Monthly Archives: November 2008

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If anyone’s got any Middle Eastern stocks I would be taking this opportunity to sell," Chowdhry, F&C’s head of emerging-market equities, said in an interview from London. "It’s a combination of a deteriorating fundamental outlook, bubble valuations which are just starting to unwind in real estate and banks, plus liquidations in funds."

Nov. 26 (Bloomberg) — Stocks in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia that more than doubled the past four years are unraveling as lower oil and real-estate prices weaken economies in the biggest crude-producing region.

The MSCI GCC Countries Index of 115 gulf companies, already down 57 percent in 2008 through yesterday, may drop 20 percent in the next six months, said Jeff Chowdhry, who helps oversee $150 billion at F&C Asset Management. Ten months after the index traded at 20 times reported earnings, Emaar Properties PJSC, the Middle East’s largest developer, trades below 3 times profit; Emirates NBD PJSC, the U.A.E.’s biggest bank, is valued at 5.

Now some of the world’s biggest emerging-market investors say valuations may fall further because prices don’t reflect the collapsing property market and 66 percent tumble in oil since its July 11 record. Templeton Asset Management’s Mark Mobius says stock markets in South Africa and China are more attractive.

“If anyone’s got any Middle Eastern stocks I would be taking this opportunity to sell,” Chowdhry, F&C’s head of emerging-market equities, said in an interview from London. “It’s a combination of a deteriorating fundamental outlook, bubble valuations which are just starting to unwind in real estate and banks, plus liquidations in funds.”

                        Cheapest Shares

The Dubai Financial Market General Index of 29 companies in the emirate surged 493 percent from 2004 to 2007 as residential property prices climbed four-fold in the last five years and a 195 percent rise in oil boosted government spending. The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange General Index jumped 159 percent during that period, while Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index gained 149 percent.

All three indexes tumbled more than 40 percent this year and traded this week at the cheapest levels on record compared with earnings, cash flow and net assets, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Dubai index today added 0.5 percent at 11:21 a.m. London time, while the Abu Dhabi gauge declined 1.7 percent. The Tadawul index lost 0.9 percent.

Emaar Properties, the second-worst performer this year in the Dubai index, is valued at 2.4 times earnings after falling 83 percent in 2008. Dubai-based Emirates NBD trades for 5 times profit after a 71 percent retreat.

The Dubai index’s 69 percent decline in 2008 through yesterday was the steepest among benchmarks in the world’s 50 biggest equity markets. China’s CSI 300 Index lost 66 percent, while India’s Sensitive Index dropped 57 percent.

                         Forced Selling

Templeton’s Mobius said Nov. 17 that he’s “aggressively” buying in other emerging markets such as China and South Africa and it’s too be early to go “bargain hunting” in the Gulf.
 
“We really didn’t like the Middle East because it was up too high and there were so many other bargains around,” Mobius, who manages about $24 billion of emerging-market assets as executive chairman at Templeton, said in an interview from Johannesburg.

While the deteriorating outlook for profits caused the retreat in Gulf stocks at the start of the year, this month’s 20 percent decline in the MSCI GCC index is mostly the result of sellers who dumped shares to repay loans, according to Oliver Bell, the head of emerging-market specialist equities at Pictet Asset Management, which oversees about $91 billion.

Arabtec Holding Co., the construction company building the world’s tallest tower in Dubai, has tumbled 42 percent this month and traded for 1.8 times earnings this week, the cheapest since Bloomberg began tracking the data in 2005.

                         Growth Slows

“It’s left some companies where the fundamentals really haven’t changed that much and yet they are trading at ridiculous valuations that give you a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Bell, who runs Pictet’s Middle East and North Africa equity fund in London. Bell isn’t buying yet, because “at the end of the day you’re catching a falling knife,” he said.


Middle East economic growth will slow to 5.3 percent next year from 6.1 percent in 2008, the International Monetary Fund estimates. The IMF expects China’s economy to grow at an 8.5 percent pace next year and India to expand by 6.3 percent, according to the Washington-based fund’s World Economic Outlook.

Property prices in Dubai fell 4 percent in October, and declined 5 percent in Abu Dhabi, signaling a “turning point” in the markets, London-based HSBC Holdings Plc said in a Nov. 12 research note.

HSBC and London-based Lloyds TSB Group Plc, two of the largest banks operating in the U.A.E., restricted lending in the region this month. Dubai’s two largest mortgage lenders, Amlak Finance PJSC and Tamweel PJSC, will be taken over by a government-owned bank.

                       ‘Property Bubble’

“The property bubble has just recently burst and the impact of that on psychology is going to take place here for a few more months,” said Cliff Quisenberry, who advises hedge funds at University Place, Washington-based research and consulting firm Investment Frontiers Research LLC.

Abu Dhabi, which owns nearly 8 percent of the world’s proven total oil reserves and runs the largest sovereign wealth fund, may cushion the region’s economy from losses at banks and real-estate developers. The emirate won’t allow Dubai’s state- owned companies default on debt payments, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Chief Executive Officer Eirvin Knox said this month in an interview in Abu Dhabi.

F&C’s Chowdhry says oil’s tumble from a July record $147.27 a barrel to $50.77 yesterday may hamper the ability of governments to rescue developers and construction companies while they shore up financial companies such as Amlak.

                           ‘Daunting’

Middle East oil-producing nations excluding Kuwait may post “sizeable” fiscal and current account deficits if oil averages $50 a barrel next year, Citigroup Inc. said in a research note last week. Economic challenges facing the Gulf nations are becoming “increasingly daunting,” the New York-based bank said.

Lenders in the region are competing for local deposits after overseas investors pulled money, said Fahmi Alghussein, an executive director at New York-based Morgan Stanley. That’s pushing up interest rates on certificates of deposit and luring cash from stocks, Alghussein said.

“Banks are chasing depositors for funds in the region,” said Alghussein, who runs Morgan Stanley’s Middle East equity sales and distribution from Dubai. “That’s pushing money out of equities and other asset classes. As long as you have that, there’s no catalyst to invest in equities.”

 

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"As Bad As Rumsfeld?" The title jars, doesn’t it. The more so, since Defense Secretary Robert Gates found his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, such an easy act to follow. But the jarring part reflects how malnourished most of us are on the thin gruel served up by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).

“As Bad As Rumsfeld?” The title jars, doesn’t it. The more so, since Defense Secretary Robert Gates found his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, such an easy act to follow. But the jarring part reflects how malnourished most of us are on the thin gruel served up by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).

Over the past few months, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has generated accolades from FCM pundits – like the Washington Post’s David Ignatius – that read like letters of recommendation to graduate school. This comes as no surprise to those of us familiar with Gates’ dexterity in orchestrating his own advancement. What DOES come as a surprise is the recurring rumor that President-elect Barack Obama may decide to put new wine in old wineskins by letting Gates stay.

What can Barack Obama be thinking?

I suspect that those in Obama’s circle who are promoting Gates may be the same advisers responsible for Obama’s most naïve comment of the recent presidential campaign: that the “surge” of US troops into Iraq in 2007-08 “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

Succeeded? You betcha – the surge was a great success in terms of the administration’s overriding objective. The aim was to stave off definitive defeat in Iraq until President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney could swagger from the West Wing into the western sunset on Jan. 20, 2009. As author Steve Coll has put it, “The decision [to surge] at a minimum guaranteed that his [Bush’s] presidency would not end with a defeat in history’s eyes. By committing to the surge [the president] was certain to at least achieve a stalemate.”

According to Bob Woodward, Bush told key Republicans in late 2005 that he would not withdraw from Iraq, “even if Laura and [first-dog] Barney are the only ones supporting me.” Later, Woodward made it clear that Bush was well aware in fall 2006 that the US was losing. Suddenly, with some fancy footwork, it became Laura, Barney – and Robert Gates. And at the turn of 2006-07 the short-term fix was in.

But Please, No More Troops!

By the fall of 2006 it had become unavoidably clear that a new course had to be chosen and implemented in Iraq, and virtually every sober thinker seemed opposed to sending more troops. The senior military, especially CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid and his man on the ground, Gen. George Casey, emphasized that sending still more US troops to Iraq would simply reassure leading Iraqi politicians that they could relax and continue to take forever to get their act together.

Here, for example, is Gen. Abizaid’s answer at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Nov. 15, 2006 to Sen. John McCain, who had long been pressing vigorously for sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq:

“Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more. It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon to us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.”

The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad sent a classified cable to Washington warning that “proposals to send more US forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable,” according to a New York Times retrospective on the surge by Michael R. Gordon published on Aug. 31, 2008.

Khalilzad was arguing, unsuccessfully, for authority to negotiate a political solution with the Iraqis.

There was also the establishment-heavy Iraq Study Group, created by Congress and led by Republican stalwart James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton. After months of policy review during 2006 – with Gates as a member – it issued a final report on Dec. 6, 2006, which began with the ominous sentence, “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” The report called for:

“A change in the primary mission of US Forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly… By the first quarter of 2008…all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.”

Robert Gates, who was CIA director under President George H. W. Bush and then president of Texas A&M, had returned to the Washington stage as a member of the Iraq Study Group. While on the ISG, he evidenced no disagreement with its emerging conclusions – at least not until Bush asked him in early November if he might like to become secretary of defense.

Never one to let truth derail ambition, Gates suddenly saw things quite differently. After Bush announced his nomination on Nov. 8, Gates quit the ISG, but kept his counsel about its already widely reported recommendations.

Gates to the Rescue

Gates would do what he needed to do to become defense secretary. At his confirmation hearing on Dec. 5, he obscured his opinions by telling the Senate Armed Services Committee only that “all options are on the table in terms of Iraq.” Many Democrats, however, assumed that Gates would help persuade Bush and Cheney to implement the ISG’s recommendation of a troop drawdown.

With unanimous Democratic support and only two conservative Republicans opposed, Gates was confirmed by the full Senate on Dec. 6, the same day the ISG report was formally released.

Yet, the little-understood story behind Bush’s decision to catapult Robert Gate into his Pentagon perch hinges on the astonishing fact that Donald Rumsfeld, of all people, was pulling a Robert McNamara; that is, he was going wobbly on a war based largely on his own hubris-laden, misguided advice. As Robert Parry of Consortiumnews.com has reported, in the fall of 2006 Rumsfeld was having a reality attack. In Rumsfeldian parlance, the man had come face to face with a “known known.”

On Nov. 6, 2006, a day before the midterm elections, Rumsfeld sent a memo to the White House. In the memo Rumsfeld acknowledged, “Clearly, what US forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.” The rest of his memo sounded very much like the emerging troop-drawdown conclusions of the Iraq Study Group report.

The first 80 percent of Rumsfeld’s memo addressed “Illustrative Options,” including his preferred – or “above the line” – options like “an accelerated drawdown of US bases…to five by July 2007″ and withdrawal of US forces “from vulnerable positions – cities, patrolling, etc….so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.”

Finally, Rumsfeld had begun to listen to his generals and others who knew which end was up.

The hurdle? Bush and Cheney were not about to follow Rumsfeld’s example in going wobbly. Like Robert McNamara at a similar juncture during Vietnam, Rumsfeld had to be let go before he caused a president to “lose a war.”

Acutely sensitive to this political bugaboo, Rumsfeld included the following sentences at the end of the preferred-options section of his Nov. 6 memo:

“Announce that whatever new approach the US decides on, the US is doing so on a trial basis. This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’” (emphasis added)

The remainder of the memo listed “Below the Line – less attractive options.” The top three in the “less attractive” category were:

” – Continue on the current path.

– Move a large fraction of all US forces into Baghdad to attempt to control it.

– Increase Brigade Combat Teams and US forces substantially.”

In other words, a surge. (It is a safe bet that people loyal to Rumsfeld at the National Security Council alerted him to the surge-type of plans being hatched off line by neoconservative strategists, and that he and his generals wanted to bury them well “below the line.”)

But in the White House’s view, Rumsfeld had outlived his usefulness. One can assume that he floated these trial balloons with Cheney and others, before he sent over the actual memo on Nov. 6, 2006. What were Bush and Cheney to do?

