Monthly Archives: January 2008

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The U.S. report was blasted again last week by a furious President Bush on his visit to Israel. His anger was reinforced by an MI6 report supported by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.

© 2008

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, has expressed “grave doubts” that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons program as reported last month in the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, reports Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The U.S. report was blasted again last week by a furious President Bush on his visit to Israel. His anger was reinforced by an MI6 report supported by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.

MI6 chief John Scarlett and Mossad leader Meir Dagan believe the U.S. report not only has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran but, ironically, makes a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities more likely. The prospect of that attack came closer when Israel’s new ambassador in London, Ron Prosor, said that Iran “will have enough uranium to make an atomic bomb by 2009.” Proser is one of Israel’s leading experts on Iran’s nuclear program.

Mossad and MI6 agents working under deep cover in Iran concluded days before Bush began his historic Middle East trip that Iran’s 10 nuclear facilities were still fully operational, producing enriched uranium and bomb casings at Natanz and the other eight nuclear facilities.

Meanwhile, Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin also reports that Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council also apparently do not accept the findings of the most recent National Intelligence Estimate.

The growing military threat from Iran is prompting Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates quietly to make significant increases in arms purchases.

Iran’s Arab neighbors remain concerned that Tehran would attack in response to a U.S. strike against its nuclear facilities.

The Gulf nations already have given notice that the U.S. cannot use their bases to launch attacks against Iran.

Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin is the premium, online intelligence news source edited and published by the founder of WND.


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President Bush on Sunday called Iran "the world’s leading state sponsor of terror" and sought to shore up opposition to the government in Tehran throughout the Middle East.


Chat before dinner

AFP/Getty Images
President Bush, center, chats with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahayan, right, ahead of a traditional dinner in the desert at the Royal Stables of the Al-Asayel Racing and Equestrian Club in Suwaihan.
Speaking in the United Arab Emirates, he calls the Islamic Republic the ‘world’s leading state sponsor of terror.’ Tehran rejects his remarks.
By James Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 14, 2008
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — President Bush on Sunday called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and sought to shore up opposition to the government in Tehran throughout the Middle East.

But even as he criticized Iranian leaders, saying they were seeking to repress their citizens and cow neighboring countries, Bush appealed to U.S. allies in the region to open up their own political and economic systems to greater democracy.

Spotlighting a swath of the globe where U.S. diplomacy is built around seeking help for the administration’s anti-terrorism effort, the president criticized only Iran by name. He avoided mentioning Egypt, his final stop on a six-nation Middle East trip, despite its long record of human rights abuses, limited political rights and economic disparity. Nor did he cite other nations across the region with similarly troubled histories.

Speaking just 150 miles across the Persian Gulf from Iran, Bush said the Islamic Republic “sends hundreds of millions of dollars to extremists around the world, while its own people face repression and economic hardship at home.” He said that Iran was seeking “to intimidate its neighbors with ballistic missiles and bellicose rhetoric.”

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini dismissed Bush’s approach to Iran as ineffective.

“During the past seven years, the Bush administration has followed a policy to isolate Iran and promote Iranophobia in the region,” Hosseini said, according the official Islamic Republic News Agency. “All regional states adopted a vigilant approach regarding that policy and opposed it.”

Bush’s criticism of Tehran occurred as the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna reported that Iranian representatives had promised to answer key questions within a month about their nation’s past covert nuclear activities. Tehran also provided information about its effort to develop an advanced centrifuge that would enrich uranium much more quickly and efficiently than a model it now uses, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency said.

Bush made only brief reference to alleged Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, which an administration intelligence report recently said had been halted in 2003, and did not mention the announcement in Vienna.

Gordon D. Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in Abu Dhabi of Iranian officials: “Answering questions about their past nuclear activities is a step, but they still need to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activity. Another declaration is no substitute for complying with the U.N. sanctions.”

Bush spoke here to an audience of government officials, business executives, academics and students assembled by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, a think tank. Delivering an otherwise gingerly worded address intended to revive a quiescent campaign for broader democracy across the Middle East, he called for reforms that would transform life from Morocco to Pakistan.

Using the language of a middle-school civics lesson,Bush proclaimed a “new era,” which he said was “founded on the equality of all people before God.”

It is built, he said, “with the understanding that power is a trust that must be exercised with the consent of the governed — and deliver equal justice under the law.”

“For decades, the people of this region saw their desire for liberty and justice denied at home and dismissed abroad in the name of stability,” the president said. “Today your aspirations are threatened by violent extremists who murder the innocent in pursuit of power.”

The president spoke in an opulent auditorium of the $3-billion Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, one of the two major metropolitan areas in the United Arab Emirates. He planned to visit the other, Dubai, today on his way to Saudi Arabia.

There was no applause during the speech; at the end, the audience clapped with restraint and stood as he left the stage.

Bush has had two principal themes on the eight-day trip: encouraging support around the region for fledgling Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and pressing leaders at each stop to stand with the United States in its efforts to put pressure on the Iranian government.

Senior administration officials had promoted the speech as a return to what the president calls his “freedom agenda.” His plea for democracy in the Mideast and beyond was given voice in his second inaugural address but has drawn little public presidential focus in the intervening years as Bush sought to right foundering efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush called Abu Dhabi an example of the future he sees for the region, citing its openness to international trade and appointment of women to ministerial posts.

But the State Department’s most recent human rights report, issued last March, calls respect for human rights here “problematic,” noting that citizens have no right to change the government, freedom of speech is restricted, and flogging is a judicially approved punishment.

In Egypt, Bush’s final stop before returning home Wednesday, respect for human rights “remains poor,” the report says. It notes “serious abuses” in many areas, including torture, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and other rights violations. Saudi Arabia also received a sharply negative assessment.

Bush acknowledged that there have been “setbacks” in the region and said: “You cannot build trust when you hold an election where opposition candidates find themselves harassed or in prison.”

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said that in his meetings throughout the region, Bush was “trying to gently push on democracy,” and recognized that any changes may not necessarily resemble American democracy and will reflect the customs of each country.

Bush also broadened his push beyond political measures to include a call for strong civic institutions — houses of worship, universities, professional associations, local governments and community groups — as well as open economic systems and stronger education programs.


Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.

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The expansion plan is a reminder of just how vast Saudi oil reserves are and how little exploration is needed to maintain output. Last year, according to Saudi Aramco’s annual report, the state-owned oil firm drilled just 13 exploration wells. In the United States, oil companies drilled 4,005 exploration wells, according to the Energy Information Administration.

SHAYBAH, Saudi Arabia — For a decade, Hussain al-Obaid has been working in the soft red dunes that stretch across the vast desert known as Rub al-Khali, or the Empty Quarter. In summer, temperatures climb as high as 130 degrees and sandstorm winds gust up to 80 mph, though on a mild fall evening the stars shine and the air is mild.

A graduate of the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa, Obaid is the engineering superintendent of a project that pumps half a million barrels of crude oil a day from beneath the sand and delivers it through a 400-mile pipeline. The oil is some of the world’s purest, highest-quality crude, easily refined into gasoline.

To complete the project, construction crews built a road across the desert and moved 100 million cubic feet of sand to make way for an airplane runway.

Next year, Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, plans to boost production by 250,000 barrels a day, one step in an effort to expand the kingdom’s oil-production capacity to 12.5 million barrels a day from the 11.3 million barrels. The new production is part of a strategy that could ease market tension and is designed to preserve Saudi Arabia‘s ability to produce 1.5 million to 2 million barrels a day more than its actual output in the face of rising world oil demand, said a senior Saudi Oil Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Tell me of any other country that’s made commitments this broad on its own,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the deputy minister of petroleum and natural resources, said during preparations for this weekend’s summit of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “We are the only country with a policy of maintaining excess capacity.”

The expansion plan is a reminder of just how vast Saudi oil reserves are and how little exploration is needed to maintain output. Last year, according to Saudi Aramco’s annual report, the state-owned oil firm drilled just 13 exploration wells. In the United States, oil companies drilled 4,005 exploration wells, according to the Energy Information Administration.

This field, Shaybah, was discovered in 1968. Thirty years later, technological advances that permit oil rigs to drill horizontally as well as vertically enabled Saudi Aramco to start exploiting the field by putting the rigs on stable salt flats and drilling under 500-foot dunes rather than through them. The kingdom is considering adding more production later.

It isn’t only the size of the Shaybah expansion that matters. It’s the oil’s extremely high quality. Most of the spare oil production capacity in Saudi Arabia is much thicker, lower-quality crude with high sulfur content, which relatively few of the world’s refineries can handle. Although most of the new Saudi production that will be brought in over the next year is high-quality oil, later production increments will be forced to tap the kingdom’s heavier crude reserves, Saudi Aramco said.

To increase the market for those crude grades, Saudi Arabia is building or expanding refineries so that they will be able to process Arab heavy as well as Arab light crude oils. Saudi Aramco is a partner with Shell Oil in a $7 billion expansion and upgrade of a refinery in Port Arthur, Tex. It has signed agreements with ConocoPhillips and Total to build 400,000-barrel export refineries in the Saudi towns of Yanbu and Jubail. It is also a partner with Exxon Mobil and Fujian Petrochemical in tripling the capacity and upgrading a refinery in China‘s Fujian province.

Saudi Aramco is expanding its refining by nearly 50 percent, with almost all the new capacity capable of processing heavy, sour crude.

In the meantime, demand for the low-quality crude is limited. Last week, even as crude prices rose, Saudi Arabia increased the discount on lower-quality oil by more than $4 a barrel. (It had reduced the discount earlier in the year.) Some refiners in the central United States were paying a premium over the New York Mercantile Exchange price to ensure delivery of the high-quality West Texas intermediate grade they needed. “The explanation is that there is a shortage of light, sweet crude, not crude,” said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an oil consultant in Aspen, Colo.

This week, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi reiterated pledges that Saudi Arabia would eventually deliver 1 million barrels of oil a day to China and keep the world well supplied.

Some analysts said that could be difficult because many of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are old and in decline. The rate of natural decline in Saudi fields was slightly faster than anticipated this year, according to a Saudi strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the subject. From 2005 to 2009, output from existing Saudi fields is expected to decline by 800,000 barrels a day. But Saudi Arabia’s output capacity is about the same as it was 30 years ago.

If the amount of oil the Saudis can produce is open to question, the cost of production is not. Naimi estimated that it costs Saudi Arabia about $2 to produce a barrel of oil. Developing new fields is also cheap, he said, running about a quarter or less of exploration and development costs elsewhere. Asked whether Saudi Arabia would be interested in investing in Canadian tar sands, which require more than $40 per barrel in investment, Naimi said there would be no point.

Sitting in the twilight looking out over the complex that houses 740 workers in Shaybah, Obaid said the prospects still seem immense. The oil wells are within 10 miles of the base here, but unexplored dunes of the massive Empty Quarter stretch much further. Obaid said, “We have huge areas still.”


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Sarkozy, who began his trip Sunday with a visit to the world’s top oil exporter, told Saudi and French businessmen earlier on Monday he was worried about the "brutality" of oil price increases which "are affecting growth and purchasing power."

RIYADH (AFP) – President Nicolas Sarkozy wrapped up a visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday saying French firms would sign major contracts with Riyadh potentially worth 40 billion euros, but without securing any deals.

“They are immense contracts, both civilian and military,” Sarkozy told reporters. “We are talking about 40 billion euros (59 billion dollars) in potential deals.”

Sarkozy, on his first Gulf tour since taking office in May, said before his arrival in Qatar‘s capital Doha that the contracts would be signed “in the coming weeks and months.”

A French official said on Sunday that delegations from the two countries signed four political and energy cooperation agreements, and outlined infrastructure and military contracts worth nearly 40 billion euros.

