News Roundup (15 March 2008)

"Germany resumes isolation policy toward the Syrian regime" (Translation and note thanks to MSK)

"Deutschland wird nach den Worten Merkels auch an der gegenwärtigen Isolation Syriens festhalten. Alle Gespräche mit Syrien seien bislang sehr enttäuschend verlaufen. Syrien werde seiner Verantwortung bei der Wahl eines neuen Präsidenten im Libanon nicht gerecht, sagte Merkel. Außerdem habe Syrien bis zum heutigen Tag das Nachbarland nicht diplomatisch anerkannt. Deshalb solle in der gegenwärtigen Phase allein EU-Chefdiplomat Javier Solana Gespräche mit der syrischen Regierung führen. Kehre Syrien auf den Weg der Rationalität zurück, seien die Türen wieder offen, sagte Merkel."

(Germany will, in Merkel's [German chancellor, i.e. prime minister] words, stick to the current isolation of Syria.  All talks held with Syria so far have been very disappointing.  Syria is not living up to its responsibility in the election of a new president in Lebanon, Merkel said.  Also, Syria has until the present day not diplomatically recognized the neighboring country.  Therefore shall in the current phase only EU chief diplomat Javier Solana hold talks with the Syrian government.  Should Syria return to the path of rationality, the doors will be open again, said Merkel.)

The Bush administration is calling on its pals leading the so-called moderate Arab states to isolate Syria by boycotting the summit. The State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was quoted  in an AFP article:   

In contemplating whether or not they attend a meeting in Syria, it certainly bears keeping in mind what Syria's role (has been) to this point in not allowing a Lebanese electoral process to move forward.

“Report: Syria wants ‘public’ peace talks with Israel
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters

Syria has recently relayed a message to Israel conveying the county’s interest in peace talks with Israel, but on the condition that talks will be held openly and not under fire, Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported Saturday.

According to the report, Damascus passed the message on to Israel via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

According to the newspaper report, the Syrians demand a series of conditions in that message that must be fulfilled before it will commence a peace process, the first of which is the condition that talks will not be held “under fire.” The Syrians explained that by “under fire” they do not mean an armed conflict between Israel and Syria, but rather the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Another Syrian condition is that the talks be held publicly, and accompanied by Israeli gestures to assure the Syrians that they are ready to withdraw from all “occupied Arab territories,” Al-Akhbar reported.

A third condition, according to the report, is that Israel hold simultaneous diplomatic talks with Lebanon and the Palestinians alongside peace talks with Syria. Syrian workers

However, “knowledgeable” sources told Al-Akhbar that Damascus estimates that the United States isn’t interested in Israel holding talks with Syria, and will act to prevent such talks from taking place.

Sources: Israel warned Syria it could pay price for any Hezbollah attack

In contrast to the Syrian peace overtures, Israel has recently conveyed a stern message to Damascus, also via a third party, stating that it would hold Damascus accountable for any Hezbollah attacks, Israeli and European sources said on Friday.

Syrian labourers bear brunt of Lebanon's political divide AFP

New batch of immigrants tracked arriving from Syria
By Jean Christou – LARNACA, Cyprus

44 Syrians and two Lebanese, were picked up in the early hours after crossing from the north and walking for two hours into Oroklini, police said. Another group of immigrants was also being sought by police. They had all come by boat at different times from Syria.

Syria expands "iron censorship" over Internet
U.S. Daily, ca – Mar 13, 2008
The Syrian Media Centre, an independent body that tracks curbs on media, said at least 153 Internet sites are blocked in Syria…
Security officials ordered Internet cafe owners this week to take down the names and identification cards of their clients as well as the times they come and leave, Mazen Darwich, head of the Syrian Media Centre, told Reuters. The records are to be presented regularly to the authorities, who targeted bloggers and Internet writers in recent months as part of a renewed campaign against dissent. These steps are designed to terrorize Internet users and spread fear and self censorship in violation of the right to privacy and free expression," Darwich said. "The government has been methodical in extending the scope of its iron censorship," he said. There was no comment from the government. Officials had said Internet controls were needed to guard against what they described as attempts to spread sectarian divisions and "penetration by Israel."

Naji writes in the comment section:

Sadly, this is the trend these days and a sign of our ugly times… I was travelling around Europe last summer, and everywhere I went (Italy, France,…and even in Switzerland), you now have to register your passport when you use an internet cafe… new anti-terrosim regulations and all that…!!

One site to be recently unblocked in Syria is Ayman Abdel Nour's This is good news as his new and improved newsletter provides excellent coverage of Syrian matters. For example, this article covers the large charity funraiser to be help in Washington next month for a Syrian NGO.

اختراق لصالح جمعية أهلية سورية … جمع تبرعات في "واشنطن"

خاص (كلنا شركاء)

تمكنت جمعية أهلية سورية من اختراق ممنوعات رسمية أميركية بإقامتها حفلاً خاصاً لجمع التبرعات في واشطن رغم صعوبة جمع التبرعات لجهة سورية بشكل علني داخل أميركا!

In Lebanon, a 'Revolution' Gone Sour

Many Lebanese have grown tired of the unrelenting crisis of political gridlock, sporadic assassinations, bombings and street violence, as well as a worsening economy. Fed up with ceaseless bickering of politicians from the March 14 bloc and the pro-Syrian opposition, led by the militant Shi'ite Hizballah movement, Lebanese are emigrating in droves to the wealthy, job-rich Gulf or further afield.

Robert Fisk: Silenced by the men in white socks
The Damascus Spring has presaged no golden summer for Syria
Saturday, 15 March 2008
The Independent

Shut them up. Accuse them. Imprison them. Stop them talking. Why is it that this seems to have become a symbol of the Arab – or Muslim – world? Yes I know about our Western reputation for free speech; from the Roman Empire to the Spanish inquisition, from Henry VIII to Robespierre, from Mussolini and Stalin to Hitler, even – on a pitiable scale – to Mr Anthony Blair. But it's getting hard to avoid the Middle East.

When Egyptian women cry "Enough!", they are sexually abused by Mubarak's cops. When Algerians demand to know which policemen killed their relatives, they are arrested for ignoring the regime's amnesty. When Benazir Bhutto is murdered in Rawalpindi, a cloak of silence falls over the world's imams. Pontificating about the assassination in Pakistan, Shaikh es-Sayed, who runs one of Canada's biggest mosques, expressed his condolences to "families of beloved brothers and sisters who died in the incident [sic]". Asked why he didn't mention Bhutto's name, he replied: "Why? This is not a political arena. This is about religion. That's politics." Well, it certainly is in Syria. George Bush – along with M. Sarkozy – has been berating Damascus for its lack of democracy and its human rights abuses and its supposed desire to gobble up Lebanon and "Palestine" and even Cyprus. But I always feel that Syria had a raw deal these past 90 years.

First came the one-armed General Henri Gouraud, who tore Lebanon off from Syria in 1920 and gave it to the pro-French Christians. Then Paris handed the Syrian coastal city of Alexandretta to the Turks in 1939 – sending survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide into exile for a second time – in the hope that Turkey would join the Allies against Hitler. (The Turks obliged – in 1945!) Then in the Six Day War, Syria lost the Golan Heights – subsequently annexed by Israel. Far from being expansionist, Syria seems to get robbed of land every two decades.

On the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000 – it's extraordinary how, like Sharon now that he is comatose, we come to like these old rogues once they've departed – we were told there was to be a "Damascus Spring". I always thought this a bit dodgy. I'd experienced the Lebanon Spring and read about the Ukraine Spring and I'm old enough to remember the Prague Spring, which ended in tears and tanks. And sure enough, the Damascus Spring presaged no golden summer for Syria.

Instead, we've gone back to the midnight knock and the clanging of the cell door. Why – oh why – must this be so? Why did the Syrian secret police have to arrest Dr Ahmed Thoma, Dr Yasser el-Aiti, Jabr al-Shufi, Fayez Sara, Ali al-Abdulla and Rashed Sattouf in December, only days after they – along with 163 other brave Syrians – had attended a meeting of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change? The delegates had elected Dr Fida al-Hurani head of their organisation. She, too, was arrested, and her husband, Dr Gazi Alayan, a Palestinian who had lived in Syria for 18 years, deported to Jordan.

The net spread wider, as they say in police reports. The renowned Syrian artist Talal Abu Dana was arrested up in Aleppo, his studio trashed and his paintings destroyed. Then on 18 February, Kamel al-Moyel from the lovely hill town of Zabadani, on the steam train route from Damascus, was picked up by the boys in white socks. A point of explanation here. Almost all Middle East Moukhabarat men – perhaps because a clothing emporium has won a concession for the region's secret policemen – wear white socks. The only ones who don't are the Israeli variety, who wear old baseball hats.

Needless to say, the Syrian prisoners were not ignored by their regime. A certain Dr Shuabi, who runs a certain Data and Strategic Studies Centre in Damascus, appeared on al-Jazeera to denounce the detainees for "dealing with foreign powers". Dr al-Hurani suffered from angina and was briefly sent to hospital before being returned to the Duma jail. But when the prisoners were at last brought to the Palace of Justice, Ali al-Abdulla appeared to have bruises on his body. Judge Mohamed al-Saa'our – the third investigative judge in Damascus, appointed by the ministry of interior – presided over the case at which the detainees were accused of "spreading false information", forming a secret organisation to overthrow the regime, and for inciting "sectarian and racist tendencies". The hearing, as they say, continues.

But why? Well, back on 4 December, George Bush met at the White House – the rendezvous was initially kept secret – the former Syrian MP Mamoun al-Homsi (who currently lives, dangerously perhaps, in Beirut) with Amar Abdulhamid, a member of a think thank run by a former Israeli lobbyist, and Djengizkhan Hasso, a Kurdish opposition activist. Nine days later, an official "source" leaked the meeting to the press. Which is about the time the Syrian Moukhabarat decided to pounce. So whose idea was the meeting? Was it, perhaps, supposed – once it became public – to provoke the Syrian cops into action?

