The era of the Middle East strongman, propped up by and enforcing Western policy, appears well and truly over. His power is being replaced with rule by civil war, apparently now the American Administration’s favoured model across the region.
Fratricidal fighting is threatening to engulf, or already engulfing, the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq. Both Syria and Iran could soon be next, torn apart by attacks Israel is reportedly planning on behalf of the US. The reverberations would likely consume the region.
Western politicians like to portray civil war as a consequence of the West’s failure to intervene more effectively in the Middle East. Were we more engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or more aggressive in opposing Syrian manipulations in Lebanon, or more hands-on in Iraq, the sectarian fighting could be prevented. The implication being, of course, that, without the West’s benevolent guidance, Arab societies are incapable of dragging themselves out of their primal state of barbarity.
But in fact, each of these breakdowns of social order appears to have been engineered either by the United States or by Israel. In Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, sectarian difference is less important than a clash of political ideologies and interests as rival factions disagree about whether to submit to, or resist, American and Israeli interference. Where the factions derive their funding and legitimacy from -- increasingly a choice between the US or Iran -- seems to determine where they stand in this confrontation.
As Robert Gates takes the helm at the Pentagon today, he is probably already aware that Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush are resolute in their decision to stay the course in Iraq (without using those words) for the next two years. What he probably does not realize is that the U.S. military is about to commit hara-kiri.
More than two thousand years ago, a Spartan king resisted pressure to go to war saying, "I am less afraid of the enemy's strategy than I am of the mistakes we will make." Today, no one in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group would question the Spartan King's wisdom. It is painfully obvious that in Iraq, American power defeated itself.
Since the Pentagon has decided to discuss its new strategy in gambling parlance, it should at least use the proper terminology. Today's LA Times article says that a Pentagon official has referred to the option of sending more troops in to Iraq as a "double down" strategy. The reference is to a bet in blackjack when, based on the cards that have been dealt, the player seeks to maximize a payoff that is more likely to occur in that hand, given the probabilities. The double down is a calculated bet, made from a position of strength when the odds are favorable to the bettor.
In Iraq, we are certainly not in a situation where the odds are favorable to winning. Our bet is not a double down. Let's call it what it is: double or nothing. This is is more like the gambler who has been on a bad losing streak deciding to empty the savings account and put all of his chips on red, hoping that the roulette wheel will spin his way and bring him back close to even. Double or nothing is a desperation play. It is an ill-advised way to gamble, with chips or human lives, and such a strategy inevitably leads to another appropriate gambling term. Gambler's ruin: winding up completely broke.
"Life here in Iraq has become impossible because of the militias, sectarian violence, and the occupation [U.S.] forces. Every day we see the dead bodies near our homes which have been killed by militias. We watch how the U.S. troops see these dead bodies and… do nothing to stop this violence. Two of my brothers just left their houses and rented a new place because they were living in a Shia area. They had to run away just because they are Sunni.
Unfortunately for the Bush administration, it turned out that, while you could fix the war games and the intelligence, you couldn't be assured of fixing reality itself, which has a tendency to remain obdurately, passionately, irascibly unconquerable. Yes, you could ignore reality for a while. (The President, when being told a few hard Iraqi truths in 2004 by Col. Derek Harvey, the Defense Intelligence Agency's senior intelligence officer for Iraq, reportedly turned to his aides and asked, "Is this guy a Democrat?") But you couldn't do it forever, not when the Lt. Gen. Van Ripers of Iraq refused to step aside and you weren't capable of removing them; not when you couldn't even figure out, most of the time, who they were. It was then that the fixers first found themselves in a genuine fix, from which none of Washington's movers and shakers have yet been willing to extract themselves.
Six brutal truths about Iraq General William Odom, one of the earliest advocates of an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, attacks some of the mythologies that are interfering with an honest debate about how to proceed in the Middle East and says the media have failed to recognize dramatic changes in the region.
War is said to define men’s lives, their memories permanently cast in categories marked “before” or “after” the war. Scars, both physical and emotiona are totems to courage and vulnerability, irrevocably revealing the unspoken partnership between man and war. Monuments are erected to fallen warriors. Veterans are venerated. In the context of history, wars have defined turning points in time, delineated eras and redefined civilizations.
