Déjà vu, Iran

Posted February 27, 2007 on 11:09 am | In the category Iran, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

It is not at all clear about the administration and its plans for Iran, but it seems that an attack of some kind is still on the Bush-Cheney agenda. Among the troubling signs:

*The briefing by unidentified officials held in Baghdad about Iran-produced armor penetrating bombs;

*Secretary Rice either forgetting or lying about a May 2003 offer to negotiate delivered to Washington by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran (the Swiss represent U.S. interests in Iran);

*The report by Michael Gordon in the NY Times last week taking unnamed administration sources at face value in a way very much like what the Times’ Judith Miller did in sexing up the weapons of mass destruction stories in the run-up to Iraq;

*The U.S.’s sending a second aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf;

*The fact of Bush’s lame duck status, along with his unwillingness to recognize the incredible folly of his Iraq fiasco and his visions of himself morphing into some mix of Harry Truman, Teddy Roosevelt and George Washington.

While Bush seems to be flirting with one last blast, so to speak, the Iraq Study Group urged diplomacy with Iran and that idea has developed increased resonance since the administration finally negotiated directly with N. Korea in Berlin with some positive possibilities emerging. And while the U.S. military can apparently mount a more or less surgical air strike against Iran, anything beyond that involving ground troops would push the limits of current capabilities.

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25% of the Bush Presidency is Still to Come.

Posted February 26, 2007 on 9:44 pm | In the category Iran, Politics, Press | by Kiwi

Reality hasn’t changed just because the TV camera is now focused on the 2008 Presidential election. Bush is still in charge and Congress is still ineffectual.

When the Democrats won their Congressional majority a perception took root. Somehow folk started thinking that things had changed. In fact the only change was one of possibilities.

It became possible that one branch of government might restrain another. Possibilities don’t become realities by virtue of perception. Regardless of where the TV camera points.

Bush is unrestrained. One completely unchained –though perceptively lame– duck. Everyday he waddles toward a strike on Iran. With every quack he makes his intention clear.

He is not playing out the clock. He’s not idly watching “Congressional maneuvering.” He’s not reacting to events. He isn’t dishing dirt in Hollywood with fag hag columnists. Not scoring points or “positioning his candidate” for an election that is twenty-one months away.

Bush is acting. He’s creating the future in which that election will be held. He’s telling anybody who will listen that he’s not gonna tolerate an Iranian nuclear bomb.

He’s as serious as death.

Either he’s not the guy who has been President for the past six years or he is going to strike Iran. He’s not going to retire and hope his successor acts.

He’s going to push ’til he draws a foul or he’s going to do it without provocation.

But what he’s not going to do is go quietly.

He’s not going to blow off a quarter of his Presidency. He’s going to create the reality with which the next Presidency will have to contend.

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Snow White, one dwarf, a giant and an oil rush

Posted February 20, 2007 on 7:39 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

Up north above the top of Europe, a moment of history is slouching towards some kind of climax. Europe’s last untapped oil and gas fields are being readied for exploitation, and have become a source of irritation between two of Europe’s most unlikely neighbours. Norway and Russia share the most remote of all European borders, east and south of Nordkap, where Europe stops reaching north, and the cold Norwegian settlement of Kirkenes stands on guard at the point where western and eastern European cultures meet most dramatically. The Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre began 2007 with a visit to his most remote outpost as a singal for the importance of Kirkanes in Norway’s future ecoomic developments. For the last couple of decades, Norway has used its oil reserves in the North Sea to guarantee one of the world’s richest societies, and its pension fund is now big enough to buy the island of Manhattan. But the last Norwegian oil field is about to be tapped and soon Norway’s pension fund will have to run on its own. Norway’s main problem, however, is the ecological catastrophe threatening the Barent Sea by the decaying Russian nuclear submarine fleet west of Murmansk, and the general Russian disinterest in the ecology of the Arctic.
Snow White, the first natural gas field in the Barents Sea, is about to be developed by the Norwegians, and after that there are only the potential fields in the disputed waters north of the Russian-Norwegian border and the Shtokman gas field in Russian waters. The Russians so far have refused to co-operate with the Norwegians, who have the most experience in drilling in difficult Arctic waters. They also refused Norwegian aid in saving the crew of their sunken submarine the Karsk.
The Norwegians fear more ecological disasters will spill over into their waters. Norway has made it clear it would like help from the European Union, to which it does not belong, but whose members would certainly prefer to buy their energy from Norway than from Russia. Finally there is Svalbard, the island group that represnts the northernmost inhabited territory in Europe on the main island Spitzbergen. In 1920 Norway was granted territorial rights to the islands, but mineral rights were ceded to all the signers of the treaty, now numbering 40, as the probability of oil and gas reserves has arisen. The treaty was originally aimed at coal deposits, and both Russians and Norwegians have mined there, but it is now unclear whether offshore oil and gas are also covered.
As the ice in Arctic waters begins to melt and both Northwest and Northeast Passages open up, conflicts about Arctic waters are destined to keep growing. Norway and Russia, who have never been particularly friendly, are perhaps predictable, if uneven, rivals in this area, but the main event may play out between traditional friends Canada and the US, as the US government refuses to recognize Canada’s claims to the waters between its Arctic islands.

