatic, and generally alien and therefore dangerous.

In the past two weeks in the United States, I have kept my eyes and ears open for signs of news media reports about Arabs-Muslims that portray them as they really are -- normal people, usually politically placid, occasionally angry, and very occasionally violent. Those images and reports are extremely rare, in a way that they are not rare in coverage of other population groups around the world or within the United States.

Sadly, more than six years after 9/11 and five years after the American-led attack on Iraq, the public debate on these issues in the United States -- with only a few exceptions -- remains mired in intellectual mediocrity, factual inaccuracy, analytical selectivity, cultural insensitivity and political values more worthy of a horse barn than a powerful and otherwise decent nation.

Politicians play on the ignorance and fear of their fellow citizens to rouse emotional responses in a desperate quest for votes; commercial media personalities do the same thing in pursuit of larger audience shares, in order to sell more advertising. Both appear irresponsible and uncaring that their simplistic emotionalist and reactionary chauvinism foster a fresh form of racism that can only generate new tensions and greater conflicts down the road.

There is much to admire this season in the American political system. But we also clearly see much that is repugnant -- where the dark sides of American racism and xenophobia is hideously promoted in speeches -- and this repulsiveness shamelessly hidden by wrapping it in the flag.

We should not fall into the same moral morass that these few racists and hucksters have adopted as their home: This sort of deliberate exploitation of racist fears and ignorance is the sickness of a small minority of Americans living in a strange and desperate world of media and political competitiveness.

We should not brand all Americans as ugly and stupid because a small minority of them choose to be so, just as Americans should not see all Arabs and Muslims as dangerous fanatics because a small minority of them choose to be so.

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February 29
USS Cole Sighted off Lebanon Coast.

Patrick McGreevy, American University of Beirut

 

In Beirut, we woke today to some bizarre news: "USS Cole 'ordered to position off Lebanese coast'". People here are dumbfounded by this move. The purported goal, to support Siniora's government, will likely have the opposite effect. We already have German battleships cruising back and forth all day as part of the UNIFIL arrangement. Heavy-handed US intervention will play directly into the hands of the opposition leaders (Hezbollah, Aoun, Berri) who claim that the US is trying to dominate Lebanon through its support of the March 14 government. Is this simply more incompetence on the part of the people who brought us so much disaster in the Middle East? Or does it once again show that Lebanon's welfare is not near the top of the US agenda? Is confronting Syria, or some other goal, the real purpose of this deployment? For most Lebanese, this belligerent move will bring to mind Condi Rice's statement during the summer of 2006 as US-made bombs were pulverizing their country: these were the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."

Finally, the USS Cole? Can we add another layer of provocation please? The very ship Al Qaeda hit in Yemen before the start of the "War on Terrorism." Hezbollah reportedly has a new stash of surface-to-sea of the advanced type that damaged an Israeli ship in 2006. The US and Israeli leaders believe Hezbollah is about to take some action in retaliation for the recent assassination of Imad Mughiniyeh in Damascus. Could the US be trying to provoke something? This is an old script. The USS Cole is part of an old narrative that became the "War on Terror." If its deployment to Lebanon is a provocation, I suspect they will be disappointed with Hezbollah's response. Hezbollah is not Al Qaeda. It is pragmatic and will be able to make more domestic gains by tagging the Siniora government as a US puppet than by reacting violently.

 

 

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February 13
The US Presidential Campaign: Into the Land of "What Ifs"
 John Matlin, University of Birmingham

“February’s Super Dooper Tuesday was good news for those Republicans who wanted to unite around a single candidate. But, a healthy democracy aside, the Democrats found themselves in another month of blood-letting, or, as we on this side of the pond term it, political non-debate, when Barack Obama will not engage in issues but limit himself to “character”. Now we have March’s Super Dooper Tuesday with all its imponderables. In simple terms, if Hillary Clinton loses in either Texas or Ohio , will the party leaders exert untold pressure upon her to withdraw?           

In the most exciting election since 1968, both parties have much to worry about. Put broadly, the almost certain Republican candidate cannot win the November election without moving to the centre but he would then be forced to abandon his party’s base and lose the votes, especially in the South, that he needs to win. The Democratic candidates have been criss-crossing the country taking lumps out of each other, especially in last night’s hostile debate, no doubt to the concern, if not horror, of the party grandees who want to settle upon a candidate to unite the party at the earliest possible moment.          

So, we get into the land of “what ifs”. On the Republican side, how will  McCain deal with the press when the Democratic candidate is known and when fire power is levelled at him? What if he deserts his liberal positions to encourage the party base to support him?  The media will crucify him. But if he tries to stay in the centre, will the Republican base do as they did in 1976, i.e. settle for losing the White House to position themselves for 2012? We will know more when he decides upon his VP candidate.           

On the Democratic side, if Hillary wins in Ohio , Texas , and subsequently Pennsylvania , will Florida and South Carolina be denied a vote at the national Convention? If so, would that trigger a fight in court and what would be the outcome? No doubt, the Supreme Courts of both Florida and South Carolina would find for Hillary under many grounds including states’ rights. Would the issue then go to the Supreme Court?  Unlikely but if so, would Hillary win again? Probably, unless the Court felt that McCain had a better chance against Obama. Oh, so Bush v Gore was decided strictly on legal issues?

There is one other lacuna which, heaven forefend, may come into play. What if a citizen, exercising his Second Amendment rights, assassinates one of the leading candidates before the national Convention declares a victory? So far as I am aware, the rules of neither party make provision for this eventuality. What if the party leaders themselves choose the candidate in such circumstances, ignoring primary results?

One thing is certain. Each party will be looking to make substantial rule changes in the way primaries are held and candidates chosen before the 2012 election.
 

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February 13
The US Presidential Campaign and Progressives Who Lunch
 John Matlin, University of Birmingham

 

In these days of political disengagement, I am smiling about a Sunday lunch which continued very late into the afternoon. Six of us, all with tolerable intellects but whom, as with many of our baby boom generation, are disillusioned with party politics and the poverty of political debate, spent hours discussing the American election. The views exchanged were, to an extent, ill informed. Most of those present were unaware of the technicalities that govern primaries. For example, it had not been appreciated that Obama had swept all before him in those states which caucused.

 

The essential point is that in a sleepy suburb of London on a lazy afternoon, political engagement was suddenly alive and well, albeit with another country’s politics. What is it in Hillary that made some Democrat voters so angry? What are Obama’s policies, except for change? Will he continue to run on “Change for Change’s Sake” or will he actually say something? Is McCain the Republican nominee now? Has Huckabee got a chance?  What will the Republican base do? Who will nominees choose for VP? Does it matter? And so on.

 

Then the conversation got to “who would you vote for?” At this juncture I had to laugh as five of us held a mini election with one abstention – from the only person at the table who has a vote. My wife is an American citizen. Oh, Obama won and the Republicans were defeated out of sight.

 

The students I teach are also engaged with the process. In the past few seminars, there has been a brief discussion on “November 08” with a promise of more to come. Over the past weeks, many conversations with friends have turned to “THE” election. What has happened to make the American elections so relevant to the British? Would Brown v Cameron hold such interest for us over such a long period?

 

My reactions are as follows. First, it matters not that so much interest has been aroused about an American election. The importance is that people are making themselves aware of process and policy. Second, does it matter that the media report so little on policy proposals? Yes, of course it does but the candidates themselves have to share the blame for wanting to sell themselves first and policy at a much later date. Third, will the interest in this election last? Yes, especially if the Democrats take things down to the wire at the National Convention. Sadly, this will probably not happen. The party grandees, the men in the back room, with their special votes will likely choose the candidate, as they used to do in the 19th century. But wouldn’t it be fun to have the choice of nominee go to a second ballot? This hasn’t happened since JFK defeated LBJ in1960.

 

Personally, I look forward to more long Sunday lunches.

 

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January 31
A Note on Asymmetrical Warfare: Israel and Palestine

A correspondent, pondering notions of warfare and the Israeli-Palestinian situation, has sent us the photo below with the comment: 

"Compare the weapons. Which is more lethal?"

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January 31
Update: Can a Republican Move into the White House in 2009?
An E-Mail Discussion at the University of Birmingham

As a follow-up to the discussion of January 24 (see below), we've received this interesting perspective. It was written before McCain's victory in Florida on Tuesday but seems even more pertinent after that outcome:

ADAM QUINN: I think you're right that McCain would have a fair chance of winning in November, but I still think either of the big Democratic two would enter the main election as strong favourites despite close polls now. McCain hasn't thus far seemed a likely enough candidate for the one-on-one polls to mean much yet, I suspect. McCain might pip Clinton (though I doubt it), but my gut tells me Obama beats anyone the Republicans put up if he makes it past the primaries. Unless he hugs Louis Farrakhan or snorts blow at the Convention, I think his youth, race and biography will all help him more than hurt him within most constituencies of the electorate. And the X-factor of charisma seems to make everyone care a lot less that his policies are woolly. Voters value experience in principle, but I think the side-by-side comparison of Obama and McCain would be like running JFK against Ross Perot in the 'reach out and touch me' stakes.