Exit Left

It was awkward. Right up to the week before the mid-term election on Nov. 7, 2006, President Bush had kept insisting that he intended to keep Rumsfeld in place for the next two years. Suddenly, the president had to deal with Rumsfeld’s apostasy.

The secretary of defense had strayed off the reservation and he was putting his “above-the-line” recommendations in writing, no less. Rumsfeld had let reality get to him, together with the very strong protestations of all senior uniformed officers save one – the ambitious David Petraeus, fingered to become Petraeus ex machina for the White House. With the bemedaled Petraeus in the wings, the White House just needed a new Pentagon chief who could be counted on to take Rumsfeld’s place, do the White House’s bidding, and trot out Petraeus as needed.

On Nov. 5, 2006, Bush had a one-on-one with Gates in Crawford and the deal was struck. Forget the tortuously hammered-out recommendations of the Iraq Study Group; forget what the military commanders were saying. Gates suddenly found the surge an outstanding idea.

Well, not really. That’s just what he let Bush believe. Gates is second to none – not even Petraeus – in ambition and self-promotion. He wanted to be secretary of defense, to be back at center stage in Washington after nearly 14 years in exile from the big show. And so he quickly agreed to tell Gen. Abizaid to retire; offer Gen. Casey a sinecure as Army chief of staff, providing he kept his mouth shut; and eagle-scout his way through Senate confirmation with the help of pundits like Ignatius composing panegyrics in honor of “Gates the realist.”

So relieved were the Senators to be rid of the hated-but-feared Rumsfeld, that the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Dec. 5 on Gates’ nomination had the aura of a pajama party (I was there). Gates told them bedtime stories. He said he thought there were no new ideas to be had in addressing the conflict in Iraq, and vowed to show “great deference to the judgment of generals.” (sic)

Trying to Explain the Surge

It was hardly two years ago, but memories fade and the FCM, of course, is no help in shedding light on what actually happened. Gates did his part in getting rid of Abizaid and Casey, but the administration faltered embarrassingly in coming up with a rationale to “justify” the surge. The truth, of course, was not an option. The White House could not exactly say, “We simply cannot live with the thought of losing a war before we leave town.”

On Dec. 20, 2006, President Bush told the Washington Post that he was “inclined to believe we do need to increase our troops, the Army and Marines.” He added, tellingly, “There’s got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops.” And he said he would look to Gates, just back from a quick trip to Baghdad, to help explain.

By way of preliminary explanation for the surge, President Bush wandered back and forth between “ideological struggle” and “sectarian violence.” He told the Post, “I’m going to keep repeating this over and over again, that I believe we’re in an ideological struggle” and, besides, “sectarian violence [is] obviously the real problem we face.” (Sic)

When it became clear that those dogs wouldn’t hunt, the White House justified the surge as necessary to give Iraqi government leaders “breathing space” to work out their differences. Breathing space for the leading Iraqi officials was the rationale offered by Bush in a major address on Jan 10, 2007. Pulling out all the stops, he raised the specter of another 9/11, and spoke of the “decisive ideological struggle of our time.”

Bush dismissed those who “are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States” and those whose “solution is to scale back America’s efforts in Baghdad – or announce a phased withdrawal of our combat forces.” The president did warn that the year ahead would be “bloody and violent, even if our strategy works.”

One would be tempted to laugh at Bush’s self-absorption – and Gates’ ambition – were we not talking about the completely unnecessary killing of over 1,000 US troops – a quarter of all US troops killed in this godforsaken war/occupation.

In reality, by throwing 20,000-30,000 additional troops into Baghdad, Bush and Cheney were the ones who got the two-year breathing space.

But what about that? What about the thousand-plus US troops killed during the surge? The tens of thousand Iraqis? The hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes in the Baghdad area?

I fear the attitude was this: Nobody important will get killed; just a bunch of Iraqis and GIs mostly from small-town and inner-city America. And, anyway, our soldiers and Marines all volunteered, didn’t they? (I almost did something violent to the last person I heard say that.)

Bush, Cheney, and Gates apparently deemed it a small price to pay for enabling them to blame a successor administration for the inevitable withdrawal from America’s first large-scale war of aggression.

And sure enough, in late 2006 a small group of “neoconservatives,” including members of Bush’s National Security Council, came up with a plan called “Changing the Dynamics: Surge and Fight, Create Breathing Space and Then Accelerate the Transition.” It called for a substantial troop increase in Baghdad and other hot spots.

Rumsfeld Out, Gates In: Clear Sailing

The FCM missed it (surprise, surprise) but one did not have to be a crackerjack intelligence analyst to see what was happening. At the time, Col. W. Patrick Lang, USA (retired), and I wrote a piece in which we exposed the chicanery and branded such a surge strategy “nothing short of immoral, in view of the predicable troop losses and the huge number of Iraqis who would meet violent injury and death.”

Surprisingly, we were joined by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, who explained to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos why Smith had said on the Senate floor that US policy on Iraq may be “criminal.”

“You can use any adjective you want, George. But I have long believed that in a military context, when you do the same thing over and over again without a clear strategy for victory, at the expense of your young people in arms, that is dereliction. That is deeply immoral.”

Go West, Young Man

There are a host of reasons why Robert Gates should not be asked to stay on by President-elect Obama. Robert Parry has put together much of Gates’ history in Parry’s 2004 book, Secrecy & Privilege; readers may also wish to see what former intelligence analysts and I, who knew Gates at CIA, have written by going to Consortiumnews.com’s Gates archive.

For me, Gates’ role in the unnecessary killing of still more Americans and Iraqis is quite enough to disqualify him. I have known him for almost 40 years; he has always been transparently ambitious, but he is also bright. He knew better; and he did it anyway.

One can only hope that, once President-elect Obama has time to focus seriously on prospective cabinet appointments, he will discount advice from those taken in by the cheerleading for Gates or from the kind of dullard who suggested Obama finesse the FCM’s simplistic embrace of the surge by saying it “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

For Gates, Rumsfeld was an extremely easy act to follow. But, at least in one sense, Gates is worse than Rumsfeld, for Rumsfeld had finally begun to listen to the right people and adjust. It now seems the height of irony that the adjustments he proposed in his memo of Nov. 6, 2006 would have had most US troops out of Iraq by now.

But can one portray Gates as worse than Rumsfeld across the board? I think not. When you crank in torture, lying, and total disrespect for law, Rumsfeld has the clear edge in moral turpitude.

Still, I suspect this matters little to the thousands now dead because of the surge that Gates did so much to enable – and to the families of the fallen.

Surely, it should not be too much to expect that President-elect Obama find someone more suitable to select for secretary of defense than an unprincipled chameleon like Gates.

This article appeared originally on Consortiumnews.com.

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If King Abdullah wants to lead — and he has the integrity and credibility to do so — he needs to fly from the Riyadh summit to Jerusalem and deliver the offer personally to the Israeli people. If King Abdullah did the same, he could end this conflict once and for all."

UNCONVENTIONAL DIPLOMACY — King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (seen here at the United Nations, New York on Nov. 12) has always been unconventional in many ways. Notwithstanding his advanced years, he has repeatedly gone out of his way to reach out to the world, demolishing stereotypes in the West about the Saudis and Arabs in general. (Photo by Sipa Press via Newscom)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist and author, is one of those writers who inspire admiration and indignation in equal measure. You may not always agree with him but you can’t put him down either.

Commenting on a Saudi initiative for peace with Israel, also known as the Arab Peace Plan, Friedman wrote last year: “What the moribund Israeli-Palestinian talks need most today is an emotional breakthrough. Another Arab declaration, just reaffirming the Abdullah initiative, won’t cut it. If King Abdullah wants to lead — and he has the integrity and credibility to do so — he needs to fly from the Riyadh summit to Jerusalem and deliver the offer personally to the Israeli people. If King Abdullah did the same, he could end this conflict once and for all.”

Watching Abdullah unveil a landmark interfaith initiative at the United Nations this past week, one couldn’t help recall Friedman’s challenge asking the Saudi king to march to Jerusalem for peace.

Well, King Abdullah who takes pride in his position as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest mosques in the cities of Mecca and Medina, may not have undertaken the journey to Jerusalem, the third city sacred to Muslims as well as Christians and Jews.

But he has done what not long ago would have been equally unthinkable. The erudite king travelled to the Vatican last year and met the pope, offering him peace and friendship on behalf of the Muslim world. Given the long history of the Crusades and bitter relations between the followers of Islam and Christianity, that gesture by Abdullah marked a watershed.

But then this king has always been unconventional in many ways. Notwithstanding his advanced years, he has repeatedly gone out of his way to reach out to the world, demolishing stereotypes in the West about the Saudis and Arabs in general.

His meeting with the pope took place at a time when there was great anger and frustration in the Muslim world over the U.S. and Western policies in the Middle East. Memories of the Danish cartoon slur and Pope Benedict’s own controversial remarks about Islam and its prophet were still fresh and raw.

At a time like this, it demanded great courage and integrity on the part of a Saudi king to visit the Vatican and exchange gifts with the pope. But it was worth it. The visit heralded a new era in the relations of two Abrahamic faiths that have so much in common yet have seldom been at peace with each other. Abdullah’s mission to the Vatican was perhaps the strongest message of peace and goodwill to emanate from Arabia since the dawn of Islam in Mecca.

And that was no chance encounter. It wasn’t even an attempt to score diplomatic brownie points, as Friedman suggests.

The Saudis are too serious a people to indulge themselves in pointless diplomatic shenanigans or do something when their heart is not in it.

Under Abdullah, Saudi Arabia is indeed dead serious in reaching out to the larger world. As the leader of the Muslim world, the country is keen to mend its fences with the world.

Why do I think so? Because since that historic encounter with the pope last year, the Saudis have unveiled numerous such initiatives to build bridges with the world.

Earlier this year in June, Abdullah hosted hundreds of scholars in the holy city of Mecca to discuss ways of promoting tolerance and interfaith dialogue.

The king followed it up with another high profile event that he hosted in Madrid, Spain. It was attended by representatives from the Vatican, the Anglican Church, Judaism, Hinduism and other faiths. And now he has taken his battle of hearts and minds to the global center stage at the United Nations.

Now that is remarkable for a country that has been endlessly demonized in the world media as the breeding ground of “extremist Islam” and for its alleged “links” to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

These initiatives are highly significant considering the reclusive nature of the kingdom and its traditional unwillingness to throw its weight around despite its standing in the Muslim world and its clout as the largest oil producer in the world.

Which is perhaps why global movers and shakers, from U.S. President George W. Bush to Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown and from Arab and Muslim heads of states to religious leaders, everyone turned up to join Abdullah’s initiative to improve relations between faiths, especially between Islam and the West, and present the real, humane face of the faith practiced by 1.6 billion people.

It’s such a shame therefore that the Saudi initiative has failed to receive the attention it really deserves. This exercise to illuminate Islam’s liberating teachings couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

For far too long, especially after 9/11, Muslims have watched with increasing concern and helplessness as extremists on both sides try to paint their great faith as some sort of extremist cult. While the militants have consciously or unconsciously exploited the religion to push their agenda, the Western media and neocons have conveniently used individual acts of violence to justify their crusade against Islam and its followers.

This is the time to rediscover and reinvent the faith that has given the world nothing but peace, equality, justice and universal brotherhood. This is what it teaches and preaches. And this is why all of us believe in it. Its universal teachings have enriched the world civilization including the West.

This is why when this humane and most reasonable faith is coupled with extremism, it hurts. And every time innocents are killed in its name and an atrocity is dumped in its account, Muslims the world over ask themselves: “Where are our leaders? Why don’t they speak out against this mindless violence in the name of our religion? Why don’t they say: ‘Not in our name’!”

For this is not the faith we know and practice.

Unfortunately, nothing but a deafening silence greeted their anguished pleas.

Thank God that deafening silence has finally been broken. At last, someone is prepared to say: “Not in our name!” But one voice is not enough. What Saudi Arabia under Abdullah is doing is very noble. It’s indeed need of the hour. But it must be backed and boosted by such initiatives across the globe. Let’s make some real noise wherever we are. Let’s say loud and clear: Not in our name! For God’s sake, no!

