A Violent Collision Between Rhetoric and Reality

by matttbastard

(video courtesy CSPANJunkie)

Apparently Rafah-based freelance journalist and teacher Fida Qishta was otherwise occupied and didn’t get Secretary Rice’s helpful reminder re: ‘responsibility’ before filing the following dispatch to the Graun:

I wake up at 7am after an Israeli F-16 attack. Our house is shaking. We all try to imagine what has happened, but we want to at least know where the attack was. It is so scary. We try to open the main door to our flat, but it’s stuck shut after the attack. I have to climb out of the window to leave the house. I am shocked when I find out our neighbour’s pharmacy was the target. It is just 60 metres from our house. They targeted a pharmacy. I still can’t believe it.

[…]

The Israeli army is destroying the tunnels that go from Rafah into Egypt. For the past year and a half the Israeli government has intensified the economic blockade of Gaza by closing all the border crossings that allow aid and essential supplies to reach Palestinians in Gaza. This forced Palestinians to dig tunnels to Egypt to survive. From our house we can hear the explosions and the house is shaking.At night we can’t go out. No one goes out. If you go out you will risk your life. You don’t know where the bombs will fall. My mother is so sad. She watches me writing my reports and says: “Fida, will it make any difference?”

Before the attack started we got some food aid from the EU. It’s not much, but it’s enough, we’re not starving. But some of our friends have nothing. My mum warns me: “Fida, don’t leave the house, it’s too dangerous outside.” Then she goes out to share our food with the neighbours who have nothing.

Just  remember: it’s actually Hamas (and only Hamas) that has, in the words of Secretary Rice, “held the people of Gaza hostage”.

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The RNC’s Vaudeville Routine

by matttbastard

Recognizing that the best defense is a good (straw-filled) offense, embattled RNC candidate Chip Saltsman fires back in time-honoured Republican fashion:

Liberal Democrats and their allies in the media didn’t utter a word about David Ehrenstein’s irresponsible column in the Los Angeles Times last March. But now, of course, they’re shocked and appalled by its parody on ‘The Rush Limbaugh Show,’ ” Saltsman said in a statement, referring to the op-ed article that reportedly inspired the song lyrics.

“I firmly believe that we must welcome all Americans into our party and that the road to Republican resurgence begins with unity, not division. But I know that our party leaders should stand up against the media’s double standards and refuse to pander to their desire for scandal,” Saltsman added.

Also, a big fat friendly ‘fuck you’ to former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell for cravenly putting party before principle:

“Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African American elected president,” Blackwell, who is black, said in a statement.

“I don’t think any of the concerns that have been expressed in the media about any of the other candidates for RNC chairman should disqualify them,” he said. “When looked at in the proper context, these concerns are minimal. All of my competitors for this leadership post are fine people.”

You know, it’s sad when Newt fucking Gingrich not only gets it better than Blackwell, but shows more courage (or, more accurately, pragmatic political awareness) by actually, y’know, speaking out, instead of offering tepid apologetics.

Apparently some folks are shitting bricks at the thought of getting Condi-Riced by the Free Republic set.

Regardless, all this is was likely just broad political Kabuki on the part of the aforementioned players: the RNC quietly launches a race-based attack on the President-elect, (white) party leaders act appropriately shocked! and simply appalled! in order to appease the chattering class, and the token black guy grants absolution to a defiant Saltsman (who subsequently gets to whip two favourite GOP hobbyhorses, Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Media).

Bottom line: after all the theatrics that have taken place over the past 24+ hours, everybody is once again talking about “Barack the Magic Negro”.

Update: Kevin is a lot more succinct than yours truly. ;-)

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Taking it to Tehran Via Tel Aviv?

by matttbastard

With the publication of Sy Hersh’s recent New Yorker article detailing how Bush administration officials have ramped up US special forces activity in Iran, all eyes are once again fixated on the contentious Gulf state–and the potential of an Israeli-initiated proxy attack.

ABC News:

A senior defense official told ABC News there is an “increasing likelihood” that Israel will carry out such an attack, a move that likely would prompt Iranian retaliation against, not just Israel, but against the United States as well.

The official identified two “red lines” that could trigger an Israeli offensive. The first is tied to when Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility produces enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. According to the latest U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments, that is likely to happen sometime in 2009, and could happen by the end of this year.

“The red line is not when they get to that point, but before they get to that point,” the official said. “We are in the window of vulnerability.”

