Monthly Archives: June 2007

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Over ten years I have watched this grow. (If you had told me a decade ago that I would be tackling terrorism, I would have readily understood, but thought you meant Irish Republican terrorism.) The line between "foreign" and "domestic" policy is being blurred. Climate change is a big issue in developed nations’ politics today. It can be beaten only by global action. What happens today in Pakistan matters on the streets of Britain. Mass migration can only partially be managed by individual nations’ internal policies. Economies are shaped by forces of globalisation.

Tony Blair reflects on the lessons of his decade as Britain’s prime minister

TEN years ago, if you had told me I would spend a significant part of my premiership on foreign policy, I would have been surprised, a little shocked and probably, politically, somewhat alarmed. Even today, we all run for office concentrating on domestic issues. “Foreign” policy rarely wins votes, and can easily lose them. Yet nowadays the reality is increasingly that we are obliged as leaders to think, work and act internationally.

Over ten years I have watched this grow. (If you had told me a decade ago that I would be tackling terrorism, I would have readily understood, but thought you meant Irish Republican terrorism.) The line between “foreign” and “domestic” policy is being blurred. Climate change is a big issue in developed nations’ politics today. It can be beaten only by global action. What happens today in Pakistan matters on the streets of Britain. Mass migration can only partially be managed by individual nations’ internal policies. Economies are shaped by forces of globalisation.

On top of this, the world order is changing. The political power of China is emerging as its economic power grows. India will be formidable. Japan is putting its past behind it. Russia is becoming more assertive by the day.

In this age, foreign policy is not an interesting distraction from the hard slog of domestic reform. It is the element that describes a nation’s face to the world at large, forms the perceptions of others to it and, in part, its perception of itself.

We all talk of interdependence being the defining characteristic of the modern world. But often we fail to see the fundamental implications of such a statement. It means we have a clear self-interest as a nation in what happens the world over. And because mass media and communication convey powerful images in an instant across the globe, it dictates that struggles are fought as much through propaganda, ideas and values as through conventional means, military or diplomatic.

My reflections, based on this analysis, are these:
Be a player not a spectator

Over the past ten years, Britain has been in the thick of it. There is no international debate of importance in which we are not as fully engaged as we can be.

We have attempted to construct the broadest possible agenda that is capable of unifying the international community and is, overtly, values-based. That is why action on poverty in Africa, a good outcome to the world trade talks and agreement on climate change all matter beyond the obvious importance of each individual issue. They are indicative of an attitude, of responsibility to others, an acceptance that international politics should not be simply a game of interests but also of beliefs, things we stand for and fight for.

It is also why we should be prepared to intervene, if necessary militarily, to prevent genocide, oppression, the deep injustice too often inflicted on the vulnerable. Britain, in the past decade, has intervened four times: in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. In each case, regimes of appalling brutality were removed.

Earlier this week I visited the people of Sierra Leone, still struggling, but at least able to contemplate a better future. But as important is the next-door state of Liberia, now properly democratic. It might never have been so had Sierra Leone fallen into the hands of the gangsters. Similarly, as a result of Kosovo, the Balkans changed. Countries there can think of a future in the European Union.

So when we come to Darfur, do we really believe that if we do not act to change this situation, the violence will stop at the borders of Sudan? In the early 1990s we could not summon the will to act in Bosnia. It took 250,000 lives lost before we realised we had no option.

It is said that by removing Saddam or the Taliban–regimes that were authoritarian but also kept a form of order–the plight of Iraqis and Afghans has worsened and terrorism has been allowed to grow. This is a seductive but dangerous argument. Work out what it really means. It means that because these reactionary and evil forces will fight hard, through terrorism, to prevent those countries and their people getting on their feet after the dictatorships are removed, we should leave the people under the dictatorship. It means our will to fight for what we believe in is measured by our enemy’s will to fight us, but in inverse proportion. That is not a basis on which you ever win anything.

However, the critical point is that we, Britain, should be closely involved in all these issues because in the end they will affect our own future. And the agenda constructed should be about our values–freedom, democracy, responsibility to others, but also justice and fairness.

Transatlantic co-operation is still vital
I have real concern that on both sides of the Atlantic there is, in certain quarters, an indifference, even a hostility, to an alliance that is every bit as fundamental to our future as it has been to our past. By this I don’t just mean the rampant anti-Americanism on parts of the left. In a sense, that is relatively easy to counter.

It is more a drifting away, occasionally a resurgent isolationism that crosses right and left. In Britain now there are parts of the media and politics that are both Eurosceptic and wanting “an independent foreign policy” from America. Quite where Britain is supposed to get its alliances from bewilders me. There is talk of Britain having a new strategic relationship with China and India bypassing our traditional European and American links. Get real. Of course we will have our own relationship with both countries. But we are infinitely more influential with them if we have two strong alliances behind us.

In Europe we wonder: is it worth it to continue such reliance on America? We would be better asking whether the political leaders in America still see Europe as their first port of call.

For all our differences, we should be very clear. Europe and America share the same values. We should stick together. That requires a strong transatlantic alliance. It also means a strong, effective and capable EU. A weak Europe is a poor ally. That is why we need closer co-operation between the nations of the EU and effective European institutions. In a world in which China and India will each have a population three times that of the EU, anything else is completely out of date.

Be very clear about global terrorism
I fear the world, and especially a large part of Western opinion, has become dangerously misguided about this threat. If there was any mistake made in the aftermath of September 11th, it was not to realise that the roots of this terrorism were deep and pervasive. Removing the Taliban from government seemed relatively easy. Removing their ideology is so much harder. It has been growing for over a generation. It is based on genuine belief, the believers being people determined to outlast us, to be indefatigable when we are weary: to be strong-willed and single-minded when we have so many other things to preoccupy us (and when the comforts of our Western lives seem so untouchable by the activities of what are naturally seen as a few fanatics).

People make much of the fact that in each area of conflict, the extremists take a different shape. They point to the historical absurdity of, for example, Iranian elements linking up to the Taliban. Above all, they say, their weapons, numbers and support are puny compared with ours.

This misses the central point. Revolutionary communism took many forms. It chose unlikely bedfellows. But we still spent decades confronting it.

This new terrorism has an ideology. It is based on an utter perversion of the proper faith of Islam. But it plays to a sense of victimhood and grievance in the Muslim world. Many disagree with its methods. But too many share some of its sentiments. Its world view is completely reactionary. But its understanding of terrorism and its power in an era of globalisation is arrestingly sophisticated and strategic.

