Monthly Archives: October 2008

0 2

In the first presidential debate on Friday, Barack Obama and John McCain not only failed to resuscitate the Americans perturbed by an ailing economy, but also displayed a lack of judgment on a major issue the next US administration will need to address – the challenge perceived to be presented by Iran.

In the first presidential debate on Friday, Barack Obama and John McCain not only failed to resuscitate the Americans perturbed by an ailing economy, but also displayed a lack of judgment on a major issue the next US administration will need to address – the challenge perceived to be presented by Iran.

The debate could not have been scheduled for a better time, just when a perilous economic crisis on Wall Street took the Bush administration by surprise, forcing the lame-duck president to delve into the issue stridently without considering all options and outcomes – like the way he dealt with Iraq in 2003.

The face-off also came at a time that America has been grouped among the least favored countries in the world because of its aggressive foreign policy.

It took place at Oxford, Mississippi after days of uncertainty shadowing the event. Americans awaiting answers wondered whether the event would see the participation of both candidates after Senator McCain announced on Wednesday that he intended to focus on the fiscal crisis and would therefore suspend his campaign and call for the debate to be postponed.

As if the president of the United States has the option to halt every item on the agenda to concentrate on a single issue; the veteran took a huge gamble which did not play out.

The 72-year-old McCain’s motto of the night was that he did not need ‘on-the-job training’ if he were to succeed George W. Bush in the Oval Office, suggesting that his Democratic rival would possibly make numerous mistakes because of a lack of White House political knowledge.

Obama started off with a familiar tone; trying to link the Republican to the incumbent president.

“This is the final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down,” Obama said. “It hasn’t worked.”

The young Democrat also discussed the 700-hundred-billion-dollar package in short, but fell short of a target – to explain how the plan, if approved by the House, would change the future of the economy.

He said he would look for the ‘underlying issues’ that brought up this mess, while failing to enunciate how he would address the problem if he took office.

Sen. McCain said he had predicted the financial crisis.

Senator McCain, who 10 days ago had said that the ‘fundamentals’ of the economy were strong, told Jim Lehrer, the debate’s host, that he ‘saw this train wreck coming’.

The old man, who is seeking a one-term tenure, said he had ‘no doubt about the magnitude of the crisis’, warning that ‘a lot of work’ has to be done to make sure that the crisis is not the beginning of the end for the Untied States.

He suggested that his government would get spending under control – which, ironically, would cripple the implementation of his aggressive foreign policy agenda.

Although the media offered a cautious analysis of the debate, stopping short of pronouncing either of the candidates as the winner, both McCain and Obama failed to use the first forty-five minutes to paint an impeccable picture of their economic situation and how they would resolve the current crisis.

Given the fact that neither of the candidates are economy experts, McCain and Obama were vigilant and watchful about what they said about the economy – precisely what was expected of them.

Foreign policy was the main topic that the McCain camp had been pinning all its hope on. The Vietnam War vet has claimed – many many many times – that he is an expert when it comes to dealing with US enemies and allies. He says he has been involved in ‘all major national security issues’ the Untied States has faced in at least two decades.

Since the reign of neo-conservatives in the White House, upper US echelons have not stopped to rest for a single moment without raising the alarm against Iran, its nuclear program, and its alleged support for terrorism.

So to play in the field of neocons, it would only be fair to expect the president of the Untied States to have studied and to know the real extent of an adversary, its strengths and weaknesses.

Yet, the foreign-policy-expert McCain displayed a lack of knowledge about the simple issues pertaining to the Middle Easter country.

Sen. McCain calls Iran’s ‘Republican Guard’ a terrorist organization. Iran has no Republican Guards.

“There is the Republican Guard in Iran, which Senator Kyl had an amendment in order to declare them a sponsor of terror. Senator Obama said that would be provocative,” he said.

Iran does not have a Republican Guard. John McCain either had a senior moment or confused Iran with its neighboring country Iraq – which used to have a Republican Guard prior to the US invasion of the country in 2003.

Fact Check: Iran’s military forces are divided into two groups: the Iranian Army and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

It was not the first time Senator McCain was factually wrong on Iran.

On March 19, McCain claimed Iran was training al-Qaeda operatives to confront American soldiers in Iraq.

“(It is) common knowledge and in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known. And it’s unfortunate,” he told reporters in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Senator Joe Lieberman, who was standing next to McCain during his press conference, was compelled to correct the veteran by stepping forward and whispering in his ear.

McCain then corrected himself and said, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”

The maverick later rejected criticism that he was not familiar with the situation in the Middle East, and claimed he had used ‘intentional deceptive language’ to [scare Iran].

Fact Check: Iran has no relations with al-Qaeda – or else, even if this could fly by the same tactics that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used to sell the war on Iraq, the world would have be in the midst of a US-waged war against Iran.

On May 29, Senator McCain mistakenly claimed that Washington and Tehran had been in negotiations for 20 years.

“Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven’t tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades,” McCain said in a direct jab at Senator Obama for promising to hold direct talks with US foes without preconditions.

Fact Check: Since April 7, 1980, the stated policy of the US government has been not to talk to the Iranians.

In recent years, Washington has suggested that it would talk to Tehran if it stopped uranium enrichment. The Iranian government is entitled to a nuclear program in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In the Friday debate, Senator McCain echoed the policies promoted by President Bush in regard to Iran. He said he refuses to engage Iran in direct negotiations over its nuclear program and alleged support for terrorism, unless the country meets ‘preconditions’.

Sen. Obama brands Iran’s ‘Republican Guard’ a terrorist cell. Iran has no Republican Guards.

While Senator McCain spoke about Iran and the ‘threat’ he perceives the country may pose, Senator Obama was eagerly waiting to poke his rival and blame an emboldened Iran over the ongoing war in Iraq – which the Republican has vociferously supported over the years.

Obama also fell short of the mark by repeating his rival’s “Republican Guard” comment.

“Well, let me just correct something very quickly. I believe the Republican Guard of Iran is a terrorist organization. I’ve consistently said so,” Obama declared in all certainty.

He then went on to say that by overthrowing the government of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein – who was aided and encouraged by Washington to wage war on Iran -, the US had inadvertently assisted Tehran to become a regional power.

“The single thing that has strengthened Iran over the last several years has been the war in Iraq. Iraq was Iran’s mortal enemy. That was cleared away. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is Iran’s influence grow,” Obama said.

The Iraqi government, under the rule of Saddam Hussein, was no where near the competence of posing a threat to Iran. Iraq’s economy was solely based on oil revenues and, thus, extremely prone to UN Security Council sanctions.

Although the Democrat declared intention to reduce troops in Iraq and take the war on terror to the real hideout of al-Qaeda, Obama seemed to show more confidence and less substance.

Besides stumbling over the long name of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (ah-muh-DEE’-neh-zhahd), McCain fell short of the mark on economic matters and presented a similar foreign policy outlook to that of the Bush administration.

While post-debate polls revealed Senator Obama as the lesser of the two evils (A CNN/Opinion Research Corp found 51% said Obama had won, to 38% for McCain), it is not yet clear whether the rising star is ready.

Could the old man be right?

0 8

Asked again on Sunday whether Sarah Palin is ready to be president, Sen. Joe Lieberman went one step further than he has in past remarks — virtually pledging to voters that John McCain "will live to 85 at least."

document.write(‘

‘);

Asked again on Sunday whether Sarah Palin is ready to be president, Sen. Joe Lieberman went one step further than he has in past remarks — virtually pledging to voters that John McCain “will live to 85 at least.”

In an audio clip of the Tampa, Florida, event obtained by the Huffington Post, Lieberman acknowledged that he has spoken “to doctors and insurance actuaries” about McCain’s health, “because I get asked this question so much.”

“People say to me, oh jeez, he’s 72 and he’s got skin cancer,” Lieberman said, adding: “I can tell you he’s been in remission for eight years. Secondly, I talked — because I get asked this question so much — I talked to doctors and insurance actuaries. And they tell me based on McCain’s age, his health, including skin cancer, he’ll live till at least 85. And probably longer.”

Lieberman once again offered a prayer that Palin would not soon have to serve as commander in chief: “I believe that he’ll be able to serve through his first term for which he’s elected, please God.”

Next, Lieberman noted that the GOP nominee has a 96 year old mother, and proceeded to relate a story in which he said she looked great, and she asked Lieberman if he was “trying to pick [her] up.”

The source audio from the event is a bit scratchy, but clear enough.

An MIT study found that the 72 year old McCain would have just over a 5 percent chance of dying in his first term. Separately, the AP put the odds at 1 in 4 that McCain might die during an ostensible second term.

While talking with a reporter last week, Lieberman answered a similar question about Palin’s readiness to serve as commander in chief by saying “thank God she’s not going to have to be president from day one. McCain’s going to be alive and well.” Elsewhere in that interview, however, the Democrat-turned-independent said Palin could be ready to take over “if, God forbid, an accident occurs or something of that kind” struck McCain.

0 10

This undated photo obtained from a MySpace webpage shows Daniel Cowart, 20 of Bells, Tenn. holding a weapon. Federal agents have broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. and shoot or decapitate 102 black people in a Tennessee murder spree, the ATF said Monday Oct. 27, 2008. In court records unsealed Monday, federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school by two neo-Nazi skinheads. The men, Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman 18, of West Helena, Ark., are being held without bond.

WASHINGTON — Two white supremacists allegedly plotted to go on a national killing spree, shooting and decapitating black people and ultimately targeting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, federal authorities said Monday.