Sarkozy, who began his trip Sunday with a visit to the world’s top oil exporter, told Saudi and French businessmen earlier on Monday he was worried about the “brutality” of oil price increases which “are affecting growth and purchasing power.”

“When oil prices triple in four years to 100 dollars (per barrel), I worry about the brutality of these hikes which directly affect growth and purchasing power, not just in France and Europe but even more so in many poor countries that have no oil,” he said.

Sarkozy became the second French president after his predecessor Jacques Chirac to address Saudi Arabia’s Shura (consultative) Council, an appointed all-male advisory body.

“France wants to be a friend of Saudi Arabia, a friend of the Arab world, a friend who does not lecture but tells the truth,” he said in a speech to the 150-strong council.

Sarkozy hailed reforms introduced by King Abdullah, including his efforts to improve conditions for women, who are subjected to a host of restrictions in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdon, including a driving ban, and must cover from head to toe in public.

“With regard to the situation of women and freedom of expression, Saudi Arabia has been moving,” Sarkozy said while conceding that the movement had been “slow.”

Saudi Arabia held elections to fill half the seats of municipal councils in 2005, but women were barred from the vote.

Sarkozy reitered an earlier offer to Arab and Muslim countries to share French expertise to develop civilian nuclear energy.

He also said that Paris “unreservedly supports” an Arab League plan to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon, describing it as “fully compatible” with proposals made by France.

“Like Saudi Arabia, France will spare no effort to enable the Lebanese parliament to elect as soon as possible a president which the diverse components of the Lebanese nation will deem representative,” he said.

The Arab League’s three-point plan calls for the election of army chief Michel Sleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government in which no one party has veto power and the adoption of a new electoral law.

Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23 with no elected successor because of bitter rivalry between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps.

Sarkozy left Riyadh just before US President George W. Bush lands in the Saudi capital as part of the US leader’s own visit to four Gulf Arab states aimed at rallying support against Iran.

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US President George W. Bush was heading to regional powerhouse and close ally Saudi Arabia on Monday to rally support for his Middle East peace drive and his campaign to isolate archfoe Iran. Bush warned on Sunday warned of what he called the threat to the world posed by the Islamic republic, saying it should be confronted "before it’s too late."

RIYADH (AFP) – US President George W. Bush was heading to regional powerhouse and close ally Saudi Arabia on Monday to rally support for his Middle East peace drive and his campaign to isolate archfoe Iran.

Bush warned on Sunday warned of what he called the threat to the world posed by the Islamic republic, saying it should be confronted “before it’s too late.”

“The United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf — and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late,” he said on Sunday in the keynote speech of his Middle East tour.

“Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere,” Bush said in his address in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi before heading to the bustling city state of Dubai.

He described Iran as “today the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and, with Al-Qaeda, the main threat to the region’s stability, and called on the regime in Tehran to “heed the will” of the people.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki retorted that Bush’s efforts to damage Tehran’s ties with its Arab neighbours were futile, and dismissed his tour which started last Wednesday in Israel as a “failure.”

Iran and the international community have been at loggerheads for several years over its nuclear drive, which Washington suspects is a cover for ambitions to build atomic weapons — a charge Tehran denies.

But tensions escalated shortly before Bush headed to the region over a confrontation in the strategic Strait of Hormuz between Iranian speedboats and US warships.

Israel also ratcheted up the rhetoric against Tehran on Monday, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warning: “We are not ruling out any option.”

“Anything that can lead to preventing Iran from nuclear capability is part of the legitimate context when dealing with the problem,” he was quoted as telling parliaments foreign affairs and defence committee.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will host Bush at his ranch outside Riyadh but analysts and diplomats say the two allies face “difficult talks” both on Iran and the Middle East conflict.

While Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia has voiced concern over the rise of Shiite Iran, it is opposed to another war after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that has strengthened the Islamic regime in Tehran.

Bush and Abdullah are also expected to discuss arms sales and efforts to combat terrorism, with the US administration believing its ally — the homeland of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden — still has “more to do”.

The United States announced last July military pacts worth 20 billion dollars for Saudi Arabia, and a US official said the Bush administration is expected to notify Congress on Monday of its intention to sell the weaponry.

On the Iran crisis, Saudi Arabia has already called for restraint.

“Saudi Arabia is a neighbour of Iran in the Gulf, which is a small lake. We are keen that harmony and peace should prevail among states of the region,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said.

The White House has tried to play down the significance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s visit to Saudi Arabia last month for the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage.

On the peace track, Bush called on Sunday on Washington’s Arab allies in the oil-rich Gulf to support US policy goals in the Middle East.

The US leader has set a target of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty by the end of his term in January 2009 that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state and end Israel‘s four decade occupation.

In Jerusalem, the two sides opened talks on the most intractable issues of the conflict, including Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees, but Olmert said he was not sure a peace deal could be reached.

King Abdullah is the architect of a 2002 Arab initiative revived last year offering normalisation with the Jewish state in return for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories.

The US official said Bush will court Riyadh‘s diplomatic influence in the region but also its financial muscle which “could make an enormous difference in places like the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations.”

“One of the things the president will urge His Majesty (King Abdullah) is… to make a strategic investment in the future of the region, a region which would not be dominated by extremists,” said a senior US official.

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Bush’s visit comes at a time of deep Saudi worry over Iran’s intentions. Yet Saudi officials have urged all players in the region to exercise restraint, and have warned of the grave consequences for the world economy of incidents such as the recent Persian Gulf standoff between Iran and the U.S.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia‘s warm official welcome for President Bush, the scion of a family with close ties to the kingdom’s ruling family, masks his deep unpopularity among ordinary Saudis.

A recent poll found only 12 percent here view Bush positively — lower than Iran’s president or even al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden — and more think warmly toward Iran than America.

Among the reasons are the chaos in Iraq that followed the U.S.-led invasion and the widespread Arab feeling that the United States is biased in favor of Israel and not serious in seeking Mideast peace. A recent editorial said everything the president touches “turns to dust and ashes.”

That mirrors the deep distrust many Americans hold toward Saudi Arabia — the homeland of 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers — even as U.S. leaders praise Saudi Arabia’s leadership in the region and its crackdown on Islamic extremism.

Still, Bush, on his first visit to the kingdom, will enjoy a warm embrace from Saudi King Abdullah. He is staying at the monarch’s home — a rare show of hospitality for a visiting dignitary that reflects Bush’s hosting of Abdullah twice at his own ranch in Texas.

Most of the two leaders’ talks will be one-on-one. The king will introduce Bush to Saudi delicacies in a tent at his farm overlooking meadows and lakes, and then take Bush to inspect his horses, according to a Saudi official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the countries’ ties.

For the U.S.-Saudi alliance, such deep contradictions are nothing new.

Bush’s visit comes at a time of deep Saudi worry over Iran’s intentions. Yet Saudi officials have urged all players in the region to exercise restraint, and have warned of the grave consequences for the world economy of incidents such as the recent Persian Gulf standoff between Iran and the U.S.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud has said Iran will be on the agenda.

“We will listen with all ears to what President Bush will raise,” Saud said.

A rare cold front has brought clouds and rain to Riyadh for the visit. Tight security is evident: Hundreds of police cars have deployed along major roads and sharpshooters are on some rooftops. In one neighborhood, police using loudspeakers demanded that cars be removed from some streets as two helicopters hovered overhead.

It is Bush’s first trip to Saudi Arabia, which has the world’s largest oil reserves. His father, the first President Bush, had warm relations with many Saudis.

When the Saudi-American relationship began in the 1940s, it was built on a simple bargain: Saudi Arabia offered oil in return for U.S. protection. It was a relationship of accommodation between a monarchy ruled according to Islamic law and a secular, liberal democracy.

The United States became the kingdom’s biggest trading partner. The Saudis became the biggest buyers of U.S. weapons — $39 billion worth in the 1990s. They have also been major U.S. creditors, buying billions in Treasury bonds, and enthusiastic investors in U.S. business. Many Saudis sent their children to American schools.

But over the years, issues arose as the United States became more involved in the region, especially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Saudis, like all Arabs, feel Washington leans unfairly to Israel‘s side.

Saudi-U.S. ties were hit hard after the Sept. 11 attacks when Americans questioned the kingdom’s loyalty as an ally and its support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Some Americans asked if the kingdom’s conservative society and schools bred hatred of the West.

The Saudi official said relations have “improved tremendously” since then, in part because the kingdom’s anti-terror campaign has proved its seriousness to Washington.

A senior U.S. administration official said Bush’s visit would reaffirm not just traditional ties with Saudi Arabia but also the president’s personal relationship with Abdullah.

Despite such warmth, the recent poll conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow, a bipartisan group whose goal is undermining world support for terrorism, found Bush viewed positively by only 12 percent of Saudis.

That was less than half the number with a good impression of Iran‘s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 15 percent had a favorable opinion of bin Laden.

Forty percent have a favorable opinions of the U.S. — a lower rating than they gave China or Iran — though 69 percent want good relations with the United States. The poll of 1,004 Saudis, conducted in December, had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Bush’s unpopularity goes beyond Saudi Arabia, with many in the Arab world angry over the war in Iraq and over U.S. support for Israel.

Several hundred people protested in Bahrain during his stop there Saturday. And newspapers in Egypt have been running critical editorials. Rose el-Youssef, a paper close to Egypt’s ruling party, called Bush “the leader of sabotage, the thief of Arab lands.”

Analyst Abdullah al-Fozan said in a recent column in Al-Watan daily that Bush’s “black pages” have been piling up.

“You have the opportunity now to decrease that blackness … by fulfilling the promise you made to help establish a Palestinian state,” he wrote.

And an editorial in Saturday’s Arab News, a Saudi English-language newspaper, said Bush’s record makes it hard for Arabs to believe he can deliver.

“No Palestinian, no Arab believes he will, or can, deliver,” the editorial said. “Everything he touches turns to dust and ashes. Iraq, Afghanistan — maybe now even Iran.”

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Now in fact, Obama has been pretty consistent in his opposition to the war. But Bill Clinton is right in this respect: Obama’s view of the current situation in Iraq is out of touch with reality. In this, however, Obama is at one with Hillary Clinton and the entire leadership of the Democratic Party.

“Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” Thus spoke Bill Clinton last Monday night, exasperated by Barack Obama’s claim that he — unlike Hillary Clinton — had been consistently right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) on the Iraq war.

Now in fact, Obama has been pretty consistent in his opposition to the war. But Bill Clinton is right in this respect: Obama’s view of the current situation in Iraq is out of touch with reality. In this, however, Obama is at one with Hillary Clinton and the entire leadership of the Democratic Party.

When President Bush announced the surge of troops in support of a new counterinsurgency strategy a year ago, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Democratic Congressional leaders predicted failure. Obama, for example, told Larry King that he didn’t believe additional U.S. troops would “make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there.” Then in April, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, asserted that “this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything.” In September, Clinton told Gen. David Petraeus that his claims of progress in Iraq required a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

The Democrats were wrong in their assessments of the surge. Attacks per week on American troops are now down about 60 percent from June. Civilian deaths are down approximately 75 percent from a year ago. December 2007 saw the second-lowest number of U.S. troops killed in action since March 2003. And according to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq, last month’s overall number of deaths, which includes Iraqi security forces and civilian casualties as well as U.S. and coalition losses, may well have been the lowest since the war began.

Do Obama and Clinton and Reid now acknowledge that they were wrong? Are they willing to say the surge worked?

No. It’s apparently impermissible for leading Democrats to acknowledge — let alone celebrate — progress in Iraq. When asked recently whether she stood behind her “willing suspension of disbelief” insult to General Petraeus, Clinton said, “That’s right.”

