Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Downcast in Tehran
A New York Times story says a spirit of depression is setting in in Iran, as hope for change dwindles.
“People are depressed, and they feel they have been lied to, robbed of their rights and now are being insulted,” said Nassim, a 56-year-old hairdresser. “It is not just a lie; it’s a huge one. And it doesn’t end.”
Still, if this Guardian piece is right, there may be reasons for some hope that the blood-soaked Khamenei's days of ruling may be numbered (and his little friend, too ...) Meanwhile, President Obama praises Mousavi, and Ahmadinejad just won't stop talking. And is the neocon strategy working? Obama is apparently moving to fund dissident groups in Iran, just like Dubya. Confused yet? Like the Michael Jackson song says: you are not alone. (Post-Newsweek gives yet another neocon -- Saul Singer -- a platform to demand what the neocons have always demanded: no negotiations with Iran. Well, at least he didn't call for an invasion...)

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posted by JReid @ 3:45 AM  
Monday, June 22, 2009
George Will says it all: neocon Obama critics wrong on Iran
You're seeing the split again: neocon nuts versus actual conservatives, this time on the issue of Iran, in the persons of realists like Dick Lugar, old school ex-regime changers like (the awful) Henry Kissinger, and paleocons like Pat Buchanan and on Sunday, George Will.

What these guys seem to have in common is that they were part of the Nixon crowd -- people who in general are skeptical (if not downright disdainful) of neoconservatism and its interventionist, Wilsonian bent (not to mention the fact that the same neocons who are now screeching for Obama to help the demonstrators were rooting for Ahmadinejad to win the election...) Buchanan and others (including Zbigniew Brzezinksi) see the neocons hovering around the Iran situation, looking for an opening for military intervention. They've seen that movie before and don't want to catch another viewing. By the way Brzezinksi has to have had the quote of the weekend, when he appeared on the best of the Sunday shows, "Fareed Zakaria GPS," and conflated the right wing Iranian regime and our own neocons:
In Iran, we have two different forces at work. You have those who are for more democracy but who are also nationalistic and you have those who are supporting the regime who in many respects are ... very similar to our Neocons. They are Manichean, they look at the world as divided into Good and Evil and many of them see America as the personification of Evil...

[Obama] has struck exactly the right note. He's offering moral sympathy, he's identifying himself morally and historically with what is happening in Iran but he's not engaging himself politically, he's not interfering, because that would turn out badly and it could be exploited by the Neocons in Iran to crush the revolution ...

Meanwhile, the White House is reportedly getting frustrated with the lack of credit Obama is getting for the Cairo speech, which undoubtedly inspired reform-minded Iranians, at least according to Chuck Todd.

Double meanwhile, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, Matt Steinglas wades into the muck that is the neocon mind.

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posted by JReid @ 1:05 PM  
Thursday, June 04, 2009
President Obama's historic speech in Cairo
The president delivered an historic address at Cairo University. The full text is here. It ended with an incredible flourish, that includes a quote from my favorite book of the Bible: the book of Mathew:
We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Quran tells us, Mankind, we have created you male and a female. And we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.

The Talmud tells us, The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.

The Holy Bible tells us, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.


The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.
Here's the speech, courtesy of some diligent Youtubers (good luck trying to watch the speech on CSPAN's website. Their streaming absolutely, categorically, blows. BTW it's amazing, in the age of Youtube, how difficult it still is to get a full rebroadcast of anything newsworthy. Instead, what you get are small clips and soundbites, both on cable news and online...) Anyhoo...

It would, of course, be nice to have the whole thing in one file. If I find such a thing, I'll post it.

At last, the whole thing:

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posted by JReid @ 9:48 AM  
Friday, March 27, 2009
Obama to announce his Afghan plan today
Spoiler alert: it doesn't appear to be an escalation, but we're not leaving, either. In short, there's going to be more money (60 percent more), 4,000 more troops on top of the 17,000 fresh combat troops greenlighted earlier, and more training for a much larger Afghan Army. But this, I think, is the key point, from the WaPo:
Obama plans to announce a "simple, clear, concise goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said the official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy.
That's "Pakistan..." with a "P." The president is speaking now.

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posted by JReid @ 9:42 AM  
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Something I haven't heard before
... or at least not since Jimmy Carter: an American president expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, and sorrow for the loss of Palestinian civilian lives. President Obama just did exactly that during his address regarding the selection of George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. Obama has called for an end to rocket fire into Israel, but also for an end to the "suffocating poverty" inflicted on the residents of Gaza. That, in and of itself, is the kind of sea change that comes from having a president who has had real, meaningful contact with the Muslim world, plus an international perspective that includes more than road trips to Mexico to score some blow. (Ahem)

Regarding the conflicts in Asia, he has said that there can be no lasting peace until we "expand the sphere of opportunity" to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Obama is speaking now.

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posted by JReid @ 3:22 PM  
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Report card: under Bush, U.S. influence has nosedived ... but Iraq's got Christmas!

Photo credit: Caricatures by Lisa

A damning retrospective on the Bush years in today's Los Angeles Times:
In the 1990s, America exerted leadership in all the remote corners of the globe, from the southern cone of South America to Central Asia. Now, the United States has largely left the field in many regions, leaving others to step forward.

Bush has been blamed widely for the erosion of American prestige. And the decline in U.S. influence is partly the result of the reaction to his invasion of Iraq, his campaign against Islamic militants and his early disdain for treaties and international bodies.

But the shift is also a result of independent forces, though hastened by an aversion to Bush. These include the steady ascent of China, India and other developing countries that throughout the last decade have seen their economies grow, amassing wealth and quietly extending their reach.

As smaller countries have built economic and political ties to these rising powers, they have worked to free themselves from exclusive dependence on the United States.

"There is no return to the time when the United States was the 'indispensable power,' " said Stewart M. Patrick, a former State Department official at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The world has moved on."
According to the author, part of the problem is Bush unilateralism in Iraq, on climate change, and on Russia. Another factor in the decline is Bush's benign neglect of whole regions, including both Asia and South America:
The U.S. National Intelligence Council issued a report this year, "Global Trends 2025," that notes a shift of economic power from the West to the East that is "without precedent." In 2025, the United States will "remain the single most powerful country, but will be less dominant," it predicts.

Since World War II, the United States has led by its power of persuasion, as well as its economic might. But other countries' unhappiness with the Iraq war and the conduct of the Bush administration's "global war on terror," means that the "American brand is less legitimate and its persuasive powers are compromised," said Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University and the Council on Foreign Relations.

There also has been a dwindling of U.S. influence as the administration has focused most of its energy and resources on the Middle East and Southwest Asia, leaving much less for Central and Southeast Asia, Latin America and other regions. Many are going their own way, developing new ties among neighbors.

Latin American countries, for example, are building an organization called the Union of South American Nations and a NATO-like defense alliance called the South American Defense Council. The United States, long dominant in the hemisphere, is pointedly excluded from both.

An 8-year-old group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with Russia, China, and four Central Asian states, has been slowly developing, in part because some members want a bulwark against U.S. involvement in the region.

So is there any good news for the Bushies? Well ... Iraq does have Christmas now ...
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Christians, a scant minority in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, quietly celebrated Christmas on Thursday with a present from the government, which declared it an official holiday for the first time.

But security worries overshadowed the day for many, particularly in the north where thousands of Christians have fled to escape religious attacks.

Overall security in Iraq has improved markedly in the past year, but a fatal car bombing in Baghdad on Christmas morning was a gruesome reminder that serious problems remain.

The bombing outside a restaurant frequented by police killed four people and wounded 25 others in the Shiite neighborhood of Shula, said a police officer on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to news media. The U.S. military later announced that one person was killed and 21 wounded. There was no way to immediately reconcile the differing numbers.

An American soldier was killed in a rocket or mortar attack near the northern city of Mosul, the military announced.
Well ... I didn't say it was a merry Christmas...

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posted by JReid @ 9:51 PM  
Monday, December 01, 2008
Obama to announce national security team this morning
With Republican commentators and pols crowing about his selections (and liberals holding their breath, but still mostly hoping for the best...) Barack Obama announces his national security team, including Secretary of State-to-be Hillary Clinton, this morning at 10:40. The team:

Secretary of State - Hillary Clinton
Attorney General - Eric Holder
Secretary of Defense - Robert Gates (staying on for at least a year)
U.N. Ambassador - Dr. Susan Rice
National Security Advisor - Gen. Jim Jones
Homeland Security Secretary - Janet Napolitano

Says the WaPo:
Obama and Clinton had each claimed to be the best candidate to restore the nation's reputation abroad, end the Iraq war and engage the new global economy as president. Now, they will try to do that together, though under Obama's direction.

Aiding in the effort will be Bush cabinet member Robert Gates, who will continue as Defense Secretary despite having overseen a war policy that was the subject of withering criticism from both Obama and Clinton during the campaign.

To be successful, Gates and Clinton will have to forge a working relationship that often eludes the secretaries of State and Defense even when they are members of the same party. Gates and Clinton will each have their own power base and have each sought assurances of access to Obama.

But Obama clearly believes the pair can work together, especially on the difficult task of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. To help in coordinating the competing views, Obama will turn to former Marine Gen. James Jones, who will serve as national security adviser.

Jones, who will operate inside the White House, will be charged with melding military and diplomatic policy and with helping Obama navigate the two bureaucracies.

The trio that Obama will introduce today represents a centrist team that has already angered some of the president-elect's most ardent liberal supporters, who had expected a foreign policy team with clear, left-leaning credentials.
BTW, Jones happens to be a very close friend of John McCain's, and as Chuck Todd is saying on MSNBC, much closer to McCain personally, than to Obama. Meanwhile, says Steve Clemons:

I think that the Clinton we saw during the campaign will give herself, her views and approach to complex national security challenges a "makeover." She's going to push womens' rights, democracy, human rights, poverty reduction, and the like -- but I think she is going to be party of a realist-tilting, crafty Obama-led, Bob Gates-designed, Clinton-out front process to get a strategic shift in US foreign policy. We applaud that.

James Glassman, her Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, has some ideas on how to move her agenda forward -- and she should consider using a lot of the tools that Glassman and his team are developing.
And Politico suggests Clinton and Gates may be more like-minded than people think, at least on what the relationship between a president and his commanding generals should be. Truth be told, if you parse the Iraq posisitons of Clinton and Obama during the campaign, they're really not that different, if at all.

