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Western Asia ("Middle East")
By Dave Lindorff
You know, the year 2009 started out kind of nicely. We watched Barack Obama take the oath of office, serenaded by the awesome Aretha Franklin (wearing her awesome hat), after first hearing Pete Seeger sing the real Woody Guthrie verses to "This Land Is Your Land" on the steps of the Lincoln Monument.
And we saw Congress pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to correct a scum-sucking decision by the US Supreme Court's conservative woman-hating, corporation-loving majority that said women (and minorities and the elderly) couldn't sue for pay discrimination unless they acted within six months of the initiation of the violation, even if they didn't learn about it until years later.
by Linda Milazzo
Monday night, in remembrance of the one-year anniversary of Israel's Operation Cast Lead that killed 1,400 Gazans, and in solidarity with the 1,400 international peace pilgrims converging in Egypt from 42 countries for the planned Gaza Freedom March, Los Angelenos gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate for a solemn candlelight vigil.
Photo by Mike Chickey
By Elisabeth Geshiere
All we wanted to do was speak to a representative at the consulate in Cairo to ask for assistance in getting across the border to Gaza. When we got to the security gate a couple of blocks before the US embassy in Cairo, and showed our US passports and said that we wanted to go to the embassy, we were first asked to wait a while.
As we waited the group grew in size, eventually a banner for the Gaza Freedom March was unfurled and the police got nervous. We repeatedly asked to be allowed to go to the embassy, or to has a representative from the embassy come and talk to us.
Myself, David Tilsen, my nephew Mark Tilsen, Sylvial Schartz and the Chalbis were with a group of about 20 people. Eventually riot police with helmets, batons etc, appeared and locked arms. They brought in metal gates and corralled us in the middle of the street. For five hours people were not allowed to leave, use a bathroom, or have any food or water brought in.
By Cindy Sheehan
One of my friends, Joshua Smith, just texted me from Cairo and said that some U.S. citizens of the Gaza Freedom March went to the U.S. Embassy today there to try and implore the staff there to intercede on behalf of the March to help get them into Gaza--they were not so warmly welcomed.
Recently, almost 1400 people from around the globe met in Cairo to march into Gaza to join Gazans in solidarity and to help expose their plight after years of blockade and exactly a year after the violent attack in what Israel called "Operation Cast Lead" that killed hundreds of innocent Gazan civilians. So far the Marchers have been denied access (Egypt closed the Rafah crossing) and their gatherings have become increasingly and more violently suppressed.
In my understanding of world affairs, embassies are stationed in various countries so citizens who are traveling can seek help in times of trouble, but this doesn’t appear to be so right at this moment in Cairo.
By Medea Benjamim
One year ago, the brutal Israeli 22-day invasion of the Gaza Strip shocked the world, leaving some 1,400 people dead, thousands more wounded, as well as hospitals, schools, prisons, UN facilities, factories, agricultural processing plants and some 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
As we mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion, the plight of the people of Gaza continues unabated:
- Despite pledges of money for reconstruction, Israel refuses to allow in the machinery necessary to clear the rubble or the materials needed to rebuild--banning cement, gravel, wood, pipes, glass, steel bars, aluminum and tar. Many who were made homeless during the bombing are still living in tents amidst the onset of another cold winter. Desperate, some are reverting to the ancient techniques of building homes made of mud.
by Jodie Evans
The Egyptian government announced Monday that the border between Gaza and Egypt will be closed, just in time for 1,346 men, women, and children from 42 countries -- the Gaza Freedom March -- to arrive in Cairo. It's too late to turn back now. We will proceed, and are asking Egypt to permit the march to go on.
This has happened with each delegation we have taken but with the right pressure we have succeeded in crossing the border each time. Our first attempt was made possible thanks to First Lady Suzanne Mubarak. For International Women's Day we were taking in thousands of pink baskets of aid for the women in Gaza. As we made our way to the border we passed truck after truck brimming with rotting material aid that the Egyptians had not allowed into Gaza. But our outreach to Madame Mubarak proved fruitful: we were met by the Egyptian Red Crescent (which she chairs) and we proceeded into Gaza with no problems.
