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Western Asia ("Middle East")
Navy Vet Honored, Foiled Israeli Attack
By Ray McGovern
What’s the difference between murder and massacre?
The answer is Terry Halbardier, whose bravery and ingenuity as a 23-year-old Navy seaman spelled the difference between the murder of 34 of the USS Liberty crew and the intended massacre of all 294.
The date was June 8, 1967; and for the families of the 34 murdered and for the Liberty’s survivors and their families, it is a “date which will live in infamy” — like the date of an earlier surprise attack on the U.S. Navy.
Relatives of 9/11 victims who filed a lawsuit seeking to pin blame on the Saudi royal family for financing attacks against the United States just acquired a significant new opponent: the Obama administration.
Hundreds of supporters of Pakistan's opposition Jamaat-i-Islami party have demonstrated in what is believed to be the first major protest against the military's offensive against the Taliban in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
The demonstration in the capital, Islamabad, on Sunday took place as the army fought bloody street-to-street battles in Mingora, the main city in the Swat valley.
"To this point there has been absolutely total political support for the ongoing operation in Swat valley," Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Islamabad, said.
"But now there is the first sign that there are sectors in society who are opposed to what is going on."
Many of the protesters were carrying banners carrying slogans condemning the role of the United States in Pakistan.
"This is a great point of contention for many Pakistanis, not just the supporters of the political party gathered here," Hanna said.
"The speakers are basing part of their criticism on their belief that Pakistan is doing ... the work of the United States in its so-called 'war on terror'." Read more.
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S Iran policy has, in all likelihood, already failed. On its present course, the White House’s approach will not stop Tehran’s development of a nuclear fuel program — or, as Iran’s successful test of a medium-range, solid-fuel missile last week underscored, military capacities of other sorts. It will also not provide an alternative to continued antagonism between the United States and Iran — a posture that for 30 years has proved increasingly damaging to the interests of the United States and its allies in the Middle East.
This judgment may seem both premature and overly severe. We do not make it happily. We voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and we still want him to succeed in reversing the deterioration in America’s strategic position. But we also believe that successful diplomacy with Iran is essential to that end. Unless President Obama and his national security team take a fundamentally different approach to Tehran, they will not achieve a breakthrough. Read more.
Cheney: Support for Israel Feeds Terrorism
By Ray McGovern
If we hear in the coming days that former Vice President Dick Cheney has fired one of his speechwriters — or perhaps grounded Lynne or Liz — it will be clear why.
Oozing out of the sleazy speech he gave Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute was an inadvertent truth regarding the Israeli albatross hanging around the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
I watched the speech, but had missed the gaffe until I went carefully through the written text before a radio interview Thursday evening. It amounts to a major faux pas, though I’ll give you odds that the usual-suspect pundits of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) will not touch it, because it raises troubling questions about the close U.S. relationship with Israel.
by Dave Lindorff
In reversing himself and declaring that the US government will not release further photos in its possession of torture being practiced on captives held by the US military and the CIA, President Obama is sounding increasingly like the Bush/Cheney administration before him.
It may well be that, as Obama says, release of those photos could lead to anger in the Islamic world and perhaps to recruitment gains among groups like Al Qaeda that are attacking American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but this is only true because at the same time, the Obama administration is opposing taking any legal action against the people who authorized and promoted that torture.
Sometimes an opportunity for reform comes along that is "strategic" in that it changes the playing field for efforts to win other reforms in the future. The passage of the National Labor Relations Act - establishing the right of American workers to organize unions and bargain collectively - was a strategic reform. It increased the power of people previously excluded from power, and thereby reduced the power of corporate interests. But the right of workers in America to organize has been steadily eroded by unpunished abuses by anti-union employers. Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is easy to justify on the basis of guaranteeing the basic human rights of working Americans. When the Employee Free Choice Act is signed into law, millions of private sector workers will have greater protection from having their rights violated. What difference would that make? Ask Steve Arney.
Peace Action Executive Director Kevin Martin writes:
If the U.S. wants to have a productive relationship for peace in the Middle East our President and the Congress must act comprehensively to engage countries like Iran in diplomacy. President Obama has made productive political overtures toward Iran. His historic Norooz message laid the ground work for real diplomacy to move our two countries forward in peace.
By Dave Lindorff
When I was a 17-year-old kid in my senior year of high school, I didn’t think much about Vietnam. It was 1967, the war was raging, but I didn’t personally know anyone who was over there, Tet hadn’t happened yet. If anything, the excitement of jungle warfare attracted my interest more than anything (I had a .22 cal rifle, and liked to go off in the woods and shoot at things, often, I’ll admit, imagining it was an armed enemy.)