I'll reiterate that I think the choice of Hillary is smart on Obama's part, even if it produced an initial WTF??? reaction. Clinton's star power will give Obama a leg up overseas. She is a known quantity that world leaders can and will instantly respect, because they already know her, and frankly, because they know her husband. Men of the "old world" may not have the highest respect for women, but they do respect the politically powerful wives of powerful men. And of course, picking Hillary was a master stroke for Obama, who solves Hillary's biggest problem (not wanting to go back to being one of 100 Senators with no committee chairmanship) while simultaneously containing both her presidential ambitions, for now, and her potential to freelance from the dais on the arms services committee.

Brilliant move. Great team.

Meanwhile, Powerline grumbles about "honeymoon time" among the military brass.


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posted by JReid @ 9:05 AM  
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Cooties
... Apparently, Dubya has them, and world leaders attending the G20 summit know it. Watch:

As the winger Hot Air blog puts it (and not happily):
Perhaps the definition of “lame duck” is that stage when people can stop being nice to you.
Quack quack.

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posted by JReid @ 2:58 PM  
Monday, November 17, 2008
She'll take it: and why it's a good idea is she does
The Guardian reports that if (or more like "when") the secretary of state position is offered, Hillary Clinton will grab the brass ring.

Obama's advisers have begun looking into Bill Clinton's foundation, which distributes millions of dollars to Africa to help with development, to ensure there is no conflict of interest. But Democrats believe the vetting will be straightforward.

Clinton would be well placed to become the country's dominant voice in foreign affairs, replacing Condoleezza Rice. Since being elected senator for New York, she has specialised in foreign affairs and defence. Although she supported the war in Iraq, she and Obama basically agree on a withdrawal of American troops.

Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the state department.

With Ted Kennedy firmly in charge of healthcare, I suppose HRC felt this was her best play.

So what about Big Bill's big donors? Apparently, the Obama team has it handled:

The Obama team do not believe that Mr Clinton is a serious obstacle to appointing his wife. Yet if she were given the job she would face scrutiny over her husband’s connections with foreign governments – the same leaders that she would be dealing with on behalf of Mr Obama – and fresh calls for him to reveal the list of foreign donors to his presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, and his charitable foundation.

Mr Clinton is not required to reveal the list of donors, and has consistently refused to do so. Known foreign benefactors include the King of Morocco, the governments of Kuwait and Qatar, the Saudi Royal Family and the son-in-law of Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s deposed President.

Since founding the Clinton Global Initiative, Mr Clinton says that he has garnered $46 billion (£30.6 billion) that has improved more than 200 million lives in 150 countries.

And that final point may be the most important one. While some Obamaphiles may find the Clinton juxtoposition uncomfortable, I am starting to think it's a damned good idea, not least of which because of the tremendous popularity and good will -- and therefore leverage -- that the Clintons, both of them, have abroad. Bill Clinton's stature will only lend to Hillary's. And she is already a formidable international presence in her own right -- something Obama will need in order to play the major cards he seems destined to play: a serious bid for Israeli-Palestinian peace (the Clintons are trusted by the Israelis, and not an abomination to the Palestinians, and Bill Clinton came closer than any modern president to making peace); negotiations with Iran (HRC's tough rhetoric during the campaign will provide a hawkish shield for Obama's policies), nuclear proliferation and dealing with the fearsome actors of Pakistan and Russia. Hillary can handle the portfolio, she isn't seen as an "Arabist," like Dennis Ross or even James Baker, and she is a known quantity overseas.

Will Bill Clinton use his wife's would-be position to try and overshadow the president? Actually, I don't think so. Big Bill seems comfortable in his role as international statesman -- more so than he did as campaign hatchet man. That is his niche, and as he fills it, he can only help Obama shine.

And another thing: on the domestic front, allowing Hillary to exit the Senate will relieve that body of the "what to offer her" question, ease some tension about putting her into the leadership, and allow New York Gov. David Patterson to appoint a replacement, who would likely be to Hillary's left, adding another progressive voice to the 100-member club. Not bad for a day's work.

Related: Steve Clemons explains his scoop, and un-scoop.

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posted by JReid @ 11:03 PM  
Friday, August 22, 2008
It's a date! ... and a timetable...
The U.S. has agreed to withdraw its combat forces from Iraq by 2011, roughly the timetable laid out by Barack Obama. The Washington Post reports:
Iraqi and U.S. officials said several difficult issues remain, including whether U.S. troops will be subject to Iraqi law if accused of committing crimes. But the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the agreement publicly, said key elements of a timetable for troop withdrawal once resisted by President Bush had been reached.

"We have a text," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after a day-long visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spent nearly three hours here discussing key undecided issues. The accord must be completed and approved by both governments before a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.

The question of immunity for U.S. troops and Defense Department personnel from Iraqi legal jurisdiction -- demanded by Washington and rejected by Baghdad -- remained unresolved. Troop immunity, one U.S. official said, "is the red line for us." Officials said they were still discussing language that would make the distinction between on- and off-duty activities, with provisions allowing for some measure of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over soldiers accused of committing crimes while off-duty.

But negotiators made progress on a specific timetable outlining the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, something Maliki is under considerable domestic political pressure to secure. In the past, Rice and other U.S. officials have spoken of an "aspirational time horizon" that would make withdrawals contingent on the continuation of improved security conditions and the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.

Officials on both sides have said they hope to split the difference, setting next year as the goal for Iraqi forces to take the lead in security operations in all 18 provinces, including Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have now also agreed to a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of 2011, a date further in the future than the Iraqis initially wanted. The deal would leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops inside Iraq in supporting roles, such as military trainers, for an unspecified time. According to the U.S. military, there are 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, most of whom are playing a combat role.
The U.S. has lost 4,137 troops in Iraq, and 573 in Afghanistan. Another 32,940 have been wounded in action. 


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posted by JReid @ 5:58 PM  
Monday, August 18, 2008
Pakistan does what Nancy Pelosi can't
Pervez Musharraf heads off into the sunset, fleeing office before he can be impeached. Are you listening, Nancy? From the Beeb:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, facing impeachment by parliament, has announced that he is resigning.

In a national televised address he said he was confident the charges against him would not stand, but this was not the time for more confrontation.

The charges against the president include violation of the constitution and gross misconduct.

Oh, Naaaannnncyyyyy....!

Meanwhile, his "pals" in the Bush administration say "don't even think about asylum."
WASHINGTON, Aug 17: The United States made it known on Sunday that it was not considering any proposal to grant political asylum to President Pervez Musharraf.

The announcement came from a person no less than the secretary of state who has the final say in such matters.

“That’s not an issue on the table,” said Condoleezza Rice when asked if the Bush administration was considering any proposal to grant political asylum to the embattled Pakistani leader.

“And I just want to keep our focus on what we must do with the democratic government of Pakistan,” she told Fox News on Sunday.

Asked if it would be in the best interest of Pakistan to have Gen (retd) Musharraf resign, Ms Rice said: “This is a matter for the Pakistanis to resolve.”

Her statement makes it obvious that the United States is no longer interested in a person who only recently was called an “indispensable ally” in the war on terror. The question of seeking a ‘safe haven’ for Mr Musharraf was raised by the US media after they concluded, almost unanimously, that his days were numbered and that his departure was only a matter of days, not weeks.

While discussing Mr Musharraf’s future, a leading American scholar of South Asian affairs noted that the Pakistani leader had “one redeeming feature.”

Unlike previous US-backed strongmen, such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines or the Shah of Iran, he was not a rich man, said Michael Krepon, a founding president of Washington’s Stimson Institute.

“Musharraf doesn’t have an estate in Hawaii or a mansion in Los Angeles. This complicates any potential exile,” he added. But even this “redeeming feature” does not endear Mr Musharraf to Washington where he is no longer seen as an “indispensable ally”, as Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called him on Nov 7.

He is now seen as a “serious liability,” as a Western think-tank --- International Crisis Group --- pointed out recently.
In other words, thanks a lot, and good-bye. Message: stay out of the Bushes. When they're done with you, they're done with you.

Meanwhile, the Guardian runs down the key players in Musharraf's downfall.

And inquiring minds want to know: if Pakistani's sometime democracy can manage to reassert constitutional norms by impeaching its overreaching president, why can't WE?


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posted by JReid @ 8:30 AM  
Friday, August 15, 2008
Stop making sense: Russo-Georgian edition
Every so often, crazy old Pat Buchanan makes a hell of a lot of sense:
... American charges of Russian aggression ring hollow. Georgia started this fight -- Russia finished it. People who start wars don't get to decide how and when they end.

... Russia has invaded a sovereign country, railed Bush. But did not the United States bomb Serbia for 78 days and invade to force it to surrender a province, Kosovo, to which Serbia had a far greater historic claim than Georgia had to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, both of which prefer Moscow to Tbilisi?

Is not Western hypocrisy astonishing?

When the Soviet Union broke into 15 nations, we celebrated. When Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo broke from Serbia, we rejoiced. Why, then, the indignation when two provinces, whose peoples are ethnically separate from Georgians and who fought for their independence, should succeed in breaking away?

Are secessions and the dissolution of nations laudable only when they advance the agenda of the neocons, many of who viscerally detest Russia?

That Putin took the occasion of Saakashvili's provocative and stupid stunt to administer an extra dose of punishment is undeniable. But is not Russian anger understandable? For years the West has rubbed Russia's nose in her Cold War defeat and treated her like Weimar Germany.

When Moscow pulled the Red Army out of Europe, closed its bases in Cuba, dissolved the evil empire, let the Soviet Union break up into 15 states, and sought friendship and alliance with the United States, what did we do?

American carpetbaggers colluded with Muscovite Scalawags to loot the Russian nation. Breaking a pledge to Mikhail Gorbachev, we moved our military alliance into Eastern Europe, then onto Russia's doorstep. Six Warsaw Pact nations and three former republics of the Soviet Union are now NATO members.

Bush, Cheney and McCain have pushed to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. This would require the United States to go to war with Russia over Stalin's birthplace and who has sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula and Sebastopol, traditional home of Russia's Black Sea fleet.

When did these become U.S. vital interests, justifying war with Russia?

The United States unilaterally abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty because our technology was superior, then planned to site anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend against Iranian missiles, though Iran has no ICBMs and no atomic bombs. A Russian counter-offer to have us together put an anti-missile system in Azerbaijan was rejected out of hand.

We built a Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey to cut Russia out. Then we helped dump over regimes friendly to Moscow with democratic "revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia, and tried to repeat it in Belarus.

Americans have many fine qualities. A capacity to see ourselves as others see us is not high among them.

Imagine a world that never knew Ronald Reagan, where Europe had opted out of the Cold War after Moscow installed those SS-20 missiles east of the Elbe. And Europe had abandoned NATO, told us to go home and become subservient to Moscow.