It means that it can go into any situation where peace is fragile or conflict possible. It can, by the simple use of terror, break the peace and provoke the conflict. It has worked out that in an age of mass media, instantly relayed round the world, impact counts: and nothing makes more impact than the carnage of the innocent. It has learned that as states respond to terror so they can, unwittingly, feed it.

In the Middle East right now, it stops progress in Iraq. It defies the attempts at peace between Israel and Palestine. It is making Lebanese democracy teeter on the brink. That is significant in itself. But far more significant is the way in which the terrorists have successfully warped our sense of what is happening and why. They have made us blame ourselves.

We can debate and re-debate the rights or wrongs of removing Saddam. But the reality is that if you took al-Qaeda (in Iraq before Saddam’s fall) out of the conflict in or around Baghdad, without the car bombs aimed at civilians and the destruction of monuments like the Samarra Shrine, it would be possible to calm the situation. Events in Anbar Province, where slowly but surely Sunni opinion is turning on al-Qaeda, show it. And down in Basra, what is poisoning the city is the violence and criminality of Jaish-al Mahdi and other groups–supported, financed and armed by elements of the Iranian regime. Remove al-Qaeda, remove the malign Iranian activity, and the situation would be changed, even transformed.

The truth is that the conflict in Iraq has mutated into something directly fuelled by the same elements that confront us everywhere. Yet a large, probably the larger, part of Western opinion would prefer us to withdraw. That is the extraordinary dulling of our senses that the terrorism has achieved. In the Palestinian question who gets the blame for lack of progress? The West. In Lebanon–a crisis deliberately provoked by, again, the same forces–who is held responsible? Israel.

In Afghanistan it is clear that the Taliban is receiving support, including arms from, again, elements of the Iranian regime. They have learned from elsewhere. They believe if they inflict enough chaos, enough casualties of Western soldiers, we will lose the will. It will become another “mess”. And if it does, the problem will be laid at the door of the Afghan government and its Western allies.

In the past few weeks alone we have seen terrorist bombs in Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, India, and arrests in Saudi Arabia. Not a single major European nation is immune. In Africa, Sudan, Somalia, even in places like Nigeria where Muslims and Christians live together, terrorism is active.

There is no alternative to fighting this menace wherever it rears its head. There are no demands that are remotely negotiable. It has to be beaten. Period.

We must stand up for our values
We will not succeed simply by military or security means. It is a political challenge. Terrorism recruits adherents on the basis of an appeal to human emotion. It can be countered only by a better, more profound, well-articulated counter-appeal.

But this won’t happen unless we stand up for our own values, are proud of them and advocate them with conviction. There is nothing more ridiculous than the attempt to portray “democracy” or “freedom” as somehow “Western” concepts which, mistakenly, we try to apply to nations or peoples to whom they are alien. There may well be governments to whom they are alien. But not peoples. Whoever voted to get rid of democracy? Or preferred secret police to freedom of speech?

These values are universal. We should attack the ideology of the extremists with confidence: their reactionary view of the state; their refusal to let people prosper in peace; their utterly regressive views on women. We should condemn not just their barbaric methods of terrorism, but in particular attack their presumed sense of grievance against the West. We need to support and help mobilise moderate and true Islam in doing so. There is nothing more absurd than the idea that removing the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Saddam and his sons in Iraq, and replacing their regimes with the chance to vote, supervised by the UN, is somehow an assault on Muslims. We should point out that those killing Muslims by terror are actually other Muslims and that doing so is completely contrary to the teachings of the Koran.

But, and it is a mighty but, such an approach only counts if it is applied vigorously and in a manner that is even-handed. Here is where I have always felt that the normal politics of left and right are a hindrance. The trouble is that the right is correct on the need to stand firm militarily and in support of freedom; and the left is correct on the need for justice.

The assault on the ideas behind terrorism won’t work unless it is seen to be motivated and stirred by a commitment to justice. That is why trying to resolve the Israel-Palestine dispute is so important–not only for its own sake, but because the absence of peace causes suffering that is exploited by this extremism. Ask yourself why parts of the Iranian regime try so hard to prevent a settlement; and then understand why it is crucial to settle it.

We are faced with a challenge derived from a world view. We need our own world view, no less comprehensive but based on the decent values we believe in.

It’s about tomorrow’s agenda too
The importance of such an agenda is that it allows us also to shape the common value system of a world in which, very soon, the new powers and interests will have the strength to influence greatly the path the world takes. So such an approach is a bulwark against extremism but it is also a civilising force in a future in which Western economic and political weight will be less than hitherto. We need a sufficiently strong basis, founded in a clear and even-handed commitment to our values, for the world as it changes to adopt these values, universal as they are, to guide us.Meanwhile, at home

This article is for a global audience, and has focused mainly on international policy. But there are some interesting lessons from domestic policy also.

Open v closed” is as important today in politics as “left v right”. Nations do best when they are prepared to be open to the world. This means open in their economies, eschewing protectionism, welcoming foreign investment, running flexible labour markets. It means also open to the benefit of controlled immigration. For all nations this is a hugely contentious area of policy. But I have no doubt London is stronger and more successful through the encouragement of targeted migration.

Isolationism and protectionism now cut across left and right boundaries. They are easy tunes to play but pointless in anything other than the very short-term.

The role of the state is changing. The state today needs to be enabling and based on a partnership with the citizen, one of mutual rights and responsibilities. The implications are profound. Public services need to go through the same revolution–professionally, culturally and in organisation–that the private sector has been through.

The old monolithic provision has to be broken down. The user has to be given real power and preference. The system needs proper incentives and rewards. The purpose should be so that public services can adapt and adjust naturally–self-generating reform–rather than being continually prodded and pushed from the centre. Public-sector unions can’t be allowed to determine the shape of public services.

In Britain we have put huge investment into our public services. But we are also opening the health service to private and voluntary-sector partnerships, introducing a payment-by-results system, creating competition and allowing hospitals to become self-governing trusts. The new academies and trust schools will have the freedom to develop as independent but non-fee-paying schools, with outside partners like businesses, universities and charities able to sponsor and run them.

Welfare systems work only if there is shared responsibility–the state to provide help, the citizens to use that help to help themselves. The pensions reforms Britain is now putting through will, over the decades, give us a system that is affordable and fair between the generations, by ensuring that, though each citizen is guaranteed a basic pension, they will be expected to top that up with their own finances.

