News Round UP (6 December 2008)

The Baby, the Bathwater, and the Freedom Agenda in the Middle East
By Michele Dunne
The Washington Quarterly, January 2009

The Arab World’s Dirty Secret: Racism
By Mona Eltahawy

Changing the Rules: The Syria Attack
By CONN HALLINAN in Counterpunch, Dec 4, 2008

….A number of hawks in the Bush Administration, in particular Deputy National Security Advisor for the Middle East, Elliot Abrams and Vice-President Dick Cheney, have long advocated “regime change” in Syria. According to the Financial Times, the Bush Administration has discussed who should replace Assad, and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was put in charge of the operation. Cross border attacks were seen as a way to make Assad look “weak,” thus encouraging a military coup.

Abrams has long been close to Benjamin Netanyahu, who may be Israel’s next prime minister and who is implacably opposed to negotiations with either Syria or the Palestinians. A Netanyahu policy paper titled “A Clean Break” and authored by Cheney’s national security advisor, David Wurmser, advocates war with Syria. According to Israeli diplomats, during the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, Abrams encouraged Tel Aviv to attack Syria.

So was this a hit by the hawks? An attack on Syria would not only derail the delicate negotiations over Golan, it would also fire a shot across the bow of the EU. Jonathan Freedland of the British Guardian says that the raid was to remind “those uppity Europeans who’s in charge.”

The Syrians are being very careful about how they react to the attack. While Damascus announced it would close a U.S. school, it has done little more than issue verbal protests. Syrian Foreign Minister al-Moallem told Der Speigel that Damascus has no wish to “escalate the situation,” nor give the U.S. an excuse to widen the attack. “We are not Georgia,” he added.

Whether it was Special Forces out of control—unlikely—or a high level effort by hawks in the Bush Administration to torpedo efforts to reduce tensions in the region—likely—,once again the U.S. has committed what in any other era would be considered an act of war. Princeton international law scholar Richard Falk called the raid a “serious violation of international law” and charged the Administration with “a unilateral expansion of the scope of the right of self-defense.”…..

This show’s diplomacy is for real – and it’s worth a hundred Milibands
By Simon Jenkins
The Guardian, 28 November 2008

Two weeks ago the foreign secretary, David Miliband, visited Syria to plead with its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to help rescue Britain’s decade of catastrophic diplomacy in the region and to help with the so-called Middle East peace process. The latter has been a genetic obsession of British ministers for half a century.

As a result, Britain just now needs Syria more than Syria needs Britain. Yet Miliband uttered the usual Foreign Office phrases about all sides “pushing ahead with the peace process”, and withdrawing support for Hamas and Hizbullah, as if such hoary bromides made the slightest difference.

Like Tony Blair, ensconced in his luxury suite in Jerusalem’s American Colony hotel, Britain’s language is still soused in post-imperial supremacy. If Britain wants to be taken seriously here it should start by getting out of Iraq, stop calling everyone “unacceptable” and end economic sanctions imposed at the bidding of the White House…..

Hillary Clinton’s Disdain for International Law — Part II
By Stephen Zunes Special to Salem-News.com, Dec-04-2008

…..Israel

Regarding Israel, Senator Clinton has taken a consistently right-wing position, undermining the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian moderates seeking a just peace that would recognize both the Palestinians’ legitimate national rights and the Israelis’ legitimate security concerns. For example, she has defended Israeli colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, has strongly supported Israel’s construction of an illegal separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory, and has denounced the International Court of Justice for its near-unanimous 2004 decision calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.

Indeed, Senator Clinton has consistently put the onus of responsibility on the occupied Palestinians rather than their Israeli occupiers.

Senator Clinton was also an outspoken supporter of Israel’s massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006, which took the lives of at least 800 civilians. She claimed that the carnage was justified since it would “send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians,” because, in her words, they oppose the United States and Israel’s commitment to “life and freedom.” Despite detailed reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noting that there was no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields, Senator Clinton has repeatedly insisted that they did, in an apparent effort to discredit these human rights groups and absolve Israel of any responsibility for the enormous civilian casualties inflicted during the assault.