The second red line is connected to when Iran acquires the SA-20 air defense system it is buying from Russia. The Israelis may want to strike before that system — which would make an attack much more difficult — is put in place.

Juan Cole is dismissive of the former benchmark:

This [first] “red line” is pure bullshit. There is no evidence that Iran is enriching uranium to weapons grade at all, much less that it is making enough highly-enriched uranium that it will be able to make a bomb in 2009.

You can’t use low-enriched uranium to make a bomb. It has to be highly enriched. Iran–as far as anyone has proved–is only making the low-enriched kind, and from all accounts it isn’t doing such a great job of that, either. If it made high-enriched uranium, that could be detected by the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who regularly inspect Iran’s facilities. I.e., it just isn’t there and the idea that Iran could have enough material to make a bomb by next year is ridiculous. Now if it turned all its centrifuges to this task, then maybe it could achieve that result, though most experts think Iran’s ability to enrich is still exaggerated. It could not highly enrich without creating atomic signatures detectable by the inspectors.

The IAEA says that there is no evidence–zilch, zero, nada– that Iran has facilities for enriching to weapons grade or that it is trying to do so

With that mind, along with last year’s all-but-forgotten NIE (y’know, the one that unequivocally states that Iran isn’t actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons), how potent a threat does Iran actually present?  Geoffrey Kemp, director of Regional Strategic Programs at The Nixon Center and special assistant to the president for the Middle East during the first Reagan administration, provides a Realist analysis of the ‘threat’ posed by Iran to the US, Israel, and Middle East, dubbing it “an imaginary foe”:

Rhetoric about Iran’s malign propensities has received much attention. A worst-case analysis, most vigorously argued by Norman Podhoretz, an advisor to former-presidential-candidate Rudolph Guiliani, would suggest that once Iran gets hold of nuclear weapons, its messianic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be inclined to use them, especially against Israel. Ahmadinejad and his coterie believe in scenarios that call for a bloody battle between true believers and infidels as the precursor for the return of the Hidden Imam and the establishment of a world government. This is why Iran, unlike other nuclear powers–including the Soviet Union and China during the cold war–may not be susceptible to the logic of deterrence. For this reason they must be stopped from getting the bomb. In the absence of any diplomatic solution this simply calls for a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. (1)

While such apocalyptic visions are frightening, to infer, as Podhoretz does, that Ahmadinejad is another Adolf Hitler does not take into account the reality of Iran’s strengths and weaknesses. [Iran] is an important regional power that wants to be taken seriously and have an influence on Middle East geopolitics. Yes, it has energy reserves, a talented, educated population, and a unique geographical position that strides both the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea–and it may even soon have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. But its ability to act as a regional hegemon is constrained by political, economic and military limitations. For all the rhetoric about Iran as a new Mideast colossus, the reality is that Iranians are not a martial people.

With regards to an attack on the part of Israel, Kemp evaluates the steps Israel would have to take to initiate a series of strikes against Iran:

Israel could conduct such an attack with cruise missiles from its small fleet of tactical submarines from locations in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. Yet these submarines have limited inventories of missiles. A purely seaborne strike could do little more than mount a token attack on the key Iranian facilities—especially the well-protected and deeply buried uranium enrichment facility at Natanz—unless it used nuclear weapons.

In terms of conventional air-strike capabilities the Israeli Air Force is certainly capable of reaching a number of targets in Iran. The problem is it would have to pass over either Turkey; Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq; or fly a nearly three-thousand-mile-long one-way route via the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. It is inconceivable that Turkey would give permission for the use of its airspace—though Israel might be prepared to ignore the wishes of the Arab countries. But once its aircraft enter Iraqi and Gulf airspace, they will encounter the full array of air defenses that the United States has established since the beginning of the Iraq War. Unless the United States gave permission for such an Israeli attack Israel would risk encountering U.S. anti-air action before it even reached Iran.

But, as Kemp notes, “the consequences of such an attack on oil markets, U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reaction of Iraq’s government and possible Iranian retaliation against Israel are awesome and suggest such action has a low probability of being authorized.” He does however acknowledge that, despite his conclusion that Israeli air strikes against Iran are counterproductive to US interests and regional stability (and won’t put much of a dent in Iran’s nuclear ambitions), an Israeli-initiated attack could still take place if “this is what the Bush administration wants to happen.” Despite this, Kemp remains convinced that “while some White House advisors may still contemplate such an action, it would be far more difficult to convince the secretaries of defense and state that another Middle Eastern war would serve American interests.”