When Obama was asked in the most recent Democratic presidential debate, “Would you have seen this kind of greater security in Iraq if we had followed your recommendations to pull the troops out last year?” he didn’t directly address the question. But he volunteered that “much of that violence has been reduced because there was an agreement with tribes in Anbar Province, Sunni tribes, who started to see, after the Democrats were elected in 2006, you know what? — the Americans may be leaving soon. And we are going to be left very vulnerable to the Shias. We should start negotiating now.”

But Sunni tribes in Anbar announced in September 2006 that they would join to fight Al Qaeda. That was two months before the Democrats won control of Congress. The Sunni tribes turned not primarily because of fear of the Shiites, but because of their horror at Al Qaeda’s atrocities in Anbar. And the improvements in Anbar could never have been sustained without aggressive American military efforts — efforts that were more effective in 2007 than they had been in 2006, due in part to the addition of the surge forces.

Last year’s success, in Anbar and elsewhere, was made possible by confidence among Iraqis that U.S. troops would stay and help protect them, that the U.S. would not abandon them to their enemies. Because the U.S. sent more troops instead of withdrawing — because, in other words, President Bush won his battles in 2007 with the Democratic Congress — we have been able to turn around the situation in Iraq.

And now Iraq’s Parliament has passed a de-Baathification law — one of the so-called benchmarks Congress established for political reconciliation. For much of 2007, Democrats were able to deprecate the military progress and political reconciliation taking place on the ground by harping on the failure of the Iraqi government to pass the benchmark legislation. They are being deprived of even that talking point.

Yesterday, on “Meet the Press,” Hillary Clinton claimed that the Iraqis are changing their ways in part because of the Democratic candidates’ “commitment to begin withdrawing our troops in January of 2009.” So the Democratic Party, having proclaimed that the war is lost and having sought to withdraw U.S. troops, deserves credit for any progress that may have been achieved in Iraq.

That is truly a fairy tale. And it is driven by a refusal to admit real success because that success has been achieved under the leadership of … George W. Bush. The horror!

In last week’s column, I mistakenly attributed a quotation from Michael Medved to Michelle Malkin. I regret the error.

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Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting Iran’s nuclear potential and are prepared to engage in a peace process partly to build an anti-Iran coalition. Arabs see it differently.

Washington Post
As President Bush travels through the Middle East, the prevailing  assumption is that Arab states are primarily focused on the rising Iranian  threat and that their attendance at the Annapolis conference with Israel  in November was motivated by this threat. This assumption, reflected in  the president’s speech in the United Arab Emirates yesterday, could be a  costly mistake.

Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting  Iran’s nuclear potential and are prepared to engage in a peace process  partly to build an anti-Iran coalition. Arabs see it differently. They use  the Iran issue to lure Israel and the United States into serious Palestinian-Israeli  peacemaking, having concluded that the perceived Iranian threats sell  better in Washington and Tel Aviv than the pursuit of peace itself.

Many Arab governments are of course concerned about Iran and its role in  Iraq, but not for the same reasons as Israel and the United States. Israel  sees Iran’s nuclear potential as a direct threat to its security, and its  support for Hezbollah and Hamas as a military challenge.

Arab governments are less worried about the military power of Hamas and  Hezbollah than they are about support for them among their publics. They  are less worried about a military confrontation with Iran than about  Iran’s growing influence in the Arab world. In other words, what Arab  governments truly fear is militancy and the public support for it that  undermines their own popularity and stability.

In all this, they see Iran as a detrimental force but not as the primary  cause of militant sentiment. Most Arab governments believe instead that  the militancy is driven primarily by the absence of Arab-Israeli peace.

This argument has been a loser in Washington, rejected by many and not  taken seriously by others. The issue of Iran gets more traction inside the  Beltway.

Last year, King Abdullah II of Jordan delivered an address to a joint  session of Congress. His focus was not on Iran or Iraq — or even the  hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees his small country is painfully  hosting. In urging American diplomacy, his message was clear: “The  wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration  far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine.” This address  was hardly noticed in our press. In contrast, when the king highlights the Iranian threat to his American  visitors, everyone listens.

One does not have to accept the view that Palestine explains all regional  ills to acknowledge the king’s central concern. Either he genuinely meant  what he said or he believed it was so central a matter to his public that  he needed  to use this chance to address Congress to appease his constituents.  (Three-quarters of Jordanians and other Arabs have ranked Palestine as  their “top issue” or “among the top three” in their priorities for five  years in a row.)

President Bush needs to listen. The war in Iraq has increased Saudi  influence in the region, while America’s Iraq troubles and its  confrontation with Iran have weakened the U.S. position. America now needs  Saudi Arabia more than the Saudis need Washington.

To be sure, there are many common economic and security interests. But in  the end, the American presence in the Persian Gulf, which helps provide  security for Arab governments, cannot be used as a lever. U.S. forces are there to  protect American interests, not the local governments; a threat of  withdrawal is not credible. If one adds the increased economic power that  comes with the substantial cash flow generated by $100-a-barrel oil, Saudi  Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council states have the potential  influence that comes with being one of the top creditors of the United 

And even though Gulf Arab governments need the U.S. military umbrella for  their security, their publics view the United States as a far greater  threat than Iran. It is a challenge for these governments to have to  continually depend on an America whose foreign policy is rejected by their own publics and  whose record in recent years has been more of failure than of success.

Confronting Iran does not solve their dilemma. Arab-Israeli peacemaking  does. Most Arabs identify successful American peace diplomacy as the  single most important factor in improving their views of the United  States.

When Saudi and other Arab representatives decided to attend the Annapolis  conference, they hoped it would help Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert  deliver the kind of visible concessions that would empower Palestinian  President Mahmoud Abbas and dissuade Palestinians from supporting Hamas.  President Bush sounded optimistic in Jerusalem. But Arab trust of speeches  is low, and tangible benefits, particularly removal of Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlements, have not materialized.  Increasing Arab skepticism about peace prospects is one reason they are  hedging their bets by defusing tensions with Iran.

In making his case for confronting Iran, Bush is likely to get polite nods  from Arab leaders. Don’t mistake that for an embrace of American policy.  What they need above all is for the United States to succeed in mediating  Palestinian-Israeli peace — not dismiss their peace calls as a fig leaf  for some deeper desire for confrontation with Iran.

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America’s Guantánamo era enters its seventh shameful year. If we are ever to regain our standing as a nation committed to the rule of law and fundamental human rights, we must close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay now, reaffirm our commitment to international treaties and our own Constitution, and either release or prosecute fairly the men who have been held so long in a legal and moral black hole.

The appalling fact that innocents have been locked up and abused at the U.S. prison for six long years is not the only reason we must close it now.

By Anthony D. Romero

Reuters/Joe Skipper

A detainee is escorted by U.S. Navy guards in Camp Four, the facility containing the “most compliant” detainees, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Sept. 4, 2007.

Jan. 11, 2008 | Today, America’s Guantánamo era enters its seventh shameful year. If we are ever to regain our standing as a nation committed to the rule of law and fundamental human rights, we must close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay now, reaffirm our commitment to international treaties and our own Constitution, and either release or prosecute fairly the men who have been held so long in a legal and moral black hole.

Six long years ago, the first orange-clad, shackled and blindfolded prisoners arrived at Guantánamo’s Camp X-Ray. The Bush administration’s plan was to fashion Guantánamo quite literally as an island outside the law — a place with no lawyers, no rights and, above all, no public scrutiny. The administration labeled the men imprisoned at Guantánamo “illegal enemy combatants” who were to be held until the “cessation of hostilities” in the “war on terror” — in other words, forever. Such “quaint” notions as the Geneva Conventions and the constitutional “Great Writ” of habeas corpus were swiftly discarded because the men at Guantánamo were uniformly, in former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s words, “among the most dangerous, best trained vicious killers on the face of the earth.” President Bush, somewhat more prosaically, assured the world that the Guantánamo prisoners were “bad people.”

Make no mistake: There were, and are, innocent people imprisoned at Guantánamo. Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, who was Guantánamo’s commander for several years, candidly acknowledged in the Wall Street Journal: “Sometimes, we just didn’t get the right folks.” And we now know that only a small percentage of the many hundreds of men and boys who have been held at Guantánamo were captured on a battlefield fighting against Americans; far more were sold into captivity by tribal warlords for substantial bounties.

But the appalling fact that innocent men have been imprisoned and abused at Guantánamo is not the only reason why its closure is of such urgent importance. The most profound and enduring stain of Guantánamo is its corrosive effect on America’s reputation and standing, and on respect for the rule of law worldwide. Repressive regimes have cited America’s example to defend their abysmal human rights practices; for instance, Malaysia’s law minister insisted that his country’s practice of detaining suspects without trial was “just like Guantánamo Bay.” Will future enemies make the same claim to defend the detention and torture of our own men and women in uniform? Such concerns have led former Secretary of State Colin Powell and other former military officers to call for Guantánamo’s closure. “Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I’d close it,” Powell has said.

In truth, Guantánamo has demolished America’s moral standing because the government chose to abandon our time-tested criminal justice system. In its place, they’ve erected a new regime of military commissions that permits — according to recent congressional testimony by the Pentagon general who oversees it — evidence obtained through torture, including the brutal practice of waterboarding.

I traveled to Guantánamo Bay to witness the very first military commission proceedings in August of 2004. More than three years later, this system has produced a single conviction: a guilty plea by Australian David Hicks that resulted in a nine-month incarceration in Australia, where Hicks is now a free man. Meanwhile, several terrorism suspects who were prosecuted in U.S. courts have received lengthy prison sentences. It is small wonder that the chief prosecutor for the commissions recently resigned in disgust, disparaging the system as “deeply politicized.”

There is no reason why the prison at Guantánamo Bay should remain open even one day longer. The men who are held there should either be prosecuted in fair proceedings that accord with our own values and legal traditions, or sent to their home countries or countries that will accept them as refugees where they will be safe from torture and abuse. Although long overdue, the first step in restoring the rule of law is clear — close Guantánamo now.

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Tension spiked markedly last week when Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) speedboats were involved in an "incident" with three US Navy vessels, which claimed they were international waters.

The recent, and escalating, tension between Iran and the US in the narrow corridor of the Strait of Hormuz has once again drawn attention to the strait’s international maritime status, and to the ramifications of this tension as a flashpoint in the Middle East.

In a significant raising of the temperature, US President George W Bush on Sunday accused Iran of threatening security around the world by backing militants and urged his Gulf Arab allies to confront “this danger before it is too late”.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates during his

seven-nation tour of the Middle East, Bush said the US is strengthening its “security commitments with our friends in the Gulf” and “rallying friends around the world to confront this danger”. He also called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror”.

Tension spiked markedly last week when Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) speedboats were involved in an “incident” with three US Navy vessels, which claimed they were international waters.

Yet there is no “international water” in the Strait of Hormuz, straddled between the territorial waters of Iran and Oman. The US government claimed, through a Pentagon spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the three US ships “transiting through the Strait of Hormuz” were provocatively harassed by the speedboats. This was followed by the Pentagon’s release of a videotape of the encounter, where in response to Iran’s request for ship identification, we hear a dispatch from one of the US ships stating the ship’s number and adding that “we are in international waters and we intend no harm”.

Thus there is the issue of the exact whereabouts of the US ships at the time of the standoff with the Iranian boats manned by the IRGC patrolling the area. According to Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgiff, the US ships were “five kilometers outside Iranian territorial waters”. Yet, this is disputed by another dispatch from the US ships that states, “I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law.”