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One Flew Over the Campaign ‘08

Posted February 19, 2007 on 9:23 pm | In the category Politics, Press | by Jeff

Much of the press is down to its usual standards as it trivializes the campaign for Most Powerful Person in the World, 2008. The highlights in campaign coverage so far include the following:

Barack Obama has produced probably the best press story so far. Seems that a total fruitcake working for the Rev. Moon planted a story that Obama had attended a Muslim School for suicide bombers and that Hillary Clinton leaked the story. Talk about more bang for your bucks. But would any self-respecting news outlet pick up a nutty story like that without checking the facts/. Well, no. That would have to be done by Fox News, managed by Roger Ailes, the old Willy Horton ad guy. And run with it they did refusing to admit a mistake even after competing news people refuted the story with those old Fox bugaboos, facts.

Hillary Clinton: should she dress in dresses or pants suits? Donatella Versace says, “”She really should stop wearing pants. I imagine they’re comfortable, but she is a woman and should be allowed to show it. She should give her femininity a chance and not emulate the masculinity in politics.”

Ok, so that story did not have legs, so to speak. But the Big Story is whether Hillary should apologize for having voted for the invasion of Iraq when the President simply lied about the reasons for it. Seems to me if anyone should apologize it should be the president that lied us into it for pretty shabby reasons. Anyway, the press is doing its dog with a bone thing so this will continue until they rediscover the importance of wearing dresses.

John Edwards – The issue of his admitted “mistake” in voting for the invasion of Iraq excites the press less than the fact that he hired a couple of bozos to run blogs for his campaign. My good friend Kiwi sent me some wonderful satire on this which I cannot share for reasons of – well – good taste. But again is this the issue we want to decide on?

Mitt Romney is lucky to have the press focusing on his religion rather than on his remarkable ability to change his views on just about every social issue found inside and outside the Bible. For instance, when running for Governor of Massachusetts he supported a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, gun control, and same-sex civic unions. In the last year of his tenure as governor he spent over 200 days out of the state presumably getting a values-change operation somewhere.  But for now the main question for him from the press is  “what the hell is a Mormon anyway?” And “will he force Americans to give up alcohol and swear words.”

John McCain is all hot to trot about sending more and more troops to Iraq, and the press takes note of that while it asks whether it is a mistake to believe something and actually say the words. I mean Bush got elected as a compassionate conservative and someone who would bring humble pie to the international table and got elected.  Doesn’t McCain know enough to lie?

Rudy Guiliani is providing the opportunity to beat up on a man who wears out wives the way some of us wear out cheap sneakers. The press has trouble with this one though because he remains a hero in some eyes for having not died in the 9/11 attacks. So the story is not that having had a few wives is bad. It is only that maybe some Bible thumpers will not like it. But what can he do? Become an old-fashioned Mormon and remarry his previous two wives? What would Romney say to that?

Joe Biden made the horrible mistake of accusing Obama of being “clean” and “articulate”. The Reverends Jesse and Al went nuts and the press beat up on poor Joe for days. It did however take attention away from his hair transplant and also made it possible to ignore his Iraq strategy which is more sensible than most and might even be worth further exploration – once we get this Obama insult taken care of.

