Desperate Acts of a Desperate Man? Bush and Iran

Posted September 28, 2007 on 3:18 pm | In the category Iran, Iraq, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The visit to New York of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has highlighted America’s paranoid fear of a third-rate clown from a second-tier power. Having placed Iran within his Axis of Evil, President Bush now must deal with the fact that his invasion of Iraq handed Iran the strategic gift of unparalleled influence in the likely Iraq of the future (for a detailed analysis of why this is so, see Peter Galbraith’s The Victor in the October 11 issue of the New York Review of Books).

While the United States begins the long and painful process of coming to grips with the Iraq reality of – at best – stalemate and at worst – defeat, it has proven all too tempting to lay the blame as far away from the White House as possible. And what better place than Tehran? Ergo, the ongoing stories of weapons being smuggled into Iraq from Iran, ignoring the unpleasant fact that the U.S. has basically armed both sides of a civil war in which its own soldiers and marines are caught in the middle. The American press dutifully reports every account of Iranian weapons found in Iraq, joins in the jingoistic threats of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and ignores the unpleasant reality that the vast majority of deaths in Iraq can be traced to Sunnis and Shiites killing each other and even some of their own – frequently with American weaponry.

The recent Israeli flyover of Syria led to hints of North Korean-Syrian cooperation on nuclear weapons development; hints  given the same credibility the press gave Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the same time the Cheney wing of the administration sees an opportunity to scuttle the talks with North Korea, something they have tried to do from the beginning of those negotiations. All of which begs the question: what is Bush planning for his swan song?

One possibility is for Bush to continue to pressure for more sanctions on Iran; another would be open direct negotiations with Iran and yet another would be to initiate bombing attacks on Iran’s nuclear and military facilities. At this point it seems the first of these options has been chosen, the second is almost surely not going to happen but the third option remains viable. President Bush is not known for his subtlety of mind – indeed his behavior suggests an impatience with those who disagree with him and a schoolyard bully’s tendency to use others to fight his battles for him – in this case it could be his own Air Force and/or the Israeli Air Force. A bombing attack on Iran would feed some of his more vocal neo-con supporters and leave one more mess for his successor to clean up.

An analyst friend theorized this week that perhaps the best solution to the perceived nuclear threat from Iran would be to do what was done to the Soviet Union in the Cold War: serve notice that a nuclear attack on any country by Iran would be met with subsequent annihilation of the Iranian nation and its people. Détente was never a perfect solution – but it worked for 50 years against a foe a whole lot tougher than Iran and it could possibly put an end to foolish posturing by American politicians and media editorialists.

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The loony brings down the eagle

Posted September 24, 2007 on 12:28 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

For the first time in more than thirty years, the Canadian dollar is worth as much as the US dollar, and many economists predict that Canada’s booming economy, particularly in the energy and commodities area, will now cause a surge that leaves the greenback in its dust. Any economist who suggested this half a dozen years go, when the loony was worth $.62, would have been considered a loony in reality, and it’s hard to remember a more startling reversal of economic fortune in such a short time in the western world. The reasons are easy enough to see in retrospect, although the speed of change stuns everyone, and should cause the Yanks to consider carefully the financial implications of the seemingly bottomless debts that George Bush’s military follies will leave for whoever is unlucky enough to have to deal with the consequences.
Meanwhile Canada has during the same period managed to beef up its military presence to the point that it is now being courted, even begged, by such supposed powers as France and Germany to continue, along with the Dutch, to do the real fighting in Afghanistan, since the European heavyweights prefer to cheerlead from the sidelines. Six years go it would have seemed as loony to predict that the Canadian dollar would surpass the greenback in value in 2008 as it would have been to suggest that the European military bigwigs would soon be pleading with Canada to do their fighting for them. But then who could possibly have imagined that at the end of the same period, thousands of Mexican emigrants to the US would stream across the border in places like Windsor, Ontario and claim refugee status in Canada. Wonder what will have happened six years from now.

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The Failure of Bush’s Surge

Posted September 15, 2007 on 5:51 pm | In the category Iraq, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

President Bush, his GOP Congressional supporters, and a large proportion of the American news media have cooperated in pulling off the great Petraeus shell game. It goes something like this: you start with 130,000 troops in a failed occupation in Iraq and make a case for a short-term surge of an additional 30,000 troops to provide time for the Iraqis to put together a strong central government with all factions in Iraq sharing power. You report in six months that the surge has been successful and that you expect to begin withdrawing from Iraq in a year or so by removing 30,000 troops. So, of course, we are right back where we started and – at this writing – no closer to a strong government in Iraq than we were a year ago. But the withdrawal of 30,000 troops is an illusion. The U.S. military has simply run out of available troops and 30,000 would need to be removed regardless.

