Friday, June 11, 2004

 

The Daily Ha'aretz Link

Yoel Marcus, politically a pretty middle-of-the road writer and an unflagging believer in Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan, gives four comments on the situation in today's Ha'aretz. A brief summary of each and comments on them.

1.
"America demands immediate evacuation of outposts: No excuses left." With all due respect to the "senior member of President Bush's entourage" whose remarks were given front-page coverage in Haaretz, this threat can be filed away as a bunch of hot air.
Absolutely. The concessions made to Israel by the Bush administration have not increased US sway in Israel. If anything the opposite is true - Sharon has other things on his plate, and he knows that Bush is invested much more heavily in the Gaza withdrawal than illegal outposts in the West Bank. So why the "demand"? Who knows, maybe for a few headlines that the US can point to as proof of its "fairness" in dealing with Israel.

2. There is going to be great difficulty in removing the settlements.
To keep the worst from happening, two things must be done: (a) Draft legislation that will provide the settlers with generous compensation and cushion the start of the second chapter of their lives and businesses. Most of them settled in these places at the invitation of the government, and with its active encouragement. They were told that they were safeguarding national security, etc. The best thing is to work out an agreement with them whereby they leave of their own free will. (b) And no less important: Make it snappy. Adopt the one-fell-swoop method employed by Ben-Gurion to leave Gaza and Sinai in 1957, and by Barak, to quit Lebanon.
However, as Marcus points out earlier in comment #2, "tens of thousands of settlers from all over the country will head down there to confront the Israel Defense Forces because they know that the settlements of Judea and Samaria are next. And seeing the fuss they kick up to defend some shed or portable toilet, and how they torment policemen and soldiers, we can only assume that in a real showdown, blood will flow." And this is what is going to make 2a) partly irrelevant (getting the settlers already there to leave is not going to stop the radical minority from making it a violent and nationally divisive operation) and 2b) harder than it seems, given the situation of Sharon's government. Which brings us to...

3.
Meanwhile, [Sharon] heads a minority government, but that doesn't scare him. Calling early elections isn't even a consideration. It's like cholent: You know what you put in the oven, but you never know what comes out. In any case, according the law you can't topple a government unless 61 MKs come up with a substitute candidate. Whatever happens, joining forces with the Labor Party, which will give Sharon 71 seats, is always an option, 24 hours a day. Even as a lifelong opponent of unity governments, that's the one and only alternative open to him. How long can things go as they are?
Marcus is very confident in Sharon's will to push this to fruition, but once things spring into action, the already tenuous governmental situation may shift quite drastically. Finally,

4.
[P]ublic discourse has descended into a shouting match filled with gutter language, vulgarity and physical threats. The worst are the rabbis who have set themselves up as lawmakers and supreme authorities on the most sensitive political issues. The crude speech and intimidation recall the days leading up to the Rabin assassination, and even worse. Amazingly, there has been no condemnation of this verbal violence from the intellectuals, or even the president ... This country cannot afford another assassinated prime minister.
And here is the crux of the matter, that is, just how alarmingly divisive the withdrawal of Gaza settlements could become if it ever comes to fruition. And this is where I have my serious doubts about who is going to join Sharon in forcing this issue. The hard right is willing to force the issue, that's a given. The hard left, as much as it opposes the settlements, will probably not go into battle led by Sharon. Shinui, although ideologically anti-settlement, I think is ultimately an opportunistic party, and may not find this struggle to be in its best interest. The same goes for Labor (only with less ideology to get in the way). Much of Likud has no interest in ousting the settlers, and the other half might swing into line with the first if blood starts to flow. Sharon's will to see this through might begin to wane, as will others' with not so much invested in the Gaza pull-out, in the face of an atmosphere that "recall[s] the days leading up to the Rabin assassination, and even worse." With inaction becoming the safest alternative, it's hard for me to see the Gaza withdrawal getting off the ground at all.

