Category Archives: Middle East

#Romney and #Ryan: “Don’t Know Much About History.”#RNC

Note to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. A little Sam Cooke song for your iPods, across the generations.

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took

    Foreign policy notes after the Republican convention.

Romney sounds like he wants to attack Iran.This plays to Sheldon Adelson and the millions of dollars he is willing to dedicate to defeating Obama; and to Bush-era neo-cons in the wings. Will Romney and the image-makers be able to generate enough fear in America to push for a war with Iran? I don’t think there is a stomach for going back to the Bush-Cheney policy of pre-emptive war.

Romney and his running mate used the tired old phrase that President Obama had “thrown Israel under the bus.” There’s nothing to sustain that. Obama has been as supportive of Israel as every other president since 1948. Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu—propped up by the way by Sheldon Adelson –has not been in a mood to work with the Obama administration toward compromise and negotiations with the Palestinians.

Only those with no memory and no sense of context can listen to Condoleezza Rice seriously about foreign policy. Exactly 10 years ago, she appeared on American television and fear-mongered:

“We know that there have been shipments going…into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited…for nuclear weapons…We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

If she didn’t know that this was a manufactured lie, she didn’t know her job. Rice has no apology and now is declared “presidential” by some. She shilled for a fake policy on Iraq as secretary of state. See my book with Knut Royce – The Italian Letter – which disproves the claim she still makes today, that the Bush administration acted on the best intelligence available at the time. That is a lie.

What this business about saber-rattling with Russia and using Vladimir Putin as a convenient foil? Are the Republican foreign policy advisers buried in a safe room since 1990? It was reckless.

That brings us back to Sam Cooke. I suspect that Romney does know the lessons he learned. He does know “the French he took.” He just doesn’t want to let on in the party he dances with. That is sad.

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Obama Spanks GoP Chickenhawks on War With Iran: Jeff Stein at Spytalk

from Jeff Stein:

It’s ironic isn’t it, that President Obama, who’s never gotten closer to a military uniform than a handshake, is so much more cautious about sending men and women into harm’s way than his predecessor, a onetime Air Force pilot?

The conventional wisdom, after all, is that civilians who’ve never seen a bullet fired in anger are far more cavalier about sounding the trumpets to war than a soldier who’s been there. read more: spytalk

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A Graceful Star is Lost, Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012

By Rick Gladstone
Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey.

Some impressions from the Washington Post days.
I was sometimes at the other end of the phone when he was filing from
Baghdad. The first thing you can say is that he had a mission and was
consumed by what he could do, and his work was larger than his place
of employment. He had incrementally created himself to become the
foreign correspondent he was. At AP in Egypt, he learned Arabic, which
his family did not much speak, second or third generation, back in
Oklahoma City. He saw his job as interpreting purely without a filter
the arcane world for an audience of Americans who needed to know and
were ignorant at their peril. He gave himself the tools to do his work
and few of his generation approached his level after that.

He looked to interpret a story by boring into the essential humanity,
listening to the barbers on the main drag talking about the war, or
sitting with a mother who had watched her son board a bus and go north
to war and death, or overhearing the booksellers who at all cost
needed to affirm and preserve their culture as it crumbled around
them. He gave his stories a universality — what country was this?—in
a sense it was the human story.

He lived close to death and that was implicit in his work. His family might not have
been able to stand it, weeks apart with the daily weight of his
possible death for having gone many steps too far. He was compelled to
work, nevertheless, family or not, and he returned to the field.

His writing was inspired, didn’t need much editing, was too long and
he got away with it. He was proud, smiled gently back in the office
and was diffident listening to praise. He was forgiving of editors who
weren’t with the program, top to bottom, argued for good sense and to
my view, only was happy when he was out the door and back in the
field.

In short, he was a a classic case of the stereotype of the foreign
correspondent, who then shot through that stereotype and created
a new standard, better than most.

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Nothing Like the Real Thing (As opposed to Dick Cheney’s Version of History)

Dick Cheney is on the circuit talking about events surrounding his possible departure from the vice presidential re-election campaign in 2004.