The Damascus newspaper Tichrine – the Syrian equivalent of Private Eye's Rev Blair newsletter – demanded to know why Washington was showing such concern for human rights in Syria. Was not the American-supported blockade of one and a half million Gaza Palestinians a violation of the rights of man? Had not the Arabs seen all too clearly Washington's concern for the rights of man in Abu Ghraib and Guanatanamo? All true. But why on earth feed America's propaganda machine (Syria as the centre of Hamas/ Hiz-bollah/Islamic Jihad terror, etc) with weekly arrests of middle-aged academics and even, it transpires, the vice-dean of the Islamic studies faculty at Damascus University?

Of course, you won't find Israel or the United States engaged in this kind of thing. Absolutely not. Why, just two months ago, the Canadian foreign minister, Maxime Bernier, discovered that a confidential document sent to Canadian diplomats included a list of countries in which prisoners risked being tortured – and the names of America and Israel were on the list! Merde! Fortunately for us all, M. Bernier knew how to deal with such pernicious lies. The document, he announced, "wrongly includes some of our closest allies. It doesn't represent the opinion or the policy of the (Canadian) government". Even though, of course, the list is correct.

But M. Bernier managed to avoid and close down the truth, just as Mr Mubarak does in Cairo and President Bouteflika does in Algiers and just as the good Shaikh es-Sayed did in Toronto. Syria, according to Haitham al-Maleh, a former Syrian judge, claims there are now almost 3,000 political prisoners in Syria. But how many, I wonder, are there in Algeria? Or in Egypt? Or in the hands – secret or otherwise – of the United States? Shut them up. Lock them up. Silence.

The State Department's human rights bureau added Syria and dropped China from the department's "worst offenders" list. Al Kamen of the Washington Post writes:

Communist China was taken off that list and moved up to become one of those "authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform [and] have experienced rapid social change but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms."

This probably stunned imprisoned and harassed human rights activists and people walking anywhere near Tiananmen Square.

On a wholly unrelated matter, don't forget to sign up for your tickets to the Olympic Games, beginning Aug. 8 in Beijing. President Bush will be there.

Meanwhile in Iraq, 24,000 prisoners are being held in American run prisons without charges.

The Lebanon Forces leader Samir Geagea held talks at the White House with Hadley and Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs John Hannah to discuss the U.S. government's support for the Saniora government, including military and economic aid. The erstwhile militia leader was welcomed as a champion of the freedom agenda and proponent of Lebanon's commitment to its constitution and the rule of law. No mention was made of his convictions for the assassinations of Former Prime Minister Rashid Karami, National Liberal Party leader Dany Chamoun and his family, and former LF member Elias Al Zayek. He was also accused of attempting to kill Minister Michel Murr. He was given four life sentences in a trial Amnesty International criticized, citing that it was politically motivated, unjust and done under Syrian interference.[5] He served 11 years before being pardoned following the March 14th victory in 2005.

Turkey-Iraq-Syria to form a water institution
Hürriyet, Turkey – Mar 13, 2008
Turkey, Iraq and Syria decided to form a ‘water institution’ to end the related problems in the region. The decision to form such institution was made …

The fight for Lebanon's freedom
Washington Times, DC – Mar 13, 2008
By Farid Ghadry and Sami El-Khoury

The leadership of "March 14," to the dismay of many Lebanese Americans, who have worked hard for U.S. help, refused to exercise its constitutional right to ignore Hezbollah and Syria and elect a new president for Lebanon.

"March 14," from the start, took on a conciliatory tone with Hezbollah, yielding to many of its demands under the auspices of consensus-building and avoiding confrontation. That was by far their biggest blunder. With the exception of Samir Geagea, the vocal Christian leader, the organization has been unable to develop a cohesive strategy against Hezbollah terror. As an example, some in the leadership excluded other potent anti-Hezbollah players from their inner circle, which relieved them of greater options. One such Lebanese politician is Ahmad al-Assaad, a maverick Shi'ite with a notable history in Lebanese politics who was, and still is, willing to play spoiler to Hezbollah's grand schemes. Mr. Assaad visited Washington lately and his message was powerful enough to get the attention of many in the Bush administration.

But unlike Mr. Assaad's message of logic, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who also visited Washington several times in the past year, could not resist the occasion to shore up privately and publicly the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) and the former vice president of Syria, Abdul Halim Khaddam, a much-disliked figure inside Syria, at the behest of a scheme concocted in Saudi Arabia by Bandar Bin Sultan,….

Farid Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria. Sami El-Khoury, who served as consul to the Lebanese Embassy in Ecuador, is president of the World Maronite Union.

Roland D. McKay of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is pushing this interesting conference

Comments (31)

Nur al-Cubicle said:

Gee, I wonder why Merkel is has nothing to say the shooting down of 30 Tibetan demonstrators in Lhasa.

March 15th, 2008, 9:36 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Nur al-Cubicle,

What Heads-of-State have said anything?

Anyway, if the US counts, this may help you…

March 16th, 2008, 2:10 am


Shual said:

Nur al-Cublice,

Merkel indeed called both parties to stop the violence. In this case she acts correct cause the public attention and protests, media coverage and speeches of democratic party-members from all parties are doing enough to express the germans thougths about that crisis.

We should not forget that Merkel met with the Dalai Lama in September 07 and the following diplomatic iceage was definitly not productive as we can see today.

March 16th, 2008, 2:47 am


ausamaa said:

This is the sort of NEWSROUNDUP you can start your day with. Count on Josh to brighten up your day any time since Thawrat al Riz started!!!

March 16th, 2008, 5:12 am


Innocent_Criminal said:

Robert Fisks article was in my opinion the most interesting by far.

March 16th, 2008, 6:15 am


Kooki said:

All4Syria is still blocked on the main ADSL service provider in Syria (tarassul), or it was 30 secs ago when I tried it. Same story with Facebook et al, although some internet cafes still manage to provide them. Otherwise you need to use a proxy site.

March 16th, 2008, 9:18 am


MSK said:

My dear Nur,

Just for your personal gratification:

Bundeskanzlerin Merkel besorgt über die Lage in Tibet
(Federal chancellor Merkel concerned about the situation in Tibet)

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel ist über die Nachrichten aus Tibet besorgt. Gewalt – egal von welcher Seite – führt zu keiner Lösung der offenen Fragen.

Es ist deshalb umso wichtiger, dass Demonstranten wie Sicherheitskräfte zur Mäßigung aufgerufen und die Rechte der Einzelnen geachtet werden.

Nur über einen friedlichen und direkten Dialog zwischen der chinesischen Regierung und dem Dalai Lama kann eine nachhaltige Lösung der Tibetfrage gefunden werden.

Die Bundesregierung unterstützt seit jeher den Anspruch der Tibeter auf religiöse und kulturelle Autonomie. Zugleich verfolgt sie eine “Ein-China-Politik” und wendet sich gegen alle separatistischen Bestrebungen.

(If German isn’t one of the many languages you read, I suggest Google Translate –


March 16th, 2008, 10:46 am


MSK said:

Dear all,

I’m not sure just what Fisk gets at. So … Syria is going back to Assad-Sr-style treatment of anything & -one reeking of dissent BUT it’s OK because other countries are as bad or even worse?

His “First came the one-armed General Henri Gouraud, who tore Lebanon off from Syria in 1920 and gave it to the pro-French Christians. […] Far from being expansionist, Syria seems to get robbed of land every two decades.” is cute, though. 🙂

However, I MUST PROTEST, as he unexcusably forgot to mention Cilicia (“torn off” Syria and “given” to those pesky Turks in the early 1920s) and Mosul (“torn off” Syria and given the UK mandate territory Mesopotamia [later re-named “Iraq”] around 1920 [it’s Sunday morning & I’m too lazy to look up the exact date])!!!

And while we’re at it, why not go all the way and bemoan the fact that “southern Syria” was cut off the motherland and given to sinister Jews, dirty Bedouin, and other untrustworthy subjects of Damascus (who had the audacity to, in the 1930s, start calling themselves “Palestinians” although everyone knows that they’re Syrians, just like the inhabitants of Beirut)?


March 16th, 2008, 10:59 am


why-discuss said:

Israel and the US have a sick relationship. Israel dictates the US anti-Isreal resolution vetos in the UN and US dictates to Israel its foreign policy according to their overall ME plans with the carrot of the billions of $ help.
I wish Isreal would be finally independent from that unhealthy relationship that is poisonning it to the point where it may end up by being destroyed from within.

March 16th, 2008, 11:24 am


idaf said:


I had a bet with someone I know that you will be the first one who’ll react angrily to Fisk’s “cute” (although historically accurate) comment.

I won the bet. Thank you.

March 16th, 2008, 11:25 am


MSK said:


That’s not fair – you & I live seven time zones ahead of most others … 😉

I think Fisk is not “historically accurate” for the simple reason that he takes “Syria” as this a-historical constant territory in the borders of what France got as a League of Nations mandate out of the so-called “Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire”. And that’s just plain silly.

Fisk is always angry, that’s not new. He’s so full of bitter resentment against “the West” and all sorts of other things (incidentally, also people who publish on the Web, as he detests the Internet – so I’d be curious what he’d make of Syria Comment ;)) … a shame, really, ’cause he used to be so good.

But his articles amuse me. 🙂


March 16th, 2008, 11:46 am


Joshua said:

My dear MSK:

Don’t tell me that you engaged in the very same moral relativism and contextualization that you so often decry on these pages? In response to the Syrian-workers-exploited-in-Lebanon story, you wrote:

I think this article is important for two reasons:

One, it shows how Lebanese (and this goes for all groups, regardless if they’re M14 or M8, Sunni/Shia/Christian/Druze/whatever) are mistreating those of “lower social standing”. The article could’ve been as well about Ethiopian/Philippina/SriLankan housemaids or any other “poor”.

….The example of a teacher who is now working as an unskilled construction worker reminds me of the Iraqi teachers who, because they’re refugees and have no legal right to work in Syria, are forced to work as waiters in Syrian restaurants/resorts and get treated shittily and sometimes not paid. (Btw, my source on that is none other than Josh Landis.)