How would we have reacted if Moscow had brought Western Europe into the Warsaw Pact, established bases in Mexico and Panama, put missile defense radars and rockets in Cuba, and joined with China to build pipelines to transfer Mexican and Venezuelan oil to Pacific ports for shipment to Asia? And cut us out? If there were Russian and Chinese advisers training Latin American armies, the way we are in the former Soviet republics, how would we react? Would we look with bemusement on such Russian behavior?

For a decade, some of us have warned about the folly of getting into Russia's space and getting into Russia's face. The chickens of democratic imperialism have now come home to roost -- in Tbilisi.
Cluck-cluck. Meanwhile, Michael Dobbs, writing on the Washington Post's op-ed page serves up some reality based reporting on Georgia's "democratic" tendencies:

Unlike most of the armchair generals now posing as experts on the Caucasus, I have actually visited Tskhinvali, a sleepy provincial town in the shadow of the mountains that rise along Russia's southern border. I was there in March 1991, shortly after the city was occupied by Georgian militia units loyal to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first freely elected leader of Georgia in seven decades. One of Gamsakhurdia's first acts as Georgian president was to cancel the political autonomy that the Stalinist constitution had granted the republic's 90,000-strong Ossetian minority.

After negotiating safe passage with Soviet interior ministry troops who had stationed themselves between the Georgians and the Ossetians, I discovered that the town had been ransacked by Gamsakhurdia's militia. The Georgians had trashed the Ossetian national theater, decapitated the statue of an Ossetian poet and pulled down monuments to Ossetians who had fought with Soviet troops in World War II. The Ossetians were responding in kind, firing on Georgian villages and forcing Georgian residents of Tskhinvali to flee their homes.

It soon became clear to me that the Ossetians viewed Georgians in much the same way that Georgians view Russians: as aggressive bullies bent on taking away their independence. "We are much more worried by Georgian imperialism than Russian imperialism," an Ossetian leader, Gerasim Khugaev, told me. "It is closer to us, and we feel its pressure all the time."

When it comes to apportioning blame for the latest flare-up in the Caucasus, there's plenty to go around. The Russians were clearly itching for a fight, but the behavior of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been erratic and provocative. The United States may have stoked the conflict by encouraging Saakashvili to believe that he enjoyed American protection, when the West's ability to impose its will in this part of the world is actually quite limited.

Let us examine the role played by the three main parties.

Georgia. Saakashvili's image in the West, and particularly in the United States, is that of the great "democrat," the leader of the "Rose Revolution" who spearheaded a popular uprising against former American favorite Eduard Shevardnadze in November 2003. It is true that he has won two reasonably free elections, but he has also displayed some autocratic tendencies; he sent riot police to crush an opposition protest in Tbilisi last November and shuttered an opposition television station.

While the United States views Saakashvili as a pro-Western modernizer, a large part of his political appeal in Georgia has stemmed from his promise to re-unify Georgia by bringing the secessionist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia under central control. He has presented himself as the successor to the medieval Georgian king, David the Builder, and promised that the country will regain its lost territories by the time he leaves office, by one means or another. American commentators tend to overlook the fact that Georgian democracy is inextricably intertwined with Georgian nationalism.

The restoration of Georgia's traditional borders is an understandable goal for a Georgian leader, but it is a much lower priority for the West, particularly if it involves armed conflict with Russia. Based on their previous experience with Georgian rule, Ossetians and Abkhazians have perfectly valid reasons to oppose reunification with Georgia, even if it means throwing in their lot with the Russians.

Also in the Post, a young Russian woman interning with the paper scalds the American press for their leap to the Georgian's side (which paralleled the leap of their pet candidate, John McCain.)

Last week, Georgia's president invaded South Ossetia during the night, much as Adolf Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. Within hours, Georgian troops destroyed Tskhinvali, a city of 100,000, and they killed more than 2,000 civilians. Almost all of the people who died that night were Russian citizens. They chose to become citizens of Russia years ago, when Georgia refused to recognize South Ossetia as a non-Georgian territory.

The truth is that, in this case, Russian aggression actually made some sense. Russia defended its citizens.

Yet American newspapers published stories that omitted mention of the Georgian invasion. And American media as a whole have been disturbingly pro-Georgian. The lead photograph on the front page of Sunday's Post showed two men -- one dead, the other crying -- amid ruins in Gori, Georgia. Many other images could have been used. Monday's Wall Street Journal, for example, contained several stories about the conflict and even an op-ed by Saakashvili. Where was the Russian response?

I understand why the Georgian government would block access to Russian media Web sites. I understand why Russian media would present events in a light that favors Moscow's actions. But American media are not supposed to do the equivalent.

The much-revered American principle of a free press guarantees access to an independent source of information. It is supposed to mean that nobody takes a side, that journalists give readers the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. The Georgian president quickly became a chief newsmaker for Western media outlets, yet little could be found to explain the Russian side.

It's hard to understand how and why the terrible situation between Georgia and Russia has played out this way. Everything seemed too clear for the journalists writing about the conflict: Big, evil Russia tried to destroy small, democratic Georgia.

And the American media's willingness to choose sides provoked Russian media outlets. Russian newspapers did not waste time reminding readers that the true evil was the United States and that Washington was ultimately responsible for the conflict in Ossetia and Georgia.

Still in the Post, no hubris column on McCain from our friend Dana "last place 8:00 show guest" Milbank...


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posted by JReid @ 7:57 PM  
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Bush gets bad reviews on Georgia
The reviews are in, and from the Wall Street Journal to papers not owned by Rupert Murdoch, George W. Bush's handling of the Russia-Georgia situation is getting panned. This is why they only watch Fox News...

Meanwhile, at the WaPo, former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev says the conflict is Georgia's fault.

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posted by JReid @ 10:03 AM  
The end of American influence? Plus, the neocons new, old crusade
George Bush at the Olympics, says he and Vlad Putin have a "good relationship" and
he was "firm with him"
on Georgia. Perhaps someone should have been firm with
Dubya about the proper direction of the American flag...

According to BBC News, Russia has ended its military operations in Georgia. (Background on the conflict here.) However, the current situation in Georgia is as clear a demonstration as any in recent history of America's waning influence in the world. Watching George W. Bush cavorting around Beijing with U.S. Olympic athletes was kind of funny for a while, but against the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Georgia, and Bush's absolute impotence in the face of it, it's actually downright embarassing. UPDATE: Georgian officials are disputing that Russian military attacks have ended in South Ossetia. And there are charges of ethnic cleansing being thrown around.

I haven't posted much about the Georgia situation because I wanted to dig into it first on my own, and know what's actually going on. The political back and forth in the U.S., the silly spectacle of John McCain pretending to give ultimatums to Russia that a) he has no authority to deliver because hello? he isn't president ... (where's Dana Milbank with a "hubris" column when you need him) and b) the U.S. doesn't have the available troops to do anything to Russia even if we wanted to (leading to the possibility of the Russians throwing down the perennial classic, "you and what Army?" Besides, the fact that McCain's neocon chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, was up until recently a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government puts his comments in a less than glowing context. (Not to mention his inability to accept the notion of context coming out of the mouth of one Barack Obama.)

So much about the Russia-Georgia mess speaks of America's inability to influence events:

1) Where is Condi? Condoleezza Rice is our resident Russian expert, in addition to being secretary of state. She has proved less than deft at either one. As even the National Review's Claudia Rossett points out:
If Washington’s diplomacy with Russia should have had one thing going for it, it is that Bush has an expert on the job. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a Soviet (a.k.a. Russia) specialist from way back. But so busy has Rice been with global diplomacy that she appears to have dropped the ball entirely on Georgia. Or so one might infer from the past few days in which President Bush appeared caught by surprise, tied up watching Olympic basketball and swimming in Beijing, while Russia got down to the business of bombing and shooting its way into Georgia — a U.S. ally which not so long ago Bush was praising for its Rose Revolution, thanking for its troop contributions in Iraq, and trying to usher into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
2) Bush: all hat, no cattle. While I hate to agree with the neocon nutjobs, the sight of Dubya hanging with his good friend, Prime Minister Putin on the Olympic sidelines looked downright silly while back in Washington, his government was issuing stern sounding warnings to Putin's hand-picked president, Mr. Medvedev, while Putin did all the big talking. (Bush is finally back from his Beijing vacation, and is issuing even sterner sounding warnings. And reportedly, while at the opening ceremonies, he gave Putie-Put a good talking to. Well, that should do it...) The fact is, Bush hasn't got any leverage over Russia, and can't do anything more than he is doing: talking. His own policies, including in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, are partly to blame. Russia is richer than it was when he arrived, thanks to the skyrocketing oil prices that he and Cheney helped engineer, and Putin feels freer to act, knowing that the U.S. is as bogged down in Mesopotamia as the Soviets once were in Afghanistan.

3) The U.S. seemed so taken aback by the events in Georgia, you've got to wonder what they're smoking. The U.S. has been pouring military aid into the former Soviet satellite (much of it through GOP-patented privatization) ever since they agreed to join the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. They had the third largest troop contingent still remaining there, but Georgian troops now face being airlifted out of Iraq by the U.S. military, so they can return to their own war zone. That airlift coming at U.S. taxpayer expense. By flexing military muscle right on Russia's doorstep, you've got to believe that the U.S. and Georgia should have expected a response from the likes of Putin ... sorry, Medvedev, who's really "in charge" nowadays ... and if you believe that... As Dmitri Simes, president of The Nixon Center, guest posts on TWN, the Bushies aren't the only ones who were caught flat footed. Count the Georgian government in, too:

It is remarkable, but probably inevitable, that so many in Washington have reacted with surprise and outrage to Russia's response to President Mikheil Saakashvili's attempt to reestablish Georgian control over South Ossetia by force.

Some of the angriest statements come from those inside and outside the Bush administration who contributed, I assume unwittingly, to making this crisis happen. And like post-WMD justifications for the invasion of Iraq, the people demanding the toughest action against Russia are focused on Russia's lack of democracy and heavy-handed conduct, particularly in its own neighborhood, and away from how the confrontation actually unfolded. Likewise, just as in the case of Saddam Hussein, these same people accuse anyone who points out that things are not exactly black and white, and that the U.S. government may have its own share of responsibility for the crisis, of siding with aggressive tyrants - in this case, in the Kremlin.

Yet many both outside and even inside the Bush administration predicted that the U.S. decision to champion Kosovo independence without Serbian consent would lead Moscow to become more assertive in establishing its presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Kremlin made abundantly clear that it would view Kosovo's independence without Serbian consent and a U.N. Security Council mandate as a precedent for the two Georgian de facto independent enclaves. Furthermore, while President Saakashvili was making obvious his ambition to reconquer Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow was both publicly and privately warning that Georgia's use of force to reestablish control of the two regions would meet a tough Russian reaction, including, if needed, air strikes against Georgia proper.