Law and order matters in a way that is more profound than most commentary suggests. It used to be that progressives were people who wanted an end to prejudice and discrimination and took the view that, in crime, social causes were paramount. Conservatives thought crime was a matter of individual responsibility and that campaigns against discrimination were so much political correctness.

Today the public distinguishes clearly between personal lifestyle issues, where they are liberal, and crime, where they are definitely not. It is what I call the pro-gay-rights, tough-on-crime position. It confounds traditional left/right views.

Social exclusion needs special focus. From 1979 to 1997 the incomes of the richest 20% in Britain grew faster (2.5%) than the incomes of the poorest 20% (0.8%). That has been reversed. Since 1997 the incomes of the poorest have risen faster (2.2%) than the richest (2%). However, this masks a tail of under-achievers, the socially excluded. The rising tide does not lift their ships. This issue of social exclusion is common throughout Western nations.

Finally, political parties will have to change radically their modus operandi. Contrary to mythology, political parties aren’t dying; public interest in politics is as intense as it ever was. As the recent turn-out in the French election shows: give people a real contest and they will come out and vote.

But politics is subject to the same forces of change as everything else. It is less tribal; people will be interested in issues, not necessarily ideologies; political organisation if it is rigid is off-putting; and there are myriad new ways of communicating information. Above all, political parties need to go out and seek public participation, not wait for the public to be permitted the privilege of becoming part of the sect.

So, membership should be looser, policymaking broader and more representative, the internet and interactive communication the norm. Open it all up.

Over to you
That is a very short synopsis of what I have learned. I don’t presume to call it advice to my successor. I have been reasonably fortunate rarely to receive public “advice” from my predecessors.

The job is difficult enough as it is, and, knowing that, I have nothing but support to offer my successor.

© The Economist 2007

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The threat posed by Fatah al-Islam, entrenched for months in Nahr el-Bared, only became fully apparent to the rest of Lebanon two weeks ago when militants ambushed the army, killing 22 soldiers and provoking days of fierce battles. Fighting continues as the army launched an assault on the group’s positions in the camp over the weekend.

With their thick beards and guarded manner, the jihadis of Fatah al-Islam exuded an air of mystery when they arrived late last year at the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. The fact that they came from a number of different Arab countries compounded the sense of unease among Palestinian refugees living at the camp.

At first the militants appeared keen to build bridges with locals, providing money for medical operations, fixing generators, and attending weddings and funerals. But a darker side soon emerged. “They planted a state of fear in the camp and people would avoid them,” recalls Ali Hajj, one of Nahr el-Bared’s residents. “Twice there were problems with them and they would open grenades and say: ‘I’m in a hurry to meet the creator’.”

The threat posed by Fatah al-Islam, entrenched for months in Nahr el-Bared, only became fully apparent to the rest of Lebanon two weeks ago when militants ambushed the army, killing 22 soldiers and provoking days of fierce battles. Fighting continues as the army launched an assault on the group’s positions in the camp over the weekend.

The stand-off has unsettled a fragile Lebanon still reeling from the war last summer between the Shia Hizbollah group and Israel. With its hundreds of militants and an alarming arsenal of weapons, Fatah al-Islam has introduced a new Sunni extremist threat to a country plagued by tensions between Shia and Sunni Muslims and sandwiched between Israel and Syria, its more powerful and threatening neighbours.

Though smaller groups of jihadis have been around for years, the question troubling the Lebanese is how a well organised and heavily armed group succeeded so quickly in establishing a base – and whether it has been aided by outsiders.

It is a question that also worries western governments, which have been warning of the proliferation of a new generation of jihadis and closely watching Lebanon, where 13,000 United Nations troops were deployed in a militarised zone in the south as part of the ceasefire reached at the end of last year’s war. Though western officials say the capability of the group to strike at targets such as the UN force is uncertain, they have been concerned by reports that Fatah al-Islam at least aspired to such an attack.

Abu Salim Taha, a spokesman of Fatah al-Islam, makes no secret of the group’s ambitions. He told the FT the militants’ aim was to “liberate Jerusalem”, train fighters for Iraq and prepare for a wider jihad on “many” other targets. “We struggled to set up a base on the border [with Israel] but we could not,” he said, speaking by telephone from Nahr el-Bared.

Fatah al-Islam’s roots can be traced to its leader Shaker al-Abssi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin now in his 50s. He was once a member of the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, which sent him to Libya in 1975 to train as a pilot.

He resurfaced in Jordan 20 years later but soon moved to Syria, where he became part of Fatah al-Intifadah, a Syrian-sponsored group that had turned against Arafat in the 1980s. Jordanian officials believe Mr Abssi plotted the killing of an American diplomat in Amman in 2002, a crime for which he was convicted in 2004 in absentia. At the time he was already in a Syrian jail, locked up at the request of Jordan.

Yet three years later, Mr Abssi was released rather than handed over to Jordan, and reappeared in Lebanon. According to officials from various Palestinian political factions in the country, he headed first, in early 2006, to an area in the eastern Bekaa Valley where other Palestinian groups had once set up military training camps. Fatah al-Intifadah officials interviewed by the FT say he was joined by around 40 men, mainly Jordanians, Syrians and Palestinians, and his declared aim was to prepare a force to fight in Palestine.

A Fatah al-Intifadah official in Damascus, known as Abu Khaled, is said to have told his associates in Lebanon not to interfere with the new arrivals. “Abu Khaled said he did not want anybody to deal with them, to spoil them. He wanted to send them to Palestine to be as tough as the Hizbollah fighters,” says the official, in reference to the disciplined Shia militant group that stood up to Israel’s military campaign last summer.

After the training, which lasted around 45 days, the men spread among some of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon, with Mr Abssi basing himself in a camp in Beirut. One November evening last year, however, the men who seemed keen on keeping a low profile suddenly found themselves at the centre of a dispute with Palestinians at the Beddawi camp in the north, not far from Nahr el-Bared.

The refugee camps in Lebanon have an unusual status, which makes them sometimes unruly and a haven for shadowy individuals and groups. Based on an agreement between Lebanon and the Palestinians dating back to the 1960s, Lebanese security forces are prohibited from entering the camps, leaving them to be governed by different Palestinian factions.

At Beddawi, 10 of Mr Abssi’s men were living in an apartment in contravention of a camp rule that prohibited single men living together. When Palestinian security officials approached the apartment to sort out the matter, clashes with the militants erupted in which one official was killed.