Nice to know that you appreciate the necessity of contextualization and the banality of evil. Man is a wolf to man — except when he is not. It is difficult to hold people to the standards of the Swiss when they live is such a different context and environment.

The fact that Syria holds 3,000 political prisoners is very bad and says a lot about the nature of the regime, but when seen in the context of Iraq next door, where American prisons hold 24,000, it looks different. Yes, Bashar has the advantage of having ruled Syria for 8 years, whereas President Bush has ruled Iraq for only 5 years, which may go some way to explaining the discrepancy (or, may not).

In any event, context is important. You are absolutely correct to point out that Syria exploits its Iraqi refugees just as Lebanon exploits its Syrian workers. There is nothing that crushes the spirit quite like poverty.

Syria is trying to balance an economic liberalization campaign with preserving political stability and control. This is a difficult transition in a region where nations and national identity are half-cooked. When the US declared that bringing liberty to Iraq was messy and that Iraqis would have the liberty to do messy things, it had no clue what chaos and destructive forces it was unleashing.

Defenders of America’s Iraq policy and this administration’s “freedom agenda” in general continue to believe that Iraq will sort itself out and the bloodshed, ruined lives, and millions of refugees will be worth it, but that is not altogether clear from where we stand today.

In defense of this Fisk article, he is struggling to put the Syrian repression in context without excusing it. You may see this exercise as the expression “of bitter resentment against “the West” and all sorts of other things,” but I would see it as wiser and more responsible reporting than the “Syria-is-evil” shtick that usually passes as wisdom and respectable reporting in the Western press.

It is precisely because of such blinkered reporting and one-eyed sanctimony that the US is now mired in Iraq without a clue as to why the country is broken or why so many of Iraqis are despairing. Because they don’t know how to understand Iraq’s decent into chaos, most Americans are inclined to join Fouad Ajami in declaring that Iraqis were too stupid to accept America’s gift.

March 16th, 2008, 1:32 pm


Naji said:

Well put, Joshua…!

March 16th, 2008, 2:48 pm


wizart said:

Dear Josh,

Good point. I admire the courageous way Fisk sees journalism.

How would you like to be remembered as a journalist?

If there’s an American equivalent to Robert Fisk it could probably be you although you might be more internet friendly. Who else?

I hope we can come up with a few more ideas to look out for.

I just looked up Fisk on google..

“Described by the New York Times as “probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain”, he has over thirty years of experience in international reporting, dating from 1970s Belfast and Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution, the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, and encompassing the 1979 Iranian revolution, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, 1991 Persian Gulf War, and 2003 Invasion of Iraq. He is the world’s most-decorated foreign correspondent, having received numerous awards including the British Press Awards’ International Journalist of the Year award seven times. Fisk speaks good vernacular Arabic, and is one of the few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden (three times between 1994 and 1997).

In the British journalistic tradition of the foreign correspondent, Fisk has developed a personal analysis of the foreign affairs that he covers and presents them in that light, often with trenchant criticism of the British government and its allies. Fisk is a consistent critic of what he perceives as hypocrisy in British government foreign policy.

Fisk’s reporting—and his bestselling books, based on his field notes and recordings— offer strong criticisms of Middle Eastern governments as well as what he perceives as hypocrisy in British and United States government foreign policy. His view of journalism is that it must “challenge authority — all authority — especially so when governments and politicians take us to war”, and he quotes with approval the Israeli journalist Amira Hass: “There is a misconception that journalists can be objective … What journalism is really about is to monitor power and the centres of power.”[5] Fisk has received widespread praise and criticism for his condemnation of violence against civilians. Speaking of the historical basis for the conflicts he has covered Fisk said, “After the allied victory of 1918, at the end of my father’s war, the victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of just seventeen months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire career — in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad — watching the people within those borders burn.”

March 16th, 2008, 2:59 pm


norman said:

Iran says to attend Arab summit in Syria
Published: March 16, 2008
Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, seen here March 5 in Geneva, is to attend this month’s Arab summit hosted by its top regional ally Syria that is expected to be dominated by the political crisis in Lebanon. (AFP Fabrice Coffrini)

Print StoryTEHRAN (AFP) Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is to attend this month’s Arab summit hosted by its top regional ally Syria that is expected to be dominated by the political crisis in Lebanon.
“Mr Mottaki has been invited and he will travel to Damascus,” foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters.

The March 29-30 Damascus summit has been mired in controversy over the crisis in Lebanon amid a standoff between the Syrian-backed opposition and the majority backed by the West and many Arab states.

Iran insists it wants to see a solution in Lebanon acceptable to all religious and ethnic groups but the West accuses Tehran of strongly backing the opposition through the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has moved to improve ties with Arab states during the past two years, becoming the first Iranian president to perform the hajj in Saudi Arabia and attend a summit of Arabian peninsula states.

Syria was practically the only Arab state to support Iran during its 1980-1988 war with Iraq and ties have been warm for decades, with the countries’ leaders frequently exchanging visits.

© 2008 Agence France-Presse

March 16th, 2008, 3:22 pm


norman said:

Print | Close this window

Cheney to Mideast with “rich agenda” on oil, peace
Sun Mar 16, 2008 10:24am EDT
By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Dick Cheney left on Sunday for the Middle East to raise concerns about high oil prices, push Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and seek support for Iraq, where war began five years ago this week.

Cheney, who has strong ties with leaders in the Middle East, will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem, the Palestinian territories, and Turkey during a nine-day trip to the region.

“Clearly, our ongoing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be discussed,” John Hannah, national security adviser to Cheney, told reporters. “Middle East peace, Iran, the situation in Syria, Lebanon, the violence in Gaza, energy — it’s a very long list and rich agenda.”

Cheney will reinforce the message from visits by President George W. Bush in January and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month, in a stepped-up diplomatic push for Israelis and Palestinians to move forward on peace efforts dealt a blow by violence in Gaza and Israel.

“The mood has deteriorated incredibly in the last six weeks since the president was there,” Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

“From the outside it’s very hard to see that Secretary Rice was able to even arrest the slide let alone get things moving forward. My guess is the vice president will be able to arrest the slide if not necessarily put things on track,” he said.

In Saudi Arabia, Cheney will discuss energy with King Abdullah as record-high oil prices strain the U.S. economy, but he was not expected to repeat the call by Bush for OPEC to increase production.

“I’m not sure he’ll seek anything more than a good and thorough discussion about the current situation in the global energy markets,” a senior administration official said.


The United States wants Saudi Arabia, and other Arab allies like Egypt, to set up a diplomatic presence in Iraq by appointing an ambassador and opening an embassy in Baghdad.

“The United States can do a lot for Iraq, but we cannot provide Iraq with an anchor in the Arab world, a kind of legitimacy for the new Iraqi project that comes from being fully integrated in its neighborhood,” the U.S. official said.

“And I think clearly some of our friends in the Arab world can do more on that score,” he said on condition of anonymity.

But analysts were skeptical that Cheney would make any major breakthroughs.

“I don’t think that he’s going to be able to bring back anything meaningful because he’s got nothing to offer,” Steven Simon, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said.

“He represents a lame duck president, a floundering economy, a situation in which the U.S. for all its efforts in Iraq has no leverage on the government in Baghdad,” Simon said.

Cheney throughout his trip will discuss the situation in Iraq, where security has improved, but violence persists five years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Bush will soon receive a new assessment from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, that he will weigh in deciding whether any changes to U.S. strategy are needed.

Cheney will tell allies that the United States remains concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and would like to see its growing regional influence contained.

“I expect in all of these countries that the challenge we face from Iran will be a very high topic of conversation,” the U.S. administration official said.

The message for Turkey, which has been fighting Kurdish rebels known as the PKK in northern Iraq, will be that the United States agrees “the PKK is a terrorist organization that needs to be defeated,” and will continue to support Turkey in addressing the problem, the official said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Reuters journalists are subject to the Reuters Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.

March 16th, 2008, 3:24 pm


idaf said:

While we are talking about fairness and courage in journalism, here’s an American courageous journalist on the Israeli attack on USS Liberty and its role in the 1967 Israeli attack against Syria. Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s book comes to mind here.

More Than 40 Years Later…Still No Justice For USS Liberty

Dave Gibson
March 16, 2008
On June 8, 1967, the surveillance ship USS Liberty was on duty in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula, when it was attacked by Israeli forces. Though the ship was clearly marked, Israel claimed the act of war to simply be a case of “mistaken identity.” Despite the loss of 34 American sailors, there has never been a meaningful investigation into the attack.

On the morning of June 8, many Liberty sailors were enjoying some down time sunbathing on the deck, and began watching Israeli planes make over-flights of the ship. The crew counted a total of 13 such flights which were so low that they could see the faces of the Israeli pilots and even exchanged waves.

At 2:00 pm Israeli jets began hitting the Liberty with rocket and cannon fire, the decks were then napalmed, and the ship was then hit with a torpedo from an Israeli attack boat. By the time the attack had ended, the Liberty had sustained over 800 rocket and cannon hits, 34 sailors were dead and 172 injured, even the Liberty’s life boats had been shredded by Israeli machine gun fire (a war crime).

Such a deliberate attack would have ordinarily brought down the full wrath of the U.S. military upon the attackers. However, not only were there no retaliatory strikes ordered but the Johnson administration would not even allow nearby U.S. Navy forces to come to Liberty’s aid and stop the attack.

Once the Liberty could establish radio contact, they hailed the Sixth Fleet for assistance. Twice F-4 Phantoms were launched from the USS Saratoga and the USS America and both times Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara ordered the planes to return. After the second recall, Rear Adm. William Geis called the Pentagon. During that phone call, President Johnson himself came on the line and ordered the planes to return.

The Israelis claimed it was a case of “mistaken identity.”

In 1991, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Thomas Moorer told the Washington Post: “To suggest that they [the IDF] couldn’t identify the ship is…ridiculous. Anybody who could not identify the Liberty could not tell the difference between the White House and the Washington Monument.”