It's hard to overstate, I think, the degree to which sections of the Republican base dislike McCain - far more than anything he's actually done would seem to justify - it seems to have metastasised over the years from an issues thing to personal enmity. Certainly he has more problems with the base than Clinton, even if the left isn't too happy with her. I think he could do well in the centre in a general election, but if he loses enough of his base through sulking then that still might not be enough. No doubt many of them would rally if he's the only candidate they have, especially vs Clinton, but it's a gamble.

All that said, I'm not so far away from what most of you chaps seem to think. If I was a Republican I'd think the two best hopes were either McCain for the reasons you outline (if the mainstream is sick of your party establishment, go for an anti-figure), or else a robotic drone like Romney behind whom everyone can at least unite for the sake of the election. And the latter has proven competences. I think Giuliani (whose fate in the primaries looks bleak in any case at the time of writing) comes across as a tad too fascistic (I gather the Ron Paul people call him 'Benito') in bearing and policy outlook for most voters in the present climate, whether he has gay friends or not. And I think all Republicans will have trouble on national security in the general election if they can't differentiate their Iraq position from Bush's. Regardless of past positions, unless voters perceive you to want less rather than more of that sort of thing in future I think you have a problem in 2008. McCain and Giuliani both promise 'war without end' as Pat Buchanan would put it. Romney is at least practiced enough at flip-flopping to turn tail on Iraq when faced with the electorate...

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January 28
Campaigns, Clintons, and the US Constitution
John Matlin, University of Birmingham

This week, Gerard Baker wrote in The Times of former President Bill Clinton’s part in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to warn of lasting damage to the US Constitution from this year’s version of two Clintons for the price of one. Baker prays on behalf of the Founding Fathers’ “struggle to constrain the appetites of powerful men”, contending that Bill has had his political time and should retire from the fray.

 

Why is it that whenever the Founding Fathers argument appears, the writer’s eyes moisten as he sees visions of Elysian Fields and halos? I would not dream of criticising the Constitution as a whole. It has stood the test of more than 225 years very well, providing a framework for democratic government whilst allowing American politicians and judges of every era the right to change and interpret the document as befits the times.

But could we please dispense with the notion that the framers were of a single mind on all issues, that they eschewed monarchy, and that they were opposed to elites? The Federalist Papers are good evidence to show that all manner of options were considered before the Founding Fathers settled on an executive with presidents who were not term-limited. (The two-term limit on the Presidency only came in 1947, courtesy of a post-World War II Republican Congress.) Let us not forget, too, the proposal during the Philadelphia debates on the Constitution that George Washington should be offered an American monarchy. And, if the framers were so opposed to dynasties and elites, why did the first seven presidents come from those connected with the Constitutional Convention? As for Baker’s suggestion that the appetites of powerful men were constrained, one could equally submit that the Constitution was the result of a series of horse trades (for example, deals on the issue of slavery) between powerful men seeking to protect their property interests. 

Baker’s article should be seen for what it is, as he criticises Bill for becoming involved in the 2008 presidential debate and defending Hillary Clinton from Obama’s barbs. This is no more than narrow partisan politics. Baker compares Bill’s actions with those of George Bush Sr. in 2000 when he “stayed out of the campaign” of his son. In fact, that decision came from little Bush’s camp, in particular Karl Rove, who saw Bush Sr. as an electoral hindrance and a reminder to the American public that the Bush family were losers.

 

If Baker really wants to be a defender of the Constitution, he might consider whether his censorship of Bill Clinton’s activities in a political campaign is a reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment. And maybe, going beyond his high-minded invocations, he might consider that Bill Clinton might be speaking out in his wife’s defence, not as a political strategist but as a husband.

 

This may not be the case, of course. Indeed, Hillary’s second place this week end in South Carolina may well produce more of Bill The Attack Dog. But, in response, it would be wise to stop cloaking “political analysis” in spurious readings of American history and its Constitution.

 

Comment on blog...

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January 24
Can a Republican Move into the White House in 2009?
An E-Mail Discussion at the University of Birmingham

This discussion was sparked by a colleague's enquiry about a column by David Brooks in the New York Times, "The Voters Revolt", which concluded:

"In his South Carolina victory speech, McCain defined a more inclusive conservatism: 'We want government to do its job, not your job; to do it better and to do it with less of your money; to defend our nation’s security wisely and effectively, because the cost of our defense is so dear to us; to respect our values because they are the true source of our strength; to enforce the rule of law that is the first defense of freedom; to keep the promises it makes to us and not make promises it will not keep.'

And McCain’s success has raised an astonishing specter: Republicans may actually have a shot at winning this year."

[Readers are invited to offer their comments, which will be added to this entry....]

Scott Lucas: More an expression of Brooks trying to cover his pundit's back rather than an insight into Republican politics/voters....

Brooks' long-standing thesis of a bedrock "Red State" America ensuring Republican ascendancy because of social values (v. those of "Blue State" liberals/intellectuals) has always been a shaky one, imposing homogeneity on Republican voters and ignoring factors such as economy/class. Now that this has been exposed as the rifts in Republican Party (which Dubya's strategists brilliantly covered), Brooks is scrambling for another "common man/salt of the earth" thesis. The conclusion: that McCain is electable because of his appeal to that common man/salt of the earth, etc. is a bit desperate.

Mark McClelland: I thought it was interesting enough - not just trying to cover Brooks' back. I think it's possible to argue somewhat along the Red State/Blue State line and throw some diversity in the base into the mix. I'm not so sure he was arguing that McCain is electable for appealing to the salt of the earth types, but more that he was emphasising again that he appeals to moderates/independents, as well as a good percentage of conservatives, and that he has a real chance of winning in November. Every match-up poll between McCain and Clinton/Obama over the past month has either given McCain a lead, or is just 1-2% behind, whereas Clinton/Obama give the other Republicans a thrashing (esp. Romney).

The prevailing narrative in nearly all the media has been that either Clinton or Obama will have the election all sewn up come November (just look at the relative time/column inches spent on the Democrat contest versus the Republican one - this is less about there being a female and black candidate, and more the fact the media have concluded that one of them will definitely be President and thus warrant more attention). I think Brooks is right to point out McCain can actually win in November (I know David is sceptical on this!). Of course winning the nomination will probably be harder for McCain.

Scott Lucas: I appreciate that I may be going over the top re Brooks. Your wider reading on McCain is sound on how he matches up nationally, although I still find the tagline of appeal to "independent/moderate" voters fuzzy. I'd like to see that developed on where/how McCain is appealing to them --- economic issues? A new version of "compassionate conservatism"? National security? McCain's clarion call, as cited by Brooks, is so sweeping yet vague that it offers no clue. I just don't think the "moral integrity" line is going to be enough all the way to November.

I still think that Brooks should be called to account, indeed because his scrambling /is/ a sign of the difficulties for Republicans come November. The citation of "professional conservative" is so broad that it runs from Rush Limbaugh to National Review to Mitt Romney. Against this, Brooks has to invoke a voting community which is diverse and not tied to a single, hot-button issue.

OK, but Brooks' earlier thesis was that the voting community underpinning Republican success was united by their activism on social issues (as Thomas Frank brillinatly pointed out). His shift here is revealing: he can only assert that a "silent majority of conservative voters" like Huckabee or McCain. That kind of abstract appeal might be enough for a primary here, a primary there but it's no substitute for a substantial message which either appeals to the core issues or finds a message to transcend them. Bush's 2000 manoeuvre of "compassionate conservatism" achieved the latter; the post-9/11 environment offered "national security" as the former in 2004. This time around, I don't see how McCain can draw on either of those to broaden his Republican base as well as bringing in that magical middle ground.

Mark McClelland: I agree, Brooks could have been more precise - conflating Limbaugh and professional conservatives in the same paragraph was a bit sloppy. But there is only so much nuance you can cram into an op-ed column. Anyway, I'm not really in a position to properly defend or attack Brooks on this as I've mainly only read his stuff on neoconservatism.

My hunch about McCain's electoral appeal is less about the issues he espouses, even national security, and more about his much talked about maverick streak and the fact he is not easy to piegon-hole. It may be very simplistic but surely a voter who considers himself to be an independent would gravitate toward politicians who likewise appear to be quite independent too (regardless of course whether actually are). McCain can run and get quite far on national security, experience, independent streak, e.g. perceived to not be in the pocket of Big Oil or big business in general (he has been critical of big pharmaceuticals). The first two bring in the base and the third one the independents. It's not very complex or nuanced but just might work. A lot will still depend on the situation in post-surge Iraq.

McCain has pursued a clever strategy of being pretty conservative on most issues but choosing a few sacred cows to prove his 'moderate' credentials (climate change, campaign finance reform, immigration, gang of 14), plus cosying up to the media. The perennial problem of course is that his few 'moderate' policy positions have been blown out of all proportion by Limbaugh etc. and overshadowed his conservative record, and thus the nomination is still far from certain. Essentially McCain's approach and policy positions are better suited to winning in November than winning the Republican primaries now. I can't see any of the other Republican candidates being able to get close to putting together anything approaching a winning coalition of the base plus independents for November. Giuliani can get the latter, Romney and Huckabee the former, but only McCain would have any chance of getting both out to vote for him. Whether this is salient for Republican voters on Super Tuesday remains to be seen of course.