Given that the approximately three-kilometer-wide inbound traffic lane in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran’s territorial water, the US Navy’s invocation of “transit passage” harking back to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, (UNCLOS) is hardly surprising. [1]

Although the US has yet to ratify the UNCLOS, it has been a strong advocate of its provisions regarding navigational rights, thus explaining the US officers’ availing themselves of “international law”. [2]

It is noteworthy that in May 2006, Bush urged the US Congress to “act favorably on US accession to the convention”. But, in light of the legal ramifications of the US-Iran standoff in the Persian Gulf, discussed below, opponents of the UNCLOS may have become emboldened. According to them, the convention “prohibits two functions vital to American security: collecting intelligence and submerged transit of territorial waters”.

However, irrespective of how Congress acts on the pending legislation on UNCLOS, the fact is that the US cannot have its cake and eat it. That is, rely on it to defend its navigational rights in the Strait of Hormuz and, simultaneously, disregard the various limitations on those rights imposed by the UNCLOS – and favoring Iran. These include the following:

  • Per Article 39 of the UNCLOS, pertaining to “duties of ships during transit passage” US ships passaging through the Strait of Hormuz must “proceed without delay” and “refrain from any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of states bordering the strait”.
  • Per Article 40, “During transit passage, foreign ships may not carry out any research or survey activity without the prior authorization of the states bordering the straits.” And yet, by the US Navy’s own admission, it has been conducting sonar activities in the area, to detect submerged vessels. This, in turn, has harmed the Persian Gulf’s aquatic mammals. In light of a recent US court ruling limiting the US Navy’s sonar activities off the California coast, Iran now has greater political leverage to seek information regarding the activities of US warships transiting through its territorial waters.
  • Given the US’s verbal acrobatics, of trying to depict as “international waters” what is essentially Iran’s territorial water in the inbound traffic channel of the Strait of Hormuz, it collides with Article 34 of UNCLOS. This regards the “legal status of waters forming the straits used for international navigation”, that strictly stipulates that the regime of passage “shall not affect the legal status of the waters forming such straits”. Following the UNCLOS, Iran’s territorial water extends 12 nautical miles at the Strait of Hormuz.
  • The Pentagon videotape of the incident shows a US helicopter hovering above the US ships, which is in clear contradiction of Article 19 of the UNCLOS, which expressly forbids “the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft” during transit passage.
  • Article 19, elaborating on the meaning of “innocent passage”, states that “passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state”. And that means a prohibition on “any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind” and or “any act of harmful and serious pollution”.

    In other words, US warships transiting through Hormuz must, in effect, act as non-war ships, “temporarily depriving themselves of their armed might”. And any “warning shots” fired by US ships at Iranian boats, inspecting the US ships under customary international laws, must be considered an infringement on Iran’s rights. This technically warrants a legal backlash in the form of the Iranians temporary suspending the US warships’ right of passage. Again, the US could be technically prosecuted by Iran in international forums for conducting questionable activities while in Iranian territorial waters.

  • Under Article 25 of the UNCLOS, a “coastal state may take the necessary steps in its territorial sea to prevent passage which is not innocent … the coastal state may suspend temporarily in specified areas of its territorial sea the innocent passage of foreign ships if such suspension is essential for the protection of its of security, including weapons exercise.”
  • Per Article 30, “If any warship does not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal state concerning passage through the territorial sea and disregards any request for compliance therewith which is made to it, the coastal state may require it to leave the territorial sea immediately.”
  • Pursuant to Article 42 of the UNCLOS, “states bordering straits may adopt laws and regulations relating to transit passage” and “foreign ships exercising the right of transit passage shall comply with such laws and regulations.” In this connection, Iran’s 1993 maritime law echoes Article 20 of the UNCLOS: “In the territorial sea, submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on surface and to show their flag.” Yet, disregarding both international law and Iran’s laws, the US Navy until now has refused to comply with the requirement of surface passage of its submarines through the Strait of Hormuz.

    In light of the above, the Strait of Hormuz has now turned into a most fertile source of tension and conflict between Iran and the United States, touching on the larger issue of international law of the sea and the navigational regime through the strait(s).

    Iran could conceivably use its privileged geographical position to tap into the complex set of rules pertaining to the navigational regime, as a form of (geo) political leverage to wring concessions from the US Navy, and its regional allies, with respect to security and maritime affairs of the Persian Gulf.

    Note 1. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea strikes a balance between the sovereign rights of coastal states and the right of passage of foreign ships, requiring concessions from both sides. It prohibits passing ships from “any act aimed at collecting information or use and threat of force”.
    2. The Iranian press have complained of the US’s intention to use the man-made, artificial islands by the United Arab Emirates for military purposes, to complement the US’s forward base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. They wonder if this has been one of the unstated purposes of Bush’s visit to the region, given the brisk operational tempo of the US Navy with regard to Iran. This includes the US’s plan to implement the provisions of its multilateral PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) , such as ship interdiction, already exercised with regard to North Korea, with respect to Iran. Yet, the PSI initiative collides head-on with the UNCLOS-based limitations on the US Navy’s activities in the semi-landlocked Persian Gulf and, especially in the Strait of Hormuz, discussed in this article.

    Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

    (Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd.)

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    President Bush won’t see the hospital wards where babies, just weeks old, are dying because their doctors can’t get permission from Israeli authorities to go to Israel for treatment as they did in the past.

    Editor’s note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

    Palestinian men and children carry anti-Bush banners during a protest in Gaza City.

    JERUSALEM (CNN) — Air Force One touched down in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. President Bush has come to the Holy Land for the first time as president of the United States.

    But he’s trapped inside his security bubble, his every step mapped out in great and precise detail by teams of security experts and handlers. In the end he’ll see a side of this unhappy land that bears as much resemblance to reality as Hollywood does to real life.

    I spend a lot of my time covering the West Bank and Gaza: here’s what I see, and he won’t.

    He won’t be going to Gaza, the Palestinian territory that is under the rule of Hamas. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

    Gaza today is a wasteland. Since Hamas took power, the Israeli government has made it extremely difficult for Gazans to travel outside their crowded strip of land along the Mediterranean. Israel has also severely restricted imports in Gaza to essential humanitarian goods. Four out of every five Palestinians depend on international food aid, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. No one is starving, but the economy has come to a virtual standstill.

    President Bush won’t see the hospital wards where babies, just weeks old, are dying because their doctors can’t get permission from Israeli authorities to go to Israel for treatment as they did in the past.

    Earlier this week, I visited the intensive care unit in Gaza’s Nasser Pediatric Hospital. Hospital director, Dr. Anwar Khalil, explained that a third of their incubators have broken down because of a lack of spare parts. The electricity goes out on a regular basis because the power is cut up to eight hours a day after Israel reduced fuel supplies.

    Israeli leaders insist they’re trying to pressure Hamas militants from firing locally made missiles into Israel, a near daily occurrence. But to the vast majority of Gazans — who have nothing to do with the missiles, who are powerless to stop the militants — it amounts to collective punishment.

    In Gaza, they blame Israel. They blame the United States, which supports Israel’s policy toward Hamas. They also blame their own leaders.

    “We are cursed,” said Iyad Sarraj, a Gaza psychiatrist and a human rights activist. “Our leaders are either Israeli collaborators, asses, or mentally unstable.”

    Sarraj warns that what he describes as the siege of Gaza will blow up in the face of Israel in another intifada, or uprising. “From the first intifada, which was only stone throwing, to the second intifada, which brought suicide bombing, the third intifada will be much, much worse, and I suspect that it will be chemical weapons and chemical warfare.”

    But none of my sources who are intimately familiar with the weaponry available to militant groups has mentioned that as a possibility. There are indications that the militants in Gaza, left to their own devices, are up to no good. I was told by reliable sources that Hamas is busy developing new and more effective weapons — rockets with propellant resistant to humidity, higher explosive payloads and longer ranges as well as roadside bombs and other explosive devices. Weapons are being stockpiled, and tunnels are being dug all over Gaza in anticipation of an Israeli invasion. Little in life in Gaza is inevitable, but death and destruction.

    President Bush went to Muqata’a, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah in the West Bank.

    But he didn’t travel around the West Bank to see checkpoints like the one in Hawara, south of Nablus, where Palestinians wait, often for hours, in the winter cold, waiting to be allowed by young Israeli soldiers to go to their homes, universities, businesses, doctor’s appointment, or to visit a relative or a friend.

    If Bush got through Hawara to Nablus, he’d find a city where the Palestinian Authority, which the United States and Israel are supposed to be supporting, is rapidly losing credibility every time Israeli forces close down the city to round up militants, as they did over the weekend. Israel may have valid security reasons for going in, but these operations do irreparable damage to the standing of Palestinian leaders such as U.S.-backed President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Sallam Fayyad, now often described here as Israeli collaborators.

    Maybe when the U.S. president went to Bethlehem Thursday, he may have seen what Israel calls its security barrier — a 24-foot-high concrete wall encircling most of the town. Israel put it up to stop suicide bombings, a measure that appears to be working when it comes to cutting down on the number of attacks. But the Palestinians call it the “racist apartheid wall.” The wall has all but destroyed the local economy, cutting Bethlehem off from much of its farmland and reducing the flood of tourists to a trickle.

    If he had some spare time — and a convincing disguise — I’d be happy to take Bush on a tour of my beat. I’ll do the driving.


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    ‘Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos," Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Gulf dignitaries in Bahrain last month. But in reality, everywhere you turn, from Qatar to Saudi Arabia to Egypt, you now see Iranian leaders shattering longstanding taboos by meeting cordially with their Arab counterparts


    Anyone following my tags over the last month will know that I’ve been keenly interested in the developing stance of the GCC states towards Iran My analysis of what’s going on appears in tomorrow’s Christian Science Monitor

    ‘Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Gulf dignitaries in Bahrain last month. But in reality, everywhere you turn, from Qatar to Saudi Arabia to Egypt, you now see Iranian leaders shattering longstanding taboos by meeting cordially with their Arab counterparts      

    The Gulf has moved away from American arguments for isolating Iran. American policymakers need to do the same.

    The states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are accommodating themselves to Iran’s growing weight in the region’s politics. They remain key parts of America’s security architecture in the region, hosting massive US military bases and underwriting the American economy in exchange for protection. But as Saudi analyst Khalid al-Dakheel argues, they are no longer content sitting passively beneath the US security umbrella and want to avoid being a pawn in the US-Iranian struggle for power. Flush with cash, they are not interested in a war that would mess up business.       

    That’s why America’s attempt to shore up containment against Iran increasingly seems to be yesterday’s battle.

    After reviewing some of the recent developments (including Ahmednejad’s appearance at the GCC and at the Hajj, and other officials in Cairo), I argue:

    Gulf Arabs have thus visibly discarded the central pillar of the past year of America’s Middle East strategy. Saudis and Egyptians had been the prime movers in anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite agitation. When they are inviting Ahmadinejad and Mr. Larijani to their capitals, America’s talk of isolating Iran sounds outdated.

    One hears little today of the “Shiite crescent” threatening the region, against which Arab officials once gravely warned. The Bush administration’s proposed “axis of moderation,” joining Sunni Arab states and Israel against Iran, has quietly passed from view.

    In the original version, I had a longer discussion of the disappearance of the hysteria over Sunni-Shia conflict last year, arguing that its disappearance of late offers some support for the argument I made at the time (and even more for Greg Gause’s argument) that the hysteria was driven more by Arab regimes (especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt) and their media than by genuine popular sectarian sentiments.   Since that got cut in copyediting, I’m glad to have the chance to mention it here.