Government of Egypt changes policy to allow humanitarian group Viva Palestina to enter Gaza December 27, 2009
Gaza Freedom March congratulates the Government of Egypt on its change of policy to allow international missions into Gaza during December with the decision to allow the Viva Palestina convoy to go into Gaza on December 27, 2009.
Organizers of Gaza Freedom March were told on December 20, 2009 by Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials that no international missions would be allowed to enter Gaza during December, including the Gaza Freedom March, because of serious security conditions at the border.
Today, December 23, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Gaza Freedom March organizers said that the decision had been made to alter its policy because of the “humanitarian assistance” nature of Viva Palestina.
Since the Gaza Freedom March is also bringing in humanitarian assistance items valued at tens of thousands of dollars and the border is now considered safe, Gaza Freedom March will make a formal request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 24, that that Government of Egypt reconsider the request of the Gaza Freedom March for entry of its 1360 delegates from 42 countries into Gaza through the Rafah crossing on December 27.
Marchers and their friends have been flooding Egyptian embassies throughout the world with calls and emails. Embassies throughout Europe, the United States and Canada have told callers that they have been flooded with telephone calls from persons asking that the Gaza Freedom March be allowed into Gaza. Read more.
Gaza Freedom March URGENT UPDATE
December 21, 2009
We are determined to break the siege.
We all will continue to do whatever we can to make it happen.
Using the pretext of escalating tensions on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry informed us yesterday that the Rafah border will be closed over the coming weeks, into January. We responded that there is always tension at the border because of the siege, that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take. We also said that it was too late for over 1,300 delegates coming from over 42 countries to change their plans now. We both agreed to continue our exchanges.
Although we consider this as a setback, it is something we've encountered-and overcome--before. No delegation, large or small, that entered Gaza over the past 12 months has ever received a final OK before arriving at the Rafah border. Most delegations were discouraged from even heading out of Cairo to Rafah. Some had their buses stopped on the way. Some have been told outright that they could not go into Gaza. But after public and political pressure, the Egyptian government changed its position and let them pass.
Our efforts and plans will not be altered at this point. We have set out to break the siege of Gaza and march on December 31 against the Israeli blockade. We are continuing in the same direction.
Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world must hear from our supporters (by phone, fax and email)** over the coming crucial days, with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza and let the Gaza Freedom March proceed.
Contact your local consulate here:
Contact the Palestine Division in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo
Ahmed Azzam, tel +202-25749682 Email: email@example.com
If you are in the U.S., contact the Egyptian Embassy, 202-895-5400 and ask for Omar Youssef or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You signed on to support the the Gaza Freedom March, that was the first step. Now call the Egyptian embassy and ask your elected official to call on your behalf. Then, hit the streets and join a solidarity action in your community: www.gazafreedommarch.org/solidarity
Yemen will become a battleground for a proxy war between the United States and Saudi Arabia - whose state-to-state relations are among the strongest and most durable of the entire post-World War II era - on one hand and Iran on the other.
It is perhaps impossible to determine the exact moment at which a U.S.- supported self-professed holy warrior - trained to perpetrate acts of urban terrorism and to shoot down civilian airliners - ceases to be a freedom fighter and becomes a terrorist. But a safe assumption is that it occurs when he is no longer of use to Washington. A terrorist who serves American interests is a freedom fighter; a freedom fighter who doesn't is a terrorist.
Yemenis are the latest to learn the Pentagon's and the White House's law of the jungle. Along with Iraq and Afghanistan which counterinsurgency specialist Stanley McChrystal used to perfect his techniques, Yemen is joining the ranks of other nations where the Pentagon is engaged in that variety of warfare, fraught with civilian massacres and other forms of so-called collateral damage: Colombia, Mali, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Uganda.
BBC News reported on December 14 that 70 civilians were killed when aircraft bombed a market in the village of Bani Maan in northern Yemen.
