Posted by Joshua on Saturday, September 20th, 2008
Some readers may have noticed that Syria Comment was down for about 2 days. We are sorry about this. Alex, and a wonderful techie of his, have been repairing and servicing the site, which forced us to take it off line for a few days.
The 1 trillion bail out. At the end of the Clinton administration in 2000, US government debt was $5,676,989,904,887 and falling for the first time for decades. After 8 years of Bush leadership, the national debt stands at 9.6 trillion dollars. The financial crisis of the past few weeks is estimated to have already cost the American taxpayers over 1 trillion, which means that in a few weeks the debt has increased by over 10% to bring it over the 10 trillion dollar mark. The average American owed $31,721.81 a week ago. Today, that debt has been increased by roughly $3,000 per American, or $12,000 for a family of 4, like mine.
The Bush administration will have presided over the doubling of US debt in a short 8 years. The financial crisis may end up costing Americans more than the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The impact of this growing debt on America’s foreign power is unclear. One can assume that Washington’s hands will be increasingly tied by its poverty. More of the budget will be spent on servicing the debt. Foreign countries, such as China which owns America’s debt, will have greater influence over the US economy, and, presumably, its politics as well. Washington will have to hesitate before going to war or imposing economic sanctions on countries.
In the mean time, the US remains confident enough to continue economic sanctions on Syria. A friend writes:
Just this week, I have heard from other American friends in Syria (I am currently in the US – I’ll be back in Syria in a week) that America has blocked Americans from using ATMs in Syria. Some of my friends have been able to use their cards while others have not. I called my bank here to check and they said there was no problem. We’ll see next week once we’re back. Perhaps you could get confirmation from some of your readers in Syria?
The explanation for blocked ATM use may be simply that banks stop cards if they see irregular activity. For Americans, traveling to Syria will be cause for their banks to block their cards. To avoid this, Americans should call their banks and explain where they will be traveling before departure. I have taken this precaution before and still had my card blocked because bank employees have neglected to read the notes placed on my computer account before blocking the card. It can be fixed by a call or email to your bank. Don’t leave home without your bank information and telephone numbers.
A second explanation for irregular blockage of bank cards may be that some companies are taking no chances and blocking all commerce with Syria, while others do not. For example, Google has blocked the use of its new web-browser, “Chrome”, in Syria.
If readers have intelligence on this matter, please let us know.
Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian who was sent to Syria for torture by US authorities, is interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR.
The government rather than the cold judgment of the marketplace will decide the winners and losers from the crisis that has shaken the U.S. economy for the past year.
Paulson and Bernanke held a morning conference call with more than 100 House Republicans, making the case for their plan and describing in “strong and serious” terms the dire situation facing the financial system, according to a participant on the call. Hours later, the House Republican leadership met with members and lobbyists to warn against cluttering the legislation with amendments or trying to delay its passage. The message, according to a person at the meeting: We want a clean bill. …
“If you have hundreds of millions of mortgage-backed securities on your books that you cannot value, much less sell, you can now unload them to the U.S. government.”
Ten Russian warships have docked at Syrian port
Debka, 20 settembre 2008
Israeli military and naval commanders were taken by surprise by Rear Adm. Andrei Baranov’s disclosure that 10 Russian warships are already anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus, DEBKA file’s military sources report.
Moscow and Damascus have worked fast to put in place the agreement reached in Moscow on Sept. 12 by Russian navy commander, Adm. Vladimir Wysotsky and Syrian naval commander Gen. Taleb al-Barri to provide the Russian fleet with a long-term base at Syrian ports. Israel was not aware that this many vessels were involved in the deal.
What most worries Israeli military leaders is an earlier announcement by Adm. Wysotsky that Russia’s Mediterranean assets would subjected to its Black Sea fleet command, thereby placing Russia’s warships near Israel’s shores at the service of Moscow’s contest against the US and NATO in the Caucasian. It is feared that Israel will be dragged into another cold war.
Rear Adm. Baranov disclosed that the warships in Tartus had brought engineering crews to widen and dredge the harbor to accommodate additional, fleet vessels. The crews were also working on expanding Latakia, another Syrian port, possibly for aircraft carriers or guided missile cruisers.