David Dunn: I think it is too easy to dismiss the line that Brooks puts out that America tends to vote Republican in presidential elections. 5 of the 7 last elections resulted in Republican Presidents (not counting 2000!) and Clinton only won in 1992 because the conservative vote was split between Bush Sr and Perot. The Democrats having won the mid terms in 2006 might also mean that they have peeked too early.

I take many of the points that are made about what precisely McCain's appeal is and I think Mark is accurate in identifying that part of the appeal is that he is outsider. There is a mood for change and change there will be when this sorry administration walks away in January 2009, but because of this it is still possible that McCain can sell himself as a none establishment candidate. This will only work of course if Iraq stays out of the headlines, and it is far from clear that it will. The lack of a political settlement in Baghdad means that the surge effect may well be more a lull than a lasting effect. The question is mostly timing, and whether it will erupt in time to derail McCain who is so closely aligned with Bush on this subject. If McCain is lucky though he can escape this and do so by selling himself in three ways. To Republican voters he is the voice of experience who can beat Obama, who can be portrayed as wet behind the ears and inexperienced, or Clinton who is only there on Bill's coat tails. To the moderates he is conservative without being seen as too extreme. And to all he can play at being Ronald Reagan, the genial old timer who will offer stability and sobriety after years of adolescent hubris. The key here though is less who he is and more who he is not. Its not a choice in the abstract, its a choice between candidates both for the nomination and presidency.

In the primaries McCain ticks more boxes in the coalition that is the Republican party than any of the other candidates. That the extreme right and religious right don't like him adds to his appeal to moderates and independent voters. The Karl Rove strategy of appealing to the base is now discredited and the need to appeal to the middle ground is recognized in the Republican party, which explains McCain's numbers versus Huchabee's. The same is true for the national race, as both Clinton and Obama have serious vulnerabilities. Clinton is very polarizing and generates lots of negatives. Lots of moderates and independents will never vote for her and so she is left with a Rovian strategy of having to rely on mobilising her base and new working class woman voters. Obama is inexperienced, light on policy development but also much more to the left that the American main stream. His ethnicity and past drug taking also adds variables to the contest which are unknown and unpredictable. His appeal is aspirational rather than substantive, people project on to him what they want to believe. This will be less sustainable over the long months ahead.

So do I think McCain could win? Yes I think it is possible. This is one race for President which I am reluctant to call!

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January 13
Update: The Bush Tour of the Middle East

The interview on Bush's tour with Press TV of Iran has finally made it to the Internet.


January 13
The Bush Tour of the Middle East:
A Written "Interview" in Reply to Questions of Iran's Press TV
Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

 [I e-mailed these replies before President Bush's speech on Sunday in Abu Dhabi. Having listened to it, I am pretty pleased that these answers seem to stand up. A follow-up is on "Watching America" for January 14.]

Q. What is the US President, George W. Bush seeking in his Middle East tour?

A. I think Bush’s trip should be seen in three contexts: 1) the public priority --- a settlement between Israel and Palestine; 2) the priority of the past --- remaking the Middle East through regime change in Iraq; 3) the priority of the present --- remaking the Middle East through “containment” of Iran.

Anyone with “a lick of common sense”, as my grandfather would say, can see that there is no realistic prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. President Clinton spent almost eight years pursuing this without success; President Bush is proposing to achieve this within 12 months. Still, the pretence has to be maintained. It has to be maintained for US domestic opinion, which needs to see a Presidential commitment to “peace” rather than further military operations/occupation in the region, and for Arab governments who cannot maintain support for American policy without the appearance that there is some movement on Israel/Palestine.

Beyond this public appearance, the Bush Administration is trying to hold up the idea that --- after almost five years --- they are on the brink of success in Iraq. This is an illusion, of course. However, having spent so much money and ended so many lives (American and Iraqi) in the quest to replace Saddam Hussein with a suitable pro-American government and to demonstrate American power to all in the Middle East, there cannot be an admission of failure.

This brings us to the current Bush Administration goal. Having failed to remake the Middle East through a suitable, stable post-Saddam Iraq, the US Government needs another core issue to hold together its political, economic, and military strategy. This strategy continues to rest upon Israel as a “pillar” in the Middle East but also has to safeguard the American position with Arab states. The answer to this, diverting attention from Palestine and indeed Iraq, is to portray the necessity of an anti-Iranian coalition.

Q. What is your speculation on the seriousness of the United States' commitment to the peace in Palestine?

A. Any serious attempt at an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would have to offer possibilities --- to each side --- on the issues of Jerusalem, right of return, Israeli occupation, and borders. The current Bush initiative offers little to the Palestinian side on any of these issues.

1)      Bush avoided the question of Jerusalem on his trip. He did not, for example, confront the issue of the extension of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, even though the Israeli Government had offered a token “pullback” of some (but not all) of the illegal settlements.

2)      Bush announced the need for compensation of displaced Palestinians without any consideration of who would provide that amount (estimated at $100 to $150 billion). At most, this is an indication that the right of return is off the American (and, of course, Israeli) agenda.

3)      On borders and occupation, some in the US and British press highlighted Bush’s call for an end to occupation. Significantly, however, he did not specify that Israel would have to withdraw from all of the territory it seized in 1967 nor did he address the issue of a contiguous Palestinian state without the interruption of Israeli fences, settlements, and checkpoints.

4)  And, of course, Bush did not refer to a settlement that included Gaza, which I suggest is a pretty significant omission.

Q. What do you think Bush will offer in his Middle East trip?

Publicly he will offer rhetoric about an American commitment to stability based on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Privately, he will be offering a lot of economic and military aid to those Arab governments who continue to back an approach ensuring an American presence through the isolation of Iran.

Q. Why is Bush taking his first trip in the twilight of his presidency?

Because, having failed to succeed in his primary goal of establishing US power through a post-Saddam Iraq, he has to be seen to be doing something. Otherwise, he is just a “lame duck”.

Q. Why does Israel continue its offensive against Palestinians after the Annapolis conference?

Because Israel will seek to negotiate with Abbas from a position of strength and will continue to try to isolate and, indeed, break Hamas. My belief is that a “Palestinian state” for Israel and the US means a compliant state based on a relatively weak leadership. Hamas is a challenge to that approach.

Q. How do you see the future of Israel's ambitions for occupying more regions of the west bank? What prompts this regime to continue its expansionist policies? 

My belief is that the Israeli notion of security rests upon a need for a permanent “superiority” over any Palestinian entity. Thus occupation is not an end in itself to expand the borders of Israel but to ensure that there is never sufficient Palestinian strength to challenge Israel’s political/economic/military position.

Q. How has the United States contributed to the realization of Israeli ambitions?

At this point, US and Israeli interests are largely convergent. That is, the maintenance and projection of American power rests upon support for Israeli power --- political, economic, and military.

Q. Can the US be a peace broker to Palestine-Israel conflict while it is the main supporter of the Israeli regime?

The issue is whether, given the US relationship with Israel, others (Arab governments, the European Union, Russia, the United Nations) continue to defer to Washington as the primary broker of discussions.

Q. What is the Bush's legacy for the Middle East?

In light of what has happened in Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, the legacy of the American attempt to remake the region has been destruction and instability.

The more important question for me is how those in the region try to pursue political, economic, and cultural development --- including the pursuit of “freedom” and “democracy” --- which is not dependent upon being either “with” or “against” the United States.

Further thoughts on this can be found in the talk “Shifting the Gorilla: De-Centring ‘America’ in the Middle East”.

Q. Do you think Bush's trip is aimed at finding a solution to the Middle East conflict or rather exerting more pressures on Iran?

A. See the answer to the first question. Given this Administration’s notion of projecting strength through the defeat or containment of a rival, the current goal is to organize Middle Eastern states against Iran.

Q. Do you believe Bush has been successful in rallying the regional countries against Iran?

A. I doubt that the United States will succeed in forging an anti-Iranian coalition, at least to the extent of enforcing economic sanctions and political isolation. In my opinion, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are not convinced that attention to Iran should come before, for example, stability in Iraq and a meaningful resolution of the Israel/Palestine question. At a practical level, Gulf States are far too dependent upon trade with Iran to bear the economic cost of supporting American sanctions.

If I was being cynical, I would suspect that some Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are happy to listen to the American song of isolating Iran as long as the outcome is more military assistance and arms sales. 

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26 December
They're Under Starter's Orders....Almost
By John Matlin
University of Birmingham

By tradition, the race for the Presidency of the United States started in the fall of the year before the election. The current race started, however, immediately after the 2006 Congressional mid-term contests, and even more noticeable is the movement in primary election dates. The New Hampshire primary used to be in March. Next year it will be held on 8th January. By the end of January, primaries will have been decided in key states such as Michigan, Florida, California and Illinois. By mid-February, results of the New Jersey and New York primaries will be known. Quite possibly, the Democratic and Republican nominees for president will have been identified before the end of February. 

Did the Progressives foresee this when primaries were introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century? The object of the primaries was to hand the choice of nominee to the voters. By moving the primary dates so far forward, the party movers and shakers, the men (and women) in the smoke-filled rooms have limited voter choice. What chance of a surprise candidate at a party Convention?

