Posted by Joshua on Friday, July 27th, 2007
Two new excellent blogs are:
- Daniel Levy's, "Prospects for Peace." In his most recent posts he discusses Solomon's WSJ article on the Syrian Brotherhood and makes some interesting points. He also discusses David Wurmser's departure from Cheney's office. Wurmser has been pushing for regime-change in Syria since the very beginning. In fact, my very first post on Syria Comment in 2004 was on David Wurmser. His wife, Meyrav, is a founder of MEMRI.
- Jim Lobe's, Lobelog: Jim Lobe has been reporting it like it is for a long time. He has a fine nose for neocon silliness and reports on them with humor and wisdom. His most recent post, "Follow-up on Syria" explains how "Michael Ledeen and Mark Steyn wrote that they were deeply disappointed that stronger action was not recommended and were particularly provoked by Gerson’s description of Damascus’ (and Tehran’s) roles as mere “accelerants to Iraq’s frothing chaos.” Read his post on Syria and the neocons.
Jihad Yaziji writes in the Syrian Report that only 14% of Iraqi refugee children in Syria enroll in school.
Only 14 percent of school-aged Iraqi children residing in Syria are currently enrolled in Syrian schools according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). During his first tour to the region after he was appointed in June, Craig Johnston, deputy high commissioner of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told Iraqis gathered at the UNHCR refugee centre in Damascus to send more of their children to school, according to a report by IRIN. Only 35 000 out of an estimated 250 000 school-aged Iraqi children attend school.
An explosion at a weapons depot in the north killed at least 15 soldiers and wounded 50 others, the official news agency SANA reported. It said that the blast could be heard for miles and was a result of a heat wave that has gripped the country and that the authorities had dismissed the possibility of sabotage. Witnesses said high temperatures, which reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit, also caused fires in northern Syria starting Wednesday night that might have spread to the military complex. The depot belonged to a military unit in Musalmiya, about 200 miles north of Damascus, SANA said.
France unlikely to repeat Libya triumph in Lebanon
By Alistair Lyon
27 Jul 2007, Reuters
BEIRUT, July 27 (Reuters) – Fresh from diplomatic success in Libya, France is pursuing a reconciliation drive in Lebanon that could prove a daunting task for Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who starts a visit to Beirut on Friday.
Navigating Lebanon's complexities looks far harder than persuading Libya to free Bulgarian medics under a deal clinched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy only after years of patient diplomacy by the European Union, Britain, Germany and others.
"It's mission impossible," said Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies. "The answers aren't in Lebanon, but in Damascus, Washington and Tehran.
"In Libya, the French could offer European incentives that the Libyans really wanted. In Lebanon, the Syrians want American incentives and the Americans are not in a mood to offer any." "The United States wants a solution that keeps Siniora in power and doesn't give the Syrians anything," Safa said.
But the omens from three days of preparatory contacts by French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran this week are not promising.
Lebanese political sources say he had suggested all parties discuss a package deal on electing a new president and forming a national unity government to end an eight-month-old impasse.
But the Shi'ite Hezbollah group, allied to Syria and Iran, demanded a unity cabinet before any dialogue on other issues. The opposition has long sought veto power in a new cabinet so that its assent would be needed (Continued)
U.S. Officials Voice Frustration with Saudis' Role in Iraq
By HELENE COOPER
New York Times, Published: July 27, 2007
Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.
One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.”
Senior Bush administration officials said the American concerns would be raised next week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates make a rare joint visit to Jidda, Saudi Arabia.
Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.
Several officials interviewed for this article said they believed that Saudi Arabia’s direct support to Sunni tribesmen increased this year as the Saudis lost faith in the Maliki government and felt they must bolster Sunni groups in the eventuality of a widespread civil war.
The former ambassador, Edward W. Gnehm, who has served in Kuwait and Jordan, said that during a recent trip to the region he was told that Saudi Arabia had pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq. The Saudis made this effort last December, Mr. Gnehm said.