So it would be interesting to know what President Saakashvili was thinking when, on Thursday night, after days of relatively low-level shelling around the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali (which both South Ossetians and Georgians blamed on each other), and literally hours after he announced on state-controlled TV the cessation of hostilities, he ordered a full-scale assault on Tskhinvali. And mind you, the assault could only succeed if the Georgian units went right through the battalion of Russian troops serving as international peacekeepers according to agreements signed by Tbilisi itself in the 1990s.

Under the circumstances, the Russian forces had three choices: to surrender, to run away, or to fight. And fight they did - particularly because many of the Russian soldiers were in fact South Ossetians with families and friends in Tskhinvali under Georgian air, tank, and artillery attacks. Saakashvili was reckless to count on proceeding with a blitzkrieg in South Ossetia without a Russian counterattack.

4) The Georgian situation proves, if there remained any doubt, that the neoconservative movement is a cult of insane people. They would dearly love to revive their Reagan-era drive for a U.S. war against the former Soviet bad guys. (In fact, it was Ronald Reagan's refusal to fire up the nukes and take the Soviets out that ultimately drove the neocons away from him. and into their PNAC think tanks.) No sooner did the guns start blazing in Georgia than the Hitler analogies and calls for war started streaming from the keyboards of war cultists like Bill Kristol and the aforementioned Mr. Kagan. But as Rossett's column goes on to lament, the cons have lost control of their White House cowboy to the evil one world government of the U.N.

For the democratic world, there will be no easy recovery from the chilling spectacle of Georgia’s 2,000 or so troops pulling out of Iraq to go join their own country’s desperate defense. The message so far is that America will ferry them home, but while Georgia rallied to the defense of freedom in Iraq, none of Georgia’s erstwhile allies will risk taking up arms to help the Georgians against a Russian onslaught.

The damage in many dimensions is already enormous. As historian and former State Department official Robert Kagan wrote in an incisive article in Monday’s Washington Post, “Historians will come to view August 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell” — though for far less promising reasons. Kagan notes, correctly, that the issue is not how, exactly, this war in Georgia began, but that the true mistake of Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, “was to be president of a small, mostly democratic and adamantly pro-Western nation on the border of Putin’s Russia.”

China’s Communist rulers, while basking in the glow of their Olympics bash, are surely checking the tea leaves for what this might presage about U.S. support for another U.S. ally: the democratic Republic of China on Taiwan. If the U.S. will not stand up to North Korea, will not stand up to Iran, will not stand up to Russia, then where will the U.S. stand up? What are the real rules of this New World Order?

And Rossett reveals, if anyone had remaining doubt, that the neocons have gone home, quitting their second choice, Mr. Bush, for their first love, John McCain:
Apart from Afghanistan and Iraq, the main rule right now seems to be that while anti-democratic bullies do the shooting, everyone else does a lot of talking and resolving. The UN Security Council meets, repeatedly. The European parliament ponders. Presumptive Republic nominee John McCain at least has the gumption and insight to point out that Russia’s actions threaten not only Georgia, but some of Russia’s other neighbors, such as Ukraine, “for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values.” Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama calls for more diplomacy, aid, and not just a U.N. resolution but also a U.N. mediator — despite the massive evidence that U.N. mediators can’t even protect the dissident monks of Burma or the opposition in Zimbabwe, let alone a small country trying to fight off single-handed an invasion by the Russian army.
Ironically, the neocons cheered when Condi Rice succeeded the hated Colin Powell at State. Now, color the cons disappointed:
President Bush, lapsed cowboy and former global top cop, dispatches his envoys to talk, and talk — and talk about talking some more. America’s ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad told the U.N. Security Council on Sunday that Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had told Secretary of State Rice that Georgia’s elected President Mikhail Saakasvhivili “must go.” Khalilzad informed the Security Council that this is “unacceptable” and “this Council must act decisively to reaffirm the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.” This is a phrase that satisfies the U.N. brand of etiquette, but it stops no bombs or bullets.

Bush, upon his return from Beijing to Washington, having failed to stop the Russian invasion of Georgia by declaring himself “deeply concerned,” issued a tougher statement in the Rose Garden: That by invading a neighboring state and threatening to overthrow its elected government, Russia has committed an action that is “unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Oh really? While declaring this invasion “unacceptable,” the global community of the 21st century seems prepared to accept it in spades. While Russian guns close in on Tbilisi, even the basic diplomatic penalties are not yet fully on the table, for whatever they might be worth. By all means, let’s see the G-8 expel Russia, if the will can be found to do even that much. By all means, let the U.N. Security Council engage in the farce of discussing reprimands and maybe even sanctions for Russia — which happens to be both a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, and one of the world’s most adept and experienced sanctions violators.

5) It's the oil, stupid. A clip from John McCain's bellicose statement yesterday tell us what McCain thinks this is really all about:
"The implications of Russian actions go beyond their threat to the territorial integrity and independence of a democratic Georgia. Russia is using violence against Georgia, in part, to intimidate other neighbors such as Ukraine for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values. As such, the fate of Georgia should be of grave concern to Americans and all people who welcomed the end of a divided of Europe, and the independence of former Soviet republics. The international response to this crisis will determine how Russia manages its relationships with other neighbors. We have other important strategic interests at stake in Georgia, especially the continued flow of oil through the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Russia attempted to bomb in recent days; the operation of a critical communication and trade route from Georgia through Azerbaijan and Central Asia; and the integrity an d influence of NATO, whose members reaffirmed last April the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Georgia.
Well, that and giving McCain's neocon friends another war. ... As Joe Klein points out:
With Word War IV--Norman Podhoretz's ridiculous oversell of the struggle against jihadi extremism--on a slow burn for the moment, Kagan et al are showing renewed interest in the golden oldies of enemies, Russia and China. This larval neo-crusade has influenced the campaign of John McCain, with his comic book proposal for a League of Democracies and his untenable proposal to kick the Russians out of the G8.

To be sure, Russia's assault on Georgia is an outrage. We should use all the diplomatic leverage we have (not all that much, truthfully) to end this invasion, and--as Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus argue in this more reasonable take--help Georgia to recover when it's over. And, to be sure, neither Russia nor China are going to be our good buddies, as many of us hoped in the afterglow of the fall of communism. They will be a significant diplomat challenge.

But it is important, yet again, to call out the endless neoconservative search for new enemies, mini-Hitlers. It is the product of an abstract over-intellectualizing of the world, the classic defect of ideologues. It is, as we have seen the last eight years, a dangerous way to behave internationally. And it has severely damaged our moral authority in the world...I mean, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, after Abu Ghraib, after our blithe rubbishing of the Geneva Accords, why should anyone listen to us when we criticize the Russians for their aggression in the Caucasus?

Indeed. Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias calls out more neocon alarmists on the warpath here.


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posted by JReid @ 7:55 AM  
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The morning read: welcome to Tehran
Hey, did you hear the one about the government-chartered mortgage giants who spent $200 million to buy influence in Washington? About 20 McCain advisers have...

Forget all that talk about "appeasement" and the "Axis of evil..." The Guardian reports the Bush administration is preparing to establish an "interests section" in Iran, similar to the one we have in Cuba. The move is a half-step away from setting up an embassy, and comes on the heels of news the U.S. will send the third in command at the State Department to silently observe European talks with Tehran. Et tu, Bushie? In other news, the neocons will be wearing black today as a sign of mourning. Dick Cheney will be wearing an ankle monitor.

There are two ways to look at this news. Either GWB has turned his foreign policy over to Condi Rice, taking the portfolio away from Dick Cheney and his band of neocon nutjobs, in order to salvage some semblance of a legacy in the final months of his administration ... or, Bush hopes to undermine Barack Obama's foreign policy stances one by one, by preempting him on engagement with Iran, troop drawdowns in Iraq, etc. Either way, it will be interesting to see whether John McCain is swift enough to pick up the ball, or whether he will keep blustering on about staying in Iraq forever and ever and blowing Iran to hell.

Also in the Guardian, a new report says the U.S. ranks 42nd in life expectancy -- lower than any developed nation and on par with Croatia ... and Canada is taken to task for refusing to seek the repatriation of a 15-year-old kid the Bush administration has locked up in Gitmo, and who is seen pleading for help during a videotaped interrogation released this week. From the story:
Toronto-born Omar Khadr's US military lawyer called on Harper to "stand up and act like a prime minister of Canada" and demand the teenager's return.

... Khadr's military lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, along with his criticism of Harper, said yesterday that the military tribunals at Guantánamo "aren't designed to be fair" and designed "to produce convictions".

He said anyone who watched Khadr whimpering for his mother and still believed he had vowed to die fighting with a bunch of hardened al-Qaida terrorists is "crazy".

"The tape shows Omar Khadr not as a hardened terrorist but as a frightened boy."

"It just shows how unreliable anything that they extracted from this kid is would be at trial."

Khadr, who was shown in the video aged 16 and questioned after severe sleep deprivation, will have to remain at Guantánamo until he is prosecuted for war crimes in front of a special US military tribunal, later this year.

The liberal Canadian senator and ex-general Romeo Dallaire told Canada Television's (CTV) Newsnet programme that Khadr is a child solider and should be treated and given the same rehabilitation that Canada devotes to other child soldiers around the world.

"We're getting stabbed in the back," Dallaire told the cable channel. "We have worked for years to assist other nations in eradicating the use of children in conflict. But our own country doesn't even want to recognise that our own citizen (is a child soldier). No matter what his politics are, it's totally irrelevant.

Canada's conservative P.M., Stephen Harper, remains unmoved, and Canadian experts are casting doubt on chances for the boy to return to his home country. [Omar Khadr photo, showing him at age 15, from the Canadian Broadcasting Co.]

Meanwhile in the Middle East, Hezbollah supporters are gleeful at the return of five of their members to Beirut, along with the bodies of some 200 fighters, who were exchanged for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. In Israel, no celebration, just funerals for the two Israelis, whose capture led to Israel's disastrous 2006 war with Lebanon. In the Independent UK, Robert Fisk writes of Israel's folly, and Hezbollah's hubris. On the exchange, Hezbollah got:

Samir Kuntar – 28 years in an Israeli jail for the 1979 murder of an Israeli, his young daughter and a policeman. He arrived from Israel very much alive, clean shaven but sporting a neat moustache, overawed by the hundreds of Hizbollah supporters, a man used to solitary confinement who suddenly found himself idolised by a people he had not seen in almost three decades. His eyes moved around him, the eyes of a prisoner watching for trouble. He was Israel's longest-held Lebanese prisoner; Hizbollah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, had promised his release. And he had kept his word.