Fortunately, one tradition of the primary races will almost certainly not be lost, namely the extraordinary media reportage with its use of racing metaphors. Candidates are written about as if they were horses in a race where “first past the delegate number post wins”. This horse-race journalism often entails a secondary feature affecting the fate of the candidate, known as ‘benchmarking’. Runners are handicapped by the media, who look for the minimum and maximum vote levels needed by the winning candidate. For example, in Arizona, a candidate is said to need 40% of the vote to claim victory whether 45% or only 35% is actually needed. If a candidate jumps clear with 45%, it is reported as a clear victory. If the candidate does not win but performs better than expected, he may be awarded a ‘moral victory’ in which event the front-runner will be damaged. 

In what circumstances in any election, other than a presidential primary, is a frontrunner who wins the majority or plurality vote declared a loser? Similarly, in what other contest would a candidate who comes second be declared the winner? In 1972, Edward Muskie, the leading Democratic challenger, was damaged beyond repair because a staffer, Maria Carrier, said: “If we don’t get 50% of the vote, I’ll blow my brains out.” This offhand remark was taken up by the press, who made a majority the benchmark for Muskie. Even though he won the New Hampshire primary with 46% of the vote, the press reported McGovern --- who had 37% --- as the moral victor. The press decided Muskie had flopped, and McGovern eventually won the Democratic nomination. 

Four years earlier, there was an even more significant example of media-generated outcome. Lyndon Johnson won the New Hampshire primary with 49% to Eugene McCarthy’s 42%. The press treated the result as an LBJ defeat and a moral victory for McCarthy. LBJ then withdrew from the race. The major problem with the primary system had emerged --- if the press decides early on that a candidate has done badly, he does not have time to recover because a successful candidate in the primary process must have ‘momentum’. 

Sometimes a candidate reaps an unexpected benefit from this process. In 1992, Bill Clinton was counted out before the New Hampshire vote, especially because of the Gennifer Flowers scandal. He was expected to lose badly but, coming second, he exceeded everyone’s expectations and the media looked at him as a winner. Since an early moral victory generates cash and volunteer support, as well as increasing television coverage, the boost meant rising poll figures and victories in other states, spiralling media projection into a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Only four years ago, Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean fared badly in Iowa and was written off overnight as voters flocked to John Kerry. Thus, if Barack Obama comes within spitting distance of Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, will the Clinton run fail at the first hurdles?  If Rudolph Giuliani wins an overall majority in Iowa and New Hampshire, will he knock out his rivals outright, even though the electoral college votes for these States are so small? 

Hold tight to your race cards for January and February, 2008. Anything can happen. As Don King would say: “Only in America”.

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19 December 
Climate Change after Bali
By Anna Hartnell
University of Birmingham

According to negotiators at the latest round of UN talks, initiating a ‘road map’ that will succeed Kyoto and slash carbon emissions by up to 40% in the next few decades is a top priority. Even the US is now committed to carbon reductions. Politicians and campaigners then, are apparently on the same page, much in contrast to the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Yet it is precisely this language of consensus that constitutes the current danger....

Read more...

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4 December
Bazaar Expertise: 
Reading the "Intelligence" on Hezbollah and Lebanon
 
By "Atticus Finch"

Amidst the complexities of international conflicts, it is illuminating to see how American “experts” rely on certain immutable assumptions. For example, in the complicated arena of Lebanese politics and the Middle East , such analysis starts from the Square One that Hezbollah is an instrument of the Iranian and Syrian Governments.

Strategic Forecasting is one of these repositories of “expertise”. A useful source of analysis in conflicts such as the 2003 Iraq War, SF is now often occupied with the exercise of linking local and regional politics to terrorism and the manoeuvres of “enemy” regimes. Trying to get beyond such analysis, we sent SF’s latest reading of Hezbollah for consideration by colleagues who have detailed knowledge of Lebanon .

Our comments and those of our correspondents are interspersed in italics amongst SF’s analysis.

Dissecting the 'Party of God'

By Fred Burton and Reva Bhalla (Strategic Forecasting)

While the world obsesses this week over whether the ill-fated Annapolis conference will result in the ultimate Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, the real political drama is taking place in Lebanon.

In Beirut , Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a renowned Syrian stooge [Polemical allegation, but we’ll let this pass],
has stepped down, creating a political vacuum large enough to send the country back to its dark days of civil war.

[The vacuum, at least temporarily, has been filled with the appointment of General Suleyman as President, a compromise choice supported by all factions from the “pro-Western” parties to Hezbollah to Lahoud.]

Hezbollah ("the Party of God") stands in the middle of this political battle, aiming to expand its power, ensure its long-term survival as a militant movement and serve Damascus ' interests in selecting Lebanon 's new president. Hezbollah intends to meet these objectives through force, and it already has plans to launch a government takeover <http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=298531>  should the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora act unilaterally and appoint a president.

[The mirror image of this allegation  were  reports that factions such as the party of Sa’id Hariri, supported by the United States amongst other countries, was ready to “launch a government takeover” should Lahoud try to remain as President on an emergency basis.]

The standoff in Beirut plays into the larger interests of Hezbollah's Syrian and Iranian patrons. Hezbollah was created by the Iranians and has been nurtured by the Syrians since the early 1980s. Though Tehran and Damascus have a deeply rooted strategic alliance, their interests often collide when it comes to deciding how Hezbollah is utilized as a militant proxy. So, while Iran wants Hezbollah to focus on the larger objective of bolstering itself as a model Islamist movement capable of defending Shiite interests in the wider region, Syria uses Hezbollah primarily to score tactical gains in its "Godfather"-like political feuds in Beirut .

[It is implied here, without support, that Iran and Syria control Hezbollah as their political instrument. This will be the key assumption throughout the analysis.]

At the same time, Hezbollah is having its own difficulties selling the Lebanese public on the idea that it is an independent, nationalist resistance movement, rather than a simple pawn of the Iranians and Syrians.

[Nowhere in the article is there any indication that the authors have examined the attitudes of “the Lebanese public”. While those who oppose Hezbollah may --- from sincere belief or for political advantage --- claim that it is a pawn of Tehran and Damascus, others --- from sincere or for political advantage --- will argue that it is a a nationalist movement seeking political, economic, and social progress in an “independent” Lebanon.]

All of these factors put a great deal of stress on the Hezbollah leadership, which has come under intense pressure in recent months over how to handle the presidential crisis in Lebanon while balancing these competing interests.

[As indeed all parties manoeuvring for power in Lebanon have been under stress because of domestic complexities, not to mention external pressure.]

At the end of the day, the Iranians have the most sway over Hezbollah's actions. As believers (to varying degrees) in the Vilayat al-Faqih concept, Hezbollah leaders largely see the group's relationship with Iran as religiously sanctioned, and one that must be honored at all costs. Iran keeps close tabs on the group's leaders and does not hesitate to make the necessary adjustments when it feels its interests are being challenged. It also does not hurt that Iran 's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) markets 75 percent of the Bekaa Valley 's heroin, on which both Hezbollah and Syria rely heavily for their finances.

[The hot-button allegation. A correspondent with detailed knowledge of Lebanon writes , in contrast, “One thing is certain:  the 'hot' people in the 'jihad' wing of Hezbollah  are not known. The Iranians know some. The Syrians know a bit less. Hamas and (Islamic)  Jihad have some knowledge too as they are 'trained' by Hezbollah.]

The Hezbollah Leadership

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is Hezbollah's secretary-general and has been Hezbollah's most pragmatic and charismatic leader -- though his stature has exceeded Iranian limits, and his accommodating attitude toward Syria and Lebanese politics does not sit well with a number of mullahs in Tehran . Therefore, given that many actors, including Israel , want Nasrallah dead, Iran has jumped on that excuse to order him into hiding. As a result, he no longer attends Hezbollah meetings and has limited his contact with the party leadership and cadres. Needless to say, Nasrallah's influence over the organization's decision-making process has waned considerably, raising concerns about just how moderated Hezbollah's future actions will be.

 [From our correspondent: “Nasrallah is 'deified' and his hiding began in July-August 2007 when. a number of Sudanese and Egyptian operatives were arrested. The big fear isn't Israel ’s (intelligence service) Mossad  rather, the March 14 forces (a coalition of parties formed a month after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri), keen to pass information about his whereabouts. Nasrallah's been to Syria since the war (of July 2006 with Israel ) but not to Iran .”]

Imad Fayez Mugniyah <http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=242608> , nicknamed "the Wolf," is Hezbollah's strongman. He has alternately been described as the head of Hezbollah's security apparatus, as the group's chief of intelligence and as its chief of special operations. Mugniyah also has been described by sources as having one foot in Hezbollah and the other in the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, indicating that his loyalty is to Tehran . He is credited with some of Hezbollah's deadliest attacks and kidnappings of the 1980s, including the April 1983 attack against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut , the October 1983 attack against the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and the June 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847. After spending years in the shadows, Mugniyah, according to our sources, has re-emerged <http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=297346>  in Beirut's southern suburbs, where he is busy organizing cells of Shiite operatives from the Arab Gulf states to carry out retaliatory attacks <http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=297621>  against U.S. interests and pro-U.S. Arab governments in the event of war against Iran. With Mugniyah back in the game, Hezbollah once again is capable of staging major attacks abroad, allowing Iran to raise substantially the cost of a U.S. attack against the country. Mugniyah coordinates with Hashim Abu Fares, Hezbollah's main official in Iran , who does the group's dirty work by training and recruiting operatives for Iraq and for reprisal attacks in the Gulf states .

