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Lets's talk about democracy
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Thursday, 9 February 2006
Marking Ashoura celebration with Pakistani destabilization?
Topic: War on Terror
This news ain't so good...

HANGU, Pakistan (AFP - Sectarian Muslim violence marred the holiest day of the Shiite calendar, with at least 34 people killed and more than 100 injured in attacks and clashes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Officials suspected militants linked to Sunni Muslims for the initial attack, which came with Muslim sentiment around the world already near boiling point over cartoons of Prophet Mohammed first published in a Danish newspaper. In neighbouring Afghanistan at least three people were killed and 52 wounded later during clashes between the two sects in the western city of Herat, doctors said. Around 500 troops were rushed to Herat but were unable to control the violence, a defence ministry official told AFP. 'The situation is deteriorating,' he said."

The anger over these damn stupid cartoons seems be turning into to something much more serious. Sunnis and Shiites fighting each other in Afghansistan is very unusual, from what I understand, although not so much is Pakistan. I don't know which is worse at this point, Afghanistan falling apart, even more than it already is, or Pakistan falling into a sectarian basket-case a la Iraq. Probably the latter would be the scarier scenario because they've got the bomb. The only reason we're focusing all our attention on Iran right now is because of a fear of turbaned Mullahs getting their hands on a bomb. But just imagine OBL becoming the new leader of Pakistan! 'Have Islamic bomb, will travel!'

President Pervez Mussharraf is all that is preventing this from happening and he's not exactly the most beloved leader Pakistan has ever had. He's had two assassination attempts made against him, he's pissed off certain elements of the military and the ISI, he's got the Kashmiri mess, a war going on in Warziristan---and us not helping by blowing up women and children---and there's Baluchistan.

Globalsecurity.org says:

"The province of Baluchistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan, remains notorious for cross-border smuggling and has more recently been infiltrated by former members of the Taliban and Al Qaida operatives."

Apparently, including OBL himself...

newsmax.com: "Former Navy Secretary John Lehman said Thursday that the Pentagon has pinpointed the location of Osama bin Laden in the Baluchistan Region of Western Pakistan, but is holding back on rounding him up because it could destabilize the government of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf.

There is an American presence in the area, but we can't just send in troops," he told the Sun. "If we did, we could have another Vietnam, and the United States cannot afford that right now."

Isn't that intersting?

And he might still be getting help from Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. James Risen and Judith Miller(Gag!) reported shortly after 9/11 that the ISI, "has had an indirect but longstanding relationship with Al Qaeda, turning a blind eye for years to the growing ties between Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, according to American officials....American officials said the depth of support within elements of the I.S.I. for a war on the Taliban and Al Qaeda remained uncertain, and a former chief of the agency has become one of the most vocal critics of American policy in Pakistan. The former director general, Hameed Gul, complained in an interview with a Pakistani newspaper that the Bush administration was demanding that the agency be placed at the disposal of the Americans, as if it were a mercenary force. 'The I.S.I. is a national intelligence agency, whose potential and ouput should not be shared or rented out to other countries,' Mr. Gul said."

So, some bad blood there?

Afghan summer:

The furor over the cartoons has the potential to plunge Afghanistan into a vortex of violence that could make this summer especially bloody.

The Atimes:

"With the Taliban and al-Qaeda gearing for a summer offensive in Afghanistan, using Pakistan's tribal area of North Waziristan as a base, they want to increase their political mass support once they ramp up their activities on the guerrilla front. At the same time, they are looking for fresh blood from the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Pakistani jihadi diehards to join their jihad. Incidents such as the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in an unsavory light play right into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in fanning the already simmering embers of discontent among the masses."

Sibghatullah Zaki, a representitive in the Afghan parliament, or Loya Jirga, from Takhar province and was also a top leader of the Jumbesh Milli Afghanistan led by General Abdul Rasheed Dostum, told the Atimes:

"It is a critical situation and is likely to have a special impact on Afghanistan. There are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. The majority of them condemn terrorism. There are few who believe in terror tactics. However, publication of such caricatures shows that they consider all Muslims as terrorists. I tell you, this will have a direct impact on Afghanistan's socio-political situation. There are already riots from north to south. In my province, Takhar, people attacked the offices of the governor and the mayor and ransacked everything. There [were] a huge demonstration and riots in Laghman. This indicates the direction in which the common Afghan thinks."

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:44 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006 4:12 PM EST
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Wednesday, 8 February 2006
Venezuela, it's always Venezuela
Topic: General News.

In its new years predictions for 2006 the WSJ listed Venezuela as among this country's top "Global Threats" along with Iran. As many commentators have pointed out---on both the left and right---this administration has almost completely ignored Latin America while obsessively focusing on the Middle East. With the leftward shift of governments in the region: Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and maybe even Mexico very soon etc.; the right wing is sounding the alarm and becoming increasingly shrill about the administration’s neglect of our southern backyard and in particular its lack of action against Hugo Chavez.

Why does it always seem to come around to Venezuela? This isn't the first time we've had problems with Venezuela. The Hays and Cleveland administrations had to deal with territorial disputes involving business interests in the area in the 19th century and TR's Corollary' to the Monroe Doctrine---wherein we added the entire Western Hemisphere to our "manifest destiny"---was in reaction to another Venezuelan strongman, General Castro, who hadn't paid his debts to his European lenders. When the Germany, Britain and Italy blockaded Caracas in order to collect that debt, TR stepped in to solve the problem; not only because he found using force distasteful when it came to collecting debts but because the Europeans---our business rivals---were also horning in on our sphere of influence. Now, again we have the Spanish trying to sell boats to Chavez and the Russians selling him arms, but this time it appears W. is busy elsewhere and this is making the multi-nationals and their ideological flacks very worried.

Funny how things never change.