In a recent analysis, Haaretz correspondent Yossi Melman cautioned those who would interpret the recent brinkmanship emanating from Tel Aviv as a signal that that military action on the part of Tel Aviv is a done deal:

Israeli leaders and officials have recently intensified their campaign against nuclear Iran. The messages from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Ambassador to Washington Salai Meridor and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz is clear: Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. Indeed Israel is very concerned by the likelihood that Iran, whose leadership has called for the Jewish state’s destruction, will be able to produce nuclear weapons.

These public statements, as well as closed talks between Israel’s leadership and leaders around the world, can be interpreted as “preparing the ground” for the possibility that Israel will attack Iran. It is also correct that all the bodies dealing with the “Iran case,” including the Mossad, Military Intelligence, Operations Directorate of the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Air Force and the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, are planning for the worst-case scenario. This is their professional duty. But one cannot conclude, as many have following a report in The New York Times (June 19) that an Israeli attack is certainly around the corner. Not only has such a decision not been made in any relevant forum in Israel – the question has not even been discussed.

Melman notes that a “significant factor” in any decision to strike Iran is the political landscape in Tehran:

Next May, presidential elections are scheduled in Iran. If Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decides he is fed up with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mostly because of the worsening economic situation, and prevents him from running for another term, or does not support him, this dramatic turn of events could also affect Iran’s nuclear program.

Marc Perelman, writing in The Forward, has more on Ahmadinejad’s domestic woes:

On June 1, Ahmadinejad’s archrival and likely 2009 opponent, Ali Larijani, was elected to the powerful post of speaker of parliament for one year. Within hours of Larijani’s victory, an Iranian media outlet reported allegations that close to $35 billion in oil proceeds — nearly half of Iran’s annual revenue from oil — was missing from government coffers.

“Electioneering has started in earnest,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israel-based Iran scholar and co-author of a biography of Ahmadinejad. “Larijani wants to expose Ahmadinejad by casting light on corruption and even challenging him on the nuclear issue. In other words, he wants to beat him at his own game.”

While key decisions on Iranian national security and foreign policy remain firmly in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, observers say Larijani’s return to power suggests that Khamenei’s support for Ahmadinejad is on the wane. Much of the rising discontent among Iranians is centered on the economic woes the country has endured under Ahmadinejad, but among the ruling clerical elite there is also growing resentment of the president’s frequent invocation of religious principles to justify his policies.

And from Kamal Nazer Yasin of Eurasia Insight:

Concern is mounting among various conservative factions in Tehran that Ahmadinejad’s confrontational approach to international politics, combined with his thorough mismanagement of the economy, is undermining the traditionalists’ hold on power. While many continue to view Ahmadinejad as the man who can best unite key conservative constituencies — militant nationalists and Islamic pietists — traditionalists want to place greater restraints on Ahmadinejad, hoping that he becomes a less divisive figure in Iranian politics.

[…]

Presently, Larijani is viewed as one of the few politicians in Iran with sufficient stature to make Ahmadinejad listen to the complaints and desires of other conservative factions. In accepting the parliamentary speakership, Larijani made two key policy statements designed to put Ahmadinejad on notice. Concerning the nuclear issue, Larijani announced an intention to strengthen parliament’s oversight of the government. He went so far as to indicate that he might open an alternate, parliament-controlled channel of communication with the United Nations.

Whether all this is enough to deter ‘bomb bomb Iran’ hardliners within the Bush admin (or, more realistically, bolster the resolve of Defence Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Rice, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to resist acquiescing to hawkish demands) remains to be seen. But, as Kemp warns, “punishing the Iranians and setting back their nuclear program for months or years will reinforce the nationalism of the country and give the mullahs a further lease on life”–a view shared by noted Iranian human rights activists Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi, who both note that the international community’s focus on Iran’s nuclear program has, according to Ganji, “pushed aside the struggle for democracy and human rights”, allowing the regime to exploit “the pretext of an “impending war” to crack down more severely on its opponents.”

Ebidi puts it succinctly: “As a human rights activist I tell the people of the world that if you want to help people in Iran the solution is not to launch an attack.”

