Posted by Joshua on Saturday, May 31st, 2008
I have just returned from a week in China following several days in Washington DC. I will write a bit about this soon. First a bit of a round up to catch up.
I want to thank Alex and Qifa Nabki for holding the fort so well while I was traveling. Their postings and the discussions they have generated have been fascinating. Thanks guys.
May 30, 2008
Posted by Joe Klein
David Brooks has been on a roll lately, column after column filled with smart, independent thinking. Not today. Using the guise of "realism," Brooks essentially sings from the neoconservative hymnal on the problems the next President will face in dealing with Iran. Now, no one thinks this will be easy–for the reasons I described in my print column last week. But it is not impossible. Indeed, there was real cooperation between the U.S. and Iran when it came to removing the Taliban from power in 2001…..
…. One way to get Iran to think twice about hegemony is to peel Syria away from its close, and uncomfortable–if you talk to Syrian officials–alliance with Iran. Brooks is just wrong about this:
You’ll spend hours, as the Bush administration has, wondering whether Syria’s Bashar al-Assad can be turned in a more Western direction. Nobody can make an educated guess about that because no outsider understands Assad’s mind.
The real why the Administration is "wondering" so much is that it foolishly decided to stop talking to Assad after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in early 2006. As one prominent Republican foreign policy expert told me, "It's the stupidest [flaming] thing I've ever seen in American diplomacy." Assad has sent signals far and wide, to all comers–including me, in a 2005 interview–that he wants to rejoin the community of nations.
In the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah, Syria sent several positive signs–first, it lifted all visa requirements for U.S. citizens trapped in Lebanon. Then, it contacted the State Department and offered to provide a motorcade of buses to evacuate U.S. citizens from Beirut and bring them to Damascus–a two-hour ride. There was no State Department response (indeed, the State Department never responded to my inquiries about this Syrian initiative). "Do you people really think that we want to be this close to the Iranians?" A prominent Syrian official asked me at the time. "We're trying to send you a signal."
The Bush Administration has been stone blind to signals from those the President, an international infant, considers to be bad guys. In fact, it is impossible to say just what sort of situation the next President will face until the Bush cancer is excised from the White House and a new team begins to explore the middle east for the diplomatic possibilities that may well have been ignored, quashed and generally stomped on by this sad, overmatched Administration.
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran and its close ally Syria have signed a new defence cooperation pact, Iranian media reported on Wednesday, just a week after news broke that Israel had begun indirect peace talks with Damascus.
"The two countries pledge their mutual support regarding territorial independence and integrity in terms of international and regional authorities," the state-run IRNA news agency reported….
The United States, which has forces in Iraq and several oil-rich Gulf monarchies, has said it hopes the revival of the Israel-Syria peace track could help isolate archfoe Iran. Syria has however rejected an Israeli demand that it breaks its three-decade alliance with Iran and end support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups as a condition for progress in the talks.
"….Last week, Israel's ambassadors in key European capitals received a classified telegram pointing out that the recent contacts by leading European figures are the first signs of the breakdown of Syria's isolation.
Haaretz received a copy of the content of the telegram, which was authored by the deputy head of the Western Europe division at the Foreign Ministry, Rafi Barak. The note also included instructions for diplomatic activities in those capitals.
"It must be explained to the Europeans that the negotiations have still not begun and therefore they must be careful and measured in contacts vis a vis the Syrians," the note read.
Barak added in the note that the Israeli diplomats should ask the Europeans to treat Syrian requests carefully, "until we can tell if they are serious [in their intentions]." "The Europeans need to be reminded that Syria continues to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is not disengaging from Iran. All these are issues of great concern for Israel, and they are still on the table, unresolved."
In L'Orient Le Jour, here. "Jeffrey Feltman offered me the presidency on condition that I break my understanding with Hizbullah …" Michel Aoun with Scarlett HADDAD.
Jerusalem's Talks With Damascus Highlight Tensions
By JAY SOLOMON in the Wall Street Journal
May 23, 2008
The Israelis "don't seem to understand that our interests and their interests in Lebanon aren't aligned," one senior U.S official working on the Middle East said. "In the short-term, the Israelis want to remove a threat on their border. But they don't care about" the fate of Lebanon's government. The State Department's point man on the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, said widening the Middle East peace dialog could be a "good thing" for the region. But he also stressed that Washington has "reservations about the foreign-policy behavior of Syria, and its internal politics as well."
Stuck in Syria, With No way Home
By Jonathan Finer and Jennifer Rikoski
Washington Post, Sunday, June 1, 2008; Page B02
DAMASCUS: On our last day in Syria, our interpreter, Sameer, asked us a favor.
"Please tell my brother not to go back to Baghdad," he said. "He'll be killed."
Sameer, 29, had spent 17 months as a translator for the U.S. Army in his native Iraq before fleeing the country two years ago after someone nailed a death threat to his family's door. He is in the final stages of a Byzantine process that we hope will lead to his resettlement in Texas. But his older brother, Duried, has been waiting for an interview with the international agencies that determine Iraqi refugees' fates. He is running out of patience, hope and money.
"I can survive here maybe three more months," Duried later told us over tea in Sameer's small apartment, echoing a sentiment we heard from dozens of Iraqis in Syria. "After that, I cannot even pay rent. Honestly, what choice do I have?"