The enemies change, but the rhetoric hardly changes. The bottom line is the same: somebody or some ideology is trying to threaten our dominance in the world. At a yard sale many years ago I found a five volume set of John Birch society books and as an extra bonus I found the twelfth printing of something called "The Blue Book" written in 1958 which was Robert Welsh's attempt to give us the score in the Cold War and to "Draw the present battle lines on the world's ideological and political map."

Welsh's panicked appraisal of the impending communist take over of the world back then seemed like the rambling of a crackpot to most of the mainstream political elite and he railed against what he saw as the inaction of the Truman and Eisenhower administration's inattention to the growing global threat of Communism. (Nixon and Reagan, however, were known to court the John Birchers from time to time.)

Axis of Evo:

Judging from a column by Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the WSJ on Jan. 27, though, it would seem the Birchers have finally taken over the insane asylum. O'Grady writes that Evo Morales, the new Bolivian president, has "built a cabinet of radicals and Marxists militants, purged the Bolivian military and signed a pile of 'agreements' with his Venezuelan mentor Higo Chavez. There are reports that Cuban security agents are already working for the new president much as they did for Chavez."

Robert Welsh warns us from the grave: "The communists are now in complete control of Bolivia and Venezuela....And Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela, who says he is not a communist but has admitted he was a Marxist...seems to be taking the lead in plots and plans to overthrow the very few remaining anti-Communist governments in Latin America. Right now he is giving powerful help ---probably the most powerful, next to our own government---towards the overthrow of Batista in Cuba by the Communist Fidel Castro, and the establishment of a Communist beachhead ninety-miles from our shores."

O'Grady writes," It's hard to find anyone not hoping that an Evo-led Bolivia, built on equality under the law, property rights and healthy competition will emerge. [I.e. let us rape your natural resources.] Sadly, though, white guilt is not likely to get off so easily. [What?] The reality is that the Cuban model of totalitarian 'equality' is the now the dominant force shaping the Morales government."

Robert Welsh: "Now I know plenty of writers, commentators and officials will tell you that NehruNis not a Communist but a 'dynamic neutralist,' and that Nassar is not a Communist but an "Arab nationalist.' But the bellwethers of all such opinion molders are, by and large, the same people who...five years ago [insisted] that Achmed Sukarno was not a Communist but an Indonesian George Washington....The widespread acceptance of these views is, in my opinion, merely more proof of the success of Communist propaganda."

O'Grady, too, points out that the present day "bellwethers" of opinion molders have "greeted the Morales presidency with romantic optimism....His fiery rhetoric laced with old fashioned Latin populism, his violent background and his hardline friends abroad---all have been played down in favor of a 'give-him-a-chance' attitude."

You see, this Evo could be another Mao or Sukarno, don't be fooled. "Communist [or present day Chavez appeasers] sympathies and even actual Communist subversion are daily made more respectable by the actions of our government [Cuban baseball?] , our great universities [Re:David Horowitz], much of our press {the NYT] and by the complacency of our people."

Don't take that cheap heating oil, you're helping sow our own destruction. Wear more sweaters for America! People wake up! Exxon's profit margins are tiny, W. can't afford to heat the homes of the poor or pay for school lunches anymore; there's no use in any of it if you're dead. The pentagon needs that $439 billion budget and only a communist would say the costs of fighting the "emergencies" in Afghanistan and Iraq should be included in the overall budget.

Geez....where's Ann Coulter when you need her?

Posted by bushmeister0 at 6:49 PM EST
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Tuesday, 7 February 2006
Muhammad madness.
Topic: General News.

In a further move to demonstrate to the world that the US leads the world in human rights, it voted in the U.N. to exclude two gay rights groups from participating in that body's Economic and Social Council. The Council, according to the AP, is "a think thank of nongovernmental agencies from around the world.

Nearly, 3,000 organizationshold 'consultive status' with the body, meaning they can participate from within in discussions among United Nations member states." The US voted with countries noted for their strong support for human rights such as: Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Quite a rogues gallery, but State Department spokesperson Edgar Vasquez explained, "The United States continues to implement a law requiring certification by the United Nations to prohibit funding of [NGOs] that condone pedophilia."

Openly gay (ergo pedophile) congressmen Barney Frank sent a letter to Condi Rice saying, "I had hopes for better from you. To refuse them status, what else is it except an act of bigotry?"

Oh, take a Midol, Barney Fag, we'll side with any mullah or religious wacko out there when it comes to sexual preference or reproductive rights for women. If a woman in a developing country wants condoms or needs an abortion she'd better ask her husband first, not the American tax-payer. We're right there with the Saudis when it comes to that! This is why I don't understand why Muslims around the world would think our war against terrorism is a war against Islam. Our leaders are just as religiously fanatical about repressing sexual freedom as any turbaned and bearded Ayatollah is!

Make cheese not cartoons:

On the subject of the Danish cartoons, Trudy Rubin says that Muslims just need to get over it, because there is no war on Islam. Everybody knows "Western leaders have gone out of their way to debunk that canard." Yes, indeed, when W. said we were on a "crusade" against terror, they should have understood that he was just ignorant of the cultural significance of that word. What he really meant to say was he respects Islam as a religion of peace. How on earth could they get the idea we're out to get them just because our military occupies two Muslim countries?

All this belly aching by Muslims around the world, from London to Jakarta to Beirut, about the Danish cartoons is just another sign they just don't get it when it comes to democracy. Noted interfaith activist and crybaby Imam Faisal Abdul Raouf claims the protests and riots that have exploded all over the world reflect "A collective frustration building up about the way Muslims feel they have been treated. There is perception on the street that the war on terror is a war on Islam."

