Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008
Leaving Baghdad: The View From Syria
By Ahmad Fadam
(Self-portrait by Ahmad Fadam )
Ahmad Fadam was a member of the Iraqi staff in the newsroom of The New York Times in Baghdad. He left Baghdad in May to take up a visiting fellowship at the University of North Carolina. He will continue to contribute to the Baghdad Bureau blog from there.
After spending three weeks in Syria with my family, I can say that it was a very strange feeling to be in that country. It is so similar to what Iraq used to be when Saddam was president – the same order, the same political system and of course the same government and Baath party slogans, like to stand against the colonists and Zionism and liberating Palestine, which I used to hate…. A cab driver named Abu Zaki said to me: “We used to hate Bashar al-Assad, we used to hate having the son sitting on the chair and ruling after his father [Hafez al-Assad] but after what we saw happening in Iraq, we started thinking ‘We don’t want to be in the same situation as you, and thank God we are not.
This means that if what happened to Iraq had happened instead to some other Arab country, then maybe Saddam would still be alive. The Iraqis would have said that bad is better than worse, and accepted what they had. They would have said that dictatorship is not so bad after all.
Another Syrian I met in the market, Kamal, said to me, “Thank God we don’t have sectarian way of thinking like you do, this is a blessing.” Yes, the sectarian violence the people hear about is something else that made them hate the idea of bringing the so-called new democracy to the Middle East.
But still. This doesn’t mean that we – the Iraqis – are very welcome here in Syria. There are thousands of Iraqi families living here. Most of them have fled the country because of the sectarian violence. They thought that by coming to Syria or to any other country, they would have a chance of starting a new life again.
I am not saying that the Syrian government is treating the Iraqis badly; they also have their system and order to maintain, and they are better than many of the other Arab countries that closed their borders in the face of the Iraqis.
But what happened is that the Syrian government forced Iraqis to get visas, in order to stop the continuous waves of arrivals. This has left many Iraqis …..
Sarkozi Sends Invite to Assad to Visit Paris and "Turn a New Page"
Ibrahim Hamidi of Al-Hayat, an independent Saudi owned newspaper, wrote on June 10: “Concurring sources announced to Al-Hayat yesterday that the French ambassador to Damascus delivered to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem a “written invitation” from French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, to his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Al-Asad, to participate in the summit dedicated to launching the Mediterranean project, which will be held in Paris on the 13th of July, and also to attend the celebration to be held on the following day to mark the anniversary of the French revolution.
Syria plays down chances of direct talks with Israel
Tue Jun 10, 2008 1:38pm EDT
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – A senior Syrian official said on Tuesday no direct negotiations will be held with Israel until it recognizes what Damascus regards as requirements for a deal.
Indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel are expected to resume soon in Turkey, which has been mediating between the two sides since last year.
The Damascus government and Israel have kept secret the details of the talks. Syria seeks full return of the occupied Golan Heights and Israel has linked a peace agreement to Syria distancing itself from Iran and severing ties with Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.
Israel occupied the Golan Heights, a water-rich plateau, in the Middle East war four decades ago. It annexed the territory in the 1980s in a move declared null and void by the United Nations Security Council.
"I think it is too early to resume direct talks. There are conditions," Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad told reporters.
"I hope Israel responds to the requirements of peace, which are the end of the occupation of Palestine and the establishment of a Palestinian state, restoration of the Syrian Golan and pull out of remaining occupied Lebanese territory," he added.
Bush Wins EU Backing for More Iranian Bank Sanctions: By Edwin Chen and Patrick Donahue, Bloomberg
June 10 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush won backing from the European Union for tighter sanctions against Iranian banks, another step aimed at hampering Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons.
European Commission President Jose Barroso, meeting with Bush in Slovenia, agreed to take “additional measures'' to ensure that “Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism,'' according to a joint statement released at the end of the talks.
Pentagon blocked Cheney's attack on Iran – Gareth Porter, Asia Times
United States Vice President Dick Cheney's plan in August 2007 to launch airstrikes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was blocked by the Pentagon over concerns about Iran's retaliation capabilities. But Cheney's close alliance with Centcom chief General David Petraeus gives him the option of ignoring his opponents in Washington during the final months of the George W Bush administration.
Hardliners Assume Leadership of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood (Jamestown report)
In an internal election for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s top position, Hamam Sa’id, a senior member known as a hawk within the organization, defeated incumbent leader Salem Falahat (Jordan Times, May 2). The new general regulator of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is a critic of the government and seeks to one day implement Shari’a law in Jordan as well as sever Jordan’s diplomatic ties with Israel (AP, May 2). Sa’id’s ascension places the organization’s hardliners firmly in control. Sa’id, anticipating early skepticism, maintains that the Muslim Brotherhood will continue its “historic” role in Jordanian political life (Al-Dustur, May 2). Despite Sa’id’s assurances, many observers believe that his victory signals a tilt in favor of the hardliners. Furthermore, Sa’id represents the first leader of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood to claim Palestinian origin, indicating a dramatic shift within the organization’s balance of power (Jordan Times, May 4). Such roots, accompanied by the connections several other leaders maintain with Hamas, worry some observers and government officials that Hamas may be greatly expanding its influence into the “East Bank,” despite having been banned from Jordan in 1999.
CNN, here: Fath al-Islam's leader Absi speaks live on TV, attacking Hizbullah and Hariri.