 

Whoops, sorry we got that one TOTALLY WRONG

As widely reported, the US State Department has retracted a report on terrorism that erroneously claimed that terror attacks were down in 2003 from 2002. According to the Guardian:
The Patterns of Global Terrorism report said terrorist attacks fell to 190 last year, the lowest figure since 1969, from 198 in 2002. It also said the number of people killed dropped to 307, including 35 US citizens, from 725 in 2002, a total which included 27 Americans.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher said the 2003 figures were likely to be higher than the report suggested, though the number of deaths may not exceed the 2002 figures. He explained that the writers of the report appeared to have made a series of mistakes including failing to count attacks for the full year and possibly misinterpreting the definition of such attacks.
Of course, the State Department has denied any suggestions that the fraudulent report was some sort of deliberate attempt to aid Bush's reelection campaign (which, coincidentally, is counting on it's image of being effective against terrorism and strong on national security).
Richard Boucher, State Dept. spokesman: "The data in the report is incomplete and in some cases incorrect. We got the wrong data and we didn't check it enough ... That's the simplest explanation for what happened." Yes, very simple, thank you Richard. Of course, it didn't hurt the administration to hail the "incomplete and incorrect data" as "clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight" (Richard Armitage). But wait; let's hear from Sec. of State Colin Powell: "Nobody has suggested that the war on terrorism has been won. The president has made it clear that it is a war that continues and that we have to redouble our efforts." Quite so - nobody suggested that we had won, only that we were prevailing. Which is, of course, the catch-22 of the whole terrorism thing - if news is good, we are prevailing, Bush is a courageous leader against terrorism and has made the nation safer. And if the news is bad, well, nobody has suggested that we have won. Nobody said it would be easy, but just think of how bad it would be if Bush weren't waging a valiant struggle against terrorism. Increased violence must be evidence that the evil terrorists are desperate dead-enders can sense their imminent defeat. Either way, Bush can spin this. Still, it's nice to have a little bit of fodder to throw back against the "Bush makes us safer" argument.

 

"That ought to comfort you"

When asked by a reporter yesterday at the G-8 Summit whether the use of torture was ever justified, George W. Bush responded, "Look, I'm going to say it one more time. ... The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you." Comfort me? A more comforting answer would have been this: Torture is illegal under US and international law and in light of current allegations, there will be thorough investigations of all allegations and serious consequences for those found involved in the torture of prisoners or detainees. But instead, we have the adherence to law (US law, specifically), a law that, given the disclosure of a certain Pentagon memo, is viewed as quite flexible. And given several recent front page stories in the New York Times ("Forced Nudity of Iraqi Prisoners Is Seen as a Pervasive Pattern, Not Isolated Incidents") and the Washington Post ("Use of Dogs to Scare Prisoners Was Authorized"), we know that it was applied with a good deal of flexibility. As the documents, memos, reports, and stories add up, Josh Marshall does a very effective job of illuminating the obvious in his column in The Hill:
The simple truth is that antiseptic discussions of these interrogation techniques just don’t resonate in the way that the pictures do. But it’s all there in the open if we just choose to see it.

Yet the debate over who is responsible for what we see in those pictures continues, even when we have plenty of evidence that the tactics they were using were either specifically authorized by policymakers at the Pentagon or widespread at U.S.-detention facilities commanded by the same folks now prosecuting those reservists in the photos.

Isn’t it about time that we just come clean with ourselves and admit that those half-dozen reservists really probably were just following orders?
President Bush's refusal to express a firm (or indeed, any) stance against torture, saying instead that "What I've authorized is that we stay within U.S. law" seems only to prove that the use of torture, as long as it can be defended as remaining within the bounds of US law, is A-OK in Bush's book. And that doesn't comfort me at all.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

 

football = good

An utterly brilliant commentary by Zvi Bar'el in Ha'aretz on the Israeli Arab Sakhnin soccer team winning the State Cup: We gave them a cup, didn't we? Please read it, but if you do not get the chance, at least peruse these statistics for Israeli Arabs included at the bottom of the article.