There are two prevailing theories as to why Israeli forces attacked the Liberty. One is that they would sink the ship and blame it on Egypt, thus prompting the U.S. to enter the war on the side of Israel. That theory is supported by Capt. Ward Boston. The other is that Israel did not want the U.S. to know about the unprovoked attacks their troops were carrying out. Shortly after the liberty was nearly destroyed, Israeli troops began attacking Syria.

Several years ago, Cdr. David Lewis (USS Liberty survivor) stated that Adm. Geis told him in confidence that President Johnson said: “I do not care if every man drowned and the ship sank, we will not embarrass an ally.”

Following the attack, a U.S. Navy Board of Inquiry into the incident was formed. Though the amount of evidence was immense and there were several dozen interviews to conduct, the Court of Inquiry was given only one week to complete their work. The Court was not even allowed to consider sworn declarations from more than 60 still-hospitalized Liberty sailors.

Chief Legal Counsel to the Board of Inquiry Capt. Ward Boston and president of the Court Adm. Isaac C. Kidd felt it necessary to travel to Israel and interview those who had taken part in the attack. They were rebuffed in that effort by Adm. John S. McCain Jr., then serving as Commander-in-Chief, Naval Forces Europe. Adm. McCain would not allow the two any contact with the Israelis.

In a sworn affidavit, Capt. Ward Boston (ret.) made the following statements concurring the cover-up of the USS Liberty attack:

“I know from personal conversations I had with Admiral Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

“Admiral Kidd told me, after returning from Washington D.C. that he had been ordered to sit down with two civilians from either the White House or the Defense Department, and rewrite portions of the court’s findings.”

“Admiral Kidd also told me that he had been ordered to ‘put the lid’ on everything having to do with the attack on USS Liberty. We were never to speak of it and we were to caution everyone else involved that they could never speak of it again.”

“I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of that statement as I know that the Court of Inquiry transcript that has been released to the public is not the same one that I certified and sent off to Washington.”

“Finally, the testimony of Lt. Painter concerning the deliberate machine gunning of the life rafts by the Israeli torpedo boat crews, which I distinctly recall being given at the Court of Inquiry and included in the original transcript is now missing and has been excised.”

Capt. Boston dictated these statements in affidavit form in early 2004, and it has been widely distributed and can readily be viewed via the internet.

In 2003, an independent committee comprised of retired high-ranking military officers and a former U.S. Ambassador to the Middle-East formed to examine the attack on the Liberty and the subsequent cover-up. On October 22, 2003, the group came to Capitol Hill to release their findings and ask Congress for an official investigation.

Member of that independent committee and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Thomas Moorer made the following statement:

“Congress has never investigated the recall by the White House of U.S. Navy aircraft sent to rescue the Liberty while the ship was still under attack. The White House cancellation of the Navy’s attempt to rescue the Liberty is the most disgraceful thing I have witnessed in my entire military career.”

“Why would our government put Israel’s interests ahead of our own? Does it continue to do so? This is an important issue that should be investigated by an independent Commission of Inquiry, the findings have grave implications for our national security and for the American people. In order to confront this problem, the American people and our elected officials will need to overcome their fear of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States.”

In 1980, Sen. Adlai Stevenson III (D-IL) held a press conference at which time he announced his belief that the Israeli attack on the Liberty had not been a tragic accident but a deliberate act. In his last year in the U.S. Senate, Stevenson promised a formal investigation.

Shortly after Stevenson’s announcement, the Israeli government contacted the Carter White House. They offered to settle the damage claims for an insulting $6 million. Vice-President Walter Mondale readily accepted the deal.

It was obvious that the only reason Israel agreed to pay anything was due to Sen. Stevenson’s interest in the case. Israel did pay the $6 million in three annual payments of $2 million. The payments meant nothing, as Congress simply increased the amount of aid given to Israel by $2 million each of those three years. The American taxpayers were actually billed for the damages inflicted upon their own sailors!

While motives are unclear, the fact that the Johnson and subsequent administrations covered up the attack is very clear. For his actions during the attack, USS Liberty’s Capt. William McGonagle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor at a Washington Navy Yard ceremony. On the very same day that Capt. McGonagle received the medal, President Johnson held a White House ceremony honoring other CMH awardees. McGonagle’s citation does not mention that his ship came under attack from Israeli forces.

Much more disgusting than crucial facts deleted from a medal citation is what is omitted from the tombstones of the 34 USS Liberty crewmen who lost their lives in an act of war. Their headstones simply read “Died in Eastern Mediterranean.”

The names of the USS Liberty crewmen who were killed while under attack from Israeli forces on June 8, 1967 are as follows:

Lcdr. Phillip McCutcheon Armstrong Jr.

Lt. James Cecil Pierce

Lt. Stephen Spencer Toth

CT3 William Bernard Allenbaugh

SN Gary Ray Blanchard

CT2 Allen Merle Blue

QM3 Francis Brown

CT2 Ronnie Jordan Campbell

CT2 Jerry Leroy Converse

CT2 Robert Burton Eisenberg

CT2 Jerry Lee Goss

CT1 Curtis Alan Graves

CTSN Lawrence Paul Hayden

CT1 Warren Edward Hersey

CT3 Alan Higgins

SN Carl Lewis Hoar

CTS Richard Walter Keene Jr.

CTSN James Lee Lenau

CTC Raymond Eugene Linn

CT1 James Mahlon Lupton

CT3 Duane Rowe Marggraf

CTSN David Walter Marlborough

CT2 Anthony Peter Mendle

CTSN Carl Christian Nyguen

Sgt. Jack Lewis Raper, USMC

Cpl. Edward Emory Kehmeyer III, USMC

IFCN David Skolak

CT1 John Caleb Smith Jr.

CTC Melvin Douglas Smith

PC2 John Clarence Spicher

GMG3 Alexander Neil Thompson Jr.

CT3 Thomas Ray Thornton

CT3 Philippe Charles Tiedthe

CT1 Frederick James Walton

Despite bombshell revelations delivered by highly respected senior military officers, accounts of war crimes, and dead U.S. sailors Congress continues to ignore the pleas for an investigation into the attack. The accounts of Liberty survivors, long-serving Navy officers, and a U.S. Ambassador have all fallen upon deaf ears.

What is Congress afraid of?…Could it be the fact that AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lines the pockets of many of our Senators and Congressmen? The Center for Responsive Politics reports that between the years of 1990-2004, pro-Israel groups gave $56.8 million in campaign contributions to U.S. politicians.

To the USS Liberty survivors and the families of those lost…You have not been forgotten by your fellow Americans and we will continue to fight and demand justice for the Liberty!

*Dave Gibson is a freelance writer living in Norfolk, Va.

March 16th, 2008, 3:33 pm


wizart said:

After colonialism..

Is Malaysia the Next Indonesia?

Written by john leemk on 10:14:54 pm Feb 29, 2008.

One advantage of taking a university-level course on Southeast Asian history is that I can pseudo-honestly bill myself as a Southeast Asian scholar of sorts. There are other tangible benefits, of course. Besides knowing more about the countries neighbouring Malaysia, you get to regret all the time you wasted on your history classes in school when your professor more than adequately sums up everything you covered from form two to form three in the span of one hour. (The amount of pointless fluff in our secondary school history curriculum is depressing — memorising the names of “revolutionary heroes” only obscures the more relevant points about colonialism.)

One other interesting benefit, however, is that now you can draw parallels between the situation in Malaysia and other countries in the region. One of the most obvious is perhaps the divisions colonialism wrought upon the peoples of Southeast Asia. Everywhere they went, they sowed mistrust and conflict between Southeast Asians, whether on grounds of race, religion, class, or all three. (One of the required readings for my course is an article by a historian arguing that the Malays were more than happy to treat non-Malay immigrants as equals until the British began harping on this idea that the Malays deserved special treatment by some virtue of having been here first.)

But one equally fascinating parallel, which might not be so obvious initially, is between Indonesia under Suharto and Malaysia as it stands today. Before continuing, it is probably worth highlighting that you cannot draw many conclusions from these parallels — you should avoid the “correlation implies causation” fallacy. Instead, what we should do is note that we cannot even hold our heads high compared to Indonesia — that lest we think we are better off democratically and economically, we are still little better than Indonesia under Suharto’s military regime.

The most obvious parallel is repression of dissent. Malaysia has not fallen as far as Suharto’s Indonesia in this regard — we generally do not kidnap people and make them disappear overnight. However, the very fact that we have political prisoners should reflect poorly on us. No country calling itself a democracy has the right to be proud as long as people are jailed for speaking their mind. What threat do people like the HINDRAF 5 pose? Do you mean to tell me that a few lawyers pose a real threat to national security? Most, if not all, men and women arrested under draconian laws like the Internal Security Act are in jail not because they pose a threat to the peace, but because they pose a threat to the government. How better are we than Suharto’s Indonesia in this regard? If all we can say is that we don’t kill our political prisoners — well, I guess I need not say much more.

Then, of course, there is the question of rigged elections. Again, ballot box stuffing and vote-buying generally do not approach the same levels as they did in Indonesia during Suharto’s time. However, many of the mechanisms Suharto used to tilt the election in favour of the government are used here. All opposition parties had to be approved by the government in power before they could participate in elections. We should rightly scoff at any democracy doing this. But how different is this from the situation in Malaysia, where the Registrar of Societies is free to all but arbitrarily deny certain organisations the right to participate in our political process? The Socialist Party has been trying to obtain recognition so it can contest in elections for years — its application is still pending. The Students Party, which got some attention (having heretofore been practically unknown) after announcing it would challenge Abdullah Badawi in his own constituency, has been unable to secure recognition either. If the government is allowed to pick its own opposition, how can we call this democracy?

Then there is the question of campaigning. Malaysian elections are marked by an extremely short campaign period. In the United States, some candidates have been running for president for over a year now, with eight months left till the general election. In Malaysia, the 13 day period allotted to campaigning for the 12th general election is one of the longest in living memory! You might wonder what kind of campaign period Indonesia had under Suharto. How long was it? 30 days. Even a sham democracy like Indonesia had a longer campaign period than we do! What kind of democracy can we call ourselves if candidates can only put up posters and hand out campaign literature less than two weeks before going to the polls? Is it fair to expect the Malaysian people to make a decision which will affect our lives everyday for the next five years over the brief span of less than two weeks?