Senator Clinton’s statements were challenged by her opponent in the 2006 Democratic primary for Senate in New York, union activist Jonathan Tasini, who pointed out that “Israel has committed acts that violate international standards and the Geneva Conventions.” Her spokesperson, however, dismissed Tasini’s concerns about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law as “beyond the pale.” Senator Clinton’s supporters also denounced him as “anti-Israel,” even though he is a former Israeli citizen who has lost close relatives in the Arab-Israeli wars and to Palestinian terrorism, his father fought with Zionist forces in the Israeli war of independence, and has repeatedly referred to himself as a “friend of Israel.”

Clinton even continues to defend Israel’s decision to launch the devastating 2006 war on Lebanon even though an Israeli government report released last year acknowledged it was a major setback to Israeli security. (See my article: U.S. Role in Lebanon Debacle)

Syria

Senator Clinton has also aimed her militaristic sights at Syria. In a typical example of her double-standards, she was a co-sponsor of the 2003 “Syrian Accountability Act,” which demanded — under threat of sanctions — that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of chemical weapons and missiles, not to mention Israel’s sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons. (See my article: The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony)

Included in the bill’s “findings” were charges by top Bush Administration officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous WMD programs. Not only have most of these particular accusations not been independently confirmed, they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had made similar claims against Iraq that have since been proven false. Yet Senator Clinton naively trusted their word over independent strategic analysts familiar with the region who have challenged many of these charges. Her bill also called for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria’s expulsion from its non-permanent seat Security Council for its failure at that time to withdraw its forces from Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520.

This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since she defended Israel’s 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon that finally ended just three years earlier which was in defiance of this same resolution, as well as nine other UN Security Council resolutions. Nor had she ever called for the expulsion of Morocco, Turkey or Indonesia from the Security Council when they held non-permanent seats despite their violations of UN Security Council resolutions regarding their occupations of neighboring countries.

Despite the fact that Syria is far weaker than it was 20 years ago when it was being generously armed by the Soviet Union, Senator Clinton insists that it is now “among the most difficult and dangerous [countries] in the world” and that it somehow poses “direct threats to … neighbors … and far beyond the region.” She also offered her “strong support” for Israel’s unprovoked air strikes in northern Syria in September. She has echoed the administration’s charges that Syria is a major supporter of Hamas, even though the bulk of the Islamist Palestinian group’s foreign support has come from Saudi Arabia and Iran, not the secular regime in Damascus. And, despite Syria’s longstanding opposition to Sunni extremists and Iraqi Baathists — the major components of the insurgency fighting U.S. forces in Iraq — she has also accused Syria of backing anti-American forces in that country.

In short, it appears that the State Department under Hillary Clinton will not be unlike that of the State Department under Madeleine Albright, where — as with her successors in the Bush administration — U.S. foreign policy was based upon militarism, confrontation and unilaterialism. This is not what most voters were expecting in electing Barack Obama as president. As a result, the anti-war movement must continue to challenge U.S. foreign policy under an Obama administration just as vigorously as we did under the Bush administration.

Obama’s New Foreign Policy Team Looks Toward Syria
Peace Efforts Would Run Parallel To Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations
By Nathan Guttman, Thu. Dec 04, 2008

…..The call for promoting the Israeli–Syrian track is among several key recommendations in an extensive report compiled by two leading think tanks in Washington. The report, “Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President” was prepared by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and calls for a robust diplomatic effort by Obama to include three parallel tracks: talks with Iran; promoting Israeli–Palestinian peace, and supporting the Israeli–Syrian talks.

“The Syrian track represents an opportunity that the Obama administration should develop,” said Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center. “We do not advocate a ‘Syria first’ approach, but a ‘Syria also’ approach.”

In the past, Palestinians have been concerned about promoting the Syria track, fearing it would distract Israelis and Americans from their issue, but this opposition has now weakened since reaching out to Syria is seen as beneficial to moderate Palestinians. “Peace with Syria can accelerate the Israeli–Palestinian peace track if it is done in the right way,” said Asali of the pro-Palestinian group. He stressed that if an agreement would include an end to Syrian support of the Hamas, it would strengthen the Palestinian leadership that is seeking a two-state solution.

Dealing with the Israeli–Palestinian front may turn out to be the most difficult challenge for Obama’s new team. Many believe that conditions are not ripe, with Israeli elections scheduled for February and continued Palestinian friction between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the West Bank, governed by Fatah. But Obama doesn’t seem to share this view. He he vowed during the campaign to take on Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking “from day one.”