In all, the two men whom officials described as neo-Nazi skinheads planned to kill 88 people _ 14 by beheading, according to documents unsealed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.

The spree, which initially targeted an unidentified predominantly African-American school, was to end with the two men driving toward Obama, “shooting at him from the windows,” the documents show.

“Both individuals stated they would dress in all-white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt,” the court complaint states. “Both individuals further stated they knew they would and were willing to die during this attempt.”

An Obama spokeswoman traveling with the senator in Pennsylvania had no immediate comment.

Sheriffs’ deputies in Crockett County, Tenn., arrested the two suspects _ Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark. _ Oct. 22 on unspecified charges. “Once we arrested the defendants and suspected they had violated federal law, we immediately contacted federal authorities,” said Crockett County Sheriff Troy Klyce.

The two were charged by federal authorities Monday with possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threatening a candidate for president.

Cowart and Schlesselman were being held without bond. Agents seized a rifle, a sawed-off shotgun and three pistols from the men when they were arrested. Authorities alleged the two men were preparing to break into a gun shop to steal more.

Jasper Taylor, city attorney in Bells, said Cowart was arrested Wednesday. He was held for a few days in Bells, then moved over the weekend to another facility.

Until his arrest, Cowart lived with his grandparents in a southern, rural part of the county, Taylor said, adding that Cowart apparently never graduated from high school. He moved away, possibly to Arkansas or Texas, then returned over the summer, Taylor said.

Attorney Joe Byrd, who has been hired to represent Cowart, said in a written statement that he was was investigating the charges against his client and would have no further comment. Messages left on two telephone numbers listed under Cowart’s name were not immediately returned.

No telephone number for Schlesselman in Helena-West Helena could be found immediately.

The court documents say the two men met about a month ago on the Internet and found common ground in their shared “white power” and “skinhead” philosophy.

The numbers 14 and 88 are symbols in skinhead culture, referring to a 14-word phrase attributed to an imprisoned white supremacist: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H. Two “8”s or “H”s stand for “Heil Hitler.”

Court records say Cowart and Schlesselman also bought nylon rope and ski masks to use in a robbery or home invasion to fund their spree, during which they allegedly planned to go from state to state and kill people. Agents said the skinheads did not name the African-American school they were targeting.

Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville, Tenn., field office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, said authorities took the threats very seriously.

“They said that would be their last, final act _ that they would attempt to kill Sen. Obama,” Cavanaugh said. “They didn’t believe they would be able to do it, but that they would get killed trying.”

He added: “They seemed determined to do it. Even if they were just to try it, it would be a trail of tears around the South.”

An ATF affidavit filed in the case says Cowart and Schlesselman told investigators the day they were arrested they had shot at a glass window at Beech Grove Church of Christ, a congregation of about 60 black members in Brownsville, Tenn.

Nelson Bond, the church secretary and treasurer, said no one was at the church when the shot was fired. Members found the bullet had shattered the glass in the church’s front door when they arrived for evening Bible study.

“We have been on this site for about 120 years, and we have never had a problem like this before,” said Bond, 53 and a church member for 45 years.

The investigation is continuing, and more charges are possible, Cavanaugh said. He said there’s no evidence _ so far _ that others were willing to assist Cowart and Schlesselman with the plot.

At this point, there does not appear to be any formal assassination plan, Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said.

“Whether or not they had the capability or the wherewithal to carry out an attack remains to be seen,” he said.

Zahren said the statements about the assassination came out in interviews after the men were arrested last week.

The Secret Service became involved in the investigation once it was clear that an Obama assassination attempt was part of the plot. Obama received a Secret Service detail in May 2007, the earliest a candidate has ever been assigned protection, in part because of his status as a prominent black candidate.

“We don’t discount anything,” Zahren said, adding that it’s one thing for the defendants to make statements, but it’s not the same as having an organized assassination plan.

Helena-West Helena, on the Mississippi River in east Arkansas’ Delta, is in one of the nation’s poorest regions, trailing even parts of Appalachia in its standard of living. Police Chief Fred Fielder said he had never heard of Schlesselman.

However, the reported threat of attacking a school filled with black students worried Fielder. Helena-West Helena, with a population of 12,200, is 66 percent black. “Predominantly black school, take your pick,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tenn., Jon Gambrell in Little Rock, Ark., and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.

0 5

"Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions," a government statement said. "Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch an immediate investigation into this serious violation, and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria."

Syria says that with 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in the country, nothing Damascus does to control its frontiers will be enough without U.S. technical assistance and Iraqi security coordination, things that Washington has refused so far. (Illustration by AFP via Newscom)



AMMAN — In an unprecedented military assault since the American-led invasion of Iraq more than five years ago, U.S. forces have apparently launched a cross-border attack into Syrian territory that killed eight people, largely seen in the region as a parting shot by the outgoing U.S. George W. Bush administration against Damascus.

Independent reports have confirmed the official Syrian story that four U.S. helicopters penetrated eight kilometers into its territory on Sunday afternoon, targeting a building construction site in the village of al-Sukkariya in the Albu Kamal area near the border with Iraq.

Syrian official media said two of the helicopters landed and dropped eight U.S. soldiers, who raided the construction site and fired at workers inside. It insisted that all those killed were Syrian civilians, including four children. Eyewitnesses said the soldiers and helicopters kept shooting for 15 minutes before they flew back to Iraq.

“Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions,” a government statement said. “Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch an immediate investigation into this serious violation, and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria.”

The foreign ministry also summoned the top U.S. and Iraqi envoys in Damascus to protest the attack and demanded that such operations not be repeated in the future.

While the U.S. forces have since the 2003 invasion occasionally crossed into Syrian territory along the frontier to chase suspected fighters entering Iraq, this is the first on such a large scale with a high Syrian casualty rate.

The U.S. authorities have refused to reveal any official information on the assault at the time of compiling this report, but the Bush administration and U.S. military have openly accused Syria of not doing enough to contain its side of the border from anti-U.S. armed fighters infiltrating into Iraq.

On Thursday, the commander of the U.S. forces in western Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, said his troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he described as “uncontrolled,” insisting that there was a “certain level of foreign fighter movement.”

And U.S. newswires quoted an unidentified military official in Washington as saying: “We are taking matters into our own hands.”

While the Iraqi government said it was trying to get more information on the cross-border raid from the Americans, it did not deny that its territory was used by the U.S. forces to carry out the operation.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement that the area targeted “is a theater of insurgent activities against Iraq, using Syria as a launching pad.” He added that Baghdad was also asking Damascus to extradite members of an unnamed group it accused of killing 19 Iraqi security guards in a recent attack.

The targeted Syrian village is close to the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which U.S. military commanders say has been a crossing point for fighters, weapons and money used to feed armed opposition against the Iraqi government and U.S. occupation forces.

Arab commentators suggest that the U.S. authorities did not reveal any information on the assault because – other than being a serious political blunder – it was probably a military and intelligence gaffe that indeed targeted a site of Syrian civilian workers who had not helped foreign militant recruits.

But Syria, which says it deployed thousands of troops and checkpoints along its 600-kilometer border with Iraq in recent years and has stopped more than 5,000 suspected fighters from entering Iraq, does not accept the violation of its territorial sovereignty as a justification for the so-called U.S.-led war on terror.

As one Syrian analyst told the Middle East Times, “Syria is not Pakistan,” in reference to the Western cross-border operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, which have also killed dozens of civilians in recent months.

Syria says that with 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in the country, no matter what Damascus does to control its frontiers will be enough without U.S. technical assistance and Iraqi security coordination, which Washington has refused so far.

Arab analysts argue that whatever Syria does on the political and security front will still be less than the Bush administration wants, saying that such an assault would not have been carried out without the U.S. president’s approval.

They believe that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s assurances to Bush last month that Syria and Iran no longer pose a problem to Iraqi security have fallen on deaf ears, and that Damascus’ rapprochement with America’s European allies will not make this administration budge on easing pressure on Syria.

With a little over 70 days left in office, this administration simply wanted to fire a parting shot at Syria – which it insists on describing as a “sponsor of terror” – before the next president takes over the White House, they say.

But pundits predict that this attack, even if it is just a one-time operation, may further the delay of an Iraqi-U.S. security pact being negotiated to determine the task of U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2008, after the U.N. mandate for this purpose expires.

Iraq’s neighbors and Iraqi politicians have been pressing the Baghdad government against signing a deal that would allow U.S. forces to use Iraq as a launching pad for attacking neighboring states.

Syria’s state-run Tishreen daily on Monday accused the Bush administration of “cold-blooded murder” and a “war crime in killing eight Syrian civilians in a quiet village.”

0 4

Perhaps the answer to that enigma stems from the realization that with the end of his mandate rapidly approaching, much like all presidents before him, Bush is becoming concerned as to the manner in which history will remember him.

AN ENIGMA — It seems somewhat odd that U.S. President George W. Bush (shown here) comes up with a major foreign policy change less than two weeks before the presidential election. (Photo by UPI via Newscom)
Sources in the White House report that U.S. President George W. Bush plans to establish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran before his term ends next January. It appears that his administration is moving toward opening up an interest section in the Iranian capital after the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential election.

Indeed, it seems somewhat odd for the administration to come up with such a major foreign policy change less than two weeks before the election and less than 90 days before the end of its mandate.

Perhaps the answer to that enigma stems from the realization that with the end of his mandate rapidly approaching, much like all presidents before him, Bush is becoming concerned as to the manner in which history will remember him.

A legacy of two unfinished wars in the Middle East followed by a major housing and a global financial crisis are not feats for which history is likely to be kind to Bush.

