January 23, 2006

Hamas’ road to politics (OLIVIA WARD, 1/23/06, Toronto Star)

As Wednesday’s Palestinian election approaches, with Hamas’ closest rival, the Fatah party, in disarray, Israelis are forced to think the unthinkable: the group that launched hundreds of suicide bombers to kill more than 350 of their countrymen and wound more than 2,000 others, may be the principal partner in negotiations for the future of Middle East peace, and eventually form the government of a new Palestinian state.

After the election, pollsters predict, Mesha’al and his organization are likely to be a significant political force. If so, their success will be built on patience as well as violence, assembling an organization that has, in less than two decades, put down deep roots in the Palestinian community.

“Hamas represents, in the minds of people here, the resistance, the faithful Muslims, the good and incorruptible — and they also have a great social network of services for women, children and youth,” says Gaza psychiatrist Eyad al Sarraj. “When people vote overwhelmingly for Hamas, it’s because they trust them more than any others.”

And, he points out, “Hamas is the main framework of security here. When children become teenagers, they have seen how powerless their fathers are, unable to protect their families. But Hamas takes on the role of the father, and identifies itself with the ultimate father, God. God cannot be defeated as your father was.”

Forcing them to govern is part of the genius of imposed statehood.


January 23, 2006

Kuwait showdown over sick emir (BBC, 1/23/06)

Oil-rich Gulf state Kuwait is embroiled in an unprecedented constitutional crisis pitting two branches of the ruling Sabah family against each other.

The cabinet has asked parliament to support the removal of Emir Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah on health grounds.


January 22, 2006

Syria decries Hariri probe ‘bias’ (BBC, 1/22/06)

The Syrian president has repeated criticism that the UN inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri is biased against Syria.

In Liberty’s Century there is indeed bias against you if you’re a totalitarian–get over it.


January 21, 2006

The Army’s deadliest enemy is at home (Max Hastings, 22/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Last week’s court-martial proceedings against a Royal Navy submarine captain accused of bullying his officers made bleak reading. I have no opinion about the merits of the case, and no sympathy with bullies. Like most people who care about the Armed Forces, however, I felt my heart sink at yet another public embarrassment. Their via dolorosa seems endless.

There are high-profile prosecutions (many of which collapse) resulting from alleged misdeeds in Iraq; fears about the impending deployment in Afghanistan; regiments disbanded and recruitment ailing; controversy about the treatment of recruits. The Sunday Telegraph reported last week on despondency at Catterick’s Infantry Training Centre, where instructors live in fear of accusations of abuse. […]

We are getting ourselves into a shocking tangle about what we expect from warriors. Throughout history, it has been understood that wars make unique demands on those who fight them. These can be met only by creating a service ethos utterly different from civilian life, not least in its willingness for sacrifice.

Today, politicians and lawyers have thrust upon the Armed Forces restrictions and legal burdens designed to drive them into line with modern civilian practice. This is madness. Those who administer the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick are scarcely allowed to impose discipline on new recruits, lest they quit or sue.

Many line battalions have to run their own training programmes for alleged trained soldiers from the ITC, to render them fit to serve. Faced with the most rudimentary discipline – punctuality, kit inspections, morning runs, obedience to orders – many young men literally pack up and go home.

The excesses of European Human Rights law are bad enough in civil life, but disastrous when imposed upon the Services. The current issue of British Army Review carries a letter from a veteran warrant officer, suggesting that young soldiers no longer find it acceptable to give “casual salutes” to officers. The First Sea Lord, Sir Alan West, said this month that the Armed Forces face “legal encirclement” from human rights. Every officer knows what he means. Circumstance and misguided policy unite against discipline, confidence and morale.

The one good thing is that rendering the human beings totally unfit to wage war will get us to use our non-human lethal means more readily. Of course, that’s hardly a humantiarian result, but then the Human Rights crowd isn’t really interested in that anyway.


January 21, 2006

Assad pledges reforms for Syria (BBC, 1/21/06)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he has decided to carry out political reform.

But he gave no details, other than to say he rejected any outside interference in the matter. […]

The speech was regularly interrupted with angry chants of support from the audience of Arab lawyers, but our correspondent says the Syrian leader himself was strangely downbeat.

Unless the reforms include closing the Ba’ath Party and standing for election it’s too little too late.


January 21, 2006

Lessons Learned in Iraq Show Up in Army Classes: Culture Shifts to Counterinsurgency (Thomas E. Ricks, January 21, 2006, Washington Post)

A fundamental change overtaking the Army is on display in classrooms across this base above the Missouri River. After decades of being told that their job was to close in on and destroy the enemy, officers are being taught that sometimes the best thing might be not to attack but to co-opt the enemy, perhaps by employing him, or encouraging him to desert, or by drawing him into local or national politics.