“So far, all indications are that he is doing exactly what he said he promised,” said a Washington insider with close ties to Obama’s team.

One of the plans being revisited is the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 that calls on full normalization of ties between the Arab world and Israel in return for a two-state solution. An Arab diplomat told the Forward that Arab leaders are now preparing a letter to Obama in which they will urge him to adopt the plan and move promptly toward a final status solution to the conflict. The diplomat did not rule out the possibility that Arab states will agree to move faster toward normalizing ties with Israel if they feel the new administration in Washington is taking serious steps to solve the Palestinian problem.

Whether the new administration should push for a truce among Palestinians also was debated this week in Washington. Middle East scholar Shibley Telhami argued that it should be a priority. “You cannot move forward as long as the Palestinians remain divided and there is violence,” said Telhami, the Anwar Sadat chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. Telhami was one of the contributors to the report dealing with recommendations for the next administration.

In the meantime, Maen Areikat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said that Fatah is prepared to establish an independent state in the West Bank instead of waiting for moderates to retake control in Gaza. While visiting the capital, Areikat told the Washington Times that while his group prefers reaching an agreement with Hamas, “the PLO is mandated to continue negotiations” on its own.

The future of American involvement in the process will also be affected by Obama’s nominations to the remaining top foreign policy posts, including the special envoy to the region. Speculation is abundant. Dennis Ross, the veteran peace negotiator and an early Obama backer, was seen as the leading candidate for the post, although now his chances seem to have dimmed since he is seeking a broader Middle East portfolio. Another front-runner is former ambassador Dan Kurtzer, who has taken a critical view of peacemaking efforts by Ross in a book he published last year. Washington sources also said Martin Indyk has a chance of filling the post of a senior envoy and that his close ties to the Clintons might improve his chances with the new secretary of state.

Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President
Brookings Institute, 3 December 2008

Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President is the final product of an eighteen month Saban Center at Brookings-Council on Foreign Relations project.

Syria: Clinton nomination proves Obama wants Mideast peace
By Roee Nahmias
Israel News, 3 December 2008

Syria commended US president elect Barack Obama’s appointment of Hillary Clinton to the office of secretary of state, and an official Syrian source told the Qatari al-Watan daily that the appointment highlights the new administration’s commitment to achieving peace in the Middle East.

In the report published Wednesday, the source stressed the importance of Clinton’s nomination to the resuscitation of the Israeli-Syrian peace talks, stressing that former US President Bill Clinton had invested a great deal of effort in the process.

The Syrian official also commended Hillary Clinton for her commitment to “render the US a power for positive change” in the world by cooperating with the international community to solve global crises. He stressed that dialogue between Damascus and Washington was the only way to achieve positive change in the Middle East.

According to the source, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moalem has determined that two major issues would guide his country in its dialogue with the US: The removal of its name from the blacklist of countries that support terrorism, and the rescinding of the Syria Accountability Act, passed by the Bush Administration.

The daily also reported that Syrian President Bashar Assad stated recently that Washington has begun to send “clear signals” to Damascus, by which it plans to return a US ambassador to Syria in the beginning of 2009.

UN agency backs nuclear aid for Syria one year after bombing of reactor
Tehran Times, 3 December 2008

The International Atomic Energy Agency, on the heels of an investigation that found undeclared processed uranium in Syria, has approved nuclear assistance to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The IAEA vote came a week after the United Nations agency acknowledged finding traces of processed uranium at a site in northeastern Syria bombed by the Israel Air Force in September 2007. The report was accompanied by an appeal from IAEA director-general Mohammed El Baradei for Syria to demonstrate nuclear transparency.

The United States said the IAEA finding supported Washington’s assertion that Syria had nearly completed a North Korean-designed plutonium production facility. Such a facility was said to be capable of rapidly producing enough fissile material for a nuclear warhead.

UN finds new clues in Hariri case
BBC, 2 December 2008

The UN body investigating the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri says fresh evidence could help identify new suspects in the case.

The commission also says it has uncovered evidence of a connection between Mr Hariri’s killing and other acts of political violence in Lebanon.