Patronage and corruption play an increasingly important role in the Malaysian economy today; nobody reading this ought to be surprised that these things were equally important back in the Suharto era. Suharto preserved monopolies and concessions for his cronies, refusing to open up markets to competition. He tolerated massive graft, benefiting those who had the reins of political power, and businesspeople with political connections. This sounds extremely familiar to Malaysians today, doesn’t it?

In the last election, we elected Abdullah Badawi on a promise that he would fight corruption. We all know corruption increased under the Mahathir regime, and we all expected Abdullah to do something about this. What happened? All we have seen is even worse fiascoes and even worse scandals under the Abdullah premiership. Billions of ringgit were squandered on the Port Klang Free Zone — hundreds of millions alone could have been saved if the government had heeded advice that it was legally entitled to much lower prices for the land. It seems almost everyday that investigative journalists break news of some corrupt local official or local government abusing their powers to steal from the pockets of Malaysian taxpayers, and the Abdullah government acts as though it is powerless to tackle any of these things. It is not hard to see how, given enough time, we will soon be where Suharto’s Indonesia was when it comes to corruption.

But having said that, the Indonesian economy did pretty well. Why? Lots of good luck. By happenstance, the Green Revolution came along at just the right time for farmers under Suharto to increase their yields manifold. The global economic climate was conducive to economic growth for most of the time that Suharto was in power, and the one exception to this actually benefited Indonesia even more — having oil fields under your control when the price of oil skyrockets, as it did in the 1970s, is a boon, to say the least.

Again, this sounds pretty familiar. Petronas broke records last year, taking in more revenue than it has ever had before. Skyrocketing oil prices have benefited the economy. The global economic climate has lent the government a hand — high palm oil prices keep agricultural smallholders happy. The economy chugs along, in spite of all the drag corruption exerts on it.

Speaking of the economy, Suharto’s regime took pains to emphasise that too much politicking would harm the economy. In their view, things like freedom of speech and political freedom were dispensable because permitting these things would damage economic growth and investor confidence. This definitely sounds familiar to anyone who has opened a newspaper in the last four or five months. How has the Malaysian government responded to public demonstrations calling for electoral transparency and social justice? By declaring that too much freedom harms economic growth and investor confidence. Same old bullshit, different bullshitter, that’s all.

It is difficult to even attempt to rebut this thinking, mainly because, as one physicist famously said, “That’s not right. It’s not even wrong.” Wherever we turn, we see that freedom is compatible with economic progress. The claim that Southeast Asian societies are somehow different when it comes to their reaction to freedom has to be proven, but neither Suharto nor the Malaysian government has ever properly tried to prove this assertion. It is proof enough that they say it is so, which of course is completely preposterous.

The last key common aspect is the perception that the regime of the day will last forever. At the opening of 1997, hardly anyone in Indonesia would tell you that Suharto and the regime he installed would be gone within two years. By the end of 1998, that was precisely what happened. In Malaysia, BN is confident it will rule forever; the opposition is more (and probably rightly) focused on denying BN a 2/3rds majority in Parliament rather than actually winning power, at least for the near future. Even then, only the brightest optimist would tell you that BN is going to go any time soon.

The Indonesian experience has lessons for Malaysia. We’ve probably learnt the obvious one: racial violence is bad. (Then again, we had to learn this the hard way ourselves. The Indonesians may not have really learned this properly, considering it is only about a decade since Indonesian youths were raping Chinese women in Jakarta.) But there is more than just this.

One very helpful thing about Suharto-era Indonesia is that it helps us be a little more objective about the situation in Malaysia. If we look at the situation in Suharto’s Indonesia, we feel rightly repulsed, and readily condemn it. We condemn the corruption endemic in Suharto’s regime, the recalcitrance on the part of his regime when it comes to dealing with the problem; we condemn the sham democracy he creates, which is transparently undemocratic to our eyes. We can see clearly how foolish were his policies, such as those declaring any sort of public protest obviously harmful to the economy. We can recognise that much of Indonesia’s phenomenal economic growth was a facade, stemming from easy oil money and coincidentally near-perfect global economic conditions.

But when we turn our eyes back to our country, we can and should realize that there is more to this than meets the eye. In many ways, we are traveling down the same road Indonesia took. If I pointed out all these problems in our own country to you, you would probably try to justify them in some way. But once you have condemned them in Suharto-era Indonesia, you must either choose to be a hypocrite, or acknowledge that in some way, Malaysia is in trouble.

Of course, parallels can only go so far. I would be very wary, to say the least, of drawing stronger conclusions about the future path Malaysia will take. But if we see something as transparently wrong with the Indonesian experience, and realize that exactly the same thing is transpiring in our own country, how can we run from the truth?

The last parallel I mentioned is one which I think we should bear in mind. Biology has this concept of a “punctuated equilibrium”. The idea is that something changes slowly over time, just beneath the surface. Without warning, this thing surfaces, and the whole situation is drastically changed. We shift suddenly from one equilibrium to another. This is what happened politically in Indonesia — over time, political opposition to Suharto built up, and civil society found its footing. When the conditions were ripe, they burst onto the scene, and within months, effected drastic change nobody could have foreseen.

I suspect that that is precisely what will happen eventually in Malaysia. The only question is how this sort of change will happen. Must we await the kind of violence that broke out in Jakarta in 1997 before we force out the corrupt leadership that continues to plunge our country ever-deeper into the quagmire of economic stagnation and political failure? Will we have to have an unruly “People’s Revolution” like the Philippines was forced to endure twice in order to see out the corruption that pervades the top ranks of our political leaders? Or will we have a sudden, peaceful change at the ballot box?

The 12th general elections very well could represent a turning point in Malaysian history. Never before, I think, has the horrid situation we are in been so transparently clear to so many people. Never before has it been so clear how insincere our top leaders are in their leadership, how straitjacketed our good men and women at the lower ranks of the BN leadership are, and how totally our government has failed to accomplish the simplest of its goals. The question is, are we going to vote in peaceful change now, or are we going to await an unruly, possibly bloody revolution of sorts to undo the damage that this government is wreaking upon our country?

March 16th, 2008, 3:46 pm


ausamaa said:

MSK said:

However, I MUST PROTEST, as he unexcusably forgot to mention Cilicia (”torn off” Syria and “given” to those pesky Turks in the early 1920s) and Mosul (”torn off” Syria and given the UK mandate territory Mesopotamia [later re-named “Iraq”] around 1920 [it’s Sunday morning & I’m too lazy to look up the exact date])!!!

Actually, you do not have to PROTEST MUCH, Robert Fisk (in page 236 of the Arabic Edition of The Great WAR published in 2006) refers to Askandaron as the Gift France gave to the Turks in 1939 to lure the Turks in joining the French in their war against Germany.

If you need further insight of what part of what Lebanon was, or why the Sahet Al Shuhada’a in Beirut is called so, just go and find out what those Nationalist Martyrs in Beirut cried when they were hanged by the Turks….

March 16th, 2008, 6:01 pm


norman said:

It seems that every one wants Syria’s help but nobody is willing to help Syria get the Golan Heights ,
Reality check to the US and the EU,

It is simple : The Golan for help in Palestine , Lebanon and Iraq
I do not know how stupid of them to think that Syria as Dr Landis said a charity.

Print this page

Solana urges pressure on Syria

03/17/2008 12:30 AM | Reuters

Brussels: The European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief called on Sunday for greater pressure on Syria to allow the election of a president in Lebanon, warning of a “dramatic” crisis unless that happens this month.

In unusually blunt criticism, Javier Solana said Damascus was using proxies in Lebanon to prevent the election of armed forces chief Michel Sulaiman, while the pro-Western majority in parliament was whittled away as lawmakers were killed.

The best chance to solve the issue was before a planned Arab summit in Damascus on March 29-30, because key leaders would not attend unless a new Lebanese head of state was present, he said.

“The pressure on Syria has to grow in order to solve the situation in Lebanon. I think the opportunity is there, before this summit which will take place in Damascus,” Solana told the Brussels Forum on transatlantic relations.

“To tell you the truth, I’m not pretty sure that will be done. If that is not, then we get into a very serious crisis. This crisis is very dramatic,” he said.

Damascus denies interfering in Lebanon. Syria’s allies in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, are demanding effective veto power in government to allow the election of a president. Syria supports their position.

Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005 under United Nations pressure following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which prompted the appointment of a UN prosecutor to probe suspected Syrian involvement.

Solana noted that the next report of the international investigator into the Hariri killing was due to be issued on March 27, just before the Damascus summit.

He suggested Syria may have been emboldened in its behaviour by the release last year of a US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded that its key regional ally, Iran, had stopped efforts to build a nuclear weapon in 2003.

US report

“NIE made a change in Damascus. The sentiment that was conveyed was that there was no risk at all [of US military action].

“That sentiment was conveyed to Tehran but it was also conveyed to Damascus,” he said.

The EU has been divided over tactics towards Syria, with France, the former mandatory power in Lebanon, trying to isolate President Bashar Al Assad after its own attempts at Lebanese mediation failed, while Germany recently welcomed his foreign minister to Berlin.

Solana himself visited Damascus last year to try to persuade Assad to support Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts by reining in the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups. Syria hosts exiled leaders of both Palestinian groups.

March 17th, 2008, 12:56 am


norman said:

Toxic world fallout from Iraq invasion
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

The war in Iraq was supposed to be over long before now.

It was not supposed to provoke a conflict between Sunni and Shia or stir up an al-Qaeda hornet’s nest.

Nor was it supposed to alienate much of the rest of the world from US foreign policy, which post 9/11 was on the crest of a wave of sympathy.

It was intended, its proponents argued, to remove a threat to world peace and to plant the flag of freedom in a Middle East democratic desert.

The critics countered that the threat was an illusion, that the US was invading illegally and sought control over the region and Iraq’s oil.

Bush doctrine

The Iraq invasion was also part of President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption and of his hopes for what he called the “advance of freedom”.