    I then point to some indications of growing GCC self-confidence and assertiveness:

    Meanwhile, the GCC seems more unified and confident than it has in years. Earlier this week the six member countries agreed to form a common market. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have mended fences. Pressures for domestic political reforms have been largely defanged, and the oil bonanza has allowed Saudi Arabia to pursue an energetic foreign policy. The Gulf states won’t abandon their US protectors anytime soon, but they seem more willing than ever to act on their own initiative.

    The emerging signs of a tentative thaw in the Gulf are not due solely to the release of the findings in last month’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran was no longer pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The NIE helped trigger the thaw by convincing Arabs that a US-led war against Iran had become much less likely. But it has long been clear that most Gulf rulers have no appetite for a war that would disrupt their economic boom and put them at the most risk. The Gulf media today speaks more of avoiding war than of fomenting it.       

    On Iraq, I suggest that

    fears of a Saudi-Iranian proxy war have given way to hints of an emerging modus vivendi. Gulf regimes remain hostile to the pro-Iranian Iraqi government. But instead of trying to replace its Shiite leader, Nouri al-Maliki, they now seem satisfied that the rise of the Sunni “Awakenings” – US-backed neighborhood councils that have begun fighting Al Qaeda – will check Iranian ambitions. Saudi and Iranian clients in Iraq even seem to be carving out zones of influence, as suggested by recent talks between the Sunni Anbar Salvation Council and the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

    Cut due to space constraints (and because a bit off-topic), some comments on the (probable) role of Saudi cash and mediation in promoting those Awakenings.  More on that later. 

    Finally, the upshot:

    This is not to say that the Gulf states are comfortable with Iranian power. Anti-Shiite and anti-Persian sentiment exists throughout the Gulf. Iran’s territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates generates considerable passion in that country. Few Gulf or Arab leaders publicly welcome an Iranian nuclear program. And Ahmadinejad’s proposal of a new Gulf security architecture including Iran was widely seen as an initiative for Iranian hegemony, not a genuine collective security arrangement.

    Gulf states see Iran as a challenge that they have been dealing with for decades, not an urgent or existential threat. The shifting Arab approach may leave the US with little choice but to do the same. Just as America’s containment of Iraq began to collapse in the late 1990s when its Arab neighbors lost faith in the value of sanctions, the new Gulf attitudes will probably now shape what the US can do with Iran.

    Read the whole thing here at the Christian Science Monitor.  My thanks to those who talked to me about the subject – you know who you are.  This seems particularly relevant given that Bush’s upcoming visit to the region is reportedly meant to focus on building support for containing Iranian influence.  (By the way, anyone have any thoughts on why he’s visiting Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE… but not Qatar?)

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    Look at 2008 symbolically! Some 60 years ago, the United States emerged as the world power. Henry Luce formally announced the arrival of "The American Century" even before the country entered World War II.

    Look at 2008 symbolically! Some 60 years ago, the United States emerged as the world power. Henry Luce formally announced the arrival of “The American Century” even before the country entered World War II.

    Luce thought the United States should become the world’s missionary, spreading Christian values and democracy. US history had woven together a people with noble purpose, Luce argued, and had “the most exciting flag of all the world and of all history,” blowing toward the “triumphal purpose of freedom.”

    Luce, owner of the publishing empire (Time, Life and Fortune), waxed eloquent, calling on all Americans “each to his own measure of capacity, and each in the widest horizon of his vision, to create the first great American Century. (February 1941 Life; see also Philip S Golub’s October 2007 essay in Le Monde Diplomatique.)`

    It happened. After World War II, Luce’s dream conditions became reality. The United States possessed more than 50% of the world’s manufacturing capacity. The powers of Europe and Asia lay in ruins. But politicians and media eschewed the word “empire” to describe the nation that used its dollar as world currency base, set up vast military alliances (NATO, CENTO and SEATO) and, by the early 1950s, had established military bases in scores of other countries and begun to stockpile nuclear weapons.

    US leaders used the Soviet “threat” — the wicked commies would overrun all other countries — to justify such an extension of might. As they “checked” Soviet desires of expansion US corporations and banks moved quickly into much of the non-Soviet world. (The media did not make public the fact that Soviet railroad gauges did not coincide with those in their East European colonies, thus making the supply of a potential invasion nearly impossible.)

    Washington invented a Marshall Plan and other popular schemes to help rebuild a thriving capitalism in and a junior partnership with Western Europe. Such behavior did frighten a defensive Soviet Premier Stalin who, in the immediate post war period, refused support comrades in Greece and Iran apparently in response to threats by President Truman.

    The Cold War posited a good West against an evil East. Stalin’s behavior helped meet that stereotype, but the Soviets never built a rival economy. Indeed, they possessed no corporations or banks to loot Eastern Europe. Without them, the Soviets had few means with which to transfer wealth from their supposed colonies.

    No matter. Facts did not intrude on the political axioms developed by the Cold Warriors. The United States became the protector of the free world. Then, around 1990, the Soviets imploded. But the institutions designed to protect the West from the threat of that wickedness not only remained but grew. NATO, for example expanded. Indeed, in 2002, Washington even sponsored a NATO-Russia council. The number of US bases abroad grew to some 800.

    At home, politicians’ rhetoric denied the existence of empire as the very context of US life even as the military consumed giant hunks of the budget (some USD 700b) at a time when no nation even remotely threatened US security militarily.

    Leading presidential aspirants and Congressional leaders continue to ignore this issue lest the public get a glimpse of the empire without a wardrobe. They enable the naked miscreants of power ­ Bush, Cheney and the neo cons ­ to continue to bleed the treasury through a capricious war and occupation.

    In the 2008 election over whom shall run the empire, Republicans and Democrats ignore the lingering toxicity of US defeat in Vietnam. “Patriotism” still entails chanting slogans (support our troops) and rejecting the syndrome that followed the Vietnam War ­ don’t fight anyone who can fight back. The Republicans still want to revive the US reputation as a “winner.” (The last time the US actually won a war ­ where the enemy fought back — was 1945)

    The Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation has proven beyond unpopular with the public. Upper national security bureaucrats have begun to express their deep unease about the predicament. In 2006, retired generals, senior intelligence, diplomatic and security officials also made public attacks on the Bush policy, led by General William Odom and Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff. Odom, who headed the NSA under Reagan, called the invasion of Iraq the “greatest strategic disaster in United States history.” (Associated Press, Oct. 5 2005.)

    Wilkerson labeled it a “blunder of historic proportions.” (Washington Post, Jan. 19 2006) Former Carter National Security Council boss Zbigniew Brzezinski described Iraq as a “historic, strategic and moral calamity.” (Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 1, 2007)

    These establishment attacks stress Bush mismanagement, arrogance and incompetence ­ as well as his straying from the traditional alliance system — for losing US hegemony in the Middle East and Gulf. The critics of Bush’s policy fear that Iraq may have seriously weakened the US military, the entity that stands as central enforcer of empire. Brzezinski told Congress that Bush’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars had undermined “America’s global legitimacy.”

    After the United States left Vietnam with its proverbial tail between its legs, revolutions won power in Nicaragua and Grenada ­ traditional back yard areas. Similarly, the travails of the US military have gone hand in glove with left gains in Latin America. Voters in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and even Guatemala and Paraguay indicated not only their disgust with US economic policies, but showed their lack of respect for US power as well.

    In 1959, only Cuba dared act disobediently; other nations knew the price of such rebellion: invasion or CIA destabilization. Similarly, Bush’s 2002 “Axis of Evil” threat did not work on North Korea or Iran. Bush had to negotiate with a regime he had declared “off limits.” Moreover, China, which now holds the power of being a major US creditor, has also emerged as a big time Asian player.

    Sixty years ago, Washington made plans to install a primitive defense system in Western Europe. Bush wants to extend that system to Poland and other newly “freed” countries. But some of the old allies take exception. Indeed, regimes like Saudi Arabia even dare to object to some US policies. In the once monopolized sphere of the UN and other world financial institutions, Washington cannot dictate terms so easily.

    The world has watched George W. Bush lead the United States from a bright dream toward an incipient nightmare. Under his rule, the dollar has dropped in value. His Homeland Security goons have mistreated potential tourists hoping to use the cheap dollar to get “bargains.” A young Icelandic woman trying to enter the United States ­ once symbolized by the Statue of Liberty ­ was imprisoned for more than 24 hours, treated inhospitably, and rudely deported. HS claimed she had overstayed a visa by three days more than a decade earlier.

    This kind of story mixes with reports and images of US behavior in Iraq ­ the Abu Ghraib torture photos circulated widely — around the world. For the US power elite, George W. Bush and his neo con partners have made the world deeply unsettling.

    US leaders have assumed for sixty years that they had replaced their British cousins as the world’s elite, that as movers and shakers of the new dominant power they had a mandate from God or history to maintain stability, to make the rules for the economy.

    My late professor, William Appleman Williams, lectured about how US leaders suffered from “visions of omnipotence.” Because they had overwhelming economic and military power they believed they would forever prevail. But they did not in Korea in 1953; nor in Vietnam in 1975. In 2008, a daily drain saps the Treasury as US military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq fail ­ expensively — to overcome adverse conditions that no military could hope to achieve.

    Soviet collapse in 1990 led to the rise of the neo cons, demanding that Washington become the new Rome. By starting with the conquest of Iraq, they would spread the US order throughout the Middle East. It has not worked and democracy is not what the United States wants to bring.

    Presidential aspirants of both Parties ignore this fact. None address the issue of what role a weakened United States should play in the emerging world of the 21st Century when the US economy no longer provides the pillar of economic stability; when its technologically omnipotent military failed to defeat less equipped foes. As global warming intensifies and UN rules, created by the United States for other nations to follow, have lost prestige, what should Washington do?

    Republicans ­ save for Libertarian Ron Paul ­ want more military. They have become a sick joke. But Hillary? Barack? John? Is it premature to ask them after only 60 years of the American Century? Or, in lieu of US political imagination and courage, will the answers come from abroad?

    (Saul Landau’s new film, WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE (on globalization in Mexico) won the VIDEOFEST 2007 Award for best activist film. The film is available at


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    A call to rethink U.S. foreign policy—and for a president willing to talk to friend and foe alike.

    A call to rethink U.S. foreign policy—and for a president willing to talk to friend and foe alike.

    The United States will have a brief window of opportunity when George W. Bush leaves office. To renew its global leadership and overcome unconventional threats, it must do more than replace a failed president. It’s time for America to show a new face to the world.

    The first challenge will be repairing the damage done by the catastrophic decision to respond to 9/11 with an invasion of Iraq. To end the war responsibly will take rallying Iraq, its neighbors and the world behind a new consensus for stability in the region. This will require putting the acrimony of the invasion behind us. Washington will be in a stronger position to do this if the next president does not carry the baggage of having supported the war, or the burden of refusing to talk with Iran and Syria’s leaders unless they meet preconditions. I will offer this clean slate.

    Ending the war must be part of a new chapter of engagement. The United States is seen as arrogant and aloof, protective of its power but unable to use it wisely. It talks tough but refuses to work with allies or meet with leaders it doesn’t like. This undermines America’s ability to lead, to drive wedges between its adversaries and to negotiate settlements to protracted problems. U.S. foes win propaganda battles by decrying America for not coming to the table. Russia and China fill in the gaps left by Washington’s failure to lead.

    The United States needs a president willing to talk to all nations, friend and foe. Such openness will help reverse America’s perceived obstructionism. The nation needs a leader who will win propaganda battles with petty tyrants, and who will personally engage in conflict resolution, instead of parachuting in for photo opportunities. To support that effort, Washington should increase its Foreign Service personnel and reopen consulates in tough corners of the world.

