"... President Assad's changes face pushback at home. Top members of Syria's ruling Baath Party say he is betraying the socialist agenda of his father, Hafez Assad, who served as president for three decades before his death in 2000. Liberal economists, meanwhile, say he isn't going far enough.....Perhaps the biggest challenge Mr. Assad faces is dismantling Syria's bureaucracy. The government is the largest single employer, involved in everything from energy to tourism.......Damascus's conflict with the West aided Syria's economic opening in some ways, Syrian officials and businessmen say. Mr. Hariri's murder fueled mass protests in Beirut that sent thousands of Syrian entrepreneurs back home -- bringing with them financial expertise and money.Entrepreneurs are returning from America, too. ....Senior Obama administration officials acknowledge that human rights remain a major problem in Syria. But they argue that the Bush administration's attempts to isolate President Assad only made the regime more repressive. The White House, in returning a U.S. ambassador to Damascus, will be able to more directly press democracy issues, the officials said..."
Monday, August 31, 2009
" ... With tough battles ahead on health care, the budget and other issues, Vice President Joe Biden and other officials are increasingly anxious about how the American public would respond to sending additional troops.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk to the media, said Biden has argued that without sustained support from the American people, the U.S. can't make the long-term commitment that would be needed to stabilize Afghanistan and dismantle al Qaida. Biden's office declined to comment.
"I think they (the Obama administration) thought this would be more popular and easier," a senior Pentagon official said. "We are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war."
Monday's assessment initially was to include troop recommendations, but political concerns prompted White House and Pentagon officials to agree that those recommendations would come later, advisers to McChrystal said. Although the White House took a hands-off approach toward Afghanistan earlier this summer, Pentagon officials said they're now getting more questions about how many troops might be needed and for how long.
Some White House officials said the administration feels it was pressured to send the additional 17,500 combat troops and 4,000 trainers earlier this year, before the administration was comfortable with its plan for Afghanistan, because of the country's election in August.
Obama now feels that McChrystal and his superior, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the Central Command, are pressuring him to commit still more troops to Afghanistan, a senior military official said. The official said that retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama's national security adviser, told McChrystal last month not to ask for more troops, but that McChrystal went ahead anyway and indicated in interviews that he may need more.
McChrystal's new assessment is the fifth one ordered since Obama's inauguration. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that no details of the assessment would be released. Other officials called it a "political hot potato." Advisers to McChrystal, who spoke to McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity, said the document is just over 10 pages and broadly spells out McChrystal's assessment of conditions on the ground: "It says that this could get much worse unless we invest ourselves in this now," one adviser said. "Then it says, 'This is what we propose to do.'"
The widespread evidence of fraud followed a decision by Washington to remain completely neutral in the run-up to the election. It was a position that had been strongly argued by Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s “AfPak” envoy, who said any appearance of interference might backfire.....
But it is precisely this that is worrying the US. While most parties appear to have indulged in some ballot-box stuffing, intimidation or bribery, Mr Karzai’s supporters have appeared most culpable. Much of the vote rigging appears to have happened in the violence-ridden southern provinces, where heavy British losses in recent weeks failed to stop Taleban intimidation of voters, causing a low turnout.........."
"... Accordingly, President Obama is readying two alternatives. One is to characterize "freezing" Iran's nuclear program at existing levels as a "success." However, this less than complete termination of Iran's nuclear program would run contrary to years of determined clandestine efforts. Such a freeze is utterly unverifiable and amounts to surrender. This will result in a nuclear-armed Iran........... Adopting tougher economic sanctions is simply another detour away from hard decisions on whether to accept a nuclear Iran or support using force to prevent it."
"A free Alawite state might even be a natural ally of Israel for the same reasons the Middle East’s Christians and Kurds tend to be"
" ... I don’t know for sure whether Syria’s Sunni Arabs — who make up around 70 percent of the population — would actually accuse Assad of treason and seriously threaten to remove him from power if he signed a peace treaty. But that’s how many Alawites see it. As “infidels” they don’t feel they have the legitimacy to force Sunni Arabs to make peace with Israel. That is a risky business even for Sunni Arab leaders, as the assassination of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat shows.