Wafiq Safa is Hezbollah's head of security. Safa is one of the founding members of the group and is highly trusted by the IRGC and Nasrallah. Since Nasrallah no longer attends meetings, he depends primarily on Safa for updates. Safa, who is a terse and paranoid leader, takes care of the group's security arrangements, doing everything from arming Hezbollah allies in Beirut to forging automobile license plates to sheltering Syrian agents in the city's southern suburbs. Safa constantly coordinates with Mugniyah and controls most of Hezbollah's centers in the Bekaa Valley . He is known to have an extensive surveillance system throughout the Bekaa, with all incoming and outgoing security reports passing through him.

[From our correspondent: “There is no single 'safa' and no single 'mughniya'. the names serve as signifiers for people who do things as in the report. One tactic that H has adopted over the years to protect itself is 'deception' -- masterfully done, by feeding false and contradicting information to confuse and deflect.]

Hussein Khalil takes the lead in shaping Hezbollah's political position and activities, as well as communicating with local political forces in Lebanon . He also acts as the group's primary liaison with Syria . Khalil works in collaboration with Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hezbollah's deputy secretary-general. Qasim is widely seen as a hard-liner in the organization and is far more willing to carry out Iran 's bidding than to accommodate the Syrians, whom he deeply distrusts. His views toward Damascus consistently put him at odds with Nasrallah.

….

Hezbollah's To-Do List

With Iranian help, Hezbollah has wasted no time in recovering from last year's conflict and is preparing for its next military confrontation with Israel. For example, to form a special force, Hezbollah has recruited hundreds of young Shiite operatives from across Lebanon and is training them at Hezbollah centers around Wadi al-Nabi in the Bekaa Valley . Each recruit is paid about $335 per month and is expected to report for combat missions when called upon. Hezbollah also has been buying up Beirut apartments left and right in order to secure its supply lines in the southern suburbs, in the event of a showdown between its members and rival Lebanese factions.

Hezbollah is spending the bulk of its effort on rebuilding its positions and communications systems in southern Lebanon , where more than 13,000 U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) troops currently are based. As we discussed after the conflict, the UNIFIL presence in the South will not be an effective buffer <http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=272760>  between Israel and Hezbollah strongholds there and in the Bekaa Valley . UNIFIL no longer does thorough searches for weapons depots, and violations it reports to the Lebanese army -- which includes a large number of Shia sympathetic to Hezbollah -- often are ignored. As a result, Hezbollah has succeeded in building two large armored defense lines north of the Litani River , which are critical to the group's strategy of pulling Israel into a protracted guerrilla war in the Bekaa in the event of another military confrontation. With UNIFIL troops just a few miles away, Hezbollah even had the chutzpah to stage large military exercises Nov. 5 north of the Litani. The maneuvers entailed Hezbollah fighters preparing missiles for launching and mobilizing village fighters on short notice. Hezbollah also was able to test the effectiveness of its communication systems between its paramilitary units and command centers along the river….

 With Hezbollah preparations in full steam and Lebanon teetering on the brink of civil war, this theater is just waiting to explode. The controller of the time bomb, however, likely is sitting in Tehran .

[From our correspondent: “Yes, the infrastructure for violence is in place (but) Hezbollah  isn't interested in civil war. This  would weaken it and Hezbollah fears 'internationalisation' of the conflict. They've armed and trained their allies in Lebanon , including the rival Druze to Walid Jumblatt. I doubt, however, whether Hezbollah would fight Iran 's wars. By proxy they be involved in Iraq but through training, including espionage and counter-espionage, rather than direct intervention.]

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28 November
Update: "Telling Stories About America"
(Original post 8 November)

In his podcast earlier this month, Liam Kennedy critiqued the US Government's efforts at public diplomacy, offering historical context for a series of tensions and disappointments culminating in the resignation of Assistant Secretary of State Karen Hughes. For another approach, calling for "the recognition that we need to persuade others by our actions — and a faith that we could do so", see James Traub's article in the New York Times
 

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27 November
Update: Lebanon is Hanging by a Thread
(Original post 21 November)

In his guest blog last week, Karim Makdisi offered a full update and analysis of the political crisis in Lebanon. The deadline of 23 November passed without the selection of a President by the Parliament as various factions, both internal and external, maintained their positions. The current President, Emile Lahoud, called on the military to maintain order while the deadline was extended to 30 November.

Amidst these developments, Karim Makdisi offered a new evaluation of the internal situation and of US policy in Lebanon. Read the assessment

 

27 November
Update:
Israel, Free Speech, and the Oxford Union 
(Original post 20 November)

British media has been dominated over the last 72 hours by the story of the Oxford Union inviting British National Party leader Nick Griffin and the historian David Irving to debate in its chambers. Amidst all the attention to free speech in both the case of white-supremacist politics and revisionism of the Holocaust, not one commentator to our knowledge has referred to the Oxford Union's withdrawal of the invitation to Norman Finkelstein to speak in a debate on Israel on Palestine.

In his guest blog last week, Avi Shlaim --- who withdrew from the debate on Israel after the blocking of Finkelstein as a speaker --- offered his perspective on the issue. Read the account of Ghada Karmi, who also withdrew from the debate. 

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27 November
A Policy That Dare Not Speak its Name?
The Annapolis Talks and America's Iran Strategy

By Gary Sick
(former US National Security Council official)

[We have been forwarded a document written by Gary Sick, who served in the National Security Council in three US Administrations and is now a senior research scholar at the Middle East Institute of the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia University. It offers an in-depth analysis and a contrasting perspective on the US approach to that presented yesterday by Scott Lucas.]

There are several things going on at once in U.S. Middle East strategy. Perhaps these are unrelated or coincidental, but it is more interesting -- and potentially more illuminating -- to look at them as separate moving parts of a larger scheme.

The United States has a very large problem in the Middle East. It is called Iran. Since the Bush administration removed at least temporarily Iran's most dangerous enemy to the east (the Taliban in Afghanistan), wiped out its most dangerous enemy in the west (Saddam Hussein in Iraq), and installed a sympathetic Shia government in Baghdad, Iran has almost inevitably emerged as a much more powerful player. With no local powers to serve as a balance, Iran is rapidly assuming a position as one of the two major poles of political power in the region. The other, and its natural rival, is Israel.

Having inadvertently created this problem, the United States is now trying to solve it, or at least to exploit the opportunity, by building a counter-coalition comprised of the Sunni Arab states (specifically Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states) plus Israel. The United States hopes to persuade the main line Arab states to cooperate, even if tacitly, with Israel to confront Iran. This requires the United States to do two things for its erstwhile Arab allies:

1. Provide security cover against Iran, which comes primarily from the presence of U.S. military forces in the region, especially the aircraft carrier task forces that operate in and out of the Persian Gulf. But it also includes beefing up domestic Arab military capabilities (and satisfying the appetites of their own military establishments) by sales of sophisticated military equipment. The United States has announced a plan to offer more than $50 billion dollars in aid and arms sales to the Arab states over the coming decade, while providing $20 billion in arms aid to Israel.

2. It must also show convincing progress on an Arab-Israel peace settlement. Evidence of progress on that front provides the necessary political cover to permit the Arab states to cooperate quietly with Israel on the Iranian front

The massive new arms sale package together with a new U.S. initiative on the Arab-Israel front offers an enticing package for Arabs and Israelis alike, and all have embraced it with varying degrees of enthusiasm. In some respects, it is an offer they cannot refuse -- and only the United States has the military and diplomatic capital to make it. The offer is reinforced by unrelenting U.S. efforts to press for a new round of sanctions against Iran by the UN Security Council over its nuclear program, but also to expand U.S. unilateral sanctions and promote new voluntary sanctions by European states if the Security Council proves too recalcitrant.

A New Twist?

Although one can agree or disagree with the strategy and its prospects for success, all of these steps at least appear to be consistent. But there is another effort underway that seems to contradict this grand scheme.

Over the past several weeks, there has been a quiet process of apparent concessions and small gestures of approval between the United States and Iran in Iraq. General Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal that Iran "made promises at the highest levels of the Iranian government to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. These were unequivocal pledges to stop the funding, training, arming and directing of militia extremists in Iraq. It will be hugely significant to see if that's the case." Only a few weeks earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had noted that the discovery and use of improvised explosive devices (IED) of suspected Iranian origin in Iraq had declined, along with the general decline of violence associated with the U.S. military surge and new counter-insurgency tactics.

In between these two announcements, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been arrested and held for many months. Even more unusual was the fact that the release of these men, now officially labeled of "no continued intelligence value," had been reviewed only a few months earlier and rejected. Stranger still, they were identified as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its special intelligence division, the Qods Brigade, which had just been officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi government announced that a fourth round of direct talks between the United States and Iran would take place in the near future.