The nation's armed forces claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, but a website of the Houthi rebels against whom the bombing was ostensibly directed stated "Saudi aircraft committed a massacre against the innocent residents of Bani Maan." 
The Saudi regime entered the armed conflict between the (eponymous) Houthis and the Yemeni government on behalf of the latter in early November and since has been accused of launching attacks inside Yemen with tanks and warplanes. Even before the latest bombing scores of Yemenis have been killed and thousands displaced by the fighting. Saudi Arabia has also been accused of using phosphorous bombs.
Moreover, the rebel group known as Young Believers, based in the Shi'ite Muslim community of Yemen which comprises 30 percent of the country's population of 23 million, claimed on December 14 that "US fighter jets have attacked Yemen's Sa'ada Province" and "US fighter jets have launched 28 attacks on the northwestern province of Sa'ada." 
'Professor Blair' -- Tony Blair's Second Act: Former British Prime Minister on Iraq, Faith, and His New Life at Yale
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing criticism back home for his decision to lead his nation into war in Iraq -- a decision Blair says he does not regret, even though weapons of mass destruction never were found after the 2003 invasion.
He sat down with "Good Morning America's" Ron Claiborne this week to talk about Iraq, as well as his second act as a Yale professor teaching a class on faith and globalization as part of his Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Ron Claiborne: The U.S. and the U.K. went to war on the basis of the belief that there were weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam had them and could deploy them quickly, which turned out apparently not to be the case. Does that therefore invalidate having gone to war?
Tony Blair: For me, the question you're still left with is: Was Saddam a threat and was it right to remove him? When I look back on the years of the interaction between the international community and Saddam, the two wars that he began, the United Nations resolutions that were flouted ... when you look at that and you look at the destruction -- I mean the use, for example, of chemical weapons, whole villages wiped out in one day as a result of the use of chemical weapons against his own people -- my views, spending a lot of time out there in the region now, I think you can at least argue the case that the region is safer without him than with him.
Claiborne: But we went to war on the basis [of weapons of mass destruction].
Blair: And we've got to accept that that intelligence turned out to be wrong, and, that is obviously, a point that's not merely legitimate to make, it goes right to the heart of it. On the other hand, I think it's important then not to go to the other extreme and say, "Well this was someone who was basically not a danger and a source of instability in the region," because I believe that he was. And personally, I think there would always have been a time when you'd have to deal with him. Read more.
Mercenaries? CIA Says Expanded Role for Contractors Legitimate
Blackwater, Other Firms Said to Be "Hired Guns" in Iraq, Afghanistan -- Combat Role Would Be Against U.S. Law
By Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito and Brian Ross | ABC News
The CIA and the military special forces have quietly expanded the role of private contractors, including Blackwater, to include their involvement in raids and secret paramilitary operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, four current and former U.S. military and intelligence officers tell ABC News.
American law specifically prohibits the use of private soldiers or mercenaries in combat, according to Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University.
"The United States Congress has never approved the use of private contractors for combat operations," Turley told ABC News in an interview...Read more.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 10 December 2009, Observed
Iftikhar Chaudri, President of Journalists for International Peace, wrote:
Journalists for International Peace observed the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 2009. In this context, a meeting was held in the head office of JIP, in which participants/ members of JIP presented their reports on various human rights issues the world is confronting.
The participants, members of JIP, deliberated on the objectives of Human Rights Day which was focused on non-discrimination. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. These first few famous words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established 61 years ago, are the basic premise of international human rights law. Yet today, the fight against discrimination remains a daily struggle for millions around the globe.
Iftikhar Chaudri, President JIP, expressed grave concern over the situation of human rights all over the world, in general, which is further deteriorated. “The graph of the poverty-line personifies upward trend. People are devoid of clean drinking water and basic food items. Despite efforts to promote interfaith harmony through a dialogue, the religious and sectarian intolerance increased manifold. The ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland is a glaring example that infuriates the Muslim minority,” he added.
Jews Against Zionism
By Stephen Lendman
They're numerous, outspoken, and range from secular to orthodox to one group calling itself "True Torah Jews Against Zionism."