Most of Syria’s Alawites live along the Mediterranean coast, away from the Sunni heartland. They could, at least theoretically, be separated from Syria into their own Alawite nation. The Middle East would probably be a safer place if they were. They did have their own semiautonomous government under the French Mandate between 1930 and 1937, and again from 1939 to 1944, but their Latakia region has been a part of Syria ever since.
Such a nation almost certainly would make peace with Israel, at least eventually, if it wasn’t ruled by Assad and his thuggish clan. Arab nationalism would lose its appeal among a people that would no longer need to demonstrate belonging to an ethnic majority to make up for its status as a religious minority. The strident anti-Zionism of the Sunni “street” could likewise ease. A free Alawite state might even be a natural ally of Israel for the same reasons the Middle East’s Christians and Kurds tend to be."
"The U.S. military is packing up to leave in what has been deemed the largest movement of manpower and equipment in modern .........The goal is to withdraw tens of thousands of troops and about 60 percent of equipment out of Iraq by the end of next March ..... The nearly 300 American bases and outposts currently remaining in Iraq will shrink to 50 or less by the president's deadline ..... the independent Government Accountability Office reported to Congress earlier this year that the withdrawal would be a "massive and expensive effort" that would likely increase war costs by billions. It also estimated an additional $12 billion to $13 billion a year would be needed for two years following the withdrawal for maintenance, repairs and replacement of equipment returned from Iraq. ..........."We are going to use every means necessary: air, Iraqi railroad, the roads. Whatever it takes, ...."
Sunday, August 30, 2009
" ... Withdrawing from American guardianship could also change Japanese policy toward Israel. Until now, Japan limited its support for the Palestinians to aiding economic projects, in keeping with American requests. The Hatoyama government is likely to take a more pro-Arab stance, such as by recognizing Hamas and making tougher demands of Israel, such as calling for an end to construction in the settlements. Such a position would be similar to the line taken by some European governments, and will not necessarily lead to a confrontation with the United States. The Obama administration may actually be pleased.This January, the Israeli ambassador in Tokyo, Nissim Ben-Shitrit, participated in a Democratic Party convention. At the end of the convention, he met with Hatoyama. The party's Web site stated that Hatoyama expressed his deep concern over the Palestinian victims of Israel's Cast Lead operation in the Gaza Strip, and added that he hoped Israel would change its policies toward the Arab world, like American foreign policy had changed with the election of Barack Obama.Hatoyama called himself the Japanese Obama in his election campaign, and said he would bring hoped-for change. When it comes to Israel, Obama and Hatoyama may coordinate efforts in ways Israel hasn't expected."
" ... The tape featured a man who called himself Mohammed Hassan al-Shemari, 29, from Saudi Arabia, who was arrested in Diyala province on suspicion of being a leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
He was detained before last week's bombings but the Iraqi government nonetheless used him to illustrate accusations against Syria. It was not possible to independently verify his story.
Shemari said when he arrived in Syria from Saudi Arabia, he was met by a militant who took him to an al Qaeda training camp in Syria. The head of the camp was a Syrian intelligence agent called Abu al-Qaqaa, he said. "They taught us lessons in Islamic law and trained us to fight. The camp was well known to Syrian intelligence," he said. ... "
" ... The attacker, who blew himself up on Aug. 27 at the offices of Assistant Interior Minister Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdel Aziz in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, had said he wanted to give himself up personally to the prince, Saudi state media reported.
“This attack demonstrates that the threat of violent extremism in Saudi Arabia continues,” said Christopher Boucek, a regional security expert from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. The fact that al-Qaeda has targeted the Saudi royal family for the first time is significant, he said.
The statement, issued by the “Organization of Qaeda for Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula,” said al-Asiri passed through airport security checks at Najran on the Yemeni border and in Jeddah and traveled on the prince’s private plane between the two cities.