(Figures in parentheses are the national average)

Population: 22,100

Gender: Males 11,500; females 10,600

Religion: Muslims - 94%; Christians - 6%

Eligibile for school matriculation: 48% (54%)

Met university admission standards: 23% (44 %)

Recipients of unemployment insurance: 465

Average daily unemployment insurance: NIS 105 (NIS 121)

Guaranteed income payment: 3,175 recipients

Number of employed: 4,074

Average monthly wage: NIS 2,768 (NIS 5,693)

 

Partners for Peace

At least the US isn't the only place where military intelligence is manipulated by political figures to reflect the views they already hold. A report in Ha'aretz by Akiva Eldar indicates that Major General Amos Malka, former director of Military Intelligence in Israel, feels that Major General Amos Gilad (head of MI when the second intifada broke out in October of 2000), misled the cabinet on the cause of violence and to the mistaken conclusion that there is no Palestinian partner for peace.
Malka told Haaretz that Gilad, who today heads the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-security unit, was "a very significant factor in persuading a great many people... [yet] in all the time that I served as head of MI, the research division did not produce so much as a single document expressing the assessment that Gilad claims to have presented to the [then] prime minister [Ehud Barak]. I assert that only after the Taba talks were halted, on the eve of the 2001 election, did Gilad begin to retroactively rewrite MI's assessments."
Well it's good to hear somebody in a position of authority and knowledge come out and say it, only it's unfortunate that the "no partner" agenda has been propagated for almost four years without a strong and authoritative rebuttal. The "no partner" line has become ingrained into the public of Israel and the US. It's been said and heard so often it's become second nature, irrefutable, undeniable truth. At this point too many have the closed-minded mentality of Amos Gilad. Although Malka's view is shared by people such as Colonel (reserves) Ephraim Lavie, the research division official responsible for the Palestinian arena at that time, former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, and Orientalist Mati Steinberg, former special advisor on Palestinian affairs to the head of the Shin Bet, in Gilad's mind there is no room for compromise.
Asked about these divergent views, Gilad responded: "I would have no problem if 1,000 people thought differently than I. That still doesn't mean that they're right."
This is really what is wrong with the Gilads, the Sharons, the Bushs, the Rumsfelds, the Cheneys in power - there is no temperance, no compromise, no moderation no matter how many or how informed the opposing view. It's self-assuredness to the point of total arrogance and complete ignorance.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

 

One Militia, Two Militia, Three Militia, Four

The Guardian reports today that "Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, signed an order stating that, with immediate effect, members of illegal militias 'will be barred from holding political office for three years after leaving their illegal organisation'." Effectively, the US is barring Moqtada al-Sadr from participating in elections and setting up a justifiable excuse for doing so. Although the "no militias" rule seems reasonable enough, in reality it gives the US fairly broad power to selectively ban candidates. Given the security situation in Iraq, where assassinations of leading political figures are far too common, all political leaders maintain a certain level of security. Political candidates whom the US endorses are allowed to maintain large private security forces as well as receiving US military support. Those political leaders who are perceived as hostile to the US occupation are not afforded the same kind of support from the US military and their private security forces are put in a position adversarial to that of the US, becoming militias.
Welcoming Mr Bremer's decree, Ayad Allawi, the new prime minister, said: "While recent news has associated the word 'militia' with the sort of violence orchestrated by Moqtada al-Sadr, in fact most of these groups and individuals were part of the resistance against Saddam Hussein's regime. To reward former resistance fighters for their service, opportunities have been created for them to join state security services or lay down their arms and enter civilian life."
So "friendly" militias (those who have decided to work with the US) are legitimized in the new state security services while "unfriendly" militias are stripped of their ability to enter the Iraqi political sphere. Jonathan Steele and Patrick Wintour write:
The ban on the militia members taking part in political life is a gamble, since it carries the risk that it will increase Mr Sadr's popularity and undermine the new government's search for democratic credibility in the eyes of the sceptical Iraqi public.
The "eyes of the sceptical Iraqi public" are sure to notice that government jobs ("opportunities" to "reward former resistance fighters") are going to the militias of Iraqi politicians in power and in favor with the US occupation. As much as the US would hate to see al-Sadr wind up with any sort of position within the new Iraqi government, this cannot be the best strategy to garner credibility. Furthermore, as Juan Cole writes:
Bremer's action in excluding the Sadrists from parliament is one final piece of stupidity to cap all the other moronic things he has done in Iraq. The whole beauty of parliamentary governance is that it can hope to draw off the energies of groups like the Sadrists. Look at how parliamentary bargaining moderated the Shiite AMAL party in Lebanon, which had a phase as a terrorist group in the 1980s but gradually outgrew it. AMAL is now a pillar of the Lebanese establishment and a big supporter of a separation of religion and state. The only hope for dealing with the Sadrists nonviolently was to entice them into civil politics, as well. Now that they have been excluded from the political process and made outlaws in the near to medium term, we may expect them to act like outlaws and to be spoilers in the new Iraq.
Of course any effort to include the Sadrists would be overly antithetical to the "either with us or against us" doctrine and show a bit too far-sighted an approach to actually rally any kind of support from the people in charge of the Iraq war.