So, what is going on here? Obviously it is still very early to draw any hard conclusions. A U.S. military spokesman recently linked Iran to a bombing in Baghdad by a splinter sect of the Mahdi Army, so perhaps this episode of good will was only a tiny deviation in an otherwise consistent policy of hostility. Or perhaps this was a goodwill gesture not to the Iranians but to the Iraqis who had been insisting that the Americans release their Iranian hostages and proceed with the Iraqi-sponsored talks. Or perhaps this was merely an odd concatenation of events, purely a coincidence.

Realism and the Precipice of the Presidency

I withhold judgment for now, but I think this series of unexpected events that got very little media attention was important in several ways. First, it tends to put the lie to all the heated speculation that the United States is about to bomb Iran. I never thought the likelihood of that was very high, due to the political and military constraints on the administration in Washington, but this seems to underline quite a different approach.

Second, it lays a more constructive background for the next round of U.S.-Iranian talks in Baghdad, which should convene in the near future. The three meetings to date have been largely devoted to shouting at each other across the table. These recent events suggest that a more realistic and practical bargaining process might be underway.

Finally, I note that U.S. foreign policy is increasingly in the hands of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is showing herself to be a consummate realist, particularly as the neo-conservative ideologues increasingly find themselves without government employ and quarantined from the policy process, and as the Office of the Vice President watches its policy influence evaporating almost by the day. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that administration policy toward North Korea and the Palestinian issue have effectively reversed in the past year (regardless of pro-forma administration claims that the policies remain steady and unchanging).

Is there room in these last months of a lame duck presidency to craft a modest opening to Iran, while maintaining a stout anti-Iranian coalition? Well, if we are to heed the cries of alarm emanating from the neo-conservatives as they watch their grandiose plans to add a third front to the War on Terror crumple into the dustbin of history, perhaps there really is something going on here.

Nevertheless, since this is a policy that dare not speak its name, even if these titillating signals are true, no turning point will be announced in blaring trumpets, and the message about Iran will be cloaked in vitriol and bile to prevent creating undue alarm among American conservatives and among the Arabs who are only now signing on to a long-term strategy to counter the "Iranian threat" but who also deeply fear the possibility of a sudden deal between the United States and Iran. (They can't forget the shah and Iran-contra.)

The two individuals most likely to view these developments with quiet satisfaction are James Baker and Lee Hamilton, whose original policy prescriptions in the Iraq Study Group all seem to be coming true as George W. Bush approaches the precipice of his presidency.

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23 November
Walking the Line with Norman Mailer
By Liam Kennedy
Clinton Institute for American Studies, University College Dublin

Liam Kennedy considers the lasting significance of Norman Mailer, the American author who passed away last week....

Listen to the podcast...

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21 November
Lebanon is Hanging by a Thread
By Karim Makdisi
American University of Beirut

[Unnoticed by much of the world amidst headline-grabbing turmoil from Iraq to Pakistan to Palestine, Lebanon has been in political stalemate for most of 2007, with no effective Parliament or ruling Government. A new President is supposed by elected by the Parliament no later than today, but there is doubts that the process --- which has been delayed twice --- will be completed. Amidst fears of continued instability and even a renewal of the civil war that tore apart the country from 1975 to the early 1990s, Libertas is honoured to publish this analysis, recommended to us by colleagues at the Center for American Studies and Research at American University Beirut. For more on CASAR and its work amidst the complexities in Lebanon, see this recent profile in Newsweek.]

The UN Secretary General (SG) Ban Ki-moon has just left the country warning that Lebanon stands at "the brink of an abyss," and yet the UN itself remains an ambivalent actor in the post 9/11 Middle East setting, torn between its traditional commitments under the UN Charter (including the non-interference in the domestic disputes of a Member State) and the radical imperatives of a US administration.

The unfolding drama and intrigue that constitutes the presidential election process has captured the attention of leaders of the Great and not-so-great Powers alike. As foreign envoys shuttle between the old and new imperial capitals-Washington, New York, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Damascus, Riyadh, Cairo, Tehran, Brussels, Moscow-in a bid to settle the on-going crisis, diplomatic pleasantries have been discarded. The pro-US March 14 coalition partners and members of the opposition are trading insults and accusations of high treason even as they simultaneously claim to be seeking consensus and a compromise presidential candidate. That is the way of Lebanese politics.

The core of the dispute in Lebanon-of which the election of a President is only a part-revolves around the role of the Resistance and the status of Hizbullah's weapons. The opposition insist that the Resistance represents the only deterrence to Israeli aggression and larger US plans to re-divide the Arab world, and it will therefore only countenance debate about such weapons as part of an internal national dialogue. March 14 call for the immediate disarming of the Resistance (which it considers an existential threat to the State), and the dissociation of Lebanon from the larger regional problems that they claim has stifled Lebanon for decades. A secondary dispute relates to the sensitive issue of who represents Christian authority within the sectarian logic of Lebanon's political system. The opposition claim that only the Free Patriotic Movement's General Michel Aoun, the most popular Christian leader by some distance, is strong and independent enough to lead both the Christians and the larger nation. March 14 insist that only one of their own two official candidate-Nassib Lahoud and Boutras Harb, neither of whom has broad national support-should be President.

Right now, the only thing the two sides have in common is the insistence that the other side is carrying out orders from evil 'foreign' powers (the US and Israel on the one hand; Iran and Syria on the other). Meanwhile, ordinary citizens are enduring an unprecedented social and economic crisis fueled by years of neglect and exacerbated by the punishing policies of the neo-liberal government headed by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora (which has somehow found time to increase gasoline prices, ready the telecom sector for privatization, and implement US dictates to increase intellectual property rights protection).

The next 48-72 hours will be decisive as the political and constitutional crisis reaches its apogee: at midnight on the November 23, President Emile Lahoud must step down from office and the Siniora government must resign in line with the constitutional process. After postponing the proposed extraordinary Parliamentary session to elect a President twice already, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has set a final date of 21 November to do so. If no consensus is reached by the 23rd, Lebanon will enter what is commonly referred to here as al majhoul ("the unknown", which signfies a constitutional vacuum) and the possibility of civil conflict will be very real. Nearly all areas of the country are awash with weapons, and many of the shabab (young men) on all sides have been trained and are ready for action.

Months of discussions and national, regional and international initiatives to resolve the crisis have failed for two principle reasons. First, the Lebanese political system was created with only one 'emergency hand-break' to halt such crises: sectarian consensus among an elite political class. Failing such consensus, the veneer of democratic institutions-the Constitution, the parliament, elections-is peeled off as sectarian leaders revert to their international patrons for guidance, and otherwise use the politics of sectarian fear to shore up support within their respective communities (something March 14 leaders have drawn on to capitalize on the orchestrated Sunni-Shia'a splits in the region, while opposition in general, and Hizbullah specifically, has made it a priority to resist such sectarian overtones for fear of being drawn away from their perceived main mission: resistance against Israel and strengthening of State under a national banner).

Second, and more importantly, the most significant international sponsor--the US--has thus far blocked any agreement that denies the realization of its own principle goal in Lebanon, namely disarming the Resistance and accomplishing what Israel could not do by force during its July 2006 invasion. US success in Lebanon would also be used to reclaim the initiative in its otherwise catastrophic 'war on terror' in the region.

The French have now launched one final initiative with the apparent support of both Syria and the US. Foreign Minister Kouchner has succeeded in pressuring the frail and indecisive Maronite Patriarch to hand him a pre-approved list of some six or seven nominees for president. This list is then to be deliberated by the leader of the Parliamentary majority Sa'ad Hariri (representing March 14, but also the US, French and Saudi interests) and Speaker Berri (on behalf of Hizbullah, Free Patriotic Movement's General Michel Aoun, and to a certain extent Syrian and Iranian interests) behind closed doors. The Patriarch, until recently, had been deeply reluctant to officially name any candidate in the absence of consensus among the Maronite Christians he represents. He rightly fears that any non-consensus candidate elected-as March 14 has repeatedly threatened to do with US support-would further weaken Christian power in Lebanon, perhaps even permanently.

If Hariri (a Sunni Muslim) and Berri (a Shi'a Muslim) can agree on one of the names proposed by the Patriarch before the 23rd of November, then the election of a President (a Maronite Christian) would be a mere formality and conflict would be averted for now. The crisis, however, would remain, as the two sides continue to lock horns over the formation of the next government (including the appointment of a new Prime Minister), its formal policy statement, the preparation of a new electoral law and eventually parliamentary elections in two years time.

On the other hand, if before the constitutionally required date no agreement is reached between Hariri and Berri, then March 14 (supported by the US) will likely convene outside the Parliament and choose a President of its choice by a simple majority. This will set forth a chain of reactions from the Opposition beginning with a campaign of civil disobedience, potentially escalating to the formation of a second government (or even a temporary military take-over), and ultimately to civil conflict.