This is when Mr Abssi’s group fled to Nahr el-Bared, where they were met by the leader himself and joined by others who had been on the original training exercises in the Bekaa Valley. The birth of Fatah al-Islam was then announced by Mr Abssi.

Once in Nahr el-Bared, home to more than 30,000 refugees, the group seized a Fatah al-Intifadah weapons warehouse, getting their hands on mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and more rifles. Their numbers continued to grow, reaching up to 300, say residents, as a mix of Gulf Arabs, north Africans and Lebanese radicals joined their ranks. Fatah al-Islam also sought to woo the youth at the camp, giving children small amounts of cash to entice them to attend Koranic schools where they were shown videos of violence in Iraq, according to some accounts, as well as demonstrations of weapons training.

It was only in March that the group became widely known after the Lebanese government announced the arrest of four men in connection with the bombing of two buses in a Christian region (Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims are the three largest communities in Lebanon). Government officials claim the Syrian suspects were members of Fatah al-Islam and that they signed confessions admitting they had been sent from Syria to join the group in Nahr el-Bared. Damascus denies the charges.

Since then, however, Fatah al-Islam appears to have expanded beyond Nahr al-Bared, setting up cells and recruiting in the nearby city of Tripoli. The raid by internal security forces two weeks ago in pursuit of two suspected bank robbers thought to belong to Fatah al-Islam – the event that sparked the jihadis’ assault on the army – discovered a dozen militants occupying four apartments in Tripoli, with a large cache of weapons including anti-personnel missiles, explosives and night vision sights, officials close to the government say.

Mr Taha admits Fatah al-Islam was planning “operations” as well as training jihadis to fight in Iraq, but says the battle with the army became “an obstruction”. The disruption of the cell prompted a revenge attack by jihadis, who pounced on army posts in Tripoli. The army responded by besieging Nahr al-Bared, pounding it with tank and artillery fire.

The radical ideology of puritan Salafi Islam, the rhetoric, the fierce resolve and the objectives of Fatah al-Islam are all inspired by the global network of al-Qaeda. Mr Abssi reportedly declared earlier this year the establishment of the “al-Qaeda in the Levant” [thought to be the same as Fatah al-Islam].

But western officials believe no real merger with the central al-Qaeda organisation, whether in Pakistan or Iraq, has yet taken place, and that the senior leadership of the global terrorist network has until now had no representative in Lebanon, nor has it directly ordered Fatah al-Islam to mount attacks.

In Beirut, the pro-western Lebanese government plays down Fatah al-Islam’s links to al-Qaeda, but for a different reason. It argues the group is an al-Qaeda lookalike, created and manipulated by Syrian intelligence. It sees it as part of an alleged Syrian strategy to undermine Lebanon and prevent the pursuit of justice in the case of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister assassinated in 2005. The killing sparked an uprising against Damascus and forced it to end nearly 30 years of dominance over Lebanon. “We have proof, beyond any doubt, that Fatah al-Islam is directly in contact with Syrian intelligence,” insists Saad Hariri, the Sunni leader of the parliamentary majority and a son of the slain politician.

The split of Fatah al-Islam from Fatah al-Intifadah, say officials close to the government, was a stage-managed affair designed to confuse. The timing of the ambush of the army this month, they add, is related to last week’s UN resolution creating a tribunal to try the Hariri killers.

The Syrian regime has fought with jihadis before but also flirted with them: buses filled with Arab fighters were leaving Damascus for Iraq during the 2003 US invasion. Since then Syria has been accused by the US and Britain of backing Iraqi insurgent groups, though it denies involvement. The origins of Fatah al-Islam and Mr Abssi’s background, moreover, are linked to a pro-Syrian Palestinian group in Damascus.

Western officials, however, say there is no “strong corroboration” of the government’s claims that Fatah al-Islam is a Syrian proxy and question whether Damascus would use a small group of untested capability to further its ends.

Responding to Lebanese accusations, Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, says Fatah al-Islam militants are “wanted” in Damascus, while Farouq al-Shara, Syria’s vice-president, blames the rise of the group on the “absence of a state” in Lebanon.

Syria’s supporters in Beirut have been promoting the alternative theory advanced by Seymour Hersh, the US investigative journalist. This maintains that the Lebanese government, backed by the US and Saudi Arabia, have funded Fatah al-Islam as a Sunni counterweight to Hizbollah. They point to efforts by the Sunni party of Mr Hariri to co-opt radical groups in Tripoli and accuse the Internal Security Force of being a “Sunni militia”.

The accusations, dismissed by the government and Mr Hariri, do not appear to have been taken seriously by western governments either.

Abu Salim Taha, Fatah al-Islam’s spokesman, insists that while his group shares al-Qaeda’s ideology it has no links to the organisation or anyone else. Syria and other Arab governments, he says, are all enemies. “We consider their leaders traitors, enemies of God, who help the Jews and,dwp_uuid=fc3334c0-2f7a-11da-8b51-00000e2511c8.html

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As administration lawyers scramble to find a new legal underpinning for "tough" interrogation techniques, the Senate Intelligence Committee slams a once-secret CIA program and its methods.

June 1, 2007 | WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee has signaled to the White House that an infamously abusive secret CIA program to interrogate high-level al-Qaida types may have to be scrapped, given “the damage the program does to the image of the United States abroad.” It is a stinging rejection of a program that President Bush late last year called “one of the most successful intelligence efforts in American history” and comes as administration lawyers are reportedly crafting new, secret rules to govern it.

The rebuke to the White House was delivered in written comments that were passed by the committee last week and released Thursday to accompany the annual bill authorizing intelligence activities. Military intelligence experts and human rights advocates have already slammed the abusive techniques purportedly employed by the CIA — sleep deprivation, stress positions, slapping, induced hypothermia and simulated drowning, or “waterboarding” — for producing unreliable intelligence from subjects who will say anything to make the pain stop. Now the senators on the intelligence panel, which has direct oversight over the CIA, seem to agree, according to the testy language passed last week. “The Committee believes,” wrote the senators, “that consideration should be given to whether it is the best means to obtain a full and reliable intelligence debriefing of a detainee.”

 This skeptical view comes months after Bush endorsed the “tough” techniques as particularly effective in a Sept. 6 White House press conference, during which he also revealed the existence of the previously secret CIA program. And the Intelligence Committee said in these new comments that the skepticism might have come much earlier, if only the White House hadn’t kept all the panel members except the chair and the ranking minority member in the dark for the past five years. “The administration’s decision to withhold the program’s existence from the full committee membership for five years was unfortunate in that it unnecessarily hindered congressional oversight of the program.”