Here’s a piece of a chat I had with John Roberts in April 2008 on CNN about Cheney discussing The Italian Letter, the book I wrote with my colleague Knut Royce:

PETER EISNER, CO-AUTHOR, “THE ITALIAN LETTER”: We found out that, as a result of Cheney’s role in developing the march toward war in Iraq, Rove started to question, has he gone too far; is he a little bit too much out there for us for running again in 2004?

So, Rove started to talk to people, particularly Grover Norquist, and, in turn, to conservative financial backers, just gently, to say, do we really want him on the ticket? It’s an outrageous thing to say. And it really upset Cheney, when he found out about it. And it was squelched quickly. But the bad blood between Rove and Cheney, as a result, exists to this day.

ROBERTS (voice-over): The Rove-Cheney drama is just the latest revelation in a complicated story that began more than four years ago and continues to this day. But how did we get here?

One of many key players in the run-up to the war, the White House Iraq Group — its mission, claims Eisner, to sell the war in Iraq to the American public by whipping up fear about Iraq’s nuclear program. In 2003, what looked like the perfect smoking gun emerged, a letter now known as the “Italian letter,” supposedly documenting Niger’s intentions to sell uranium to Saddam Hussein.

The only problem, the letter was a fake.

Truth is, even Cheney’s conservative buddies in the Bush administration thought he was off the deep end. Former aides to Cheney thought that by the time he reached the presidency, his personality and actions had changed, and they questioned his rationality for pushing the Iraq War. After my comments on CNN, Cheney and the White House issued a denial. Now, struggling to find news in Cheney’s tell-little memoir, they drag out the resignation passage, revealing little, if anything.

Cheney and his cohorts manufactured the cause for war in Iraq, and it wasn’t just cherry-picking. They promoted a story that the US intelligence community agreed had never existed — Saddam purchasing yellowcake in Niger. To this hour, he and Bush and their cohorts say they “acted on the best intelligence available at the time.” That is a lie.

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Catching the Bad Guys — The Pursuits of bin Laden and Pablo Escobar Show Similarities

The killing 18 years ago of Pablo Escobar, the feared leader of the Medellin Cocaine Cartel, and the tracking and Osama bin Laden bear strong similarities — so much so, Steve Coll notes, that CIA operatives studied the Escobar case in the methodical, eventually successful discovery of bin Laden’s hideout.

“As they reset their work, the analysts studied other long-term international fugitive hunts that had ended successfully, such as the operations that led to the death of the Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar, in 1993. The analysts asked, Where did the breakthroughs in these other hunts come from? What were the clues that made the difference and how were the clues discovered? They tried to identify “signatures” of Osama bin Laden’s life style that might lead to such a clue: prescription medications that he might purchase, hobbies or other habits of shopping or movement that might give him away.”

Covering the pursuit of Escobar in the early 1990s, it became evident that Colombia’s security forces were sometimes in conflict with elements of the military, and sometimes it appeared that Escobar was slip-sliding through the dragnet with official complicity. Escobar was fabulously wealthy, as was bin Laden, and neither hesitated at using bribery or violence to buy safety and time. Escobar ultimately was tracked down by making a mistake and using a telephone. Officials used electronic tracking equipment to pinpoint his location. He died in a firefight with security forces. We don’t know how or whether bin Laden tripped up after all these years.

At first the official version in Escobar’s case was that Colombian authorities maintained operational security and conducted the raid. But the chief of Colombian security forces, Gen. Miguel Maza, squirmed when I asked him whether U.S. officials accompanied Colombians when Escobar was gunned down in a roof-top firefight. It became clear that a phantom U.S. helicopter was airbrushed out of the official government account in that case.

Similarly, Pakistani officials were uneasy about describing their knowledge and role in the final pursuit of bin Laden. In both cases, U.S. officials were rather pragmatic on two accounts — they got the job done, no matter the details or whether either foreign government needed to save face. And in both cases, they overlooked the circumstantial evidence: either for corruption or looking the other way, it seemed incredible that either Escobar or bin Laden would not have been detected — both living in plain sight in the middle of a well-patrolled city.