An earlier report suggested Syria might have been implicated in the killing, a claim Damascus vehemently denies.

Mr Hariri and 22 others were killed by a massive truck bomb in Beirut in 2005.

Syria-based Iraqis protest against Iraq-US pact
AFP, 3 December 2008

Almost 2,000 Syria-based Iraqis staged a protest on Wednesday against the Iraq-US military pact, saying that the agreement would place Iraq under US domination.

Men, women and children took part in the demonstration in the Sayeda Zeinab suburb south of Damascus nearly a week after the Baghdad parliament ratified the pact.

“We denounce the security agreement, a shameful and dishonourable agreement of American occupation,” read one banner outside a shop in the mostly Shiite neighbourhood.

“Iraqis in Syria denounce this disastrous agreement,” read another.

One demonstrator carried a placard reading: “This disastrous accord puts Iraq under American control.”

After months of wrangling, the Iraqi cabinet on November 24 ratified the agreement, which is now due to be formally endorsed by the country’s presidential council.

The agreement would replace a UN mandate which expires at the end of December and allow US forces to remain in Iraq until the end of 2011.

Last month Syrian Information Mohsen Bilal said the pact rewards the US occupation of Iraq.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, some 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted since the US-led 2003 invasion. Around 1.5 million sought refuge in Syria and around half a million in Jordan.

Sayeda Zeinab is popular among Shiites from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq who go there on pilgrimage to pray at the tomb of Zeinab, a grand-daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.

Lebanese Christian leader demands solution to pending issues with Syria
Xinhua, 2 December 2008

Samir Geagea, head of the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) party, said on Tuesday that Lebanon should follow up the pending issues in the relations with Syria, local Naharnet website reported.

Addressing a banquet on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Free Lebanon Radio, Geagea said it is in Lebanon’s great interest to have the best of relations with Damascus.

“When it comes to Lebanon’s security, a lot is required from Syria is this regard,” said the leader of the LF, which was the strongest Christian militia during the 1975-1990 civil war.

He also stressed that some facts can not be ignored, including the flow of funds and arms through the borders, as well as the situation in the Palestinian refugee camps.

Syria is accused by pro-government leaders of smuggling weapons to Hezbollah via its borders with Lebanon, and of sponsoring fundamentalist militants inside and outside the Palestinian refugee camps.

Geagea said that if the Lebanese leaders who are to visit Syria can not find solutions to the issues, “then there is no point in normalizing relations.”

He called for demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian borders as soon as possible.

Geagea reiterated that if Syria was proved not to be responsible for the assassinations in Lebanon, “I would be the first to apologize to Syria.”

Pro-government leaders in Lebanon have been accusing Syria of masterminding the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and several political leaders afterwards, accusations denied by Syria.

In October, Syria and Lebanon signed a joint statement on formally launching diplomatic ties for the first time since their independence from the French colonial rule in the 1940s.

Experts urge Obama to negotiate with Iran, advance Syria peace
By Natasha Mozgovaya
Haartez.com, 2 December 2008

The Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, D.C. released a report Tuesday that calls on the U.S. to hold direct negotiations with Iran without preconditions.

Entitled “Restoring the Balance – A Middle East Strategy for the Next President”, the report, compiled over 18 months, states that the Iraq war benefits Iran strategically more than any other state, and the Islamic Republic is nearing a nuclear weapon faster than experts have asserted in the past, and that the U.S. must pursue talks with them.

“If you’re moving on the Israeli-Palestinian front, in Tehran they might feel they’re left behind, and react with terrorist attacks. This time is really important to engage them in making the new order, to make clear we’re not trying to isolate them, but to engage them”, the report states.

Former United States Ambassador to Israel and Brookings Institution member Martin Indyk called for Obama to pursue talks with Iran, saying “they are willing to engage and we must find a way to engage them more seriously.”

The report also calls for advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks.

In regard to Syria, Indyk said “in contrast to the Palestinian track we have a commitment of the leader [in Syria] who has proven himself to be brash and quite decisive, who needs to establish his own legitimacy and regain what his father lost – Golan Hights, and give up what his father gained – Lebanon.”

