Monday, July 31, 2006

The Senate's true maverick

It's not John McCain, it's Chuck Hagel. CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Urging President Bush to turn all U.S. efforts toward "ending this madness," a leading Republican senator Monday broke with the Bush administration and called for an immediate cease-fire in the Mideast.

"The sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now," Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel said. "President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop."

The Bush administration has refused to call for Israel to halt its attacks on southern Lebanon, joining Israel in insisting that Hezbollah fighters must be pushed back from the Israeli-Lebanese border.

"Peace in our time"

The president had this to say in September, 2003, to the United Nations (source:
The Iraqi people are meeting hardships and challenges, like every nation that has set out on the path of democracy. Yet their future promises lives of dignity and freedom, and that is a world away from the squalid, vicious tyranny they have known. Across Iraq, life is being improved by liberty. Across the Middle East, people are safer because an unstable aggressor has been removed from power. Across the world, nations are more secure because an ally of terror has fallen.


First, we must stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as they build free and stable countries. The terrorists and their allies fear and fight this progress above all, because free people embrace hope over resentment, and choose peace over violence.


And at the same time, our coalition is helping to improve the daily lives of the Iraqi people. [...] I proposed to Congress that the United States provide additional funding for our work in Iraq, the greatest financial commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan. Having helped to liberate Iraq, we will honor our pledges to Iraq, and by helping the Iraqi people build a stable and peaceful country, we will make our own countries more secure.
Fine words. Reality, however, has been very different. Now, the Bush administration stands in opposition of an immediate cease-fire in the Israel v. Hezbollah conflict. However, the administration has few supporters on this position in Iraq. The AP (HT: Born at the Crest of Empire):
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued the call following the Israeli airstrike that killed at least 56 Lebanese, mostly women and children, in the village of Qana. It was the deadliest attack in nearly three weeks of fighting.

"Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire," al-Sistani said, in a clear reference to the United States.

"It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon," he added. "If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region."
It has been three years, and George W. Bush has yet to realize how much of a tangled trap he has spun.

There should be no debate

The Christian Science Monitor:
"I wanted to prevent the loss of life," Shaikh told the Toronto Star newspaper. "I don't want Canadians to think that these [suspects] are what Muslims are. I don't believe in violence here. I wanted to help, and I'm as homegrown as it gets."

Before this, Shaikh was a well-known conservative leader in the Muslim community. He runs a shariah arbitration center and is a fierce advocate for Islamic law, in Canada.

"Whatever the source of his motivation, he did his duty as a Canadian citizen," The National Post newspaper wrote in an editorial. "And he has taught a lesson that others in the Muslim community would do well to heed."

But that view is not shared by many in Toronto's Muslim community. Some wonder whether Shaikh couldn't have dissuaded the terrorism suspects, most of whom are younger than he, from violence. Some accuse him of entrapping the suspects. Some question his motivation - Shaikh claims he was paid C$77,000 (US$68,000) for his work and is owed another C$300,000. Others simply scorn him as a betrayer.
Before all other considerations, there must be a duty toward peace and nonviolence. The fact that this Muslim leader is even questioned by his peers is alarming.

Positions of strength

When the Israeli-Hezbollah (Lebanon) conflict was merely days old, as opposed to weeks old, a troubling element that could have lead to additional violence was the common perception of strength among the belligerent parties. This perception remains and extends beyond the immediate combatants to their larger benefactors.

Syria and Iran feel emboldened by some Hezbollah success and the continued mess in Iraq. Israel has military superiority, with air supremacy, and that makes generals happy. George W. Bush believes in a bellicose transformation of the region, which no one has been able to dislodge from his psyche.

Something has got to give. I hope that the better angles of human nature will develop this week. But, I believe the opposite impulse will rule.

What follows is an intentionally scattershot set of excerpts.

The Los Angeles Times:
DAMASCUS, Syria — Amid bitter condemnation across the Arab world for the Israeli attack that killed as many as 56 villagers in the Lebanese town of Qana, Syria said Sunday that it would insist on an "unconditional" cease-fire and that it remained opposed to the deployment of any foreign troops to end the fighting in southern Lebanon.

"Before everything, a cease-fire. Stop the war. Without any condition. Then we will talk about the exchange of prisoners, then we will talk about the whole peace process of the region," Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said in an interview, echoing the increasingly urgent call of Arab leaders for an end to the violence.
The New York Times:
And Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, made it clear in a speech to the Knesset today that Israel intends to continue its ground operations against Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon.

“We must not agree to a cease-fire that would be implemented immediately,’’ Mr. Peretz said. “If an immediate cease-fire is declared, the extremists will rear their heads anew.’’

At the end of a turbulent eight-day trip, Ms. Rice laid out what she called an “emerging consensus” for a cease-fire package. Under the proposal, Israel and Lebanon - presumably representing Hezbollah -- would agree to a cease-fire as part of a larger pact that would include installing international peacekeepers throughout southern Lebanon.
The New Yorker:
But Hezbollah’s interests are not reducible to the conventional terms of a casualty balance sheet. Hezbollah has embedded itself deep within Lebanese society, in effect creating a state within a state, with an extensive social-service network. Even if Israel manages to dislodge Hezbollah’s fighters, Nasrallah will likely remain the most powerful politician in the country, in part because the chaos of the last weeks has exposed the weakness of the government. Most of the Lebanese analysts I spoke with said they believed that Hezbollah had, on its own terms, been significantly strengthened by the conflict.

The damage to Lebanon, meanwhile, has been catastrophic. Fayyad said that he had arranged to evacuate his father from the family home in a village near the Israeli border, but he emphasized that Hezbollah’s forces would not leave south Lebanon without a fight. “You must remember that the point of resistance is not to hold ground and face off in front of another position,” Fayyad said. “That is classical warfare, but we are guerrillas. If the Israelis want to take the territory all the way up to the Litani River, do you think they can do it without heavy casualties?”

Fayyad finished his ice cream and stubbed out his cigar. Before we left Lina’s, he said, “This doesn’t mean that the battle isn’t difficult for us. It is. It’s painful, too. But the longer it goes on the harder it will be for them.”
The AP:
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that the entire Middle East peace could collapse because of Israel's fighting in Lebanon. "There is an urgent need for an unconditional cease-fire, which would pave the way for international efforts to end the crisis and deal with its consequences," he said in a nationwide TV address.

In Washington, President Bush stuck to his position that any cease-fire be accompanied by a wider agreement addressing the root causes of the fighting, such as Hezbollah's control of southern Lebanon, and Iran and Syria's influence in Lebanon.

Fighting was heavy in the northeast corner of south Lebanon around Taibeh and other border villages, where Israeli ground forces have been fighting Hezbollah guerrillas for nearly two weeks. Constant Israeli artillery blasts — not covered under the air halt — shook the hills.
The Christian Science Monitor:
Topping it all off, Iran specialists say, the diminutive but rhetorically explosive leader sees Iran's existential enemy, the United States, so weakened by its Iraq involvement that he and the regime's powerful mullahs are feeling less constrained by fears of America.

And the troubling reality, these experts add, is that the regime's analysis is more accurate than fanciful.

"Four years after being labeled part of the axis of evil, Iran has a sense of being on the rise while the US and the West are increasingly weak, and they have reason to think that way," says Lawrence Haas, an Iran specialist at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.
And there is the nuclear matter to consider. The AP:
UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council passed a weakened resolution Monday giving Iran until Aug. 31 to suspend uranium enrichment or face the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Because of Russian and Chinese demands, the text is weaker than earlier drafts, which would have made the threat of sanctions immediate. The draft now essentially requires the council to hold more discussions before it considers sanctions.
The Washington Post:
"The arrows are all pointing in the wrong direction," said Richard N. Haass, who was President Bush's first-term State Department policy planning director. "The biggest danger in the short run is it just increases frustration and alienation from the United States in the Arab world. Not just the Arab world, but in Europe and around the world. People will get a daily drumbeat of suffering in Lebanon and this will just drive up anti-Americanism to new heights."

The White House recognizes the danger but thinks the missiles flying both ways across the Israel-Lebanon border carry with them a chance to finally break out of the stalemate of Middle East geopolitics. Bush and his advisers hope the conflict can destroy or at least cripple Hezbollah and in the process strike a blow against the militia's sponsor, Iran, while forcing the region to move toward final settlement of the decades-old conflict with Israel.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Strangest War

There is an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council as the conflict in Lebanon appears ready to erupt further.