Olmert calls for Israel-Lebanon talks
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday suggested holding peace talks with Lebanon, following last month’s announcement of Israel’s indirect Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria.
“I would have been glad if after the announcement of the talks with Syria the Lebanese government would announce its willingness to open direct bilateral talks with Israel,” a senior official quoted Olmert as saying in a cabinet meeting.
“I see many advantages in this,” he said.
Syria is positioning itself to become a player in the Middle East's lucrative sugar market, hoping that the opening of a new processing plant will allow it to cater to the region's sweet tooth. A $90m sugar refinery at Jindar in the province of Homs was opened on May 14, marking a new phase in the Syrian sugar industry. The plant is the first major agriculture processing partnership between the Syrian private sector and international investors.
Operating as the National Sugar Company, 51% of the refinery is held by Mohammed Najib Assaf, the Syrian chairman of the company, while minority shareholders include US agribusiness giant Cargill and Brazilian sugar producer Crystalsev.
With an annual capacity of 1m tonnes, which the partners say could be doubled in the future to meet regional export demands, the Jindar refinery is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Cargill will provide management and sales expertise for the project,
Syria: conversations in a pariah state
by John Casey on Open Democracy
The layers of religious faith, the shards of political frustration and the surprise of everyday encounters help compose John Casey's rich, allusive portrait of Syria.
Egypt's Pres Avoids Mini-summit To Shun Syrian Counterpart
2008-06-10 (New York) Dow Jones
CAIRO (AP)–Government officials say Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak will stay away from an Arab mini-summit in Libya to avoid an encounter with Syria's president. The mini-summit in Tripoli Tuesday was initiated by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to work out an Arab response to a French proposal to set up a European, Middle Eastern and North African strategic bloc. The officials say Mubarak has dodged the summit to avoid a reconciliation
with Sryia's Bashar Assad.
"…Jeffrey is getting his reward for long hours of service at the White House: President Bush nominated him last week to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey…..
The ISOG (Iran-Syria Policy Operations Group), which had been co-chaired by NSC's Elliott Abrams and the state department's James Jeffrey, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, had four working groups: nuclear issues, counter-terrorism, regional affairs, and public diplomacy and democracy ……."
Elizabeth Cheney's waning horror show: Rami Khouri hits the ball out of the park in his parsing of Elizabeth Cheney's remarks at the AIPAC meeting in Washington. Here is the meat:
Here's a particularly representative quotation: "In my view, this administration has gotten it right when we have been bold, when we have been decisive, when we have been focused, when we have used our military force when necessary."
The amazing but troubling thing about this sort of thinking in Washington is that it perpetuates an aura of toughness, while disregarding the catastrophic consequences to America's standing and influence abroad as a direct result of these failed policies that rely so heavily on guns — instead of sensible analysis and quality diplomacy. Elizabeth Cheney is like an intellectual and ideological cluster bomb that keeps exploding, and killing and injuring people, years after it has been dropped and fallen out of sight.
She is not alone, of course, for her views accurately reflect those of a once robust population of neo-conservative political leaders and obsequious technocrats in Washington, which has been severely depleted by defections, indictments, and dismissals. The neo-cons' greatest legacy, to date, has been a collective failure that many of them simply refuse to grasp.
Here's another Cheney gem from her AIPAC remarks: "I think that getting back to a situation where our enemies in the region understand that America will stand up for its friends, that America will stand up for its principles and that we have red lines is critically important."
This sort of blindness to the realities of the real world is not inherited from her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, who holds similar views. No, this is self-made madness. The misguided nonsense that she espouses is so profoundly wrong and so intensely inane that it has to be generated by a life-long process of adult intellectual regression and political chicanery. Her father will not do it, so someone among her circle of friends should take her aside and quietly tell her that while she gets the accolades of the AIPAC audience, virtually the entire rest of the world reacts to this sort of performance with a combination of personal embarrassment for her, and deep political disdain for her capacity to insult us with this sort of blind buffoonery.
The reality is precisely the opposite of what she portrays. The United States' insistence on using power unilaterally in the Middle East, and "standing up" for its friends by stoking domestic battles and mini-civil wars in the Middle East, has turned the region into a cauldron of intemperance and violence. It is precisely when the United States has been "bold, decisive and focused" that it has generated enormous resistance to its policies throughout the region, put its allies in more vulnerable situations, strengthened the forces of Islamist militancy, stoked the furnace of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and even given democracy a bad name.
It is incomprehensible to me that someone like Elizabeth Cheney, whose responsibilities included promoting democracy and human rights, would argue against holding elections in the Palestinian territories. Now she argues that it was a mistake to push for the elections, when in fact the real mistake was for Washington to spinelessly fall in line with Israeli dictates and boycott the victorious Hamas party.
The right thing to do would be to honor the essence of the democratic process, and bring Hamas and Israel into an honorable diplomatic process that aspires to achieve the equal rights of both people. Only once did I meet Elizabeth Cheney while she was in office and watch her perform, and what I saw and heard then was frightening in her misdiagnosis of the cause of the tensions in the Middle East, and brutal in its misdirected intellectual violence. It is saddening to see her persist in this same vein. She is among the last of a dying breed, these few performers on a horror show stage that has been largely deserted by its public audience, and thankfully is soon to be shut down forever.
By Nathan Burstein, The Forward
She's busy promoting her first documentary and her seventh No. 1 album, but the world's most famous kabbalah devotee already has her sights set on a new project: a documentary about the Arab-Israeli impasse.