Au contrar mon frere, haven't many European countries banned the wearing of headscarves and advocated other measures like shutting down mosques in an effort to help Muslims better integrate into Western societies? Certainly, young French citizens of Arab and Muslim decent must agree that Western freedoms "offer Muslims the opportunity to practice their religion freely in Europe," as Trudy Rubin writes---as long as they drop the head-dress and act like Christians. As Fuad Ajami said on the NewsHour this week, the Muslims that come to Western countries for a better life need to live by the standards of the society they've adapted. All this nonsense about depicting the Prophet Mohammed is much to do about nothing. If a conservative Danish paper wants to go out of its way to insult a particular minority's religious beliefs for domestic political advantage, then so be it, that's democracy.

This is crux of the situation: Muslims around the world just need to develop a thicker skin. The Saudis and other oil rich monarchies regularly allow their political organs to publish anti-Christian and anti-Semitic diatribes in an effort to bolster their dictatorial rule and we support that, because that's freedom of speech! If people want to say the Pope is a unrepentant NAZI and condones pedophilia, they can, because that's freedom of speech, too. You don't hear Jews and Catholics complaining about it, do you?

There's no doubt, our good friend and ally King Abdullah II of Jordan respects the freedom of the press, as well. All you rioters out there could learn a lot about Western democracy by learning from Abdullah's example. When one brave and intrepid journalist named Jihad Momani actually had the bright idea of publishing the cartoons in his paper so people who were protesting could actually see what it was they were so angry about, he was fired and then arrested by the Jordanian authorities. Well...it's not so much that his monarchy is democratic as much as it is that he supports our war in Iraq.

Bottom line is; Muslims need to overcome their poverty and illiteracy, resulting from centuries of neglect by their leaders, who were propped up for decades by succeeding occupiers, and just get on with it.

And if they don't....

Big time blow back?

In all seriousness, though, the intitial outrage over these cartoons is nothing compared to the potential danger of these very violent protests becoming something much, much worse. Latant anger over years of repression and poverty could come rushing to the top and overwhelm various regimes around the world, which is why I'm sure the Mubaraks and Sauds of the world are viewing these protests very warily. Autocratic Arab regimes have exploited religious fervor for years to their own advantage, but times have changed and democracy is on the march. All it could take is a moderately adroit Ayatollah-wannabe to ride this wave to power in any number of Middle Eastern countries, Egypt in particular, which would be a major disaster.

Danger in Afghanistan:

Torching European embassies in Damascus and Beirut and Tehran, are bad enough, but killings in Afghanistan involving NATO troops firing on protesters could really get out of hand. Remember what happened after the shooting of a large number of protesters in Fallujah in April of 2003 and the very negative result of that.

The timing couldn't be worse, just as the snows are starting to melt and the Taliban are getting back into the swing of things, which they about this time every year. If regular Afghanis start to see their government as pawns of the Western powers they see as condoning these anti-Muslim cartoons, the Taliban would have an excellent wedge to exploit. The arrival of large numbers of NATO troops into Afghanistan, many from the very countries now blamed for these cartoons, could create a real mess. Even as I write this NATO reinforcements are being rushed to Meymaneh after protesters attacked a contigent of Norwegians at an airbase there.

Of course, I understand the Taliban are unable to mount large scale operations and are using IEDs and suicide bombers because they're "desperate," but despite their impending demise, they have been somehow able to mount quite a significant operation in Helmand province, involving some 200 fighters, over the last few days that have taken the Afghan military completely by surprise. Reports now say the Taliban have "fled" into areas around Kandahar, where I'm sure they'll disintegrate and leave Hamid Karzai and his democratically elected parliament of warlord’s free reign to finally rule outside the immediate boundaries of Kabul.

And finally, this controversy over cartoons is also playing right into the hands of Mamoud Amandinejad in Tehran, where he's milking it for every last drop. On the heels of the IAEA voting to refer Iran to the Security Council, this must be a Godsend (No pun intended) for his regime, who without the IAEA and the cartoons would have to actually deal with its real problems of an economy unable to absorb an exploding population of young and unemployed Iranians hungry for freedom and Western electronics. This is the perfect example of unintended consequences coming together to blow up in our faces.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:14 PM EST
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Friday, 3 February 2006
W. and making up phoney excuses to go to war.
Topic: Bush Administraiton

Man, what's with all this wackiness over some cartoons? Even the Indonesians are losing their stuff over this!

The problem with these cartoons according to Deutsche Welle reports is that, "Among the 12 caricatures, one shows Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban; another depicts him as a wild-eyed, knife-wielding Bedouin flanked by two women shrouded in black. In Islam, depicting the Prophet Mohammed is tantamount to blasphemy."

Of course, its only blasphemy if the person who believes in the religion actually draws the cartoons, right? It's ironic that after all the worries over Hamas and their religious fervor it turns out it's Fatah's militant wing that has gone the craziest over this:

"Earlier in the day, two armed groups, the Popular Resistance Committee and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, had threatened to harm Danes, French and Norwegians in the Palestinian territories after newspapers in France and Norway opted to reprint the Danish cartoons.

'Every Norwegian, Dane and Frenchman in our country is a target,' said the Popular Resistance Committee and the radical Al-Aqsa brigades. If the three countries in question don't shut down their offices and consulates in the Palestinian territories, "we won't hesitate to destroy them.'"

In contrast Hamas leaders called ro calm!

See Nobody's Business for a much better discussion of this than I can offer, plus some of the cartoons.

Bush and Blair try to provoke war:

While everyone is preoccupied with this very silly religious nonsense, The Independent reports today:

George Bush considered provoking a war with Saddam Hussein's regime by flying a United States spyplane over Iraq bearing UN colours, enticing the Iraqis to take a shot at it, according to a leaked memo of a meeting between the US President and Tony Blair.