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Quote of the Day: Make Their Ears Bleed

by matttbastard

Enough of this bullshit and enough of keeping the eye off the prize. Worrying about the election is shit at the moment; it will happen regardless, and even if a Democrat wins, we’re going to have to worry about restoring credibility in government. This utter bullshit about democracy and freedom in the middle east has got to fucking stop until we address the sheer blasphemy that was done in the name of our supposedly moral country.

Keep screaming it until their damn ears bleed: Bush and his cabinet approved torture.

– Space Cowboy, Scream It from the Highest Mountain: “DO SOMETHING!

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Nightmares and Dreamscapes

by matttbastard

ABC News interview with President George W. Bush (h/t pogge & skdadl):

RADDATZ: …ABC News reported this week that your senior national security officials all got together and approved — including Vice President Cheney — all got together and approved enhanced interrogation methods, including waterboarding, for detainees.

BUSH: You mean back in 2003?

RADDATZ: Are you aware of that? Are you aware of that?

BUSH: Was I aware that we were going to use enhanced…

RADDATZ: That they all met together?

BUSH: Of course. They meet together all the time on…

RADDATZ: And approved that?

BUSH: … a variety of issues.

RADDATZ: And approved that?

BUSH: Yes.

RADDATZ: You have no problem with that?

BUSH: In 2003?

RADDATZ: Yes.

BUSH: No. I mean, as a matter of fact, I told the country we did that. And I also told them it was legal. We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it. And, no, I didn’t have any problem at all trying to find out what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed knew.

RADDATZ: OK.

BUSH: And guess what? I think it’s very important for the American people to understand who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was. He was the person who ordered the suicide attack — I mean, the 9/11 attacks. And back then, there was all kinds of concerns about people saying, “Well, the administration is not connecting the dots.” You might remember those — that period.

RADDATZ: I remember.

BUSH: Well, we started to connect the dots, in order to protect the American people. And, yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved. I don’t know what’s new about that; I’m not so sure what’s so startling about that.

Chris Floyd (h/t Chet Scoville):

This pattern has recurred over and over throughout the Bush Administration. Bush and his minions commit crimes and atrocities in secret; they move heaven and earth to conceal their filthy deeds; they squirm and squeal like panicked rats when their some small portion of their evil comes to light; they belch forth a relentless series of self-contradictory lies to cover up, obfuscate or explain away the crimes; and when at last their malefactions can no longer be denied, they trot out the president himself to say: “Yeah, we did it; so what?” And then….nothing happens.

And now nothing is happening again. It is an astounding phenomenon. Bush is the most widely despised president in modern times. The war he launched on false pretenses against Iraq is deeply unpopular, and is plainly bankrupting the country. His economic policies have plunged millions into ruin, want and insecurity. The opposition political party controls the Congress — a bastion they could have used as a bully pulpit to rally the public and as a battering ram to bring down an openly criminal, shamelessly unconstitutional, dangerous, illegitimate regime. And yet….nothing happens.

Tristero:

One final point. As horrifying as this latest news is, I’d like to remind you that we don’t know the half of it. The fact that Bush felt comfortable confirming his own approval of White House torture planning indicates that far more dreadful moral outrages were planned and committed by these bastards. And that those horrors are official United States policy.

This is not some puerile propaganda-disguised-as-entertainment like ’24,’ dear friends, where the guns fire blanks and the blood is ketchup. This is the real thing. People are being tortured with your tax dollars. And let us not forget that there are no “utilitarian” excuses that trump this immorality. “Our” goals are not intrinsically benign and therefore justify these obscenities. Torture has not saved a single American life.

Should Bush, et al immediately be impeached and removed from office for these and other heinous activities? Should he and the others stand trial? Of course they should, it goes without saying. It is a measure of how far removed we are from a representative democracy that, politically, it is simply inconceivable that the top level of planners will ever encounter justice.

Liss:

When that feeling stirs in our guts, that creeping sense that something isn’t right, we must listen to our intuition. We cannot keep our heads down, hold our breath, and wait for it all to be over.

[…]

We must not give up on our right and our responsibility to vote, but voting alone will not solve the problems we face. Those of us who can look beyond our next chance to trek to the voting booth must find other ways of making our voices heard in the interim. When Ukraine’s government attempted to undermine their democratic principles, there was rioting in the streets. When will we riot in the streets? I wonder, anxiously, what it will take to shake us from our immutable belief that democracy will solve the problem of its own inevitable ruination so long as we depend exclusively on its fading potency.

