Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lebanon, Part Two

In another development related to yesterday's topic, the Emir of Qatar and his wife both visited South Lebanon yesterday, touring four towns which were rebuilt with Qatari money, after being destroyed by an Israeli invasion.

Print story here.

This is an almost unprecedented show of both concern and solidarity on the part of Lebanon's neighbors in the Arab World. It is almost enough to make one wonder what these leaders know, that we do not.

Ironically, this occurred on the same day that AJE's Marwan Bishara posted an article lamenting "Arab Impotence".

The best-laid plans of mice and men...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Flashpoint Lebanon

Ah, Lebanon. Since the Beirut disaster of 1983, when 220 US Marines, (and 79 others), were killed in a truck bomb attack on the French and US barracks there, most Americans have thought of Lebanon seldom or not at all.

This is understandable, but unfortunate, since Lebanon is arguably one of the keys to Middle East Peace, if such a mythical beast actually exists.

To quickly summarize, Lebanon is the nation on the north border of Israel, and Beirut is its capital city. Tyre and Sidon are smaller Lebanese cities, and both of these were Phoenician cities in the ancient world.

Two important differences set Lebanon apart from the other Arab nations of the region.

First, Lebanon has a sizable Christian population, roughly 40% of the population, as compared to a single-digit percentage in other Arab countries. While 95% of the people are ethnically classified as Arabs, "many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab but rather as descendents of the ancient Canaanites and prefer to be called Phoenicians" (quoted from the CIA World Factbook). Furthermore, there are 17 officially recognized sects; 5 Muslim and 12 Christian.

[booga]Second, the colonial history of Lebanon is different. All Arab nations were part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire until the Arab Revolt of 1915, which was led in part by T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia. At war's end, however, the British attacked and colonized most of the Arab kingdoms, while Lebanon was allocated to the French.

Passing by this example of European perfidy with no further comment, (glass houses and all that), let us simply note that the cultural difference is significant.

Lebanon is a cosmopolitan nation, and the literacy rate is high for a Middle eastern country, 87% overall. Lebanese women are significantly closer to equality than their sisters in many other Arab nations.

But Lebanon has a history. In the late 1970's and into the middle 1980's, the Lebanese Civil War devastated Beirut and much of the rest of the country. Israel invaded Lebanon repeatedly, and worked to stop all efforts at peace between factions. (The long, sad story of the SLA we will not address here). There was a division called the Green Line through Beirut in those days, with Christians on one side and Muslims on the other, and they hammered each other with artillery until their capital city was reduced to rubble.

That war is long over now, and Lebanon has risen from the ashes like the legendary phoenix. Lebanese government is carefully managed, with certain posts reserved for Muslims and certain posts reserved for Christians in a delicate balance. This has actually worked fairly well for the Lebanese, and if it works for them, why need they care what others think?

The problems have been Israel and Syria. Israel works to promote instability in all her neighbors, and Syria thought it had a historical claim to Lebanon, though Syria has since renounced this claim.

And yet, in 2005, somebody murdered Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a spectacularly bloody bombing. The assassins detonated a device equivalent to a metric ton of TNT as his motorcade drove past the St George Hotel in Beirut.

At the time, his son Saad Hariri accused Syria of being behind the bombing, though he has since retracted that accusation. In the last two years, Lebanon and Syria have resolved their territorial differences, and normalized their relations. Saad Hariri has travelled to Syria for a state visit and publicly stated that he was mistaken to blame Syria for his father's murder.

Understand, dear reader, I have in fact simplified things to an extent likely to annoy many Lebanese. And I have not yet even attempted to explain Hezbollah.

The US State department classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Then again, Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome is a strong factor in that classification; when you call everyone a terrorist, people stop taking the designation very seriously. The part everyone can agree on is that Hezbollah is a militant Shiite organization. Allegedly, Hezbollah is funded by Iran. Who knows the truth?

Back in the present day, the Commission appointed to look into the assassination of Rafik Hariri approaches its conclusion, (five years later), and there have been ominous signs of possible trouble. The leader of Hezbollah has said publicly that the commission will blame his organization, and that the US and Israel have conspired to bend the commission to that conclusion. Again, who knows? Where is the average person supposed to look for insight into the doing of a closed commission, or the process behind the appointment of the members of that commission? Barring revelation by Wikileaks, we will never know.

Whatever is brewing in Lebanon, the leaders of the Arab world are visibly worried. In token of this, President Bashar al-Asad of Syria and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited Lebanon together. Now, you should understand that Saudi Arabia and Syria represent opposite ends of the socio-political spectrum in the Arab world. Saudis are very conservative, while Syria is the most secular and modernistic among Arab nations. When Syria and Saudi Arabia speak with one voice, on any issue, they have the ears of virtually the entire Arab world.

Map and 1919 pencil sketch of T.E. Lawrence courtesy of Wikimedia, both are in the public domain.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

War as Comedy

The War in Afghanistan has reached that point of sublime ridiculousness at which only our comedians seem capable of commenting intelligently on the situation. Comedy Central, John Stewart no less, is the source of the commentary in question.

First, let's start with the Epic Afghan Police Hookah Smoking video, courtesy of a couple anonymous troopers of the 82nd Airborne, and released on Monday by Al Jazeera English.

OK, amusing introductory scene, but the Afghan Police look fairly alert and squared-away, their gear is neat and clean, and they appear to be in good spirits. The US sergeant offers no complaints about their performance once the shit drops in the pot. It's the part that comes after the initial humorous scene that's worrisome.

Now the Comedy Central video -

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Best Leak Ever
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Now do you see why I said this is the only intelligent commentary from anyone?