There was another striking parallel between the cases of Escobar and bin Laden — both had become symbols of the violence they engendered, but neither was able to operate his respective terror network by the time they were tracked down.

By that time, smaller, lesser known cells were doing the dirty work, and devising means of pursuing their criminal enterprises. In Escobar’s case, no drug dealer became as well-known nor as powerful after him, but narcotics dealing became almost institutionalized at a low level. U.S. officials never won their War on Drugs, but were able to turn down the volume after Escobar’s death.

It remains to be seen whether bin Laden will have as mighty and newsworthy a successor, but U.S. officials have said many times that pursuing terrorism is a long term effort. Nevertheless, both of these central actors, bin Laden, and Escobar a generation earlier, have gone to early graves.

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Looking ahead to President Obama’s Bully Pulpit

Preliminary thoughts about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The elimination of Osama bin Laden warranted jubilation, public demonstrations and cheers, dampened by somber reminders of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans recognized the obvious – This was a historic victory. President Obama said it well:

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.  The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.  Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Bin Laden leaves the stage in May 2011, but his operational capacity was limited if not eliminated years before his death. He existed as a symbol of terror. It is hard to think that anyone could rise to the same level, anytime soon.

His death now is as strong a blow to international terror as it would have been years earlier. Striking down the symbol will be accompanied by newly energized pursuit of his number two – Ayman al-Zawahiri – and the estimated several hundred al Qaeda fighters along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Questions and Answers


How could bin Laden have lived in plain site for so long, one kilometer from a Pakistani military post?

We don’t know yet, but U.S. officials won’t want to beat up on the Pakistanis. The civil government in Islamabad is a weak enterprise, and its stability depends on domestic public perception. The Pakistani military and intelligence service – ISI – are a power unto themselves and comprise a complicated, rivalry-ridden command structure. U.S. officials are giving the Pakistanis a chance to save face. The Obama administration will keep working with Pakistani officials on future operations of joint interest – decreasing violence, enhancing political and economic stability.


What about increased vigilance and retaliation?

Intelligence and police forces have been doing a fine job over the last decade to counteract, block and limit the scope of terror attacks. The system isn’t fool-proof, but there has never been a reason to live in fear. [Fortunately, Tom Ridge’s foolish color-coded alert warnings have gone the way of the Edsel.]

Will the death of bin Laden accelerate demands for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Probably so. However, the Obama administration will take some time, looking for a changes in the wind–the flagging ability and will of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to pursue their goals.

What policies should be on the agenda?

–Israel and the Palestinians–Seizing the moment to push the Israelis and the Palestinians toward an equitable peace. Presidential persuasion is a key—a successful compromise is needed. A resolution for the West Bank and Gaza has always been a major recipe toward drying up the seedbeds of future terrorism.
The U.S. Abroad–—pursuing further efforts to improve the U.S. image abroad. That image could hardly have been worse when President Obama took office after the multiple failures of the Bush administration. Obama can use the moment and the bully pulpit to push recalcitrant players toward real mediation and compromise for peace in the Middle East.
–Middle East Uprisings–Hard work to land fairly in each of the civil uprisings burning in the Middle East. And taking care that Yemen evolves peacefully, and with a future government that continues to fight al Qaeda cells there with U.S. support.
–Kashmir — Push for peace talks and negotiations between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, supported by the United States and Europe. Success feeds world peace and creates the prospects for a more friendly relationship with Pakistan.

The bill of particulars is long, but President Obama has checked off one of the greatest action items he may ever face.

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Voting for Democracy, Often with Lip Service

Is democracy the official U.S. goal in the Middle East and around the world? Not necessarily. Not always, certainly not now. U.S presidents may talk about democratic

King Abdullah II and President Obama meeting in Washington

aspirations everywhere – but the record is a matter of relativity. (Remember the Shah of Iran, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the South African minority apartheid regime, to name a few cases.)