The New York Times:
QANA, Lebanon, July 30 — A series of Israeli airstrikes in this small mountain town today killed dozens of people in the deadliest single attack in the war here so far. At least 54 people were killed, with 37 of them children, news agencies reported.
Substantial anti-Western protests were held in Beirut.

U.S. stance

No call for an immediate cease-fire from the U.S. administration. Bush sees this as a mix between the Global War on Terror and a proxy war with Iran. The strategy is, at best, risky. More likely this strategy is flawed and dangerous.

The Washington Post:
But now, analysts said, the administration is effectively back endorsing all-out force again, in defiance of allies, as part of its policy of trying to rid the Middle East of militants and radicals, or the "drain the swamp" policy.

In his weekly radio address, President Bush placed the Lebanon crisis in the context of Iraq and the broader U.S. war on terrorism. "As we work to resolve this current crisis, we must recognize that Lebanon is the latest flash point in a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region," Bush said.
The Los Angeles Times:
"The stakes are larger than just Lebanon," the president told reporters Friday after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "The root cause of the problem is you've got Hezbollah that is armed and willing to fire rockets into Israel; a Hezbollah … that I firmly believe is backed by Iran and encouraged by Iran."

He added: "I also believe that Iran would like to exert additional influence in the region. A theocracy would like to spread its influence, using surrogates…. And so, for the sake of long-term stability, we've got to deal with this issue now."

Another U.S. official, who spoke about the Middle East turmoil on condition of anonymity, was more blunt. In Lebanon, the United States and Iran "are conducting a proxy war," he said, with Israel fighting for one side and Hezbollah for the other.

"It is in our interest to see Hezbollah defeated," he said.
Tony Blair's position is vulnerable.

The Observer:
Tony Blair was facing a full-scale cabinet rebellion last night over the Middle East crisis after his former Foreign Secretary warned that Israel's actions risked destabilising all of Lebanon.

Jack Straw, now Leader of the Commons, said in a statement released after meeting Muslim residents of his Blackburn constituency that while he grieved for the innocent Israelis killed, he also mourned the '10 times as many innocent Lebanese men, women and children killed by Israeli fire'.

He said he agreed with the Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells that it was 'very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics used by Israel', adding: 'These are not surgical strikes but have instead caused death and misery amongst innocent civilians.' Straw said he was worried that 'a continuation of such tactics by Israel could destabilise the already fragile Lebanese nation'.

The terrorist organization appears politically strong. An honest assessment of the military strength of the group is next to impossible.

The Times of London:
The furious battle and its toll sent shock waves through Tel Aviv and revealed to the wider world that there was going to be no quick ending to this Middle Eastern conflict. Three weeks after Hezbollah ignited the violence by killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two others, the Israelis are still struggling to clear the militants and their rockets out of southern Lebanon.

Yesterday Hezbollah remained entrenched in Bint Jbeil; the death toll in Lebanon had reached more than 600, according to the Lebanese authorities, and hundreds of thousands had fled from their homes.

Yet some 80% of the Lebanese people, far from rejecting Hezbollah, were expressing their support for its actions, according to one opinion poll. In Iran radical Islamic students were setting off to join the battle.
The Observer:
Two weeks into the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah, Wednesday's battle - 'the longest day', one newspaper called it - may have marked a bloody turning point. Indeed last night Israel announced it was pulling its ground troops out of Bint Jbeil, saying it had accomplished its objectives there and dealt a heavy blow to the militant group, but admitting it had paid a heavy price with the lives of Israeli soldiers. Heavy indeed, as it was a withdrawal, not a victory. Hizbollah fighters still hold Bint Jbeil.

The strangest war in Israel's history began almost by accident. In the safety of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, out of range of the rockets, it has had an air of bizarre unreality. Now it has become desperately real - a grim swirl of military funerals and interviews with grieving families.

Friday, July 28, 2006

So, you say you want a resolution

The latest from CNN:
President Bush says he would back a U.N. resolution, deployment of multinational force, to end Middle East crisis.
More later...

Tone deaf

It is a familiar question: Will George W. Bush change his tone based on the pleadings of an embattled Tony Blair? One should assume the answer to be "no", but one should never assume. We shall know soon enough.

As they sit down to chat, we see this from Hezbollah (via CNN):
Hezbollah says it has fired a new rocket, Khaibar-1, at the Israeli town of Afula, south of Haifa, the Associated Press reports.
This may be the expansion of hostilities that has been vowed over the weeks.

George W. Bush is likely to remain hell bent (quite the appropriate term) on remaking the Middle East in his uninformed Wilsonian vision. The fact that this strategy has lead to a stronger Iran, more militant Islam, and the loss of American prestige seems to not resonate with this man.

Blair's position (uncomfortable)

The Guardian:
Tony Blair will press George Bush today to support "as a matter of urgency" a ceasefire in Lebanon as part of a UN security council resolution next week, according to Downing Street sources.

At a White House meeting, the prime minister will express his concern that pro-western Arab governments are "getting squeezed" by the crisis and the longer it continues, the more squeezed they will be, giving militants a boost. The private view from No 10 is that the US is "prevaricating" over the resolution and allowing the conflict to run on too long.
The Times of London:
Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British Ambassador to the United States, warned this morning that Mr Blair was paying a heavy political price for what was being seen as his blind loyalty to America's stance, blocking international calls for a speedy end to the violence.

Fourteen British charities today took out a full page advertisement in The Times and other newspapers, urging the Prime Minister to use his meeting with Mr Bush to call for an immediate ceasefire.
The Times of London:
Even around his own Cabinet table, there are many, many more dissenters than loyalists on this issue. Last Thursday, even stalwart Blairites such as David Miliband and Lord Grocott (Chief Whip in the Lords) spoke up against him.

A swift canvass of Cabinet views yesterday confirmed this. “There’s a lot of unease,” said one minister. “The consequences of this are extremely serious. It definitely doesn’t help Tony’s position.” Another said it was “absolutely dreadful — and the sight of us being rather powerless in it all is depressing too”. A third was more astringent still. “It’s doing incredible damage. This could be the end of him. If Tony can’t get this right, it will hasten his end.”
Hezbollah's strength

The New York Times:
Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.

An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.
Bloomberg News:
About 70 percent of Lebanese approve of Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in the July 12 raid that sparked Israel's offensive, according to a poll of 800 people published July 26 by the Beirut Center for Research and Information.

Nasrallah, 46, has spent his 14-year career as secretary general of Hezbollah juggling his role in Lebanon with his ties to Iran, the country that funds and arms his group, and to neighboring Syria, which controlled Lebanon for 29 years and backed Hezbollah's right to arms.

Trained in local Palestinian military camps, he studied theology in Iraq's Shiite holy city of Najaf and in Iran. He rose through Hezbollah's ranks by turning guerrilla fighters into a militia to battle the Israeli occupation.

Nasrallah has stage-managed Hezbollah's move into politics, making it a key player in ruling Lebanon, where decisions are taken by a cabinet made up of representatives of the various religious strands. The group's political arm has 14 members in the 128-seat parliament.
Israel entrenched

The Christian Science Monitor:
JERUSALEM – With relatively heavy losses in Lebanon and unexpectedly fierce resistance from Hizbullah, the Israeli army shifted Thursday in the direction of using far more firepower in the two-week-old conflict.

While many nations are increasingly critical of Israel's offensive in Lebanon, the mainstream Israeli reading of the situation seems the opposite: Much more military force - not less - is the key to beating back Hizbullah.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Under pressure

You cannot win a counterinsurgency with airpower.

The New York Times:
JERUSALEM, July 27 — A day after Israel suffered its worst losses in Lebanon, the government today ruled out a major military escalation for now, opting to continue focusing on wide-ranging airstrikes and limited ground incursions along the border.

While Israelis overwhelmingly back the military operations in Lebanon, a growing number of politicians and media commentators are calling for a more intense ground campaign to drive Hezbollah militants away from Israel’s northern border, where they have been launching 100 rockets or more on most days.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s security cabinet did, however, approve call-ups for up to three divisions of reserve soldiers — an estimated 30,000 troops — which suggested Israel was gearing up for the possibility of a protracted conflict.
The present wait-and-see attitude out of Washington, D.C., may let this conflict evolve on regional dynamics -- toward a larger offensive and a prolonged engagement. That would spell disaster for the global war on terrorism.