They believe that "traditional" Jews don't support Zionism, an ideology they call "contrary to Jewish law and beliefs and the teachings of the Holy Torah." They say Zionism:
- advocates "a political and military end to the Jewish exile;"
- fosters "pseudo-Judaism" based on secular nationalism;
- coercively seeks "armed materialism" in place of "a Divine and Torah centered understanding;"
- endangers all Jews worldwide;
- wants to disassociate Jews and traditional Judaism from ideological Zionism; and
- calls Israel a "Zionist State," not a Jewish one.
- cite their concern for "peace and safety of all people throughout the world including those living in the Zionist state" and in Occupied Palestine;
- say from ancient times until 100 years ago, Jews and Arabs lived in peace and friendship until Zionism changed the relationship;
- believe Zionists abandoned the Torah and traditional Judaism, demanded political sovereignty over the Holy Land, and aroused anger in the Arab world; and
- Torah Jewry doesn't recognize or support a Zionist state; nor do they represent world Jews; even the name "Israel" is a "forgery," they believe, because the Torah forbids violence in the words of the prophet Isaiah who said:
"And they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. No nation will lift its sword against any other, nor will they learn warfare anymore."
By Dave Lindorff
Most Americans are blissfully in the dark about it, but across the Atlantic in the UK, a commission reluctantly established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown under pressure from anti-war activists in Britain is beginning hearings into the actions and statements of British leaders that led to the country’s joining the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Even before testimony began in hearings that started yesterday, news began to leak out from documents obtained by the commission that the government of former PM Tony Blair had lied to Parliament and the public about the country’s involvement in war planning.
Britain’s Telegraph newspaper over the weekend published documents from British military leaders, including a memo from British special forces head Maj. Gen. Graeme Lamb, saying that he had been instructed to begin “working the war up since early 2002.”
A basic principle taught to any young reporter is: "follow the money." A similar principle should apply to U.S. foreign policy reporting: follow the bases. As striking facts-on-the-ground, such bases tell us much about bedrock U.S. policy, whatever the policy debates in Washington. If the mainstream media ignores such bases, TomDispatch has long made it a policy of keeping an eye on them. Recently, Nick Turse, this site's associate editor and the award-winning author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, reported on a story only modestly and partially covered here: the way the Pentagon has been pouring money into building up its base infrastructure in Afghanistan.
Now, he turns to the Persian Gulf region where the news is focused on a future U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. It turns out, however, that we're withdrawing into something -- that, in fact, there's been a massive, if hardly noticed, Pentagon build-up in this region, too. You'd think it might be news. Now, at TomDispatch, thanks to Turse, it is. Tom
The Pentagon Garrisons the Gulf
As Washington Talks Iraq Withdrawal, the Pentagon Builds Up Bases in the Region
By Nick Turse
Despite recent large-scale insurgent suicide bombings that have killed scores of civilians and the fact that well over 100,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in that country, coverage of the U.S. war in Iraq has been largely replaced in the mainstream press by the (previously) "forgotten war" in Afghanistan. A major reason for this is the plan, developed at the end of the Bush years and confirmed by President Obama, to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 by August 2010 and withdraw most of the remaining forces by December 2011.
Getting out of Iraq, however, doesn't mean getting out of the Middle East. For one thing, it's likely that a sizeable contingent of U.S. forces will remain garrisoned on several large and remotely situated U.S. bases in Iraq well past December 2011. Still others will be stationed close by -- on bases throughout the region where, with little media attention since the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, construction to harden, expand, and upgrade U.S. and allied facilities has gone on to this day. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
With word being leaked out over the weekend that our Nobel Peace Prize President is close to announcing plans to escalate the US troop level in the Afghanistan War by 50%, we are about to have perhaps the ultimate of ironies—a president announcing a big step-up in American war-making on November 11, the day known around much of the Western world as Armistice Day.