This might well explain why the president seems so intent on reaching some deal in the Middle East before his departure from the White House in mid-January.

It is difficult to understand what other reasons might be driving Bush in his final days in office to go after something that could and should have been tried much earlier when he still had clout and time.

In a last-ditch effort the president earlier tried to bring the Israelis and Syrians together. He hoped to convince Israel to return the Golan Heights to the Syrians in exchange for their recognition of the State of Israel and a peace treaty from Damascus.

The president, however, should have looked no further than what his predecessor Bill Clinton tried to accomplish in his last days in the White House, when he tried to push through an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

0 5

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, helped by his bodyguards, at a religious ceremony on Saturday in Tehran. An official news agency said Sunday he was suffering from exhaustion. State television quoted him as saying that he might be exhausted, but that it was nothing more serious. Mr. Ahmadinejad has said that he works 20 hours a day.

State television also quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad himself as saying that he might be exhausted, but that it was nothing more serious. “Of course, we are also human beings, and sometimes we catch a cold,” he was quoted as saying.

The official news accounts apparently were meant to rebut rumors that Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is in his early 50s, may be ill and not up to running for re-election in June. Those rumors, on nongovernment Web sites including some associated with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s political rivals, have suggested that his condition could be more serious, particularly since he has canceled several events in the past week.

The talk about his health comes at a time of increased pressure on Mr. Ahmadinejad, primarily for what critics call his mishandling of the economy in Iran, which has led to an inflation rate of 30 percent. His government faced one of its worst crises this month after street-bazaar merchants in major cities went on strike to protest enforcement of a new sales tax. Analysts have warned that the economy could worsen because of the tumbling price of oil, Iran’s leading export, which could force severe budget cutbacks and rising unemployment.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is also known for his unyielding position on Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which the United States, Israel and the European Union suspect is meant for developing an atomic bomb, an accusation that Iran denies.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment has led to United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran and contributed to its increased economic isolation.

“The president will eventually recover and will continue his work,” said Mohammad Esmail Kowsari, a member of Parliament and a close ally of Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to IRNA.

IRNA also reported Sunday that Mr. Ahmadinejad had become fatigued because of the strain of his job. He has said that he works 20 hours a day.

Mr. Kowsari said that the president’s rivals were using a simple illness as “psychological warfare,” but that they were doomed to fail.

On Saturday, state-run television showed Mr. Ahmadinejad receiving the credentials of three foreign ambassadors.

He met with governors general, leaders of Iran’s regions, on Sunday, according to IRNA, and during that meeting he attacked his critics by saying they had “tried maliciously” to ignore the positive and constructive efforts of his government.

Shahab News, an unofficial Web site, reported that Mr. Ahmadinejad suffers from “exhaustion and low blood pressure,” the same problem that forced him to cancel many events for three consecutive weeks in May. It said that a close aide had said the president was suffering from “weakness” caused by “the pressure of his work.”

The Web site also said: “Mr. Ahmadinejad’s illness has led political circles to believe that he might not be able to run for re-election next year.”

The news came as Parliament moved on Sunday to impeach Interior Minister Ali Kordan, a close ally of Mr. Ahmadinejad over claims of lying about his university degrees. A vote was set for Nov. 4.

Mr. Kordan claimed that Oxford had given him an honorary doctorate, but investigations revealed that his degree was fake.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/world/middleeast/27iran.html?em

0 5

The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela?

We Should Talk to Our Enemies
Nicholas Burns
Newsweek Web Exclusive

One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of “bad judgment … that is dangerous,” an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials.

Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing.

The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela?

During the five decades of the cold war, when Americans had a more Manichaean view of the world, we did, from time to time, cut off relations with particularly odious leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Il Sung or Albania’s bloodthirsty and maniacal strongman, Enver Hoxha. But for the most part even our most ardent cold-war presidents—Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, none of whom was often accused of being weak or naive—decided that sitting down with our adversaries made good sense for America. They all talked to Soviet leaders—men vastly more threatening to America’s survival than Ahmadinejad or Chávez are now. JFK negotiated a nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with his mortal adversary, Nikita Khrushchev, just one year after the two narrowly avoided a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis. Perhaps more dramatically, Nixon, the greatest anticommunist crusader of his time, went to China in 1972 to repair a more than 20-year rupture with Mao Zedong that he believed no longer worked for America.

All of these cold-war presidents embraced a foreign-policy maxim memorialized by one of the toughest and most experienced leaders of our time, Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin, who defended his discussions with Yasir Arafat by declaring, “You don’t make peace with friends, you make peace with very unsavory enemies.” Why should the United States approach the world any differently now? Especially now? As Americans learned all too dramatically on 9/11 and again during the financial crisis this autumn, we inhabit a rapidly integrating planet where dangers can strike at any time and from great distances. And when others—China, India, Brazil—are rising to share power in the world with us, America needs to spend more time, not less, talking and listening to friends and foes alike.

The real truth Americans need to embrace is that nearly all of the most urgent global challenges—the quaking financial markets, climate change, terrorism—cannot be resolved by America’s acting alone in the world. Rather than retreat into isolationism, as we have often done in our history, or go it alone as the unilateralists advocated disastrously in the past decade, we need to commit ourselves to a national strategy of smart engagement with the rest of the world. Simply put, we need all the friends we can get. And we need to think more creatively about how to blunt the power of opponents through smart diplomacy, not just the force of arms.

Talking to our adversaries is no one’s idea of fun, and it is not a sure prescription for success in every crisis. But it is crude, simplistic and wrong to charge that negotiations reflect weakness or appeasement. More often than not, they are evidence of a strong and self-confident country. One of America’s greatest but often neglected strengths is, in fact, our diplomatic power. Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Libya in September—the first by a U.S. secretary of state in five decades—was the culmination of years of careful, deliberate diplomacy to maneuver the Libyan leadership to give up its weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism. She would not have achieved that victory had she refused to talk to the Libyans.

For sure, a successful diplomacy needs to be backed up by strong military and intelligence services to fight our wars and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. We should constantly remind our adversaries that we have other options, including the possible use of force, if talks fail. But we have put too many of the world’s problems on the shoulders of our generals and intelligence officers when diplomacy—our ability to persuade, cajole or threaten an opponent—is sometimes the better and more effective way to proceed. We need to trust our ability to outmaneuver dangerous regimes at the negotiating table and in the high court of international public opinion.

Iran is a case in point. Its hard-line, theocratic government poses the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East today. It is funding and arming most of the region’s terrorist groups shooting at us, Israel and our moderate Arab friends. It has complicated our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most alarming, Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability that would change the balance of power in the Middle East.

Rather than default to the idea of using U.S. military force against Iran, wouldn’t it make more sense for the next American president to offer to negotiate with the Iranian leadership? Here’s the logic. If the talks end up succeeding, we will have prevented a third, and potentially catastrophic, war for the United States in the volatile area linking the Middle East and South Asia. If the talks fail, we will have a far better chance of persuading Russia and China to sign on to tougher sanctions against Iran. I think war with Iran would be unconscionable if we refuse even to try diplomacy first.

I’m not saying the next president should sit down immediately with Ahmadinejad. We should initiate contact at a lower level to investigate whether it’s worth putting the president’s prestige on the line. We should leave the threat of military action on the table to give us greater leverage as we talk to the Iranian government. And ultimately we’d want other countries with influence—like Russia and China—to sit on our side of the table in order to bring maximum pressure to bear against Tehran. But the United States hasn’t had a meaningful set of talks with Iran on all the critical issues that separate us in 30 years, since the Khomeini revolution. To illustrate how far we have isolated ourselves, think about this: I served as the Bush administration’s point person on Iran for three years but was never permitted to meet an Iranian. To her immense credit, Secretary Rice arranged for my successor to participate in a multilateral meeting with Iranian officials this past summer. That is a good first step, but the next American president should initiate a more sustained discussion with senior Iranians.

If we aren’t willing to talk to Iran, we may leave ourselves with only one option—military action. The next U.S. president will have little chance of securing peace in the Middle East if he doesn’t determine Iran’s bottom line on the nuclear issue through talks. Similarly, there will be no peace treaty between Syria and Israel if we don’t support the talks underway between those countries.

In Afghanistan, the new president will face a very difficult set of choices roughly similar to those in Iraq before the surge. The brilliance of Gen. David Petraeus’s strategy in Iraq was, in part, to build bridges to formerly bitter foes in the Sunni militias and to cajole and entice them to switch sides. Some are now suggesting that we should deploy a similar strategy with the Taliban rank and file.

While we should have absolutely no interest in sitting down with Qaeda fanatics or the Taliban leadership, does it make sense to try to persuade lower-ranking Taliban supporters to give up the armed struggle and commit to a democratic Afghanistan? While that’s a seemingly logical goal, it would be highly problematic in the short term. We would be better served if we first built up a position of much greater military and political strength, and increased security for Afghan villagers. Talking to our adversaries is not always the answer to all our problems, especially in a highly complex environment such as Afghanistan. We have a long way to go before it might be part of a long-term solution there.

America faces a complex and difficult geopolitical landscape. The next president needs to act more creatively and boldly to defend our interests by revalidating diplomacy as a key weapon in our national arsenal and rebuilding our understaffed and underfunded diplomatic corps. Of course he will need to reserve the right to use force against the most vicious and implacable of our foes. More often than not, however, he will find that dialogue and discussion, talking and listening, are the smarter ways to defend our country, end crises and sometimes even sow the seeds of an ultimate peace.