Indyk added that it’s possible to create symbiosis between the two dimensions the paper proposes – resolution of the Israeli-palestinian conflict, and engagement with Iran, “so they potentially benefit from each other”. “Time is not working in favor of this solution and it’s important that President-Elect Obama starts working on it as soon as possible. This is clearly a priority for him and we feel it should be.”

According to Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Middle East will remain the most unstable region of the world for the United States to deal with.

He emphasized that in spite of the fact that the new U.S. government is being formed at a time when the image of the United States is suffering abroad, “Obama is in a “unique position” for a new start in a region.”

Iran sees no sign of U.S. policy change with Obama
Reuters, 1 December 2008

Iran said on Monday U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s comments about its nuclear program were an indication Washington’s stance toward Tehran had not changed.

The remarks by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi, quoted by the ISNA news agency, were the latest by an Iranian official playing down the prospect of improved ties between the two old foes when Obama takes office in January.

Obama has said he would harden sanctions on Iran but also held out the possibility of direct talks. After his election win last month, he called for an international effort to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb, saying it was “unacceptable.”

Qashqavi said future relations between Iran and the United States, which severed ties with the Islamic Republic shortly after its 1979 revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah, would depend on Washington.

“One of Obama’s conditions for the establishment of ties with Iran has been the cessation of Iran’s uranium enrichment which in itself is indicative of lack of change in Washington’s perspective toward Iran,” he said according to ISNA.

Echoing that line, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikhuleslam, also quoted by ISNA on Monday, said “nothing has changed with the coming of Obama.”

The United States is spearheading a drive to isolate the Islamic Republic, the world’s fourth-largest crude producer, over nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs…

Conflict Zone
by Eli Lake
The New Republic, 26 November 2008

What will be Barack Obama’s policy towards the Middle East? During the campaign, this was a question that flummoxed partisans of both the Israeli and Palestinian causes. There was enough conflicting evidence of his intentions to lead everyone to believe that they would have a friend in the White House.

But now, we have actual foreign policy appointments to look at. And, guess what? They haven’t clarified the direction of his administration. In fact, there’s a chance that we will be in store for at least four more years of muddle. His administration could be split by the same internal debates that divided the Bush administration.

During the Bush administration, the State Department was the source of every call for envoys, roadmaps, summits, and efforts to revive the peace process. And for most of the Bush era, these calls were rejected by the White House and Pentagon–which believed that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle was a symptom of deeper pathologies within the Islamic and Arab world, and not the underlying cause of Middle Eastern terrorism. Within the Obama administration, this dynamic is likely to be reversed. It may be the White House–and, more specifically, the likely national security advisor, James Jones –that will be the passionate proponent of peace processing. Or, as he told the newsletter Inside the Pentagon last month, “‘Nothing is more important” to regional security in the Middle East than resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict…

Israel alarmed by EU bid to reopen Orient House as part of peace plan
By Barak Ravid
Haaretz.com, 1 December 2008

Titled “The EU Action Strategy for Peace in the Middle East: The Way Forward,” the document proposes various steps the EU should take in 2009 on both the Palestinian and the Syrian tracks, with emphasis on the former. However, its proposals are liable to result in a clash with whatever new government Israelis elect in February, whether headed by Tzipi Livni or Benjamin Netanyahu.

The EU, it states, must encourage the newly elected American government to be actively engaged in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In addition, the document states, the international community must closely monitor implementation of the first stage of the road map peace plan, which requires Israel to freeze settlement construction and remove West Bank roadblocks, and the PA to fight terror.

Regarding the so-called core issues of the conflict – borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees – the document proposes three main lines of action.

“A key part of building the Palestinian state involves resolving the status of Jerusalem, as the future capital of two states,” it declares. Therefore, “the EU will work actively towards the re-opening of the Palestinian institutions, including the Orient House.”

Orient House, which once served as the PA’s de facto Foreign Ministry, was closed in August 2001 following the deadly terror attack on Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant. Since then, successive Israeli governments have refused to reopen it, as it symbolized Palestinian claims to sovereignty in East Jerusalem.

On security, the document expresses EU willingness to play a role in Israeli-Palestinian security arrangements, mainly by sending policemen, soldiers or civilians to help train Palestinian security forces or to supervise implementation of a final-status agreement.

Regarding the refugees, the document says an “agreed, just, fair and realistic” solution must be found, adding that the EU would be willing to help establish and operate an international mechanism to compensate and rehabilitate Palestinian refugees.