    To overcome the threat of Islamic extremism, the United States should replace its overreliance on the use of large-scale military forces with targeted action against terrorist safe havens and an international program of intelligence and law-enforcement cooperation to break up terrorist networks. To counter prophets of hate with a message of hope, America should send its best and brightest abroad to build ties with the Islamic world. And the president must restore moral leadership by shutting down Guant?namo and renouncing torture without equivocation.

    The world will work with—not against—U.S. power if it is put to principled use and directed toward common goals. We need to renew the goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, and I will secure loose nuclear materials, strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and negotiate deep reductions in global nuclear arsenals to pursue it. The United Nations’ goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015 must be made America’s goal, and I will double foreign aid to $50 billion to achieve it. We need to combat climate change by leading the world toward an 80 percent reduction of emissions below 1990s levels by 2050. We should do so with an aggressive, binding and transparent cap on U.S. emissions.

    The world will see a new face of America the day that I am elected. My understanding of these challenges was not just shaped in the corridors of power; it has been shaped by the wider world. My father crossed an ocean to seek the dream of America. As a boy, I played barefoot with children in Indonesia. As a young man, I worked in the forgotten corners of America, where people struggled with violence and hopelessness.

    Whether I am at a G8 summit or in Africa, I will speak not just as someone who mastered my brief, but also as someone whose grandmother lives in a hut without indoor plumbing in a Kenyan village devastated by HIV/AIDS.

    U.S. leadership has succeeded whenever a new generation of Americans has offered the world new visions, new policies and new faces. I will unite and rally Americans behind this approach by being open and honest with them at home. And I will lead an America that the world can trust and believe in once more.


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    It’s not just Bush’s fault. America is scared of the new world, and that’s no way to run a hyperpower.

    The Fearful Superpower

    It’s not just Bush’s fault. America is scared of the new world, and that’s no way to run a hyperpower.

    By Fareed Zakaria

    Updated: 4:51 PM ET Dec 12, 2007

    For the past few years, America has been alienated from the world. We have all read the yearly polls with the same damning numbers. But on one issue, the United States and the world agree: majorities everywhere expect things to improve markedly after George W. Bush. Whether it’s in Europe or Asia, the refrain from politicians, businessmen and intellectuals is the same. “We don’t hate America,” one of them told me recently. “We hate Bush. When he’s gone, it will be a new day.”

    But will it? The question will be put to the test in a year, when a new president enters the White House.

    There’s little doubt that the style and substance of U.S. foreign policy over the past seven years has provoked enormous international opposition. What is less clear is that the style and substance were unique products of the Bush administration. Some part of the global response was surely the product of longstanding unease with U.S. dominance. After all, France’s foreign minister coined the term “hyperpuissance” to describe America under Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush.

    Then came 9/11. Ever since the attacks, the United States has felt threatened and under siege and determined to carve out maximum room to maneuver. But where Americans have seen defensive behavior, the rest of the world has looked on and seen the most powerful nation in human history acting like a caged animal, lashing out at any and every constraint on its actions.

    At the heart of this behavior is fear. Americans have become scared of the new world that is emerging around them. As long as this atmosphere of fear envelops U.S. politics, it will surely produce very similar results abroad. Washington’s real task, therefore, is to combat such unthinking emotion.

    Yet the opposite is happening. Republicans are falling over each other to paint an atmosphere of dire threat that requires strong, even brutish action to protect the American people. Democrats, while far less guilty of fearmongering, have been afraid to combat this hysteria.

    Consider the top GOP candidates to replace Bush. On the campaign trail, Rudolph Giuliani endlessly repeats his mantra that “we are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world … to come here and kill us.” Mitt Romney has explained that while “some people have said we ought to close Guant?namo, my view is we ought to double [the size of] Guant?namo.” And John McCain sometimes sounds cavalier about bombing Iran—despite the fact that, if it happened, it would be the third U.S. war against a Muslim country in seven years.

    The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. Since 2001, Washington, with bipartisan support, has invaded two countries and dispatched troops around the world, from Somalia to the Philippines, to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. How then would Giuliani go on the offensive? Invade a couple more countries?

    To recover its place in the world, the United States should first recover its confidence. It remains the world’s only superpower, the only big country with a total portfolio of military, economic and political dominance. Most major states are either well disposed toward it or, at worst, neutral. The challenges America confronts come from small, faceless terrorist organizations and a few rogue nations. This is not to minimize the challenges. Today’s asymmetries of power mean that small groups can do big damage. But it is to put things in perspective. When President Bush speaks of Iran’s nuclear program as the road to World War III, one wonders if he has noticed that Iran’s total GDP is just one sixty-eighth that of the United States, or that its military spending is less than 1 percent of the Pentagon’s.

    The real challenges that the United States faces come not from globalization’s losers but from its winners, not from yesterday’s bombs but from tomorrow’s factories. The crucial project for the next president will be to change the basic focus of U.S. foreign policy, away from the Middle East and toward the Far East. When the history of these times is written, surely the great trend that will dominate the accounts, far larger than the war in Lebanon or the tensions over Iran, will be the rise of China and India and how they reshaped the world.

    This power shift is having broad and benign effects around the planet; global growth is a marvel to behold. But it is also producing massive complications and dislocations. It creates high demand for raw materials and energy. Countries that possess such resources—Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia—have become powerful islands of exception to the rules of markets and trade that are sweeping the world. Thus global capitalism is producing its own well-funded anticapitalists. Environmental degradation proceeds in much of the world on a colossal scale. And these problems get exacerbated by changes in climate, rainfall and habitation. Scarcities of water and wheat and other grains might turn out to be the fault lines of the future as populations move in search of secure and arable land.

    There is no way to turn off the underlying global growth, nor should one try. Every previous expansion of global capitalism has led to greater prosperity across the world. But this is a massive, complex process that requires enormous focus and attention. And while other nations around the world, from China to Chile, are playing to win, the United States as a government has barely focused on any of the major challenges or opportunities they present. The Bush administration is too busy settling disputes between Sunnis and Shiites in downtown Baghdad.

    The world we are entering will need new solutions to its problems. There are too many new players for the old structures to work. Asia is rising, but not only Asia. Economic activity and political confidence are also growing in Latin America and even Africa. Nongovernmental actors are becoming more powerful every day. New media sources—from Al-Jazeera to India’s NDTV—are presenting diverse and contrarian narratives of current events. Welcome to the post-American world.

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    GEORGE BUSH is not likely to be remembered by history as the saviour of the Middle East. He botched Iraq, dropped his democratic “freedom agenda” when the Arabs started voting for the wrong people, and has spent most of his two terms more or less ignoring Palestine. On this last front, however, he now has an opportunity for redemption.

    George Bush is the only man who can bring an independent Palestine closer

    GEORGE BUSH is not likely to be remembered by history as the saviour of the Middle East. He botched Iraq, dropped his democratic “freedom agenda” when the Arabs started voting for the wrong people, and has spent most of his two terms more or less ignoring Palestine. On this last front, however, he now has an opportunity for redemption.

    If all goes to plan, Mr Bush will preside on November 27th over a peace meeting in Annapolis, Maryland. Expectations of this one-day event are at rock bottom. Nobody foresees much more than some bland speechifying and a photo-opportunity. And yet, if he is bold, Mr Bush has it in his power to turn Annapolis into a significant step towards peace. All he has to do is pluck up the courage to make the right speech.

    Please come, we promise nothing will happen…

    That may sound like a wild claim to make of an event already shrouded in defeatism. This is a party nobody is thrilled to have been asked to. Ehud Olmert is going because an Israeli prime minister cannot leave an invitation from the White House to curl in the in-tray. Mahmoud Abbas is going because after losing the Gaza Strip to Hamas he must show that he is still president of Palestine, if only in the eyes of the great powers. Not even the hosts seem excited. Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state, is a genuine if late convert to the idea that America can budge things in Palestine. But the rest of the administration appears to see Annapolis as a way to roll out the customary pieties on Palestine and so make it easier for America to line up its Arab friends against Iran.

    Worse still, these modest ambitions have shrivelled as the day has neared (see article). Plan A was for Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas to talk to one another before Annapolis and make a joint declaration when they arrived. To give the Palestinians what Ms Rice calls a “political horizon” (ie, hope) this declaration was supposed to go beyond Mr Bush’s oft-repeated but ephemeral “vision” of an independent Palestine and fill in the vital missing detail on borders, refugees and Jerusalem. But although the two sides have indeed talked in recent weeks they have not bridged their longstanding differences.

    That is no surprise. With Hamas snapping at his heels, it would take immense courage for the timorous Mr Abbas to modify the Palestinians’ mantra: a state on the 1967 borders, a capital in Jerusalem and the “right” of the refugees of 60 years ago to return to what is now Israel. And although Mr Olmert is at least the prime minister of a functioning state, he governs in coalition with men who hate the very idea of an independent Palestine and have worked sedulously to tie his hands. Polls show that many Israelis long to be rid of the Palestinian territories. But even they wonder how they can trust Mr Abbas’s ramshackle Palestinian Authority to police a state when it has already lost Gaza to the rocket-firing rejectionists of Hamas and might well lose the West Bank too.
    In the absence of a pre-Annapolis meeting of minds, America has therefore moved to Plan B. There may still be a joint declaration, but it will be vague. It will pay homage to the principle of two states and recite the relevant, long-ago United Nations resolutions, which both sides know by heart but interpret differently. The two sides may then promise to sit down together the day after Annapolis to talk about borders, refugees and Jerusalem, with the hope of reaching agreement within a year. In the meantime, Tony Blair, in his new guise as the UN’s midwife for Palestine, will set out his plans to strengthen the economy and institutions of the West Bank in preparation for the independence that will come, some day.
    Are such modest aims worth going to Annapolis for? Just about. If Mr Bush gets the Saudis and Syrians as well as the Egyptians and Jordanians to show support in Maryland, this may boost and embolden Mr Abbas, at least for a while. If Annapolis leads to economic help and makes Israel free up movement on the West Bank, the life of many Palestinians will improve. If talks about borders, refugees and Jerusalem really do start right away, this will be a change: Israel previously cited the “road map” of 2003 as a reason to pickle final-status negotiations in formaldehyde until the PA uprooted the Palestinian militias. And if Israel honours its own obligation to freeze settlement in the territories, this may persuade some of the Palestinians who have good reason to doubt it that there will still be room one day for a state of their own.
    Plan B, in short, is probably better than nothing. But if he dares, Mr Bush has it within his power to make Annapolis so much more. He cannot bring a free Palestine into being at a stroke, or even within the final year of his own presidency. The Israelis are right to say that the divided Palestinians are in no shape right now to govern a state: at some point Hamas has first to be bullied, bribed or cajoled into accepting Israel’s permanence and joining the peace camp. But Annapolis does offer Mr Bush the perfect chance to make a speech that could set the Palestinians fair on the path to statehood, and leave America’s next president in a far better position to finish the job.
    …unless George W. Solomon turns up too

    In this speech Mr Bush needs to set out forthrightly America’s own plan for dividing Palestine. That would mark an historic change. In the past—in Madrid in 1991, for example, and at Camp David in 2000—the Americans asked the Israelis and Palestinians to thrash out their differences on their own. But they can’t. The gap is too wide, and even when their respective leaders want to narrow it neither dares move towards the other for fear of the uproar from the ideological bitter-enders at home. The existence of an American blueprint that commanded international support would, however, immediately transform the political dynamic of both societies, fortifying the moderates and pushing the hardliners to the margins.