While modern Americans might not know it, with all the boom and bombast and mindless flag-waving featured in the military parades popular in today’s warrior culture, November 11 was originally established by Congress back in 1919, a year after the day the guns of World War I finally went silent over the blood-drenched fields of Europe in what was once, in a naïve spasm of optimism, referred to as the War to End All Wars. In declaring the national holiday Armistice Day, Congress said it was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
UN assembly draft urges action on Gaza "war crimes"
By Louis Charbonneau | Reuters
Arab U.N. delegates circulated a draft resolution on Monday that would require Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to bring a U.N. report alleging war crimes in the Gaza Strip before the Security Council.
A special meeting of the 192-nation assembly on Wednesday will debate the U.N. report on the December-January war in the Gaza Strip and vote on the draft resolution.
That report accused Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants of war crimes and was prepared by a U.N. fact-finding commission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone.
The Arab draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, says the assembly "requests the Secretary-General to transmit the report ... to the Security Council." It also urges Israel and the Palestinians to comply with the report's recommendations for launching investigations into allegations of war crimes.
The draft also tells Ban to report back to the assembly within three months on implementation of the resolution. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
It would be easy to read too much into the few statewide races that were decided last night, but I think it’s fair to say that the results in New Jersey and Virginia, where Republican gubernatorial candidates won--in New Jersey’s case knocking off a well-funded Democratic incumbent--that the results were a blow to the Barack Obama/Rahm Emanuel strategy of playing to the right, of avoiding confrontation in Congress and of ignoring the progressive voters whose enthusiasm and effort back in the 2008 campaign put Obama in office.
CHOMSKY SAYS PRESIDENT OBAMA CONTINUES BUSH POLICY TO CONTROL MIDDLE EAST OIL
By Sherwood Ross
Political activist Noam Chomsky says that although President Obama views the Iraq invasion merely as “a mistake” or “strategic blunder,” it is, in fact, a “major crime” designed to enable America to control the Middle East oil reserves.
“It’s (“strategic blunder”) probably what the German general staff was telling Hitler after Stalingrad,” Chomsky quipped, referring to the big Nazi defeat by the Soviet army in 1943.
“There is basically no significant change in the fundamental traditional conception that if we can control Middle East energy resources, then we can control the world,” he said.
In a lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London Oct. 27th, Chomsky warned against expecting significant foreign policy changes from Obama, according to a report by Mamoon Alabbasi published on MWC News.net. Alabbasi is an editor at Middle East Online.
“As Obama came into office, (former Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice predicted he would follow the policies of Bush’s second term, and that is pretty much what happened, apart from a different rhetorical style,” Chomsky said.
Chomsky said the U.S. operates under the “Mafia principle,” explaining “the Godfather does not tolerate ‘successful defiance’” and must be stamped out “so that others understand that disobedience is not an option.”
By Dave Lindorff
Country Joe McDonald said it best in his iconic "Fixin' to Die" Rag: "Oh, it's one, two, three, what are we fightin' for? Don't ask me. I don't give a damn." In fact, we were fighting for nothing in Vietnam. It was a war that started out because the US didn't want the Commies to win a battle in the so-called Cold War, and even though it was on the farthest side of the world, in a poor nation of peasants, even though they had been struggling to throw off colonialism for years and we had simply become the new colonists, no president dared to admit the obvious--we had no business being there, and all the killing and dying had no point.
By Dave Lindorff
How absurd is it that we have the government on the one hand pulling back from using a hollowed out mountain in Nevada to store nuclear waste because of a fear (legitimate I grant) that hundreds or thousands of years hence, some earthquake or other catastrophe could cause the stored waste to leak into the water table, while on the other hand we have this same government deliberately taking some of the most dangerous waste--the actual uranium from the used fuel rods--and putting it into bombs, shells and bullets to be splattered and burned all across the landscape?
And I should note that it's not just remote places like Iraq and Kuwait and Afghanistan that are being covered in super toxic and radioactive uranium dust--and I'm not just talking about the stuff that gets picked up in the wind and carried around the globe, or the stuff that gets inhaled by our troops and carried home internally, bad enough as that is.
