Friday, January 28, 2005


Patrick Seale in al-Ahram

Patrick Seale does a typically good job in his article in this week's al-Ahram, which focuses on the possibilities of US armed action against Syria or Iran. The key paragraph in the whole thing, I think, is this one:
Until now, most observers believed that the US was too busy and overstretched in Iraq to contemplate new wars. But this argument is being turned on its head. The view one now tends to hear in Washington is that there can be no victory in Iraq until Iran and Syria are brought to heel.
I hate to admit it, but there is a certain brilliance in this rhetorical strategy if it is going to be adopted by the administration post-Iraqi elections. First of all, it deflects criticism that is going to be levelled at the Bush camp after the Iraqi elections. No matter how well the elections go compared to expectations, there will certainly be continued violence in Iraq, there will certainly be continued US casualties, and, as a result, there will certainly be continued criticism of the war and of the Bush administration's handling of it. So the administration line then becomes "We organized the elections, we pushed them through, we put the future of the Iraqis in Iraqi hands. The problem is the Syrians and/or Iranians, who refuse to let democracy work its magic in Iraq." And of course the other bird is working up anti-Iranian/anti-Syrian momentum. Thus, things being bad in Iraq isn't a reason not to move on to Iran or Syria, it's the reason to move on to Iran or Syria. I think this is a card of the administration best played after the Iraqi elections, but I wouldn't be surprised if they started pulling it out of the sleeve pretty soon after (give it a week or so).


Cheney at Auschwitz

From the Washington Post:
At yesterday's gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen's hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.

Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood. It is embroidered with his name. It reminded one of the way in which children's clothes are inscribed with their names before they are sent away to camp. And indeed, the vice president looked like an awkward boy amid the well-dressed adults.

Like other attendees, the vice president was wearing a hat. But it was not a fedora or a Stetson or a fur hat or any kind of hat that one might wear to a memorial service as the representative of one's country. Instead, it was a knit ski cap, embroidered with the words "Staff 2001." It was the kind of hat a conventioneer might find in a goodie bag.

It is also worth mentioning that Cheney was wearing hiking boots -- thick, brown, lace-up ones. Did he think he was going to have to hike the 44 miles from Krakow -- where he had made remarks earlier in the day -- to Auschwitz?

His wife, Lynne, was seated next to him. Her coat has a hood, too, and it is essentially a parka. But it is black and did not appear to be functioning as either a name tag or a billboard. One wonders if at some point the vice president turned to his wife, took in her attire and asked himself why they seemed to be dressed for two entirely different events.

Some might argue that Cheney was the only attendee with the smarts to dress for the cold and snowy weather. But sometimes, out of respect for the occasion, one must endure a little discomfort.

Just last week, in a frigid, snow-dusted Washington, Cheney sat outside through the entire inauguration without so much as a hat and without suffering frostbite. And clearly, Cheney owns a proper overcoat. The world saw it during his swearing-in as vice president. Cheney treated that ceremony with the dignity it deserved -- not simply through his demeanor, but also through his attire. Would he have dared to take the oath of office with a ski cap on? People would have justifiably considered that an insult to the office, the day, the country.


Seymour Hersh: Wizards Fan

If you needed another reason to admire Seymour Hersh, let it be known that the man is a Wizards fan! Sweet!

I also thought it was funny that as a sidebar to that Washington Post story there is the poll questions asking "Who has been the most valuable player for the Wizards during the first part of the season?" The options are Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes, Antawn Jamison, Jared Jeffries, Brendan Haywood, and Someone Else. Jared Jeffries? Are you kidding me?

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Italian landscape with tree. (photo by my dad)


Two tidbits on Iran

Here are two links. The first is to a story in the Guardian about Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz's statements yesterday about the impending threat from Iran (in which he sets the "point of no return" at 12 months).

The second is to As they say, let's hope not.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


rainbow over Athens, Greece. (photo by my dad)


Intifada to enter "cold" phase?

There is an article in yesterday's Haaretz about the IDF's psychological warfare unit. In it, Amos Harel writes:
The Israel Defense Forces is reestablishing its psychological warfare unit, after a lengthy period in which the unit was dormant. It operates mostly in the Palestinian arena. Lately, dozens of new job slots have been approved for it, and the unit commander has begun filling officer's positions.
I think that this is indicative of the move (following the death of Arafat and the election of Abu Mazin) of the shift from the more "hot" military war that is the intifada to a more "cold" war similar to the Oslo process. Here you have the Palestinian Authority exercising a certain amount of control - by which I mean pressure on militants - in the West Bank and Gaza and the Israelis engaged less in full-scale operations and more in building and expanding settlements and continuing construction of the separation wall, continued international PR efforts, and psychological warfare. Of course, this needs a "peace process" (meetings, summits, trips to the White House, envoys to the Middle East, etc.) to give it momentum or it will fall back into the "hot" kind of warfare again, but the "peace process" seems to be in the works right now. The only question really is how long it will take to fall apart again. Another interesting tidbit in this article is about part of the reason that the psychological warfare unit fell out of favor to begin with:
In October 1999, Aluf Benn revealed in Haaretz that members of the unit used the Israeli media to emphasize reports initiated by the unit that it managed to place in the Arab press. He reported that the news reports focused on Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in terror activity.