... But it was also a day of humiliation. Humiliation most of all for the Israelis. After launching their 2006 war to retrieve two of their captured soldiers, they killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians, devastated Lebanon, lost 160 of their own – most of them soldiers – and ended up yesterday handing over 200 Arab corpses and five prisoners in return for the remains of the two missing soldiers and a box of body parts.

Read the whole thing. Trust me.

Back to the states, where the New York Times' Caucus blog reports Barack Obama raised $52 million in June (though Chuck Todd pooh-poohed the number this morning on "Morning Joe," saying Obama had better raise that amount since he's not taking public financing. Geez, the media is STILL sore about that?)

Meanwhile, the paper proper reports on how much Iraqis seem to like Obama, quoting one Iraqi general as saying the candidate is "very young, very active" and "we would be very happy if he was elected president." Look for the McCain camp to deride Obama as "the candidate of the Iraqi people" today ... before they have to dial back once the candidate remembers that Iraq is no longer in the Axis of Evil. The same story attempts to throw cold water on Obama's withdrawal plans, however, calling them "complicated" for Iraqis:

... mention Mr. Obama’s plan for withdrawing American soldiers, and the general stiffens.

“Very difficult,” he said, shaking his head. “Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: for now, we don’t have that ability.”

... There was, as Mr. Obama prepared to visit here, excitement over a man who is the anti-Bush in almost every way: a Democrat who opposed a war that many Iraqis feel devastated their nation. And many in the political elite recognize that Mr. Obama shares their hope for a more rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

But his support for troop withdrawal cuts both ways, reflecting a deep internal quandary in Iraq: for many middle-class Iraqis, affection for Mr. Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war. Many Iraqis also acknowledge that security gains in recent months were achieved partly by the buildup of American troops, which Mr. Obama opposed and his presumptive Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, supported.

“In no way do I favor the occupation of my country,” said Abu Ibrahim, a Western-educated businessman in Baghdad, “but there is a moral obligation on the Americans at this point.”

Like many Iraqis, Mr. Ibrahim sees Mr. Obama favorably, describing him as “much more humane than Bush or McCain.”

“He seems like a nice guy,” Mr. Ibrahim said. But he hoped that Mr. Obama’s statements about a relatively fast pullout were mere campaign talk.

“It’s a very big assumption that just because he wants to pull troops out, he’ll be able to do it,” he said. “The American strategy in the region requires troops to remain in Iraq for a long time.”

Why do I not quite trust the Times not to put neocon words into Iraqis mouths? Maybe it's just me ... and Judy Miller... Meanwhile, the paper also reports on the phalanx of media stars and actual anchor people who will chase Barack around the Middle East and Europe when he travels there, as opposed to the "in other news" treatment that McCain's overseas trip received.

The WaPo has three interesting stories today: one on the slowing global economy, and how it's helping the little guys outpace the giant economies of rich, Western nations, like ours. Why?

The U.S. economy and financial system are more closely linked to those in other wealthy nations, particularly in Europe, where rising inflation and the weak dollar are adding to growing trouble. The United States and Europe have "similar economies and share the potential problems of industrialized nations in terms of property price fluctuations and financials," said Simon Johnson, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. "And they find themselves sharing variable degrees of vulnerability."

As global wealth has shifted during the past decade, emerging markets have become not only increasingly stable but they have also been claiming a larger portion of the world's riches than ever before. If Californians are rushing to withdraw money from banks there, the situation in Kenya is just the opposite: People are flocking to banks to open accounts. The Nairobi exchange, which lists mostly Kenyan companies and a handful of multinational firms, posted 10 percent gains in the three months ended in June as local and foreign investors flocked to the initial public offering of the cellphone giant Safaricom.


The WaPo also tries to even out the mortgage crisis exposure of the two presidential candidates, attempting to make former Obama advisers and of all things, Clinton advisers, the equivalent of John McCain's bevy of current lobbyist pals and campaign shot callers who are steeped in Freddie and Fannie lobbying cash. So much for the liberal media.

And the paper reports that the Obama campaign is creating a heavy presence in Virginia, suggesting they are serious about winning the state.

The Los Angeles Times reports on newly minted FBI investigatee Indymac's latest problem: rival banks are refusing to accept its cashier's checks, adding a new headache for depositors who have been lining up to get their money.

And the paper reports that a stunning 1 in 4 California high school students -- and 1 in 3 Los Angeles high schoolers, dropped out of school since the fall of 2006. Wow. The head count was made possible by a new ID system in the state that was meant to track students leaving one school and enrolling at another. Unfortunately, the second part of that equation didn't happen 25-33% of the time.

Soaring oil prices are making Russia, Venezuela and Iran bolder, and more defiant of the U.S. .. surprise, surprise...

The most viewed stories at LAT? Andy Dick's dumb ass arrested on drug and sexual battery charges, ya think??? ... and bargain homes in Cali as prices deflate.

And last but not least ... who had the highest number of job losses this year? Florida! Sorry, Charlie!


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posted by JReid @ 8:45 AM  
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Maybe now the Bushies will talk to them
Iranian television shows the test firing of a Shahab 3 missile. Source: New York Times

Iran tests new long range missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, not to mention U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Isn't that the kind of thing that got the Bushies to the table with North Korea? Just sayin...
(BBC) Iran has test-fired nine missiles, including a new version of the Shahab-3, which is capable of reaching its main regional enemy Israel.

The Shahab-3, with a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles), was armed with a conventional warhead, state media said. Iran has tested the missile before, but the latest launch comes amid rising tensions with the US and Israel over the country's nuclear programme.

The early morning launch at a remote desert site sent oil prices climbing.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe called on Iran to "refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world".

Two other types of missile with shorter ranges were also fired as part of the Great Prophet III war games being staged by Iran's military.
And from the New York Times:
PARIS — One day after threatening to strike Tel Aviv and United States interests if attacked, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were reported on Wednesday to have test-fired nine missiles, including one which the government in Tehran says has the range to reach Israel.

State-run media said the missiles were long- and medium-range weapons, among them a new version of the Shahab-3, which Tehran maintains is able to hit targets 1,250 miles away from its firing position. Parts of western Iran are within 650 miles of Tel Aviv.

The reported tests coincide with increasingly tense negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program, which Iran says is for civilian purposes but which many Western governments suspect is aimed at building nuclear weapons. At the same time, United States and British warships have been conducting naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf — apparently within range of the launching site of the missiles tested on Wednesday. Israel insisted it did not want war with Iran.

“Israel has no desire for conflict or hostilities with Iran,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said. “But the Iranian nuclear program and the Iranian ballistic missile program must be of grave concern to the entire international community.”

The missile tests drew a sharp response from the United States. Gordon D. Johndroe, the deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement at the Group of 8 meeting in Japan that Iran’s development of ballistic missiles was a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“The Iranian regime only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity,” Mr. Johndroe said.

He urged Iran to “refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world. The Iranians should stop the development of ballistic missiles which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon immediately.”

Iran's Shahab 3 missile range. Source: The Guardian

As you might expect, the news shot the price of oil up, yet again.

The tests appear to be a reaction to Israel's "dress rehearsals" last month for an attack on ... somebody ... which coincide with increased diplomacy by Israel with enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas, which some Mideast analysts see as a way to soften the blow in the Arab world should the Jewish state attack Iran.

The news drew quick reactions from the U.S. presidential candidates:
... "Working with our European and regional allies is the best way to meet the threat posed by Iran, not unilateral concessions that undermine multilateral diplomacy," McCain said in a statement.

Obama has been criticized by Republicans for being too eager to engage enemies of the U.S. in talks. Asked how he would respond to the missile tests if he were president, Obama said he would confer with his national security team to find out whether "this indicates any new capabilities on Iran's part."

"At this point, the report is unclear, it's still early," Obama said on "The Early Show" on CBS. "What this underscores is the need for ... a clear policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behavior. And frankly, we just have not been able to do that the last several years, partly because we're not engaged in direct diplomacy."

Obama said he continued to favor an incentive package that is aimed at getting Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions.
McCain said Iran's missile tests "demonstrate again the dangers it poses to its neighbors and to the wider region, especially Israel."

"Ballistic missile testing coupled with Iran's continued refusal to cease its nuclear activities should unite the international community in efforts to counter Iran's dangerous ambitions," McCain said.

Obama, while calling Iran a threat, criticized the Bush administration for using bellicose language against the Iranian government while increasing exports to the country.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold under President Bush in spite of his criticism of its government as a sponsor of terrorism and warnings against any efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

"It's that kind of mixed signal that has led to the kind of situation that we're in right now," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
More on Bush's checkbook diplomacy, from Newsweek:
(WASHINGTON) Nuclear weapons? No way. But there are plenty of items on Iran's shopping list the United States is more than happy to supply: cigarettes, brassieres, bull semen and more.

U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold during President Bush's years in office even as he accused it of nuclear ambitions and sponsoring terrorists. America sent more cigarettes to Iran — at least $158 million worth under Bush — than any other product.

Other surprising shipments during the Bush administration: fur clothing, sculptures, perfume, musical instruments and military apparel. Top states shipping goods to Iran include California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of seven years of U.S. governmenttrade data.

Despite increasingly tough rhetoric toward Iran, which Bush has called part of an "axis of evil," U.S. trade in a range of goods survives on-again, off-again sanctions originally imposed nearly three decades ago. The rules allow sales of agricultural commodities, medicine and a few other categories of goods. The exemptions are designed to help Iranian families even as the United States pressures Iran's leaders.

"I understand that these exports have increased. However, we believe that they are increasing to a segment of the population that we want to reach out to, we want to know and understand that the U.S. government, the U.S. people want to be friends with them, want to work with them to integrate them into the world economy and become partners in the future," Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday when asked by reporters about AP's findings.
So ... we want them to get hooked on our cigarettes and be our friends before we ... blow them away...? And remember, while we're increasing exports to Iran (and don't think Dick Cheney's Halliburton isn't still doing business there, too...) we're also conducting covert operations which may be designed to provoke Iran into a war...

The Guardian drills deeper into the candidate reactions, and finds Barack Obama talking tough diplomacy (he also gets the headline, while Mac gets the mid-article crumbs...) and McCain sealing himself into the Bush glass coffin once again with a call for a halo of missile defense over Europe:
"Iran is a great threat. We have to make sure we are working with our allies to apply tightened pressure on Iran," the Illinois senator said.

Iran demonstrated its military force with the test-flight of nine long and medium-range missiles in the strategic Strait of Hormouz, through which 40% of the world's oil passes.