But what of the women who do not fight while their men go to war? What is the impact of war on the lives of the wives and daughters, mothers and sisters, who are nonetheless caught in the crossfire?
Afghan refugee women and children [Thal, Pakistan]
Over the past three years, and with mounting alarm, Iran has steadily held Washington's gaze, gaining ever more notoriety as one of the most serious foreign policy challenges confronting the United States. An Islamist regime that was being written off on the eve of the second Gulf war is now asserting itself on the world stage and shows no sign of being subdued. Iran sees itself as a great power, and it is pursuing the nuclear capability that would confirm this self-image. It believes that it can play a global role and expects to be treated as a peer by the United States. Washington was certainly caught off guard by the surge in Iranian influence, and more so by the confident and provocative attitude that the country's hard-line leadership has lately put on display. As Iran has become more important to the United States, so has the problem of dealing with the Iranian question become the bugbear of the Bush administration. America's Iraq policy is becoming more and more overshadowed by America's Iran policy, whatever that is. The Bush administration has staked a very great deal on Iraq, but in the end it may be the administration's handling of Iran, more than of North Korea or even of Al Qaeda, that defines the Bush era in foreign policy.
Now, all this is not to say that Iran doesn't have some very serious human rights issues it needs to address. But the country spends $6 billion a year on its armed forces. We spend $400 billion. Do they support Hamas and Fatah? Yes, they do. Do they support Hezbollah? Yes, they do. Do they send arms to both? Yes, they do. So what? We prop up and support all kinds of odious regimes in our foreign policy too. Again, I am not excusing it, but what Iran does has to be looked at in a larger context. For almost 150 years Iran was dominated by Russia, then the UK and then the US. Throughout all that time they tried to develop a real constitutional monarchy and then democracy. First in the revolution of 1906--which the Russians and Brits surpressed. Then in 1953 with Mossadeq (who we overthrew in favor of the Shah).
Iran has more civil society, and is more modern than all the Arab countries. Women have 30 seats guaranteed in parliament--they are still treated in an absolutely odious and abhorrent fashion in general, as well as the treatment of gays, horrid. However, religious minorities in the country, including Christians, have churches and representation--although the Bahai are not treated well at all, it is better than Saudi Arabia where you cannot worship any other faith. Iran, again, is far from perfect, but it's not a fascist or a totalitarian society in any way. The Sunni's don't like Iran because they see Iran as a more modern state than their own, with much more popular sovereignty than in their own and it scares them.
So, take this into to consideration. Iran is far, far, far from perfect, but it has a lot more to offer than any of the Arab states, and it does offer its people a lot more than they do.
Twenty-five years after first setting foot on Lebanese soil, award-winning journalist Robert Fisk has revised his brilliant study of this troubled country, Pity the Nation, for a third edition, to include the years since its initial publication in 1990. Artificially created as a country by the French in 1920, Lebanon's revenge was to "welcome all her invaders and then kiss them to death". Since arriving during the 1976 Muslim-Maronite civil war, Fisk has travelled its length to seek out, as well as provide, eye-witness account of combat and atrocity. The book's main pre-occupation is the Israeli invasion of the early 1980s and its terrible aftermath, including the appalling massacre of Palestinians at the Shabra and Chatila camps. Banned in Lebanon itself, the first edition of Pity the Nation ended with close friend and colleague Terry Anderson still being held by Islamic Jihad. Inevitably, Anderson's release in 1991, along with other Western hostages such as Terry Waite and John McCarthy, emotionally informs the bulk of the new material, which also considers the Gulf War, Islamic resurgence, the collapse of the Oslo peace agreement and the bloody 1996 Qana massacre in a UN refugee compound by Israeli forces, to which Fisk bears terrible witness. He sees Yasser Arafat make the transmission from "terrorist to superstatesman to superterrorist", but by the end of this exhaustive testimony, virtually the last Western journalist left in West Beirut, he admits, "I still fear the monsters". And then Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel in February 2001.
Fisk, formerly of The Times and now Middle East correspondent for The Independent, writes as combatively as the events he so vividly describes. With a fastidious eye for detail, he rails against day-tripping reporters who betray truth with their clichés and loose language, constantly defending language against false appropriation: "terrorism", for example, wielded by one side to describe acts committed against them, deprives the term of any objective purpose and thus legitimises reprisal. He makes reparation with this unique and passionate analysis, still angry after all these years, which remains the most relentless and convincing account yet of the bloodiest quarter-century in Lebanon's history
The magic words "We recognize you" could end all this suffering. So why did their prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, vow last week never to utter them? Is Hamas so filled with hatred and loathing for Israel as a Jewish state that it cannot make such a simple statement of good intent?