But then I had to do a major project in my humanities program and I chose the Vietnam War. As I started researching this paper, which was supposed to be a multi-media presentation, I ran across a series of photos of civilian victims of American napalm bombing. These victims, often, were women and children—even babies.
By Dave Lindorff
We are witnessing one of the fastest betrayals of the Democratic Party base in modern memory, as President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate slither away from a crucial constituency, the labor movement, and from support of labor’s key legislative agenda item: passage of a bill, “The Employee Free Choice Act,” which would restore a measure of fairness to labor relations.
It's 1 PM in Washington. Do you know where your foreign policy is?
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are getting big praise around the world for their new Charm Offensive. As far as I'm concerned, the praise is justified. I heard our Secretary of State interviewed on the BBC a few weeks ago about our diplomatic outreach to Iran on Afghanistan. And the BBC was all, what makes you think Iran is going to help you on Afghanistan? And Hillary was all, you know, actually Iran helped us tremendously in Afghanistan after 2001. Our Ambassador in Afghanistan and the Iranian Ambassador were meeting practically every day. I just about fell off my chair. You'd have thought Hillary was applying for a job at the National Iranian American Council.
By Dave Lindorff
The actions of Obama's Chief Financial Adviser Larry Summers and his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in permitting the payment of $165 million in bonuses to AIG executives (Summers, according to the Wall Street Journal, actually pressed Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, to secretly remove a bar to the payment of such bonuses from the bailout bill) and storm of public outrage that has followed public disclosure of those payments, provides President Obama, whose administration is stumbling badly on many fronts, to turn things around and avoid political disaster.
He should promptly demand Geithner's and Summers' resignations, and should also fire the CEO of AIG, Edward Liddy (as 80% owner of AIG, the US has the power to do that anytime). It would also be a good idea at the same time to fire the CEOs of all the leading banks that are at this point surviving on government bailouts.
A British convoy carrying medical relief for the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip has crossed into the territory from Egypt.
Gazans cheered and waved Palestinian flags as the convoy finally entered the territory through the Rafah border crossing on Monday, after being stranded on the Egyptian side of the border for two days.
"The group was stopped at the border for various reasons, there were various negotiations going on over what would be let through the border; how many people, how much humanitarian aid," Al Jazeera's Todd Baer, reporting from the Rafah crossing, said.
"After an 8,000km journey, nearly one month on the road and a day and a half on the Egyptitan side of the Rafah border, the Lifeline for Gaza convoy finally made it into the Gaza Strip. It was a remarkable scene."
Retired Amb. Chas Freeman, who said today that he no longer accepts an offer to chair the National Intelligence Council, has just sent this message:
You will by now have seen the statement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reporting that I have withdrawn my previous acceptance of his invitation to chair the National Intelligence Council.
By Gareth Porter, IPS
WASHINGTON, Mar 5 (IPS) - The arguments for maintaining a major U.S. combat force in Iraq at least through 2011, escalating U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and assuming a confrontational stance toward Iran appear to assume that the United States remains the dominant military power in the region.
But the pattern of recent history and current developments in the region has not supported that assumption. Not only has the United States been unable to prevail over stubborn nationalist and sectarian forces determined to resist U.S. influence, but it has not been able to use its military supremacy to wage successful coercive diplomacy against Iran.
Furthermore, even the ability of the United States to maintain troops in Iraq and Afghanistan turns out to be dependent on regimes which are by no means aligned with the United States.
By Dave Lindorff
Barack Obama’s first address to Congress provided Americans with yet another example of competent speechmaking, and I suppose, given that we’ve just endured eight painful years of oratorical farce, being able to listen to your president without wincing is something.
The problem is that the way forward proposed by the president as laid out in this address was almost always half-hearted, wrong-headed or doomed.
Obama declared at the outset of his address that the economic crisis was the major issue confronting the country, and while one could argue that this crisis is merely a symptom of much bigger issues, like the nearly completed deindustrialization of the nation, the death grip of militarism, and the growing political power of corporations, one could also concede that there is an urgent need to deal with the deepening recession.
by Linda Milazzo
CODEPINK Women For Peace will be traveling to Gaza on March 6th. The purpose of their mission is to provide "humanitarian and emotional support to women and women's organizations and exert pressure on US, Egyptian and Israeli governments to lift the blockade and promote peace and human rights in the region."
In advance of their trip, CODEPINK has created a petition that asks signers to write President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to request that he meet with the women of Gaza. As an American Jew who opposes Israel's inhumane treatment of Palestinians, I answered CODEPINK's call, signed the petition, and wrote a letter to Mr. Mitchell. The letter that follows is my personal statement to Mr. Mitchell and not the statement of CODEPINK.
By Dave Lindorff
If the disaster of the so-called "stimulus" bill just passed by the Senate doesn't convince President Obama and his advisers that the strategy of "bipartisanship" that he has been espousing is a political suicide, nothing will.