The committee also dumped cold water on the White House argument that the CIA should operate under separate, special rules that would allow tougher interrogation methods that are clearly off limits to the military. (The same day that Bush announced the existence of the CIA program, Pentagon officials held their own press conference to disavow coercive interrogations and announced the release of a revised interrogation manual tailor-fitted to the Geneva Conventions.) The intelligence panel’s statement frowns on any special arrangement to allow the CIA to use what Bush has referred to euphemistically as “an alternative set of procedures.”

“Both Congress and the administration,” wrote the panel, “must continue to evaluate whether having a separate CIA detention program that operates under different interrogation rules than those applicable to military and law enforcement officers is necessary, lawful, and in the best interests of the United States.”

The stiff message from the Intelligence Committee was passed in a voice vote on an amendment offered by the chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.V., but members of both parties told Salon it reflected a bipartisan consensus. “While the language in the provision is a bit stronger than I would have preferred,” said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., vice chairman of the committee, in a statement to Salon, “I am in agreement with the broad concerns it lays out.” Explained a committee aide, “It lays out some concerns that the committee has … It says that the committee is not sure that this program is the way to go as we move forward.” Though the message does include the concession that “individuals detained in the program have provided valuable information that has led to the identification of terrorists and the disruption of terror plots,” that bipartisan meeting of the minds makes this language a solid shot across the White House’s bow.

The sharp retort couldn’t come at a worse time for the White House. Administration lawyers are reported to be hard at work at new rules to govern the CIA interrogation program. The rules have been seen as an effort to burrow a hole in the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress late last year, which would seem to bar abusive interrogations outright. That law also requires the Bush administration to publish an executive order providing some legal rationale for the continuation of the CIA’s interrogation program. But the executive order has long been delayed, reportedly as the administration struggles to draft a rationale that would allow the CIA to go further than the military when questioning so-called high-value detainees.

Meanwhile, the status of the CIA’s secret interrogation program remains unclear. President Bush said that the network of secret prisons used for interrogations was empty when he unveiled the program late last year. But then on April 27, the Pentagon announced that Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a former top advisor to Osama bin Laden, had arrived at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He had been in CIA custody for months, but the agency had declined to alert the International Committee of the Red Cross of his detention. His treatment at the hands of the CIA during that period is unknown.

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On Monday, the United States and Iran sat down together in the office of the Iraqi prime minister in Baghdad to discuss mutual concerns about Iraqi security. It marked a turning point in the hostile but impersonal relations between the two countries that many had feared would turn to war. That has not happened.

On Monday, the United States and Iran sat down together in the office of  the Iraqi prime minister in Baghdad to discuss mutual concerns about Iraqi  security. It marked a turning point in the hostile but impersonal  relations between the two countries that many had feared would turn to  war. That has not happened. In case there was any doubt about it,  Condoleezza Rice said on Friday that “The president of the United States  has made it clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course,”  and she refused to speculate on a military option. Skepticism is still in  order, but it is evident that something is happening in US policy. Here is  my own take in the form of a Q & A:

 Q – Is this meeting really a big deal?

 A – It is a big deal. Iran and the United States have not met face-to-face  in a formally acknowledged bilateral meeting of substance (even in the  presence of a mediator) since before the hostage crisis in November 1979.  The respective domestic policies and political sensitivities of both  countries have conspired — the word is deliberate and accurate — to  prevent such a meeting for nearly 28 years.

 Q – Then why now?

 A – The decision-making process in both Washington and Tehran is extremely  murky, and one is reduced to reading tea leaves to divine meaning and  purpose in either capital. But in my view, the imminent dangers of the  Iraq crisis have persuaded both countries to reject the advice of their  respective hardline factions, at least for the moment, since neither Iran  nor the United States can expect to construct a coherent policy in Iraq  and the Persian Gulf region without some measure of cooperation from the  other.

 Q – Aren’t their objectives too far apart to permit meaningful negotiations?

 A – Actually, as US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and others noted after the  meeting in Baghdad, the two sides started in almost perfect agreement  about their mutual objectives. Both sides would like to see Iraq remain a  single political entity, with central authority in the hands of a freely  elected government, and with no sectarian/civil war. That would permit the  US to declare a victory of democracy-building and would likely insure Iran  of a relatively sympathetic Shia-dominated government and relative quiet
 on their western border. The big questions are tactical — what does each  party do to get to that outcome? — and that is the essence of  negotiation.

 Q – Won’t this be sabotaged by hardliners on either side who are opposed  to any kind of reconciliation between the US and Iran?

 A – They are trying and will continue to try. Thus far, and quite  surprising to me, the political leadership in Washington and Tehran, who  despise and distrust each other, have stuck to their guns even as they  showed a lot of defensiveness in justifying their decision to talk. There  have been no shortage of pretexts for a breakdown. In the days leading up  to the talks in Baghdad, Iran arrested a number of Iranian-American scholars and the US introduced the largest naval armada in recent history
 into the Persian Gulf for rather provocative exercises. The United States  continued to hold five Iranian Revolutionary Guards who were arrested in  Irbil in January and have been held incommunicado ever since on charges of  espionage. Iran claimed that the US had sent agents into Iran to foment  dissent among separatist movements from the Turkish to the Pakistani  borders. Yet both sides simply continued with the talks.

 Q – Are both sides willing to make the kind of domestically unpopular  political decisions and tradeoffs that would be required for any kind of  real progress?

 A – I’m not sure that either the Iranians or the American leadership are  sure of the answer. It depends on what the other side has to offer. I  suspect that the Bush administration has chosen to ignore all of its past  rejections of bilateral talks with Iran because it is convinced that no  orderly withdrawal of US forces in Iraq is possible without some measure  of Iranian cooperation. Similarly, Iran must think that some measure of  cooperation with the Great Satan is required — despite the howls of
 anguish from their ultra-conservative base — if order is to be preserved  in Iraq as the US occupation begins to wind down.

 Q – This doesn’t sound like George Bush. What makes you think he has  changed his stripes?

 A – I suppose that whatever change has occurred is strictly due to  necessity, not choice. As Peggy Noonan puts it with incomparable brevity,  speaking of Bush and his advisers in the Wall Street Journal, “Desperate  straits have left them liberated” from their conservative base. Remember,  we are talking four years after the invasion of Iraq: a lot of the  enthusiasm for foreign adventures has cooled.