In a speech in November 2003 he declared: “Iraqi democracy will succeed – and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran – that freedom can be the future of every nation.”
His doctrine, under which a pre-emptive attack is justified even if the threat is not critical, has been another casualty of the war.

Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: “All three candidates in the US presidential election will move away from it in significant ways.

“To a significant extent the experience in Iraq has discredited the doctrine of pre-emption, though it has not killed it off. But the US will not naively invade again and simply hope everything will turn out OK, as seems to have happened in Iraq.”

Hopes rise again

The last chapter on Iraq of course has not been written. After the recent improvements, there are claims that it will still all work out, not unlike the Korean War, which went through its own disastrous phase.

“This has to be the worst managed foreign policy of any president since the Second World War”
David Rothkopf, Carnegie Endowment

The former White House economist Lawrence Lindsey, who believes the financial cost of the Iraq war is “relatively minor in budgetary terms”, still hopes for the best.
He wrote in Fortune magazine: “A stable Iraqi government selected by its own people would be a first in the Arab world. It would suggest that there is a third alternative to the current choice between repressive regimes and Islamic fundamentalism.”

One of those who called in 2006, not for a withdrawal but the surge, was Washington writer Frederick Kagan. In the neo-conservative bible, the Weekly Standard, he says it has worked and credits the American commander General David Petraeus and his subordinate General Raymond Odierno:

“When General Odierno relinquished command of MNC-I [Multi-National Corps Iraq] on February 14, 2008, the civil war was over. Civilian casualties were down 60%, as were weekly attacks. AQI [al Qaeda Iraq] had been driven from its safe havens in and around Baghdad and throughout Anbar and Diyala. The situation in Iraq had been utterly transformed.”

The cost

However, even if the war turns out to be “winnable”, its critics dismiss any suggestion that it was “worth it”.

David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and now with the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, said: “Declaring this to be a success based on recent improvements is like saying that a person badly disabled by gunshots has seen his wounds heal. The damage has been done.
“Bush’s foreign policy has been a failure and it will be judged on Iraq. He will bear responsibility for an unnecessary and costly war that violated international law, alienated allies and distracted us from the core issues of terrorism, Afghanistan and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

“This has to be the worst managed foreign policy of any president since the Second World War. Even if in the medium term Iraq becomes comparatively peaceful, would it be worth the cost? I do not think so.”

The diplomatic fallout

As for America’s standing around the world, the war alienated some major American allies, France and Germany most notably. Others did send troops after the invasion – Spain and Italy among them – but then left as public opinions at home turned hostile.

On the other hand, a number of smaller countries, many of them from the former Soviet block, saw an opportunity to show their loyalty to the US and sent contingents – the Czech Republic, Poland, Georgia and others. For them, a strong and active United States bodes well for their future security.

In turn, Britain’s support for the United States has led to further divisions within Europe. These had an impact in the Lisbon treaty talks about a future foreign policy for the EU, strengthening the British determination to keep it firmly in the hands of individual governments.

The invasion of Iraq also caused alarm bells to ring in Russia. There, a new mood of hostility to the West has developed and the Russians have become wary of American power.

Nor has Iraq sparked the democratic revolution in the Middle East that Mr Bush hoped for. And the Israeli/Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.

Ironically it is Iran, with which the US shares a mutual hostility, that has emerged with greater strength, to the concern of the Gulf Arab states.

The fallout continues.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/03/16 12:23:06 GMT


March 17th, 2008, 1:07 am


norman said:

The West keeps trying to divide the Arab and the Muslim world and create conflicts so they can be busy and leave the West alone ,

Lebanon waiting game in Syrian clutches Font Size: Decrease Increase Print Page: Print Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent in Beirut | March 17, 2008
THE invitations have all been received – even by Lebanon – but the host Syria’s shot at being kingmaker at a crucial regional summit later this month is increasingly likely to be crippled by a boycott by key Arab states.

Two weeks before the Arab League summit being hosted by Syria on March 29, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Thursday received his country’s invitation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The irony of the date the invitation arrived, March 14, was lost on no one in government here. March 14, 2005, was the date on which a public rally of more than one million people, in the wake of the assassination of former premier Rafik al-Hariri one month earlier, convinced Damascus it had to cut and run from Lebanon, ending 30 years of tutelage and – theoretically – giving birth to a democratic revolution in Lebanon.

Ever since, the date has taken on the symbolism of anti-Syrian defiance and the stirrings of a resilient democracy.

Three years later, the dream of the Cedar Revolution has proven to be a fantasy. Lebanon remains in the clutches of elements of the Syrian establishment.

Politics here is mired in a serious crisis. Four government MPs have been slain, and the remainder are in hiding. Elections for a head of state have been stymied 16 times. And Arab states are feeling more and more threatened because of their increasingly imperilled interests in this brittle and battered nation.

More than ever, Lebanon is a proxy arena for the competing agendas of others. The US and key Arab states believe Lebanon could once again be inching towards the precipice that saw it plunge into 15 years of civil war. And they want to send a message to the alleged agitators, Iran and Syria that, this time, it’s serious.

“In the past two months, a decision has been made to abandon the softly-softly approach and go for the jugular,” said a Lebanese Government official, familiar with US and European strategies in the region.

“The Americans have realised they are being played and that … Assad is just sweating Bush out to see what he gets next. Talking with them has led us nowhere.”

Late last month, three US warships took up positions off the coast of Lebanon for the first time since the dark years of the civil war. They are patrolling international waters and are not part of the UN-led fleet established in the wake of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. The warships’ presence has one goal in mind – to send a message to Damascus that the way the game is played has changed.

Throughout Lebanon, political and sectarian camps have been realigning. This month, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador, fearing its statesmen and citizens could become targets in an anti-Arab world putsch. Riyadh has been a staunch supporter of the Siniora Government – partly a carry-over from its backing of Hariri, who was of Saudi origin, but more because of the Government’s proxy war with Syria and its patron Iran.

Much of the realignment across the Middle East is taking place because of a widely-feared Iranian imperialism. This, coupled with Iran’s naked nuclear ambitions, has added impetus to some unusual alliances.

The Saudis are talking to Israel. So, too, the Gulf states. The US, which has not travelled well in Middle East affairs, has found a willing ear in virtually the whole Sunni world, which is determined to see off the return of Iranian hegemony.

Jordan and Egypt are now more edgy than ever about what the Sunni states deem to be the “rise of the Shia crescent”, with the latter recently adopting a policy of asking Lebanese Sunni and Christian visitors to the Hashemite kingdom to work for their spy services.

“We are very worried about what is happening in your country,” a Jordanian intelligence official told a Lebanese colleague who was summoned to Amman’s spy headquarters earlier this month. “If we could call you any time, especially about Hezbollah and the opposition, we would really appreciate it.”

Until the new year, the Sunni world’s strategy with Syria was to lure it back to the fold through diplomacy.

Israel was marshalled by Washington to again table the prize of Golan Heights, which it captured from Damascus during the Six Day War, 40 years ago. The price would be Damascus turning its back on its dangerous and implacable ally.

Assad has shown signs of being tempted by the lure – exchanging messages through Turkish mediators with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, including one missive received early last week.

However, even the return of the coveted Golan, lost by Assad’s father Hafez al-Assad, is increasingly seen as insufficient to drive a wedge between the two allies.

In short, the return to Syria’s clutches of Lebanon, which Assad Jr lost, is seen as more valuable politically and economically.

The US late last week introduced a new tactic into its dealings with Syria, urging, but not demanding, the Sunni states to stay away from the Damascus summit.

“In contemplating whether or not they attend a meeting in Syria, it certainly bears keeping in mind what Syria’s role has been to this point in not allowing a Lebanese electoral process to move forward,” said US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Even to invite Lebanon to the Arab league summit was considered a fraught decision by many in Damascus, which has not established an embassy in Beirut and does not recognise the democratically-elected Siniora Government.

Since the end of the Hezbollah-Israel war, the opposition, led by Hezbollah, has been trying to gain a broader representation in parliament.

The parliament has not sat since late 2006 and the opposition speaker, Nabil Berri, has 16 times delayed convening a session to elect a new president to replace pro-Syrian former head of state, Emile Lahoud, who left office last November at the end of his extended term.

“I would note that the invitation is addressed to the Premier Siniora, who is, in fact, acting president,” Mr McCormack said. “Why, you might ask, is he acting president? That is because there has not been a presidential election in Lebanon.”

Emboldened by Iran and buoyed by the gradual consolidation of the opposition in Lebanon, Syria seems more than willing to play a waiting game.

It rode out US accusations that it was willingly using its borders to fuel the Iraqi insurgency during the bloodiest years of 2004-2005. It still harbours exiled Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, and maintains an uncompromising alliance with Hezbollah.

Damascus sees itself far from being over a barrel. Many analysts in Lebanon, Israel and Saudi Arabia fear the only thing that will break it free from Tehran is the one thing that no one is prepared to offer up, Lebanon.

“These warships can float around off the coast as long as America wants,” the Lebanese government official said. “At the end of the day, there’s one thing that the Arab world is much better at playing than the West – a waiting game.”

Story ToolsShare This Article Email To A Friend Share This ArticleFrom here you can use the Social Web links to save Lebanon waiting game in Syrian clutches to a social bookmarking site.

March 17th, 2008, 1:20 am


norman said:

I hope this is the last article i find interesting for all of you,,0,5981142.story
DAVID IGNATIUS: Syria, Iran and Iraq hope they’ll get a better deal with the next president
David Ignatius

Washington Post Writers Group

March 16, 2008


President Bush seems ready to pack up and move back to Texas. There he was last weekend singing a jolly farewell at the Gridiron Club dinner, a fancy gathering for journalists and their big-shot sources.

“Little Crawford looks the same, as I step down from the plane,” he crooned in a Washington ritual of self-deprecating humor. “That old White House . . . is behind me. I am again carefree.”

It’s nice that Bush is comfortable with his “lame duck” status. But with 10 months still to run on his presidency, I don’t think the rest of the country should be bursting into song just yet. There are too many big foreign policy problems that require solutions, at a time when Bush is politically dead in the water and new leadership is nearly a year away.