But this is the president of false visions. His ideas, his gut-feelings, are leading us to disaster.

Securing Baghdad

The Los Angeles Times:
Chiarelli said that pulling back the troops made sense when the enemy was mainly insurgent groups. But now that the violence in Baghdad is increasingly between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, stopping it requires a new approach, he said.

"What we have here is a level of sectarian violence," he said. "And the way you have to fight this is that you have to have presence on the streets. I don't know any other way to fight it."

Under the latest plan, military officials hope to establish zones of security by putting robust U.S. and Iraqi forces in key neighborhoods, then gradually expand those safe areas. Throughout the city, the Americans will try to quickly contain outbreaks of sectarian killing.

Nine thousand U.S. soldiers, 8,500 Iraqi soldiers and 34,000 Iraqi police officers provide security in Baghdad. Military officials plan to bolster those numbers with 4,000 additional U.S. troops and 4,000 more Iraqi soldiers.

But the cornerstone of the new plan is economic development projects, which Chiarelli is known for championing. When he commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad from March 2004 to March 2005, he reduced the violence in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City by putting many of the fighting-age men to work digging a sewer system.

Reconstruction projects have fallen by the wayside as money has diminished and violence has soared. That violence now has given Chiarelli an opportunity to test his ideas on a grander scale.

Double tragedy

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) - A Texas family that had already paid a hefty price in the war on terror is in mourning again.

Two years after a son was killed in Iraq, their only other son has died in Afghanistan. '

Corporal Jose Velez was killed in 2004 when his unit came under fire in Fallujah. At that point, his brother, Army Specialist Andrew Velez, was given the option of not having to return to combat. But his father says he wanted to.

This week, the family learned Andrew was killed. Their father says that while he feels like his heart has been "pulled out," he adds that he can't be angry.

Andrew Velez leaves a wife and three children, ages two, three and five.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


This is a fanciful world of foreign policy for our president. He seems to believe that a war can last for more than two weeks, grow increasingly bloody for each side, and yet a cease-fire remains a certainty. Cease-fires happen when both sides have something to gain from the end of hostilities. At this point, Israel will not agree to a cease-fire because there are chunks of Lebanon they want to deprive to Hezbollah. Hezbollah won't agree to a cease-fire because they are brutal and still successful. They maintain about a hundred rocket attacks per day, and have proven tough to dislodge from well entrenched positions.

More troublingly, both sides seem to believe they can win and/or have to win. At this point, can we expect Israel to cease hostilities until they have control over several kilometers of Lebanon? If they were to stop their incursions, Hezbollah would claim a victory of sorts. The same dynamic works for Hezbollah. Were they to declare a unilateral cease-fire, Israel could claim a victory.

An international peace-keeping, or peace-making, force could settle the "buffer zone" question for Israel. However, a cease-fire seems to be a necessary precondition for such a force.

The Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration's effort to assemble an international peacekeeping force for Lebanon has quickly run into several roadblocks, including one especially daunting: Few countries seem willing to commit troops, especially without a cease-fire agreement in place.

The White House has said no U.S. troops would be part of such a force. Britain says it is stretched too thin to take on another deployment. France has called talk of such a force "premature," while German officials wince at the idea of their troops on Israel's border.
With neither Israel nor Hezbollah close to a cease-fire, such a force remains a work of fiction. Finding the troops to constitute the force is actually much more complicated than this article recounts. How many countries would be eager to position troops in the region, between two rivals, with chaos developing in Iraq?

There is one potential motivation for a cease-fire that could work effectively on Israel and may be effective with Hezbollah. That would be strong international pressure. That would require the United States applying pressure.

A senior U.N. diplomat described the mood in the talks as somber. He said everyone but the United States wanted cessation of fighting to make room for more negotiations and humanitarian aid.

"This wouldn't require much contact between parties, and you can build on this for a political dialogue, but the United States wants formal cease-fire as part of a comprehensive deal, return of soldiers, etc.," the source said.
Et cetera in this case also includes a no-go zone for Hezbollah. That, it seems, will have to be imposed on the terrorist group through the use of force. That, it seems, is still some time off.

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in fierce fighting with Hezbollah militiamen Wednesday in southern Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces said.
George W. Bush deserves some credit for his pursuit, or acceptance, of the pacification of Hezbollah. However, the matter is at best a gambit. The guiding vision is detailed in this Washington Post story:
"If this Lebanon emerges stronger from this crisis, then the enemies of peace and stability in the area will be dealt a big defeat. In many ways, for the region, Lebanon is a polyglot country that represents the hopes of many," C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, told reporters traveling with Rice from Jerusalem to Rome.

"The new Middle East is not going to be built every single day with a big victory in one place or another," he added. "It's got to be done with a steady effort. This is an opportunity now in the midst of this crisis to see freedom strengthened in Lebanon. And I expect that that can occur if we get the responsible voices prevailing over the irresponsible ones."
Part of the plan was to pull more moderate Arab states into the pro-Western sphere. This was detailed by Bloomberg News in the beginning of the week:
July 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is trying to make sure that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab states that have criticized Hezbollah for attacking Israel don't back down under pressure from their own citizens or other nations supporting the Shiite militia.
But these governments are not democratic and they are not stable. They can, at best, support American interests in fits and starts.

The Los Angeles Times:
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist government has had testy relations with Washington since coming to power a little more than a year ago, has also been critical of "abusive" force in the region, alluding to Israel.

"The silences of today in light of what is happening in the Mideast could become the regrets of tomorrow, because waiting for time to pass costs human lives," Zapatero said.

Germany, while recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, warned that Lebanon could be "further destabilized" under a prolonged bombing campaign.

Perhaps more worrisome for Washington, two of its strongest Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — which had generally sided with the U.S. as the conflict began — on Tuesday voiced strong misgivings over the severity of the Israeli airstrikes and echoed European calls for a speedy end to the crisis.
Now, it seems Israel is forced into a prolonged (weeks, months) conflict in Lebanon. An international force is not likely for some time. The fight will continue. The war on terror will only grow hotter.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The muddled Middle East

I'll open this post with David Gregory, which would infuriate the Right if I had any readership at all:
Just back from the White House press conference with Nouri Al-Malaki and I'm struck by a couple of things: It was the Iraqi prime minister's first ever visit to the White House and yet the White House allowed just two questions from the American and Iraqi press. So many issues remained unaddressed. It would seem to me that the president would want a fuller airing of his views on a subject severely undermining his political status at home and U.S. policy abroad.

Here's what I would have asked: "Mr. President, you argued before the war that invading Iraq would bring stability to a vital region of the world and would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. Yet today, sectarian violence in Iraq is killing 100 civilians a day in Baghdad; Democratic reform has produced Hamas and Hezbollah; U.S. policy has also created a defiant, resurgent Iran. Do you acknowledge fundamental misjudgments about the war and what do you do about them now?"

I sure would like to know the answer to that question.
Gregory knows the reason why there were only two questions. Lord knows how long those two heads of state could last in the same room if what Edward Wong reported today is correct, the New York Times:
The requests will include asking President Bush to allow American-led troops in Iraq to be tried under Iraqi law, and to call for a halt to Israeli attacks on Lebanon, according to several Iraqi politicians, and to a senior member of Mr. Maliki’s party who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the prime minister.

Mr. Maliki is also expected to demand more autonomy for Iraqi forces, though he will not ask for a quick withdrawal of the 134,000 American troops here, the officials say.


Mr. Maliki and other top Shiite leaders also want to maintain strong ties to Iran, whose influence is rising across the Middle East, officials say.
The New York Times on the results (the little we know): "Bush and Iraqi Leader Remain Far Apart on Lebanon"

The two leaders' approach seems to differ from long-term optimism as compared to short-term fears. The Times of London:
WHEN Tony Blair called the fighting in Lebanon a catastrophe yesterday the response of his Iraqi counterpart was blunt.