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. Write to him at Aijaz@khaleejtimes.com








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Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal slammed the attack. "Obviously this is a very dangerous thing … Piracy, like terrorism, is a disease."

 

UNITE AGAINST COMMON FOE — NATO should take the lead in this new war and form a joint task force with all countries who care to participate, including the Chinese, the Russians and yes, even the Iranians. Photo shows a U.S. naval boarding team approaching a suspected pirate vessel to conduct a boarding and inspection at sea. (U.S. Navy News via Newscom)
 
A new Chatham House paper warns that if left unchecked, piracy, smuggling and violent jihad would flourish, with implications for the security of shipping routes, the transit of oil through the Suez Canal and the internal security of Yemen’s neighbors. The paper titled “Yemen: Fear or Failure,” the journalist and film-maker Ginny Hill says future instability in the region has the potential of spreading from northern Kenya, through Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, to Saudi Arabia.

Yemen is the source of a significant number of weapons in circulation in Somalia. While million-dollar piracy ransoms are raising cash for arms, private interests in Yemen have no interest in ending piracy or bringing a halt to the war in Somalia, says the Chatham House report.

Maybe this is just a coincidence, but pirates operating in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa, are suddenly becoming very active. One might even say far too active. To hijack a ship or two, or even a handful is one thing, but this is becoming a craze.

The International Maritime Bureau reports that more than 90 vessels have been attacked since January. Of those, more than one-third – 38 vessels – were hijacked. Meanwhile about 250 crew members are still detained by the pirates, who hold them hostage.

Or is there something more to this than piracy? Could it be that terrorist networks are somehow related to Osama bin Laden‘s terror operations? The “pirates” must receive training, finances and logistics support from somewhere…. Of course the more the world gives in to their demands, the stronger they will become. The more the world gives in to their demands, the more sophisticated they will become, and the more the world gives in to their demands, the more weapons and faster boats these pirates are likely to acquire.

The latest victim of this new-age piracy is a Saudi super-tanker, carrying $100 million of oil, prompting the Saudi Arabian foreign minister to call piracy a growing “disease.”

Few ships are now safe in the Indian Ocean seems to be the conclusion of many security specialists.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal slammed the attack. “Obviously this is a very dangerous thing … Piracy, like terrorism, is a disease.”

Admiral Michael Mullen, head of the U.S. military and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was “stunned” by the reach of the Somali pirates.

“They’re very well armed. Tactically, they are very good,” he said.

It is time for the world to react strongly to this new disease and face it in a serious manner. NATO should take the lead in this new war and form a joint task force with all countries who care to participate, including the Chinese, the Russians and yes, even the Iranians. The combined navies of this new task force should then undertake a series of tactical raids on the havens where these pirates seek refuge, using all the might at their disposal.

This is not a problem that is likely to go away if the rest of the world hides their heads in the sand. Rather, it will only become more dangerous and the piracy will likely spread, like a cancer. Fight it now while the problem is relatively still in its infancy.












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AHMADINEJAD DID THE UNEXPECTED — By all standards, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (shown here) appears to be an unlikely interlocutor in any Iranian-American rapprochement. And yet, he became the first Iranian leader in three decades to officially congratulate a U.S. president-elect – and there were no complaints from Iran’s conservatives.

AHMADINEJAD DID THE UNEXPECTED — By all standards, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (shown here) appears to be an unlikely interlocutor in any Iranian-American rapprochement. And yet, he became the first Iranian leader in three decades to officially congratulate a U.S. president-elect – and there were no complaints from Iran’s conservatives.


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President-elect Barack Obama has already achieved a rhetorical break with the arrogant, pompous and rather totalitarian language of the outgoing George W. Bush administration. Thus, a new grammar is being presented in which the United States is re-invented as a particularly inclusive and exceptional place where everything is possible.

The credo “yes we can,” already turned into a handy epithet pronouncing a newfound belief in the primordial goodness of the American cause, is not confined to bringing about transformations within U.S. society, of course.

Obama has repeatedly emphasized the age-old Wilsonian idea that America is somehow predestined to change the whole world; outward movement is deeply inscribed in the language of this coming president. Indeed, in many ways Obama is much more internationalist in his speeches than Bush was before the terror unleashed on the United States in September 2001.

The renewed optimism induced by that rhetorical break is instrumental in curing the Iraq syndrome inhibiting the political elites of the country.

This is the first step toward reasserting America’s lost moral/ideological authority in international affairs. Of course, the danger is that the Obama factor quells the humility forced upon the right-wing after the disaster in Iraq and the ongoing strategic failures in Afghanistan.

Once he finishes his project, the people of the non-Western worlds may find themselves confronted with yet another American president destined to fashion a world order in total disregard of the realities on the ground.

Does it matter if it is one of them, an unquestionably talented orator who emerged out of their ranks, or someone who wields the stick that beats them into submission?

In the meantime, I do believe that there is the possibility of a rather different outcome.

Iran will be the first challenge to assess if things would move toward that end. I have repeatedly emphasized that there is an opportunity for a cold peace between the country and the United States.

I am cautiously optimistic because in the Islamic Republic there has emerged a consensus that diplomatic relations with the United States are desirable.

Despite the angry rhetoric and bellicose attitudes of some Iranian neoconservatives, which are reciprocated with equal venom by their U.S. counterparts, there is an emergent understanding that Iran can accommodate the U.S. factor in international affairs diplomatically, without compromising the Islamic Republic’s long-term strategic interests.

By all standards of rhetorical capability and diplomatic intelligence, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be an unlikely interlocutor in any Iranian-American rapprochement.

And yet, he became the first Iranian leader in three decades to officially congratulate a U.S. president-elect, a gesture acknowledged by Obama at a news conference last Friday.

Of course, when the reformist former President Mohammed Khatami talked about dialogue and détente with the United States in the late 1990s, he was castigated by the Iranian right-wing and ferociously blamed for sacrificing Iran’s revolutionary ideals.

There have been no such complaints about Ahmadinejad’s far more proactive overtures to the United States. This is partially because Obama’s cautious rhetoric has set the stage for a new opening in relations between the two countries and partially due to Ayatollah Khamenei‘s pre-election commitment that Iran would talk to any president other than Bush.

It is not the job of intellectuals to prophesize or to become consultants of the state, and yet we are failing in our responsibility if we do not occasionally traverse avenues that accentuate the importance of dialogue and engagement, the promises of which are worth the effort.

I think this hope that we may enter into a rather more peaceful era in world politics is why many Europeans, Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Africans, Cubans, Venezuelans, Bolivians and others give Obama the benefit of the doubt.

There is a genuine belief that he may be able to move the Leviathan in a different direction.

But is this not yet another proof of arrogance and hubris to wish to improve the world by inventing a transcendental “Übermensch” (Overman or Superman) and to lift him above reality by attributing to him superhuman powers? Does Obama represent a departure from the realm of American mythology and its engrained preponderance for self-aggrandizement or a new arrival of the same phenomenon?

Today, many Americans are convinced that they have re-established a firm ground from which they can depart once again to bring about massive changes within their country, and crucially, in the whole world.

It appears to me that such attitudes of positivist exaltation have their own dangers that could lead to new monstrosities, especially in the Third World. So at this stage I am more hopeful than reassured that the Obama presidency will not be turned into yet another epitome of ferocity in international affairs.

But at least there is this sense of hope.

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is a SOAS academic and author, most recently of “Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic.” This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Bitterlemons-International.org.









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U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s reported decision to close Guantánamo is a long-awaited and necessary measure that will contribute to improve the U.S. image around the world, particularly in Muslim countries.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama‘s reported decision to close Guantánamo is a long-awaited and necessary measure that will contribute to improve the U.S. image around the world, particularly in Muslim countries. But important as this measure is, it is also a first step to a wide series of decisions aimed at eliminating once and for all the kind of abuse and human degradation that made this facility infamous worldwide.

Since it opened in 2002, some 770 detainees were kept at Guantánamo and over 500 have been released without formal charges or trial. Of the 250 who remain in detention, only 23 have been charged with a crime, two have been convicted and one has pled guilty.

A new report by the Human Rights Center and the International Human Rights Law Clinic, University of California at Berkeley, in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights entitled “Guantánamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Former Detainees,” sheds important light on the workings of that facility.

The report, based on a two-year study, graphically details the impact of the George W. Bush administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees both during detention and afterwards. Often the prisoners were subject to different forms of torture, frequently unable to understand the proceedings, and without access to lawyers or the possibility of calling witnesses of their own.

Eric Stover, a co-author of the “Guantánamo and Its Aftermath” report, stated, “Guantánamo, like Abu Ghraib, has become a stain on the reputation of the U.S.” As poet Arthur Bergida Binder says in his poem Torturing Democracy:

I will not recount the ways.

Sex, nakedness, heat, cold,

Sleeplessness, noise, darkness, dogs.

I will not recount the ways.

But I am made filthy,

Indelibly stained;

As if I had been there

And not seen or done it

In many instances, hunger strikes and suicide attempts became the detainees’ only recourse, until lawyers were contacted and the courts intervened. Prison commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris, stated that these suicide attempts were not an act of desperation by the detainees but “an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.”

The detainees’ complaints of torture were confirmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The ICRC charged that U.S. interrogators engaged the participation of medical personnel in what the committee called “a flagrant violation of medical ethics.”

Given its dark past of abuse of basic human rights closing Guantánamo should be the first in a series of measures aimed at ensuring that this dark episode of U.S. history will not be repeated.

The authors of the Guantánamo report recommend the creation of an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate and publicly report on the detention and treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody. To be truly effective, the authors recommend that the commission should have subpoena power to gain access to all classified material and the authority to recommend criminal investigations at all levels of the civilian and military command of those responsible for such abuses.

Those guilty of fragrant abuses of human rights should not be protected by the issuing of pardons, amnesties or similar measures. By making them accountable for their crimes, a first and important step will have been taken. Only then will the United States be back to living up to the ideals enshrined in its constitution.

Dr. Cesar Chelala, a writer on human rights issues, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

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MISSING THE POINT — The U.N.’s Global Gender Report ignited media frenzy more appropriate for a beauty contest – winners and losers. This was hardly the intent of the report. Expectedly, it was later turned into an opportunity to settle political scores, stereotype religion and, at times, disparage entire cultures. Photo shows a Muslim woman in Kenya.

 

MISSING THE POINT — The U.N.’s Global Gender Report ignited media frenzy more appropriate for a beauty contest – winners and losers. This was hardly the intent of the report. Expectedly, it was later turned into an opportunity to settle political scores, stereotype religion and, at times, disparage entire cultures. Photo shows a Muslim woman in Kenya. (Newscom)
 
Qurban-Bibi and Nahil Abu-Rada are two women, one Afghan and the other Palestinian, who made news with similar tragedies. But their losses also helped further delineate the plight of millions of women in war zones and poor countries.

The United Nations news service reported on the troubles of Qurban-Bibi, a pregnant woman who simply needed to reach a hospital. Doctors had instructed that she must deliver in an equipped medical facility, considering her previous Caesarean delivery.

The desperately poor husband and her brothers opted for a delivery at home, citing the unaffordable taxi ride. The woman almost bled to death. When the delivery turned for the worst, the family rushed her to Faizabad hospital in a nearby province. Her life was saved, but, evidently not that of her baby.

Nahil’s story also fails to deviate from the ever-predictable norm. The pregnant Palestinian woman was joined by her family on their way to a hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus. The hospital was so close, yet so far. Between their ambulance and salvation was an Israeli army checkpoint, Hawara.

“Nothing helped. Not the pleas, not the cries of the woman in labor, not the father’s explanations in excellent Hebrew, nor the blood that flowed in the car. The commander of the checkpoint, a fine Israeli who had completed an officers’ course, heard the cries, saw the woman writhing in pain in the back seat of the car, listened to the father’s heartrending pleas and was unmoved,” reported Israeli journalist Gideon Levy in Haaretz.