…One adviser to the royal family said that Saudi officials were aware of the American accusations. “As you know by now, we in Saudi Arabia have been active in having a united Arab front to, first, avoid further inter-Arab conflict, and at the same time building consensus to move toward a peace settlement between the Arabs and Israel,” he said. “How others judge our motives is their problem.”…
The administration “thinks the Saudis are no longer behaving the role of the good vassal,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The Saudis, in turn, “see weakness, they see a void, and they’re going to fill the void and call their own shots.” (continue)
Comment by JL: The Syrians also see a void created by the US in Iraq. The US is asking them to support its policy and the Maliki government in Iraq, but Syrians are asking themselves why they should support leaders they believe will, in all likelihood, end as losers at the expense of opposition members that may very well become winners. It would not be surprising if Syrians are eyeing Saudi Arabia's new interest in "Arab unity," announced at the Riyadh summit meeting this spring, and the Kingdom's financing of Iraqi Sunnis with the hope of building a common Syrian-Saudi policy toward Iraq. By supporting the Kingdom in its Iraq policy, Syria may see a means to close the rift opened up between the two countries over their divergent Lebanon policies. At the very least, Syria will seek to act as a mediator between Saudia Arabia and Iran in Iraq, a role that will be extremely difficult and undoubtedly strain relations with Iran.
As U.S. and Iranian diplomats met in Baghdad Tuesday for a second round of talks on Iraq, the domestic U.S. political climate appears decidedly more supportive of an aggressive U.S. posture toward Iran than just a few months ago, reflecting the apparent triumph the George W. Bush administration's narrative on Iran's role in Iraq.
That new narrative threatens to obscure the bigger picture of Iranian policy toward Iraq, widely recognised by regional specialists. Iran's strategic interests in Iraq are far more compatible with those of the United States than those of the Sunni regimes in the region with which the United States has aligned itself.
Contrary to the official narrative, Iranian support for Shiites is not aimed at destabilising the country but does serve a rational Iranian desire to maximise its alliances with Iraqi Shiite factions, in the view of specialists on Iranian policy and on the security of the Persian Gulf region. [complete article]
The United States finds few non-Iraqis among insurgents (US News & World Today).
The convention of Iraqi insurgents was scheduled to take place Monday at the resort-like Sahara Hotel outside Damascus but, within hours of the plenary session actually starting, the Syrian government suddenly canceled the summit. However, high-level representatives of much of the Iraqi nationalist insurgency, remained at the venue informally negotiating and laying out a framework for what a post-U.S. Iraq would look like.
Late Monday evening, dozens of conference attendees — a group drawn primarily from the ranks of former military officers, Ba'athist officials, and the Sunni insurgency — gathered for a catered dinner beside the hotel's outdoor pool. Several, including a high-ranking former military officer now overseeing Ba'athist resistance activities in his region, talked openly, if carefully, about strategy, although some asked that their names be withheld. ("We are not afraid," said the former Iraqi army colonel, as waiters delivered the main course of steak and carrots, "but we do not want to give the [Shi'a] militias justification to kill us.") They said victory was in the air; one delegate celebrated the looming U.S. withdrawal over Diet Pepsi and watermelon slices. "This gathering here is unprecedented. When this conference occurs, it will be historic," said Sarmed Abdel Karim, founder of the popular iraq4all website and a non-insurgent who calls the gathering one of "the Iraqi opposition." "It will be the cornerstone of a new Iraq." [complete article]
Towards Peace in the Middle East: Lessons for European Policymakers
by Gareth Evans
President of the International Crisis Group
3 July 2007
Address by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to Closing Session, PSE/Socialist Group in the European Parliament Conference on Moving Toward an International Peace Conference for the Middle East, European Parliament, Brussels, 3 July 2007
The only objective that matters is a comprehensive solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict – which has at its heart a two-state solution in which Israelis can live in safety behind secure and recognized borders, at peace with Palestinians and all their neighbours, and in which Palestinians have a recognized, viable state of their own, with its capital in East Jerusalem, borders based on those of 1967 and a just resolution of the refugee issue.