The document praises the PA for having greatly improved security in the West Bank, and therefore concludes that Israel must transfer additional large swathes of this territory to Palestinian security control. “During the coming period, Palestinian security presence should be expanded beyond cities,” it says.

In addition, it notes, the EU “expects a complete freeze of all settlement activities including natural growth, including in East Jerusalem … The EU will continue to send clear messages to Israel and examine practical ways to exert more influence on these issues, including on goods from settlements.”

Turkey sets sights on new export markets
Today’s Zaman, 1 December 2008

Foreign Trade Minister Kürşad Tüzmen has said Turkey aims to diversify its export markets in response to shrinking demand from European markets.

“There is stagnation in the world markets to a certain degree, and Turkey’s exports have been affected negatively by this fact, but we are diversifying our export markets, particularly at a time when demand from European markets is decreasing,” Tüzmen said on Sunday in Ankara. “We are planning to brace for the shrinkage in European markets by entering new export markets.”
Tüzmen said Turkey will see the benefits of entering new export markets, especially in the long run.

The minister said exports to countries such as China, India, Iran, Iraq and Syria as well as countries in the Gulf region, North Africa and Central Asia would continue to grow in the near future, adding that acting in solidarity with its neighbor countries against the global crisis would have positive effects. Tüzmen also noted that a recent formal visit from China to Turkey brought a new series of business contracts signed between Turkish and Chinese firms amounting to $261 million.

He also noted that the stability in foreign exchange rates will also benefit Turkish exporters. “There is a new balance in foreign exchange rates; $1 will remain around YTL 1.50,” he said. “Turkish exporters should not lose hope and show the courage to enter new markets.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) President Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu said it was of the utmost importance to seek opportunities in new export markets. “The current importers from Turkey are struggling with the crisis. We need to enter in the markets of the countries that are less integrated with the world,” he said, referring to Syria and Iraq, which he said will come out of the economic crisis with few losses.

Hisarcıklıoğlu said the world was going through an uncertain period and that no one knew the way out of the crisis. Speaking in a conference yesterday in Elazığ, Hisarcıklıoğlu asserted that the crisis was transitioning from developed countries to developing countries, increasing its effects on the non-financial sector.

He noted that things were getting worse in the Turkish economy and that growth was slowing. He said consumer confidence was declining and that sectors were suffering from stagnation. “Unemployment is also likely to increase because of poor growth rates in the coming months. These developments are all threatening to the economy,” he said, adding that the Turkish business world expected the government introduce an economic package as soon as possible.

Despite all of this, Hisarcıklıoğlu stressed that Turkey saw the negative effects of the crisis later than other countries thanks to the measures taken by the government. “We learned many lessons from the 2001 crisis,” he added.

The Danger of Holdovers
By David S. Broder, Wash Post
Thursday, December 4, 2008; Page A21

One hopes that Obama will not forget the lesson John Kennedy learned about handoffs. In his case, it was not so much a question of personnel as policy, specifically the Bay of Pigs adventure.

The idea for an American-supported invasion of Cuba by a CIA-trained group of anti-Castro rebels was hatched during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s final months in office. When the new president was briefed on the plan, he raised questions but ultimately was persuaded to give it a try.

It blew up in his face, and, in the end, he was forced into the humiliating position of bargaining with Fidel Castro for the release of the defeated forces. Some scholars argue that Moscow’s reading of the fiasco led to its boldness in erecting the Berlin Wall and attempting to place missiles in Cuba.

There may be nothing at all similar to the Bay of Pigs invasion on the secret books of Gates’s Pentagon. If there were, we would not know. But we do know that Special Forces units are operating in Iraq and in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, and we have been told that they have been deployed on anti-terrorism missions in many other countries.

When and if Gates brings such missions to his new White House boss, he will presumably come as an advocate. The Kennedy example suggests that Obama and his advisers should be very skeptical in their questioning.

Bush to Olmert: Why are you giving Syria the Golan for nothing?
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, 30/11/2008

WASHINGTON – U.S. President George Bush believes that Israel is offering Syria the Golan Heights without getting anything in exchange, according to sources briefed on his White House meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week.