The Russians are making no secret of their intention of using their naval presence in Syrian ports as a deterrent to a possible Israeli air strike against Syria.
Israel says Russia passes intelligence it gathers about the Jewish state to Syria and indirectly to Hezbollah… “…The allegations …came at a touchy time in relations with Moscow, given Russian arms talks with Syria and the involvement of a Russian state-owned company in building a nuclear power plant for Iran at Bushehr on its Gulf coast.
Russia has, in turn, complained about Israeli arms and training for Georgia, with which it fought a five-day war last month over the Georgian province of South Ossetia. “My assessment is that their facilities cover most of the state of Israel’s territory,”
Friday Lunch Club reports that: Fmr. head of NSA, Adm. Bobby Inman: “The US government has told the Israeli government in no uncertain terms that they can not kill Nasrallah”
Israel postpones Turkish-brokered talks with Syria, Tehran Times: “”When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be too because we want to build a solid base that will allow the launch of direct negotiations whatever the outcome of the Kadima party election in Israel,”" Muallem added.
Cheney Linked Hussein to Al-Qaeda, Ex-GOP House Leader Says in Book
By Jeff Leen
The Washington Post, September 16, 2008
A GOP congressional leader who was wavering on giving President Bush the authority to wage war in late 2002 said Vice President Cheney misled him by saying that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had direct personal ties to al-Qaeda terrorists and was making rapid progress toward a suitcase nuclear weapon, according to a new book by Washington Post investigative reporter Barton Gellman.
Cheney’s assertions, described by former House majority leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.), came in a highly classified one-on-one briefing in Room H-208, the vice president’s hideaway office in the Capitol. The threat Cheney described went far beyond public statements that have been criticized for relying on “cherry-picked” intelligence of unknown reliability. There was no intelligence to support the vice president’s private assertions, Gellman reports, and they “crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation.”
Armey had spoken out against the coming war, and his opposition gave cover to Democrats who feared the political costs of appearing to be weak. Armey reversed his position after Cheney told him, he said, that the threat from Iraq was actually ” more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large.”
Cheney said, according to Armey, that Iraq’s “ability to miniaturize weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear,” had been “substantially refined since the first Gulf War,” and would soon result in “packages that could be moved even by ground personnel.” Cheney linked that threat to Hussein’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, Armey said, explaining that “we now know they have the ability to develop these weapons in a very portable fashion, and they have a delivery system in their relationship with organizations such as al-Qaeda.”
“Did Dick Cheney . . . purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue?” Armey said. “I seriously feel that may be the case. . . . Had I known or believed then what I believe now, I would have publicly opposed [the war] resolution right to the bitter end, and I believe I might have stopped it from happening…”
Report: Syrian authorities arrest activist
The International Herald Tribune, September 16, 2008
DAMASCUS, Syria: A human rights group says Syrian intelligence agents have arrested a political activist.
A statement Tuesday by the Syrian Organization for Human Rights says Majed Alloush was picked up Saturday from his home in the Deir al-Zour province in northeastern Syria and taken to an unknown destination. It says Alloush has written numerous articles on “public issues” and is a member of the so-called Damascus Declaration, a coalition of pro-democracy and opposition activists and groups.
Twelve members of that group are standing trial in Syria on charges that include spreading false information and weakening national morale. Three more are in detention.
The organization says Alloush suffers from a heart condition.
IAEA Iran Report
By Judah Grunstein
World Politics Review, September 16, 2008
The IAEA issued its latest Iran report yesterday. Here’s the report itself (.pdf) from the ISIS site, here’s Elaine Sciolino’s write-up for the IHT. The short version is that little has changed in the way of Iranian compliance since the last report. So, declared materials are still accounted for, the nuclear fuel at Bushehr is still under IAEA seal, and Iran’s declared facilities have not been altered or engaged in suspect activity. But it has continued its enrichment program, gaining substantially in the efficiency of its centrifuge cascades and expanding their operation, and has done almost nothing to increase transparency or otherwise respond to documentation of past weaponization efforts.