Putting the surge into context requires understanding that there remains no end game strategy from Bush; that the U.S. military is in a highly weakened state with generals predicting problems responding to additional threats; that the violence in Iraq remains high and is mostly not connected Al Queda; that 2 and a half million Iraqis (largely the middle class professionals) have left the country; that the British pulling their troops out of Basra is already leading to increased sectarian violence there; that the cost to the United States will soon be over a trillion dollars; that the war in Afghanistan is suffering due to our inability to supply adequate troops there: that Iran remains the likely big winner in Iraq because of Bush’s inability to even consider the real consequences of his fiasco; that much of the billions spent on reconstruction in Iraq has been wasted on shoddy construction or simply stolen by corrupt contractors; that soon the American military death toll will be over 4,000 and the number of wounded over 30,000; that hundreds of thousands Iraqis have been killed in the aftermath of the invasion; that the basic infrastructure in Iraq is worse than it was under Saddam; and that no longer does anyone use the word “victory” when discussing the future of our efforts in Iraq. It would be impossible to make up a perfect storm of ignorance and arrogance to match what the Bush presidency has done in Iraq.

As for General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, it is, in my view, wrong to fault them for trying to make the best of the rotten hand dealt to them. They were careful to avoid making the kind of stupid boasts that regularly come from their President – “bring it on”, “mission accomplished”, “we’re kickin ass in Iraq”. etc. – and while they put the best face they could on the situation, the blame must be laid at the President’s desk – with the complicity of the American electorate who elected him not once, but – for God’s sake – twice!

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Germany’s home-grown explosive experts

Posted September 10, 2007 on 12:53 am | In the category Germany, Terrorism | by Mackenzie Brothers

Exactly thirty years to the day that a group of young German extreme leftists kidnapped and eventually murdered German business chief Hans-Martin Schleyer, initiating a series of violent attacks on German civilian targets, such as Lufthansa, whose repercussions continue to make Germans nervous, a new batch of home-grown terrorists has made a dramatic entry into the headlines. Like the original RAF members, the Al-Quaida-affiliated group that had six times as much explosive chemicals stored in a garage in a remote village in the Black Forest as did the bombers of the railways in Madrid and London, was dominated by the children of middle- to upper-class German parents. They had received normal German educational training and been rather anonymous teenagers when they converted to Islam, went to training bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan and returned as explosive specialists with the intention of blowing up, apparently, the Frankfurt airport and the US air force base at Ramstein.
Since Germany refused to take part in the Iraq war and has had a rather inconspicuous role in the NATO foray in Afghanistan, preferring to leave the real fighting to middle powers like the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada, your average Fritz Schmidt felt that Germany was an unlikely terrorist goal. But these illusions have now passed as it becomes clear that the real goal of the Al-Quaida mission is the destabilization of the pillars of western society. Their leader stated in his most recent announcement, that the only way the west can be spared is by converting to Islam. It’s a sobering thought for any Judeo-Christian society and for the Germans it becomes even more threatening and disheartening when the explosive experts are named Fritz and Daniel and learned their trade during the ever-more-common coming-of-age trek through once exotic Asia.

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Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen

Posted September 4, 2007 on 2:08 pm | In the category Canada, Europe, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

The rankings for most livable city on earth have been led by the usual suspects, in differing order, for the last decade: Vancouver, Zürich, Geneva. This year a couple of other European cities began to make inroads, not old favourites Paris or London – too expensive, too overdeveloped and too prone to violence – including Copenhagen, the beautiful Danish capital immortalized by Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Andersen in the most absurd film biography ever made. Hans Christian Andersen had as many dark sides to his ultra-neurotic personality as anyone you could imagine and it is precisely these descents into a threatening and dangerous underworld that characterize his greatest works, apparently simple fairy tales that are full of deadly threats to any kind of attempt to discover a kitschy Disney paradise in Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen.

On the weekend wonderful Copenhagen erupted into the kind of social violence that you could never imagine happening in other leading European pretenders to the most livable city throne, Stockholm and Munich, cities that my brother and I would be happy to place in competition with Vancouver. They would certainly lose due to the unmatchable splendour of the wilderness within easy reach of Vancouver, not to mention its own waterfront, but they have plenty to offer before they fall behind, one of those things being the relative serenity of their societies. Citizens of Stockholm and München do not find it necessary to challenge the police in ritualistic semi-warfare, as do the citizens of Berlin or Paris, but increasingly such events are becoming established in Copenhagen. On the weekend it was 1000 youths once again engaging the undermanned Copenhagen police force in a running battle featuring tear gas and non-lethal weapons. And once again, the Danish police could not really control crowds looking for trouble. This time it was once again demonstrations recalling the anniversary of the tearing down of a youth centre. Previously it had been violent, even fatal, bouts with the motorcycle gangs or neo-Nazis, and then there are the ongoing semi-violent confrontations concerning the somewhat off-limits alternate settlement of Christania. Copenhagen’s most unruly group may in the long run however turn out to be its large Muslim minority, which is feeling increasingly alienated in a way that is not the case in neighbouring Sweden. If this nasty uneasy relationship continues to sour, Copenhagen will end up light years away from the Danny Kaye version of it.

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