Damascus is the epicenter of the Middle East's gravest humanitarian disaster since the Palestinian refugee crisis of 1948. We traveled there this spring to learn more about the plight of Iraqi refugees and the international community's tepid response. Unlike its neighbors, who have imposed strict visa requirements, Syria has done little to discourage the flow of migrants across its border and hosts an estimated 1.4 million Iraqis — almost two-thirds of the post-invasion diaspora. With no legal status or right to work, their prospects are bleak. The wealthy and well-connected found their way to richer countries, and Syria's dysfunctional relations with the West have hamstrung efforts to provide assistance. ….
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which screens Iraqis selected for resettlement in the United States, is also woefully shorthanded. For months, the Syrian government refused to grant DHS the necessary entry visas for its staff, complaining that the Americans planned to resettle only Iraqis who "collaborated" with the war effort. In November, Syria finally admitted a 10-person DHS team — on the condition that all refugees first go through UNHCR, keeping the process painfully slow. Only 974 Iraqi refugees entered the United States in April, according to the State Department — well short of the pace required to meet this year's target.
When he announced a massive relief and resettlement effort for Iraqi Kurds in 1991, the first President Bush called such a project part of the "American tradition" to "do everything in our power to save innocent life." Today, his son's near silence stands in stark contrast — fueled, it seems, by a desire to avoid acknowledging the implication that Iraq is still many years from stability. …
Half Full or Half Empty: Assessing Prospects for Peace in Lebanon
By Alistair Harris, May 2008
The Opposition’s Long Game
New Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, center, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, right, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, at the Presidential palace. (AP Photo)
The Hezbollah-led opposition has played a masterful hand. With the Doha Accord-stipulated cabinet division of 16 ministers for the government, 11 for the opposition and 3 selected by the president, Hezbollah has achieved its goal of securing a veto on cabinet decisions by ensuring it can use its "blocking third" to quash decisions with which it disagrees. This, coupled with the violent events that erupted on May 7, 2008 and no mention of Hezbollah’s weapons in the Doha Accord, confirm that there will be no discussion of disarming Hezbollah’s resistance fighters in the immediate future.
There have been claims that the dramatic takeover of West Beirut by the opposition forces of Hezbollah, Amal and the allied Syrian Socialist National Party was a clever trap set by March 14th and their U.S. and Sunni allies. According to this argument, by crossing the red line of using their weapons against fellow citizens, the Hezbollah-led resistance has been de-legitimized in the eyes of the Lebanese. Yet whether this logic holds depends on very differing perspectives. Through its actions Hezbollah has confirmed that it is not only the pre-eminent armed force in Lebanon, capable of routing the amateurish fighters of Saad Hariri’s Al-Moustaqbal (“The Future") movement in a matter of hours, but also that it is equally capable of increasing its political share at the cabinet table. While Hezbollah’s impressive military arsenal remains intact and evidently unassailable militarily, it has also ensured sufficient political capital to veto any Lebanese government decision. Set against these realities, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement that the Hezbollah militia had been weakened by recent events looks decidedly optimistic…..
Tower of Babble Rabble
By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large
Former White House Press secretary Scott McClellan is excoriated for stating the obvious….
….Feith also had a big bone to pick with President Bush. His recently published memoir — "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" — charges Bush with confusing and conflicting signals following the embarrassment of not finding any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush then focused "almost exclusively on the larger aim of promoting democracy." This new pitch, says Feith in a Wall Street Journal op-ed adaptation of his book, "compounded the damage to the president's credibility, (as he was seen) distancing himself from the case he had made for removing (Saddam) from power."
Feith points out that, beginning with his first major Iraq speech before the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, Bush delivered nine major Iraq talks with 14 paragraphs per speech on Saddam's record as an enemy, aggressor, tyrant and imminent danger, and only three paragraphs on promoting Iraqi democracy. But from September 2003 to September 2004, Feith says Bush gave 15 major speeches with an average of 11 paragraphs per talk on democracy.
"The stunning change," Feith added, "appeared to confirm his critics' argument that the security rationale for the war was at best an error, and at worst a lie."
For Israelis, Golan is home, not a bargaining chip
The strategic plateau is a linchpin in recently renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
By Joshua Mitnick | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the May 30, 2008 edition
Katzrin, Golan Heights – In the world's eyes, this grassy, barren plateau is no different from the West Bank and Gaza Strip: territories occupied by Israel that should be relinquished in return for normal relations with Arab states. Captured from Syria in 1967, the Golan Heights is the linchpin for recently renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
But to Israelis, the Golan is a peaceful part of their country, even a popular vacation spot. A movie at the "Golan Magic" tourist center in this Jewish settlement shows emerald grazing fields rather than the minefields left from war. The audience is sprayed with mist as a preview of waterfall hikes in the Golan's lush canyons.
"Even more than the West Bank, people have grown up thinking of the Golan as part of Israel," says Gershom Gorenberg, author of "The Accidental Empire," a book about the Jewish settler movement. "It's not dangerous to live there…. The whole set of images associated with the West Bank is not there."
Unlike the West Bank or Gaza Strip
Though the world considers the 32 Israeli communities in these highlands illegal settlements, the Golan occupies a different place in Israel's national psyche than the West Bank does. Israelis visit the Golan more than in the West Bank and even Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which Israelis claim as their capital.
Now that the Golan is back on the bargaining table, Israeli residents there bristle at being compared with the hard-line religious-nationalist settlers of the West Bank and of the former Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip. ….