Mr Bush said: "The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

He added: "It was also possible that a defector could be brought out who would give a public presentation about Saddam's WMD, and there was also a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated." The memo damningly suggests the decision to invade Iraq had already been made when Mr Blair and the US President met in Washington on 31 January 2003 when the British Government was still working on obtaining a second UN resolution to legitimize the conflict.

Hmmm. you think? Of course, this 'he's shooting at our planes' excuse is nothing new. In the Downing Street Memo there's reference to "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime by bombing runs back when the memo was written on July 23, 2002.

What's new about this is that W. actually thought about surreptitiously sending a plane with UN colors and risk a pilot being shot down to have an excuse to start a war.

That's pretty amazing...and impeachable, I think.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 12:09 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006 1:17 AM EST
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Saturday, 28 January 2006

OK, so I've been picking on big bad Vlad Putin for the past few days, so I won't mention the deplorable state of his army. Or maybe I will.

Reuters reports: Andrei Sychev, 19, [A recent army conscript] was tied up and beaten for hours by drunken soldiers over the New Year holiday at a tank academy in Chelyabinsk, in the Ural mountains.

Today, protesters in Moscow demanded that Vlad's old buddy in the KGB, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, should be fired. Good luck with that. [Remember what happened to the angry mother of a sailor who died on the Kursk.

Amnesty International reports:

"Amnesty International continues to receive reports of torture and ill-treatment of soldiers by their superiors, in some cases resulting in death, including forced suicides. Information received by the organization suggests failure on the part of the authorities to conduct prompt and impartial investigations of such cases and prosecute the perpetrators. Amnesty International has not been informed of any measures taken by the authorities to compensate the victims of torture and abuse in the army and to eradicate the practice of brutality in the military forces."

And article in the Moscow Times from 2003 reports that since the Russian Army has no equivalent to our NCOs, so-called "Grandfathers" are put in charge of the soldiers:

"Today, unit commanders concern themselves with battle strategy and, wanting not to be bothered with supervising troops' daily life and discipline, delegate to grandfathers the dirty work of keeping order among their peers in the barracks, while they, the professional officers, return home to their families at night.

From the 1960s, grandfathers began to take on the roles of the nonexistent professional NCOs -- safeguarding discipline, order and unit traditions. Commanding officers tended to turn a blind eye to the grandfathers' methods of disciplining younger soldiers -- as long as there was some sort of order in the barracks. As the conscript saying goes: The first year, the grandfathers beat you; the second year, you, in turn, beat up the newly enlisted."

That's a nice system! How on earth does the Russian army function? Well, as long as the oil money keeps flowing, that's all Vlad cares about.

As bad as this all sounds, it could be much, much worse. The Soldier's Mothers of St. Petersberg (Vlad's hometown)---one of many groups of mothers who try to keep their sons out of the army---wrote back in 1995 that:

"According to an official survey conducted by a commitee commissioned by the President: there are 6000-8000 deaths caused by physical or psychological violence, 500 suicides and numerous vicfims who died either by accident or because of identifiable causes each year (the estimates of the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg are five to ten times higher)."

Predictably, an article on the Soldier's Mothers says: "Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has criticized the ``so-called'' Committee of Soldiers' Mothers for standing in the way of military justice - saying soldiers should take complaints to their superiors, not go on ``marathon'' treks in search of support."

Hmmm..I wonder of any of these mother's groups, which are NGOs, might be the reason Vlad is trying to outlaw them? (They're probably getting money from the UK and communicating with rocks, too.)

The Moscow Times reported back in July, when Vlad was hatching his new laws against foreign NGOs that he said, "We are against overseas funding for the political activities [of NGOs] in Russia. I categorically object. Not a single state that respects itself does that, and we won't allow it either."

Posted by bushmeister0 at 4:35 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006 4:22 PM EST
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Friday, 27 January 2006
Hamas might be crazy.
Topic: Israel
[See my posts at Non Sum Dignus for more news]

Yesterday, when I wrote about Hamas winning the parliamentary elections in the PA, I might have been a little bit too optimistic about the militant Islamist group's willingness to change. The present leaders of Hamas are not exactly your standard wild-eyed fanatics---they are mainly professionals with degrees---but then again their charter calls for the destruction of Israel, so I don't know how reasonable they're going to be. I really hope they will drop the 'destroy Israel' talk and get on with providing the Palestinians with a better future, because until they stop banging their head against the wall with this crazy notion that they're going to beat Israel with suicide bombers, they're not going to be able to govern. I really doubt the majority of Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank want to go another round with the IDF, I'm sure that's not what they were voting for.

Hopefully, we won't have to go through the whole long process of haggling that went on before the PLO finally recognized the existence of Israel, and we can get on with it. The Palestinians are a pretty pragmatic and secular people; let’s hope their new leaders are up to the task of bringing them into the modern world. They've certainly got a better chance of eventually becoming a peaceful, prosperous and democratic county than the Iraqis do. Large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians want a two-state solution to this pointless and bloody war, so it's up to both of them to make their leaders do the right thing.

Vlad "the Impaler" Putin is cracking me up!

As everyone knows the Russians caught Britsh spies communicating with a rock last week. Today, the Guardian reports "The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, yesterday said that four British diplomats accused of espionage in Moscow should not be expelled, as their replacements might be cleverer than they were and harder to catch."

Mr Putin said: 'My opinion is that if these intelligence agents are expelled, they [the UK] will send new ones. These new people may prove to be smart. In this case, we will have to go to much trouble spotting them. Think about it,' he said, according to Interfax."