Citizens of a democracy, we are taught, address their concerns and protest bad administrations and their dire policies on election days. We are polite and respectful as we register our dissent in quiet booths with drawn curtains. But maybe, just maybe, the pride we take in our civility will become our greatest shame.

You goddamn right it’s time to make some noise, so that we might awaken the sleeping giant and finally–finallymake something happen.

Update: Larisa Alexandrovna with the first of a projected series of posts on the criminal legacy of the Bush Administration (thanks, skdadl).

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Well, It’s About Damn Time

by matttbastard

Nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, BBC News reports that the US has finally decided to lift the now-antiquaited terrorist designation from ANC leaders–including global statesman Nelson Mandela:

A bill has been introduced in the US Congress to remove from databases any reference to South Africa’s governing party and its leaders as terrorists.

The African National Congress (ANC) was designated as a terrorist organisation by South Africa’s old apartheid regime.

At present a waiver is needed for any ANC leaders to enter the country.

“It is frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterparts – the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader, Nelson Mandela,” [Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice told lawmakers in Washington.

Last week, Howard Berman, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who introduced the bill said it was “shameful” that the United States still treated the ANC this way.

“Amazingly, Nelson Mandela still needs to get a special waiver to enter the United States based on his courageous leadership of the ANC. What an indignity. This legislation will wipe it away,” he said.

Flashback: Joe Conason on the “Conservative whitewash” of the GOP’s record on apartheid-era South Africa:

If the ANC indulged in actions that might be considered “terrorist,” it is at least as true that the entire apparatus of apartheid relied upon terrorism against millions of men, women and children. The Sharpsville massacre and literally hundreds of other atrocities committed against South African blacks and their neighbors in other states deserve no other description. That kind of state terrorism didn’t much trouble the Reaganite ideologues such as Cheney.

Contrary to his sentimentalized recollection of that period, some people were indeed in favor of keeping Mandela behind bars and keeping South African blacks in bondage. The roster of infamy begins with Ronald Reagan, who upon becoming president in 1981 immediately reversed the Carter administration’s policy of pressuring the Afrikaner minority toward democracy and human rights. In an early interview with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, Reagan called South Africa a “friendly nation” whose reliable anticommunism and wealth of strategic minerals justified stronger ties between Washington and Pretoria.

Overtly and covertly, the Reagan administration moved to strengthen the apartheid regime. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, fought every attempt to impose sanctions. The late William Casey, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, intensified cooperation with the South African Bureau of State Security and military intelligence agencies. He went so far as to secretly visit Pretoria to confer with the racist murderers who ran those agencies.

Meanwhile, of course, the Republican leadership in Congress, including Cheney, also opposed every effort to impose economic sanctions. He voted against sanctions in various forms at least 10 times between 1983 and 1988. There is no evidence that Cheney ever spoke up for freedom and human rights in South Africa — although in that respect he was merely a typical Republican politician of his time.

For Cheney, anticommunism excused a multitude of sins, including his own. Whenever they protected Pretoria from democratic change, conservatives like him would invoke Soviet backing for the ANC and the presence of communists in the ANC leadership. Yet it has long been obvious that the Republican tilt in favor of white supremacy was influenced as much by unsavory stateside domestic politics as by geopolitical concerns.

That sad fact was discovered by Henry Kissinger as early as 1976, when he delivered a stirring speech in Zambia calling for racial justice on the African continent as “an imperative of our own moral heritage.” It was an unusually decent initiative on the part of the old reprobate, who could with some understatement be described as no friend of human rights.

Kissinger was immediately denounced by House Republican leader Robert Michel, later Cheney’s mentor, because of his speech’s “devastating effect” on Ford’s reelection campaign in Southern primaries. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Kissinger, Michel demanded that Ford “muzzle” his secretary of state. Apparently the “Southern strategy” adopted by the party of Lincoln meant appeasing racism, both at home and abroad.

Well, at least US policy on state terrorism has been consistent, to say nothing of the GOP’s resistance to apologizing for past mistakes. Berman and Rice can try to retroactively ”wipe away” 20+ years of “embarrassing” official US policy towards the apartheid regime, but this is ultimately a hollow gesture, too little and (far) too late. As Conason aptly noted back in 2000, “[t]here can be no reconciliation in the absence of truth.”

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