United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict | PRESS RELEASE | 15 September 2009
UN Fact Finding Mission finds strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Gaza conflict; calls for end to impunity
NEW YORK / GENEVA - The UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone on Tuesday released its long-awaited report on the Gaza conflict, in which it concluded there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.
The report also concludes there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel.
Beneath the hype Pt.5: Ray McGovern and Greg Thielmann on the potential causes of armed conflict in Iran.
Mondoweiss today gives us a Youtube clip of Tony Blair dodging a tough question from a University of Buffalo student about the Goldstone report.
The student, Nick Kabat, asked Blair why the US and Israel should be allowed to get away with blocking the Goldstone Report, how (as the "Quartet"'s peace envoy) he could explain that proceeding with Goldstone's recommendations might harm the peace process, and whether he didn't think that the blocade on Gaza also harmed the peace process.
You could see Blair ducking and weaving. (The questions had all been pre-screened by the university; but Kabat submitted a bland dummy question then asked this one instead.)
Blair said he'd been to Gaza "twice-- in the recent period" and that the situation there is difficult... But you also "have to understand" that Israel has received a lot of rockets from there since it withdrew in 2005 and still has its young soldier Gilad Shalit held there as a prisoner...
No mention from Blair that there have been almost no rockets coming out of Gaza since Hamas announced the currently-operant ceasefire there on January 18-- but despite that lack of rocketings, the Israeli siege is harsher even than it was prior to last winter's war.
No mention of the roughly 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners and detainees being held in Israeli jails. Read more.
Eight years after US and NATO forces toppled the Taliban, Afghanistan held its second major elections since 2001. But far from being a symbol of democracy, the August 20th elections have been marred by accusations of fraud and concerns over President Hamid Karzai’s reliance on the support of warlords and suspected war criminals. We get a report from independent journalist Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films. Read transcript.
By Cindy Sheehan
Today, a President of the largest violently military empire in the world, won the Nobel Peace Prize while his nation is mired in wars in three countries where his actions have oftentimes made things worse.
Let’s also make this clear that the Nobel prizes are supposed to be awarded for work done the previous year (2008), so that means Obama was awarded the prize for campaigning for the presidency of the USA, where his “vision” (platform) was consistently pro-more war. The nominations are also due by February 1st. Ten days after the inauguration and about a week after a drone in Pakistan killed over 3 dozen innocent people.
He was awarded the prize for his “vision” for a “nuclear free world.”
By Dave Lindorff
It’s not as much of a travesty as when Henry Kissinger, a war criminal of the first order who was an architect of the latter stages of the Indochina War, and was personally responsible for the slaughter of well over a million innocent people, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, while that war was still raging, but the awarding of the latest Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama is travesty enough.
We’re talking about a man whose practically first act upon taking office early this year was to escalate the ugly and pointless war in Afghanistan with the addition of some 20,000 troops, and who, even as the Nobel committee was discussing his award, was meeting with his military and political advisors to consider expanding that war even further, both in Afghanistan and across the border into Pakistan.
President Obama is prepared to accept some Taleban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future and is unlikely to favour a large influx of new US troops being demanded by his ground commander, a senior official said tonight.
Mr Obama appears to have been swayed in recent days by arguments from some advisers, led by Vice-President Joe Biden, that the Taleban do not pose a direct threat to the US and that there should be greater focus on tackling al-Qaeda inside Pakistan.
The official, speaking anonymously to the press about Mr Obama’s internal discussions – a tactic that is causing dismay among some senior military officials – said the president’s final decision on his war strategy and troop levels is still at least two weeks away.
Yet if Mr Obama fails to dispatch at least a significant number of the 40,000 troops requested by General Stanley McChystal, he will have ignored the wishes of his own ground commander and will face fierce attacks from Republicans back home. Read more.