“He managed to enter his palace, pass through his guards and blow up the explosive device,” said the statement. Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr Al-Kurbi, said al-Asiri crossed into Saudi Arabia after traveling from the central Yemeni region of Ma‘rib, Saudi-owned television channel Al-Arabiya reported.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki declined in a phone interview to comment ...."
Saturday, August 29, 2009
" ... If Israel attempts such a high-risk and destabilizing strike against Iran, President Obama will probably learn of the operation from CNN rather than the CIA. History shows that although Washington seeks influence over Israel's military operations, Israel would rather explain later than ask for approval in advance of launching preventive or preemptive attacks. Those hoping that the Obama administration will be able to pressure Israel to stand down from attacking Iran as diplomatic efforts drag on are mistaken..........In October 1956, Israel, Britain and France launched an ill-fated assault against Egypt to seize control of the Suez Canal............Israel initiated the Six-Day War .......Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak ...... Al Kibar, Syria. ......These episodes demonstrate that if Israel decides that Iranian nuclear weapons are an existential threat, it will be deaf to entreaties from U.S. officials to refrain from using military force. Soon after the operation, Washington will express concern to Tel Aviv publicly and privately."
" ... Koucnher said that Syrian President Bashar Assad "repeated three times that he was not insisting on veto power or on supporting Hizbullah."He pointed to Syria's "new diplomatic approach and its openness to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, prior recent accusations."On Iran, Kouchner did not rule out "a negative Iranian interference" pointing to "the continuous flow of Iranian weapons to Hizbullah which possesses 15,000 missiles." He accused Iran of "continuing to support extremists groups" in reference to Hizbullah, Hamas and other. ....For his part, President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a "government of national unity as soon as possible."
"... In August 1929, that community was suddenly and brutally attacked. Incited by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Arab rioters swept through Palestine. In Hebron, the carnage was horrendous. ......A surviving yeshiva student recounted that he "had seen greater horrors than Dante in hell."
.............nearly 40 years later, after the Six-Day War of 1967, a small group of religious Zionists returned to Hebron ...... relentlessly vilified as fanatics who illegally occupy someone else's land. ....."
Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi denied any boycott between Iraq and Syria noting that summoning Iraqi Ambassador to Syria is a normal procedure.
Abbawi affirmed that Iraq’s ministerial council has called on Syria to hand the two suspects implicated in Baghdad bombings and charged the Interior and Justice Ministries to prepare their files mainly that Younes Al Ahmed is wanted for previous cases and lawsuits.
Friday, August 28, 2009
"The NSC's senior director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro, back from accompanying U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell to London for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, briefed European diplomats in Washington on the status of the talks Thursday, The Cable confirmed from diplomatic sources.
The upshot was that more talks are needed, and there is apparently still not a small amount to continue talking about, as the Mitchell and Netanyahu teams try to work out apparently remaining differences over specific exceptions to a total West Bank settlement freeze and in particular the issue of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has tried to argue in more public venues that Jerusalem should not be considered as part of the settlement issue. Privately, Netanyahu may be arguing for with the Americans whether he can privately agree to refrain from further Jewish construction or Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem, but not have it be formally announced as part of a public deal.
Separately, a Middle East hand said that the Obama White House told the Mitchell team earlier in August to 'get it done already,' referring to overcoming the obstacles to getting to a new round of peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians..."
WINEP at the helm of the pathetic agitprop caboose.Assad to Obama: Thanks but no thanks.
" ... Until last week, talks over Iraq-related regional security issues appeared to be a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak U.S.-Syrian engagement process. Washington has quietly asked Damascus over the last seven months to use its influence to promote reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Following the most recent visit to Damascus by U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell, Syria, along with Turkey and Egypt, pressed Hamas to allow Fatah members in Gaza to attend their party's conference earlier this month -- an important first step in forming a united Palestinian position. It didn't happen.
Damascus instead took credit for an alternative "breakthrough" -- Hamas' recent announcement that it would accept and respect the 1967 border between Israel and the Palestinians in return for Israel's conceding Palestinians the right of return and allowing the establishment of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. .......On peace talks with Israel, Damascus continues to demand that Israel commit to withdrawing from the Golan Heights to the line of June 4, 1967, and resume Turkish-sponsored indirect talks from where they left off last December. Israel, which favors direct negotiations without preconditions under U.S. auspices, has refused.