It is not clear which path Lebanon will take, nor how the UN will react in case there is conflict. During his two day visit to Lebanon, UN SG Ban Ki-moon met with key players on both sides to push for consensus. He departed no wiser about how to solve this crisis or what he should do beyond making standard diplomatic references to Lebanese sovereignty and respect for the constitutional process. Interestingly, the SG was flanked by two of his senior UN Special Envoys: Terje Roed-Larsen, responsible for the implementation of the divisive UN resolution 1559 that calls for the disarming of 'militias' (read: Hizbullah) in Lebanon; and Geir Pedersen, charged with following up on implementation of UN Resolution 1701 that marked the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah following Israel's July-August 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

If the SG's dilemma could be illustrated in an old-fashioned Tom and Jerry cartoon (where an imaginary devil and angel appear as contradictory advisors to the main character), we could imagine over the SG's left shoulder the UN 'bad guy'-Larsen, considered a persona non grata in much of Lebanon and Syria for his outspoken positions and clear bias-whispering in the SG's ear to take sides against the opposition and insist on disarming Hizbullah in accordance with the US neocon and Israeli demands. Over the other shoulder, the UN 'good guy'-Pedersen, representing the flawed ideals and genuine commitment of an international civil servant pursuing conflict resolution under impossible circumstances-would be urging the SG to seek consensus among the Lebanese, even on the controversial matter of the Resistance's arms.

While the UN has little decisive influence on the ground in Lebanon, the epic battle between the contradictory imperatives of Resolution 1559 and Resolution 1701 is represents the larger struggle the UN, and the international community in general, has faced since the end of Cold War and the rise of US unilateralism and global hegemony. If Larsen's influence on the SG prevails in tandem with the US's continued reliance on military confrontations and divisive diplomacy, then the region will be at war for years to come and the UN as a whole will continue its dangerous spiral towards illegitimacy in a region whose people increasingly identify the UN with US policies.

If, on the other hand, Pedersen's more traditional diplomatic approach wins the day and Resolution 1559 is consigned to the backburner (at least temporarily if not permanently) it may not prevent conflict in Lebanon but it may yet preserve a legitimate space for the UN to serve as a forum for conflict resolution.

This article first appeared in Counterpunch.

*Karim Makdisi is Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Dept of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon. Email: km18@aub.edu.lb

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20 November:
Israel, Free Speech, and the Oxford Union
Professor Avi Shlaim*

 

Israel is often portrayed by its supporters as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. But these very same supporters, in their excessive zeal for their cause, sometimes end up by violating one of the most fundamental principles of democracy – the right to free speech. While accepting free speech as a universal value, all too often they try to restrict it when it comes to Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. The result is not to encourage but to stifle debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Britain prides itself on its tradition of free speech and civilized debate on all subjects, including Israel. The great majority of British Jews are part of this tradition. Professor Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, is a notable example of this fair-minded, liberal, and pluralistic tradition. One of his sixteen books is called The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. On the other side of the Atlantic, on the other hand, the public debate on the subject of Israel is much more fierce and partisan, leaving relatively little space for the dignity of difference. The passion with which many prominent American Jews defend Israel betrays an atavistic attitude of ‘My country, right or wrong’.

One example is Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and crusader on behalf of Israel. One of his books is called The Case for Israel. As the title suggests, this is not an objective, academic treatise but a lawyer’s brief for his client. The lawyer in question is no friend of free speech when it comes to criticism of Israel, however well substantiated. Recent events in Oxford suggest that those of us who thought that attempts to stifle free debate about Israel are confined to American campuses need to think again.

The Oxford Union is one of the world’s most illustrious debating chambers and a bastion of free speech. It was founded in the nineteenth century to uphold the principle of free speech and debate in England at a time when they were being severely curtailed. Recently, however, the Union failed to live up to its lofty ideals. A debate was scheduled for 23 October on the motion ‘This house believes that one-state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict’. Professor Ilan Pappé, Dr Ghada Karmi and I agreed to speak for the motion. Norman Finkelstein, the American-Jewish academic, Lord Trimble, the Northern Irish politician, and Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist, accepted the invitation to speak against the motion. In the end the debate took place without any of the scheduled speakers after an ugly and acrimonious, American-style row over the make-up of the panel.

Various friends of Israel complained to Luke Tryl, the President of the Oxford Union, that the debate was ‘unbalanced’ because it included Norman Finkelstein, a well-known critic of Israel, on the ‘pro-Israel’ side. What they failed to grasp, or deliberately chose to ignore, was that the motion was not for or against Israel but about alternative solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Professor Dershowitz was the first and the most aggressive of the protestors. He himself had been invited to speak but he replied that he would participate only if he could dictate the motion and approve the other speakers. These preposterous conditions were rejected and Dershowitz stayed away. But he did not simply sulk in his tent: that is not his style. He wrote to Tryl that it was outrageous for the Union to give Finkelstein a platform but, once again, he met with a rebuff. Dershowitz then turned his polemical blunderbuss directly against Finkelstein, calling him ‘an anti-Semitic bigot’ in an article he posted on the internet on 19 October under the title ‘The Oxford Union is Dead’.

Peace Now-UK co-chair Paul Usiskin not only added to the pressure on Tryl to drop Finkelstein but offered to take his place. On 14 October a small delegation of Oxford undergraduates went to see Tryl to question the inclusion of Finkelstein and Tatchell in pro-Israel side and to argue that the whole debate was unbalanced. It is perfectly legitimate for members of the Union to communicate their concerns to their president. But the insistence on balance in relation to an unbalanced international actor like Israel raises more questions than it answers.

Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians surely cannot be described as balanced by any stretch of the imagination. The Biblical injunction of ‘an eye for an eye’ is grisly enough, but Israel goes even farther by its habitual practice of exacting an eye for an eyelash! As Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians becomes more heavy-handed and violent, the very notion of balance needs to be re-examined. Luke Tryl displayed neither wisdom nor courage in dealing with these broader issues and he eventually caved in to the pressure. On 19 October, four days before the debate, he curtly informed Finkelstein that his invitation was rescinded. Paul Usiskin realized his burning ambition to be included in the debate as a member of the team opposing the motion.

On 21 October I wrote to Luke Tryl: ‘I understand that you have been subjected to a lot of pressure recently. You have my sympathy. But perhaps it was a mistake to give in to the pressure. Some people are never satisfied. In any case, I cannot see how dropping Norman Finkelstein can be squared with the principle of free speech’.

Mr Usiskin, greatly inflated his own part in this sorry saga in the hopelessly distorted account he gave to the correspondent of the Jerusalem Post. He even claimed the credit for having prevailed on Tryl to drop Finkelstein although Dershowitz has a stronger claim to this dubious distinction. Usiskin told the JP that the proposers of the one-state solution were disgruntled at his inclusion in the debate and demanded Finkelstein's re-invitation. The truth of the matter is that it was not of the slightest interest to me whether Usiskin took part in the debate or not. My only concern was with the infringement of the principle of free speech at my own university by excluding an academic expert from the debate on solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that Finkelstein and I were on opposite sides of the debate was irrelevant. Finally, Usiskin told the JP that I am a key figure in the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel. In fact, I strongly oppose the boycott because it would infringe the freedom of Israeli academics.

In the two days before the debate was due to take place, all other five of the original speakers pulled out. Lord Trimble, not unreasonably, was fed up with all the controversy. So was I. Luke Tryl invited me to take part in the debate as far back as 11 July. Although I did not like the motion, I made no attempt to modify it out of respect for the student officers of the union. Nor did I try to influence the line-up of the speakers. Tryl left me the choice to speak either for or against the motion and I hesitantly opted to speak for. I have in fact always been a supporter of the two-state solution but I planned to argue that that since Israel is systematically destroying the basis for a genuine two-state solution by its constant expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the one-state is the only remaining alternative. These nuances were lost in the media reports and spin that came to surround collapse of the debate.

My colleagues and I did not withdraw from the debate when we realized that we were going to lose, as our detractors told the media. Our démarche was intended as a protest against the shabby treatment of our academic colleague and the violation of the principle of free speech at the Oxford Union. Even at the eleventh hour we were still ready to rejoin the debate but only on condition that Professor Finkelstein was re-invited. He was not re-invited, so we stayed away. The debaters on the night were the ubiquitous Mr Usiskin and five students. The motion was defeated by 191 votes to 60. Groucho Marx once said to his host: ‘I had a great evening but this was not it!’ I feel somewhat the same way about this particular Oxford Union debate.

This article first appeared on Open Democracy.

*Avi Shlaim is a Fellow of St Antony's College and Professor of International Relations at St Antony's College, Oxford. He is the author of Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace.

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19 November:
Nuclear Israel vs. Nuclear Iran? An Inside Assessment
Ray Close
(Former US Government Official)

In reference to many recent reports assessing the possibilities of an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran, I have received the following extremely valuable comments from retired USAF Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has been concentrating on the study of nuclear proliferation and potential confrontation, particularly with respect to Iran, for many years. Colonel Gardiner says this:
 

"I briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency's Iran group about 9 months ago. I told them there were two questions they had to be able to answer to be of use to policymakers:
 
(a) Why hasn't Iran used chemical weapons to attack Israel before now?
(b) Why have the Iranians refrained from giving chemical weapons to terrorists?
 