It is easy to forget that, though conditions have dramatically deteriorated of late, the Palestinians' problems did not start with the election of Hamas. Israel's occupation is four decades old, and no Palestinian leader has ever been able to extract from Israel a promise of real statehood in all of the occupied territories: not the mukhtars, the largely compliant local leaders, who for decades were the only representatives allowed to speak on behalf of the Palestinians after the national leadership was expelled; not the Palestinian Authority under the secular leadership of Yasser Arafat, who returned to the occupied territories in the mid-1990s after the PLO had recognized Israel; not the leadership of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the "moderate" who first called for an end to the armed intifada; and now not the leaders of Hamas, even though they have repeatedly called for a long-term truce (hudna) as the first step in building confidence.
Similarly, few Palestinians doubt that Israel will continue to entrench the occupation – just as it did during the supposed peacemaking years of Oslo, when the number of Jewish settlers doubled in the occupied territories – even if Hamas is ousted and a government of national unity, of technocrats or even of Fatah takes its place.
There is far more at stake for Israel in winning this little concession from Hamas than most observers appreciate. A statement saying that Hamas recognized Israel would do much more than meet Israel's precondition for talks; it would mean that Hamas had walked into the same trap that was set earlier for Arafat and Fatah. That trap is designed to ensure that any peaceful solution to the conflict is impossible.
R.R. But the 2-state theory which the Americans are promoting – envisages a Palestinian state next to an Israeli state. Is this also absolutely unacceptable for Hamas?
K.M. No. No. Let me say that the Hamas movement will only establish a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967 that includes the West of Jerusalem and the Westbank. Up till now Israel does not recognise this right for us. All the Palestinians are demanding is this right. But Israel keeps violating Palestinian rights and the West is unwilling to force Israel to recognise the Palestinian rights. Even when President Bush talked about a Palestinian state, it was not clear cut. And Ariel Sharon and recently Ehud Olmert have made a lot of reservations about Bush’s proposal. They are rejecting the idea of an Israeli state within its 1967 borders. They want an Israeli state, which includes parts of the Westbank. Actually President Bush had even agreed to Sharon’s proposal for Israel to keep all of Jerusalem. And he agreed with Sharon to choose the right Palestinian leader who would accept all this.
R.R. Have I understood you correctly that you would be prepared to negotiate with Israel and accept it within its borders of 1967, before it started its wars of aggression, stealing Palestinian land?
Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 by Benny Morris
This is a history of the Palestinian/Arab and Israeli conflict written by a Zionist Israeli. He was the first Zionist historian to admit to the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 and to the use of terrorism to drive the Palestinians out. His only reservation is that Ben Gurion stopped short. He should have driven all the Palestinians out between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Other than that, it's a useful history that is worth reading. Just realize Morris is blind to the aspirations of non-Europeans. Following is the interview where he justified ethnic cleansing. I guess it's depends on who is doing the cleansing. I'll bet he didn't think it was justified when the Germans did it in the 1930s.
Benny Morris says he was always a Zionist. People were mistaken when they labeled him a post-Zionist, when they thought that his historical study on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem was intended to undercut the Zionist enterprise. Nonsense, Morris says, that's completely unfounded. Some readers simply misread the book. They didn't read it with the same detachment, the same moral neutrality, with which it was written. So they came to the mistaken conclusion that when Morris describes the cruelest deeds that the Zionist movement perpetrated in 1948 he is actually being condemnatory, that when he describes the large-scale expulsion operations he is being denunciatory. They did not conceive that the great documenter of the sins of Zionism in fact identifies with those sins. That he thinks some of them, at least, were unavoidable.
"There is no justification for acts of rape. There is no justification for acts of massacre. Those are war crimes. But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands."
Israeli historian Benny Morris crossed a new line of shame when he put his academic credentials and respectability in the service of outlining the "moral" justification for a future genocide against Palestinians.