French efforts last year to coax Damascus to open an embassy in Beirut and appoint an ambassador there led many to speculate that Damascus was willing to turn a new page with its western neighbor, Lebanon. But Syria's ambassador to Beirut spends most of his time in Damascus, and statements on Lebanon are put forward by pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians such as Wiam Wahhab who, due to his role in helping Damascus call the shots in Lebanon prior to Syria's 2005 withdrawal, has earned a reputation as one of Syria's last unquestioning proxies in Lebanon. Following the defeat of Syria's allies in Lebanon's June 7 elections (despite intensive Syrian efforts to swing the poll Syria's way), Damascus and its allies have stymied the formation of a government by the pro-independence March 14 block. Meanwhile, an interview Aug. 25 in the Lebanese daily An-Nahar with a senior U.S. official (see the never-disappointing Feltman) made apparent Washington's frustration with Syria, most notably its smuggling to Hezbollah of increasingly advanced weaponry across the Lebanese-Syrian border, which Damascus still refuses to demarcate despite promising to do so.
Concerning relations with Iran, on Aug. 19 (the same day as the Iraqi attacks) Assad ..... meant that "Iran and Syria must continue the regional policy as in the past." The visit, combined with short-range missile developed by Syria, Iran, and North Korea, shows Damascus remains firmly ensconced in the Iranian-led "resistance axis."....
This is because the actual problem of fighters entering Iraq has less to do with security arrangements along the border and more to do ....Syria is unwilling to cut them off over fears of risking domestic attacks. In short, Damascus wants high-level U.S. engagement without making hard sacrifices.
During the 1970s and 1990s, when the United States tried ultimately unsuccessful policies of "constructive engagement" with Damascus, Washington would have allowed Syria to skirt the issue and quietly deal with the issue from "behind the scenes." But last week's blasts and other jihadi attacks originating out of Syria this year show that giving Damascus a pass on the issue allows the Assad regime to keep its hand on the foreign-fighter tap. This leaves the strategic initiative in Damascus' hands to use as leverage as the United States withdraws from Iraq. U.S. support for its Iraqi allies to roll back the fighters are likely to remain Washington's safest bet...."
" .... The Taliban had a reputation for incorruptibility in the 1990s that helped them come to power; and as much as the Taliban remain unpopular in opinion surveys, the incapacity and corruption on the part of the Afghan government probably reinforces that reputation."
"...Got a governance problem? The Taliban is getting pretty effective at it. They’ve set up functional courts in some locations, assess and collect taxes, and even allow people to file formal complaints against local Talib leaders. Part of the Taliban plan to win over the people in Swat was to help the poor or displaced own land. Their utter brutality has not waned, nor has their disregard for human life. But with each such transaction, they chip away at the legitimacy of the Afghan government, saying in effect: “We can give you the stability the government cannot "...
No, our biggest problem isn’t caves; it’s credibility. Our messages lack credibility
because we haven’t invested enough in build- ing trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises ..."