Psychological warfare officers were in touch with Israeli journalists covering the Arab world, gave them translated articles from Arab papers (which were planted by the IDF) and pressed the Israeli reporters to publish the same news here.

That was meant to strengthen the perception of the Iranian threat in Israeli public opinion.
Strengthening the perception of the Iranian threat? Well what would be the relevance of that here in 2005. Oh... nevermind.


Israel puts pressure on Columbia University

Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon cancelled his participation in a conference at Columbia University today. The announcement is the latest in a series of attempts to pressure Columbia University into firing (or refusing tenure to) professor Joseph Massad, adding Israel to a list that includes Campus Watch, the David Project (a pro-Israel advocacy group that recently produced a film targeting Massad), the New York Sun, and US Rep. Anthony Weiner. It seems that Israel is looking to keep the fire under Columbia and not let the momentum that existed when the David Project's film first began to circulate (it has yet to be publicly released) dissipate.


harbor at Nauflion, Bourdzi, Greece. (photo by my dad)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Abbas to Sharon: "I can bulldoze, too"

Abu Mazin has turned bulldozers against his own people, ordering PA workers to tear down buildings erected "illegally" on "government land" according to Haaretz.
The operation was the first of its kind in Gaza City, where dozens of small shops, cafes and kiosks have sprung up along the Mediterranean beach in recent years.
Yep, in Palestine, in Gaza where 81 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of 2 dollars per day, Abu Mazin has taken to destroying businesses.
Police commander Moussa Allaian, in charge of the operation, said Abbas gave the order for the late-night operation after seeing the illegal construction during his recent trip in Gaza.
Abu Mazin went to Gaza and what bothered him was that people were building on "government land"? This is the man that is supposed to be the president? And there aren't more pressing concerns? Abu Mazin may be able to maintain ties with Israel and the US (though even that is doubtful) but he can hardly retain what little popular support he had if he keeps this up.

Monday, January 24, 2005


Acropolis from Lykavittos. (photo by my dad)


Dick Cheney, Iran, and Israel

I'm not quite sure how I missed it, but I'm just now catching up with Dick Cheney's statement on Don Imus's show on inauguration day. For those that don't know, here is the LA Times' description:
Cheney, who often has delivered the Bush team's toughest warnings to foreign capitals, said Iran was "right at the top" of the administration's list of world trouble spots, and expressed concern that Israel "might well decide to act first" to destroy Iran's nuclear program. The Israelis would let the rest of the world "worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward."
First of all, if were Israeli I would be pissed. The US is supposed to be Israel's ally and here Cheney is playing good cop, bad cop with the Israelis playing the role of the uncontrollable, fly-off-the-handle bad cop. As the LA Times puts it in an editorial today [italics are mine], "Cheney's truculent statements, which purposely overlook the fact that Israel would be unlikely to attack Iran without U.S. approval, are counterproductive." Cheney's whole line of reasoning is bullshit. The Israelis aren't going to do anything if the US is against it. And is the US supposed to be in the business of taking care of things for Israel (I thought we were more in the business of cleaning up after their mess)? Speaking of which, what's this nonsense about "cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward"? Since when has the Bush administration cared about ruffling diplomatic feathers? As if the US has cleaned up it's diplomatic mess from Iraq? I don't think so. We've "cleaned" it up by telling everybody else to get bent if they don't like it. Indeed, the point of the LA Times editorial is that these kinds of statements do nothing to change the behavior of Iran, and serve only to further alienate us from Europe. This good cop, bad cop line of justification is bullshit, pure and simple.


octopus on the line, Aegina town, Greece. (photo by my dad)


Etruscan rock-cut tombs, Norchia, Italy. (photo by my dad)


You say "To-may-to," I say "To-mah-to," You say "extra-legal," I say "special authority"

The New York Times had an article yesterday about "a small group of super-secret commandos" operating as counterterrorist forces inside the United States.

This revelation was brought to wide attention by William Arkin, who mentioned the commando group (which operates under the code name Power Geyser) on the website for his forthcoming book, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operation in the 9/11 World. Anyhow, the question that this raises for all of us is: doesn't Power Geyser sound like some kind of pool cleaning equipment? No, actually, the question is: How scared should we all be? (Jeez, am I turning into Dave Barry or something over here? Sorry about that.)
Mr. Arkin, in the online supplement to his book (, says the contingency plan, called JCS Conplan 0300-97, calls for "special-mission units in extra-legal missions to combat terrorism in the United States" based on top-secret orders that are managed by the military's Joint Staff and coordinated with the military's Special Operations Command and Northern Command, which is the lead military headquarters for domestic defense.

Mr. Arkin provided The New York Times with briefing slides prepared by the Northern Command, detailing the plan and outlining the military's preparations for the inauguration.

Three senior Defense Department and Bush administration officials confirmed the existence of the plan and mission, but disputed Mr. Arkin's characterization of the mission as "extra-legal."

One of the officials said the units operated in the United States under "special authority" from either the president or the secretary of defense.
Let's see... "special authority" (starting to get scared) from either the president (ok, I think I'm scared now) or the secretary of defense (whoah, officially scared).

Thanks to Aunt Deb for sending me the article.


snowdrops in bloom, Norchia, Italy. (photo by my dad)


olive stand, central market, Athens. (photo by my dad)

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