He added, “Nahil Abu-Rada is not the first woman to lose her baby this way because of the occupation, and she won’t be the last.”

The bearings of the painful losses of Qurban-Bibi and Nahil bring to mind two recently published reports pertaining to the rights of women and gender equality around the world: The State of the World Population 2008 report, produced by the United Nations Population Fund and The Global Gender Gap Report, published by the World Economic Forum.

The State of the World Population aims at development strategies that are sensitive to the uniqueness of particular cultures, for it found that culture is central to people’s lives as are “health, economics and politics.”

As for the Global Gender Gap report, it was a largely statistical study co-authored by researchers from Harvard and University of California-Berkeley, and published by the World Economic Forum. Researchers examined definite factors, such as jobs, education, politics, health, etc., to determine how improvements, or lack thereof in these areas have affected, or failed to affect, the equality between the sexes in 130 countries, that represent 90 percent of the world population.

The outcome was predicable for the most part, but with notable deviations. “Out of 130 countries, Canada ranked 31 while the United States came in at 27. Canada also ranked behind Namibia, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Lithuania and the Philippines, among other countries,” reported Canada’s Globe and Mail.

The reports raise many questions, present many challenges, but on their own fail to address the struggles and tragedies of women like Qurban-Bibi and Nahil Abu-Rada.

The Global Gender Report ignited media frenzy more appropriate for a beauty contest – winners and losers – not a pressing issue that continues to victimize millions of women worldwide. This was hardly the intent of the report, one would fairly assume. Expectedly, it was later turned into an opportunity to settle political scores, stereotype religion and, at times, disparage entire cultures.

The State of the World Population was largely sensible in its view of culture: non-Western cultures were not simply chastised as the problem, but cultural sensitivity was recommended as part of the solution.

But addressing women’s rights and cultural patterns (as if these issues are not unique in time and space) without examining the underpinnings of the inequality is also a mistake.

Culture is hardly the summation of rational choices made by individuals in a specific time and easily demarcated space. It’s an innate collective response to internal and external factors, changes and events – political, economic or social.

Chances are Palestinian women in villages surrounded by Israeli checkpoints tend to deliver their babies at home or in an unfit local clinic, a natural response to risking losing one’s baby altogether. Such a practice could eventually develop into a cultural pattern.

Many Afghan women are caught between the lethal occupation of foreigners and the extremism and vengeance of the Taliban. Early marriages are often the only available opportunity for women in some parts of the country, once they reach a certain age, sometimes as young as nine years old.

The same can be said about Iraq, where women – who comparatively achieved high status in pre-war years – have since endured untold humiliation. Thanks to the U.S. “liberation” of their country, they now constitute a large percentage of regional prostitution, a phenomenon alien to Iraqi society of yesteryear.

This hardly means that the suffering of women is always the outcome of foreign military interventions – masked as “humanitarian” in some instances – nor does it render blameless local cultures, outdated customs and interpretation of religion. But what is missing from the reports, and subsequent analyses is how conflict, war and military intervention often jeopardize, more than anything else, the rights and welfare of women.

The issue of women’s rights is a pressing one, not just because of the horrifying statistics. (Women and girls are the poorest, least educated and most victimized the world over.) But also because no real progress, development or sound governance can ever take place when half of the society is marginalized and mistreated.

Equality between the genders is not only an act of virtue, but also a sound strategy for a brighter future for any nation, rich or poor. To address the issue correctly, studies and reports must delve into the roots of women’s suffering, and not be satisfied with numerical indicators that tell half of the story.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” (Pluto Press, London).

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“The economy at large has been very well protected,” Al- Jasser said. “We’ve built up reserves and pursued counter- cyclical policies to protect our economy.”

Saudi Arabia Is Protected Against Economic Crisis (Update1)

Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia invested in “low-risk and very liquid” assets and the kingdom is well protected to weather the global economic turmoil as the world’s largest oil supplier tries to maintain stable oil supplies.

Saudi Arabia stashed away $1.3 trillion in reserves, as the biggest OPEC producer benefited from record oil prices earlier this year, Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency’s vice governor Mohamed bin Suleiman Al-Jasser said at a conference in Dubai today.

“The economy at large has been very well protected,” Al- Jasser said. “We’ve built up reserves and pursued counter- cyclical policies to protect our economy.”

Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab economy, has used oil prices averaging about $107.32 a barrel this year to attract investments and build its foreign currency reserves. The kingdom seeks to shift its economy away from oil and create jobs for its citizens by building industrial cities, like the $120 billion King Abdullah Economic City on the Red Sea coast.

Saudi Arabia will help alleviate global financial stress by maintaining stable oil markets and boost its own economy by funding infrastructure projects, King Abdullah said in Washington yesterday.

“We will continue to fulfill our role in ensuring the stability of the oil market,” Abdullah said in a statement after a five-hour summit with the Group of 20 leaders. “Saudi Arabia has made many sacrifices, including maintaining costly additional productive capacity amounting to about 2 million barrels per day.”

Oil prices have declined 60 percent since reaching a record high of $147.27 a barrel on July 11 as demand weakens because of the global credit crisis. Crude oil touched $54.67 a barrel, a 21-month low, on Nov. 13.

Middle East’s oil producers are trying to fend of a further decline in oil prices on concern that this may force them to reduce government spending. The 13-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet in Cairo on Nov. 29 and in Oran, Algeria, on Dec. 17 to discuss plans to halt the fall in oil prices.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ayesha Daya in Dubai at adaya1@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: November 16, 2008 09:07 EST

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601104&sid=a3j8FwbTAewQ

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Barack Obama is receiving lots of advice from many people these days about the collapse of Wall Street, the sinking economy and the quagmire wars he will inherit from the Bush regime. However, there is one important matter that he alone can address with his legal training and the sworn oath he will take on January 20 to uphold the Constitution. That phenomenon is the systemic, chronic lawlessness and criminality of the Bush/Cheney regime which he must unravel and stop.

Barack Obama (L) Dick Cheney

Barack Obama is receiving lots of advice from many people these days about the collapse of Wall Street, the sinking economy and the quagmire wars he will inherit from the Bush regime. However, there is one important matter that he alone can address with his legal training and the sworn oath he will take on January 20 to uphold the Constitution. That phenomenon is the systemic, chronic lawlessness and criminality of the Bush/Cheney regime which he must unravel and stop.

To handle this immense responsibility as President, he needs to bring together a volunteer task force of very knowledgeable persons plus wise, retired civil servants to inventory the outlaw workings of this rogue regime.

Much is already known and documented officially and by academic studies and media reporting. In the category of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, are (1) the criminal war-occupation of Iraq, (2) systemic torture as a White House policy, (3) arrests of thousands of Americans without charges or habeas corpus rights, (4) spying on large numbers of Americans without judicial warrants and (5) hundreds of signing statements by George W. Bush declaring that, he of the unitary presidency, will decide whether to obey the enacted bills or not.

To its everlasting credit, the conservative American Bar Association sent to President Bush three reports in 2005-2006 concluding that he has been engaged in continuing serious violations of the Constitution. This is no one-time Watergate obstruction of justice episode ala Nixon that led to his resignation just before his impeachment in the House of Representatives.

Nearly two years ago Senator Obama, contrary to what he knows and believes, vigorously came out against the House commencing impeachment proceedings. It would be too divisive, he said. As one of one hundred Senators who might have had to try the President and Vice President in the Senate were the House to impeach. He should have kept impartial and remained silent on the subject.

As President, he cannot remain silent and do nothing, otherwise he will inherit the war crimes of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and become soon thereafter a war criminal himself. Inaction cannot be an option.

Violating the Constitution and federal laws is now routine. What is routine after awhile becomes institutionalized lawlessness by official outlaws.

Domestic Policy abuses are also rampant. Just what are the limits of the statutory authority of the US Treasury Department or the government within a government funded by bank assessments known as the Federal Reserve?

Don’t read the $750 billion bailout law for any answers! The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and the Majority Leader of the Senate, Harry Reid just sent a letter to Bush asking whether the White House believes the bailout law could be interpreted to save not just the reckless banks, but also the grossly mismanaged Big Three auto companies in Michigan.

Didn’t Congress know what they were or were not authorizing? Or did the stampede started by the demanding Bush result in blanket, or panicked ambiguity by a cowardly Congress?

This week, the Washington Post front paged an article that the Treasury Department unilaterally gave the banks a tax break that was estimated to be worth a staggering $140 billion. Just like that! Fiat! The Post reported that impartial legal experts flatly declared such a decision to be without statutory authority which means the Bush regime usurped the constitutional authority of Congress in matters of taxation and basically took out a 22 year old law enacted by Congress. Not to be outdone, on the same day, the lead article in the New York Times reported a four-year-old Bush doctrine allowing Special Forces and other armed force to pursue terrorists in any country in the world. The Times specified incursions at will into Syria, Iran, Somalia, Pakistan and other countries.

Such violations of national sovereignty without formal declarations of war or through formal interventions by the United Nations are violations of international law. The Bush government answers this assertion by its open-ended, totally self-defined, right of “self-defense” under the UN Charter. The same self-determining argument can be made by covert terrorists or covert actions by adversarial governments. This is an example of make-up-your-own international law to suit your own covert operations.

As a country that has the most to lose from the shredding of international law and order, the United States under Bush is giving many IOUs to revenge-minded suicidal adversaries. They can simply to their mass audiences say, if the US can do anything it wants, why shouldn’t they?

It has been widely reported that the Justice Department under Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Gonzalez epitomized contempt for compliance with the laws regarding civil liberties, due process and politically interfering with US Attorneys.

Less publicized was its refusal to enforce the laws routinely transgressed by the corporate patrons of the White House -such as environmental crimes, consumer fraud, and anti-trust violations.

Obama has tools to restore law and order by the government itself. The Bully Pulpit. Ordering departmental directives. Issuing Executive Orders. Requesting legislation. Highlighting the integrity of the subdued and buffeted federal civil service which, with its oath of office, deserves far more effective whistleblowing protection laws.

The ACLU has just released: “Actions For Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America After Bush.” Mr. Obama would do well to use this important report as blueprint for restoring faith in the US Government’s commitment to the Constitution. A second report titled: “Protecting Public Health and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen by the Center for Progressive Reform suggests several Executive Orders that Mr. Obama could sign to advance important health, safety and the environment goals.

Barack Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Let’s have it operate out of the Obama White House. And the time to start laying the groundwork is now!


Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions.

Courtesy of counterpunch.com

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President-elect Barack Obama, plotting his strategy on Iran, is getting this advice from a panel of American diplomats and other experts: Don’t pile on economic and military threats; it doesn’t help.
"An attack would almost certainly fail" while coercing Iran with economic sanctions has very little chance of success, the experts say in a report to be presented next week at a conference on the future of U.S.-Iran policy.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama, plotting his strategy on Iran, is getting this advice from a panel of American diplomats and other experts: Don’t pile on economic and military threats; it doesn’t help.

“An attack would almost certainly fail” while coercing Iran with economic sanctions has very little chance of success, the experts say in a report to be presented next week at a conference on the future of U.S.-Iran policy.

“Threats are not cowing Iran and the current regime in Tehran is not in imminent peril,” according to a copy of the report obtained by The Associated Press.

The Iranian people “have seen the outcome of U.S.-sponsored regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. They want no part of it,” the report said.

Far more likely to succeed, said former U.S. ambassadors Thomas Pickering and James F. Dobbins, Columbia University scholar Gary G. Sick and 17 other experts, is to “open the door to direct, unconditional and comprehensive negotiations at the senior diplomatic level.”

At the same time, they advised facilitating unofficial contacts between scholars, professionals, religious leaders, lawmakers and ordinary citizens.

The report originated from conversations among a number of experts on Iran who were concerned about the course of American diplomacy on Iran, Dobbins said Thursday. “We got together to offer the administration a different approach, one that is focused on communication and with a view to making progress over time on a range of issues,” he said.

Richard Parker, a professor at the University of Connecticut, organized the report, which will be presented Tuesday on Capitol Hill to the National Iranian American Council.