The Israeli onslaught was, in fact, beyond catastrophe and would only boost extremism in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki said on his first official visit to London. He said that the broader effect of the two-week-old war would spur “a great push towards fundamentalism and extremism” in the region.
There is a complicated U.S. plan for the region, which TIME details on their website. The magazine concludes:
So, while the framework of a deal may be emerging, getting all the principal players on board to close it will be one of the major diplomatic challenges of our time.
The proposal begins only after a cease-fire, which leads me to believe that either Israel or Hezbollah will have to give up. Neither seems likely in the next few days, or even weeks.

The Christian Science Monitor notes the awkward posture of the administration:
The Bush administration's principle of avoiding the international players it finds most objectionable is facing in the Middle East what may be its biggest test.

It is a diplomatic practice that the Bush administration has used elsewhere, but without clear results thus far, analysts say.

Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is a skeptic. "To imagine you could somehow subcontract to someone else the contacts and pressuring with a party you consider crucial but at the same time disagreeable or objectionable is not a good" approach, he says .

He says the Bush administration has used the same diplomatic model in other cases: toward North Korea, "burying any contact in the six-party talks while counting on China to use its influence, even though our interests are not the same" as Beijing's; and toward Iran, "where we've subcontracted diplomacy to the Europeans because we won't talk to Tehran."

Now the United States is saying it won't talk to Syria, "so we're trying to find someone to delegate that to," says Ambassador Freeman. "We have to realize, however, that it is extremely unlikely that even our friends the Saudis would be as vigorous in defining and defending our interests as we would be."
While this rather patient approach to a potential regional war wanders along, the situation in Iraq is quite dire. The president today, via the Washington Post:
President Bush said today the U.S. military will move troops to Baghdad from other parts of Iraq in an effort to quell the rising sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital.

"The violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and therefore there needs to be more troops," Bush said at a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is on his first visit to the United States since becoming prime minister.
There is an alternative plan in the news today, also from the Post:
Hakim's contention that neighborhoods should form their own defense committees -- his fourth step -- is shared by many Iraqis who feel they cannot rely on their country's security forces or foreign troops to protect them. Others, however, have expressed fears that the people's committees would amount to nothing more than de facto militias in a country where militia attacks have caused much of the bloodshed.

Militias associated with Shiite parties -- including the armed wing of Hakim's Supreme Council, known as the Badr Organization -- have been widely accused of mass killings and kidnappings of Sunni Arabs. Iraqi police forces, which answer to the Shiite-led Interior Ministry and often work closely with the party militias, also have been blamed.
Then there is also the Turkish/Kurdish issue, the Washington Times:
What is more puzzling is the U.S. insistence that Turkey should deal with the Iraqi-Kurdistan regional government on the PKK matter. In the U.S. federal system, if a foreign country claims to be victim of a "terrorist" attack originating in any part of the United States, Washington takes the responsibility. Therefore, the U.S. insistence on doing things the other way around in Turkey is equated as supporting an independent Kurdistan.

If there is any mistake, though, this week's meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be a golden opportunity for them both to send a strong message in the fight against PKK terrorism. After all, Turkey is the only country in the region that has imported terrorism from Iraq. And its patience is time well spent in clarifying the parts of the big picture going forward. Mr. Bush has said that every country has the right to defend itself. And it is never late to start doing so.
This is quite the full foreign policy plate. That was exactly the warning raised by a number of experts in 2002, 2003, 2004 and so on.

Headline: "Sen. Specter preparing bill to sue Bush"

The A.P.:
WASHINGTON - A powerful Republican committee chairman who has led the fight against President Bush’s signing statements said Monday he would have a bill ready by the end of the week allowing Congress to sue him in federal court.

“We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will...authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president’s acts declared unconstitutional,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on the Senate floor.

Specter’s announcement came the same day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duty to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action.

Tough words and the President of the United States

I am glad to hear that the United States will increase its military presence in Baghdad. The scale of violence in that city has approached a civil war. However, our president really, really, really can misspeak. CNN:
"Conditions change inside a country," Bush said at a joint White House news conference with the Iraqi leader. "The question is, 'will we be facile enough to deal with them, will we be nimble enough.'" Bush said the answer is yes.
fac·ile ( P ) Pronunciation Key (fsl)
1. Done or achieved with little effort or difficulty; easy. See Synonyms at easy.

2.Working, acting, or speaking with effortless ease and fluency.

3. Arrived at without due care, effort, or examination; superficial: proposed a facile solution to a complex problem.

4. Readily manifested, together with an aura of insincerity and lack of depth: a facile slogan devised by politicians.

5. Archaic. Pleasingly mild, as in disposition or manner.
When he makes an error like this, it's usually so bad that I second guess myself...

Monday, July 24, 2006

``The Constitution is not what the president says it is."

File this one under "stinging rebuke". The Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- President Bush should stop issuing statements claiming the power to bypass parts of laws he has signed, an American Bar Association task force has unanimously concluded in a strongly worded 32-page report that is scheduled to be released today.

The bipartisan panel of legal specialists includes a former FBI director, a former federal appeals court chief judge, former Republican officials, and leading scholars.

The panel said presidents do not have the authority to declare that sections of the bills they sign are unconstitutional, and that they thus need not be enforced as Congress wrote them.

Bush has used these so-called signing statements to challenge more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office, more than all previous presidents combined.

``The president's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being, unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," the report said. ``The Constitution is not what the president says it is."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Situational awareness

Bush has decided on a new course for Israeli-Arab conflicts. We'll come in and play peace-maker, I guess. Condi is outlining the plan now.

The Los Angeles Times:
International pressure for a cease-fire mounted, but with little sign of progress. A senior United Nations official said privately that he expected Israel's bombardment of Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon to continue for weeks.
The Washington Post:
The U.S. position also reflects Bush's deepening belief that Israel is central to the broader campaign against terrorists and represents a shift away from a more traditional view that the United States plays an "honest broker's" role in the Middle East.

In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah.
["believes he is doing in Iraq." Yikes]

Boston Globe:
Although US officials say they have no evidence that Iran directly ordered the Islamic extremist movement Hezbollah to carry out the kidnapping, they contend that the move was part of a coordinated effort by groups allied with Iran to frustrate US interests across the Middle East.

``We see this as a power play by Iran," said a senior US official who has been closely following the developments in the Middle East. ``It's scary because Iran is a powerful country. One of the things that they are trying to say to us is, `Look what we can do to you. Look how much pain we could cause.' "
[One planned well in advance, with all those new rockets we did not know about.]

The Times of London:
BRITAIN blames Iran for the eruption of fighting in Lebanon and wants to use crisis talks to build an alliance for its long-term “containment”.

A new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme, expected next week, will be the cornerstone of this strategy, according to senior British officials.

The plan, which echoes the “containment” of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, will aim to tap growing Arab alarm at Iran’s regional ambitions and its ability to stir up their own restive populations.

The move reflects British frustration with the US’s failure to devise a plan for dealing with Tehran, once the Iraqi conflict stripped it of the appetite for military action.

It is “no coincidence” that last week’s raid by Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla group, which triggered the conflict, immediately followed Iran’s declaration that it would not curb its nuclear work, officials believe.
Bloomberg News:
July 21 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to reconcile demands for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah with the U.S. priority to disarm the Islamic militia when she meets United Nations officials today in New York.
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israel is ratcheting up the pressure on people in southern Lebanon on the 10th day of conflict with Hezbollah guerrillas based there.

Airdrops of leaflets warning residents to leave their homes and move north of the Litani River 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Israeli border came as the Israel Defense Forces said it was calling up to 6,000 troops in six battalions for reinforcements along the border.
The Guardian:
The Lebanese defence minister said Lebanon's army was ready to defend the country against any land invasion by Israel. Elias al-Murr, when asked if the Lebanese army would fight alongside Hizbullah against any land incursion by Israel, told al-Arabiya: "Our constitutional duty is to defend Lebanon as a Lebanese army. This is our role."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Headlined: "Bush's Poverty Talk Is Now All but Silent"

A presidency of ambitious and timely rhetoric -- with little substance. I cannot wait till the first nonpartisan historical accounts of this @ssclown's reign are produced.

The Washington Post:
As it happened, poverty's turn in the presidential limelight was brief. Bush has talked little about the issue since the immediate crisis passed, while pursuing policies that his liberal critics say will hurt the poor. He has publicly mentioned domestic poverty six times since giving back-to-back speeches on the issue in September. Domestic poverty did not come up in his State of the Union address in January, and his most recent budget included no new initiatives directed at the poor.