Tehran said the exercise was in retaliation to threats from the US and Israel over its disputed nuclear projects, which it claims are civilian.

Obama said if he were to be elected president, he would combine more direct diplomacy with the threat of much tougher economic sanctions.

"I think what this underscores is the need for us to create a kind of policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behaviour, and frankly we just have not been able to do that over the last several years," Obama said.

He cited reports that US exports to Iran have increased under George Bush, even as the administration has toughened its rhetoric.

Earlier, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said the "war games" justified America's defence plans with bases in eastern Europe. She said the tests were "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one."

"Those who say there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defence system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims."

Her comments were backed by the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. He said the tests "demonstrate the need for effective missile defence now and in the future, and this includes missile defence in Europe as is planned with the Czech Republic and Poland". These plans are strongly opposed by Russia.
Four more years ... indeed ...

The Iran news comes on the same day as word of an attack that killed three policemen near the U.S. embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. The Washington Post has details:
Gunmen attacked a police guard post this morning outside the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, killing three Turkish police officers in what Ambassador Ross Wilson called "an obvious act of terrorism."

Three of the assailants were shot to death during the gun battle, authorities said, and a fourth person was taken into custody a short time later, according to Turkey's Dogan News Agency.

No Americans or consular employees were injured.

"This was an attack on the American diplomatic establishment here," Wilson said in an appearance before reporters in Ankara, the Turkish capital. " . . . Our countries will stand together and confront this, as we have in the past."

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler also labeled the incident a terrorist attack. Gul referred to the slain police officers as martyrs and said Turkey "will fight against those who masterminded such acts and the mentality behind it till the end."
The world just 


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posted by JReid @ 10:18 AM  
Sunday, July 06, 2008
George W. Bush and The Great Asian capitulation
Despite all of the kudos from the TV punditocracy, George W. Bush's massive capitulation on North Korea -- which included walking back from demands that Pyongyang detail just what nuclear weapons it has, and to whom it has sold its weapons technology, in exchange for a generalized accounting of NK's uranium, and additional details to be provided later (whenever that is,) was a pretty shocking turn-back from the cowboy diplomacy that brought us the Iraq War. (That the Bush administration's soft shoe was a punk move actually brings parts of the left, myself included, into agreement with, of all people, John Bolton...)

But it may not be as out of character as it seemed. Bush has shown a surprising willingness to bend to the wishes of China, and to accommodate the Communist government, on trade, on Taiwan, on China's mad scramble for often blood-soaked African oil, including in the Sudan, on the North Korea deal (which is really China's deal, which Russia co-piloted and the other four parties simply gave in to,) and on Tibet, which China continues to oppress, a fact that has given rise to several world leaders' principled decision to skip the opening ceremonies of the poorly placed 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Bush's give-and-go on China has shined an unpleasant spotlight on his dogged determination to show up at the opening ceremonies, something he was forced to defend at a G8 summit press conference today in Tokyo (standing alongside Japan's Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda (who also capitulated on NK, without getting something his country dearly wanted -- answers on abducted Japanese soldiers thought to have been taken by the North Koreans during the 1970s and '80s. Fukuda plans to go to the opening ceremonies, too.) (Photo at left by Reuters)

At a news conference with Fukuda, Bush defended his decision to attend the Olympics opening ceremonies Aug. 8. Among the leaders who plan to skip that event are British Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering not attending.

China's role as host has focused attention on its human rights record and the security crackdown in Tibet; some U.S. conservatives have criticized Bush for planning to go to the opening ceremonies.

"The Chinese people are watching very carefully about the decisions by world leaders and I happen to believe that not going to the opening ceremony for the games would be an affront to the Chinese people, which may make it more difficult to be able to speak frankly with the Chinese leadership," the president said.

It's tempting, since Dubya is such a sports buff, to figure he's just going because it's a chance to get out of the White House, where schedulers mostly are booking him at children's parties these days, and go see some sports! But I suspect there's more to it than that, and that sucking up to China, for reasons perhaps to be explained later, is at least part of the calculation.

Bush's tendency to back down where China is concerned has been in evidence from the day he took office. Remember in the days before 9/11 spun the wheels of the constitutional spokes? What was Bush's first presidential crisis? It happened in April 2001:

A U.S. reconnaissance plane made an emergency landing in China on Sunday after colliding with a Chinese fighter sent to intercept it.

U.S. officials said the EP-3 Aries II, a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance aircraft, was on a routine mission over international waters off China when the collision occurred about 9:15 a.m. (8:15 p.m. Saturday EST). The damaged spy plane landed on the Chinese island of Hainan, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) southwest of Hong Kong, and none of its crew of 24 was injured.

Chinese state television said the F-8 fighter jet involved in the collision crashed into the South China Sea off Hainan, and its pilot was missing. The collision appeared accidental, said Air Force Lt. Col. Dewey Ford, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.

... The incident comes at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing are strained over issues such as human rights and U.S. support for Taiwan.

The EP-3 is a sensitive surveillance aircraft that aviation experts say is capable of monitoring electronic communications and aircraft movements inside the Chinese mainland from points offshore.

Bush wound up kowtowing to Beijing, which had demanded an apology, by instead issuing a face-saving, but still contrite, statement of regret, which was greeted by Beijing with a "thanks, but not enough," as they continued to refuse to release the American crew. Meanwhile, Chinese editorials (in papers that are official organs of the government) blasted away at the U.S. human rights record, and at America in general, while Americans waited for resolution. One piece, in the Hong Kong Economic Times, dated April 5, 2001, stands out:

"Beijing Waits At Ease For An Exhausted Enemy"

"This incident gives China a great opportunity, turning the nation from a passive position to an active one. China's leaders can take this opportunity to test how strong the new Bush administration is.... China can clearly see whether its rival is strong and powerful, or externally strong but internally weak. Then China can lay down its strategy of how to deal with the Bush administration in the next four years. In conclusion, it can be seen from how China is handling this incident that it does not intend to let tensions escalate, nor does it want to damage Sino-U.S. relations. Since it has the bargaining chip, China can test the ability of the Bush administration to resolve this crisis. China is therefore not anxious to settle the incident."

Indeed, the Bush administration was tested, and China has pretty much known how to deal with Dubya ever since. The American pilots were released after an 11-day stand-off.

Fast-forward to September 2006, when Bush was again faced with a China problem:

From Defense News.Com:

China has fired high-power lasers at U.S. spy satellites flying over its territory in what experts see as a test of Chinese ability to blind the spacecraft, according to sources.

It remains unclear how many times the ground-based laser was tested against U.S. spacecraft or whether it was successful. But the combination of China's efforts and advances in Russian satellite jamming capabilities illustrate vulnerabilities to the U.S. space network are at the core of U.S. Air Force plans to develop new space architectures and highly classified systems, according to sources.

The blogger who "snipped" that clip, Afarensis, adds a bit more from Defense News:

Pentagon officials, however, have kept quiet regarding China's efforts as part of a Bush administration policy to keep from angering Beijing, which is a leading U.S. trading partner and seen as key to dealing with onerous states like North Korea and Iran. Even the Pentagon's recent China report failed to mention Beijing's efforts to blind U.S. reconnaissance satellites. Rather, after a contentious debate, the White House directed the Pentagon to limit its concern to one line. In that one line, the report merely acknowledges China has the ability to blind U.S. satellites, thanks to a powerful ground-based laser capable of firing a beam of light at an optical reconnaissance satellite to keep it from taking pictures as it passes overhead. According to top officials, however, China not only has the capability, but has exercised it. It is not clear when China first used lasers to attack American satellites. Sources would only say that there have been several tests over the past several years.

... Wynne stressed that what's at stake isn't merely U.S. military superiority, but the fate of global commerce because signals from Air Force GPS satellites are critical to everything from airline and maritime commerce to car navigation systems.
It does beg the question, what is it with Bush and China?


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posted by JReid @ 10:53 PM  
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
If Zimbabwe had oil...
... the African Union wouldn't have been the only ones greeting Robert Mugabe as a liberator...

For all the condemnation of Zimbabwe, Foreign Policy in Focus reminds us that the world, and the U.S., are
much more tolerant when it comes to thuggish leaders of countries that have vast natural resources, including "Swaziland, Congo, Cameroun, Togo, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Gabon, Egypt, and Tunisia. None of these countries holds free elections, and all have severely suppressed their political opposition."

And the worst of all? Our good friends, Equatorial Guinea. My take here, FPIF's take as follows:

Among the worst of these African tyrannies has been the regime of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. Obiang has been in power even longer than the 28-year reign of Mugabe and, according to a recent article in the British newspaper The Independent, makes the Zimbabwean dictator “seem stable and benign” by comparison. Obiang originally seized power in a 1979 coup by murdering his uncle, who had ruled the country since its independence from Spain in 1968. Under his rule, Equatorial Guinea nominally allowed the existence of opposition parties as a condition of receiving foreign aid in the early 1990s. But the four leading candidates withdrew from the last presidential election in December 2002 in protest of irregularities in the voting process and violence against their supporters. In that election, Obiang officially received more than 97% of the vote (down from 99.5% in the previous election.)

Though the U.S. State Department acknowledged that the election was “marred by extensive fraud and intimidation,” the Congress and the administration devoted none of the vehement condemnation that was so evident after the recent, similarly marred election process in Zimbabwe.

One major reason for the difference in response is oil. The development of vast oil reserves over the past decade has made Equatorial Guinea one of the wealthiest countries in Africa in terms of per capita gross domestic product. Virtually all of the oil revenues, however, goes to Obiang and his cronies. The dictator himself is worth an estimated $1 billion, making him the wealthiest leader in Africa; his real estate holdings include two mansions in Maryland just outside of Washington, DC. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the country’s population lives on only a few dollars a day, and nearly half of all children under five are malnourished. The country’s major towns and cities lack basic sanitation and potable water while conditions in the countryside are even worse.

During his most recent visit to Washington in 2006, Obiang was warmly received by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who praised the dictator as “a good friend” of the United States. Not once during their joint appearance did she mention the words “human rights” or “democracy.” At the same press conference, Obiang praised his regime’s “extremely good relations with the United States” and his expectation that “this relationship will continue to grow in friendship and cooperation.” None of the assembled reporters raised any questions about the regime’s notorious human rights record or its lack of democracy, instead using the opportunity to ask Secretary Rice questions about the alleged threat from Iran.

In 2002, the dictator met with President George W. Bush in New York to discuss military and energy security issues. He followed up in 2004 with meetings with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and then-Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

Cozy Relations

Equatorial Guinea receives U.S. government funding and training through the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET). In addition, the private U.S. firm Military Professional Resources Incorporated – founded by former senior Pentagon officials who cite the regime’s friendliness to U.S. strategic and economic interests – plays a key role in the country’s internal security apparatus. Furthermore, as a result of Obiang’s understandable lack of trust in his own people, soldiers from Morocco – one of America’s closest African allies – have served for decades in a number of important security functions, including the role of presidential guards.