 As to Bush’s personal role in all this, just look at the people he has  lately nominated for all the major posts in his administration who are  major players on this issue: Josh Bolten as White House chief of staff,  Bob Gates at Defense, General Petraeus in Iraq, Adm. Fallon as Centcom,  Ryan Crocker as ambassador in Baghdad. Whatever their personal differences  and backgrounds, these are not ideologues, and several of them have  expressed forcefully and publicly their lack of interest in an expanded  war and/or their interest in engaging Iran diplomatically.

 Bush could not have been unaware of the political pedigrees of all these  recent appointees, and he must have had more ideological candidates to  choose from — did Dick Cheney have nothing to do with the selection  process? A few days ago, in response to charges that the “crazies” might  still choose to go to war, Condoleezza Rice said (with perhaps just the  slightest touch of exaggeration?) “That policy [the diplomatic course] is  supported by all of the members of the cabinet, and by the vice president  of the United States.” We don’t have to accept that as revealed truth, but
 however he got to this point, Bush now openly talks about his “Plan B-H”  referring to the Baker Hamilton report — something that was unthinkable  just a few months ago.

 Q – Can you attach a timeline to this change? If you’re right about a  fundamental shift, when did it happen?

 A – The Bush administration does not share its innermost deliberations  with me or any outsider, so one has to judge on the basis of external  behavior. On April 11 undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns gave a speech  at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Burns is a cautious diplomat who  protects his flanks and never gets out ahead of the action. In that  speech, referring to his congressional testimony a few days earlier, Burns  said that “diplomacy is our best course of action in blocking and
 containing the Iranian regime; that a military confrontation with Iran is  not desirable, nor is it inevitable if we continue our skilled diplomatic  course and have the patience to see it play out over the mid- to  long-term. I am confident that we can avoid a conflict and see our  strategy succeed.” I take that as evidence that the internal battle was
 over by the end of March and that Cheney and those around him had lost, at
 least for the moment.

 Q – You paint a very rosy scenario. Does this mean that the path of  US-Iran relations will be smooth from here out?

 A – I am very conscious of the fact that political analysts earn their  keep by being cynical and negative. They can tell you fifty reasons why  something desirable will not happen — then, if it happens, give you an  instant fifty reasons why it was inevitable all along. I don’t want to  lose my good standing in the fraternity by being too positive, so let me  toss in a few negatives.

 Although the hardliners in Iran and the US seem to have been outflanked  for the moment, they are still there and they are very persistent and  powerful.

 According to blogger Steve Clemons, “The person in the Bush administration  who most wants a hot conflict with Iran is Vice President Cheney. The  person in Iran who most wants a conflict is Iranian President Mahmoud  Ahmadinejad. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force would be big winners in  a conflict as well — as the political support that both have inside Iran  has been flagging.

 “Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President  Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the  American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one  national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice  President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards  Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is  taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously.” Helene Cooper, in Saturday’s  New York Times, identifies the individual as David Wurmser, the principal  deputy assistant to Mr. Cheney for national security affairs.

 In Tehran, the security services are arresting every American scholar or  journalist who is working in Iran or simply visiting a relative and  tossing them into the dungeons of Evin prison, at least in part as an  effort to pressure the US to release the five Iranians who have  disappeared into the secret American dungeons in Iraq.

 In the past weeks we have had unprecedented shows of military force, ugly demonstrations of individual persecution, reports of US subversive actions  inside Iran, and capture of 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian  Gulf. Both sides are being creative and insidious.

 So fasten your seat belts. This ride has just begun.


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Nothing like the imagined dialogue below will have occurred at the Bush family compound on the Maine sea coast during President Vladimir Putin’s July 1 retreat with US President George W Bush.

Putin, I expect, will have done his best to humor his American counterpart and keep him off his guard. Bush is prepared neither intellectually nor psychologically to understand what a Russian leader must do, and a practical man like Putin would not waste  words explaining the unexplainable to the uncomprehending. Putin’s unenviable task is to persuade Bush of his good intentions, while gaining maneuvering room to take measures that the US will regard as hostile. I have no idea how he tried to bring this off in Kennebunkport. But it is sobering to imagine how the conversation might have gone if Putin had told Bush the unvarnished truth.

Bush: You know, Vladimir, a lot of Americans worry that progress toward democracy in Russia has run into a rough patch. They see journalists being intimidated, businessmen being put in jail, and opponents of your government dying under suspicious circumstances. I want to improve relations with you, but you’re getting a lot of bad press.

Putin: Tell me, George – what is your idea of Russian democracy?

Bush: Well, when Boris Yeltsin stood on top of a tank to face down the communists and then had free elections, Americans really got the idea that Russia was on the road to democracy.

Putin: We were on the road to something, that’s for sure. Why do you think we went bankrupt in 1998? Everything that wasn’t nailed down was going into someone’s Swiss bank account. Ask your father about it – he gave a speech to a Goldman, Sachs conference in Moscow in July of that year telling investors what a great opportunity Russia was, a month before we ran out of money.

Bush: You don’t need to drag my father into this …

Putin: I’m not saying he was involved in the looting of Russia, the greatest larceny of all time – I’m pointing out that he was as clueless as the rest of you. If we hadn’t cracked down on the crooks and thieves who took the country over and stole everything, we wouldn’t be talking right now. There wouldn’t be a Russia.

Bush: But can’t you keep the country honest by democratic means?

Putin: George, everybody isn’t like Americans. If Americans don’t like what’s going on, they elect a different congressman, sign a petition, take out newspaper advertisements, or whatever. For two generations Russians learned that if you made the wrong kind of joke, you disappeared in the middle of the night. You survived by keeping your head down and drinking your vodka. We used to have political troublemakers – in fact, some of the most enthusiastic ones in the world. They were called “communists”. The ones that Josef Stalin didn’t kill, he sent to the Gulag. Just who do you think is going to take the lead against crime syndicates with private armies? If the government doesn’t do it, no one can – and the means we employ aren’t going to be pretty.

Bush: I don’t mean to get personal, Vladimir, but I guess you know something about those means.

Putin: You had better believe that I do. Why do you think that the Russian government is in the hands of people who served in State Security? In the bad old days, the only institution that could take initiative was the security services. There was no other place to learn how to exercise power.

Bush: I can understand how bad things were, Vladimir, but you’ve got to understand how much Americans care about democracy.