Benny Morris is the Israeli historian most responsible for the vindication of the Palestinian narrative of 1948. The lives of about 700,000 people were shattered as they were driven from their homes by the Jewish militia (and, later, the Israeli army) between December 1947 and early 1950. Morris went through Israeli archives and wrote the day by day account of this expulsion, documenting every "ethnically cleansed" village and every recorded act of violence, and placing each in the context of the military goals and perceptions of the cleansers.
In an interview with Haaretz, Benny “the barbarian” Morris voiced some candid and disturbing opinions about his newly acquired knowledge. Being a barbarian, Morris apparently enjoyed the accounts of massacres, rapes and forced transfers. So much so, that he opines that Ben Gurion was a wimp who didn’t have the stomach to finish off the Palestinians by cleansing them all the way to the Jordan River. He goes on to make a case for future episodes of ethnic cleansing that would include the possible transfer of Israeli Arabs.
At some point in the interview, when the reader might think that Benny Morris has already said the most terrible things, he brings up, in passing, the extermination of the Native Americans. Morris contends that their annihilation was unavoidable. “The great American democracy could not have been achieved without the extermination of the Indians. There are cases in which the general and final good justifies difficult and cruel deeds that are carried out in the course of history.” Morris seems to know what the general and final good is: the good of the Americans, of course. He knows that this good justifies partial evil. In other words, under specific conditions, specific circumstances, Morris believes that it is possible to justify genocide. In the case of the Indians, it is the existence of the American nation. In the case of the Palestinians, it is the existence of the Jewish state. For Morris, genocide is a matter of circumstances, that can be justified under certain conditions, all according to the perceived threat that the people to be annihilated represent to the people carrying out the genocide, or just to their form of government. The murderers of Rwanda or Serbia, that are standing trial today in international courts for their crimes against humanity, might like to retain Morris as an advisor.
The circumstantial justifications for transfer and for genocide are exactly the same: in some circumstances there’s no choice. It is just a question of the circumstances. Sometimes you have to expel. Sometimes expulsion is not enough, and you must kill, exterminate, destroy. If, for instance, you have to expel, and those expelled insist on returning to their homes, there’s no choice but to eliminate them. Morris documents this solution in his book on Israel’s border wars in the 1950s. A straightforward reading might lead one to think that he is describing the State of Israel’s greatest sin: the sin is not that Israel expelled the Palestinians in the course of a bloody war, when the Jews faced a genuine threat, but that they shot to death anyone that tried to return to their homes, and would not allow the defeated refugees to return to their deserted villages and accept the new authorities, and be citizens, as they allowed the Palestinians that did not flee. But Morris the careful commentator offers a different interpretation from Morris the historian: there was no choice. Not then and not today. He suggests that we see ourselves as remaining for at least another generation in the cycle of expulsion and killing, ready at any moment to take the harshest measures, when required. At the present stage we have to imprison the Palestinians. Under graver conditions we will need to expel them. If circumstances require, and if the “general, final good” justifies it, extermination will be the final solution. Behind the threat of prison and expulsion lies the threat of extermination. You don’t need to read between the lines. He stated it clearly in the interview. Ha’aretz printed it.
The problem with liberal Zionists is the same problem with white Northern liberals during the civil rights era in the United States: they won’t admit that they’re on the same side as the Klan. Liberal Zionists refuse to be honest about what their politics really mean. And in this tradition of political distortion, Benny Morris sets out to mask a white supremacist reading of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in ‘objective’ history.
The Great Wealth Transfer It's the biggest untold economic story of our time: more of the nation's bounty held in fewer and fewer hands. And Bush's tax cuts are only making the problem worse By Paul Krugman
Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. After all, they point out, the gross domestic product is up; unemployment, at least according to official figures, is low by historical standards; and stocks have recovered much of the ground they lost in the early years of the decade, with the Dow surpassing 12,000 for the first time. Yet the public remains deeply unhappy with the state of the economy. In a recent poll, only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."
Are people just ungrateful? Is the administration failing to get its message out? Are the news media, as conservatives darkly suggest, deliberately failing to report the good news?
None of the above. The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.
Twilight for the Kimono A Venerable Japanese Weaver Toils and Watches As a Kyoto District's Humming Looms Fall Silent
His fingers muscled from almost a century of weaving, Yasujiro Yamaguchi worked the humming loom in his private workshop. Patiently lacing golden threads through a warp of auburn silk, he fashioned a bolt of kimono fabric blooming with an autumn garden in shades of tea green, ginger and plum.