What’s potentially dangerous is that in some foreign capitals, leaders are deciding to run out the clock on the Bush years and wait for the chance to make what they hope will be a better deal with the next president.

Syria is playing that waiting game with Lebanon, using its proxies to prevent the election of a consensus presidential candidate, Gen. Michel Suleiman, who only a few months ago was thought to be Damascus’s favorite. “For the Syrians, Lebanon can wait until Bush is out of power,” Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, warned in a phone call last weekend.

Iran seems to be waiting out Bush, too, hoping for a better deal down the road. That was one message of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s trip to Baghdad this month. By making his red-carpet visit to the nation that defines the Bush presidency, he was deliberately poking a finger in the president’s eye. As Jimmy Carter can tell you, the Iranians like to humiliate U.S. presidents who are on their way out.

The Iranians probably won’t go for broke to impose their will in Iraq this year, any more than the Syrians will in Lebanon. They will avoid a pitched battle in Bush’s final months, betting that a Democratic president (or even John McCain) won’t wage a new war to contain Tehran’s hegemony in Iraq.

Here’s where Barack Obama’s promise to meet with any and all adversaries, which I think is right in principle, poses a problem in practice. Why should Iran, Syria or anyone else spend a nickel of political capital to reach an accommodation with this administration when it can get an audience with President Obama for free?

The lame-duck sentiment is evident even among Iraqi officials, who you’d think would feel some gratitude toward a president who, by latest estimate, has spent $3 trillion on his Iraq makeover. Recent visitors to Baghdad tell me that top Iraqis were perturbed by the news of the impending departures later this year of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the two rocks on which the U.S. troop surge has been built. One key Iraqi cabinet minister contrasted America’s waning attention span with Iran’s staying power.

Even Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who owes his political existence to Bush, is said to criticize him privately. “Maliki laughs at the U.S. government and makes fun of the president as a fool who knows so little about the Middle East,” the Iraqi cabinet official told an American visitor recently.

There’s a serious lame-duck problem ahead on Iraq — one that should worry a prospective Democratic president as much as the Bush White House. That’s the “Strategic Framework Agreement” being negotiated between the United States and Iraq that will provide legal authority for continued U.S. combat operations there after the current United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.

Democrats have been yelping that this agreement is dangerous because it could bind the next administration to a continuation of Bush’s policies. But that view is shortsighted. Even by the most optimistic calculations of Obama and Hillary Clinton, it will take at least a year to withdraw most U.S. combat troops — and both Democrats have wisely talked about the likely need for a “residual force” in Iraq to hunt down al-Qaeda terrorists. But without an agreement of the kind Bush is trying to negotiate, U.S. forces could have no legal authority to operate — or even protect themselves effectively during a withdrawal.

A security agreement with Iraq is one more foreign policy problem that can’t wait for January. But here’s a prediction: Come this fall, the United States and Iraq will still be haggling over authority for future combat operations, with the U.S. election campaign making a permanent agreement all but impossible. Unless there’s some bipartisan consensus on foreign policy (and the very idea seems inconceivable), we may be worrying next year not about lame ducks but dead ones.

Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel

March 17th, 2008, 1:34 am


trustquest said:

Thanks Joash for posting about the regime oppression against the people who dare to challenge the servitude mentality of the regime towards people of Syria and its elites, and thank you for your follow up comment. It hurts me too much to see those wonderful people in Syria who dare to speak up their minds being ended in prison like Dalila, Hourani and others and no one care for them. Those people are my parameter for change and thanks for posting Fisk’s article.

March 17th, 2008, 1:41 am


Mr President said:

trustquest said ” It hurts me too much to see those wonderful people in Syria who dare to speak up their minds being ended in prison like Dalila, Hourani and others and no one care for them.”

It hurts all of us too. Hurting is much less harmfull than death to the country and to the entire people of syria. these individuals that you listed cannot make their own decisions as to what the people of syria wanted. have you ever done any basic survey between your families and friends living in Syria. what do they want when it comes to choices of stability, economic growth, safety, and Syria’s regional interests. what don’t you ask the sad iraqis living in syria as to their preferences BEFORE AND AFTER Bush invasion. SLOW democratic steps in Syria worked fine within the last few years (politically, socially, and economically). why do these individuals keep asking for drastic changes risking everything we have. they are too many hungry bears waiting to chew syria to pieces. here is a partial list: Bander the Saudi, the Jordan king, Olmert, Bush, …

March 17th, 2008, 7:37 am


annie said:

The Fisk article was poorly received on

Another topic : Want to have your message painted on THE wall ?
Mane Tekel Fares or about anything else you want ?

Go here:

Frequently Asked Questions
What’s it good for, writing on the Wall?

The Wall won’t fall just because your text is written on it. True.
But your message reminds Palestinians trapped inside the Wall they have not been forgotten. You help to keep hope alive. ‘Our’ Palestinians want to send you one single, simple message: “we are human beings, just like you, with sense of humour and lust for life.” That’s why they do this, and enjoy it.
What’s the resolution of the images?

Currrently 2048 x 1536 pixels. The resolution might increase in the future, but will definitely not decrease, so consider this as the minimum size.
Can I write anything I want?

You can write almost anything. Nonsense and humour are okay. But hurting people ( in Palestine, Israel, or anywhere else) isn’t. Obscene, offensive and extremist texts won’t make it to the Wall.
Will the message be there forever?

Hopefully not. Just like millions of Palestinians we hope that the Wall will fall. But even before that time your text could disappear behind other people’s slogans, tags or artworks. We have no control over that.
Never mind, you’ll still have the pictures.
Where does the money go?

Part of your money stays in Holland, to cover the (minimal) costs of setting up and running ‘Sendamessage’. The bulk of the money will go to the Palestinian NGO’s (independent foundations) doing the work. They will fund small social, cultural and educational projects with the money earned (from buying bicycles to fixing the roof)
Will they buy weapons?

No, we work with organisations that are legal in Palestine and are allowed to work – also by the Israeli government. People we work with were found thanks to the network of ICCO, a large Dutch Christian NGO. The money overthere will be spent on small social, cultural and educational projects. Also see: Projects in Palestine
Is it dangerous to spray on the Wall?

The ‘wallwriters’ in Palestine know the local circumstances well. Also realize: the situation on West Bank (within the Wall, where we work) is a lot more stable than in far away Gaza. However, ‘our’ Palestinians will never risk their lives to get your text on the Wall. Be sure of that.
Surely it must be photoshopped

No, it’s not.
Can I contact the Palestinians?

You’ll find names and bio’s of our Palestinian partners at the ‘Projects in Palestine’ page. If they are open for e-mail exchange, or have a website you can visit, you’ll find it here. Feel free to have your say, or ask a question.
Where does this idea come from?

This idea popped up at a workshop in Ramallah, Palestine, where Dutch advertising pro’s worked with creative, young Palestinians. See to find out more. Those workshops are sponsored by

March 17th, 2008, 7:58 am


Akbar Palace said:

While we are talking about fairness and courage in journalism, here’s an American courageous journalist on the Israeli attack on USS Liberty and its role in the 1967 Israeli attack against Syria. Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s book comes to mind here.


Despite the tragic events that led to the attack on the USS Liberty, and despite the ground-breaking “reasearch” of Mearsheimer and Walt, why do you suppose the American people (not even the US Congress) are overwhelmingly pro-Israel?

BTW – Articles can be linked. This can save quite a lot of space on the blog.

March 17th, 2008, 11:38 am


Naji said:

Obama’s Brother in China
Op-Ed Columnist
March 17, 2008

So there I was, a couple of weeks back, sitting under a mango tree in western Kenya, when Senator Barack Obama’s half-sister Auma says to me:

“My daughter’s father is British. My mom’s brother is married to a Russian. I have a brother in China engaged to a Chinese woman.”

My understanding is that this half brother living in China is Mark. He’s the son of Obama’s father and an American woman named Ruth, whom Obama Sr. met while at Harvard in the 1960s and brought back to Kenya.

That was after his marriage with Obama’s mother in Hawaii ended. Another son from the union with Ruth, called David, was killed in a motorcycle accident. In all, Obama Sr. fathered eight children by four women.

I’ve been thinking about this because not enough has been written about Obama’s family. As Auma suggested, it’s unusual in the extent of its continent-crossing, religion-melding, color-fusing richness. But the Benetton-ad family is less unusual than it may seem. This is the age of globalized, far-flung families. Remittances make the world go round.

More needs to be written because if Obama gets the Democratic nomination, you know the Republican attack machine, through innuendo and otherwise, will go after his identity, just as it went after Senator John Kerry’s in 2004.

The difference is that Obama is much more certain and coherent about who he is than Kerry was. He has built his identity in a shifting world; that resonates with a lot of Americans. His radical Chicago pastor contributed to that journey. Now Obama has grown beyond him. I have no problem with that.

But you can already see the headlines: Obama has brother in China! You can hear the whisperings about a polygamous father.

That not enough has been written about his family is strange in that Obama himself devoted a remarkable book, “Dreams From My Father,” to his quest to fill the void left by an absent Dad.

As Auma said to me: “He was trying to figure out who he was. He needed to be whole to be able to do what he’s doing now. He went about it the right way. A big chunk of his life was missing. It’s very healthy that he now knows he has these roots here.”

Those roots were discovered during Obama’s first visit to Kenya two decades ago. During that trip, as recounted in his memoir, he encountered Ruth in Nairobi. She is described as “a white woman with a long jaw and graying hair.”

But who is Ruth, a woman who divorced Obama’s father, remarried, and gave the family name of her second husband to her two sons by Obama Sr.? In the book she says, with less than exquisite tact, to Barack Obama: “But your mother remarried. I wonder why she had you keep your name?”

As for Ruth’s son, and Obama’s half brother, Mark, the one in China, he’s described as studying physics at Stanford in the 1980s. “The things Mark studies are so complicated only a handful of people really understand it at all,” Ruth enthuses.

But Mark, “a black man of my height and complexion,” tells Obama his work’s a breeze. He expresses limited interest in their shared father who died in 1982 at 46: “Life’s hard enough without all the excess baggage,” he muses.