Tony Snow, the president's press secretary, said Bush is unlikely to invoke poverty when he addresses the national convention of the NAACP today, and instead will focus on opportunities available to everyone. "After all, the goal is prosperity," Snow said.

Preoccupied by war and the specter of terrorism and threatened with revolt by his core supporters because of what they see as his free-spending ways, Bush has used the bully pulpit of the presidency not to marshal a new national consensus for fighting poverty but to make the case for cutting taxes along with domestic programs. He has never publicly discussed the growing crisis of young, uneducated black men, whose plight has worsened in the past decade even as the economy has generally flourished, according to a recent spate of academic studies.

Defanging Hezbollah?

Israel's goal now seems clear.

The Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — Although wary of multinational peacekeeping operations, the Bush administration is working with allies to find a way to insert a robust military force and a civilian international presence in Lebanon to strengthen the frail government and break the grip of Hezbollah, U.S. and foreign diplomats say.

The peacekeepers would be positioned along Lebanon's southern border in an effort to prevent future Hezbollah attacks on Israel, whereas the civilian officials would be scattered elsewhere in the Arab country, including at key entry points, to halt the flow of military equipment from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah, the officials say.
Iran's role

The Los Angeles Times:
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because intelligence matters are involved, said Hezbollah fighters, once viewed as a ragtag group of guerrillas, appear to have received training by Iran in sophisticated missile technologies. Some of the training may have taken place in Iran, they said.

"The analysis around here is they have more expertise than the Lebanese military," a senior U.S. military official said.

U.S. defense and intelligence officials said that — despite the speculation of some analysts, including Israeli officials, that Iran was directly involved in the combat — there was little evidence that its special operations groups were fighting alongside the Shiite Muslim militants.
Britain's view

The Times of London:
BRITAIN fears that Israel’s assault on Hezbollah is failing to cripple the guerrilla group and that continued bombardment will bring huge civilian casualties in Lebanon for little military gain.

The rising concern that any further Israeli military action could intensify the crisis, expressed by senior officials yesterday, strikes a much more urgent tone than the American position, which accepts a continued Israeli campaign to crush the Shia militant group.
Israel's view on an occupation

The Philadelphia Inquirer:
"Look at what happened when the United States sent troops to Iraq," said former Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan, who commanded an Israel Defense Forces division in 1993 and now heads Israel's West Bank security barrier project.

He said an invasion of Lebanon was unlikely for two reasons: "One risk is that you usually pay a price in the loss of lives, and the second reason is you usually stay for 18 years."

Dayan was referring to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to go after PLO forces who had gathered in southern Lebanon and were attacking northern Israel in a fashion not dissimilar to what Hezbollah has been doing.

Iraq in trouble

Has the mainstream media covered this enough?

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's top Shiite cleric urged his followers Thursday to refrain from reprisal violence against Sunnis, his strongest call yet for an end to increasing sectarian bloodshed that threatens to erupt into full-scale civil war.
The statement by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani came as U.S. military officials reported a 40% increase in the daily average of attacks in the Baghdad area.

U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said there has been an average of 34 attacks a day against U.S. and Iraqi forces in the capital over the past five days. The daily average for the period June 14 until July 13 was 24 a day, he said.

"We have not witnessed the reduction in violence one would have hoped for in a perfect world," Caldwell said at a news briefing Thursday. "The only way we're going to be successful in Baghdad is to get the weapons off the streets."
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled their homes in fear as sectarian violence has turned ever more bitter since a U.S.-backed national unity government was formed two months ago, official data showed on Thursday.
Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Gunmen in the uniforms of Iraq's Shiite-dominated police commandos set up a checkpoint north of the capital and kidnapped 10 employees of the main Sunni religious foundation Wednesday, the latest attack in a growing sectarian war.

Iraqi officials said the employees of the Sunni Waqf endowment were in a minibus heading home to the Taji area when they were stopped by men wearing black uniforms and traveling in sport utility vehicles apparently from the Interior Ministry.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Not your typical WW3 rant

Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post notes this, with an Archduke reference early on:
I review this familiar history for those of us (myself included) who've been wondering how the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers (and the killing of eight others in the Hezbollah raid) has escalated in less than a week to what may be the brink of a cataclysmic regional war with ghastly global implications. The two crises and the sets of conflicting forces are by no means parallel, but in each the power of nationalism, the sense of national victimization, the need for revenge, the opportunity for miscalculation, the illusion of attainable victory, and all-around fear and rage loom large. More inexplicably, so does the American absence.

In 1914, of course, America was not yet a member of the great powers club. George W. Bush has no such excuses.
Thus he rebukes the president for inaction. Current policy is completely new. In the past, U.S. presidents have had a bias toward ending conflict in the Middle East as soon as possible. However, George W. Bush is up to something...

The New York Times:
American officials signaled that Ms. Rice was waiting at least a few more days before wading into the conflict, in part to give Israel more time to weaken Hezbollah.

The strategy carries risk, partly because it remains unclear just how long the rest of the world, particularly America’s Arab allies, will remain silent as the toll on Lebanese civilians rises.
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Some analysts interpret the apparent absence of urgency as tacit support for Israel to continue its military campaign.

"The United States will allow Israel to go on pounding Hezbollah and its strongholds until the group says, 'Uncle,' " said Israeli analyst Amatzia Baram. "Then Uncle Sam will step in."
The Washington Times:
Israel's military operation in Lebanon is designed to cripple Hezbollah by destroying its headquarters, weapons stockpiles and supply network, and eventually eliminating the militant group, Israeli officials and analysts said yesterday.
The administration seems to think, and perhaps rightly, that letting Israel knock Hezbollah around and create a buffer zone will work. This is a way that Israel and America can engage a proxy of Iran and Syria without launching into a larger conflict, maybe. Here is one academic in the Asia Times:
Hezbollah, in turn, needs to prove to the Lebanese public that it doesn't need Israel's enmity to justify its existence. Dragging Israel into the heart of Beirut, recently rebuilt after decades of warfare, does the exact opposite. It sends Lebanese society the signal that Hezbollah's continued existence comes at great peril for Lebanon's future.

"It led us to a war we are not prepared to fight," Yassin Soueid, a retired Lebanese general, told the Washington Post. "Israel could hit the presidential palace ... They can hit wherever they want, and there is nothing we can do about it."

Iran, on the other hand, is playing a high-risk game with the West over the nuclear issue. Its strategy seems to be to continuously defy the US, but stop short of trapping itself in a military confrontation it knows it cannot win.
If Israel knocks Hezbollah down a peg, this could be a good thing. But in the Arab street, this will be viewed as America and Israel attaching innocents. That view is simplistic but not completely wrong. Even if George W. Bush eyes useful short term gains in this conflict -- with his inaction -- the potential long term tensions and terrorism need to be weighed. Moreover, the wolves are in the field now. Who knows when they will stop.

"In Iraq, Civil War All but Declared"

That post title is the headline the Los Angeles Times has applied to Borzou Daragahi's latest. The lede:
BAGHDAD — Retaliatory massacres by gunmen and bombers linked to rival Muslim sects have left more than 130 people dead across Iraq over the last two days, the latest casualties of what some politicians now are calling an undeclared civil war.
The most significant quotes:
Since the beginning of May, attacks by Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslims have claimed the lives of more than 6,000 Iraqi civilians, according to a United Nations study and Iraqi police reports.

The Kufa blast, coming on the heels of mass killings and bombings attributed to Sadr's Al Mahdi militia and its Sunni Arab enemies, brought the battle to the Shiite cleric's doorstep, igniting fears of a fresh wave of reprisal killings.

"The message is clear, and the message confirms the sectarian differences," said Fadhil Sharih, a leader of the Sadr movement. "It seems clear that it's been moving toward the direction of civil war."

U.S. and Iraqi government leaders have argued that the 150,000-strong foreign troop presence has kept the country from descending into full-scale civil war. But many Iraqi officials fear the threshold has been crossed.

"What is happening in Iraq is a disaster and a tragedy," Adnan Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab leader, said in an interview.