Putin: Of course you care about democracy – your population is made up of people who left their countries, forgot their language, abandoned their culture and threw themselves into the melting pot. They believe they have rights. Russians never had any rights to begin with and don’t know what it means to defend them.

Bush: I’ve got to say, Vladimir, that’s a hell of a way to run a country.

Putin: Who told you we were a country, George? Russia is an empire. We have 160 different ethnic groups spread across six time zones, and we have plenty of Russians in territories that used to belong to the Soviet Union. Maybe you don’t like our history, but you can’t run the tape in reverse. Let me give you an example: how many Muslims do you have in the US?

Bush: I don’t see why that’s relevant, but it’s probably 3 million or 4 million.

Putin: That’s not even 2% of your population. Do you know how many Muslims we have in Russia? At least 25 million, out of 150 million – and they might be a majority in 50 years, given their birth rates.

Bush: I don’t understand your point.

Putin: My point is, do you really want democracy in Russia – one man, one vote? Because if you do, you might end up with an Islamic state half a century from now with more oil than Saudi Arabia and a big nuclear arsenal.

Bush: Vladimir, I don’t get what you are driving at. Americans just don’t think that way. We’re trying to help Muslim countries build democracy so the Middle East can be at peace.

Putin: I don’t want to throw cold water on your idea, George, but it doesn’t seem to be working out too well in Iraq, or Palestine, or Lebanon, does it?

Bush: Vladimir, I just don’t get you at all. If you are so concerned about the Muslims, how come you are making it so hard for us to put sanctions on Iran?

Putin: Did it ever occur to you that you have an insignificant number of Muslims to answer to – and half of them are native-born American blacks who never vote Republican? I have millions of Azeri Shi’ites attending mosques supported by Iran. I don’t have the luxury to rap the mullahs on the knuckles and hope they stick their hands back in the pockets. Read what Niccolo Machiavelli had to say on the subject: never inflict a minor injury upon an opponent. Men will avenge themselves against minor injuries, but they can’t avenge themselves against major injuries.

Bush: You’re not telling me to inflict a major injury on Iran, by any chance, are you, Vladimir?

Putin: If anyone is going to do it, George, it’s going to be you – you or the Israelis. I simply can’t afford to – at least not for the moment, certainly not until after our presidential elections next March. Maybe you won’t have to. Iran is weak. There’s still an outside chance that someone reasonable like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani might replace that lunatic Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president. But there’s one thing you can count on: nobody hates the idea of an Iran with nuclear weapons more than we do. Our “near abroad” shares a border with Iran.

Bush: So when push comes to shove, Vladimir, you’re going to let me do the dirty work and keep your hands clean?

Putin: Remember, I’ve got elections six months before you do, and a different kind of succession problem. Your democracy has been around for more than 200 years. We’re barely adolescents. I need someone to follow me who’s hard and sly enough to prevent Russia from flying apart. We can be tough when we have to be. Or haven’t you heard of Chechnya?

Bush: You’re not taking into account how tough my problem is – unless I can settle the Iran problem, there’s no way I can get US troops out of Iraq without a full-scale war between Shi’ites backed by Iran and Sunnis backed by Saudi Arabia.

Putin: Well, you’re on your own there. Don’t blame me for that.

Bush: Vladimir, I was hoping we’d come out of this discussion with an understanding of at least one point: Why are you so upset about our putting anti-missile systems into places like the Czech Republic? You know that we can’t defend Europe against a Russian missile attack.

Putin: George, it’s not just about the missiles. It’s about your lily-pad bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in our near abroad. It’s about fomenting those pointless color revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. You aren’t going to get democracy in these places – it’s silly presumption. All you will do is foster the centrifugal forces that threaten to tear apart the Russian Federation. Don’t you get it, George? We are only three-quarters Russian, and in a generation we might be only half Russian. We haven’t recovered from the beating you gave us in the 1980s. Half of adult male deaths in Russia are due to alcoholism. Our women have 13 abortions for every 10 live births. We’re fighting for our life. We are not going to let what remains of Russia be torn to pieces.

Bush: Do you think we can find some kind of common ground over Kosovo?

Putin: That’s where you are really playing with fire, George. You are proposing to dismember Serbia to add a province to Greater Albania, and you will set a precedent for every breakaway minority that wants to leave Russia. We can’t possibly accept this – and I warn you that if you insist on this dangerous and reckless course of action, we will do precisely the same for disputed territories in the near abroad, starting with South Ossetia.

Bush: But Vladimir, how are we going to convince the Muslim world that we can partner up with them for peace if we don’t respect the wishes of an overwhelming Muslim majority in Kosovo?

Putin: I hate to put it this way, George, but I think I could teach you a lesson about how to gain influence among Muslims. You aren’t particularly popular among Muslims at the moment.

Bush: Okay, you don’t have to rub it in. How do you propose to gain influence among Muslims?

Putin: Do you know how many civilians died in Chechnya when we suppressed the rebellion there? No one knows exactly, but the number is around 100,000. We know that half a million Chechens lost their homes. That’s half the country. We’ve been killing Muslims for 300 years. That’s why they respect us.

Bush: Vladimir, what you are saying is horrible. The American people will never see the world that way.

Putin: The American people don’t have to. They are sitting comfortably in their own continent and think it’s a great disaster when a few thousand people are killed in an office building. I’m not suggesting that you go out and explain to your voters that things might be very different in other parts of the world. But I am warning you: we have a tough enough job on our hands. Don’t make it harder for us, or you will be sorry.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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Congressmen and Congresswomen, wish to refer to the recent House of Representatives vote prohibiting any aid to Saudi Arabia. The legislation calls for a blockage of any further financial assistance extended by the US government in training Saudis in counter-terrorism and border security operations.

Congressmen and Congresswomen, wish to refer to the recent House of Representatives vote prohibiting any aid to Saudi Arabia. The legislation calls for a blockage of any further financial assistance extended by the US government in training Saudis in counter-terrorism and border security operations.


We are told that the US government provided $2.5 million to this training program in 2005 and 2006, which the US House of Representatives seeks to block in future. While the ban on such aid would not have even the slightest impact on Saudi Arabia, what bothers me is the argument advanced in justifying such a ban.


According to press reports, the lawmakers have accused the Kingdom of religious intolerance and bankrolling terrorist organizations.


Kindly allow me to declare that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. When we talk of religious intolerance, the U.S., unfortunately, projects a poor image of a country that has become increasingly intolerant of Islam and symbols identified with this faith.