If nominated, Obama’s family baggage will get pored over. Four years ago, Bush’s people cast Kerry as un-American for speaking French. A Republican camp campaigning at the sorry nadir of Bush’s handiwork will try to portray the war hero John McCain as more American and patriotic than his opponent.

But things are different. Less fearful, Americans are less willing to be manipulated. They’ve backed Obama this far in part because they’re sick of the narrow American exceptionalism of Bush’s divisive rule.

Never before have U.S. fortunes been so tied to the world’s. Americans see that. When your mortgage is packaged into some ingenious security that’s sold to a German bank before the scheme unravels and you lose your house, the globe looks smaller.

With some 30 percent of the revenue of U.S. corporations coming from overseas, and the Chinese buying American debt, and more than seven million people naturalized in the past decade, it’s harder to separate America’s fate from that of others. Isolationism is not merely wrong, it’s impossible.

If elected, Obama would be the first genuinely 21st-century leader. The China-Indonesia-Kenya-Britain-Hawaii web mirrors a world in flux. In Kenya, his uncle Sayid, a Muslim, told me: “My Islam is a hybrid, a mix of elements, including my Christian schooling and even some African ways. Many values have dissolved in me.”

Obama’s bridge-building instincts come from somewhere. They are rooted and proven. For an expectant and often alienated world, they are of central significance.


Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

March 17th, 2008, 1:38 pm


Norman said:


Olmert: Israel wants talks with Syria
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, addressing a joint German – Israeli cabinet session, on Monday said that Israel is interested in talking with Syria, talks which he said will lead Damascus to break with the “Axis of Evil.”

The session marked the first time cabinets from Germany and Israel have met for joint consultations, and the first time the German government held a joint cabinet session with a country outside Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Olmert chaired this historic joint session.

According to Olmert, Israel has no interest in confrontation on its northern border with Lebanon. As for the Gaza Strip, Olmert said, according to Haaretz, “The government must do everything in order to defend its citizens, and it will do so.” “At the same time,” added Olmert, “it will act to advance the peace process. Negotiations are not a default option for us, we are conducting them because we believe that there is a chance to reach an agreement.”

© 2008 Al Bawaba (

March 17th, 2008, 2:01 pm


Norman said:

US policy might change even if McCain is in office,


From the Los Angeles Times
McCain’s mixed signals on foreign policy
The presumed Republican presidential nominee has taken diverse positions over his 25 years in Congress, from pragmatic to hawkish. Supporters wonder what he’d do in office.
By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 16, 2008

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain is well-known for scorching denunciations of Democrats, who he says would raise the “white flag of surrender” by cutting off funds for U.S. troops in Iraq.

But 15 years ago, it was McCain himself who startled colleagues by proposing to cut off money for a struggling and embattled U.S. force in another perilous place: Somalia.

On the campaign trail today, McCain is seen as an unyielding hawk. But before his first presidential run in 2000, he declared he would work with the Democratic Party’s brain trust to devise his foreign policy.

And while he now describes himself as a “foot soldier in the Reagan revolution,” he infuriated Republicans as a freshman congressman in 1983 by trying to thwart President Reagan’s deployment of troops in Lebanon.

The presumptive GOP nominee for president, McCain — who leads a congressional delegation to Europe and the Middle East this week — has adopted a surprising diversity of views on foreign policy issues during his 25 years in Congress. It is a pattern that brings uncertainty to the path he would take if elected.

McCain, an ex-Navy pilot and Vietnam POW who has built his campaign around his national security expertise, has advanced views on Iraq and Iran that are tough and assertive, and that seem to put him squarely in the neoconservative camp.

Yet McCain has on many occasions resisted calls for use of U.S. troops. Even now, he adopts positions that are closer to those of traditional, pragmatic Republicans than the more hawkish neoconservatives.

One sign of the internal contradictions in his views is growing friction between rival camps of McCain supporters — between neoconservatives and those with more traditional views, widely called “realists.” Both sides believe they have assurances from McCain that he would largely follow their path, and that like-minded allies would have key roles in the new administration.

The conflicting signals have caught the attention of foreign policy experts. “Who is the real John McCain?” asked Dmitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank and stronghold of the realist thinkers.

Simes said McCain, one of the Nixon Center’s advisors, has privately assured prominent supporters in the traditional foreign policy camp that “his more exuberant statements don’t necessarily reflect his real views.”

“John is a traditional national security guy,” said retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, a former top intelligence official who is listed by the campaign as an important supporter. If McCain reaches the White House, Inman predicts, “there’s going to be a lot of disappointment on the neoconservative side.”

In forming his views on national security, McCain has always relied on a large circle of outside advisors and a handful of trusted aides, say former staffers and others who know him. But he has typically worked out his own conclusions. And taken as a whole, they seem quirky and a la carte, rather than developed from a single philosophy.

From his father, an admiral who served in World War II, he inherited the view that the United States must take care to preserve its image of strength and greatness, not backing down in the face of lesser opponents.

At the same time, McCain’s beliefs have been colored by his time as a Navy aviator, when he and his buddies became convinced that civilian leaders in Washington were dangerously mishandling the Vietnam War. Even while he wants to extend American authority, McCain as a lawmaker has regularly bucked the Republican establishment.

The Lebanon vote was an example. In 1983, McCain voted against a bill to extend Reagan’s deployment of U.S. troops there. Reagan wanted more time to strengthen the fragile Lebanese government, but McCain worried that the American force was too small and that U.S. interests did not justify the risk.

In a similar vein, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, McCain initially wanted to limit the response to an air war.

“To start putting American troops into that kind of meat grinder I just don’t think is a viable option,” McCain said in a televised interview at the time. But he quickly changed his view, voting five months later to join an international effort to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Three years later, after 18 U.S. servicemen were killed in an ambush in Mogadishu, Somalia, McCain decided that it was time to force a withdrawal of the troops, and he introduced an amendment to cut off funds. He wrote later that he regretted the step as an encroachment on the president’s power and “as a retreat in the face of aggression from an inferior foe.”

In 1993, McCain opposed the U.S. military intervention in Haiti. Like then- President Clinton, he initially was reluctant to intervene in Bosnia in 1993 and 1994. After the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995, McCain supported the administration’s plan to send U.S. peacekeepers into the region, with some reservations.

Growing bolder in his advocacy of U.S. deployments, McCain in 1999 favored American use of force — even ground troops — to halt the “ethnic cleansing” of ethnic Albanians in the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo.

McCain was moving closer to the muscular interventionism advanced by analysts like William Kristol and Robert Kagan, friends and advisors who are generally considered neoconservatives. McCain began giving greater emphasis to the idea that the United States needed to assert itself abroad to promote its values, not just narrower national interests.

“He clearly was moving closer to the neocons,” said Simes of the Nixon Center. By the time the 2000 election campaign got underway “they were already quite enthusiastic about him.”

Yet throughout, McCain continued to keep close ties among old-school realists, including former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. They thought he was on their side too.

In 2002, when debate erupted over war with Iraq, McCain seemed to strengthen his identity as a neoconservative. He agreed with administration officials that Saddam Hussein was trying to restart his nuclear weapons program, and he urged the United States to give more money to controversial financier Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and other Iraqi exiles. He predicted that regime change in Iraq could catalyze sweeping democratic change in the region.

McCain has staked out a more hawkish position on Iran than the Bush administration, saying that “the only thing worse than military action against Iran is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

But McCain has sent conflicting signals as well.

In 1998, he suggested to the Weekly Standard magazine that as president he would seek to develop a kind of consensus foreign policy, consulting the “best minds I know,” including President Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski; Clinton Secretary of State Warren Christopher; President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of State, James A. Baker III; Scowcroft; and Kissinger.

He has been tough on Russia, calling for the country’s ejection from the G-8 group of industrial nations and disparaging President Vladimir V. Putin. But he has taken a more pragmatic position on China, a country that does not follow U.S. human rights practices but is far more vital to its prosperity.

Hawkish toward North Korea, McCain said in the mid-1990s that the United States should consider military action to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Recently, however, he has toned down his comments.

He says he is skeptical that Pyongyang will live up to its obligations under the 2007 international plan that would reward the regime for giving up its nuclear program. But unlike some neoconservatives, he has not called for repudiation of the denuclearization deal, aides say.

McCain has supported the idea of a “League of Democracies,” a coalition that might substitute for the United Nations and even use military force. Critics view the idea as a dangerous neoconservative scheme that could alienate countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia and further polarize the world.

At the same time, he has been generally positive about the role of the U.N. McCain has also favored strengthening NATO and ties to European allies, and has personally spent time cultivating European leaders.

Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s chief foreign policy advisor, rejects the idea that McCain has moved to a more neoconservative position in recent years, and, indeed, rejects the term “neoconservative” as meaningless. He said the differences on foreign policy among McCain’s supporters reflect not that he has taken many views, but simply his wide appeal.

“John McCain unites the Republican foreign policy spectrum,” Scheunemann says. “They’re almost all supporters.”

Some of the realists in McCain’s camp believe that some of his public pronouncements during the long primary season have followed from his need to build Republican support at a time when many conservatives have been distressed by his views on immigration and campaign finance, to name only two issues. They predict that in the general election campaign, the red-meat lines may be given less prominence.

But some analysts say the internal tension between these conflicting foreign policy visions will continue during the campaign — and, indeed, would follow McCain to the White House if he won.

Derek Chollet, a former State Department official now at the Center for a New American Security, predicts that these security issues “will continue to be fought out in a McCain administration, just as we’ve seen them fought out in the person of John McCain.”


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March 17th, 2008, 5:09 pm


Roland said:

I’m glad Fisk noted the Canadian government’s current approval of torture.

Besides the embarrassment of the too-accurate list that Fisk mentioned, the Canadian government is currently battling its own courts to preserve its army’s right to torture Afghan prisoners.

And of course, there was the Arar scandal, which has not resulted in any policy changes; Canada still winks at secret arrests and summary deportations.

Canada’s recent pro-torture policies have come from both Liberal and Conservative governments, so they are unlikely to change soon.

March 18th, 2008, 2:45 am


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