It is a new focus devoted to one overarching topic: counterinsurgency, putting down an armed and political campaign against a government, the U.S. military’s imperative in Iraq. […]

“It’s a vastly different Army from 2003,” said Lawrence T. Di Rita, an aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld who until recently was the chief Pentagon spokesman. “It’s impressive.”

Di Rita’s comments are noteworthy given the history of antagonism between the Army’s leadership and Rumsfeld’s office. An Army chief of staff and the service’s civilian secretary left the Pentagon bitterly critical of how Rumsfeld and his associates handled the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003.

Officers here said they see a strong cultural shift at work for the Army, whose self-image still sometimes seems based on charging across Europe toward Berlin in 1944 and blasting Saddam Hussein’s tanks in the Arabian Desert 47 years later.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture, to modify that culture, that solving the problem isn’t just a tactical problem of guns and bombs and maneuver,” said retired Army Col. Clinton J. Ancker III, director of the “doctrine”-writing office here that defines how the Army does what it does. He is involved in an effort to restructure the Army’s “interim” manual on insurgency, which some insiders see as a mediocre stopgap.

Unusually, the Army and the Marines are collaborating on the new manual and also asking for input from the British army, which has had centuries of experience in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Conscious that it largely walked away from counterinsurgency after the Vietnam War — the subject was not mentioned in the mid-1970s version of the Army’s key fighting manual — the service now is trying to ensure that the mistake is not repeated. Spearheading that effort is Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose doctoral dissertation at Princeton was on the Vietnam War and who later commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. “I think the changes are very broad,” Petraeus said. He oversees several of the Army’s training bases and schools” with his new job here.

“This is about institutional change, and the whole Army is included. It is kind of a generational change,” he said. Indeed, in the next few years, officers who joined the Army after the end of the Cold War will begin to take command of battalions.


January 16, 2006

Indonesia’s stature rises: Anticipated security pact with Australia underscores how much ties have warmed. (Tom McCawley, 1/17/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

A security pact expected to be signed this year between Indonesia and Australia will mark a formal end to a six-year rift over violence in East Timor and signals just how far the world’s most populous Muslim nation has come in relations with its southern neighbor as well as the United States. […]

In both Indonesia and Pakistan, the US now enjoys friendly ties to presidents seen as sympathetic to US interests. Both Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan support a moderate Islam and are seen as bulwarks against violent fringe groups. Together, they preside over about 356 million Muslims, about a quarter of the Islamic world.

Geography alone makes Pakistan’s stability and ability to remain a partner in the long term less certain, but Indonesia could evolve into a normal democratic ally fairly quickly.


January 15, 2006

Martin’s secret agenda agent
(Peter Foster, 1/13/06, Financial Post)

Paul Martin’s mentor has an agenda. It’s not secret. He wants the United Nations to have an independent army. With guns. So they might go anywhere they’re needed. Like Canadian cities. In Canada. With guns. Why? Because Paul Martin’s mentor believes that industrial civilization is destroying the planet. He believes people have to change. Or else. He has admitted fantasizing about holding the world’s leaders hostage in order to force such change. He also believes that if a few billion of the world’s population were wiped out, that would be a “ray of hope.” Means we could start again. With people like him in charge. Paul Martin listens to this man. I’m not making this up …

Welcome back Maurice Strong. Just in time for the election. […]

Mr. Martin has accused Stephen Harper of being close to the “ultra-far-right” who allegedly hold such sway in George W. Bush’s United States. But if Mr. Harper is to be condemned for his associations with the U.S. right, and for regarding U.S. conservatives as a “light and inspiration,” what illumination and guidance has Mr. Strong provided for Mr. Martin?

They may be a third-rate nation, but it’ll be nice welcoming Canada back from the transnationalist side.


January 15, 2006

A Nation of Pre-emptors? (DAVID RIEFF, 1/15/06, NY Times Magazine)

The fact that political debate over the U.S. intervention in Iraq breaks down largely along party lines, with Republicans generally in favor and Democrats skeptical or opposed, has tended to obscure the fact that American interventionism has historically been a bipartisan impulse. Indeed, far less separates the parties than it might seem from the current polarized discourse in Washington. For all their scruples about the Iraq adventure, few Democrats question the idea that it is right for the United States to “promote” democracy in the world, by force if necessary. It could hardly be otherwise. As George W. Bush has pointed out, nation-building was a principal foreign-policy cornerstone of the Clinton administration.