Oh, he's a funny guy!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:10 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006 1:34 PM EST
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Thursday, 26 January 2006
Hamas, Georgia and the PLA
Topic: Bush Administraiton

Yesterday, the Palestinians held a peaceful democratic election. The polls were secure, there were plenty of ballots, the elections staff were well trained, there were no long lines with frustrated voters storming off because they weren't able to vote and there were no shenanigans. It was pretty much everything our elections in 2004 weren't. The Palestinian people should be extremely proud of themselves; they pulled off a fair and free election in the Middle East, while under occupation! I can't see any way that Israel and the U.S. can get around having to deal with this new Hamas led government, the voter turnout was an astounding 78%, even larger than the Iraqi turnout, they have a huge mandate. The Palestinian people have created their own facts on the ground and Israel and the U.S. have to adjust to the new realities of the situation.

Today W. greeted this great achievement with a cold douche. He said you can't be a "partner for peace" and have an armed wing. Of course, this problem wasn't an impediment to the Northern Ireland peace process; all the sides involved then had their own militias. And, lest we forget, everyone in the new Iraqi government has their own armed wings, so it would be pretty hypocritical to signal Hamas out for special attention. If Muktada al-Sadr can be in the government and hold on to his Medhi Army---which has killed scores of US troops----it's a little difficult to make the case Hamas is any worse and they're certainly a lot more peaceful these day than the Badr brigade is. They've scrupulously adhered to the ceasefire they signed on to last year with Israel and even an IDF report pointed out that Palestinian violence has decreased by 60% in the past year and it wasn't the Israeli "wall of shame" that was responsible, it was the Palestinians themselves.

You could just see in the media were really hoping that Fatah could pull this off, but it seemed pretty clear, even to a novice observer like me, that Hamas was going to win. All I read and heard in the news was that a lot of people were really frustrated with the incompetence and corruption of Fatah and you could just see, if you were looking, that there was this universal desire for a big change. (And it didn't help that Fatah ran a lousy campaign. Splitting their votes by running multiple candidates in some places really wasn't such a hot idea.) Beyond the corruption and everything else, there was also a total stagnation in the "peace process" under Abu Mazen because Sharon decided very early on that he had no partner on the other side. Everything that has been happening over the past year in the "peace process," from the massive settlement building around East Jerusalem, to the "Apartheid wall" to the Gaza pullout, has been entirely Israel acting unilaterally. Maybe, as Ambassador Afif Safieh pointed out on Radio Times this morning, it will take extremists like Hamas to get the ball rolling again with the Israelis. Just like only Nixon could go to China and only the "Butcher of Beirut" could pull out of Gaza, perhaps Hamas will surprise everyone and become the great peace makers.

Or, the Israelis will overreact and elect Likud with Bibi Netanyahu at the head and we'll go back to square one. In any case, despite the media hoping against hope that Abu Mazen will be around to rein in Hamas, I wouldn't bet on it. If he's not gone within a week, I'd be surprised. He blew it for Fatah and he personally is at the end of his rope. A Fatah spokesman told the World back on the 18th that Abbas was tired and extremely depressed and he didn't expect Abbas to last eight months. Even Rafiq Husseini, his chief of staff, conceded that "He thinks this that this one year in office has been the heaviest of his life, which has been very traumatic, very difficult. Three more years will be almost as difficult. Therefore, I don't think any human being---super or not super---would be able to manage anymore." [Inquirer]

Georgia on my mind:

A big story that's being totally ignored today is the power crisis in Georgia. The Georgian president Mikail Saakashvili cut his visit short to the economic conference in Davos to go back to Tbilisi to deal with his country's energy problem caused by two simultaneous bombings of pipelines and power lines on the Russian side of the border. The total lack of power coming from Russia (without love) has sent a modernizing, western leaning democracy back into the middle ages. The NYT today basically buys the Russian line, hook-line-and-sinker, that it was the Chechans or some other group bend on disrupting Russian's energy infrastructure. I don't believe it for a second: there's no doubt in mind that Vlad "the Impaler" Putin is taking advantage of his leverage over the US right now vis the Iran nuke issue, to get a little payback from that young punk Saakashvili.

It's not like the Russians haven't been threatening even Western Europe over the past month with power cut-offs similar to what they did in Ukraine, if they don't play ball with Vlad. This is a very worrying development which seems to be being totally ignored by the American media. Saakashvili himself has no doubt about who is behind this and he went on at length with the BBC this morning about it. The Russians themselves haven't exactly been going out of their way to deny it. Their statements about the Georgians being hysterical and the "bacchanal" comment (i.e. they're a bunch of drunks) is leading me to the conclusion they're actually enjoying having 5 million Georgian's potentially freeze to death. It's not like they care about their own people freezing to death in the streets of Moscow, so why would they care about a country that's turned it back on them. Keep in mind that we have troops in Georgia and W. has touted the Crimson Revolution in Georgia as a great achievement of his administration's commitment to democracy. The silence coming from Washington on this issue is kind of puzzling. Well, I guess it is unless you factor in the fact that we absolutely no policy alternatives to the Iran nuclear crisis without the Russian's help. We'll see how committed W. is to democracy if he decided to leave Georgia to the tender mercies of big bad Vlad, that thug in a business suit.

On to China:

Hell, we're even giving the Chinese a big pass because we've got no clue on how to deal with North Korea unless they help us out. China could invade Taiwan tomorrow and it might take us a while to get around to doing anything about it. I'm digressing somewhat, but my former neo-con roommate, who is a big time Asia policy wonk, came up with a scenario whereby the Chinese military landed a small force of troops inside Taiwan and created a bridgehead by occupying a city and in so doing left us with a major problem in how to deal with it.

The military alternatives to a situation like this would be almost nil; we couldn't exactly send in the 7th fleet to take them out, so what would we do? Blockade Taiwan so they couldn't resupply? Shoot down their transport planes? Let the Taiwanese military deal with it and let it turn into an all out war when the Chinese sent more troops into reinforce them?