Maintaining close ties with such a notorious ruler has led even conservative Republicans like Frank Ruddy, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Equatorial Guinea in the mid-1980s, to denounce the Bush administration for being “big cheerleaders for the government – and it’s an awful government.”

Though the Chinese have also recently begun investing in the country’s oil sector, U.S. companies ExxonMobil, Amerada Hess, Chevron/Texaco, and Marathon Oil have played the most significant role. A report by the International Monetary Fund notes that U.S. oil companies receive “by far the most generous tax and profit-sharing provisions in the region.” Congressional hearings recently revealed how U.S. oil companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars destined to state treasuries directly into the dictator’s private bank accounts. A Senate report faulted U.S. oil companies for making “substantial payments to, or entering into business ventures with,” government officials and their family members.

The Bush administration can, in essence, rant and rave about Zimbabwe all it wants, with no consequences. The Bush administration gets to pretend it means business with all this talk of "democracy," even as they know that South Africa, Russia and China will likely block any serious sanctions against Zimbabwe in the U.N. Security Council. And they get to keep on ignoring and playing ball with the vicious governments of places like E. Guinea and Nigeria, where so long as the oil keeps flowing, the U.S. could give a damn.


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posted by JReid @ 11:23 AM  
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Zbigniew explains it all
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, (a/k/a Mika's dad) is on "Morning Joe" scaring the bejeezus out of everyone. He has posited the notion of America as a "gated community," totally isolated from the world, if John McCain becomes president. Brzezinksi, who was Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, reminded the panel that McCain's principle foreign policy adviser, Joe Lieberman, is "advocating World War IV against the world of Islam," that, as CNBC's Erin Burnett reported, much of the world is "organizing itself" separate from, and in many ways, against the U.S., and that President Bush recently went to the Saudis to "beg for oil in private, and insult them in public," by giving a speech in which he stated that the common practice in the Mideast is to have a dictator in power and the opposition in jail. And of course, he was politely rebuffed.

John McCain would keep the Bush magic going.


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posted by JReid @ 8:44 AM  
Monday, May 12, 2008
There's no reason ...
... that Haitians in the U.S. today shouldn't be granted "temporary protected status," particularly given what we're learning about the state of U.S. detention policy and healthcare for the immigrants who are stuck in it. If Haiti doesn't qualify for TPS, which is meant to stop people from being deported to countries utterly destabilized by politics or natural disaster, I'm not sure what country does. The Chicago Tribune editorial board weighs in today.


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posted by JReid @ 5:35 PM  
Friday, May 02, 2008
The plants
While grabbing links for the previous post, I noticed something that hadn't caught my attention before, for some reason. I knew that Jeb Bush was an original signer of the Project for a New American Century's "statement of principles," back in 1999, but there's another name on the list that I hadn't taken note of before: Dan Quayle, the dim-witted former vice president under George Bush I. How did his name get on the list of something called a "think" tank? He was probably asked to sign on by his former chief of staff, Bill Kristol, who co-founded the PNAC with fellow McCain adviser Robert Kagan.

So I started wondering, how far back to Kristol's tentacles, and possible influence, reach? From the Christian Science Monitor's neocon file:
Like other neoconservatives Frank Gaffney Jr. and Elliott Abrams, Kristol worked for hawkish Democratic Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson. But by 1976, he became a Republican. he served as chief of staff to Education Secretary William Bennett during the Reagan administration and chief of staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle during the George H. W. Bush presidency.
And let's not forget who Elliot Abrams is:
In 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-Contra affair. President George H. W. Bush pardoned him in 1992. In 1980, he married Rachel Decter, daughter of neocon veterans Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter.
I think it's safe to say that Junior isn't the only Bush who has found himself in the thrall of the neoconservatives. They have hovered around all three Bushes. George was just the one who implemented their policies in the most screwed up fashion. You could argue that the Iran-Contra affair was a neocon project, and if you believe Ronald Reagan's contemporaneous denials (he did beat back the neocons as long as he could -- they would have had him go to war with the U.S.S.R.) that operation may have emerged from the vice president's office. Bush I went to war against Saddam on the dubious provocation of Kuwait, which makes you wonder what noises were coming out of his vice president's office, where Kristol was probably Quayle's brain, in much the way Rove was for Dubya. And now we have Iraq War II.

Makes you wonder... clearly, these guys are effective at influencing the powerful. Makes you shudder all over again just thinking about a McCain presidency...


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posted by JReid @ 3:39 PM  
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Hanging on to our dictator
Forget all that rubbish about democracy! As the victorious Pakistani opposition parties work out a coalition government, the U.S. has an interesting request: don't sack Musharraf:
The US and Britain are pressing Pervez Musharraf’s victorious opponents to drop their demands that he resign as president and that the country’s independent judiciary be restored before forming a government.

In a strategy some Western diplomats admit could badly backfire, the Bush administration has made clear it wishes to continue to support Mr Musharraf even after Monday’s election in which the Pakistani public delivered a resounding rejection of his policies. “[The US] does not want some people pushed out because it would lead to instability. In this case that means Musharraf,” said one Western diplomat.

Officials say the policy is driven by concern about possible instability in the aftermath of the election in which the president’s parliamentary allies were soundly beaten. In such circumstances US and its Western allies are urging the election’s winners - the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N)- to quickly move forward and form a coalition that includes all “moderate” elements.

But along with Mr Musharraf’s future, the reinstatement of sacked Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry and other Supreme Court justices - sacked by the president when they refused to ratify his imposition of a State of Emergency last November - has rapidly emerged as the most contentious issues in the aftermath of Monday’s vote, as the PPP and PML-N negotiate to form a coalition government. Mr Sharif, whose party secured the second most number of seats, built his campaign around the reinstatement of Mr Chaudhry and has repeatedly insisted Mr Musharraf should stand down.

Last night an aide to Mr Sharif, who is due to meet today (THURS) with PPP leader, Asif Ali Zardari, confirmed there had been pressure to drop its demand for Mr Chaudhry’s return. “The suggestion has been there from Western countries for some time. In fact it was raised by [a senior British official] when he met Mr Sharif in London. [But] we are not willing to compromise on our stance. We feel it would be against the interest of the Pakistani people.”

This week senior US officials have already met with Mr Sharif and the other leading players in Pakistan’s unfolding political drama, urging an inclusive transition towards democracy. Yesterday morning, a US diplomat based in Lahore spent two hours with Aitzaz Ahsan, leader of the lawyers movement, laying out the US position.

Mr Ahsan, who has been under house arrest for three months, declined to detail the contents of his conversation with the diplomat, but he said: “There is no way other than to reinstate the judges…We are not going to let this pass. We will not let it be accepted as a norm.”

Since the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration has pursued a controversial policy in which it has given billions of dollars and considerable political support to Mr Musharraf, who is considered a vital ally in the so-called war on terror. The policy has been pursued despite criticism of Mr Musharraf’s human rights record and amid claims of hypocrisy over the US’s backing for a military dictator who seized power in a military coup while purportedly promoting democracy.

Officials admit that in the aftermath of such a decisive election its decision to stick by Mr Musharraf and its urging of his opponents to work with him - even with him serving in a reduced role - could be seen as interference and carried with it high risks.

Yet they say the threat of instability and the over-present threat of violence in Pakistan requires the various groups to form a coalition of moderate parties rather than becoming “fixated” on Mr Musharraf’s immediate future or the restoration of the judiciary. Another Western diplomat said: “The important thing is that a stable government can be formed.”
Ahh, strategery!

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posted by JReid @ 3:19 PM  
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
How do you lose the battle of ideas?
Just ask Columbia University president Lee Bollinger, who managed to draw frowns from as anti-Iran a publication as the Jerusalem Post for his insulting, silly performance ahead of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech -- at Bollinger's invitation -- yesterday.

The right and its media handmaidens have been foaming at the mouth since before the Iranian leader set foot in the U.S., even stammering implausibly that were he to visit Ground Zero while in New York to address the United Nations, it would be an ourage upon the dignity of 9/11 (how, I'm not sure, since Iran not only had no part in 9/11, it couldn't have, since the Taliban and al-Qaida are just as much Tehran's enemies as they are ours, and since Iran cooperated with the U.S. against the Taliban after the attacks...) No matter, the right must have its boogeymen, and for now, Mahmoud is it. Even Congressional Democrats couldn't resist getting in on the action. (Soon, Iran will be as isolated and battered by U.S. aprobrium as Myanmar!)

Anyway, in his way too long introduction, Bollinger sought to squirm out from under the ridiculous criticism of his university's decision to invite the Iranian leader -- to allow him to partake of the precious freedom of expression we really don't much believe in here in the land of the free and the home of the brave ... His back-peddling had all the subtlety of a brick to the head -- the head being Ahmadinejad's... (video here)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was taken to task Monday for casting doubt on the Holocaust, during a forum at Columbia University in New York.

Columbia president Lee Bollinger told the Iranian leader he exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," to enthusiastic applause from the audience.

He then said Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust came across as foolish in front of an audience of students and teachers.

"When you come to a place like this it makes you simply ridiculous," said Bollinger. "The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history."
Well, actually, it's simply ridiculous to invite the man and then say he's ridiculous for showing up... next, it was Ahmadinejad's turn (audio):

... Ahmadinejad replied that Bollinger's words were "an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here."

He accused Bollinger of being influenced by U.S. politicians and biased news agencies.

"I should not begin by being affected by this unfriendly treatment," he said.

Ahmadinejad quoted extensively from the Koran during his appearance, expounded on the relationship between science and enlightenment, and claimed Iran itself was a victim of U.S.-supported terrorists.

He said members of the Iranian government had been killed in an attack by U.S.-supported terrorists, though he didn't name the alleged attackers or provide other details.

He also spoke out against governments that "tap telephones" and was critical of what he described as governments that unleash an "onslaught on the domestic cultures of nations."

Ahmadinejad didn't directly answer a questions about whether he sought the destruction of Israel, but instead discussed the plight of the Palestinian people. He received loud cheers from the packed auditorium when he demanded whether or not the Palestinian situation was an important global issue.

Ahmadinejad also claimed European academics have been put in prison for "approaching the Holocaust from a different perspective," and defended Iran's nuclear ambitions. He said Iran has the right to develop nuclear technology and has never intended to use it for violence, nor has it hid anything from international inspectors.