Burns was under secretary of state for political affairs, the highest-ranking American career diplomat, until his retirement in April. He is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/165650

0 8

END OF THE BARGAIN — The U.S., Israel and Europe have had time to prepare their offensive and defensive capabilities in preparation for the moment when the grand bargain had used up its usefulness and a military strike becomes necessary. Photo shows Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (UPI Photo via Newscom) – and it seems that that moment is approaching.

END OF THE BARGAIN — The U.S., Israel and Europe have had time to prepare their offensive and defensive capabilities in preparation for the moment when the grand bargain had used up its usefulness and a military strike becomes necessary. Photo shows Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (UPI Photo via Newscom) – and it seems that that moment is approaching.
The next U.S. president will have precious little time to engage leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran in “head-to-head negotiations” over their nuclear weapons program. Whoever becomes the next president will temporarily be required to shelve efforts to bridge the gap between Palestinians and Israelis (efforts that have proven to be a diplomatic minefield for the last two U.S. presidents – at least) and focus attention exclusively on the impending military confrontation with Iran.

As each day passes, it is becoming clearer that diplomatic efforts, international sanctions, attempts to accommodate Iran, and years of “shell-game” inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have run their course and that by early 2009, Iran will have collected sufficient weapons-grade uranium to begin constructing a nuclear weapon.

Mark Hosenball wrote recently in Newsweek: “For reasons that remain unclear to the Bush administration and its allies, the level of violence attributable to Iranian-backed insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan is falling.”

Actually, U.S. President George W. Bush knows the reason. He just doesn’t want anyone else to know. In May 2008, the United States established a secret bargain with Iran, the essence of which was that in return for reducing Iranian-assisted terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and stabilizing oil prices, the U.S. administration would refrain from military action against Iran’s nuclear installations prior to the end of the Bush presidency in January 2009.

The Iranians undertook to exercise restraint in their dealings with Afghan insurgents, open the way for the U.S. military and the Iraqi government to destroy al-Qaida and the foreign Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and allow Bush to claim that his surge had been successful prior to leaving the White House.

In furtherance of that understanding, Tehran ordered Iranian intelligence officers and the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force working undercover in Iraq to halt attacks on U.S. troops by pro-Iranian militias including Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army.

Bush is also seeking another foreign policy achievement prior to leaving office. According to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida, this involves undermining the Iranian-Syrian relationship by establishing a U.S.-Syrian rapprochement whereby the United States would pressure Israel to cede the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for Syria breaking its ties with Iran – a pipedream at best for which Israel will pay the price.

The U.S. effort involves easing economic and political pressure on Syria and withdrawing support for Syrian opposition groups. As a result, Syrian President Bashar Assad would no longer fear any serious international investigation into the political assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese leaders and would be granted international respectability and permitted to exercise greater influence over Lebanese political affairs.

Despite these behind-the-scenes developments, however, tensions over Iran’s continuing quest for nuclear weapons continue to rise.

From the Iranian perspective nothing has changed. The regime remains religiously committed to destroying the American presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East. The bargain, however, has bought the mullahs critical time to expand and harden their nuclear sites, enhance their command and control structure, diversify their defensive and offensive missile capabilities with Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Syrian assistance, increase the number of operating centrifuges, and proceed at full speed toward the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon – the shield under which it would conduct its global Shiite jihad.

But it has also allowed the United States, Israel and its European allies the time to prepare their offensive and defensive land, sea and air war capability in preparation for the moment when the grand bargain had used up its usefulness and a military strike becomes necessary – and it seems that that moment is approaching.

Today, the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean are awash with high-tech American warships of every class. Advanced U.S. and Israeli satellites are focused on Iranian missile launching sites. Anti-missile defense systems encircle Iran and state-of-the-art Israeli Hermes and Heron unmanned aerial vehicles are scattered throughout the Caucasus.

Israel now possesses 90 F-16I long-range fighters that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran if necessary, and recently purchased two new Dolphin-class submarines from Germany reportedly capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads – in addition to the three it already possesses.

This past summer, it carried out air maneuvers in the Mediterranean that touched off an international controversy over whether they were a “dress rehearsal” for an imminent attack, a stern warning to Iran, or a just a way to get the United States and Europe to increase pressure on Tehran to stop its nuclear weapons program.

And in September, the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that the Dutch intelligence service (AVID) had, “called off an operation aimed at infiltrating and sabotaging Iran’s weapons industry due to an assessment that a U.S. attack on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is imminent.”

The report said the Dutch reckoned that America’s strike would be carried out by unmanned drone aircraft.

To ensure the bargain with the Iranians is not broken pre-maturely, the United States has linked Israel to its advanced missile detection system known as X-Band to guard against any Iranian missile attacks by providing missile launch detection at a distance of more than 1,750 miles.

But the other motivating factor in installing the U.S.-manned radar system in Israel is that it allows the United States an opportunity to keep a close watch on anything moving in Israeli skies including the detection of an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities which would undermine the bargain whose usefulness has not yet expired.

In any case, both the Israelis and the Americans are convinced that Iran is rapidly approaching the nuclear threshold. Both countries (not to mention the entire Sunni world) recognize that allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons (bargain or no bargain) would be madness.

Like Lenin and Hitler, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a grand vision for the Middle East. A nuclear-armed Islamic Republic ruled by the apocalyptic Islamic regime in Tehran would threaten the Persian Gulf region and its vast energy resources, spark nuclear proliferation amongst the unstable Sunni regimes of the Middle East, inject additional volatility into global energy markets, embolden terrorists from Buenos Aires to Baghdad, destabilize Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf emirates through Iranian terror proxies, and seek to destroy Israel.

As Michael Oren and Seth Robinson pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal: “Through its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies, Iran has gained dominance over Lebanon and Gaza, and through its Baathist and Mahdist allies, has extended its influence through Syria and Iraq. An Iranian threat looms over the Persian Gulf financial centers and beyond, to the European cities within Iranian missile range.”

Failing to de-claw Iran would mark the beginning of a new strategic order in the Middle East. It would solidify Iranian ascendancy in the region and legitimize Hamas and Hezbollah while weakening Israel – not to mention irreversibly damaging America’s regional, if not global, influence.

There is no realistic alternative to the inevitable confrontation and Washington, Israel and our European allies, despite rhetoric to the contrary, seem resigned to this.

Winston Churchill’s famous dictum that: “The Americans will always do the right thing – after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives” is upon us. If U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies are correct, any alternatives to a military strike have now been exhausted and the clock is approaching midnight.

http://www.metimes.com/Opinion/2008/10/24/the_grand_bargain/4459/print/

0 3

Ahmadinejad doesn’t have the final say in national security matters in Iran , however. The country’s religious leaders do. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in New York in July that Iran would insist on a quid pro quo for permitting a U.S. interests section: approval of its standing request for direct flights between Tehran and New York .

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration will announce in mid-November, after the presidential election, that it intends to establish the first U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran since the 1979-81 hostage crisis, according to senior Bush administration officials.

The proposal for an “interests section,” which falls short of a full U.S. Embassy , has been conveyed in private diplomatic messages to Tehran , and a search is under way to choose the American diplomat who’d head the post, the officials said.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the step hasn’t been announced and discussions of it have been limited to a small circle of government officials.

It’s not known how Iran has responded. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last month that he’d consider the idea, which first surfaced over the summer.

The U.S. had close ties to Iran’s late shah, who was overthrown in 1979. Iran’s ruling circles, however, are suspicious of U.S. attempts to expand its influence in the country.

Earlier this month, an Iranian official said that Tehran would refuse to allow a U.S.-based nonprofit group, the American-Iranian Council , to operate there after it received a Treasury Department license to do so.

The question of whether to deal directly with Iran has punctuated the U.S. presidential campaign.

Sen. Barack Obama , the Democratic nominee, has criticized the Bush administration’s penchant for not talking to U.S. enemies, and has indicated that he’d hold direct talks, even with Ahmadinejad.

Republican nominee Sen. John McCain has ridiculed Obama and his foreign policy as naive.

Yet in his waning days in office, President Bush has authorized a more direct approach to Iran , sending Undersecretary of State William Burns to participate in six-nation nuclear talks with Iranian representatives in Geneva in July.

The senior administration officials said the plan to open an interests section in the Iranian capital isn’t a move to closer government-to-government ties.

Rather, they say, it is an effort to reach out to the Iranian people, many of whom are far less anti-American than their leaders are.

Among other things, the U.S. diplomats in Tehran would facilitate cultural exchanges; issue visas for Iranians to travel to the U.S.; and engage in public diplomacy to present a more charitable view of the U.S.

The U.S. and Iran don’t have formal diplomatic relations, which were broken by President Jimmy Carter in April 1980 , following the November 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students.

U.S. interests in Iran are looked after by the Swiss. Iran has a small interests section in Washington under Pakistan’s embassy, but it doesn’t include any Iranian diplomats.

That could change if Iran insists on reciprocity as the price for establishing a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Tehran , which the senior officials said they predict it will do.

Ahmadinejad, in a late September interview with The New York Times , said of the U.S. interests section idea: “I have announced before that we will look at (it) with a positive frame of mind.”

Ahmadinejad doesn’t have the final say in national security matters in Iran , however. The country’s religious leaders do. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in New York in July that Iran would insist on a quid pro quo for permitting a U.S. interests section: approval of its standing request for direct flights between Tehran and New York .

Other Iranian officials have been cooler to the idea.

While some senior officials said Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice haven’t made a final decision, they and others indicated that the mid-November announcement is a near-certainty.