The election is 21 months away.  That is a long time to consider waking up to meaningless stories as we approach the need to clean up probably the worst mess ever left by any president. But we best be prepared for mindless babble about what the candidates wear, what they eat, what they drink, what they ever smoked or sniffed or mainlined, what they have ever done to other humans  or animals  in the backseats of cars, what clever little campaign lies can be told successfully, etc. Just for God’s sake, do not bore us with substance.

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Lieberman’s War Tax

Posted February 7, 2007 on 6:15 pm | In the category Iraq, Lieberman Watch, Politics, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

It has been easy to resist writing about AIPAC’s favorite senator, but Joe Lieberman’s suggestion for a war tax to pay for the Iraq War is kind of interesting.  Not that anyone on either side of the aisle is likely to seriously consider it, but rather for the entertainment opportunity it could provide for watching the Congress discuss and debate the Iraq War in terms of its impact on American domestic policy.

The Bush-Cheney budget proposal presents a case for reducing health, education and environmental programs to reduce a deficit that results at least partly through the enormous costs of the Bush-Cheney Iraq Thing. The Washington Times gloats that Lieberman’s proposal would force the Democrats to raise taxes in order to maintain those  non-defense programs, but of course, it could also be an opportunity for Americans to hear a substantive debate on the cost of the war and the trade-offs it has allowed Bush-Cheney to make.

Improve education for Americans or bomb some towns in Iraq? Distribute $12billion in cash to unaccountable Iraqis or help shore up Social Security? Pay billions to Halliburton to construct crappy facilities in Iraq or provide food to poor American school children? Spend some money on developing alternative energy sources or spend billions to prop up Iraq’s corrupt oil industry?

The Congress would not treat this seriously because it would force both parties to face reality and address it publicly and maybe even courageously. And of course Lieberman knows that, but his suggestion allows him to play both ends of the debate – support the war and maintain social programs but pay for it with a tax that no member of Congress would have the courage to support.

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Germany and Poland 18 years later

Posted February 7, 2007 on 3:25 am | In the category Germany, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Germany beat Poland in the final of the world championship in handball in Köln on the weekend. Through a sport played almost exclusively in Europe, the unexpected teams in the final (France, Spain and Croatia were favoured, Denmark won the bronze medal) offered an opportunity to take a look at relations between the historically uneasy neighbours 18 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. for many, the sight was not very satisfying and there was a nervous feeling that the ongoing animosity between the rich German Wessis and the poor Slavic Ossis was indicative of the general difficulty the EU is having in giving the impression of a united entity.
Bundespräsident Köhler and Polish President Lech Kaczynski sat next to each other, even exchanged national shawls, but the photos show two uneasy, even unhappyfaces, and the Polish president was given an unfriendly welcome by the mainly German fans. This could be interpreted as just part of the increasingly unpleasant sporting scene in Europe, but it goes deeper than that. The Poles seem incapable of fogetting what happened 60 years ago; the Germans seem incapable of understanding why the Poles let their contemporary politics with regard to Germany revolve so steadily around that memory. Certainly there are leading figures on both sides who would like nothing better than to get these two large nations to work together and form transnational centres along their boundaries, as has happened in Malmö/Copenhagen. But there is little sign of this, and the bickering and irritations dominate a relationship that seemed very promising not so long ago.

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The Budget: Bush’s Strategy for America

Posted February 6, 2007 on 3:14 pm | In the category Politics, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The budget that President Bush presented to the Congress yesterday is a near culmination of his shell game. It goes something like this. He produces a tax break for the rich, spends billions on a fiasco war in Iraq, develops a huge deficit, then comes up with a budget which he says will reduce the deficit he created – but not by reducing defense budgets, which will continue to increase at a time when the country’s defense expenditures are greater than the total for all other countries together.

Rather, for Bush it has become time to reduce support of programs aimed at ordinary people – programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, education and environmental agencies, heating assistance for low-income families, etc. At the same time he wants to make his tax cuts for the wealthy, permanent.

It has been clear from the beginning of this odious presidency that he was intent on changing the nature of the American experience by returning the country’s operating ethos to that of pre-Roosevelt days. It would, in a sense, be a matching domestic legacy to that of his foreign policy, which has given us the Iraq disaster, distaste and anger from the citizens of former allies, the loss of the country’s moral edge, the end of bipartisan commitment to America among its people and the end of American prestige and honor.