In his presidential campaign, Obama endorsed “direct diplomacy” with Iran. At a post-election news conference he called Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons unacceptable. So far, it is a sketchy policy outline.

The experts recommended the United States take a leadership role in ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and widen the range of discussion. The negotiators should offer Iran the prospect of security assurances and the easing of U.S. economic sanctions in the event of an accord.

“Talking directly to a foreign government in no way signals approval of the government, its policies or its actions,” the report said.

On other fronts, the experts advised giving Iran “a place at the table” in shaping the future of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region.

The United States and Iran support the same government in Iraq and face common enemies in the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, the report said.

Labeled “Myth #1″ in the report is the notion that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the shots on Iran’s nuclear and foreign policy.

The ultimate decision-maker is the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, commander in chief of Iran’s armed forces, the report said. Despite frequent hostile rhetoric aimed at Israel and the West, “Khamenei’s track record reveals a cautious decision maker who acts after consulting advisers holding a range of views, including views sharply critical of Ahmadinejad.”

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The IMF has been systematically flouted by its inventors and vilified by its customers in recent years and has thus lost much of its utility, which the G-20 summit will endeavor, with limited conviction, to restore. The world is going to need the IMF to fend off the next big horror lurking in the global recession: the prospect of sovereign debt default.

 

DO WHAT IT TAKES — The world can probably live with defaults by Hungary and Argentina – even Ukraine – but whatever it costs to prevent Pakistan from becoming a failed state is probably going to be worth it. (Newscom)
We should not expect too much from the G-20 financial summit in Washington this weekend, despite some grandiose talk from French President Nicolas Sarkozy about crafting a new global financial system. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is not going to join the talks and has yet to name his choice for treasury secretary. And President George W. Bush and his team will only matter until midday on Jan. 20.

What we will get will be useful. First, there will be an injection of new cash into the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is down to around $200 billion in its warchest. There will be a lot more demand coming from emerging economies in trouble.

The IMF has been systematically flouted by its inventors and vilified by its customers in recent years and has thus lost much of its utility, which the G-20 summit will endeavor, with limited conviction, to restore. The world is going to need the IMF to fend off the next big horror lurking in the global recession: the prospect of sovereign debt default.

The world can probably live with defaults by Hungary and Argentina. The implications of a Ukraine debt default are very sobering indeed. But the one that we should really dread is a default by (nuclear-armed) Pakistan. Whatever it costs to prevent Pakistan from becoming a failed state is probably going to be worth it.

Second, the G-20 summit is almost certainly going to announce a coordinated batch of state investment in infrastructure, like the $586 billion package Beijing announced this week. The British and Germans are preparing their own package, which will probably total $100 billion, a sum that the Japanese are expected to match. The initial U.S. stimulus package will be another $150 billion so a $1 trillion total stimulus should help ease the recession, even if the world is running short of the engineering skills and capabilities required to spend it sensibly.

But do not expect anything more ambitious until Obama takes office. At some point, the world will have to fix the great mess that is the global currency exchange system, which is currently trading almost $4 trillion a day. It is insane that the $-euro exchange rate has gone from:

1999 — $1 = 1.17 euros

2002 — $0.84 = 1 euro

2008 — $1.61 = 1 euro.

There is no logical way in which the European economy fell so hard in value against the dollar between 1999 and 2002, and even less reason to think the U.S. economy halved in value against the euro in the last six years.

The Chinese-dollar relationship is a smaller part of this wider currency mess, whose root cause is that we no longer have a safe store of value that is both abundant and easily traded.

The U.S. dollar is THE reserve currency, but it has been shamefully abused by its custodians. The world needs a sounder and more stable reserve currency, but is probably in for a long wait.











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The first post election statements made by Obama sources – incorporated into a Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung published on Nov. 11, "Obama to Explore New Approach in Afghanistan War" – are very revealing.

 

CHANGE TO WHAT? In this dizzying maze a la 1990s, one begins to wonder if we are flipping the enemy into an ally, and vice versa, merely so that the slogan of “change” is then materialized. (The Dallas Morning News via Newscom)
As the transition in the United States between the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama is moving forward feverishly while world crises escalate, observers of conflicts are focusing on the messages emanating from the next foreign policy team in Washington.

The smooth passing of the torch from one leadership to another in the middle of unfinished wars and gigantic counterterrorism efforts is critical, especially if a strategic change of direction is on its way.

Analysts wonder about the nature of change to come: is it about managing battlefields or reducing them?

The first post election statements made by Obama sources – incorporated into a Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung published on Nov. 11, “Obama to Explore New Approach in Afghanistan War” – are very revealing.

Although these “conversations” with aides are still unofficial positions at the formal level, one must read them as the first salvo in setting the tone and guidelines for early 2009.

Thus, and in order to engage in a national discussion on what seems to be the near future, we must analyze these propositions one by one and contrast them with the intensity of the evolving threat.

Therefore, the following are early comments on the emerging new policies.

The Washington Post article began by stating that the Obama administration is planning on “exploring a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan including possible talks with Iran.” Citing Obama national security advisers, the Post added that the new strategy “looks favorably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and ‘reconcilable’ elements of the Taliban.”

These two so-called strategic components of the forthcoming administration’s plan to end the conflict in central Asia deserve a high level of attention and thorough examination. In a post Sept. 11, 2001 environment – meaning seven years into a confrontation with jihadist forces – not only experts but a large segment of the American public has developed a higher awareness of the threat of the enemy and of its long-term objectives. Arguments in foreign policy analysis are not as alien as they were to citizens prior to the 2001 attacks. Many Americans know who the Taliban are and what their goals are, and they know as well of the dangerous fantasies of the mullah regime in Tehran.

A new strategy in the region covering Pakistan and Iran is indeed needed to achieve advances in defeating the jihadis and in empowering the democracy forces in Afghanistan.

If the Bush administration was too slow in reaching that conclusion, then one would expect the Obama foreign policy team to bridge the gap and quickly arrive at a successful next stage.

But the “regional” proposition unveiled by the Washington Post defies logic, instead of consolidating it.

For I wonder on what grounds the Iranian regime would shift from a virulent anti-U.S. attitude to a favorable team player in stabilizing Afghanistan? Even the gurus of classical realism would wonder.

If a deal is possible with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it cannot be on establishing a democratic government in Kabul. It simply doesn’t add up knowing the essence of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its oppressive nature.

Therefore, and before the new administration even begins to sell the idea, it is important for all to realize that any Afghan deal cut with Iran must assume that the next regime in Kabul will satisfy the agenda in Tehran: meaning non-democratic. This is the first hurdle.

Amazingly, the second proposition simultaneously would invite the Taliban (postulating that a milder wing indeed exists) to share power in the country as a way to end the conflict. More problems emerge here: first, if the “good” Taliban are brought to the deal (assuming this is even feasible), what happens with the “bad” Taliban? Will the latter just “go away” or will there be a fight between the “good and the bad” factions? And how can the new strategy end the new Afghan war and will we come to the rescue of the nice jihadists against the ugly ones? Obviously, it doesn’t add up either.

Second, assuming there would be a partial re-Talibanization of Afghanistan, how could this co-exist with the Iranians? The same Washington Post article quoted the same advisers, underscoring that “The Iranians don’t want Sunni extremists in charge of Afghanistan any more than we do.”

How can the architects reconcile bringing in the Iranians for help and, at the same time, inviting the “Sunni extremists” to be sitting in Kabul? This construct doesn’t fly on mere logic.

As I wondered in an interview with Fox News the same day, are the new foreign policy planners talking about changing the strategy or changing the enemy?

The most logical ally against most of the Taliban should be the democratically-elected government in Pakistan, which is already waging a campaign against al-Qaida and its Taliban allies. Why would Washington replace this potential ally (regardless of all mishaps) with two foes: the non-democratic regime of Iran and a faction of the totalitarian Taliban?

In this dizzying maze a la 1990s, one begins to wonder if we are flipping the enemy into an ally, and vice versa, merely so that the slogan of “change” is then materialized. My feeling is that post electoral political pressures are so intense that it may produce a recipe for greater confusion and even disaster.

The problem is not the idea of “talking” to any of the players, including the current foes; engaging in contacts is always an option and has always been practiced. The problem is the perception by the new U.S. officials (and even current ones) that we can simply and naively “create” the conditions that we wish, regardless of the intentions of the other side. When reading these suggestions, one concludes that they were conceived on paper as unilateral designs lacking any strategic understanding of the enemy.

Take two examples as a starter: first, if you want to engage the so-called “acceptable” Taliban into a national unity government in Kabul (which is not an impossible idea theoretically), did you incorporate what their minimal demands are? And can your analysis of the jihadis’ long-term strategy produce a projection over four to six years of a return of these jihadis to power? I don’t think so.

Second, if you wish to enlist Iran as a partner in Afghanistan, will you be able to continue with the sanctions over its nuclear program? Obviously not. Thus the bottom line is that the price for befriending Tehran in Kabul is to allow it to reach its nuclear military ambitions. If it is otherwise, the upcoming foreign policy team has a lot of explaining to do.

Another interesting statement made by an adviser, according to the Washington Post, was that “the incoming administration intends to remind Americans how the fight “against Islamist extremists” began – on Sept. 11, 2001, before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – and to underscore that al-Qaida remains the nation’s highest priority. “This is our enemy,” one adviser said of bin Laden, “and he should be our principal target.”

Although as a reader I am not sure if DeYoung was discussing the new strategies in the war with the same “source,” the latter, stronger sentence is of great value for future inquiries. For if indeed the incoming administration intends to remind U.S. citizens that the fight is “against Islamist extremists,” then this would be a good bridge to the Bush administration’s bold rhetoric, which ended in 2006.

If the Obama administration “change” in strategy is to redefine the confrontation in the precise manner the adviser did, then we will be lucky. If that is the case, then we would hope and expect the new administration to repel the irresponsible “lexicon” disseminated by bureaucrats within the Bush administration and instead issue a strong document identifying the threat as stated in the Washington Post article, explaining once and for all the ideology of bin Laden so that indeed we can understand “our principal target.”

These early remarks are aimed at helping the Obama administration from its inception to clearly strategize and target so that the next four, and maybe eight years, will be a leap forward in protecting this country and in defending democracy worldwide.

This is only a glimpse of conversations to come about America’s national security and the hope to see a real qualitative change for the best.

Dr. Walid Phares is the director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad”.









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A comparison of Obamanonomics and Reaganomics is instructive. Even in the unlikely event that the Obama administration were to adopt Reagan-style incentives to risk-taking and investment, the effect of such incentives would be weaker and slower to take effect than in 1981-1984.

The United States government needs to borrow US$1 trillion a year, before a new stimulus package, or handouts for the auto industry, or healthcare reform, or a dozen other spending programs promised by the incoming administration of president-elect Barack Obama. Where will the Treasury find the money?

A bizarre jump in the US Treasury’s real cost of borrowing points to severe market disruption if the Treasury deficit continues to rise. It appears that the Treasury market is also a victim of global de-leveraging. The new administration has far less budgetary flexibility that it seems to think. In 1981, under comparable 

circumstances, Ronald Reagan had far greater room to maneuver. I conclude that the new administration is virtually powerless to prevent marked deterioration of the US economy.

A comparison of Obamanonomics and Reaganomics is instructive. Even in the unlikely event that the Obama administration were to adopt Reagan-style incentives to risk-taking and investment, the effect of such incentives would be weaker and slower to take effect than in 1981-1984.

Exhibit 1: Inflation-indexed 10-year Treasury (TIPS) yield
vs 10-year breakeven inflation.




As shown in Exhibit 1, the yield of the 10-year inflation-indexed Treasury (TIPS) tripled from 1% to 3% between June and October 2008. Nominal Treasury yields fell slightly, because the inflation-expectations component of Treasury yields (the difference between ordinary 10-year Treasury notes and inflation-indexed TIPS) collapsed, from 250 basis points to less than 100 basis points.

The jump in TIPS yields should ring alarm bells. It is not only that inflation-indexed Treasury yields never have risen so fast and so far since their introduction in 1997. What is most bizarre is that the movement in “real” Treasury yields is not only massive, but in the wrong direction. Both economic theory and all past experience tell us that when economic activity falls, “real” yields also should fall.