For a model, Bush administration officials point to the U.S. interests section in Havana, Cuba , which was opened in 1977. As with Iran , the U.S. and Cuba don’t have formal diplomatic ties.

The U.S. government also has been quietly licensing U.S.-based nongovernmental groups to work in Iran , giving them a waiver from Treasury Department sanctions on Iran .

Most of the groups maintain anonymity. However, the American-Iranian Council , which promotes dialogue between the two countries, announced in late September that it had received a Treasury license. Several days later, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said the group, based in Princeton, N.J. , wouldn’t be allowed to open an office in Iran .




0 5

A senior Iranian official, Seyed Safavi, the head of the Research Institute of Strategic Studies in Tehran and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned foreign diplomats in London recently that such an option was being lobbied by a small group of senior officials in the Iranian capital.

Iran Turns Tables, Threatens Strike on Israel

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly issued a fatwa against using WMDs. But the fatwa’s contents are still unknown. Photo shows an Iranian 2,000-pound ‘smart’ bomb in front of pictures of Khamenei (L) and late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the production plant in Tehran. (Image by UPI via Newscom)
JERUSALEM — In an upping of the tit for tat rhetoric between Tel Aviv and Tehran, several senior Iranian officials have recommended a pre-emptive strike on Israel in order to neutralize any Israeli attempt to bomb the Islamic republic’s alleged nuclear facilities.

A senior Iranian official, Seyed Safavi, the head of the Research Institute of Strategic Studies in Tehran and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned foreign diplomats in London recently that such an option was being lobbied by a small group of senior officials in the Iranian capital.

The diplomats had gathered to discuss the effects and consequences of a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear reactor.

Numerous Israeli threats in recent years to carry out an offensive strike on Iran appear to have backfired badly as some Iranian hardliners believe that the only way to prevent such an Israeli attack is by hitting Israel first.

“The recent Israeli declarations and harsh rhetoric on a strike against Iran put ammunition in these individuals’ hands,” Safavi said.

Last week Member of Knesset Isaac Ben-Israel (Kadima), a former major general and someone very close to prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni, said Israel would not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, and that there was still time to stop this development.

Israeli transportation minister and former defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, said that Israel would be forced to strike the Iranian nuclear reactor if Tehran continued to pursue its uranium enrichment program.

This followed a military exercise that Israel held in the skies over eastern Greece during a simulated attack on Iran in June. Over 100 F15 and F16 fighter jets from the Israeli Air Force (IAF) took part in aerial maneuvers which were carried out the same distance from Israel as Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

Current Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak has also stated that the military option remains on the table.

Incumbent Israeli premier, Ehud Olmert, held a meeting in March with the architect of Israel’s military strike on Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear facility in 1981. The meeting allegedly discussed an attack on Iran and was meant to be held in the utmost secrecy, but the Israeli media got wind of it.

However, Safavi – who is the brother of Yahya Rahim Safavi who used to head Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – said that although Iran would consider its own offensive against Israel such a plan had not yet been formulated officially into Iranian policy.

Safavi is believed to hold significant influence over security matters in the Iranian government.

He went on to explain that in the event of any U.S. attack on Iran, the Islamic Republic would focus on retaliating against Israel as Iran believed that such an attack would only be carried out in coordination with the Israelis.

Safavi reiterated that Iran only intended to use its nuclear program for peaceful purposes and that Khamenei had recently issued a fatwa against using weapons of mass destruction. But to date the contents of the ruling have not yet been publicized.

It is doubtful that Iran seriously intends to carry out a preemptive attack on Israel and Safavi’s statements could merely be another stage in an Iranian attempt to create a balance of fear and deterrence with the Jewish state.

Another significant question is whether Iran in fact has the ability to carry out such an attack. Iran’s air force is outdated with only a low number of its 300 warplanes capable of flying and it is unlikely that they would be able to penetrate Israeli defenses.

Furthermore, Iran’s missiles with the capability to hit Israel number no more than about 100 according to military experts. Ultimately Iran would have to rely on its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies in the region in the absence of nuclear capabilities.

And knowing the response any attack on Israel would elicit, a first move by Iran seems unlikely. Furthermore, there is a chance for improved dialogue between Washington and Tehran depending on the results of the forthcoming American elections.

Safavi stated that better communication with the United States was not a closed subject and that if Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won this would encourage the moderates in the Iranian government to hold talks with America and to put the nuclear issue back on the agenda.

However, if Republican candidate John McCain won the presidency then Tehran’s hardliners who oppose any compromise would win the day.

Another positive sign for an improved relationship between Tehran and Washington would be the possibility of moderate and former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami winning next year’s elections. Khatami is considered the only real opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning again.

Ahmadinejad remains unpopular with many reformers in Iran and his mishandling of the economy has further underlined resentment against him. The current inflation rate in Iran is similar to what it was prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

0 7

Osama bin Laden called for Iraqi insurgents to unite and avoid divisive "extremism," speaking in an audiotape aired Monday and apparently intended to win over Sunnis opposed to al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq.

Insurgents should admit ‘mistakes,’ al-Qaida leader purportedly says
NBC News and news services
 
Updated: 6:19 p.m. ET Oct. 22, 2007
 
getCSS(“3088867″)

MSNBC video

Audiotape said to be Bin Laden released
Oct. 22: In a new audiotape that is reportedly Osama bin Laden, he calls for Iraqi insurgents to unite and avoid divisive “extremism.” NBC’s Bob Windrem reports.

MSNBC

function UpdateTimeStamp(pdt) {
var n = document.getElementById(“udtD”);
if(pdt != ” && n && window.DateTime) {
var dt = new DateTime();
pdt = dt.T2D(pdt);
if(dt.GetTZ(pdt)) {n.innerHTML = dt.D2S(pdt,((‘false’.toLowerCase()==’false’)?false:true));}
}
}
UpdateTimeStamp(‘633286883988930000′);

CAIRO, Egypt – Osama bin Laden called for Iraqi insurgents to unite and avoid divisive “extremism,” speaking in an audiotape aired Monday and apparently intended to win over Sunnis opposed to al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq.

In the audiotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden said insurgents should admit “mistakes” and that he even advises himself not to be extreme in his leadership.

The tape appeared to be in response to moves by some Sunni Arab tribes in Iraq that have joined U.S. troops in fighting al-Qaida members, as well as other Sunni insurgent groups that — while still attacking Americans — have formed coalitions opposed to al-Qaida.

“Some of you have been lax in one duty, which is to unite your ranks,” bin Laden said in the audiotape. “Beware of division … Muslims are waiting for you to gather under a single banner to champion righteousness. Be keen to oblige with this duty.”

“I advise myself, Muslims in general and brothers in al-Qaida everywhere to avoid extremism among men and groups,” he said, saying leaders should not build themselves up as the sole authority, and that instead mujahedeen should follow “what God and his prophet have said.”

Bin Laden used the Arabic word “ta’assub,” which in traditional Islamic thought means extremism in allegiance or adherence to a group, to a degree that excludes others — apparently advising flexibility to overcome divisions.

“Everybody can make a mistake, but the best of them are those who admit their mistakes,” he said. “Mistakes have been made during holy wars but mujahedeen have to correct their mistakes.”

U.S. official: Message is ‘nothing new’
A senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News that the general theme of the audio message — unification of insurgent forces in Iraq — was “nothing new” for bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri. They have called in the past for Sunni groups to stop attacking Shiites and instead focus on the United States.

U.S. counterterrorism authorities were studying the content and authenticity of the audiotape. However, officials often note that no one has faked a bin Laden recording in the past.

Al-Jazeera did not say how it obtained the tape.

IntelCenter, a a U.S. group that monitors militant messages, said it was bin Laden’s third public statement this year, with the previous two on Sept. 8 and Sept. 20.

0){url = url.substring(0,i);document.write(‘

URL: ‘+url+’

‘);if(window.print){window.print()}else{alert(‘To print his page press Ctrl-P on your keyboard nor choose print from your browser or device after clicking OK’);}}

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21422874/

0 4

The Arabs should be aware that pressure is mounting in the United States to reduce dependence on Middle East oil – in other words to reduce oil imports. Whoever wins next month’s U.S. presidential election, whether it is Barack Obama or John McCain, is bound to want to shape a new national policy, less dependent on imported oil, for energy and climate change. Both candidates have vowed to do so.

PARIS — The Arabs should be aware that pressure is mounting in the United States to reduce dependence on Middle East oil – in other words to reduce oil imports. Whoever wins next month’s U.S. presidential election, whether it is Barack Obama or John McCain, is bound to want to shape a new national policy, less dependent on imported oil, for energy and climate change. Both candidates have vowed to do so.

At the same time, several major car manufacturers – Nissan, Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, Chevrolet, Renault – have announced plans to launch electric cars in the coming two or three years in response to increasing world-wide concern about carbon emissions. Pre-production models of electric cars are the talk of the current Paris motor show.

The Arabs should heed these early warnings that their current oil bonanza will not last forever – perhaps, at best, for another decade or two. Already, the expectation that the oil price would soar to $200 a barrel has turned into a mirage. Oil prices have dropped 55 percent since July, demonstrating the extreme volatility of the market.

What seems clear is that the Arabs – and indeed other oil producers – cannot hope to benefit indefinitely from the colossal wealth transfer of recent years. They should spend the coming years preparing for the day when oil may not be in such great demand.