Looking back, it is extraordinarily depressing to recall how the tactics of the moment have led the key players to miss the main game, for example:
o the failure, twice now, to recognize the historic significance of the Arab Peace Initiative, parsing the words, missing the sentiment and overlooking the scale of the bargain on offer;
o the failure to support Abu Mazen in 2005, after he had won in a landslide, was the uncontested leader of all Palestinians, and in a position to sell difficult compromises; and
o the recurring failure to learn the key lesson of Oslo, that incremental and sequential solutions will never work, condemning everyone to be prisoners of the last extremist on either side: that there simply has to be an endgame-first approach, working back from first-agreed parameters….. (Continued here.)
Sharp rise in Israelis seeking German citizenship (Reuters). Some 300,000 Israelis are entitled to German citizenship. The past year has seen 4,300 Israelis receive German citizenship.
Thoughts on the Attempted Murder of Palestine
The Siren Song of Elliott Abrams
By KATHLEEN CHRISTISON, Former CIA analyst
Counterpunch, July 26, 2007
"Coup" is the word being widely used to describe what happened in Gaza in June when Hamas militias defeated the armed security forces of Fatah and chased them out of Gaza. But, as so often with the manipulative language used in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, the terminology here is backward. Hamas was the legally constituted, democratically elected government of the Palestinians, so in the first place Hamas did not stage a coup but rather was the target of a coup planned against it. Furthermore, the coup — which failed in Gaza but succeeded overall when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, acting in violation of Palestinian law, cut Gaza adrift, unseated the Palestinian unity government headed by Hamas, and named a new prime minister and cabinet — was the handiwork of the United States and Israel.
The Fatah attacks against Hamas in Gaza were initiated at the whim of, and with arms and training provided by, the United States and Israel. No one seems to be making any secret of this. Immediately after Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006, Elliott Abrams, who runs U.S. policy toward Israel from his senior position on the National Security Council staff, met with a group of Palestinian businessmen and spoke openly of the need for a "hard coup" against Hamas. According to Palestinians who were there, Abrams was "unshakable" in his determination to oust Hamas. When the Palestinians, urging engagement with Hamas instead of confrontation, observed that Abrams' scheme would bring more suffering and even starvation to Gaza's already impoverished population, Abrams dismissed their concerns by claiming that it wouldn't be the fault of the U.S. if that happened… (Continued here.)
Turkish poll starts seismic power shift
By James Button, Sydney Morning Herald, July 24, 2007
A landslide win by Turkey's former Islamist party in national elections is set to redraw the country's political landscape, making a coup unlikely and dramatically reducing the power of the military and secular elite.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by the charismatic Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won nearly half the vote on Sunday, an increase of 13 percentage points on its 2002 victory and the highest vote recorded by any party in 50 years.
The result gives the party about 340 seats in the 550-member parliament and reveals a huge transfer of power from the Istanbul and Ankara elites – which have accused the AKP of secretly planning to introduce Islamic law – to business people and traders in Anatolia, the Turkish heartland. [complete article]
Welcome to Richistan, USA
By Paul Harris, The Observer, July 22, 2007
America's super-rich have returned to the days of the Roaring Twenties. As the rest of the country struggles to get by, a huge bubble of multi-millionaires lives almost in a parallel world. The rich now live in their own world of private education, private health care and gated mansions. They have their own schools and their own banks. They even travel apart – creating a booming industry of private jets and yachts. Their world now has a name, thanks to a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank which has dubbed it 'Richistan'. There every dream can come true. But for the American Dream itself – which promises everyone can join the elite – the emergence of Richistan is a mixed blessing. 'We in America are heading towards 'developing nation' levels of inequality. We would become like Brazil. What does that say about us? What does that say about America?' Frank said. [complete article]
(Comment by JL) I couldn't help but see a few similarities with Syria, which is developing a serious class gap. Globalization is dividing nations in both the West and East. Richistan is here and there, but will they begin to marry each other?