Right now, they might actually be able to get away with it because we got nothing. According to a pentagon report released Tuesday, the defense department risks "breaking the force" by sending the army on repeated combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite Rummy's dismissal of the report saying that these conclusions are "either out of date or misdirected," (Who the hell even listens to this guy anymore?) we've got 26,000 Marines bogged down in Anbar province and presumably we'd need them in any confrontation with China over Taiwan, so I don't see where more Marines are going to come from. We don't have any Army to call on either.

The author of the pentagon study, Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, writes "Unless the Army is willing to stress its rotation base further, it effectively has no strategic reserve." I don't know about you, but that's kind of scary. According to the Department of Defense we presently have 76,854 troops in East Asia and the Pacific, but not all of them are combat troops and even if they were that's not a big enough force to deal with the PLA.

I'm not saying we're going to war with China, I'm just throwing stuff out there. Basically, beyond what we've got in Iraq, we've got nada, is all I'm saying. To most people this might be a major problem but not to Rummy, he's got a victory strategy.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:11 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 28 January 2006 12:14 PM EST
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Wednesday, 25 January 2006
Not Mr. Lincoln's war.

The bulk of my BS today is over at Non Sum Dignus, including my take on the Palestinian elections and the Bush administraton's bumbling before hurricane Katrina.

"Torture boy" on breaking the law:

The NYT reports Attorney General Alberto "Waterboard" Gonzales, in a speech at GW yesterday, cited "the long tradition of wartime enemy surveillance," without warrants by former presidents as a justification for this president's current policy of domestic spying. If you look at what he didn't say about these examples of presidential over-reach you might be a little more frightened.

He said George Washington intercepted mail between the British and Americans: but, of course, back then there was no constitution or courts to check him.

Woodrow Wilson might have spied during WWI: but his administration also rounded up hundreds of people for no reason and deported foreigners because they happened to be from countries the government identified as hotbeds of anarchism. Sound familiar?

FDR intercepted communications in and out of the U.S. during WWII, but then again, he also locked up 100,000 Japanese Americans, too; is this the sort of thing we can expect from this administration next? (FDR did it and he was a democrat, right?)

Torture boy also mentioned Abraham Lincoln intercepting telegraph lines during the Civil War, but a lot of them were in enemy territory in the south, not exactly the same thing as intercepting millions of email messages and phone numbers.

The adminstraion is always involking Lincoln's actions during the Civil War to excuse their violations of the consitution, but read what Lincoln would undoubtably say to Bush & Co. if he were here today:

"The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood." [NSD]

And see also what he said about preemptive war:

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose."

Now, we're finding out whether we can "fix any limit to his power" and it's not looking good.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 5:17 PM EST
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Friday, 20 January 2006
Smoking guns and moving money.
Topic: Bush Administraiton

The WaPo reports: "Iran said on Friday it was moving funds out of Europe to shield them from possible U.N. sanctions and flexed its oil muscles with a proposal to cut OPEC output.

"Yes, Iran has started withdrawing money from European banks and transferring it to other banks abroad," said a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named."

Speculation has it they might be moving the funds to Asia or to Switzerland. I wonder which Asian nation might be a beneficiary of $30 billion of Iranian cash? The threat of cutting oil output is sending the price of oil up to $67 and the stock market is taking a nose dive as I write. It doesn't help that French president Jacques Chirac is threatening Iran with a nuclear douche. He said yesterday, according to the AP, "leaders of states that would use terrorist means against us" [could face] "a firm and fitting response."

That's the way to calm things down! There's no shortage of loonies out there wanting to throw nukes around, though. Trudy Rubin of the Philly Inquirer wrote last week that:

"The millennial obsession of Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, adds urgency to U.S. and European efforts to keep Iran from the bomb. In a speech at the United Nations, Ahmadinejad urged the Lord "to hasten the emergence of... the promised one," the Shiite Muslim equivalent of the Messiah. He is said to be obsessed with the Mahdaviat, the belief in the second coming of the 12th Shiite imam, known as the Mahdi, who has been in hiding for more than 1,000 years. The Iranian's combination of devotion and inflammatory threats against Israel highlights the potential danger of an Iranian bomb."

I think she might overstating this particular threat just slightly. I don't think the second coming of the Mahdi requires a nuclear holocaust like Ronald Reagan's rapture did. Remember, the man with his hands on the button back in the eighties thought he would be the president to usher in the coming of the lord.

Reagan said in an interview People magazine in 1983 that,"T]theologians had been studying the ancient prophecies -- what would portend the coming of Armageddon-- and have said that never, in the time between the prophecies up until now, has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this. I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." [Common Sense Almanac]

And if that's not scary enough, keep in mind Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer before she let Ronnie poopy pants do anything. Don Regan wrote that, "Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise."

["My fellow Americans," he joked, "I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.]

So, Ahmadinejad doesn't sound that frightening to me in comparison. He doesn't have the bomb and he doesn't have that much power. He's got a big mouth, yes, but Hashemi Ali Rafsanjani is the real power behind the scenes. If you recall he was also the recipient of a cake and a bible signed by Reagan back in the Iran/Contra days, delivered to him by Ollie North and Robert McFarlane. Truly wacky! So he's probably figuring this dumbass we got in the White House now is just as flaky and can be played like the Iranians played Ronnie.

I'm digressing all over the place here today. What point am I trying to make?

In a bit of good news today a basically forgotten scandal amidst, all the others concerning this administration, Lawrence A. Franklin was sentenced to 12 years in prison for helping the Israelis spy on us. [AP]Franklin claims he was only trying to help the US.

"The judge said Friday that Franklin believed the National Security Council was insufficiently concerned with the threat posed by an unspecified Middle Eastern nation. Franklin thought leaking information might eventually persuade the Security Council to take more serious action, he said. While the Middle Eastern country was not named in the court record, sources and the facts of the case point to Iran."