The well-known oil expert Daniel Yergin has pointed out that the United States currently consumes over 20 million barrels of oil a day, 12 million of which are imported. This means that – on the basis of prices in the first half of 2008 – the United States is transferring about $1.3 billion every day to oil-exporting countries, or $475 billion a year. This is unsustainable in today’s conditions of financial crisis.

A clue to U.S. thinking may be found in a lead article by Richard Holbrooke in the September/October issue of the influential U.S. journal, Foreign Affairs. His subject is the likely direction of American foreign policy under the next American president.

Holbrooke is a prominent member of America’s foreign policy establishment, having served as ambassador to the United Nations, and as assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs in 1977-81, and for Europe in 1994-96. He is mainly known as the architect of the Dayton Accords, which brought the war in Bosnia to an end in 1995.

He advised Sen. Hillary Clinton in her bid for the Democratic nomination and is now said to have joined Obama’s foreign policy team. He is often described as a Democratic version of Henry Kissinger. His views, therefore, deserve careful attention.

Like Kissinger, Holbrooke is a staunch supporter of Israel and a critic of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, which he accuses of “allowing billions of (ostensibly nongovernmental) dollars to go toward building extremist madrassas and funding terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.” This is a libelous charge Riyadh should publicly refute.

However, unlike most American neoconservatives and pro-Israeli hawks, Holbrooke comes out firmly against war with Iran. “I have consistently opposed the use of force against Iran,” he declares in his article. Instead, he favors a dialogue with Tehran, beginning “through private and highly confidential channels to determine if there is a basis on which to proceed.” He contrasts Obama’s declared readiness to start such a dialogue with what he describes as McCain’s “deep, visceral aversion to talking to one’s adversaries.”

Nevertheless, he warns Americans that the economic muscle of oil-producing nations, whether Arab or non-Arab, must inevitably give them greater political power – in ways the United States and its allies may not like.

“Does anyone doubt,” he asks, “that the current assertiveness on the international stage of, for example, Iran, Russia and Venezuela comes from the economic muscle that accompanies their growing petrodollar reserves?”

Holbrooke believes that the coming U.S. presidential election will, in some ways, be a referendum on Iraq. He decries McCain for being ready to leave U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely and endorses Obama’s view that military victory, as defined by Bush and McCain, is not possible. Obama, he writes approvingly, “finds unacceptable the costs to the United States of an open-ended commitment to continue a war that should never have been started.”

More generally, Holbrooke supports Obama’s view that U.S. relations with the Muslim world will require special attention from the next American president. (It is worth recalling that Obama himself has pledged that, if elected, he will travel to a major Islamic forum within the first 100 days of his presidency in order to declare that the United States is not at war with Islam.)

For Holbrooke, the heart of the geostrategic challenge to the United States lies in five countries with linked borders – Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. U.S. relations with all five have deteriorated, he charges, while U.S. policy in this “arc of crisis” has, since 2003, been marked by incoherence.

He dismisses current U.S. policy toward Afghanistan as a failure, and correctly maintains – at least in the opinion of this writer – that “getting policy towards Islamabad right will be absolutely critical for the next administration.”

Looking beyond the “arc of crisis,” Holbrooke is gloomy about the situation in Sudan. He warns that the North-South agreement, once hailed as a genuine Bush-era success, is now in danger of collapse. He fears that the key provision of the agreement – elections followed by a referendum on independence for the south – will be ignored or repudiated, and that, by 2010, Sudan could once again explode into a major north-south conflict.

Holbrooke has little to say about the Arab-Israeli conflict except to affirm that “the next president must engage personally with this issue, as every president from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton has in the past.” He wants the United States to return to “its role as a serious, active peacemaker….”

In general, Holbrooke pleads for diplomacy to take its traditional place once again in U.S. national security policy. This is an explicit repudiation of the Bush Doctrine which preached – and practiced – the unilateral use of military force, preemptively and preventively, to shape the world to American (and Israeli) desires.

Holbrooke’s article in Foreign Affairs should perhaps be read as his application for the post of secretary of state if, as is now widely expected, Obama wins November’s presidential election.

0 5

According to multiple sources, the president hopes to convince the Israelis to return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peace treaty between Jerusalem and Damascus. And in exchange for getting the Golan back, Syria would sever its close ties with Iran. Thrown into the deal – rumors have it – the president would apply pressure to make the international tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others disappear.

TWO FOR ONE — U.S. President George W. Bush (shown here at an official dinner at the White House) is hoping to carry out two political coups in one strike: extract a peace deal between Syria and Israel and then manage to break up the Syrian-Iranian alliance. And all in three months. (Photo by Black Star via Newscom)
Upon assuming the office of the nation’s chief executive eight years ago, U.S. President George W. Bush vowed that he would not fall into the same trap that his predecessor, Bill Clinton allowed himself to get caught in – the never-ending Middle East imbroglio.

As things turned out, with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush became far more involved in the Middle East than any other U.S. president. But with two wars launched by the Bush 43 administration – in Iraq and Afghanistan – having failed to produce the expected results, the president now realizes that he is about to leave the White House on a rather sour note.

Now in his final three months in the White House the president – as most before him – hopes to leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on a more positive note, worried that history books will not be kind to his legacy.

And where else to turn for a quick victory that will propel one’s name in the positive annals of history than the Middle East? Who would have ever thought of Bush following in Clinton’s footsteps?

There have been reports recently that the president has been making last-minute efforts to push through a peace deal between Syria and Israel before he vacates the White House next Jan. 20.

In fact, Bush is hoping to carry out two political coups with one strike: extract a peace deal between Syria and Israel and then manage to break up the Syrian-Iranian alliance.

According to multiple sources, the president hopes to convince the Israelis to return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peace treaty between Jerusalem and Damascus. And in exchange for getting the Golan back, Syria would sever its close ties with Iran. Thrown into the deal – rumors have it – the president would apply pressure to make the international tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others disappear.

But just as Clinton found out that it is impossible to rush such delicate enterprises as complex as Middle East negotiations, so too will Bush find out.

0 5

ARABS SUBMISSIVELY SILENT — What is most infuriating is that Arabs and Muslims are taking all the racial shenanigans from the McCain team lying down rather than launching serious campaigns to educate and enlighten the American people. Image shows Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain responding to supporters in Melbourne, Florida on Oct. 17.

U.S. Republican Senator John McCain appeared desperate in the final debate Wednesday night with his Democratic rival in the upcoming presidential election, Senator Barack Obama, whose lead in the polls has been growing and his self-confidence radiant.

The Republican candidate hurled everything at the younger African American senator, repeating some of the flimsy charges that have not carried much weight, including Obama’s short-lived association with William Ayers, whose notoriety as a bomber gained attention in the 1960s when Obama was eight years old. Ayers and Obama (as well as other prominent Americans) have served together on the boards of two nonprofit organizations in Chicago.

The presidential campaign for the election of a new American president on Nov. 4 has at recent rallies regrettably deteriorated to mud-slinging and racial slurs, including anti-Arab bigotry, that disappointingly have not been fully repudiated by McCain or Obama.

The events took place, more often or not, at Republican party rallies sometimes attended by Sen. McCain. None were reported at Democratic Party events and it is understandable that Sen. Obama, who was the obvious target of the abuse, did not chose to respond probably for fear of adding more fire to the exchanges or harm his increasing lead in the opinion polls.

But one wonders whether Obama, should he be elected, will not feel intimidated or handcuffed in taking new approaches, particularly on world issues, lest his antagonists would remind everyone, “I told you so.”

Nevertheless, the timidity of American leaders and the media (except for a few exceptions like CNN’s Campbell Brown) is deplorable.

In reply to a question at the final debate on cutting U.S. dependence on foreign oil, McCain said, “I think we can, for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil.”

His view is that the United States “can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by building 45 new nuclear plants, power plants, right away” and went on to say that “I think we can easily, within seven, eight, 10 years, if we put our minds to it, we can eliminate our dependence on the places in the world that harm our national security if we don’t achieve our independence.”

In turn, Obama had this to say: “I think that in 10 years, we can reduce our dependence so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. I think that’s about a realistic time-frame…. But understand, we only have 3 to 4 percent of the world’s oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world’s oil, which means that we can’t drill our way out of the problem.”

This exchange was typical of the political atmosphere that has of late dominated the exchanges between the two party leaders and their surrogates at election rallies particularly in the wake of the short-lived skyrocketing price of oil, and the pronouncements of some American leaders who surprisingly were unaware of the damage they can do in making some inelegant remarks.

Speaking last June in Las Vegas about his “Comprehensive Plan for Energy Security,” McCain stressed that “in a world of hostile and unstable suppliers of oil, this nation will achieve strategic independence by 2025.”

Among those “hostile” countries, the record lists three Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Algeria who are among the top 10 exporters of oil to the United States. According to former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, “one of the major things the Saudis have historically done, in part out of friendship with the United States, is to insist that oil continues to be priced in dollars.” He went on, “the U.S. Treasury can print money and buy oil, which is an advantage no other country has.”

Arabs and Muslims have been the target of abusive comments at several Republican rallies but regrettably the flippant responses were disheartening if not nauseating.

For example, a woman at a recent Republican rally told McCain that she does not trust Obama, “I have read about him; he’s an Arab.” The senator’s backhanded reaction was, “No ma’am, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have a disagreement with on fundamental issues. That’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not, thank you.”

At another rally addressed by the vice presidential candidate, Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, someone called out “”Kill him!” meaning Obama, who was also branded a “terrorist” at an earlier McCain rally.