At another point, Ahmadinejad denied that any homosexuals lived in Iran -- a comment that prompted derisive laughter from the audience.

Unfazed, Ahmadinejad persisted: "In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have this."

He spoke to The Associated Press prior to delivering the speech at Columbia and a scheduled address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

"Iran will not attack any country," he told AP in an interview.
Bollinger's stunt made Ahmadinejad -- who is hardly a dictator since he was elected to his position in Iran -- despite the U.S. supporting his rival, Mr. Khatami -- appear sympathetic, almost a victim. He came across as the man seeking a way around war, while American freedom of speech looked like a greeting card lie we feed to the Third Worlders before we take over their countries and install a new government.

Pathetic. Sad. Frankly, ridiculous.

That said, I cannot help but wonder if very many Americans even know why they hate Iran. I mean, we used to arm that country... remember Iran Contra? Remember the deals the Reagan-Bush administration cut with the Ayatollah to delay the release of our hostages in return for brand new American F15s for the Iranian Air Force?

On the flip side, remember the gassing of Iranian citizens by Iraq, back when we liked, and armed, Saddam Hussein? What about our takeover of that government in 1953 via a CIA overthrow the then-democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossedeq in order to halt the nationalization of Iranian oil? It was that takeover, and our subsequent installation of a phony king -- the Shah -- on a phony Peacock Throne WE MADE UP -- that set the stage for the student revolution of 1979, and the coming to power of the mullahs, whom we now hate.

In other words, there's plenty of water under the bridge between the U.S. and Iran, but I'll wager that very few Americans can articulate why they are salivating for war with a country that they know nothing about.

As for Iraq, sure Iran is meddling. They're doing what WE did in Afghanistan during that country's war with the Soviet Union. And my dears, they're mostly meddling ON THE SAME SIDE THAT WE'RE ON in Iraq -- the side of the shaky, but very Shiite, al-Maliki government. The Dawa Party, to which Mr. Maliki belongs, is closely aligned with Tehran, as it is with the "rebel" cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who only answers to one man: Grand Ayatola Ali al-Sistani -- an IRANIAN born mullah who wields some of the only real power in that broken country. All of these players have a foothold in Iran, with the mullahs who are the REAL dictators of Iran. Mr. Ahmadinejad is the face, but not the body, of that country. He is an academic, a soccer fan, and compared to Lee Bollinger, a rather temperate sounding guy.

The truth of the matter is that most Americans who loathe Iran do so because they have been told to, and for little reason beyond that. Iran is the new boogeyman, meant to replace Iraq in our endless resource wars in the Middle East. Americans say "Iran hates America" with absolutely no evidence of that. To be sure, Iranians appear to hate George W. Bush, but then, so do a majority of the British... care to bunker buster nuke them, mates?

As for the real reason most Americans hate Iran -- Ahmadinejad's attitude toward Israel, I submit that his personal feelings about a country that is not, nor has it ever been, a part of the United States, is utterly irrelevant to you as an American. The Iranian president's rhetoric on Israel is mostly meant for consumption around the Arab world, where such imflamatory rhetoric is a necessary precursor to claiming a mantle of leadership (Iran seeks to be the savior of the Mideast...) And if Ahmadinejad truly believes the Holocaust didn't happen (something he hasn't really said -- rather he's said that since the Palestinians didn't perpetrate it, they shouldn't be the ones paying for it with their land...) then how does his ignorance harm you? Will Iran attack Israel? Please. Israel has nuclear weapons and would wipe Iran off the map.

In fact, Iran is literally surrounded by nuclear powers, including Pakistan and India, and it's sitting next door to a collapsing country called Afghanistan. No wonder they want to be nuclear armed, assuming you don't believe Ahmadinejad's protests to the contrary, again, because the media tells you you shouldn't...

At the end of the day, I don't see how the U.S. can purport to tell any country what they can and cannot do in the interests of their own security. Iran hasn't got the missile capacity or range to threaten us, any more than Iraq did, even if Saddam did have nuclear weapons. The country they threaten -- assuming, again, that the mullahs are suicidal -- is Israel, a country that can more than take care of itself.

The next argument I'll hear is that Iran "supports terrorists" -- ok, which ones? Not al-Qaida, of course. They're the wrong sect. Hezbollah? They killed hundreds of Americans in the 1980s, and Ronald Reagan didn't do a damned thing about it. In fact, he turned around and kept right on doing business with Iran, as did Richard Cheney, through his notorious company, Halliburton. So if we want to punish Iran for those past wrongs, we're about 20 years too late and more than a dollar short. And are they fomenting terrorism today? If so, tell me where, and against whom. Lebanon? That's an internal struggle akin to a civil war. America isn't threatened there. And again, any rockets being lobbed by terror groups funded by Iran are headed Israel's way. So unless you're saying that Israel's interests are always and necessarily our interests, you must admit that the U.S. has no DIRECT reason to hate Iran, or to feel threatened by it. On the contrary, we have a vested interest in getting that country's cooperation, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Is Iran a bad actor? On human rights, certainly. But then, we aren't doing great shakes in that arena either. And we do business with country's that are as bad, or worse (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China come to mind...)

But that only counts if you aren't gung-ho determined to go to war.

And I hate to say it, but I think the American people are fully capable of being fooled again.

Related: Where in the world is: Iran


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posted by JReid @ 8:35 PM  
Monday, June 18, 2007
Finally, progress in Iraq!
Take that, war doubters! According to the latest "failed states index" from Foreign Policy Magazine, Iraq is NOT the most unstable country in the world ... it's the second most unstable country in the world! IN YOUR FACE, SUDAN!!!

Update: Of the countries that changed for the worse last year, three were in Africa: Somalia, Equatorial Guinea (surprise, surprise) and Niger. But lebanon changed for the worst -- down nearly 12 percent from the index last year. And among those that got better, there were some that were more or less expected -- Bosnia and Indonesia have made significant strides, and Liberia, with its new, female president, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf, appears to be on an up-trend. But surprisingly, "me dad's" country, the DRC, also took a turn for the better. Well, I guess when things can't get much worse...

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posted by JReid @ 3:12 PM  
Monday, June 04, 2007
With friends like these...
When you're George W. Bush, and you've already committed the biggest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history, how can you possibly go it one better ... or worse, as the case may be...? Why, you restart the Cold War! Groovy! (Hey, isn't Condi supposed to be a Russia expert? Didn't Bushie see that Putin guy's soul???)

Well, NATO's not happy. But I'd gather that Europe isn't exactly thrilled at the ham-handed Bush attempt to offer them "protection" from Iranian missiles by ratcheting up the threat to them from Russian missiles. (The Czechs and Poles, who are set to receive the missile largesse, are getting nervous, too...) Kind of reminds me of the type of "protection" you get from the Mob. Look, Bush, that whole Putin is my buddy thing was idiotic anyway. The Russians continue to view the West, including Western Europe and the U.S., as an enemy/adversary (and crude oil client.) They haven't changed (despite having shed all those "Stans") -- our posture toward them has. And you, my dear, are in way over your head.

Have Condi handle it, dear. ... Then again, she might not be up to the task, either...

Related: Bush attempts to channel Reagan's Star Wars fantasy

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posted by JReid @ 6:52 PM  
Monday, April 09, 2007
Dear former hostages, please stop talking
It's hard to maintain sympathy for the Britons formerly held captive in Iran when they just, won't shut ... the living hell ... up...


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posted by JReid @ 8:19 PM  
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Brits to Yanks: butt out!
The Guardian breaks the story this morning that the Bush administration offered to help free the 15 British military captives from Iran via military intervention, but the offer received a rather chilly response from the Brits, who apparently have cooled on the notion of joint military adventures with their American cousins, in favor of diplomacy with their Asiatic neighbors.

The US offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned.

In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the US and Iran. But one of the options was for US combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran, to underline the seriousness of the situation.

The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it. London also asked the US to tone down military exercises that were already under way in the Gulf. Three days before the capture of the 15 Britons , a second carrier group arrived having been ordered there by president George Bush in January. The aim was to add to pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme and alleged operations inside Iraq against coalition forces.
At the request of the British, the two US carrier groups, totalling 40 ships plus aircraft, modified their exercises to make them less confrontational.

The British government also asked the US administration from Mr Bush down to be cautious in its use of rhetoric, which was relatively restrained throughout.

The incident was a reminder of how inflammatory the situation in the Gulf is. According to some US and British officers, there is already a proxy war under way between their forces and elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. ...

This comes as Tehran accuses the U.S. and Britain of using proxy guerilla fighters from the "Stans" -- including Pakistan -- to encroach upon Iranian positions.

This quote from the story sums it up nicely (although "nice" might not be the appropriate word...)

A senior Iranian source with close ties to the Revolutionary Guard, told the Guardian: "If this had been between Iranian and American soldiers it could have been the beginning of an accidental war."
If you consider such things "accidental"...

More interesting nuggets from the Guardian piece include the fact that the decision to grab the sailors was apprently made locally, by the Iranian commander in charge of that Gulf region, after three alleged previous incursions over the Iraq/Iran line in the Shat al-Arab waterway, long disputed between the two countries. The Guardian writes that the situation took so long to disentangle because of the hydra headed nature of the Iranian government, whose various pieces were scattered around the country due to a major holiday (their version of New Year's). More from the article:
"Nobody who counted was answering the phone," said one senior British official. "By the time the Iranian leaders got back from the holiday [on Tuesday] the phone was ringing off the hook, including from people they didn't expect, calling on them to release the captives quickly."

Among those unexpected callers were their closest allies, the Syrians, as well as leaders from far-flung states with no direct stake in the Gulf. Even the Colombian government issued a protest.

Another surprise intervention came from the Vatican. Hours before Wednesday's release, a letter from Pope Benedict was handed to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It said the Pope was confident that men of goodwill could find a solution. He asked the supreme leader to do what he could to ensure that the British sailors and marines were reunited with their families in time for Easter. It would, he said, be a significant religious gesture of goodwill from the Iranian people.

What impact the Pope's message had is impossible to assess. But some of its language was reflected at the press conference at which the release of the 15 Britons was announced. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the decision to "forgive" the sailors and marines had been taken "on the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet [Muhammad] ... and for the occasion of the passing of Christ".

The Iraqi government also played a critical role, pushing for consular access to five Iranians who had been arrested by US forces in Irbil and had been in custody since January, and helping organise the mysterious release of an Iranian diplomat who had been in captivity since February.

In the first days of the crisis, Iraqi officials also helped the British to identify the exact boundaries of Iraqi waters, the Guardian has learned, suggesting the British were not as certain of their case as they had publicly claimed. ...
Read the entire article here.

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posted by JReid @ 3:12 PM  
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