The smoking gun: Not!

Well, what do you know, we're back to Iran again. Not that Israel has any hand this big push to bring Iran to the Security Council. [See this blog for more on the Franklin case]

I found this interesting insight from Atimes.com back in May of this year on the media treatment of the Iran situation and it's very prescient:

"It is hardly given that in the light of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, fulfilling its NPT obligations, the Security Council would impose sanctions on Iran and, in case it chooses to do so, that would mean an oil embargo, causing higher oil prices hardly affordable by the global economy; short of oil embargo, a UN sanction would be practically toothless and a continuation of the present, decade-long US sanctions, which have proven a failure in deterring foreign investments in Iran, as the Iran-China mega deal worth US$100 billion clearly demonstrates. In all likelihood, China would veto any Security Council sanctions on Iran as long as no smoking gun on Iran's alleged weapons program has been found."

In regard to the smoking gun all the US apparently has to offer is a lap top they claim has Iranian plans for a nuclear warhead on it but the NYT writes that those who have seen it are skeptical:

"This chapter in the confrontation with Iran is infused with the memory of the faulty intelligence on Iraq's unconventional arms. In this atmosphere, though few countries are willing to believe Iran's denials about nuclear arms, few are willing to accept the United States' weapons intelligence without question. "I can fabricate that data," a senior European diplomat said of the documents. "It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt."

So, there you go, no one believes a word we say so good luck getting sanctions on Iran. I know, how about focusing on the mess in Iraq before we start another war!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 3:18 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 21 January 2006 4:08 PM EST
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Wednesday, 18 January 2006
The Iran flap. Much flapping, little lift.
Mood:  incredulous
Topic: General News.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this big push by the US and the Europeans to take-Iran-out-to-the-woodshed for their nuclear program of late. The administration has been dithering over a policy on Iran for the past four years, leaving the matter entirely to the EU to take care of, but now all of a sudden there's this big crisis we need to get in the middle of. My question is: what good would imposing sanctions on Iran do at this point anyway? It's a little late in the game, it seems, because the Iranians have been had plenty of time to prepare for such an eventuality and according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, the Iranians have been stockpiling food and medicine over the past few years to blunt the effects of any sanctions. [NYT]

They've also been very busy signing up countries like China and India to sell their oil and gas to and the Russians are making a mint from Iranian arms purchases, so it would appear all these three countries, at least, would view sanctions as bad for business. The repeated attempts of the Bush administration to isolate the Iranians diplomatically would appear to be going no-where fast; and, besides, why would Russia or China want to pull America's chestnuts out of the fire for them, when they can instead sit back and watch us crash and burn while they make money?

On Monday, the permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany made a big show of meeting in London to discuss the referral of Iran to the UN, but even after all the behind-closed-doors arm twisting it looked like international unanimity on this burning issue was still a little shaky. Vlad "the impaler" Putin said, "The Iranian nuclear problem requires a very accurate approach without rash or erroneous moves," and he was continuing to hold out the hope that the Iranians might yet go along with the plan to have the Russians enrich the uranium for them.

The new Iranian ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, playing the reasonable Iranian said, "We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly." Reports have it that Condi was burning up the phone lines over the past weekend trying to get Russia onboard for a referral to the Security Council in the expectation that China would go along, too---or at least abstain---but the Chinese were still playing their cagey games saying in a statement that, "China believes that under the current situation, all relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to solving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations."

Even our good friends the Saudis, who are no friends to the Iranians, weren't exactly behind us 100% on taking Iran to the UN. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told the BBC that he was skeptical that a nuclear Iran would really be a threat, particularly to Israel, because if they did try to "wipe Israel off the map" they'd be killing Palestinians too. He blamed the Western countries, partly, for the standoff saying, "The West in allowing Israel to establish its nuclear capability has done the damage. As long as you make one exception, you open the way for logical arguments of why him and not me." Of course, Cheney is over there now, so they might start taking a different tone if the price is right.

[The issue of Israel's nukes leading to an arms race in the Middle East isn't new, by the way. Recently released Nixon papers show that Undersecretary of State Joseph J. Sisko wrote in a 1969 memo to Secretary William Rogers that, "Israel's possession of nuclear weapons would do nothing to deter Arab guerrilla warfare or reduce Arab irrationality. On the contrary it would add a dangerous new element to Arab-Israeli hostility with added risk of confrontation between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.][CBS]

There appears, also, to be some dissention inside the administration itself about this course of action against Iran. An administration official, who wished to remain unnamed, was quoted in an article in the NYT by Steven Weisman as saying, "I've been surprised that so many people are acting like referral to the Security Council is some important event that will bring about change in the government of Iran. I don't buy it." He might be one of those hawks, though; who thinks regime-change or military strikes is the better way to go. That's basically all we've got as far as debate in the administration goes on this issue: Either, we go the "diplomatic" route, or we get aggressive. Both "strategies" offer no carrots or sticks and that's why neither will work.

Not that there's any sanity coming from congress on this issue either. John McCain said on Face the Nation that this standoff with Iran was the "most grave situation that we have faced since the end of the cold war, absent the whole war on terror." The military option he said should be "the last option," but "to say under no circumstances would we exercise the military option, that would be crazy." Democratic Senator Evan Bayh offered his informed opinion that there were elements of the Iranian nuclear program that could be taken out, which "would dramatically delay its development." Oh, really? The Iranians have dispersed their nuclear facilities to some 300 sites around the country making the utility of military strikes highly dubious and even if we were successful in such an attack, whose to say they don't turn around and start giving the insurgents in Iraq some real high tech weaponry?