Exhibit 2 below shows that 10-year TIPS, or “real” Treasury yields have moved in the same direction as equity market returns. The inflation-adjusted Treasury bond yield is a rough proxy for real long-term interest rates (it is only a proxy because the consumer price index – or CPI – is not necessarily a good measure of inflation). Real rates are supposed to reflect growth expectations; higher growth means higher returns to financial assets, including bonds. TIPS yields are plotted against 12-month returns to the S&P 500. The two lines move together except during the past few weeks, when they take sharply opposed directions.

Exhibit 2: TIPS yields triple while S&P 500 crashes.

 

How weird the behavior of TIPS yields has been during the past few months is made even clearer by Exhibit 3, below. We observe that TIPS yields and S&P 500 returns lined up neatly between 2004 and 2008, and suddenly moved in the opposite direction.

Exhibit 3: Scatter plot of TIPS Yields vs 12-month S&P 500 returns, January 2004 through October 2008.


Just when we should have expected “real” Treasury yields to collapse along with equity market returns, they spiked upwards, and by the largest margin on record. Evidently something has changed, and changed drastically. One component of Treasury yields, expected inflation, has collapsed, and the “real” component has jumped.

There is no question as to why the expected-inflation component has fallen, for it has done so along with the S&P 500 and the main commodity price index (the Constant Maturity Commodities Index published by UBS and Bloomberg). This relationship is shown in Exhibit 4 below.

Exhibit 4: 10-year breakeven inflation, Constant Maturity Commodity Price Index and S&P 500, February 1, 2008 to November 6, 2008 (normalized).


Equity, commodity and Treasury bond markets all are registering a deflationary crash in precisely the same way. That seems clear enough. The dog that barked, but shouldn’t have, is the “real” component of Treasury yields.

The answer to the mystery of tripled real Treasury yields is to be found in the collapse of leverage in the global financial system. Indirectly, the rapid expansion of leverage in the global banking system contributed to demand for Treasuries. When de-leveraging commenced in August, an important component of demand for Treasuries declined sharply. That is bad news for Washington, but even worse news is that it will continue to decline sharply, just when Washington most requires global support for the US government debt market.

Global leverage indirectly increased demand for Treasuries in three principal ways:
1. It fed the boom in raw materials prices, increasing demand for Treasuries on the part of central banks as well as financial institutions in commodity-producing countries.
2. It pushed up the value of emerging market currencies, prompting emerging market central banks to intervene in foreign exchange markets by purchasing dollars which then were invested in Treasuries.
3. It contributed to the rise in global equity prices, which prompted investors to diversify their portfolios and purchase safer assets including Treasuries.

The carry trade, in which investors borrow low-interest currencies (dollars or yen) and buy high-interest emerging market currencies, created demand for Treasuries by funneling money into emerging markets that ended up as dollar reserves in their central banks.

Exhibit 5: Net foreign purchases of US Treasury securities,
12-month rolling total.


At the peak of demand for US government securities, net foreign purchases of Treasuries came to $400 billion per year, according to the Treasury’s TIC data base (Exhibit 5). Who were the buyers? The Treasury data offers some answers.

Exhibit 6: Foreign holdings of US Treasury securities as of August 2008 (US$ billions): total holdings, year-on-year
%
change, and year-on-year absolute change.



We observe that the biggest increase came from offshore banking centers (the UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Caribbean banking centers). This tells us little because anyone may transact through such centers. “Other emerging markets”, notably Brazil and other commodity producers, were the second-largest contributor, followed by Japan and the oil exporters.

Private purchases of Treasuries are larger than official flows in recent years, as shown in Exhibit 7:

Exhibit 7: Private vs official net purchases of US Treasury securities.


As noted, private purchases of US Treasuries seem to scale to global wealth. We observe a fairly close relationship between global equity market capitalization (as measured by the MSCI World Index) and private purchases of US Treasuries, as in Exhibit 8.

Exhibit 8: Private net purchases of US Treasuries scale to MSCI World Index, 1988-2008.


An exception occurred during the peak of the US equity boom of the late 1990s, when Treasury purchases fell off at the peak of the boom. Evidently this exception reflected the general euphoria of the time and investor preference for riskier assets. We do not have Treasury data past August, and it well may be the case that a similar exception will emerge during the second half of 2008, as foreign investors increase their net purchases of Treasuries while stock markets crash, and for a symmetrically opposite reason. Investors may prefer safer assets.

We cannot directly estimate the impact of de-leveraging on the Treasury market, but it seems clear that the explosion of leverage during the past five years had a profound, if temporary, impact on the world market’s demand for US government securities. As a rough gauge of the growth of global leverage, we observe that between 2003 and 2008, US banks’ claims on foreigners nearly tripled from $1.2 trillion to $3 trillion.

Exhibit 9: American banks’ claims on foreigners.



We can observe in the movement of market prices, though, a close relationship between the breakdown of the carry trade and the rise in real Treasury yields. Withdrawal of leverage from the system forced market participants to liquidate carry trade positions, that is, to unwind short positions in Japanese yen, and to liquidate long positions in carry trade currencies such as the Brazilian real, Turkish lira, South African rand, Australian dollar and so forth. I use the parity of the Brazilian real to Japanese yen as a rough proxy of demand for carry trade. As Exhibit 10 below makes clear, the collapse of the carry trade (the fall of the Brazilian real against the yen) closely tracks the rise in 10-year TIPS yields. The visual relationship is confirmed by econometric analysis.

Exhibit 10: Inflation-indexed (TIPS) Treasury yield vs Brazilian real/yen parity.



The Treasury market benefited from the explosion of bank leverage during the past 10 years, as emerging market central banks became the most important new buyers of US government securities. De-leveraging and the collapse of commodity markets combine to destroy global demand for Treasuries, limiting the US government’s capacity to borrow from overseas sources.

Other major holders of US Treasury securities are likely to wish to reduce their holdings rather than to increase them. China’s accumulation of foreign reserves represented “rainy day” savings for the nation, and the severity of the present crisis shows how well-advised China was to accumulate a large volume of reserves. China has announced plans to spend the equivalent of 20% of gross domestic product in a stimulus program which is likely to increase the country’s demand for foreign capital goods.

China’s trade surplus is likely to diminish sharply, both due to falling export demand and import growth arising from the stimulus package. Chinese reserves are likely to cease growing and may even decline as a result. Oil-producing countries, moreover, may have to spend reserves in order to maintain import levels as a result of the collapse of oil prices.

Foreign net purchases of US Treasury securities peaked at a $400 billion annual rate, and will fall sharply from this level. Domestic resources to purchase Treasury securities, moreover, are thin. When Ronald Reagan took office, America’s personal savings rate was 10%; today it is around 0%, although it has spiked up in recent months. Disposable income in the US now stands at slightly under $11 trillion. If the US returned to the personal saving rate of 1981, individuals would save $1 trillion a year, enough to fund the Treasury deficit, assuming that all net new portfolio investment flowed into Treasury securities. Nothing, though, would be left over for investment in anything else.

One way to gauge how onerous the Treasury’s borrowing requirements appear compared with available savings is to take the ratio of government borrowing to gross private savings, as in Exhibit 11 below.

Exhibit 11: Federal budget deficit as a % of gross private savings.



We observe that in 1981, the deficit stood at around 15% of gross private savings, and reached 30% at the worst. The deficit already has reached 50% of gross private savings, before the new administration has had the opportunity to increase spending.

In 1981, moreover, the United States was in current account surplus, and foreign purchases of Treasury securities were a very small factor in the financing of the government deficit. Today, the current account deficit (and the corresponding capital account surplus) is almost 6% of GDP.

It is far from clear from whom, and on what terms, the US Treasury will obtain $1 trillion a year, or even more, to finance its deficit. The overseas well has run dry, and domestic financing of the deficit would require a drastic increase in the savings rate at the expense of spending, or outright monetization of the debt by the Federal Reserve.

One way to increase the government savings rate, of course, is to increase taxes, but that is an unlikely course of action during a severe recession.

Monetization of debt remains a possibility, and to some extent would only continue the current trend. Total Federal Reserve Bank credit outstanding has more than doubled in the year to November 6, 2008, rising by $1.2 trillion to $2.06 trillion. This reflects loans, securities purchases, and related actions by the Fed to bail out the financial system. If the deflation persists, the Federal Reserve may be compelled to purchase US government debt.

Another possibility is that risk appetite among investors at home and abroad will continue to fall, inducing a portfolio shift towards Treasury securities. In this case “crowding out” will occur through risk-preference. It will not be so much that competing borrowers are crowded out of the lending market, but that investors will stampede away from risk. In this scenario, even a very low federal funds rate will not help to restore economic activity.

The point of lowering the risk-free rate is to push investors towards riskier assets. In a normal business cycle, falling output leads to lower yields on low-risk bonds, which in turn encourages investors to add risk to their portfolios by investing in businesses. If the safest of all investments, namely US Treasuries, suddenly offer much higher real yields, comparable to the boom years of the late 1990s, why should investors take risk?

In any of these scenarios, the result of global de-leveraging is dire: the more the US government tries to bail out businesses and households, the more bailing out the economy will need. The Bush administration’s response to the financial crisis, and the likely content of the Obama administration’s economic program, will deepen and prolong the economic downturn.

It is not generally remembered that the premise of the Reagan administration’s tax cuts was Robert Mundell’s work on the optimal level of government debt. Mundell, who won the Nobel Prize in 1991 for his work on international economics, observed that an increase in government debt might represent an improvement in market efficiency, if it corresponded to an increase in incomes. That might occur if a reduction in taxes caused an increase in the deficit, while stimulating economic growth. In that case, Mundell argued, a tax cut would increase efficiency if the additional revenues arising from the growth effect were larger than the interest on the bonds issued to cover the ensuing deficit.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan had a very different starting point:
1. The personal savings rate stood at 10%.
2. The current account was in surplus.
3. The top marginal tax rate was 70%.

The capacity of the US and the world to finance an increase in the federal deficit was much greater, and the incentives arising from reducing the top marginal tax rate from 70% to 40% were much greater than any incentives that might be envisioned from tax cuts from the present level.

Even the best-designed economic policy would be hard-put to provide growth incentives without a substantial increase in the savings rate and a corresponding reduction of consumption, implying a very sharp economic contraction. If the Treasury tries to spend its way out of recession, the results are likely to be very disappointing.

David P Goldman was global head of fixed-income research for Banc of America Securities and global head of credit strategy at Credit Suisse.

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

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The whole strategy of finding excuses to re-invade Lebanon is little by little being put in place. The most ominous signs were the deployment of 10,000 Syrian special forces on the northern border followed by the recent deployment of additional troops on the eastern border. Syria explained that it was to prevent Sunni Salafists terrorists from entering Syrian territory.

One leader that could not wait for U.S. President George W. Bush to be out of office is Syrian President Bashar Assad. Assad profusely congratulated his favored candidate: Barack Obama. President-elect Obama should be careful in his dealings with the Syrian regime. In fact, quite possibly, Assad might be pondering if he could get away with reoccupying Lebanon.

The whole strategy of finding excuses to re-invade Lebanon is little by little being put in place. The most ominous signs were the deployment of 10,000 Syrian special forces on the northern border followed by the recent deployment of additional troops on the eastern border. Syria explained that it was to prevent Sunni Salafists terrorists from entering Syrian territory.

The third step took place on Thursday when Syrian state television broadcast “confessions” from members of the Islamist terror group Fatah al-Islam (FAI).

Not only did the FAI militants admit being behind a suicide bombing in Damascus in September but also Wafa al-Absi, the daughter of FAI’s leader Shaker al-Absi, stated that FAI got money from Saad Hariri‘s anti-Syrian Future Movement.

By undermining the current Lebanese parliamentary majority, Syria is trying one way or another to regain control of what it still considers part of its territory.

Why is this so obvious?

FAI is first and foremost a creation of the Syrian intelligence service that has been used to destabilize the Lebanese regime that kicked out the Syrian occupation army in 2005.