The U.S. conundrum, no matter how thoughtful and sincere the president of the moment, could hardly be worse than in the case of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. (Saudi Arabia is a more complicated, different order of magnitude) What would the United States prefer: King Abdullah II and his pro-American constancy or the shaky possibilities of the ballot box? About one third of Jordan’s 6.5 million people are Palestinian refugees and most of them are Jordanian citizens. Open elections might move in an unscripted direction.

Historically, U.S. officials fear Palestinian voters going to the polls. In 2006, when Hamas won a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections, it would have been hard to deny this was the people’s legitimate choice. Yet the Bush administration reacted with anger and halted financial aid to the Palestinian government – so did the European community. So much for democratic elections.

The United States has taken a couple of quick turns of policy in the recent popular uprisings around the Levant – Mubarak gone to seed, Yemen sinking fast, Libya bombing runs. But U.S. officials would be stuck if things turned very bad in Jordan. So far protests for political reform in Jordan have been rather mild.

King Abdullah has his American side. He is a graduate of the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. More than once, an attentive shopper might have bumped elbows with him on a on Saturday morning when Abdullah—jean-clad and unnoticed–browsed the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble in Georgetown.

The king is likely staying home for a while. He’s engaged in what he calls a “national dialogue,” which in some ways is more open, more prosperous than Arab neighbors.

The king, quoted by the Jordan information bureau, said this week that “We are moving ahead with the reform endeavor to build upon achievements, bring about development and realize Jordanians’ aspirations for a better future.”

Abdullah even insinuates he’s thinking about bigger changes. The Information Bureau also said this: “During a meeting with representatives of the professional associations, the King called for supporting all forms of constructive dialogue and standing firm against non-democratic moves that threaten the country’s national unity.”

The king would be a democrat, lower and probably upper case, if he took out U.S. citizenship. But in Jordan, it is likely that he will hold the prerogatives of the throne as long as he can–with steadfast support from the United States.

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Fear without Facts: “Iranian sleeper agents” in the Caribbean

A former U.S. official is pushing the idea that Venezuela and Iran have created a base for terrorists and sleeper agents on the island of Margarita in the Caribbean.

True or not, Roger Noriega’s dire warning about Hugo Chavez and his terrorism connection sounds like fodder for a Johnny Depp movie. (Ayatollah Tourists in the Caribbean?)

Noriega, former assistant secretary of state under George W. Bush, writes in the Washington Post that President Obama is missing the real story on his tour of Latin America. Never fear, Noriega is ready to tell us  “the real” story, which by the way can’t be proved or disproved. It can only be doubted.

Noriega’s ideas and warnings about Venezuela have been featured on the Washington Post opinion pages before. The method is based on agitprop, the underlying principle of the very successful campaign that brought us war on Iraq, a war much less successful than the propaganda campaign. Here’s how you play–first understand agitprop.

“agitprop, abbreviated from Russian agitatsiya propaganda (agitation propaganda), political strategy in which the techniques of agitation and propaganda are used to influence and mobilize public opinion. Although the strategy is common, both the label and an obsession with it were specific to the Marxism practiced by communists in the Soviet Union.

The twin strategies of agitation and propaganda were originally elaborated by the Marxist theorist Georgy Plekhanov, who defined propaganda as the promulgation of a number of ideas to an individual or small group and agitation as the promulgation of a single idea to a large mass of people. ” Encyclopedia Britannica online

Next blend some truths with  information that no one can prove to be categorically true or false. The unnamed sources cited by Noriega are  “from within the Venezuelan regime,” and tell him that a terrorist conclave took place in Venezuela.  “Among those present were Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah, who is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists; Hamas’s “supreme leader,” Khaled Meshal; and Hezbollah’s “chief of operations.”

Cting his conversation with  “a Venezuelan government source,”  Noriega further tells us that “two Iranian terrorist trainers are on Venezuela’s Margarita Island…” The trainers are

“instructing operatives who have assembled from around the region. In addition, radical Muslims from Venezuela and Colombia are brought to a cultural center in Caracas named for the Ayatollah Khomeini and Simon Bolivar for spiritual training, and some are dispatched to Qom, Iran, for Islamic studies. Knowledgeable sources confirm that the most fervent recruits in Qom are given weapons and explosives training and are returned home as ‘sleeper’ agents.”