"It's bloodshed and killing of the innocents, killing the elderly and women and children. It's mass killings. It's nothing less than an undeclared civil war."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Conflict's own momentum

All this talk of a World War Three is premature, though I have engaged in it informally and in comment forums. The characterization, in my mind, is more of an analogy. There will be, however, no massive mobilizations of reserve, volunteer, and conscript forces within the next month. A very prominent Israeli raised this point:
"It is not World War III because there are no armies involved," said Vice Premier Shimon Peres (Kadima). "They must remember that this is an entirely different type of conflict."
Yet, the potential global scope of this developing conflict and the estimations of the belligerent parties trend toward something like a global war. In a sense, to contend that this may be World War III is as equally correct as the contention that this will never be World War III. Note these contradictory estimates.

The Christian Science Monitor:
At this moment, the calculus doesn't appear to have changed. There is no coalition of Arab governments willing to unite militarily against Israel. Syria's military prowess has crumbled since the fall of the Soviet Union - its greatest benefactor - while Iran remains too geographically remote to strike effectively.

The result is a new paroxysm of the proxy war that has existed in the region for a generation - ebbing and flowing as Hizbullah, armed and financed by Iran and Syria, harass Israel without provoking a major Middle East war, military analysts say.

"No state is willing to deal with Israel conventionally," says Seth Jones, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp.
The Washington Times:
Israel's clash with Hezbollah in Lebanon may just be the undercard bout.

With the rhetoric rising and positions hardening, many in the region fear that the current fighting could easily spiral out of control, pitting Israel and the United States in the main bout against the two countries they accuse of arming and inciting Hezbollah fighters: Syria and, especially, Iran.

"We are clearly on an escalation road," said Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Analysts said the chances of a larger clash have grown because of the new, untested leadership now in charge in many of the key capitals, and because both sides appear to think they have the upper hand.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad both face domestic pressure to hang tough.
The prime source for these different contentions is that difference between a government's will and the population's will. It is correct to assert that Israel's military superiority greatly discourages any government from engaging in a conventional attack. However, it is also accurate to look at the leaders and feel a sense of trepidation. Who can be certain of the motivations behind Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah? Moreover, there is no certainty that normal military logic will play out in the coming weeks, assuming they seek only a limited non-conventional conflict. Israel has stated their terms loud and clear, the Washington Times:
TEL AVIV -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spelled out Israel's terms for ending its six-day siege of Lebanon yesterday, demanding the return of two kidnapped soldiers, an end to rocket attacks on Israel and the deployment of the Lebanese army to keep Hezbollah away from the common border.
The rockets must be stopped. Those soldiers have to be returned. But the demand on the Lebanese army may not be practical. Israel has also targeted that force twice, CNN:
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israeli warplanes pounded Lebanese army barracks for a second straight day Tuesday, killing at least nine soldiers, Lebanese army sources said.

The Jamhour army barracks east of Beirut were one of several targets in airstrikes early Tuesday as Israel's campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas entered a seventh day.

On Monday, six Lebanese soldiers died and 28 were wounded when Israel bombed an army post in Abdeh, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Beirut, the Lebanese military said.
Israel's intent, a sensible one, is to demilitarize southern Lebanon and protect innocent Israeli population centers from further attack. Based on reports that Israeli officials believe Hezbollah has long-range missiles, we can assume that the aforementioned terms are the minimum Israel can and will accept. The momentum of this conflict may already have reached a point of no return. The New York Times reports:
Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, Israel’s deputy chief of staff, told Israel Radio that the army needed more time to complete "very clear goals." He added: "The fighting in Lebanon will end within a few weeks. We will not take months.’’

On Monday, General Kaplinsky told a reporter that Israel thought it would have another week before international pressure built up enough to work out an enforceable cease-fire.


With the Lebanese death toll exceeding 200 and the Israeli count at 24, the increased efforts to turn to diplomacy showed little prospect of an immediate way out. In Lebanon, a vast majority of those killed were civilians, while in Israel about half of the dead were civilians.

In a televised speech to the Israeli Parliament, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to continue the offensive until Hezbollah freed two captured Israeli soldiers, the Lebanese Army was deployed along the border, and Hezbollah was effectively disarmed. Hezbollah has consistently rejected those terms.
Diplomatic efforts have begun in earnest, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Israel will have to demand terms that Hezbollah may be unwilling to accept. Time is also a factor, as positions harden.:
Even Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's primary supporters, appeared to join those searching for a way out of the raging 6-day-old battle between Israeli forces and the Shiite Muslim group that has left Lebanon's infrastructure in ruins and terrorized Israelis living under a hail of rocket fire.

The Tehran government called for a cease-fire, followed by a prisoner exchange, and Syria also promised to aid mediation efforts.

More than 200 Lebanese, almost all civilians, have died, along with 24 Israelis, half of them soldiers, since the fighting flared Wednesday. Monday's salvos included dozens of Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli communities, including the port city of Haifa, and Israeli airstrikes that killed at least 48 people across Lebanon.


Adding impetus to efforts to resolve the crisis, the Bush administration announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would travel to the region in coming days, though without specifying a date.

Israel's apparent softening of its stance on truce terms, which included dropping a demand that Hezbollah be disarmed and dismantled, was conveyed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, senior aides to Olmert said. But Israel is insisting that the guerrillas pull back about 20 miles from the frontier.


The Shiite militia has insisted that it will only consider direct negotiations with the Jewish state, and that it will only release the Israeli soldiers in exchange for Lebanese and other Arab prisoners being held by Israel.

Moreover, few Lebanese believe that Hezbollah would ever abandon the Israeli border unless the guerrillas were forced out militarily.

Israel and the Bush administration continued to lay full blame for the confrontation on Hezbollah and its patrons — with President Bush, in an unscripted declaration caught by an open microphone, using a pungent epithet to convey his conviction that Syria must be induced to rein in the Shiite Muslim militia.

Speaking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a luncheon at the Group of 8 summit outside St. Petersburg, Russia, Bush asserted that "what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over."
There will soon come a point where Syria and Iran won't be able to tell Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Updates on Iraq

WASHINGTON, July 14 (Reuters) - A U.S. commander said on Friday he was confident American and Iraqi troops can take control of the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi without a large-scale offensive like that used to seize Falluja in 2004.
Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times:
In Taji, using rusty but refurbished Warsaw Pact armored vehicles and tanks, the Iraqi army's 9th Mechanized Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Bashar Mahmoud Ayoub, will try to quell insurgent, sectarian and tribal violence in an area that has bedeviled U.S. forces.

"We know that the insurgents are tough, dangerous and strong," Ayoub said. "But the Iraqi forces start with the trust of the people. When I deal with Iraqis, it's completely different than when Americans deal with them."
The Washington Times:
U.S. war commanders think some level of American forces will be needed in Iraq until 2016 and those forces will receive continued support from the vast majority of Iraqis.


A number of articles today that delve into the motivations for the conflict in Lebanon.


The Los Angeles Times:
Within days, Israeli policymakers were speaking openly of their hopes to use the confrontation to drive Hamas from power.

Israeli leaders were far faster to see the tantalizing glitter of such opportunity in Lebanon.

Hamas has been in power in the Palestinian territories only since March. Hezbollah has dominated southern Lebanon for years, and the Israeli army has long worked on plans for striking it if the right moment presented itself.

Only hours after Hezbollah fighters Wednesday staged a cross-border raid in which they killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two, Israeli leaders began to talk of dealing the militant movement a devastating blow from which it could recover neither politically nor militarily.

From across the Israeli political spectrum, such declarations are now being made on a daily basis.

"We must eliminate, destroy and crush all of Hezbollah's infrastructure," lawmaker Eli Yishai of the religious Shas party said Sunday.
The Washington Times:
JERUSALEM -- The fierce Israeli attack in Lebanon is part of a carefully orchestrated plan -- not yet half-completed -- that calls for four stages of mounting intensity, culminating in the movement of ground troops into Lebanon, according to Israeli reports.
as for Hezbollah

The Christian Science Monitor:
"This is a showdown for both sides in which Israel is attempting to neutralize Hizbullah, and Hizbullah is attempting to impose its will on Israel and [say to] the international community that it's here to stay," she says.
whereas the United States

Bloomberg News:
July 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is banking on Israel achieving in Lebanon what years of diplomacy and conflict have so far failed to do: limit the ability of Syria and Iran to use Islamic radicals to undermine regional stability.