Numerous experts describe FAI as a Syrian vehicle influenced also by al-Qaida. Indeed, al-Qaida, which uses the Palestinian camps in Lebanon as a transit point, definitely influenced FAI, whose ideology went from the “liberation of Palestine” to a worldwide jihad against the crusaders and the Jews.

In November 2006, Salafist militants of FAI infiltrated Lebanon through Heloua, a remote Lebanese village out of reach for the Lebanese army since it is considered a Syrian enclave. According to a Western military expert, Palestinians have been receiving light weapons from Syria, which is then redistributed to other refugee camps in Lebanon.

So FAI settled in the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared, in the north of Lebanon. Hostile to their presence, Fatah leaders in the camp stated that FAI’s only contact was with Syria. That is just the tip of the iceberg: a slew of facts clearly link up FAI to its Syrian patron. The confessions of the FAI commando arrested for the February 2007 bombing of two commuter buses carrying Lebanese Christians are very explicit on Syria’s role.

But most of the proof of Syria’s hand in FAI’s reign of terror emerged after the end of the 15-week war between FAI and the Lebanese army at Nahr al-Bared during the summer of 2007. Ghazi Aridi, the former Lebanese information minister, revealed that “some of [FAI]’s leaders were linked to Syrian security services.”

He added: “Lebanese intelligence and government seized many documents, films, recordings, all very compromising for Syrian intelligence. The confessions of the [Fatah al-Islam] terrorists [arrested during the Nahr al-Bared clashes] brought to light their links to some Syrian services, and the implication of the latter in the wave of explosions and attacks that have been rocking Lebanon for several years.”

Also General Ashraf Rifi, the general director of the Lebanese interior forces, affirmed that Lebanese authorities seized 90 kilos of biological material in the Nahr al-Bared camp belonging to FAI. That had to be provided by a regional power.

Finally, fighters from other pro-Syrian groups joined the FAI ranks and two of these groups, Fatah Intifada and PFLP-GC even delivered weapons to FAI. Lastly, just last month, the Lebanese army arrested five FAI members. But the leader of this cell, Abdel-Ghani Jawhar, allegedly fled to Syria just five minutes before the arrival of security forces.

In light of this, the “confessions” of the FAI members seem as an attempt by certain groups in Syria to link the recent terrorist attacks to Lebanon. Some analysts fear all this might be Damascus paving the way to a new Syrian intervention in Lebanon.

Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant, is the founder of the newsletter The Croissant (www.thecroissant.com).

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The one noticeable silence, however, comes from al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden who refrained from commenting either way. The total absence of comments from the United States’ number one enemy, whom the Bush administration has been trying to track down and eradicate ever since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, is somewhat strange. One would think that this might have been a good opportunity for bin Laden to gloat. After all, he outlasted his nemesis.

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States was greeted with elation around the world with crowds taking to the streets to express their joy from Washington, D.C. to Nairobi. Congratulatory messages to the new president came pouring in from world leaders and from some rather unexpected sources as well.

The list of somewhat unanticipated well-wishers who welcomed Obama’s election to the White House included the Damascus-based leadership of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, otherwise known as Hamas; and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country was described as part of the “axis of evil” by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Although, as pointed out by noted Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Ahmadinejad may find himself also relegated to the history books if Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei finds that someone else might be better suited to Obama’s temperament.

“The [Iranian] supreme leader may have been content with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran to confront a George Bush America but is Ahmadinejad, this incendiary character, the right person to challenge this Barack Obama America? Probably not.” said Ignatius.

The one noticeable silence, however, comes from al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden who refrained from commenting either way. The total absence of comments from the United States’ number one enemy, whom the Bush administration has been trying to track down and eradicate ever since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, is somewhat strange. One would think that this might have been a good opportunity for bin Laden to gloat. After all, he outlasted his nemesis.

But then again, al-Qaida’s silence may not be so strange. Obama’s victory over the Republican John McCain must leave al-Qaida at a loss for words. What exactly could he say at this time? Bin Laden can hardly say that he supports one American president over another, even if Bush was the president everyone loved to hate and that Obama, as one commentator on the BBC put it, is the Princess Diana of American politics.

“Al-Qaida’s top leaders have been silent so far,” said Kim Ghattas a BBC correspondent in Washington, “though some expect them to claim Mr. Obama’s election as their victory, and a defeat of President Bush’s policies.”

But, adds Ghattas, “they too may have to rethink how they deal with the ‘Great Satan,’ if global goodwill persists.”

Indeed, the only “message” from al-Qaida to the new administration may very well yet come in the next few months. It is unlikely, though, to be a message of good biddings of fair wishes.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden‘s predictions during the campaign that Obama may be tested during the first six month of his presidency could prove to be prophetic. Al-Qaida may decide to launch a new attack on the United States, marking its way of welcoming the new administration and setting the pace for the next four years, as it did with the Bush administration.

The one thing going against al-Qaida is that following Obama’s victory over the Republicans, the entire world opinion supports him and is sympathetic to him. But then again, bin Laden is not running for election so he might not really care what the world thinks of him.

The London-based Arabic language daily newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi in its Nov. 9 edition cites a “source close to the Yemen-based al-Qaida leadership as saying that bin Laden has ordered a new attack on the United States which will be “far greater than the 9/11 attacks.”

The paper identifies the source as “a former al-Qaida commander who is still in touch with … the organization leadership, and who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.”

Bin Laden and his lieutenants have in the past communicated with al-Quds al-Arabi, whose editor in chief Abdel Bari Athwan managed to interview bin Laden when he was still hiding in Afghanistan.

According to the source, the attack is meant “to change the world [both] politically and economically,” and is planned for the near future.

However, bin Laden and his gang should not be fooled or misled by Obama’s different approach to the same problem. Obama’s style and policies may differ greatly from Bush’s, but as president, Obama will go after bin Laden with a determination that may yet surprise everyone, especially bin Laden himself.

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Mr. Obama faces an incredible challenge to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan honorably, to restore hope to the Palestinian people, and to engage Iran and Syria constructively while fostering regional economic development. These are daunting tasks that may take several years to accomplish but must, nevertheless, be tackled no matter how impossible they may seem.

[Analysis] The United States should actively seek the involvements of Iraq’s neighbors 
 
After eight years of misguided policy by the Bush administration in the Middle East, the time is overdue for an enlightened strategy to tackle the region’s woes. This must include an approach that will bring hope to a region shattered by violence, consumed by conflict and division and filled with disdain toward the United States. Although the massive economic crisis facing America is, and should be, President-elect Obama’s first priority, he must not hesitate to confront the simmering conflicts in the Middle East that cannot be relegated to the back burner without severely undermining the strategic interest and security of the United States.

Mr. Obama faces an incredible challenge to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan honorably, to restore hope to the Palestinian people, and to engage Iran and Syria constructively while fostering regional economic development. These are daunting tasks that may take several years to accomplish but must, nevertheless, be tackled no matter how impossible they may seem. Mr. Obama’s promise for change must be implemented not only with the goal of restoring America’s credibility and moral leadership abroad, but also with the intention to serve the United States’ strategic interests and prevent a potentially major regional conflagration.

America’s new strategy in the Middle East must be comprehensive and integrated, utilizing all of America’s diplomatic instruments and power while working with allies. While the United States must take the lead, it must also commit itself to a strategy of multilateralism working with other powers to orchestrate solutions to some of the most intractable conflicts that America alone simply cannot solve. The new American strategy in the Middle East must be developed with an eye on establishing comprehensive regional security in which the majority of, if not all, the states in the area will have a stake in maintaining.

In Iraq, the new administration must remain committed to withdrawing most of the American forces within 16 months as envisioned by President-elect Obama, but with some flexibility provided that three critical criteria are first met. The Iraqi internal forces and the military first must be well-integrated and trained to maintain internal security and order. Secondly, it is important that the Sunnis are provided with the means to defend themselves and run their own internal affairs as they see fit akin to their Kurdish counterpart.

Lastly, an oil law must be enacted providing for equitable distribution of oil revenue to all Iraqis. By pursuing these three objectives and aided by the lull in violence brought about by the surge of American forces, the Iraqis themselves will be more inclined to agree on political reforms and reconciliation. In addition, the United States should actively seek the involvements of Iraq’s neighbors, especially Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan who have stakes in Iraq’s stability and a strong desire to bridge the Sunni-Shiite divide. Anything short of that would reverse much of the progress made to date, except this time with far greater intensity than ever before as American residual forces will be unable to prevent renewed violence.

America has a moral obligation to leave Iraq reasonably assured of sustainable security and political stability. That much we owe the Iraqi people and the Obama administration must not settle for less.

In dealing with Iran, the new administration must create a strategy based on engagement and deterrence to prevent Iran from continuing to enrich uranium with impunity. The United States must initiate direct talks with Iran and end the threat of regime change in Tehran while making it abundantly clear that a nuclear Iran is not an option. This can be accomplished by pursuing three tracks of separate but interconnected negotiations. The first track should focus on negotiating an end to Iran’s enrichment of uranium without preconditions, and what would be the economic incentive package provided in return.

The United States should take the lead in these negotiations joined by its European allies long with China and Russia. The negotiations should be limited to a three month period to prevent Iran from playing for time. The second track ought to focus on Iran’s and the United States’ grievances against each other. By constructively engaging Iran, Washington will help build mutual confidence, spur progress on the first negotiating track, benefit bilateral relations and encourage Iranian reformers to pursue democratic change without fear of retribution.

The third negotiating track should concentrate on regional security to alleviate Iran’s national security concerns and reinforce the United States’ commitments to the protection of its allies in the region. Should Iran, nevertheless, insist on continuing the enrichment of uranium, the United States must be clear about the extent of the devastating sanctions that will be orchestrated against it while not ruling out the use of force as a last resort. The United States must spearhead all three tracks without which future talks will be as elusive as the previous negotiations, except this time the West and Israel will be facing the unsettling prospect of a nuclear Iran with potentially dreadful consequences.

Since the 1992 Madrid peace conference the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has been hashed and rehashed ad nauseam and nothing fundamentally new can be said about the ultimate solution that will be framed. A Palestinian state established over Gaza and most of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side-by-side with the state of Israel– while finding a just solution to the Palestinian refugees — remains the only viable solution. And the return of the Golan Heights to Syria is sine qua non to resolving the Israeli-Syrian conflict. But having a clear view of an Arab-Israeli peace does not reduce the potential risk of devastating war, which makes the need for a solution a pressing imperative. Here too, for the Obama administration to help orchestrate a peace agreement, it must accept the premise that America’s active and direct role is indispensable.

The Obama administration must embrace the Arab Peace Initiative, initially adopted by the Arab League in March of 2002. Although the Road Map has advanced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, embracing the Initiative remains critical for two reasons: because it represents the collective Arab will which can rein in Arab extremists, and because only a comprehensive peace with all twenty-two Arab states offers Israel the security it has sought since its inception in 1948. The Obama administration must persuade Israel to formally accept the Initiative, while assuring the Israelis that the US will guarantee their security and will insist on maintaining Israel’s Jewish national identity under any peace formula.

The United States must play an active and direct role between Israelis and Palestinians by appointing a presidential envoy with a wide mandate that must stay in the region for as long as it takes until an agreement is forged.

Throughout his two terms, President Bush sent over a dozen special envoys to the Middle East, yet none stayed long enough to allow for the consistency and continuity needed to keep both sides fully engaged. The new permanent envoy must be acutely perceptive of the histories of both people and have a keen understanding of the emotional, psychological and religious complexity of the conflict. This is particularly important as both sides suffer from serious psychological hang-ups about each other that ultimately prejudice their negotiating stance. Moreover, because of the endemic internal division and the existence of rejectionist groups in both camps, the Israeli and Palestinian governments need American cover to make the necessary concessions. A permanent envoy who can exert the necessary pressure and speak on behalf of the president can provide such a political cover.

The Obama administration must insist to Israel that ending the occupation of the West Bank also means an end to all settlement activity. The settlement expansion and the building of new outposts has been one of the major impediments to the peace negotiations in the past and has undermined Israel’s credibility.