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has documented numerous cases of Muslims being harassed in the US, mosques were damaged, women in veil being humiliated, and others discriminated against in schools and offices on grounds of their religious belief. No one ever hears of any gentleman wearing a skull cap being the subject of individual or media attention.


Congressmen and Congresswomen, as you are, are no doubt, aware, That Saudi Arabia is the home of the Islamic world’s two holiest mosques. Its position is similar to that of the Vatican, which is the seat of the Catholic world. I do not think that nuns in Rome or anywhere else in the world, including Muslim countries, would ever invite hostile attention for moving about with their faces covered. After all, such an appendage is part of their faith, which they must practice.


As for the charge against the Saudi government that it is funding terrorist outfits, I Submit that such allegation is baseless, to say the least. After all, the Kingdom is a staunch ally of America in the war against terrorism. We have suffered heavily in the past and continue to bear the brunt of funding the war on terror not only in the Kingdom but also abroad.


We are even footing the bill on behalf of the US government when it trains the security forces of its allies. So I beg to differ with the Congressmen and Congresswomen when they accuse us of funding terrorist organizations. On the other hand, there is strong evidence of the US government bringing down democratically elected governments by masterminding coups and aiding and abetting the opponents of regime not favorably inclined toward Washington. You can identify such countries in your own backyard in Latin America.


Congressmen and Congresswomen, I Submit that the US government’s failure to be even-handed in dealing with its allies will jeopardize its own national interest in the long run. The fact that it went to war in Iraq on the false premise that it possessed weapons of mass destruction has created a situation in which it is being deserted by its own allies. It has incurred an expenditure of $ 19 billion on the war bill during the last four years. Moreover, it has created enemies in the Muslim world, which see the US as a staunch ally of Israel, even when it violates Security Council resolutions or kills innocent women and children.


No wonder, the US has got badly trapped in Iraq and Afghanistan, where all its attempts for an exit strategy have failed. It also faces an explosive situation in Iran and North Korea even as it tries to cope with an increasingly alienated Europe and an assertive China.


The steady rise of China and India in the east and Brazil in Latin America provides an eloquent testimony to the fact that the high-handed policy that the US followed as a super power is no longer acceptable to the international community, which has thrown its weight behind the new emerging powers. So from a unit-polar world dominated by the US for some 15 years, we are now moving toward a multi-polar world to challenge the US might and put up a united front against its acts of injustice and inequities.


Congressmen and Congresswomen, there was a time when the US evoked respect and admiration worldwide for its track record in safeguarding human rights, as a bastion of democracy, and as a magnet for talented people everywhere. Today, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the events that followed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the name of America creates fear and triggers negative emotions. I know people with multiple entry visas unwilling to go there for fear of being detained indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay on some trumped-up charge.


Their only concern is that they are Muslims and their religious affiliation (Islam) could land them in trouble. Maybe, their fears are misplaced. But the fact that they feel apprehensive only in relation to the US and no other country does not speak highly of America worthy of a visit, when it is the most advanced country in the world in terms of science and technology as well as its economic prowess.


Yet, when the US government talks of bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East, it raises anxiety instead of excitement. We are reminded of the horror that has visited the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, who are being tortured in the name of freedom and democracy that your government promises them.


Our conscience was also jolted by the acts of injustice that the US and its European allies committed against the Palestinians for voting Hamas into power in the elections that independent observers described as free and fair. In other words, people have no right to exercise their own choice. If they do so, they will have to pay a heavy price by being starved of their own legitimate sources of revenue or any international aid.


There was a time when Britain, during its heyday as a colonial power for over two centuries, used to exploit and subjugate the people in the Afro-Asian countries in the name of “carrying the white man’s burden.” To turn the metaphor around, the US seems to be bearing the self-imposed task of “carrying the Arab burden” of lifting him from the depths of darkness to the light of “freedom and democracy” seen from your country’s perspective.


When, in the name of freedom and democracy, the US administration plants a puppet regime in a country that it has invaded and runs it with the support of corrupt elements drawn from that society as in Iraq, they will naturally allow its resources to be exploited. Together with the game of divide-and-rule, it has created a situation that has become a breeding ground for terrorism.  


Clearly, the US war on terror has failed. The world today is less secure than it was prior to 9/11. And the shape of things to come predict a dark future for the Muslim world.


Congressmen and Congresswomen, in my submission I have nowhere blamed the great American people. My accusing finger is pointing only toward the US administration led by President George W. Bush. It is still possible for the US to try to refurbish its image, which is now in tatters, if fair-minded people from both sides join hands in their common quest for peace and goodwill.


Official statistics show that despite the US administration’s hostile attitude toward the Gulf States, American exports to Arab countries are projected to reach a record $ 45 billion in 2007. According to David Hamod, president of the National US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, US exports to 22 Arab countries shot up by 28 percent in 2006 to reach a record level of $35 billion, with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia accounting for more than half of the total.


Yet, despite such an impressive growth in the US trade with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Dubai Ports World was denied permission to run some key US ports after the US Congress and some New York legislators opposed it. So, while we Arabs extended our hands of friendship by boosting imports from the US, your administration believes in unequal partnership. There is no quid pro quo or a spirit of give and take in our relationship.


The reason, Congressmen and Congresswomen, is transparent, as far as we are concerned. As long as the US administration remains committed to  a one-point agenda of looking at the Arab world from the Israeli perspective, its approach toward our region will continue to be biased, even if such a policy runs counter to America’s national interest. In any other country of the world, people working for the interest of a third country would be dubbed ‘traitors’ or Quislings. Shockingly enough, not only are such elements tolerated by the US administration, but they also enjoy an enormous clout.


The choice, ultimately, is yours. The US administration should recognize the fact that it stands to win a great deal by being fair and even-handed in its relations with the Arab world. Otherwise, it will continue to lose billions of dollars in trade and investment opportunities to its competitors in Europe, China, India and Brazil. Bilateral trade between China and Saudi Arabia rocketed to $13.1 billion by August 2006, a 31 percent increase over the same period last year. Of this Chinese exports to the Kingdom accounted for $3 billion, a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2005, and imports from Saudi Arabia $10.1 billion, up 33 percent for the same period last year. Whether the US government will see the writing on the wall is again a $64 million question.


Turki Faisal Al Rasheed


Golden Grass Inc.




Turki Faisal Al Rasheed, chairman of Golden Grass Inc a Saudi businessman. Own websites dedicated to Saudi affairs.