Nonetheless, the pervasive sense that the Bush administration bungled the mission in Iraq has led Democrats to play down their own ideas about reshaping the global order. Recently, however, a number of Democratic foreign-policy analysts have tried to reinvigorate their party’s internationalist traditions. In a series of articles, Ivo Daalder and James Steinberg, both of whom held senior positions in the Clinton administration, have argued that “states have a responsibility to head off internal developments – acquiring weapons of mass destruction and harboring terrorists, to name two – that pose a threat to the security of other states.” If they do not do so, outside powers may and sometimes must intervene. “It would be unfortunate,” they write, “if President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption were a casualty of the Iraq war.” For them, “conditional sovereignty” is “central to a new norm of state responsibility.” Implicit in their argument is the view that nondemocratic states are especially likely to breed threats. For this reason, the lack of democracy may itself pose a security problem – a notion that Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, once summed up when he declared that “the spread of our values makes us safer.”

At first glance, such a foreign policy combines the best of Wilsonian moralism and sober realism. What could be wrong with a global consensus supporting action against states that commit crimes against their own citizens or maintain a nasty habit of supporting terrorists or seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction? But the sad fact is that what at first may seem morally obvious may prove to be morally ambiguous as well. The problem is that it is probably not the “international community” that will be doing the intervening; it is particular states – above all, the United States and its allies. And as the international reaction to the Iraq war so painfully demonstrated, the gap between the international perception of the legitimacy of America’s actions and the American view could scarcely be greater.

The Bush administration has claimed that the essential question is not whether an intervention is unilateral or multilateral, United Nations-sanctioned or not, but whether it is right or wrong. Agree or disagree, it is a coherent position: the world needs American leadership, and America must provide it.

The new theorists of conditional sovereignty share this benign vision of American power.

The one condition placed on modern sovereignty is that America approve of your regime.


January 15, 2006

The origins of the Great War of 2007 – and how it could have been prevented (Niall Ferguson, 15/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural. Since 1979, not just Iran but the greater part of the Muslim world had been swept by a wave of religious fervour, the very opposite of the process of secularisation that was emptying Europe’s churches.

Although few countries followed Iran down the road to full-blown theocracy, there was a transformation in politics everywhere. From Morocco to Pakistan, the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated Islamic politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from religious radicals.

The ideological cocktail that produced ‘Islamism’ was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic. A seminal moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s intemperate attack on Israel in December 2005, when he called the Holocaust a ‘myth’. The state of Israel was a ‘disgraceful blot’, he had previously declared, to be wiped ‘off the map’.

Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the hero of 2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on explosives. His decision to accelerate Iran’s nuclear weapons programme was intended to give Iran the kind of power North Korea already wielded in East Asia: the power to defy the United States; the power to obliterate America’s closest regional ally.

Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad’s ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981. Similar strikes against Iran’s were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they argued, was perfectly placed to carry out such strikes. It had the bases in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. It had the intelligence proving Iran’s contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been discredited by the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein had supposedly possessed and by the failure of the US-led coalition to quell a bloody insurgency.

Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they wanted to reduce them.

‘We will cut them until Iran asks for mercy’ (Massoud Ansari, 15/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Deep in the lawless triangle connecting Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, eight terrified Iranian soldiers are being held hostage by a Sunni group that is vowing to “slaughter” them if Teheran does not bow to its demands.

“We will chop their heads once our deadline is over,” Abdul Hameed Reeki, chief spokesman of the Jundallah or Brigade of God group, told the Sunday Telegraph, slowly drawing an index finger across his neck to demonstrate the seriousness of his intent.

The deadline for the men is tomorrow.

The emergence of a fanatical Sunni group operating inside Iran’s south-eastern border poses a startling new threat to the country’s Shia clerical regime.

There are too many holes in Mr. Fergusons scenario to pick them all apart–perhaps two will suffice. First, as WWI and WWII demonstrated, socialists were only too happy to go to war each other because ethnicity and other distinctions were more important to people than some imagined ideological unity. Similarly, the Shi’ites hate the Sunni and Persians the Arabs and vice versa and so on and so forth far more than they all believe in some kind of Islamism. Only a handful of Westerners have been killed by Islamists over the past thirty years, but Muslims killed each other by the hundreds of thousands in the Iran-Iraq War. If Iran ever were to get nukes it would be most likely to use them on Sunni Arabs, not Jews or Europeans. Second, as nearly all our wars of the past hundred years demonstrate, it doesn’t much matter that the American people aren’t eager for war–if the President starts one they’ll go along until it’s done. And in the case of Iran, where all we seek to do is destroy its nuclear facilities, they won’t even have a chance to weigh in. It’ll be over in one fell swoop.