The Republican Party, with the willing help of conservative Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Democratic turncoats like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), has forced Obama to agree to a joke of a stimulus package that is nearly half composed of tax breaks which will do nothing to bolster the economy (since most of the money will end up either paying down credit card debt or buying Chinese and Sri Lankan imports) and that is stripped of $40 billion to help struggling state and local governments.
Fresh from its rout in November, the GOP is, in fact, openly trying to sabotage Obama's economic stimulus plan, because the last thing Republicans want to see is an economy on the upturn in 2010 or 2012.
By Dave Lindorff
Just two weeks after his historic inauguration ceremony, Obama’s presidency is lurching towards failure, and not because three of his administration picks have been found to be tax cheats, but because nearly all of his administration picks are corporate whores and shills.
The problem with the new Obama administration is that it is turning out to be not about change at all, as he claimed during the campaign, but rather about more of the same—and these are not times that call for more of the same. Nor is more of the same the reason Obama won the election.
The economic team President Obama has put in place is composed of the same Wall Street hacks and conservative economic theologians who helped produce the current crisis, many of them as part of the Clinton administration, and some, like Timothy Geithner, actually as appointees of the thoroughly discredited Bush administration.
By Dave Lindorff
If an article by Gareth Porter in run by InterPress is correct that CentCom Commander Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq Commander Gen. Ray Odierno, backed by a group of lower-ranking generals, are planning to mount a public campaign to try and undermine President Obama’s plan for a withdrawal from Iraq in 16 months, Obama needs to act fast and nip this dangerous act of insubordination in the bud.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell is reporting that Dennis Ross "will be coming back to the State Department as a "strategic advisor" on the near east and gulf region":
He will not be described as an envoy negotiating agreements and will not be involved in Middle East talks. That job will be up to former Sen. George Mitchell, who returns tonight from his first "listening tour" of the region.
But before the papers are signed for Ross' new employment with the US government, he should be asked a few questions about his relationship with the "Jewish People Policy Planning Institute," that group's relationship to the Government of Israel, and whether he has had any relationships which he should have disclosed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
President Obama gives interview to Al-Arabiya
By Dave Lindorff
American foreign policy is moving from the absurd to the ludicrous.
Back in 2002, President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney managed to snooker the people of the United States, or at least a large number of us, into believing that Iraq, a pathetic Third World country ruled by a corrupt tin-pot dictator, was a grave danger to America, akin to Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1940. We learned how absurd that claim was when two hundred thousand American troops backed by the mightiest air force the world has ever seen, slammed into the country in March, 2003, and the Iraqi military simply folded up, and the Saddam regime along with it.
If you want to be discouraged about the prospects for Israel/Palestine peace during the Obama Administration, you don't have any shortage of evidence you can cite; you never do. But if you want to look for openings, the situation already looks much better than it did just over a week ago. Is there a "window" for peace? If so, are Americans ready to push the Obama Administration for the changes needed in U.S. policy to bring peace about?
Israel had to end its bombardment of Gaza by the January 20 "hope and change deadline," as Jon Stewart had predicted.
President Obama appointed former Senator Mitchell as his envoy for Israel/Palestine diplomacy. It is widely perceived that Mitchell will be fair - you might think that this would be an obvious requirement, but in the recent history of U.S. policy, it would be an innovation.
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to really know what's going on in Gaza, you cannot rely on the US Media, which, along with the rest of the world's media, have been barred from the battle zone by the Israeli government.
The only international reporters in Gaza now who can show what is actually happening there are the ones from Al Jazeera.
Under pressure from the Bush administration, the major cable providers in the US have not offered Al Jazeera in the US. The number of communities that have it in their available cable offerings can be counted on one or at most two hands.
But you can watch Al Jazeera's English channel's live feed free by downloading Livestation, a program that also offers the BBC, Deutschewelle (Germany) and French TV.
A striking similarity between Israel’s strategy in Palestine and Nazi long-term policy of extermination and annexation in Poland during the Second World War is clearly demonstrated by the Nuremberg Tribunal Charges and the Nuremberg Tribunal Judgement against Hans Frank, the Nazi Governor-General of the non-annexed occupied Poland in 1939 - 1945. It is absolutely shocking to read the documents and to see how many objectives and tactics in these two occupation theatres can be seen as parallel.
By Kathy Kelly
The U.S. is seeking to hire a merchant ship to deliver hundreds of tons of arms to Israel from Greece later this month, tender documents seen by Reuters show.
The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as "ammunition" on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January.
A "hazardous material" designation on the manifest mentions explosive substances and detonators, but no other details were given.
"Shipping 3,000-odd tons of ammunition in one go is a lot," one broker said, on condition of anonymity.