Just last week three US helicopters were brought down killing 16 Americans and my bet is that the Iranians had something to do with it. Remember, the Russians have a lot of those Streala shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile launchers and they're not too particular who they sell them to. (They sold a ton to Saddam and no one knows where they are now.) If the insurgents can start shooting down our aircraft at will, that makes the job in Iraq a whole lot tougher. Iran also has its tentacles in Lebanon through Hezbollah and in the West Bank and Gaza through Hamas and they could make things really difficult for us if they wanted to. Or, they could stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and all of W.'s SUV driving supporters could really be hurting.

Real men talk to Tehran:

The only solution to the this "grave situation" is to start talking to Tehran. There are people inside the administration that have been pushing for talks with Iran for years, but they've been largely marginalized and we see where this refusal to deal with reality has led. In desperation, W. actually did authorize Zalmay Khalilzad to talk to the Iranians about all the weapons coming over the border, but the Iranians rebuffed the overture because they're not interested in talking about that, they interested in getting a deal on the nuclear issue; with us. The Iranians clearly don't take the Europeans seriously because they figure nothing they agree to will stand unless the US signs off on it first, so all of this "effort" on the part of the US to "engage" through their European partners on the nuclear issue has been pretty much a waste of time. A total lack of a policy isn't a policy.

I still think Mahmoud Amadinejad is just a battering ram that the real powers-that-be inside the Iranian government are using to gain leverage in negotiations. Abbas Milani says, "At this stage, they are convinced that the more hardball they play, the more the West will collapse." In a rare moment of lucidity last week Ahmadinejad said, "We follow our national interests within the framework of international regulations, and have the leverage to defend our interests," which seems to me to be a very concise explanation of their position. They're not breaking international law by opening up their enrichment facilities and they're a powerful country in the middle of a very dangerous region of the world that could either, be helpful in solving many issues roiling the Middle East, from Israel to Lebanon to Afghanistan, or they could make our lives very difficult. As powerful as they are, though, they've got a major inferiority complex that could be exploited by a more open minded administration; not this one obviously.

My guess is all this posturing will come to nothing in the end and we'll be back to square one soon enough. My worry is that if Iran doesn't respond in the way the W. wants them to and "diplomacy fails" again, he just might play some hardball of his own and do something stupid like attempt to take out Natanz or other facilities in an attempt to save face. Preempting Israel from taking matters into their own hands might also be an important calculation in the arithmetic of W.'s bully-politics, too, because that sort of thing would open up a very nasty can of worms and it could stir up a whole world of trouble we don't need, especially when one considers how reliant on a Shiite led government in Iraq we are and you know who they take their marching orders from.

In Iraq:

Speaking of our good friends and allies in the Iraqi government: the WaPo reported last week that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Sciri, one of the leading parties in the soon to be government, said the idea of a re-do on the constitution was off the table. He said he would not allow a new government to "change the essence" of the constitution. The Shiites and the Kurds had promised the Sunnis to amend the constitution after the Dec. elections if they'd go along in voting for it, which was seen as a major concession on the part of the majority by our man in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad. The issue of most importance for the Sunnis was that the Kurds and the Shiites not break the country up into autonomous zones rich in oil, leaving them with a whole bunch of desert.

A spokesman for al-Hakim said, "The major points in the constitution were agreed to by all the parties that participated in the drafting of the constitution. As for changes in the powers, some points or details, these are open to negotiation. However, the main principles which were agreed to by all sides, and approved by the people in a popular referendum [just barely] they cannot be touched."

So, that's good, when the Shiites were just another party in a make-believe government, they were willing to promise the moon, but now that they're going to be ruling an internationally sanctioned, legitimately sovereign government; they're saying 'not so fast.' They can do the math and they don't feel like sharing anymore. If they do get their own slice of the country in the south, a USAID paper might point to the type of "democracy" they would practice.

Want to make a cool 3 billion? You sure?

The paper which is describing Iraq for potential bidders to a 1.32 billion dollar reconstruction contract says that in the south of the country, "social liberties have been curtailed dramatically by roving bands of self-appointed religious-moral police." The Post adds, "In cities, women's dress codes are enforced and barbers who remove facial hair have been killed, and liquor stores and clubs have been bombed." Sounds more like Afghanistan, or Iran, than it does the newly freed Iraq.

But, everything will be alright after we handover power to the Iraqis, right? What might such a totally independent Iraq look like, you might ask:

Well, let's take the example of the transfer of some of Saddam's palaces to local Iraqi military units in Tikrit on Nov. 22 of last year. Amidst a brass band and much pomp and ceremony---and a stray dud mortar that sent all the dignitaries running for cover---Col Mark McKnight, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, handed over the keys to the governor of Salahuddin Province with these words, "The passing of this facility is a simple ceremony that vividly demonstrates the continuing progress being made by the Iraqi government and their people."

Ellen Knickmeyer writes in the WaPo that soon after the American's left, though, "Looters moved in, ripping out doors, air conditioners, ceiling fans and light switch plates from some of the compound's 136 palaces, leaving little more than plaster and dangling electric wires." The Governor of the province, Hamed Hammod Shekti, said "The palace was turned over to the Iraqi army units in the presence of Deputy Governor Adullah Naji Jabara. Two weeks later I heard the palace was looted. Now who can I accuse of the looting?" Knickmeyer writes that, "Over several days after the transfer of control from US to Iraqi hands, furnishings from the palaces turned up in one local market for sale by truck load."

The US military when asked about the looting said they "would fully expect the Iraqi authorities to address any criminal activities," now that it wasn't their problem anymore. A local police commander, Lt. Col. Mahmud Hiazza, accused the Deputy Governor of being involved in the looting and was transferred shortly after to Baiji. "The reason they transferred me is definatly I will get killed there," he said. He resigned instead, Knickmeyer writes. Smart guy!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 5:12 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006 5:19 PM EST
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