President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have signaled that Israel largely has a free hand in attacking the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. They have declined to set limits on Israeli action, and Rice says she won't engage in personal diplomacy until there is a clear path toward ending the extremist threat.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The dogs of war

Serious international diplomacy is about to begin concerning the military exchange between Israel, Hezbollah, and Lebanon. That diplomatic effort has already received an inauspicious start from our bumbling commander-in-chief.

George W. Bush's initial reaction to the broad actions taken by Israel's military resulted in this lede for the New York Times:
STRALSUND, Germany, July 13 — President Bush gave qualified support on Thursday for Israel’s strikes on Lebanon, telling reporters gathered here for his visit with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, “Israel has a right to defend herself.”
Juxtapose that with this reported phone call from CNN:
Lebanon's prime minister says he has received a promise from President Bush to press Israel to stop the attacks on Lebanon.
CNN's Nick Robertson just reported that Bush told Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora that Bush understands and agrees with Lebanon's stance on the escalating violence.

This peculiar White House has finally realized that the situation could spiral even further out of control and endanger regional stability, United States interests in Iraq and beyond, the global war on terror, and countless innocent lives. The fact that this conclusion should have been evident to a high school student who has paid minimal attention to a class here and there ought to be mentioned.

This from the Washington Post:
Bush initially told reporters that ``Israel has a right to defend herself,'' qualifying the statement only with a call to avoid toppling the Lebanese government, which he deems a model for the region.

But as fighting worsened, the White House grew increasingly anxious and issued a late-night appeal to Israel. ``We just continue to ask that the Israelis exercise restraint, be concerned about civilian casualties, be concerned of course about civilian infrastructure,'' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters at a hastily called news conference here, 10 hours after Bush's original comments.

Moments later, Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said on CNN that Israel had tried restraint with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon since 2000, only to be targeted once again. ``I think they misinterpreted our restraint for the last six years,'' he said.
It should be further noted that though the conflict continued to intensify throughout Thursday, Bush was either unaware of the day's early violence or could not arrive at an adequate understanding of the impact these attacks and counterattacks would have.

In a matter as delicate and complex as this, the President of the United States would be lucky to arrive at a cease-fire after three days of substantial military and paramilitary action -- especially between countries with long-standing strife. However, this president has acted with the worst possible diplomatic two-step. Keep in mind that during this week he was supposed to work on Russia's democratic woes, alliances over North Korea and Iran, and the situation in Iraq.

Yesterday, Greg Djerejian understood the trouble Bush was stumbling into:
Meantime POTUS is in Germany, and his rhetoric regarding this burgeoning crisis can, most generously, be described as uneven and halting, and less solicitously, infantile in its gross over-simplications. ... It's a big, complex world out there, with lots of shades of gray, and this is a time for deft statecraft to contain various mestastasizing crises, not simply resort like woeful Pavlovians to the always-at-the-ready empty and tired bromides.
At present, Israel's tactics are as follows, as reported by the Washington Post:
Israeli military officials said they planned to implement a military blockade of Lebanon, employing the same terminology they use to describe restrictions that Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

"We have decided to impose a closure on Lebanon in the air, in the sea and on the ground," Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's northern command, said at a news conference. He said the Israeli military was attempting to force the government "to deploy its army in south Lebanon, take responsibility for the kidnapped, return them" and fulfill a U.N. resolution calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah.
Zvi Bar'el of Haaretz wonders (nod to Greg Djerejian):
The message that Israel was trying to send to Lebanon's government and citizens seems unclear. On one hand, the Lebanese hear that the Israeli government does not plan to allow Hezbollah to return to its positions in southern Lebanon. That is too tough a mission for the Lebanese government, so people wonder what Israel wants and why it is attacking targets that are not related to the positions in the south, like the Beirut-Damascus highway or the airport.

On the other hand, Israel warned the Lebanese government that it holds it wholly responsible both for the attack and for the fate of the abducted soldiers. Here again, the Lebanese government has no idea what it is supposed to do - go to war against Hezbollah? "Of course, this government can't go to war against Hezbollah, and can't and wouldn't recruit Syria to rein in Hezbollah," said the Lebanese analyst.

This is because there has been an almost complete disconnect between the Lebanese government and Syria ever since the Hariri assassination and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. Moreover, Syria is not dissatisfied with the heavy price that Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government is paying, or with the fact that there are no more appeals from Beirut to Damascus to curb Hezbollah. Syria is now free to claim that without it, there is no Lebanese government that can bring order and quiet to Lebanon.
The short term goals of all sides need to be addressed if any cease-fire is to be realized. That may be beyond the scope of what we can anticipate.

Michael Slackman offers this analysis in the New York Times:
Regional momentum is supporting hard-liners. Newspapers and television commentators have assailed Egypt and Jordan for trying to negotiate a peaceful solution between Hamas and Israel. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who planned to call a referendum on whether to support a two-state solution, has been increasingly silenced. Even the Hamas leadership in Gaza, which had sought to forge a consensus with other Palestinian factions, found itself trumped by its more militant members.
This may be the nightmare scenario envisioned for the Middle East by numerous commentators before the Iraq war. As Andrew Sullivan wrote yesterday:
It's hard to avoid the conclusion from the fast-changing events in the Middle East that we are approaching a wider conflagration. ... This has always been a regional conflict, with Iran and Syria as dangerous than Saddam ever was. The Middle East has exploded before, of course. But not with 130,000 American troops stationed in the heart of it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Baghdad's collapse?

How we speak past each other. Yes, garbage collection in Ramadi is progress. Yes, violence continues at an alarming pace. It is too simple to say that Iraq witnesses progress each day, just as it is to simple to focus on the negative.

However, garbage collecting must continue week in and week out. The negative can rupture a society. This London Times correspondent has offered his assessment:
By James Hider, of The Times, from Baghdad

As I hung up the phone, I wondered if I would ever see my friend Ali alive again. Ali, The Times translator for the past three years, lives in west Baghdad, an area that is now in meltdown as a bitter civil war rages between Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. It is, quite simply, out of control.

I returned to Baghdad on Monday after a break of several months, during which I too was guilty of glazing over every time I read another story of Iraqi violence. But two nights on the telephone, listening to my lost and frightened Iraqi staff facing death at any moment, persuaded me that Baghdad is now verging on total collapse.

Ali phoned me on Tuesday night, about 10.30pm. There were cars full of gunmen prowling his mixed neighbourhood, he said. He and his neighbours were frantically exchanging information, trying to identify the gunmen.

Were they the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia blamed for drilling holes in their victims’ eyes and limbs before executing them by the dozen? Or were they Sunni insurgents hunting down Shias to avenge last Sunday’s massacre, when Shia gunmen rampaged through an area called Jihad, pulling people from their cars and homes and shooting them in the streets?

Ali has a surname that could easily pass for Shia. His brother-in-law has an unmistakably Sunni name. They agreed that if they could determine that the gunmen were Shia, Ali would answer the door. If they were Sunnis, his brother-in-law would go.

Whoever didn’t answer the door would hide in the dog kennel on the roof.

Their Plan B was simpler: to dash 50 yards to their neighbours’ house — home to a dozen brothers. All Iraqi homes are awash with guns for self-defence in these merciless times. Together they would shoot it out with the gunmen — one of a dozen unsung Alamos now being fought nightly on Iraq’s blacked-out streets.

“We just have to wait and see what our fate is,” Ali told me. It was the first time in three years of bombs, battles and kidnappings that I had heard this stocky, very physical young man sounding scared, but there was nothing I could do to help.

The previous night I had had a similar conversation with my driver, a Shia who lives in another part of west Baghdad. He phoned at 11pm to say that there was a battle raging outside his house and that his family were sheltering in the windowless bathroom.

Marauding Mahdi gunmen, seeking to drive all Sunnis from the area, were fighting Sunni Mujahidin for control of a nearby strategic position. I could hear the gunfire blazing over the phone.

We phoned the US military trainer attached to Iraqi security forces in the area. He said there was nothing to be done: “There’s always shooting at night here. It’s like chasing ghosts.”

In fact the US military generally responds only to request for support from Iraqi security forces. But as many of those forces are at best turning a blind eye to the Shia death squads, and at worst colluding with them, calling the Americans is literally the last thing they do.

West Baghdad is no stranger to bombings and killings, but in the past few days all restraint has vanished in an orgy of ethnic cleansing.