From another perspective, I used to spend many of my waking hours targeting the Soviets. Let me just give you a couple of points. First, bad targeting
(burst height and aim point) greatly reduce the effectiveness of a weapon. I've shown my students at the War College that a 10 KT [kiloton] nuclear weapon on Fort McNair does only moderate damage to the CNN building near Union Station [in Washington].

Iran would need 30 to 50 weapons to pose a real threat to the existence of Israel.
 
Fallout goes to Syria and Iran and does not spread over Israel.
 
I have discussed these facts with a journalist who spent five years in Israel. He said you need to understand the meaning of "existential" threat. It's not about the physical damage. It's about the damage to the idea of Israel. The Zionist homeland was meant to be a place where Jews could be free from danger."
 
I responded to Colonel Gardiner that I would send this immediately to an Israeli friend of mine, a former senior military intelligence officer, who maintains that Israel will be in sufficient mortal danger to justify starting a preemptive war against Iran the moment it becomes clear that Iran has reached the point of no return in its nuclear weapons development program.
 
In a message from that Israeli friend the other day, he explained to me that the greatest danger posed to Israel by Iranian possession of a nuclear weapon is the fear factor (just what Colonel Gardiner's journalist source explained to him): the thought that Jews, in their homeland sanctuary that they fought so long and so hard to establish, could now be vulnerable to attack from a bloodthirsty fanatic bent on their annihilation is more than the majority of Israeli citizens would be willing to tolerate. Unless their government was willing to take the risks and pay the costs of launching a preemptive strike against this existential threat, they might flee the country in masses, and that would mean what my friend described as "the beginning of the quick end of the Jewish state." (This exodus, he predicted, could start before an actual 
attack, immediately after the Israeli public learned that the murderous Teheran regime had successfully produced a nuclear bomb --- their fear accentuated by the realization that neither their own government nor the Americans had shown the moral and political courage, and the military strength, to prevent this from happening.)
 
That comes from a man who is not just a highly respected military intelligence analyst, political scientist and historian. He is also a dedicated Zionist and strong Israeli nationalist. His doomsday prediction struck me as highly significant. It makes other Israeli actions and attitudes easier for me to understand.
 
I added to Colonel Gardiner that his two questions regarding Iranian intentions (as distinct from capabilities) are equally valuable and insightful. As he asked:
 
1. If Iran is determined to annihilate the Jewish population of Israel, why has the al-Quds Force not used chemical weapons against them already?
 
2. If Israel and America indeed face a realistic threat of existential proportions (a justification for preemptive war, in other words) from the danger that Iran might transfer weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, how do we explain Iran's reluctance so far to provide chemical weapons to their terrorist clients (like Israel's  immediate neighbors Hizballah or Hamas, for example?) Could it be that the reality of overwhelming nuclear superiority possessed by both the United States and Israel (Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD) is recognized and accepted as a sufficient deterrent by the supposedly irrational leaders of Iran?

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15 November:
Not Yet, Not There?
Brian T Edwards
Northwestern University

When Barack Obama suggested earlier this year in a Democratic debate that as President he would be willing to meet with and talk to his Iranian counterpart, he was quickly labeled naive (CNN.com, 25 July 2007).  When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush in May 2006, the first direct contact between the heads of state of the two nations since the Iranian revolution of 1979, he was also called naive  (NY Times, 10 May 2006).   In neither case was the idea of dialogue between stated enemies taken seriously by the American political establishment or the mainstream media. 

And yet for people in both the U.S. and Iran, whatever their particular allegiances to their respective presidents, dialogue seems a commonsense approach to warding off the ever ravenous appetites of the military-industrial complex.  Add to that the news--belatedly confirmed, and still barely registering in the U.S.--of back channel discussions between the U.S. and Iran regarding their common antagonist al-Qaida in the period between 9/11 and the “Axis of Evil” speech, and the refusal to condone dialogue or conversation seems itself particularly naive.

Meanwhile in a very different camp, both politically and culturally, the academic field of American Studies has found itself in something of a crisis.  Generally opposed to the Bush administration and its designs for the world and generally open to the idea of conversation and exchange, some progressive American Studies scholars in the U.S. have found themselves wondering how to engage with scholars of American culture and history based outside the U.S.

As Americans become increasingly aware that the separation that foreign observers traditionally have made between the American people and the U.S. state is starting to fade, there is a belated sense that perhaps scholarship about the U.S. by non-Americans might hold some interest.  Yet the models for engaging this scholarship, I suggest in a recent essay, still lag behind the impulse to do so.  As a result, the efforts of the U.S.-based American Studies Association to open itself up to transnational conversation, particularly with scholars from the Middle East and North Africa, may unintentionally suggest a neo-imperial model of incorporation, rather than true dialogue and exchange.  And thus such efforts unwittingly replicate the very political paradigm they explicitly reject.

At the same time, American Studies scholars building and teaching in the new programs that have been springing up in the Middle East during the past decade– some with the encouragement and support of the U.S. state, but the more interesting ones on their own volition and with their own funding --  are often starting from scratch.  Interested in engaging American Studies in the U.S. for purposes either practical or political, such Middle Eastern and North African scholars sometimes find themselves traveling a one-way street. As they visit the metropolitan center in search of enlightenment about the field, they find themselves welcomed, but not taken particularly seriously.  And in fact, it is they who may be reinventing the field itself.

My essay “American Studies in Tehran,” just published in Public Culture, attempts to describe and address these persistently interrupted dialogues and to jump start an as yet stalled conversation.

I do so by telling an interwoven tale of two American Studies scholars – one based in Tehran traveling to Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting of the ASA, the other  based just outside of Chicago traveling to Tehran to teach a short seminar at the new Institute for North American and European Studies (the latter is of course myself).  The parallels between these two scholars are meant to be understated but visible as they bump around places that are variously inhospitable and welcoming to them.

Clearly, my hope is for dialogue and exchange between Americans and Iranians in general, and American and Iranian scholars and students in particular.  I recognize the difficulties – practical, legal, and financial – of continuing such discussions, but I nonetheless think we can find ways around those impediments.  We must.  My allusion above to the famous ending to E.M. Forster’s novel of 1924 is of course meant as a warning.

© 2007 Brian T. Edwards

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8 November
"Telling Stories About America"
Liam Kennedy on US Public Diplomacy

This week the long-time advisor to George W. Bush, Karen Hughes,  was the latest Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy  to resign her post, leaving behind frustration with the failure to improve the US image abroad. Liam Kennedy, the Director of the Clinton Institute for American Studies, uses the event to reflect on the history of American public diplomacy and its difficulties amidst the current Bush Administration foreign policy and "War on Terror".---

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Hands-on public diplomacy: Karen Hughes in South Africa

 

Quis Custodiat Lex?
John Matlin
University of Birmingham.

Last week, the American press disclosed the existence of two 2005 secret legal opinions whereby the Justice Department authorized the CIA to barrage terror suspects with a combination of physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures. The Bush administration has confirmed the existence of the opinions, characterising them as approving techniques which were “tough, safe, necessary and lawful.”

Leading Congressional Democrats have condemned not only the failure by Justice to disclose the content of the opinions but the authorization of the acts themselves. So far, Senator John McCain (R. AZ) has remained silent but it is difficult to believe he would approve of harsh interrogation tactics similar to those visited on him during the Vietnam War. On a wider view, it is pure hypocrisy for the Bush administration to complain of torture by its middle-east enemies but permit such practices by its own people. America’s claim to the moral high ground of a liberal democracy is badly compromised.

Whilst leaks of confidential government documents cannot be condoned, legal ratification of administration policies sanctioning potential torture should be in the public domain. The habit of governments to keep legal opinions confidential is not new but if secrecy arises for political reasons, the refusal to disclose is not tenable. Blair’s refusal to disclose two contradictory opinions by Attorney-General Goldsmith on the Iraq War is a comparable example of a potential cover-up by government.

So far, criticism of Justice’s “torture” opinions has been limited to the political but there has been little commentary on the legal issues which arise. There are two of prime importance, namely the lacuna in the separation of powers doctrine and the necessity of the Courts to become pro-active.

Attorney-General Gonzalez, who authorised the legal opinions, was a government employee who reported directly to the President. He was also the most senior US law officer, thus had an overriding duty to the Courts to ensure his department acted within the law. If the legal opinions did authorise torture, which Bush denies but which the reported language of the opinions seems to indicate, the Attorney-General had a clear conflict of interest. Torture by the US government offends any number of provisions of the Constitution, let alone statute and international law. If the administration does not recognise such conflict, Congress should point it out forcibly and condemn what has happened, even though it is too late to seek impeachment of Mr Gonzalez, who resigned recently.

Furthermore, the silence of the Supreme Court justices is resounding. It is accepted that the Court is politically partisan but Justices are permitted to speak out where there is a patent government wrong. No legitimate government can lawfully use torture as part of their armoury. It is hard to believe that justices of the stature of Brandeis or Warren would have remained silent in such circumstances. Sadly, it is unlikely that the present justices will speak out, which damages not just the Court but the law.

On any view, torture is morally indefensible, inhumane and something which western democracies rightfully condemn. Furthermore, its effectiveness is highly suspect. What objective information ever emanated from witch-ducking or the auto da fe?