Noriega, when he was in office, once told me in matter-of-fact terms that Cuban operatives had taken over Venezuela’s intelligence service, which was thereby at the bidding of Fidel Castro. That apparently didn’t fly very well. Now that Iran is the enemy du jour, why not point to Iran-trained sleeper agents, a couple of hundred miles off U.S. shores?

I asked a knowledgeable source about Noriega’s story, but on the record: Vincent Cannistraro, who is former Director of Intelligence Programs for the  National Security Council and former Chief of Operations and Analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency‘s Counterterrorist Center.

“It’s not based on confirmed intelligence,” nor is there a plot or an imminent threat, Cannistraro said. “Noriega has a one-track mind on Chavez and ties to Iran. This is poorly sourced, as usual. We know Chavez and his predilections, but he is not in the Iranian terrorist nest.”

It isn’t easy to prove a negative, as they say, but let’s ask Noriega and the Washington Post opinion pages for evidence. Otherwise, skepticism reigns.

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Half baked ideas on intervention in Libya

The misguided word among some on the fast-draw media circuit is that President Obama should be “DOING SOMETHING” about Libya. Give us a president, they say, who can make a decision and get it done!

Criticism of the U.S. role in some quarters is based on the illusion that overt U.S. threats, followed by military might on air, sea and land always work. Critics would even mock the notion that President Obama is able to think on his own, and act with care. For them, military intervention is such a given, such a standby in the American bag of tricks that anything else seems weak.

They fail to explain to us how calling Gaddafi a maniac and launching quick military action would save lives.

President Obama thankfully has held counsel, measured his response and kept the powder dry. Examine the reality:

The Obama administration has focused, as it must, on the safety of Americans in Libya. Moments after several hundred Americans – including diplomats from the U.S. embassy – left Tripoli by ferry and by airplane, the United States was freezing Libyan assets. Immediately, the administration started “ratcheting up” the pressure on Gaddafi, the Washington Post reported.

That sounds like a reasonable move, contrary to an editorial in the same newspaper, which complained about presidential inaction. The editorial page was rooting for immediate U.S. military action, the same editorial page that still fawns over the faulty, fraud-based Bush invasion of Iraq.

The U.S. image in the Middle East and elsewhere is improved somewhat; however, trust in America collapsed worldwide after the Bush administration set the precedent of preemptive war and lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Unilateral U.S. action in Libya would be akin to what happens to local police when they respond to domestic disputes—both sides turn on the would-be peacemakers.

Neoconservatives venerate the mystical, vapid, Reaganesque Marlboro man image of American power. In 2011, concerted United Nations or regional action would be the preferred way to go in Libya, if it comes to that. President Obama, thankfully, doesn’t shoot from the hip.

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Libyan Protests — Low Priority So Far

By all scant news available, Libya is undergoing serious protests and disruptions, very little making its way into the news technosphere. There is some material on Youtube, such as this one from Al Jazeera

and reports from Human Rights Watch and Christian Science Monitor on protests, arrests, deaths and injuries.

This email was relayed by a reliable source overnight, with more detail than seen elsewhere and includes a plea for news coverage. A late check shows very little tweeting from and about Libya:

Juma Abdel majid, the brother of the head of the National front for the liberation
of the Tebu self immolated in the city of Kufra inside the offices of the Libyan Revolutionary
guards. He was protesting the taking of young school kids by the Rev
Guards in demonstrations for Qaddafi. He is at the hospital now. I have
confirmed this news with his brother Issa , who lives in Norway.

At the moment we have reports of 13 dead in the city of Al-Bida, over 50
dead in the city of Benghazi, 5 dead in the city of Ajdabi 2 dead in the
city of Rajban. The Libyan uprising is spreading all over the country,
and calling for Qaddafi’s removal. I urge you to do more coverage on
Libya and tell the world of the Massacres that are taking place in Libya
now.

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