Sciolino flags this passage from the IAEA report, too:
With reference to the document describing experimentation in connection with. . .an implosion type nuclear device, Iran has stated that there have been no such activities in Iran. Since the Director General’s previous report, the Agency has obtained information indicating that the experimentation described in this document may have involved the assistance of foreign expertise.
No mention yet of where that foreign expertise originated from, but look for that as the next front in the campaign of intelligence leaks on past Iranian weaponization efforts.
Says Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk, “Overall, the Iranians seem to be moving right along,” and clearly, the status quo plays into Iran’s hands. What’s more, as Adam Wolfe pointed out in a WPR piece last week, between the American presidential election this fall, the Iranian presidential election next summer, Russian resistance to sanctions and Iran’s stonewalling, it looks like things are going to be in status quo mode until at least this time next year. By then, the Bushehr reactor will be online, and Iran will have not only continued to improve its enrichment capacity, it will also have a not insignificant amount of enriched uranium at its disposal. Meaning its leverage at the negotiating table will be significantly increased.an airstrike would strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners and pollute the negotiating atmosphere. But the logic…..
Former U.S. secretaries of state say they support talks with Iran
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz.com, September 16, 2008
Five former U.S. secretaries of state on Monday announced their support for talks with Iran, with all five saying the United States should not wait to launch diplomatic engagements with the Islamic Republic….. Albright added that the issue is more serious because the war in Iraq has strengthened Iran. She also said the U.S. has an inaccurate view of Iranian society, saying, “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is not particularly popular, and we don’t understand Iranian society, it’s not monolithic.”Powell issued a harsh rebuke to those who would stonewall the Islamic Republic, saying, “we should start to talk to them and not wait till later. What are we afraid of?”….
Former Clinton administration secretary of state Warren Christopher highlighted U.S. military
shortcomings in the need to pursue talks, saying, “We cannot afford not to have a dialogue, the military options are very poor.”….
Talking with Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah By: Manuela Paraipan, World Security Network, September 15, 2008
Before entering the gate of Sheikh’s Fadlallah’s residence, the man in charge of security verified if indeed I was expected and also checked the car. ….
Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut’s Shelled Synagogue
By Massoud A. Derhally
Bloomberg, September 18, 2008
Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) — In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife were caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. A Shiite Muslim militiaman helped the couple escape.
Arazi, a leader of Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community, sees the incident as a lesson in the Arab country’s tradition of tolerance. Now he is trying to make use of that tradition, along with the global diaspora of Lebanese Jews, in a drive to rebuild Beirut’s only synagogue, damaged during the war.
“Those who don’t have a past don’t have a future,” Arazi said to explain his push to rebuild the synagogue.
Beirut’s Maghen Abraham Synagogue opened in 1926 in Wadi Abou Jmil, the city’s Jewish quarter, located on the edge of west Beirut near the Grand Serai palace, where the government meets, and within walking distance of parliament.
Lebanon then was something of a haven for Jews, some of whom were the descendants of those who had fled the Spanish inquisition; it later served a similar role for refugees from Nazi Germany. With “no history of anti-Jewish tensions,” it was the only Arab country whose Jewish population rose after Israel’s creation in 1948, according to Kirsten Schulze, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and author of “The Jews of Lebanon.”
By the mid-1960s, there were as many as 22,000 Lebanese Jews, said Arazi, 65. In addition to heading the Jewish Community Council he owns a food-machinery business with 1,000 customers…
Antoun Issa argues that Saudi Arabia may have been behind the assassination of Aridi in Lebanon in his post: “Lebanon Killing a Sign That Not All Are Happy”
It’s Time for the US to Engage Syria in “Serious” Talk By Bashar Elsbihi [Bashman]
Damascus Spring, September 12, 2008
In the past 3 years the current U.S administration has opted to follow a policy of disengagement and isolation with the Syrian regime. Today this policy continues to be the cornerstone of the Bush administration, yet developments on the ground are proving it fruitless. This administration must open the way to the next one and lay down the ground work for a new foreign policy towards Syria that will be pivotal in securing U.S interests and restoring some of the U.S influence lost in the region since the start of the Iraq war. Syria is begging for Washington’s attention, The White House ought to listen…