After Olmert updated Bush on Israel’s indirect talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the U.S. president demanded, “Why do you want to give Assad the Golan for nothing?” the sources said.

“It’s not for nothing,” Olmert insisted. “It’s in exchange for a change in the region’s strategic alignment.”

Bush persisted: “Why should you believe him?” And to that, Olmert did not reply.

The Bush administration has long had reservations about Israel’s talks with Syria and refuses to play any active role in them. Infuriated by Syria’s involvement in anti-American terror in Iraq, as well as its undermining of Lebanon’s fragile democracy, Bush preferred to invest his diplomatic capital in Israeli-Palestinian talks, while eschewing contacts with the Syrians.

Olmert tried to explain the strategic importance that Israel attaches to the talks with Syria, describing the Middle East as being defined by two axes: an extremist “horizontal axis” running from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah and Hamas, and a pragmatic “vertical axis” running from Turkey via Syria to Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Syria, Olmert argued, sits at the intersection of these two axes. Thus should it switch its allegiance to the “vertical axis,” this would greatly weaken the extremists and strengthen the pragmatists.

Olmert also believes that Bashar Assad has moved much closer to Iran than his father Hafez ever did. Today, he said, Damascus is locked in an Iranian “bear hug” that threatens the very existence of its secular regime. That, combined with Syria’s dismal economy, creates an opportunity to flip Assad into the moderate camp, the premier argued.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama favors American dialogue with Syria, and would presumably agree to take an active role in Israeli-Syrian talks. Aaron Miller, a veteran of former president Bill Clinton’s peace team, published an article in The Washington Post Saturday in which he urged Obama to adopt a “Syria first” strategy.

We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them,… our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.

Perhaps he should have…. A year later, Gen. David Petraeus helped boost the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces, cutting violence in the country dramatically.

Selling Syria to a Skeptical American Audience:
Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador in Washington, says a recent U.S. raid stifled a diplomatic opening
By Thomas Omestad in US News and World Report
Posted November 28, 2008

Are militants moving from Syria into Iraq?
Are there al Qaeda operatives in Syria? Probably, but they are our sworn enemies. When we know about them, we will immediately attack them or arrest them. We have done everything possible to try to secure the Syrian-Iraqi border. We told the United States we cannot do this alone. We offered it security arrangements, cooperation, intelligence sharing. The U.S. categorically refused to engage with us, always saying, “It’s your responsibility.”…..

Aoun declares ‘new page’ in relations with Damascus
The Daily Star, 4 December 2008

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun on Wednesday predicted a “bright future” for ties between Lebanon and his former foe Syria after talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad. “We are turning a new page where there is no victor and no loser. This is a return to normal relations,” Aoun told a news conference on the first day of a visit to the Syrian capital.

“Our discussions hold the promise of a bright future” for the two countries, he said of his meeting with Assad, voicing confidence that any problems between Damascus and Beirut would be resolved.

In one of the closing rounds of the 1975-1990 Civil War in Lebanon, Aoun as the head of a disputed Christian government, waged a fierce “war of liberation” against Syrian forces deployed in the country…

On the Syrian side, Assad political adviser Buthaina Shaaban said that Aoun’s visit represents “a new era between Syria and Lebanon that will serve the interests of the two countries and the two peoples.”

Aoun also told reporters he hoped for a rapid solution to the issue of Lebanese “missing” in Syria, whom support groups in Beirut number at 650 but whom Damascus denies holding…

Comments (2)


 

2. Ghat Albird said:

Sabah el Kheir.

Based on GWB’s accomplishments one aptly and rhetorically should ask, “look whose talking”, if he true, That reads more like an Israeli question put into Bush mouth.

Israel according to the MEI receives some US $12 million a day EVERY day of the year. According to Harvard’s top economists’ the US is on the point of going over the abyss economically.

Soon it may be time to either save Detroit or support Israel and other selected friends and since the Israelis were able to get “extra” billions for vacating the Negev after getting billions to invade it. Why not have a similar song and dance for the Golan?

As the French say, “plus ca change, plus que c’est la meme chose”. One is only left with the adage of “only Syria can determine what is best for Syria” and if they feel like it turn around and ask Bush, “what are you getting for the billions spent in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Israel?”

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December 8th, 2008, 2:00 pm

 

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