 

Muammar Gaddafi: "I express my profound regrets over Reagan's death...

...before he appeared before justice to be held to account for his ugly crime in 1986 against Libyan children." I'm sorry, this is just absolutely too funny for words. Good job to John in DC for catching this one. I'm really glad that US and Libya are patching things up, as it adds infinitely to the comedy factor in reading the news. YahooNews reports: "It was not immediately clear if Gaddafi's comments would affect the progress in relations between the two countries." Let's hope not.

Monday, June 07, 2004

 

WSJ Reality Check

Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page is one of the latest to characterize the opposition to George W. Bush as crazy. In his weekly column (Dems Get Mad, Not Even), Henninger describes Michael Moore, Al Gore, MoveOn.org, and Roland Emmerich's newest film, The Day After Tomorrow, as representing the "hyper-virulent", "slightly psycho", and "not quite normal" wing of Democratic politics that have drifted into the "political paranormal." Henninger, like others before him, criticizes The Day After Tomorrow for making a disaster movie with a global warming premise. As much as those in global warming denial DON'T want science involved in policy-making, they now, equally vehemently, want it IN their Hollywood disaster movies. I suppose Henninger thinks that nuclear radiation isn't actually a problem because Godzilla showed events that were not scientifically accurate (I mean, if nuclear radiation is so bad, where are all the giant dinosaurs wreaking havoc in our cities?). Yet, it is Henninger himself who seems to have trouble separating reality from fiction. He writes:
over Memorial Day weekend, the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" opened, in which tornadoes rip through Los Angeles, New York City is destroyed in a flood and the Earth's Northern Hemisphere is destroyed by snow and ice high as the Statue of Liberty's shoulders--because Dick Cheney refused to believe in global warming.
Actually, Danny, Dick Cheney is the real life Vice President. You see, that was just a movie... actors play roles... not the same person... that didn't... actually... oh nevermind, you get it right? Let's see:
For a New Yorker, the movie isn't much fun if you worry about more bad things happening to the city. The ocean suddenly rises about 300 feet and fills the city, which would be bad enough. But then the temperature drops--"10 degrees every second"--which renders the alternate-side parking rules moot and makes it impossible for the Sanitation Department's plows to dig out. With the U.S. under 100 yards of ice, everyone heads for Mexico, which won't let the "illegals" in until the President forgives all their debt.

Yikes. When I walked out of the theater the first thing I did was look outside. Ominously, it was raining.
Jeez, and the Democrats are nuts? Some people understand that the temperature isn't going to drop 10 degrees every second, but that it might need to in order to make a compelling disaster movie. MoveOn.org "urged its followers to take some friends to the movie to "meet up with other MoveOn members to give out flyers that explain, in everyday language, what causes global warming (and) how Bush's environmental policies could lead us into a real-life climate crisis."" Imagine somebody trying to explain the difference between reality and a Hollywood disaster movie. It seems beyond Daniel Henninger. We can only hope that Henninger doesn't decide to do some more research on that Riefenstahlian propagandist Roland Emmerich and check out Independence Day.

 

So much advancement, so little progress

The New York Times today boldly declares "Sharon Advances Toward Removal of Some Settlers." However, he actually barely coaxed a majority of his cabinet (after firing two ministers) to agree to "begin preparing" for a withdrawal from Gaza.
The government decision fell far short of what Mr. Sharon originally had sought — approval for his plan to evacuate all 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 small ones in the West Bank. Instead, the government said any withdrawals would require further votes, to be held next year.
So let me get this straight, any actual progress will require further votes. And the reason Sharon couldn't get his actual plan passed was because he couldn't get enough votes. What an advance! Slow down there Ariel, we're losing you, you're moving too fast. And what fine analysis by James Bennet of the New York Times.

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