And you thought "don't ask, don't tell" was a U.S. law on gays in the military that Barack Obama has promised to change. As it turns out, the same phrase plays quite a different role in the Middle East, where Obama seems to have no intention of changing it at all. Successive administrations have adhered to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to Israel's sizeable arsenal of nuclear weapons. That country has never acknowledged their existence, adhering instead to another arcane formula: "We will not introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East." Jonathan Schell has described this strange situation: "Evidently, in some abstruse way, possessing [nuclear weapons] is not introducing them. You'd have to do something more to introduce them. You'd have to brandish one or make a threat with one, or maybe just acknowledge that you had them. As long as they keep them in the basement and don't make any introductions, then it's alright."
In May, the Obama administration evidently agreed not to break step with the fictions of previous administrations by acknowledging, or attempting to force Israel to publicly acknowledge, its estimated 100-200 nuclear weapons, including city-busters and cruise missiles adapted to be nuclear-armed and put on subs in the Mediterranean. His administration seems also to have agreed not to pressure the Israelis to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) under which nuclear arms are theoretically managed on our planet.
This, of course, leads to bizarre Middle Eastern policy anomalies rarely acknowledged in this country. In the midst of all the screaming headlines about an Iranian bomb which does not yet (and may never) exist, none of the acts the administration is demanding of the Iranians (and around which it is threatening to impose even stronger sanctions), including allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into its nuclear sites and providing greater transparency about the state of its nuclear program, have been put into practice by Israel, despite its perfectly real -- in fact, staggeringly large -- program. And no penalties have been imposed.
When Israel was in Iran's present situation back in the 1950s and early 1960s, and secretly developing a nuclear weapons program, U.S. administrations simply looked the other way. Ever since, presidents have preferred not to look at all, not publicly anyway. According to Eli Lake of the Washington Times, despite President Obama's stated policy of wanting to strengthen the NPT and lead the world toward nuclear disarmament, he recently "reaffirmed" to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "a 4-decade-old secret understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections."
One irony of the Obama push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, even while working to bring Iran to heel, has been this: despite all efforts in Israel and here, the Israeli nuclear arsenal has begun creeping towards the light of day. Soon enough, to everyone's surprise, it may become part of the conversation even in the United States. So here's a final irony: it's just possible that "don't ask, don't tell" will lose its meaning in the Middle East before it does in the U.S. military. In the meantime, as TomDispatch regular Ira Chernus points out, the Obama administration's focus on Iran continually creates unexpected problems elsewhere. Tom
Obama Trapped Behind Wall of Mideast Containment
It's the Iranians, Stupid
By Ira Chernus
Damn the Iranians and full speed ahead. That was the U.S. policy in the Middle East. But the waters have proved treacherous, with torpedoes everywhere. Despite an initial hopeful sit-down with Iranian negotiators, this won't be the October the White House wanted on the foreign policy front. By now, Barack Obama was supposed to have announced -- with ruffles and flourishes -- the beginning of Middle East peace talks, leading to a final status agreement by 2012. But something didn't happen.
Israel didn't heed Obama's demand to stop all settlement expansion in the West Bank. So Obama didn't stick to that demand, settling instead for a temporary freeze after a spate of new building. The Palestinians, buoyed by Obama's initial strong stance on the settlements, refused to negotiate until Israel stopped all construction. Other Arab nations didn't offer Israel nearly as many concessions as the U.S. administration was demanding. Undermined by all that didn't happen, the president had nothing of substance to announce.
What went wrong? The heart of the problem was not Israel's supposed power over U.S. policy. The U.S. still has plenty of leverage over the Israelis and everyone else in the region. Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea is right: "Everyone depends on America, its money, its military aid, and its moves vis-à-vis Iran."
But it is precisely those U.S. moves, meant to contain the power of Iran, that are the main stumbling block on the path to a U.S.-brokered two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Middle East is a textbook example of the perils of containment.
The Ghost Of Cold War Past Read more.
CODEPINK co-founders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans recently returned from an eye-opening trip to Afghanistan. Their experiences convinced them even further that sending 40,000 more US troops would be disastrous for Afghan women and children. On October 3, their last day in the country, a US bomb hit a farmer's house, killing two innocent women and six children. That same day, a fierce gun battle in mountainous Nuristan Province left eight U.S. Servicemen dead.