    Although it would be too much to expect Mr Bush to unfurl a map at Annapolis, he could come quite close. For a start, he should make it clear that when America talks of a two-state solution, it has in mind a border based on the pre-1967 line. Three years ago Mr Bush said in a public letter to Ariel Sharon that it would be unrealistic to expect Israel to evacuate all the dense settlement blocks it has planted in the West Bank. Fine. But since most settlers live close to the old border, he can now tell Israel that it cannot keep more than a few percentage points—say 5% or so—of the West Bank, and that it must offer the Palestinians land from its own side in compensation. On refugees, Mr Bush should say, as Bill Clinton did, that their right to “return” should be exercised in the new Palestine and not in pre-1967 Israel: that is a bitter pill but it is the logic of a peace based on partition. And Israel too must accept a bitter potion: Jerusalem, the beating heart of both peoples, will have to be the capital of both.
    If Mr Bush gives this speech, Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas will wax furious. They might agree with him in their hearts, but if only for domestic political consumption they will have to accuse the American president of setting an ambush, bullying the little guys, prejudging the final-status issues and riding roughshod over the views and rights of the people most directly affected. These fulminations can be safely ignored. Israel and the Palestinian territories alike are full of politicians who will tell you knowingly but off the record that only a deal along the lines described above stands the remotest chance of bringing permanent peace. It is high time the superpower and the rest of the world threw their weight behind such a plan. The photo-op at Annapolis may be just the place to do it.

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    Putin will finish his second term of office as Russian president early in 2008, just when the next American president takes office. There is plenty of time to naturalize him as an American citizenand amend the constitution to permit a foreign-born president. The alternative is to elect another incarnation of the political type that got America into trouble in the first place.

    Flying across the vast Russian plain in 1944, the future French president Charles DeGaulle cursed the destiny that made him a Frenchman; if only he could rule a country the size of Russia, he mused, think of what he might accomplish! A similar thought must have occurred to Vladimir Putin, the most talented political leader of our time: what might he have done at the helm of the world’s only superpower, instead of salvaging the hulk of the defeated Soviet Empire? Why not give him the chance? Watching the last round of American political debates, it occurred to me that it’s time to think out of the box.

    Putin will finish his second term of office as Russian president early in 2008, just when the next American president takes office. There is plenty of time to naturalize him as an American citizenand amend the constitution to permit a foreign-born president. The alternative is to elect another incarnation of the political type that got America into trouble in the first place.

    “God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America,” German statesman Otto von Bismarck is famously alleged to have said. I have only one New Year’s forecast, namely that God will take a holiday, at least as far as America is concerned. The year just passed would be viewed as America’s annus horribilis by any normal standard, that is, any standard except that of 2008, which will be the worst year for the US since 1980, when Jimmy Carter left office. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong in American policy, but not as wrong as it will go now. As in 1980, a lame-duck administration will confront economic and strategic reverses. But it is worse than 1980, for no Ronald Reagan is waiting in the wings to set things right.

    America needs leadership, and none of available candidates can provide it. Politicians prevailed during the past generation by flattering American complacency. Precisely the opposite is needed. Putin has the requisite tough-mindedness, with only one important deficiency: he is a nasty piece of work. His youth movement, Nashi (Ours) should frighten anyone who knows the political history of the 20th century.

    Then again, nobody’s perfect. Russia is no country for nice men. But Putin’s personal nastiness is beside the point. Washington has willfully misunderstood Russia’s most basic requirements (What they didn’t say at Kennebunkport, July 3, 2007). No Russian leader could survive without doing more or less what Putin has done.

    While his predecessor Boris Yeltsin led Russia into bankruptcy and chaos, Putin restored Russia’s economy and global stature on the strength of one insight: the Russian people were the problem. After centuries of Tsarist brutality and three generations of communist terror, the Russian people had become a passive rabble incapable of defending their interests. Yeltsin allowed a locust-swarm to steal what remained of the Russian economy.

    By harsh and extra-legal means, Putin reclaimed Russia’s economy for the state, creating a huge corpus of wealthy enemies ready to subsidize any Western politician who wants to attack him. As I wrote a year ago (Russia’s Hudna with the Muslim world , February 21, 2007), “The only leadership left in Russia by the terrible adverse selection process of the communist system was the former secret guardians of the state, men whose unique position required them to live by their wits.”

    The Americans, meanwhile, have met the enemy, and it is them. America has coasted on a quarter-century wave of power and prosperity since president Reagan won the Cold War and restarted the economy. America in the 1980s was the only model to be emulated, and a magnet for global capital flows. So compelling were American capital markets that by the late 1990s, almost all the free savings of the world sought an American home. In 2007 a trillion dollars of overseas capital poured into American markets.

    Americans no longer had to save; the rest of the world saved for them and lent them money at the lowest interest rates in half a century. Americans no longer had to study; engineers from India to Argentina programmed their computers. And Americans no longer had to face a strategic challenge; after the death of the Soviet Union, so Washington believed, America need only export its self-image. Of all the great illusions of the post-Cold War era, this has turned out to be the most pernicious.

    Like emerging Asia in the mid-1990s, Americans used cheap foreign capital to make real-estate speculation into a national pastime. And like Asia in 1997, there is no remedy but to let the sickening slide of asset prices take its course, until the grasshoppers learn to work and save like ants.(Western grasshoppers and Chinese ants , Sept 7, 2007). The Americans are poorer at the end of 2007 than they were a year ago, and at the end of 2008 they will be much poorer still. They will be beholden to the Gulf States, Singapore, China, Russia or whomever can recapitalize a banking system that already may be technically insolvent. They will import less and the Asian economies will suffer.

    Scores of millions who were wealthy on paper a year ago will be penniless by the end of 2008. In the American states where home prices rose the fastest – California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada – prices fell by almost a third during the year to September 30. American equity prices already have fallen by 10% since last October. Both residential and equity values are likely to fall much further before the bloodletting is over.

    The American economy emulated Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot, in which nothing happens, twice. The first occasion in which nothing happened was the tech-stock bubble of 1997-2000. Americans engaged in a collective delusion according to which infinite wealth would be created on the Internet through shopping and salacious entertainment. Perhaps if someone had perfected virtual-reality sex, the stock price bubble might have continued, but the disappointment attendant on the end of the illusion cut the value of American equities by half.

    The second occasion on which nothing happened was, of course, the present subprime disaster. The world learned that it was dangerous to buy risky American assets and chose instead to buy safe ones. The trouble was that as a whole, the American public was engaged in extremely risky behavior, that is, bidding up home prices with cheap credit. The banks and credit rating agencies declared that a basket of very risky assets could be turned into a very safe asset, by selling off the part of the risk to speculators. This exercise turned out to fall somewhere between the delusional and the fraudulent, as subprime securities rated AA, the next-to-highest credit grade, now trade at only 40 cents on the dollar.

    One can excoriate the regulators who let this happen, or the banks who skimmed fat commissions from the market, but the driver of both the Internet bubble and the subprime bubble was the same: the desire of the Americans to get something for nothing. Americans mistook the one-time windfall ensuing from the Reagan revolution for a Tischlein-Deck-Dich, the magic table of the Grimm fairy tale that on command lays out a marvellous meal.

    The same mood of national narcissism brought about America’s strategic reverses. The rest of the world, Washington reasons, need only be like us to live happily. Until the ghost of James Baker III possessed Washington a year ago, through the installation of Robert Gates as defense secretary, American policy was in the hands of the Sorcerer’s Apprentices of the Reagan years. America had the magic formula of the 1980s, they reckoned, and all they only needed to sprinkle the Fairy Dust of democracy upon recalcitrant countries in order to make them fly.

    To prop up its failed Iraqi project until the November elections, Washington has made material concessions to Iran and Syria, its worst enemies. In return for restricting support for the Iraqi insurgencies they incubated from the beginning, Iran has a free pass to continue enriching uranium, and Syria has a free hand in Lebanon. America swore that it would never permit Iranian nuclear development, and that it would suppress the Iranian-Syrian puppet militia of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It has done neither.

    By endorsing the Islamists in Turkey as a force for democracy, Washington has earned the contempt of the Islamists, as well as the enmity of the secularists who feel betrayed (Why does Turkey hate America? , Oct 23, 2007). But nothing compares to America’s humiliation in Pakistan. After sending the unfortunate Benazir Bhutto to her death as the instrument of American democracy, Washington has no choice but to cling all the harder to President Pervez Musharraf, who everyone from Hillary Clinton to the taxi driver who took me to the airport believes to be complicit in Bhutto’s assassination.

    The global “war on terror” has given birth to Islamist monsters in Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq. The so-called color revolutions are stillborn. Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution has none but homonymic virtues, as the US State Department will “cede her” to Syria. But the single most stupid and destructive act of American diplomacy in the past seven years has been the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, for it persuaded Putin never to trust the West under any circumstances, ever again.

    Putin understands how to exercise power. Unlike Iraq, the restive Muslim province of Chechnya now nestles comfortably in Putin’s palm, albeit with about half the people it had a decade ago. Russian troops killed between 35,000 and 100,000 civilians in the first Chechen war of 1994-96, and half a million were driven from their homes, totaling about half the population. But that is not what pacified Chechnya. Putin bribed and bullied Chechnyan clans to do Russia’s dirty work for it, showing himself a master at the game of divide-and-conquer. Working from a position of weakness, Russia’s president is the closest the modern world comes to the insidious strategic genius of a Cardinal Richelieu.

    That is the sort of strategic thinking America needs. So my endorsement for the next president of the United States goes to Vladimir Putin.

    One final note – Putin doesn’t speak much English. But that shouldn’t disqualify him. Neither does George W Bush.

    (Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd.)

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    What can a superpower do if someone "threatens" it? The Pentagon warned on Monday that five small Iranian speedboats "threatened" a powerful US fleet comprising one frigate, a destroyer and a cruiser in the Strait of Hormuz by coming within 500 meters of them. It warned of "provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future".

    Playing around with the Persians can be risky – especially when the endgame nears. US President George W Bush is learning this civilizational truth. He could have learned from the Jimmy Carter administration.

    The similarity is striking. A beleaguered White House increasingly looks irrelevant while the alienated country keenly searches for an idea of leadership that can offer a clean break with the past. That was also how the Carter administration looked 30 years ago.

    What can a superpower do if someone “threatens” it? The

    Pentagon warned on Monday that five small Iranian speedboats “threatened” a powerful US fleet comprising one frigate, a destroyer and a cruiser in the Strait of Hormuz by coming within 500 meters of them. It warned of “provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future”. Tehran calmly shrugged it off, “That is something normal that takes place every now and then for each party, and it is settled after identification of the two parties.”

    Surely, the US can attack Iran in retribution. That is always the prerogative of a superpower in a unipolar world. That will also be fully in accord with the Bush administration’s doctrine of pre-emptive war. The influential Israeli lobby in Washington would even ensure a bipartisan consensus, despite the divisiveness and acrimony in US politics in an election year.

    Russian missiles for Iran
    But there is a rider. A war against Iran may not be an option for long. Moscow has begun hinting that Russia’s S-300 missiles are being dispatched to Iran. There is much constructive ambiguity over the subject in both Moscow and Tehran, which leaves Washington nervous and guessing. The medium-range S-300 surface-to-air missiles, together with the short-range Tor-M1 systems supplied by Moscow to Tehran earlier, would help counter any attempt by the Bush administration to bully Iran. To quote the Russian daily Izvestiya, “Iran will be Moscow’s trump card in its drive against the third stage of US missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.”

    President Vladimir Putin’s “asymmetrical response” could drill a hole right through Bush’s Middle Eastern policy bucket. The Tor-M1 is equally effective against aircraft, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, but it is a close-battle weapon, the last defense line that engages or eliminates targets that may get through the S-300s. That is to say, Tor-M1 plus S-300 would for the first time provide Iran a credible modern multi-echelon air defense system covering any key strategic facility.