What is disappointing here is that neither McCain nor his unbelievable choice for a running mate bothered to stress that Obama is a Christian and not an Arab or a Muslim. How the two Republican candidates failed to recognize that these objectionable remarks from the audience left unanswered would negatively affect the growing Arab and Muslim communities in the U.S. which is approaching 10 million is hair-raising.

A matter of fact, the third rival in the presidential election is Ralph Nader, an Arab-American Christian.

One would think McCain or Palin, in the event they win the upcoming election which at this moment seems far-fetched, ought to recognize that they would have to deal with the wider Muslim and Arab countries in the near future, a population that equals one-fifth of the world.

No wonder the African American Democratic Congressman, John Lewis, a respected civil rights leader, rebuked McCain for putting up with these negative racial slurs against Obama from his party faithful. The atmosphere at times seemed reminiscent of the recent past when African Americans where down-trodden in the country.

McCain even continued lambasting Obama for his onetime association with William Ayers, a leader of the Weather Underground in the 1960s, who the Republican candidate described as “an unrepentant terrorist.” At the final debate, Obama explained, “Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House.”

What is most infuriating about all these shenanigans on the American scene is that the Arabs and Muslims are taking all this lying down rather than launching serious campaigns to educate and enlighten the American people about their legitimate grievances against Western policies and actions and that they should not be judged by the actions of fringe groups.

0 2

As Americans save nothing, where are the Feds going to get the money? Is the Fed going to print it and destroy the dollar and credit rating of the United States? Because the nations whose vaults are full of dollars and U.S. debt – China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arabs – are reluctant to lend us more. Sovereign wealth funds that plunged billions into U.S. banks have already been burned.

“Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers.”

So Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon advised Herbert Hoover in the Great Crash of ’29.

Hoover did. And the nation liquidated him – and the Republicans.

In the Crash of 2008, 40 percent of stock value has vanished, almost $9 trillion. Some $5 trillion in real estate value has disappeared. A recession looms with sweeping layoffs, unemployment compensation surging, and social welfare benefits soaring.

America’s first trillion-dollar deficit is at hand.

In fiscal year 2008 the deficit was $438 billion.

With tax revenue sinking, we will add to this year’s deficit the $200 to $300 billion needed to wipe the rotten paper off the books of Fannie and Freddie, the $700 billion (plus the $100 billion in add-ons and pork) for the Wall Street bailout, the $85 billion to bail out AIG, and $37 billion more now needed, the $25 billion for GM, Chrysler, and Ford, and the hundreds of billions Hank Paulson will need to buy corporate paper and bail out banks to stop the panic.

As Americans save nothing, where are the Feds going to get the money? Is the Fed going to print it and destroy the dollar and credit rating of the United States? Because the nations whose vaults are full of dollars and U.S. debt – China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arabs – are reluctant to lend us more. Sovereign wealth funds that plunged billions into U.S. banks have already been burned.

Uncle Sam’s Visa card is about to be stamped “Canceled.”

The budget is going to have to go under the knife. But what gets cut?

Social Security and Medicare are surely exempt. Seniors have already taken a huge hit in their 401(k)s. And as the Democrats are crafting another $150 billion stimulus package for the working poor and middle class, Medicaid and food stamps are untouchable. Interest on the debt cannot be cut. It is going up. Will a Democratic Congress slash unemployment benefits, welfare, education, student loans, veterans benefits – in a recession?

No way. Yet, that is almost the entire U.S. budget – except for defense, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and foreign aid. And this is where the ax will eventually fall.

It is the American Empire that is going to be liquidated.

Retrenchment has begun with Bush’s backing away from confrontations with Axis-of-Evil charter members Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, and will likely continue with a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus and Secretary Gates are already talking “reconciliation” with the Taliban.

We no longer live in Eisenhower or Reagan’s America. Even the post-Cold War world of George H. W. Bush, where America was a global hegemon, is history. In both relative and real terms, the U.S.A. is a diminished power.

Where Ike spent 9 percent of GDP on defense, Reagan 6 percent, we spend 4 percent. Yet we have two wars bleeding us and many more nations to defend, with commitments in the Baltic, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans we did not have in the Cold War. As U.S. weapons systems are many times more expensive today, we have fewer strategic aircraft and Navy ships than Ike or Reagan commanded. Our active-duty Army and Marine Corps consist of 700,000 troops, 15 percent women, and a far higher percentage of them support rather than combat troops.

With so few legions, we cannot police the world, and we cannot afford more. Yet, we have a host of newly hostile nations we did not have in 1989.

U.S. interests in Latin America are being challenged not only by Cuba, but Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Brazil, Argentina, and Chile go their own way. Russia is reasserting hegemony in the Caucasus, testing new ICBMs, running bomber probes up to U.S. air space. China, growing at 10 percent as we head into recession, is bristling over U.S. military sales to Taiwan. Iran remains defiant. Pakistan is rife with anti-Americanism and al-Qaeda sentiment.

The American Empire has become a vast extravagance.

With U.S. markets crashing and wealth vanishing, what are we doing with 750 bases and troops in over 100 countries?

With a recession of unknown depth and duration looming, why keep borrowing billions from rich Arabs to defend rich Europeans, or billions from China and Japan to hand out in Millennium Challenge Grants to Tanzania and Burkina Faso?

America needs a bottom-up review of all strategic commitments dating to a Cold War now over for 20 years.

Is it essential to keep 30,000 troops in a South Korea with twice the population and 40 times the wealth of the North? Why are McCain and Obama offering NATO memberships, i.e., war guarantees against Russia, to a Georgia run by a hothead like Mikheil Saakashvili, and a Ukraine, millions of whose people prefer their kinship to Russia to an alliance with us?

We must put “country first,” says John McCain.

Right you are, Senator. Time to look out for America first.

0 6

The US already plans a military surge in Afghanistan with an additional brigade (4,000 to 5,000 troops) in January and possibly two or three more brigades later in the year. These will be reinforcements, not replacements. This will further "Americanize" the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission in Afghanistan.

KARACHI – Pakistan’s seven-year association with the United States’ “war on terror” has moved to a new and dangerous level: the US has given it a contract to build 1,000 Humvees for use by troops in Afghanistan against the Taliban-led insurgency.

The fact that Pakistan is now providing the hardware for the “war on terror” is a highly sensitive issue, given the already inflammatory situation that exists in the country over Islamabad siding with Washington in this fight against terrorism.

Asia Times Online has learned that Pakistan’s Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) has been given the order for an undisclosed sum for the Humvees – high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles. HIT, located 35 kilometers to the west of the capital Islamabad, is the leading engineering and manufacturing center for the armed forces in Pakistan, with a workforce of over 6,000.

Work on the Humvees has already begun, although the task is being undertaken in secret. HIT has the capabilities to build main battle tanks, armored recovery vehicles, armored personnel carriers and other military equipment. Humvees are currently produced by AM General, an American heavy vehicle manufacturer based in South Bend, Indiana.

According to contacts at the plant who spoke to ATol, the Humvees are just the first of many orders to come for the manufacture of armaments for use in Afghanistan.

ATol contacted the Ministry of Defense Production, under which HIT operates, and was directed by a Major Raza Hasan to the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Athar Abbas, as the minister was not available. Abbas said he had no knowledge of the matter of the Humvees and would call back after speaking with HIT. At time of publication, he had not done so.

A widening war
The winter season has begun, but the heat of fighting is not getting any cooler in the South Asian war theater, indeed, it is becoming cauldron-hot.

The Taliban have shown unprecedented resilience and the scope of the battlefield has broadened from the border provinces with Pakistan to the main urban centers of Afghanistan. Whether it is newly formed American bases in Nuristan and Khost provinces, or the British base in Lashkar Gah, they have either been overrun or placed under constant siege by the Taliban.

Now, the strategic backyard of the “war on terror”, Pakistan, is feeling the heat. Just as Kabul is under siege by the Taliban and communication links leading to Kabul have been disrupted by the Taliban, Islamabad is under siege by the Taliban and militants in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.

Increasingly frequent raids by US special forces into Pakistan from Afghanistan and the use of Predator drones to target militants has angered many in Pakistan, and even caused dissent within the ranks of the armed forces.

That Pakistan is now producing hardware that could conceivably be used inside Pakistan against its people will rankle even more.

Further, as reported by ATol, the US is establishing a large base inside Pakistan at Tarbella, 20 km from Islamabad, officially said to be used to train Pakistani troops and to take part in operations in the tribal areas. (See Pakistan, US await militant showdown Asia Times Online, October 7, 2008.)

However, it is suspected the base will be used for US operations inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. American trainers are working out an arrangement for joint ventures with a selective group of Pakistani Frontier Corps.

The US already plans a military surge in Afghanistan with an additional brigade (4,000 to 5,000 troops) in January and possibly two or three more brigades later in the year. These will be reinforcements, not replacements. This will further “Americanize” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission in Afghanistan. Already, 26,000 of the 63,000 total international forces in the country are American. At the same time, the Afghan National Army is being expanded to 122,000 personnel and a rudimentary air force is being created.

It is against this backdrop that the US has turned to Pakistan for the manufacture of armaments to supply these new demands both within Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.

0 4

"We fear we will end up with a situation like Srebrenica," said an Iranian woman whose brother and a number of family members reside in Camp Ashraf, an area 40 miles north of Baghdad, where more than 3,500 exiled members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and their families have resided since 1986.