".... the Middle East is "overrated" as a strategic focus of U.S. interests..... Against my better instincts, because it goes against 40 years of U.S. strategic calculations, and involves an iconoclastic re-evaluation of the longterm impact of President George W. Bush's ill-advised, badly intentioned and poorly conceived decision to invade Iraq. I will then try my best to publish the post before second thoughts lead me to dispatch the entire effort to the trash bin.I've argued previously that the Iraq War, with everything that it represents in terms of imperial hubris and overstretch, was inevitable for the U.S. as a unipolar global hegemon, since power rarely finds its own limits in the abstract realm of forebearance, but rather in the concrete realm of failure. I'm convinced now that history will regard that war, launched in order to "remake" the Middle East and cement the U.S. presence there for the foreseeable future, as the beginning of the end of the U.S. military commitment to the region. And I'm convinced that this is a good thing, and a healthy reorientation of America's global commitments.The U.S. military commitment to the Middle East is based on two obsolete strategic pillars of the Cold War era: one, to prevent the infiltration of Soviet influence; and two, to guarantee access to oil. All the rest, including the Israeli-Arab conflict, is window dressing. ..............In reality, Saddam Hussein was the region's last belligerent interventionist. It would have been cheaper to contain his ambitions and wait him out. But having removed him from power, the Bush administration essentially removed the last threat of cross-border warfare -- "grandfathered" from the Cold War-era -- that justified a significant forward military presence.The key to maintaining stability in the region will increasingly shift away from military coercion and toward the regional and global consensus over economic integration. That's what I meant when I said yesterday that I find the world's zones of integration and opportunity more compelling than its zones of conflict and instability. As the center of gravity continues to shift toward the former, it will exert a growing influence over the latter.As for the one post-Cold War strategic justification for a continued U.S. military presence in the region -- i.e., al-Qaida -- that's an effort best conducted indirectly through assistance programs, and robust international policing combined with intelligence and targeted special operations.When the Iraq War finally does wind down, I have a hunch that the wake of the returning troops will pull most of the U.S. advanced military presence throughout the region back home with it. And despite the intentions of the war's architects, the Bush administration will have been the initiator of America's military disengagement from the region."
"At Tuesday’s Brookings Institution panel on Afghanistan, Brookings fellow Bruce Riedel discussed Iran’s capacity to destabilize Afghanistan in the event of a Washington-Tehran confrontation. Riedel, of course, is the former CIA analyst and NSC staffer who chaired the Obama administration’s strategic review on Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year, giving his comments particular weight:
If we see a situation in which the relationship between Iran and the United States is steadily deteriorating, and the Iranians — either correctly, or because of their own politics — come to the conclusion that the United States is trying to overthrow their regime, or subvert their regime, or prevent it from doing what it wants, one of the easiest ways for the Iranians to fight back is in Afghanistan. Iran has significant influence in the western part of the country and in the central Azeri region which is Shia. If it stirs up trouble in those parts of the country, which have been by and large relatively quiet for the last several years, that will introduce a new front. And as we’ve already discussed, we’ve got enough fronts in Afghanistan that we’re dealing with now; we don’t need another front.
This particularly matters for the transatlantic allies, because many of them have their forces deployed in the western part of the country. The Italians, for example, who are deployed in Herat right now, feel that they’re on the front line with Iran, and what they’ve done over the last several years is quietly make a deal that they will live and let live there. If that deal falls apart, then the Italians are going to be in a very serious and difficult situation.
While the nature and extent of Iran’s influence in Iraq has been much-discussed, its influence in Afghanistan has been comparatively neglected. Riedel’s comments are a reminder that Iran has the capability to cause headaches for the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan as well as Iraq — something to keep in mind as the administration considers imposing harsher sanctions on Iran.
Riedel’s blunt warning that “we don’t need another front” in Afghanistan appears to reflect the thinking of many in the Pentagon. As Jim and I wrote in May, the Pentagon seems to have emerged as a counterweight to Iran hawks in Washington (who are based primarily in Congress and within the so-called “Israel lobby”). The U.S. military leadership, primarily focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, is understandably leery of the potentially destabilizing effects that confrontation with Iran would have throughout the “Greater Middle East”. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have been vocal about the hazards of an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, with Mullen saying that such a strike would pose “exceptionally high risks” to U.S. interests in the region.
As President Obama comes under increased domestic and Israeli pressure to take a harder line against Iran, he finds himself in a difficult position. He must weigh the political pressure to “do more” against the ramifications that a U.S.-Iran showdown would have, not only for Iraq, but for Afghanistan and Pakistan, his avowed top foreign policy priorities."
Thursday, August 27, 2009
"The official Saudi news agency says a wanted militant has blown himself up in an apparent assassination attempt against one of the senior princes involved in the kingdom's aggressive anti-terror campaign.........the man was being searched by security before going in to offer Ramadan greetings to the assistant interior minister, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, when he blew himself up late Thursday.It says the prince was lightly wounded..."