    What does it add up to? The Bush administration is beginning to grasp that it has no option but to negotiate with Iran. But a new danger is that negotiations with Iran, too, may soon become a non-option. Persians generally don’t talk with people who are inconsequential. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that at the moment, relations with the US are of “no benefit to the Iranian nation. The day such relations are of benefit, I will be the first one to approve of that.” He seems to be anticipating the post-Bush era.

    US policy disintegrating
    These geopolitical realities cannot be overlooked. Bush was due to set out from Washington on Wednesday on his Middle East tour – Israel, Palestine, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Egypt – virtually with empty hands. The gamble looks desperate, even for a congenital gambler. Distrust of US regional policy in the Persian Gulf region has extended even to Kuwait, which hosts about 15,000 US troops and which served as the launch pad for the Iraq invasion in 2003. Bush has two objectives in his Middle East mission – weigh in on the faltering post-Annapolis Palestinian-Israeli peace process of last November and seek support for US concerns about Iran.

    But Annapolis’ pledge to end “bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict” is caught up in the swirl of escalating violence and dwindling optimism in the Palestinian territories. The perception in the region is that Bush’s blatantly pro-Israeli vision altogether clouds his judgement. His sincerity of purpose is held in doubt. Writing in the moderate Beirut newspaper Daily Star, one of the Middle East’s respected opinion makers, Rami Khouri, says, “With all due respect, President Bush might do the region and the entire world a favor by staying home – if he plans to visit the Middle East for speeding up the same American policy of blindly supporting Israel, sending arms and money to Arab authoritarian regimes, opposing mainstream Islamist groups that enjoy widespread Arab popular legitimacy, ignoring realistic democratic transitions, and actively pressuring governments and movements that defy the United States.”

    When a liberal voice like Khouri quivers with indignation and passion, the mood in the region becomes very obvious. In a nutshell, Arabs view Bush’s world as a political rodeo, which is good only for entertainment. Not only has the Bush administration’s attempt to weaken Hamas in Palestine failed, but also Egypt refuses to heed US bidding and cooperate with Israel in muzzling Hamas.

    And Hamas remains defiant. with its chief Khalid Meshaal saying on Monday in a speech in Damascus, “No Arab country has asked Hamas to give up on the current situation in Gaza … Hamas will resist until the last Israeli soldier leaves Palestinian soil. This is a strategic choice. Resistance will continue – no one can stop it.”

    Meshaal revealed that Hamas turned down a European proposal for a meeting with “Zionists who are our enemies”. Hamas isn’t alone in thinking of Bush’s visit to the region as nothing more than an attempt to enhance his image before he quits the White House. Fatah and the Islamic Jihad remain equally skeptical. Opinion polls show that almost two thirds of Palestinians (and three fourths of Israelis) doubt Bush’s capacity to influence events in the Palestinian territories.

    Bush targets Iran
    But where people misjudge is that the real purpose of Bush’s visit to the region lies elsewhere. His principal aim is to keep the heat on Iran. Bush admitted that in his talks in the region, he would focus on containing the “hostile aspirations” of Iran. He told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahnronot, “Part of the reason I’m going to the Middle East is to make it abundantly clear to nations in that part of the world that we view Iran as a threat, and that the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] in no way lessens that threat, but in fact clarifies that threat.”

    At the first halt of his tour on Thursday – Israel – Bush will certainly have a receptive audience. Israel hopes to hear Bush’s assurance that the NIE released late last year changes nothing in the direction of US policy toward Iran, even though it concluded that Iran is no longer pursuing a nuclear-weapons program.

    But Israel also knows that’s an assurance Bush is no longer competent to give, as the Iran problem has become a medium-term issue. Indeed, there are voices within the Israeli security and foreign-policy community who think it would not be a bad thing if Washington opened a direct channel to Tehran. Then again, there is the perennial sense of uneasiness that once the US and Iran get going, they will leave Israel out in the cold.

    Having said that, the Bush administration is ratcheting up rhetoric against Iran. No doubt, the Strait of Hormuz incident comes in very handy. Whether Washington orchestrated the incident, we will never know. But the incident most certainly makes out a neat case for the massive arms deals worth US$20 billion that Washington is offering pro-Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf.

    It corroborates US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent call for the establishment of an “air and missile defense umbrella” over Persian Gulf states to deter missile attacks by Iran. (It is immaterial whether the real US target is Iran, or Russia.)The Pentagon announced last month proposed sales of Patriot missile defense and early warning systems to the UAE and Kuwait worth more than $10 billion. The Pentagon also notified the US Congress of a sale to Saudi Arabia of upgraded airborne warning and control systems worth $400 million.

    The Persian Gulf is skeptical
    Arms purchases are always an interesting affair for Arab rulers, especially in such roaring times when oil sells for US$100 a barrel. However, it is an entirely different thing that they do not believe in Bush’s rhetoric about Iran’s “aggressive ambitions”. Al-Hayat, the Saudi-owned newspaper published from London, commented on Bush’s rhetoric: “This language is rendering the US’s regional allies confused about the real policies of Washington … Washington is speaking in dual tone, with US military officials commending the Iranian role in minimizing the threat to the forces in Iraq, and the CIA at the same time highlighting the danger posed by Iran’s alleged nuclear program.”

    Arab League secretary general Abu Moussa posed a tricky question to the Washington Post: “As long as they [Iran] have no nuclear program … why should we isolate Iran? Why punish Iran now?” Clearly, Washington’s plan for creating an anti-Iran alliance of “pro-West” Arab states in the Persian Gulf region – raison d’etre of the Annapolis conference – has conclusively disintegrated.

    Not only that, Arab regimes are working out their own accommodation with Tehran. Iran, on its part, has sustained the active momentum of its diplomacy with its Persian Gulf neighbors. Thus, Tehran has done a smart thing by scheduling for the weekend the visit of the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, precisely when Bush touches down in the Persian Gulf. From all accounts, the Iranians plan a red-carpet welcome for ElBaradei, including a meeting with Khamenei.

    Again, Iran is swiftly building on the positive climate generated by the invitation to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Doha on December 2 and by the friendly gesture by Saudi King Abdullah to invite him to attend the hajj in Mecca. Tehran has reached out to Cairo in a major initiative to repair the ties with Egypt, which were disrupted during the Iranian revolution in 1979. In a path-breaking visit to Cairo last week, Khamenei’s representative to the National Security Council, Ali Larijani, offered a resumption of diplomatic relations, as well as cooperation in the nuclear field.

    From Cairo, Larijani proceeded to Damascus, where he met Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, the secretary general of the Islamic  Jihad, Ramadhan Abdullah Shalah, and top officials of the Lebanese Amal and Hezbollah movements. Later, talking to newsmen in Damascus, Larijani likened Bush’s recent threats against Iran to the “cries of worried aged women who create a commotion to cover up their fears”.

    The soft-spoken Iranian intellectual seldom uses such colorful language. He was obviously making a harsh point. The purpose of Larijani’s visit to Damascus was clear. Tehran wants to express solidarity with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rejection of the American (and French) overtures aimed at persuading Damascus to cease its ties with Hezbollah and Hamas and to distance itself from Tehran. Iran is simply delighted that the Syrian leadership “rejected this barter, preferring the ‘hell’ of its relationship with Iran and the preservation of its interests in Lebanon to the ‘paradise’ of an opening to America”, to quote al-Hayat.

    Khamenei praises Ahmadinejad
    Meanwhile, Tehran remains firm on the Palestinian issue and Lebanon, confident in the knowledge that its alliance with Damascus is intact, and, more important, that its stance is in tune with the overwhelming public opinion in the region. Indeed, Helena Cobban, the shrewd contributing editor of the Boston Review, posed a couple of questions in her blog: “Did the leaders of all these countries transmit warm and hearty invitations to the US president that he couldn’t turn down? Or, did Washington propose these visits, and the Arab rulers involved found they had no way to squirm out of their duties as US satraps in the region?”

    Also, in the immediate run-up to Bush’s arrival in the region, Khamenei made it abundantly clear in a series of speeches that he solidly endorses the policies of Ahmadinejad. Khamenei was signaling to Washington. Last Thursday, in one of his most significant foreign-policy speeches in the recent period, Khamenei went to the extent of chastising anyone who propagated that US hostility toward Iran was a reaction to Ahmadinejad’s firebrand statements. “Its [US] enmity is with the principles of the Iranian nation and it has been there since the beginning of the Iranian revolution,” Khamenei insisted.

    He admonished any “moderates” within Iran who would want a halt to Iran’s uranium enrichment activities so as to placate the West. Khamenei warned, “Some people are challenging the system and the government over this and, acting in concert with the enemy, they attempt to create despondency. The nation should be watchful about such [Western] infiltration.” (Interestingly, in a debate televised live on December 16, prior to his departure for the hajj pilgrimage, Ahmadinejad warned that at an “appropriate time” he would disclose some “untold stories” about the nuclear issue, which, he said, was one of Iran’s “toughest battles”, more momentous than the nationalization of the country’s oil industry.)

    Again, in another speech, Khamenei pointed out that the Ahmadinejad government’s “sense of responsibility” and its “self-belief” is the sure guarantee of the country’s progress. He praised the government for observing “justice” and “perseverance and self-belief” in advancing the goals of the Iranian revolution. Khamenei said Ahmadinejad has “successfully carried out development projects and helped remove the problems of the people as well as honorably proceeding with the goals and values of the Iranian revolution”, and this despite US propaganda aimed at “weakening national resolve and forcing the people to backtrack from their legitimate rights”.

    Bush’s last gamble
    Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad remains focused on his domestic priorities. He just announced that Iran’s budget for the coming fiscal year will make a whopping 30% increase in allocations for development plans. Addressing the Majlis (Parliament)on Tuesday, he announced legislation for disbursing a part of Iran’s oil revenue for the first time directly to the common people – in fulfillment of his major election pledge.

    Evidently, Tehran is keeping cool nerves. It factors a real possibility that the Bush administration is capable of resorting to something irrational out of sheer desperation. It is conscious of the growing sense of frustration in the White House. In his recent speeches, Khamenei warned that Iran shouldn’t lower its guard since it is still passing through a “crisis period”. But then, he added, the situation at present could only be as sensitive as numerous past occasions since the Iranian revolution, which the regime successfully overcame. He referred to Washington’s encouragement of Saddam Hussein for launching the eight-year war in the 1980s and the numerous US conspiracies since then against the Iranian regime.

    All in all, the Bush administration finds itself entrapped. The Iranian regime has proven to be a tough nut for it to crack. All the talk about dissensions within the Iranian regime spilling over in lava form has turned out to be whistling in the wind.

    The leitmotif of Bush’s high-profile tour of the Middle East is unmistakably Iran. But Washington’s Iran policy lies in tatters and it has no choice but to ratchet up anti-Iran rhetoric, though it realizes there are no takers in the Middle East for such rhetoric of fire and brimstone. The danger now is that Tehran may choose to hunker down and prefer to deal with the next US administration.

    Tehran once heeded back-channel pleas from Ronald Reagan’s campaign managers not to negotiate the hostage crisis with the Carter administration in its final months in the White House so that Reagan could claim the credit for the denouement. Bush is certainly better placed than Carter insofar as presidential hopefuls such as Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee would never do such a Reaganite thing on him.

    Actually, the danger to the Bush legacy comes from faraway places. Continued delay in constructively engaging Iran will only open the gateway wider for the international community to encroach into a region that until four years ago used to be the exclusive strategic preserve of the US. China is already wading deep into the region, and Russia too. The S-300 missiles from Russia are a sign that US dominance of the Middle East is in serious jeopardy.

    M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

    (Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. )