KEEP ASHRAF OUT OF IRAN’S HANDS — The lives of the 3,500 Iranian refugee rebels at Camp Ashraf in Iraq (see location on map) must not be put in jeopardy. The United States has a central role to play, and must prevent the transfer of Ashraf to the Iraqi security forces. (Image via Newscom)
“We fear we will end up with a situation like Srebrenica,” said an Iranian woman whose brother and a number of family members reside in Camp Ashraf, an area 40 miles north of Baghdad, where more than 3,500 exiled members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and their families have resided since 1986.

This young woman and dozens of other Iranian-Americans whose family members reside in Ashraf have been protesting in front of the U.N. Headquarters in New York since September. Concerned with the possible transfer of Camp Ashraf from U.S. personnel to Iraqi security forces, she said “it is like putting foxes in charge of the chicken coop.”

Iranian influence in Iraq is heavy. Iraq’s governmental institutions are fragile and its security forces are heavily infiltrated by Iran’s mercenaries, whose terrorist acts are well-documented by the coalition forces. How can one reasonably feel confident about such an arrangement?

Turning over the protection of these unarmed refugees to the Iraqi security forces would undoubtedly embolden the mullahs to take direct action against Camp Ashraf, situated only 30 miles from the Iranian border. Tehran has thus far avoided cross border attacks and missile strikes, due to the presence of U.S. forces.

Reports in the Iranian press are already quoting some elements of the regime seeking the massacre of the PMOI members residing in Ashraf. Iranian authorities have repeatedly called for the extradition of all the residents, ever since the talk of a possible transfer became public knowledge.

This entire affair constitutes a clear violation of international law, namely the Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV). According to Article 27, “Protected Persons are entitled, in all circumstances, the respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights, their religious convictions and their manners and customs….” The Principle of Non-refoulement, a jus cogens of international law, also clearly forbids the expulsion of a refugee into an area where the person might be subjected to persecution.

In an interview on Sept. 4, then Multi-National Forces–Iraq Commanding General David Petraeus acknowledged the relevant international laws squarely placing the responsibility of protecting Camp Ashraf on the U.S. Command and Coalition Forces and, as a result, the government of the United States, the signatory to both international laws and the principal occupying force.

But at the same time, Petraeus said the transfer would take place after appropriate guarantees had been acquired from the Iraqi government and the relevant international organizations.

History teaches us that such guarantees do not hold water. One case in point is that of the return of refugees from Zaire to Rwanda and the closing of the border by the Tanzanian government at the height of the so-called “mass exodus,” resulting in massacres of untold numbers of innocent people.

Appropriate stability, in this case independence from Iranian interference in Iraq, has not been achieved. It is thus incumbent upon the coalition forces, the commanding general of MNF-I, the United States, the United Nations, and all members of the coalition to honor international law, which defines the status of the residents of Ashraf as “protected persons.” All are compelled to prevent a massacre that would bring ignominy to the very democracies advocating human rights and the rule of law in that region.

Too many atrocities are too recent in memory to take this issue lightly. All could have been avoided but for the lack of urgent preventive measures by those who could have stopped them. We look back in dismay; if only the relevant authorities had heeded the pleas of the innocent men, women, and children, instead of the pundits who were negotiating or dealing with the perpetrators.

The lives of the 3,500 refugees at Ashraf must not be put in jeopardy. The United States in particular has a crucial role to play, and must take all necessary action to prevent the transfer of Ashraf to the Iraqi security forces.

And in the final analysis, doing so is in U.S. interest. In August, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, just recently promoted to commander of MNF-I, reported that 75 percent of the attacks that kill or injure Americans in Iraq are committed by Shiite militias trained, armed and funded by Iran. During his appearance on Capital Hill, General David Petraeus called Tehran’s influence in the region “malign.”

According to the U.S. military, since 2003, the MEK has exposed many of Iran’s terrorist conspiracies in Iraq, thus saving the lives of countless Iraqis and Americans. On June 10, the PMOI revealed that the Iranian regime spends $2.5 billion a year on its meddling in Iraq, and provides militias with 80 percent of the arms used against coalition forces.

Former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain will forever be remembered for his historic words “peace for our time,” spoken on 30 Sept. 1938 concerning the Munich Agreement. History has recorded the horrific consequences of that misguided attempt to appease a tyrannical regime bent on expansion. The United States and its allies must send a clear signal to Iran, and indeed to Iraq, that it will not allow the ayatollahs to acquire nuclear weapons, dominate Iraq, or otherwise pursue their aggressive agenda. Ashraf offers a morally sustainable and internationally lawful place to draw the line. It is the right thing to do.

Paul E. Vallely (MG, U.S. Army Ret) is the chairman of Stand Up America USA, and Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of “The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis.” (Palgrave, 2008)

0 8

OIL’S UPS AND DOWNS — The Second Law of Petropolitics can be put as follows: The level of Western aggression in oil producing regions and the global price of oil always move in the same direction.

OIL’S UPS AND DOWNS — The Second Law of Petropolitics can be put as follows: The level of Western aggression in oil producing regions and the global price of oil always move in the same direction. (Newscom)
Oil really means many things. It has a magic power. Dictatorship is usually considered a country’s internal affair. But if that country has oil reserves, the picture changes to the inverse. Oil places dictators at the leading edge of world policy. Moreover, it helps them retain power longer than usual, fattening their supporters and arming police against malcontents.

Two years ago, Tom Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, promulgated the First Law of Petropolitics. According to it, the price of oil moves in inverse proportion to the level of freedom in the oil producing countries. Though the presidents of Russia, Iran and Venezuela disagree with this law, statistics and intuition seem to speak in favor of it.

So, does everything really only depend on the level of democracy in petrostates? And if so, has all been lost? I believe, to think so means to attach undeservedly great importance to the Persian Gulf monarchs and to autocrats like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Do oil price fluctuations really occur from the whims of the oil exporting countries only? And oil consumers cannot influence the prices? Why not? They can. And they even try to do this.

This is the Second Law of Petropolitics. The more active the war policy of the West in oil producing regions of the world, the higher the oil price rises, and vice versa.

Oil consumers definitely have an influence on oil prices. The desire to influence prices is a natural reaction of consumers now forced to give away $8 billion per day for oil. Only active actions of the oil importing countries’ governments are, however, of significance. Passive adaptation is not counted. So though the European Union and Japan are extremely interested in acceptable prices for oil, these players would rather prefer just to watch how the dice are played.

The only oil importing country which actively influences the world oil market is the United States. The foreign policy of this country (or rather, the White House) is a very influential factor, which can sometimes outweigh the actions of the oil exporting countries. If the United States interferes in the affairs of the Middle East, oil prices often go up. If U.S. action takes place in countries where there is not a drop of oil, the prices usually fall.

In turn, the pattern of U.S. foreign policy can be foreseen, knowing to what party the White House master belongs. The dispassionate statistics of the last 20 years show which trends oil prices attain during a Republican or Democratic administration of the White House. Therefore, practical formulation of the Second Law of Petropolitics is this: Oil prices go down if the U.S. president is a Democrat, and they go up if a Republican.

The explanation of this phenomenon lays, probably, in the existing strong link between war policy and party affiliation of the U.S. president. So it has developed that Democrats diligently bypass oil producing regions in foreign policy. Republicans, on the contrary, do not experience doubts before shaking the bludgeon of the war machine near oil wells.

In the 1990s, the Bill Clinton administration used diplomacy only in relations with Iraq and Russia, but actively advanced U.S. interests in such countries as Yugoslavia and Somalia. But there is no oil in Serbia and Somaliland. As a result, the oil prices fell to historical lows. The George W. Bush administration, on the other hand, did not hesitate before intruding into Iraq, thus having raised tensions in the whole region of the Persian Gulf. As a result, a record $145.31 for a barrel of oil.

Speaking figuratively, the White House has a “magic button” by which it is possible to influence oil prices. The Pentagon’s war actions play the role of the button. The finger pressing this button is managed not only by a specific man – the president of the United States, but also by the party standing behind him.

In turn this sought out lever of influence is widely used by winners of U.S. presidential races. No wonder therefore the White House often follows the interests of the business circles that are closest to the winning party.

In general it is not reprehensible for the U.S. president to act in the interests of the U.S. oil companies. There should be some limit, however. The high oil prices help oilers earn hundreds of billions, but the point is that the whole American economy loses more. The above-mentioned billions in profits are mostly taken out of the pockets of millions of American households.

So, whose interests are more important? One million shareholders and the employees of the oil corporations or 300 million other U.S. inhabitants who only consume oil?

The solution is not in the United States, but global. The oil consumers should not be misled by ineffective measures like U.S. offshore drilling or the announcement of a $300 million prize for the invention of an alternative energy source. Such measures give practically nothing and only divert attention. The real mechanisms of oil price decreases are in the Middle East.

So, what to do? One can state it like this: Forget about the Persian Gulf and oil prices will go down. Let the sheikhs just earn money and do not interfere in their affairs. And then the prices will go down.

This is a paradoxical but only solution.

And what about Russia and Venezuela, you ask? They, you see, use oil money to strengthen political influence (political, not economic – this is their difference from sheikhs). However, the West can do nothing with them with such oil prices. There is a single tool for reducing their influence on world policy – falling oil prices. It is enough to lower the prices by half from the present and you can forget about the serious influence of Russia or Venezuela.

As you can see, the Second Law of Petropolitics has several consequences and, more importantly, it can soon snap into action yet again. A variable in the right part of the equation can change it. And consequently, both possible oil trends and much more in this world really depend on the one who will make the presidential inauguration speech on the third Wednesday of January 2009.

Arman Kalbayev is an energy economist working in the oil industry. His previous experiences include five years in the presidential administration of Kazakhstan with concentration on energy issues.