But Yamaguchi, like Japan's signature kimono, is slipping into winter. At 102, he is among the last master weavers of Nishijin, the country's most celebrated kimono district, and his pace has slowed. He rubbed the morning chill from his knuckles, fitted his hunched shoulders deeper inside his indigo jacket and resolutely pushed on.
This kimono -- for the role of a willowy beauty in a classical Noh play, withering from the loss of her lover -- will take him a full year to make. If Yamaguchi doesn't finish it, there are few weavers left in Japan skilled enough to take over.
"This kimono must be beautiful, but there is also sorrow in the weave," Yamaguchi said, eyes trained on his stitch. "The audience will see this and immediately understand that the character is mourning for something precious, for something lost."
This requiem could apply to the Japanese kimono itself, and particularly Nishijin, the district that for 1,200 years has been the heart and soul of this nation's weaving tradition.
Your Ned, the son af an American diplomat, is a sophomore at an international school at the farthest edge of town, in the Andean foothills. His anti-authoritarian teenaged years in their fullest pimply bloom, he insists, despite his parents' entreaties (or, who knows, perhaps because of them) on affecting the uniform of the Pissed-Off 1975 Teen: the long, ratty hair, jeans worn through at the knee, the general surliness.
In a fascist dictatorship -- gun emplacements on the public thoroughfare, DINA agents prowling the streets in unmarked cars ready to pounce and "disappear" you to torture chambers on Dawson Island, itchy-trigger-fingered Carabineros on street corners stopping any random passerby who looked vaguely "socialist" -- the Pissed-Off 1975 Teen look is the sort of thing that the Authorities lick their chops at. It's utterly impossible to understand, in a cosmopolitan democracy, the raw, adrenaline-pumping fear that can gnaw at your vitals when you can be hauled off the street at any instant for the way you dress. I'm sorry, punk rockers and Disaffected Victims of the Man: you can't know. There is no comparison. I came to dread with a sickly nausea those knee-trembling moments when a machine-gun-wielding cop would pick me out of a crowded sidewalk, step in front of me, and accost me for my ID: "A ver, joven..."
For years, activists in the marijuana legalization movement have claimed that cannabis is America's biggest cash crop. Now they're citing government statistics to prove it.
A report released today by a marijuana public policy analyst contends that the market value of pot produced in the U.S. exceeds $35 billion — far more than the crop value of such heartland staples as corn, soybeans and hay, which are the top three legal cash crops.
California is responsible for more than a third of the cannabis harvest, with an estimated production of $13.8 billion that exceeds the value of the state's grapes, vegetables and hay combined — and marijuana is the top cash crop in a dozen states, the report states.
We visited Zoe's mom last week. We hadn't been able to make it down to Tacoma since Thanksgiving. Her Alzheimer's is slowly getting worse but she did have some of that sparkle left. I don't think she remembered our names but she knew Zoe was her daughter and she was excited to see us. Zoe has more.
Zoe has been having her problems with her Mac laptop. It's one of the new Intel based Macs and she has been having all sorts of problems with it. We took it to an Apple store and they told us it would be covered and to send it in. We did and the Apple repair people said the the warantee was voided because of a pressure point on the LCD and they would cover nothing. Absolutely nothing. I spoke to them and I think I ended the conversation with the term clusterfuck. I probably shouldn't have but it was an accurate description of how they treated an incredibly loyal customer. More from Zoe.
Our power came back on Saturday. We were lucky. My daughter lives further south on the Island and her's came back on Sunday. My mom lives south of Seattle Tacoma Airport and her power didn't come back on until last night. There are still over 175,000 customers without power in the region and there is another wind storm coming through tomorrow. Our batteries are charged.
This was taken with the little lens that could — an M42 Industar-50. Mounted on the smallish Pentax H1a, this little lens has changed the way I shoot. I used to carry two rangefinder bodies but, now that the H1a/Industar-50 combination fits into my coat pocket, I can carry a rangefinder and an SLR. I don't often get the opportunity to be able to just go out and shoot so I make sure I have cameras with me when I'm out for other reasons. This works well. I like the results.