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German Realpolitik Redux

Posted February 5, 2007 on 2:12 pm | In the category Germany, Press, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

An earlier posting to this blog reviewed the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German-Lebanese who was kidnapped by CIA agents and spirited off to Syria for five month interrogation at the end of which the CIA had learned that he had been a salesman in Bavaria – whoops. Munich prosecutors then indicted the CIA operatives and Munich’s liberal paper the Sueddeutsche Zeitung commented, “The great ally is not allowed to simply send its thugs out into Europe’s streets.”

Our friends the MacKenzie brothers commented that the German Foreign Minister was unlikely to press the issue with his American counterpart since realpolitik bothers the Germans – a view which seemed right to this writer.

In today’s Washington Post, Craig Whitlock provides a different slant that indicates that realpolitik might just be alive and well in certain circles within Germany. It turns out that German intelligence agents were directly involved in the rendition of another German citizen, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who had been involved in the Hamburg cell that planned the 9/11 attack. He is being held in Syria and the German role has created a political, if not moral, dilemma for a country that publicly tends to resist realpolitik while privately behaving like one of the boys.

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The Decomposition of Henry Kissinger

Posted February 3, 2007 on 6:26 pm | In the category Iraq, Politics, Press | by Jeff

Earlier this week Henry Kissinger appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss Bush-Cheney’s Iraq policy. I finally got around to viewing a video of his appearance and it was bizarre – a scene of his mumbling, rambling and seemingly sucking up to everyone on the committee as he appeared to agree with almost any suggestion made by any Senator. The scene’s believability might actually have benefited from visits by his old pals Jill St. John, Richard Nixon and Augusto Pinochet.

I got very worried for Iraq’s neighboring countries when he announced the probability of a secret peace plan, remembering what his secret plan for Vietnam did for Cambodia. But then he mumbled something about not really knowing that there was a plan, only that:

“I am convinced, but I cannot base it on any necessary evidence right now that the president will want to move toward a bipartisan consensus”.

Jesus – what the hell does that mean?

He meandered along through testimony that ignored much of the reality of current policy in Iraq and moved toward a numbing kind of equivalent to: “on the one hand this, on the other hand that” analysis. There was something for everyone. Is there a secret peace plan in the Bush administration?   He did not know for sure, but it seemed like they must be moving in that direction. Is the President’s planned “surge” likely to be effective? He opined that if it worked it would serve the interests of reconciliation.  Etc. ad nauseum.

What was striking was the inability of anyone in the room to make any sense.  While perhaps easy to ignore the babblings of a man who has outlasted whatever usefulness he might have had (and that latter is up for debate) it is neither easy nor pleasant to watch a room full of Senators trying to get the old guy to give them what each of them wants and at the end of the day not knowing whether they got it.

We are told that Kissinger has been advising Bush on Iraq policy and that is totally believable given this performance and the state of the Iraq war.

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New Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President

Posted February 3, 2007 on 3:49 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Iran, Public Diplomacy | by Jeff

The Board of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has selected Jeffrey Gedmin as RFE/RL’s new president. Since 2001 Gedmin has served as Director of the Aspen institute in Berlin and prior to that served for five years as Executive Director of the New Atlantic Initiative.

Looking at his background and some recent writings Gedmin appears to be a strong choice for what is a challenging position. His work is cut out for him. Radio Liberty’s Russian Broadcast Service has had some difficulties with President Putin’s government and to his credit Gedmin has been critical of the undemocratic (and worse) directions that Putin has taken Russia. In so doing he has taken a stronger stance for freedom and democracy in Russia than the U.S. government. Also, the Radio’s successful Persian Service was turned into a shadow of itself a few years ago when the Board of Broadcast Governors forced it to join with VOA’s service and to move from providing substantive news, analysis and culture aimed at Iran’s influential elites to a popular music format aimed at people with little influence and perhaps even interest in the issues of freedom and democracy within Iran. Given the current state of Iran-U.S. relations this is an issue that Gedmin might usefully put at the top of his “to do” list.

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