While Obama has reiterated America’s loyalty to Israel as its closest ally in the Middle East, he must also show that he can be an honest broker in the region when it comes to creating a Palestinian state. It is also of paramount importance that other Arab states in the region with good relations with Israel and the US including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco are engaged at the outset in all peace efforts. In addition, these states should contribute to the creation of a peacekeeping force to be stationed in Gaza and the West Bank to enforce the provisions of the peace agreement.

Only Arab forces representing the collective interest of their states can rein in Islamists who are likely to continue to resist any peace accord with Israel until they are brought to heel. Such an Arab force should be sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council and preferably be placed under American command and monitoring to give Israel a greater sense of confidence in the durability of peace.

Contrary to the Bush administration’s policy that has attempted to isolate Syria as it sought a regime change, the Obama administration must engage Syria directly and in doing so dramatically change the political dynamics in the region. Syria is the linchpin to weakening Hezbollah and Hamas and marginalizing Iran’s influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Israel and Syria have made tremendous progress in their recent indirect negotiations mediated by Turkey. But Syria seeks normalizing relations with the United States.

President Bashar al-Assad will be ready to enter into direct negotiations with Israel and conclude a peace agreement as soon as the Obama administration engages Damascus directly. An accord between Israel and Syria will also pave the way to a peace agreement with Lebanon, once Israel withdraws from Shebaa Farms, a disputed swath of land thrust between Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Finally, any Arab-Israeli peace, however comprehensive, may not endure unless it is accompanied with an economic and humanitarian development program that will not only deal with the pressing need of millions of Arabs who live in abject poverty but foster political and human rights reforms. Moreover, there are many Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas in the Palestinian territories who will continue to exploit these social ills to foment resistance as peace with Israel runs contrary to their interests.

The Obama administration with its European counterparts must reassess American and Western financial aid to many Arab states and implement programs of sustainable development. Ultimately the United States cannot afford to limit its presence in the region to military or government-to-government solutions and must aim to create comprehensive packages that include bottom-up solutions.

Although the people of the Middle East are eager to forge peace to end decades of violence and suffering, they need a bold, visionary and committed American leadership to help them navigate through the treacherous road to peace. President Obama may have an historic opportunity to achieve what has eluded many of his predecessors.

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Tehran was informed of the U.S. offer after rumors began to circulate about it last summer, The Seattle Times reported on Oct. 24, quoting senior Bush administration officials. It also said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is believed to view this move with favor.

AMMAN — The George W. Bush administration will establish the first official U.S. diplomatic presence in Tehran before it leaves office, according to reports published last week.

A U.S. interests section in the Iranian capital would be the first step toward restoring full diplomatic ties, severed since the 1979 hostage crisis amidst the tumult of the Islamic Revolution.

Tehran was informed of the U.S. offer after rumors began to circulate about it last summer, The Seattle Times reported on Oct. 24, quoting senior Bush administration officials. It also said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is believed to view this move with favor.

Although the final decision has not been taken by the United States, the search is alreadyunder way for a diplomat to head the mission.

This is a remarkable turn of events. While the Bush administration seems to have moved away from threats to attack Iran, some in Israel are still keen on seeing that happen, as are some of its avid supporters in Washington.

They certainly will do all they can to undermine any U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.

For years, the region has been divided into two major currents. On one side are so-called “moderates,” whose position depends directly on U.S. financial, political and military sponsorship and indirectly on American hostility toward Iran and its expanding influence in the region.

The opposing current consists of Iran and its allies – dubbed “extremists” by the United States – a club that includes Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and the Shiite parties in Iraq and elsewhere.

Moderates, which include the Gulf and other Arab states, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and the Arab League, see Iran as a major strategic threat to the region. They accuse Iran of trying to spread its hegemony by supporting Shiite groupings across the region. They also claim that Iran supports “terrorism” and “extremists” who oppose what would otherwise have been a successful peace process with Israel.

If Iran is all the terrible things the United States and its allies claim, why would it consider opening up to Tehran?

The answer is simple: it would not be a policy of choice, rather it would be a pragmatic and belated recognition of reality.

War with Iran, under any circumstances, would be disastrous. The United States knows this and so it has effectively been ruled out.

Even a mainstream commentator like New York Times columnist Roger Cohen urged on Oct. 23 a complete rethinking of the U.S. approach, given that “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei knows how much Iranian power has grown in recent years through the U.S. removal of its arch enemy Saddam Hussein and the ushering of fellow [Shiites] to power in Baghdad. He knows how stretched the [United States] is militarily.

“He knows how popular the nuclear program is domestically as a symbol of Iran’s regional ambitions. And he knows that Israel has the bomb.”

The “lesson of the Bush years,” Cohen concludes, “is that dealing in illusions is unhelpful.”

An objective American assessment, unclouded by distorted history, nationalism and prejudice, would conclude that the only basis for enmity between the United States and Iran has been U.S. interference in that country’s affairs, including overthrowing a democratic government, supporting the shah’s regime, supporting Saddam’s 1980 invasion of Iran, and fuelling the war that followed. Many of Iran’s actions, even the indefensible ones, like the hostage crisis, were reactions.

Iran never tried to overthrow a U.S. government. Iran never invaded America’s neighbors. Iran never stationed aircraft carriers off the U.S. coast.

Iran will be an adversary of the United States only as long as the United States keeps following unwise policies, which people see repeated time and again across the region (most recently, the overthrow of the elected Hamas-led Palestinian government).

Even if the moderates’ claims against Iran are all true, hostility and escalation would still not be the right answer. Iran is an integral part of the region. It has legitimate interests and ambitions, which it should be allowed to pursue reasonably and within balanced regional arrangements.

That possibility should be tested in a calm and cordial atmosphere, and reopening relations would be a good first step.

Iran – and obviously all its supporters in the region – no less than any moderates, has an interest in a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict in all its aspects, a region free of weapons of mass destruction, a stable and prosperous Iraq and normal and open relations across the region. War, confrontation and domination from outside the region will never achieve those goals.

Dialogue based on mutual respect and recognition might. Let it be tried as an alternative to military adventurism and diplomatic lawlessness.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former ambassador of Jordan at the United Nations, a writer and a lecturer. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from The Jordan Times. The full text can be found at www. jordantimes.com.

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In the first major appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama has named as his chief of staff Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

In the first major appointment of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama has named as his chief of staff Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel is an Israeli citizen and Israeli army veteran whose father, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was a member of Menachem Begin’s Irgun forces during the Nakba and named his son after “a Lehi combatant who was killed” – i.e., a member of Yitzhak Shamir’s terrorist Stern Gang, responsible for, in addition to other atrocities against Palestinians, the more famous bombing of the King David Hotel and assassination of the UN peace envoy Count Folke Bernadotte.

In rapid response to this news, the editorial in the next day’s Arab News (Jeddah) was entitled “Don’t pin much hope on Obama – Emanuel is his chief of staff and that sends a message”. This editorial referred to the Irgun as a “terror organization” and concluded: “Far from challenging Israel, the new team may turn out to be as pro-Israel as the one it is replacing.”

That was always likely. Obama repeatedly pledged unconditional allegiance to Israel during his campaign, most memorably in an address to the AIPAC national convention which Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery characterized as “a speech that broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning”, and America’s electing a black president has always been more easily imagined than any American president’s declaring his country’s independence from Israeli domination.

Still, one of the greatest advantages for the United States in electing Barack Hussein Obama was the prospect that the world’s billion-plus Muslims, who now view the United States with almost universal loathing and hatred, would be dazzled by the new president’s eloquence, life story, skin color and middle name, would think again with open minds and would give America a chance to redeem itself in their eyes and hearts – not incidentally, drastically shortening the long lines of aspiring jihadis eager to sacrifice their lives while striking a blow against the evil empire.

The profound loathing and hatred of the Muslim world toward the United States, which has always had its roots for America’s unconditional support for the injustices inflicted and still being inflicted on the Palestinians, can fairly be considered the core of the primary foreign policy and “national security” problems confronting the United States in recent years. Why would Obama, a man of unquested brilliance, have chosen to send such a contemptuous message to the Muslim world with his first major appointment? Why would he wish to disabuse the Muslim world of its hopes (however modest) and slap it across the face at the ealiest opportunity?

A further contemptuous message is widely rumored to be forthcoming — the naming as “Special Envoy for Middle East Peace” of Dennis Ross, the notorious Israel-Firster who, throughout the 12 years of the Bush the First and Clinton administrations, ensured that American policy toward the Palestinians did not deviate one millimeter from Israeli policy and that no progress toward peace could be made and who has since headed the AIPAC spin-off “think tank”, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Neverthess, since it is almost always constructive to seek a silver lining in the darkest clouds, a silver lining can be found and cited. For decades, the Palestinian leadership has been “waiting for Godot” – waiting for the US Government to finally do the right thing (if only in its own obvious self-interest) and to force Israel to comply with international law and UN Resolutions and permit them to have a decent mini-state on a tiny portion of the land that once was theirs.

This was never a realistic hope. It has not happened, and it will never happen. So it may well be salutary not to waste eight more days (let alone eight more years) playing along and playing the fool while more Palestinian lands are confiscated and more Jewish colonies and Jews-only bypass roads are built on them, clinging to the delusion that the charming Mr. Obama, admirable though he may be in so many other respects, will eventually (if only in a second term, when he no longer has to worry about reelection) see the light and do the right thing. It is long overdue for the Palestinians themselves to seize the initiative, to reset the agenda and to declare a new “only game in town”.

Furthermore, in February, Israel will elect a new Knesset. Bibi Netanyahu, who, most polls and coalition-building calculations suggest, is most likely to emerge as the next prime minister, has one (if only one) great virtue. He is absolutely honest in not professing any desire (however insincere) to see the creation of any Palestinian “state” (whether decent or less-than-a-Bantustan in nature) or to engage in any talks (even never-ending and fraudulent ones) ostensibly about that possibility. His return to power would definitively slam the door on the illusion of a “two-state solution” somewhere over an ever-receding horizon.

This would constitute a blessing and a liberation for Palestinian minds and Palestinian aspirations. Their leadership(s) could then return, after a long, costly and painful diversion, to fundamental principles, to pursuing the goal of a democratic, nonracist and nonsectarian state in all of Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all who live there.

This just goal could and should be pursued by strictly nonviolent means. If the goal is to convince a determined and powerful settler-colonial movement which wishes to seize your land, settle it and keep it (eventually cleansing it of you and your fellow natives) that it should cease, desist and leave, nonviolent forms of resistance are suicidal. If, however, the goal were to be to obtain the full rights of citizenship in a democratic, nonracist state (as was the case in the American civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement), then nonviolence would be the only viable approach. Violence would be totally inappropriate and counterproductive. The morally impeccable approach would also be the tactically effective approach. The high road would be the only road.

No American president – least of all Barack Obama – could easily support racism and apartheid and oppose democracy and equal rights, particularly if democracy and equal rights were being pursued by nonviolent means. No one anywhere could easily do so. The writing would be on the wall, and the clock would be running out on the tired game of using a perpetual “peace process” as an excuse to delay decisions (while building more “facts on the ground”) forever.

Democracy and equal rights would not come quickly or easily. Forty years passed between when, on the night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King cried out that he had been to the mountaintop and had seen the promised land and when Barack Obama was elected as president of the United States. (The Bible suggests a similar waiting period in the wilderness for Moses.) Forty-six years passed between the installation of a formal apartheid regime in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela as president of a fully democratic and nonracist “rainbow nation”.

While it may be hoped that the transformation would be significantly quicker in Israel/Palestine, it is clear that many who already qualify as “senior citizens” will not live to see the promised land. However, if the promised land of a democratic state with equal rights for all is correctly and clearly perceived and persistently and peacefully pursued, there is ample reason for confidence that Israel/Palestine will one day experience the tearful exaltation of a “Mandela Moment” or an “Obama Moment”, restoring hope in the moral potential both of a nation and of mankind, and that the Jews, Muslims and Christians who live there will finally reach their promised land.

John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of “The World According to Whitbeck”.

Courtesy: www.Counterpunch.org