Shia gunmen are seeking to drive out the once-dominant Sunni minority and the Sunnis are forming neighbourhood posses to retaliate. Mosques are being attacked. Scores of innocent civilians have been killed, their bodies left lying in the streets.
(Continues for two more pages on the site...)

Protect New York

New York Daily News:
WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Schumer says the yokels who rated New York City's terror attack risk need to go.

The New York Democrat is pushing a bill to quash Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's beloved "peer review" program, which had teams of anonymous peons decide in secret that the city's terror funding should be slashed.

This year, the Chertoff way - which Schumer said is flawed and politicized - resulted in New York City losing $80 million in funds to protect against security threats.

"It's the most idiotic procedure," Schumer told the Daily News yesterday. "A sheriff in a small town in the Rockies shouldn't be deciding how homeland security funding is spent. It's just ridiculous ... they don't have the experience.

"Chertoff assured us that this money would be distributed in a smart way, and it was done in a dumb and probably political way," he said.

Schumer's bill proposes eliminating "peer review" in deciding the Department of Homeland Security's Urban Area Security Initiative grants, which totaled $710 million this year. The overall fund was cut 14% from 2005, but New York lost more than 40% of its annual funding.

But it's unclear if Schumer's measure could pass the GOP-controlled Congress to reach President Bush's desk, since it's a pork barrel bonanza for greedy lawmakers from no-threat zones.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Good news, bad news

The Good News

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Clean water should flow to 80 percent of Fallujah's homes this fall, and by summer's end a planned wireless network will provide phone service and Internet access to thousands, a technological leap unimaginable just months ago.
The Los Angeles Times:
Rather than gauge success by blocks cleared, military officials here take heart from softer measurements — neighborhoods that have become safe enough for garbage collection to have resumed, stores that have reopened.

"When we did Fallouja, everything shut down," said Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq. "In Ramadi, it is the exact opposite. Shops are opening up and commerce is increasing."

With both Al Qaeda and Sunni nationalist groups intent on asserting influence over Ramadi, the military cannot afford to draw down its forces in the city.

"The trap lines, the foreign fighter flow from Syria to Baghdad, goes right through Ramadi," Caldwell said.

Yet, the seemingly fragile Iraqi government would be unlikely to allow a Fallouja-style assault, particularly in Ramadi, which has 400,000 residents.
The Bad News

The Los Angeles Times:
"The security has deteriorated in a serious and unprecedented way," Kurdish lawmaker Saadi Barzanji said in a televised session of parliament, which convened Tuesday in Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone. "The security plan has proved to be a failure."

Much of Tuesday's violence was centered in the poor, religiously mixed neighborhoods of south and southwest Baghdad, including the troubled Dora district, already under extra security and a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Investigating the Bombay blast

The latest from CNN:
MUMBAI, India (CNN) -- Timers hidden in pencils have been discovered in at least three of the seven sites where bombs exploded on commuter trains in India's financial capital, killed 185 people, according to CNN's sister station, CNN-IBN.

The timers are believed to have detonated bombs made of RDX, one of the most powerful kinds of military explosives, the network quoted police as saying Wednesday.
The New York Times:
Police spent the day combing through the wreckage of the seven passenger cars that were bombed, looking for forensic evidence that might help them identify the culprits. Experts were examining a timer found near the site of one of the blasts. Initial tests suggested that RDX, a powerful plastic explosive, had been used, the home ministry said.

The director general of police in Maharashtra, the Indian state that includes Mumbai, said that officers had “no concrete evidence” to implicate Lashkar-e-Toiba, an Islamic militant organization that is fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, a mostly Muslim state that is also claimed, and is partly occupied, by Pakistan.

But the director general, P. S. Pasricha, said “the modus operandi does suggest their involvement.” The organization and scale of the attacks, the type of explosive involved and the use of remote control devices all suggested that Lashkar-e-Toiba may have been involved, perhaps in conjunction with local groups, he said.
The Christian Science Monitor:
Bombay police are calling the explosions "a well-coordinated attack," and the quick succession of bombs in crowded rush hour trains echoes the strike on Madrid's train system in 2004 that killed 191 people. And the timing of the Mumbai attack, just days before the G-8 summit of leading economic powers, parallels the London subway bombings which occurred on the day of last year's G-8 meeting.

Analysts say that these similarities, as well as the sophistication of the Mumbai attack, suggests ties to international Islamic terror groups, perhaps working through a local militant outfit.

"[The attack was] well planned, orchestrated, simultaneous [and was] designed to inflict maximum loss of life. It's probably the handiwork of a well-equipped, well-funded, terrorist group that hews to the Al Qaeda school of thought," says Sajjan Gohel. "In the region, only Lashkar-e-Tayyaba has such capabilities."

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), one of more than a dozen Islamic rebel groups fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir since 1989, has been blamed by police for a number of past attacks on Indian soil, including a set of bombings in Bombay in 2003 that left 44 dead. In past years, police have uncovered a cell tied to LeT in the Bombay suburb of Thane. The group is the most sophisticated of the militant outfits fighting to wrest Kashmir from India, and it is accused of having ties to Pakistan as well as funding from outside.
The Guardian:
The apparent denial from Lashkar-e-Taiba came from a man calling himself "Doctor Ghaznavi" who made telephone calls to newspaper offices in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir.

The caller condemned the attacks, describing them as "inhuman and barbaric acts". He went on: "Islam does not permit the killing of innocent people. Blaming LeT for such inhuman acts is an attempt by the Indian security agencies to defame Kashmiri mujahideens."

Another leading Kashmiri group, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, denounced the bomb attacks as "outrageous", saying it abhorred the killing of civilians. Reuters reported the group's spokesman, Ehsan Elahi, saying from Islamabad: "Attacks on civilians are not part of our manifesto. We never carried out such attacks nor will allow anyone to do so."

Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for several major attacks in India in recent years, including bomb blasts in New Delhi in October last year which killed more than 60 people. The blasts in Mumbai came hours after suspected Islamist militants killed eight people, seven of them tourists, in five grenade attacks in Srinagar.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The experts show their ignorance

Paul Erdman of Market Watch has asserted that India was not an al Qaeda strike:
This raises the question of whether the world's largest democracy, which is now enjoying a huge economic boom, is the next target in al Qaeda's global conspiracy aimed at those who do not accept the tenets of fundamentalist Islam, be they Christian, Hindu, or even moderate Arabs who have aligned themselves with the West.

The answer to that question is no.

What is happening in India is a regional matter, related to the issue of who will ultimately control Kashmir. The instigators of these attacks in Mumbai are militant Islamic fundamentalists who want to wrest control of Kashmir from India, and either form an independent Islamic nation, or fold it into neighboring Islamic Pakistan.

This, then, is just another in a long series of such incidents over control of this region just south of the westernmost end of the Himalayan mountain range. They date back to the first Kashmir war between India and Pakistan in 1947, which was followed by two more such wars in 1965 and 1971.
He says this with such certainty. Let's ignore that, because it is not well founded.

What could it mean if al Qaeda is entering the India/Pakistan fray over Kashmir?

Ah! Let's ask questions. Seek out information. Wait for more complete understanding. Then, maybe we'll learn something. Maybe we can even apply that to our understanding of the global war on terrorism. Perhaps we could save lives if we actually looked the evil square in the eye and realized that the only match to al Qaeda's brutality is its ambition.

New York - Indian intelligence officials have named a suspect they believe may be linked to the Mumbai rail blasts, according to a report on CNBC on Tuesday.

Officials quoted in the report say Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian Muslim with ties to al-Qaeda, was considered a suspect in the attacks.

The US treasury department designated Ibrahim as a terrorist as part of its international sanctions programme, CNBC said.

The seven bombings killed at least 135 people and injured over 300.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Honestly, to hell with these so called terrorism experts expounding their drivel. If a person stands in front of a camera and makes a clown of himself or herself concerning tonight's All Star game, little to no harm is done. These experts are very confident in what they know. Yet, any independent observer that's read a report or two could caution against leaping to conclusions on the authors' of this terrible violence.

Either this was planned by al Qaeda, planned with al Qaeda, or meant to look like it.

That is a certainty. The unfortunate reality is probably a robust al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. This shows us with great clarity how important Afghanistan and Iraq -- countless countries and regions, actually -- are to the entire world.