And it has been amusing to watch the White House thrashing around in response to the Wikileaks revelations. First, they accuse Wikileaks of endangering US soldiers. Then they say, it's no big deal, this is all old stuff. Well, if it's all old stuff, then how can it endanger anyone? Hello, contradict yourself much?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Killing Civilians in Afghanistan

Clayton Swisher of Al Jazeera English has a new blog posted. Swisher, a former Marine, is currently embedded with the 82nd Airborne, (2-508th parachute infantry regiment, more specifically), in the Arghandab Valley of southern Afghanistan.

Swisher bluntly describes the use of AC-130 "Spooky" gunships against occupied Afghan villages, calling them "flying collateral damage machines".

What is an AC-130? It is the heir to "Puff the Magic Dragon" of the Vietnam era. But whereas "Puff" of 40 years ago carried a trio of .30 caliber miniguns, "Spooky" of today carries a 40mm cannon and a 105mm howitzer.

And they are using these against villages. Where people live. Civilians, much like you or me.

Clayton Swisher talks about the heavy casualties (nearly 50%) suffered by one unit of the 82nd airborne, and then says-

"Thus the late night calls from Spooky. Though pummelling the villages around Western Arghandab will hardly bring a solution, however good the vengeance feels."

When viewed alongside yesterday's revelation by Wikileaks of far greater civilian casualties than the military has publicly admitted, and of those civilian casualties being deliberately covered-up, Swisher's blog becomes all the more worrisome.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what are we doing in Afghanistan? Just why are we there, and when can we leave? Is it really all about that gas and oil pipeline that Haliburton is supposed to build across Afghanistan?

Some things never change.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wikileaks blows it wide open

Once again, Julian Assange and Wikileaks have revealed information which embarrasses and angers the powerful of the world. The Wikileaks site is linked at the right of the page, but as I write this their server is bogged-down rather badly by traffic.

What have they done? Well, they have posted online 90,000 leaked US military and intelligence documents from 2004 to 2010, relating to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Let's get right to the Telegraph interview with Julian Assange himself -

And the Al Jazeera interview with retired Pakistani General Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI, implicated within some of these newly leaked documents in all manner of nefarious Taliban-related activities. The interviewer is Jane Dutton, a South African reporter who is usually quite mellow. In this interview she goes after General Gul quite aggressively at several points, yet he seems not at all disturbed by it, other than asking her to let him finish -

The part that made me sit up straight was hearing General Gul compare this incident to the false accusations against Iraq (WMD's, etc) used to justify the 2003 invasion of that country. He then went on to suggest that perhaps the USA was preparing to move against Pakistan militarily. Some of the more lurid scenarios General Gul painted were obvious exaggerations, but his suggestion that perhaps the US is building a case to justify seizing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is entirely credible.

If it seems to you, my friends, that the world has grown very strange, you are not alone in that perception.

(edit 1300hrs 072610)

And as long as I'm going crazy with the videos today, here is the TED interview with Julian Assange on Al Jazeera English -

Saturday, July 24, 2010

US House urges Israel to attack Iran

My post of the 20th was entitled, "I Love Being Wrong", and that's sometimes true. The other side of that coin is, sometimes I hate being right.

My post of the 21st concerned the possibility that the US was about to attack Iran.

Friday July 23rd, two days later, the US House of Representatives introduces HR 1553, which urges Israel to attack Iran, and gives blanket US support for such an attack. Here's a link to the PDF, read it for yourself, if you have a strong stomach, but it's fairly disgusting stuff.

The preamble says it all -

Expressing support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

Bad enough on the face of it, because it commits us in advance to whatever the Israelis do. This is a blank check, given to a nation run by religious fanatics, who believe they are God's Chosen People.

Fairness compels me to point out that Israel has a vocal and quite active community of Progressives, who condemn Israel's more outrageous actions with greater courage and vehemence than anything the US media dare to say. Bless these people, and much respect to them. But they are not in charge. Israel is not a nation of religious fanatics, but it is a nation controlled by religious fanatics. And, yes, much the same thing could have been said of the USA during the reign of Bush the Younger. Apparently the GOP is still in the hands of religious fanatics; almost one-third of the Republicans in the House have signed on to this monstrosity.

Back to HR 1553. The dangerous part is the phrase "and to use all means necessary". This resolution, if passed, would give blanket approval in advance to a nuclear attack on Iran by the Israelis.

And the National Review chimes in, right on time, confirming our worst suspicions. Check out item #8 on the list, "Therefore, only Israel’s submarine-based nuclear weapons can assure operational success".

What order of loathsome creature would introduce such legislation, attempting to blandly approve the murder of untold millions of innocents? Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, for starts.

I'm sure McCain would love the idea; remember this little gem?

And this happens to be the week when AIPAC, (Israel's voice in the US, which is widely recognized as the most potent lobbying organization in Washington) holds its annual conference in DC. Purely by coincidence, I'm sure.

There's a video from that event on YouTube, of Senator Lindsey Graham sucking up to AIPAC, and in it he asks everyone from the Senate or Congress to stand up. They do, and you can see that over half of both Houses are present. Graham then tells the audience "On behalf of every person standing, to Israel, to AIPAC, Congress has your back!", finishing in rising shout.

These are our elected representatives, some of the most powerful men and women on earth. They decide, and millions live or die. They are supposed to be impartial. They are supposed to work for us.

How can we consider the evidence of events like this, proudly posted on YouTube, consider the contents of this HR 1553, encouraging Israel to attack Iran with nuclear weapons, and come to any conclusion other than, that they have been bribed. Bribed to consider the interests of a foreign nation over the interests of our own.

Juan Cole has an excellent article on the probable repercussions of such an action. I'd urge you to go read that on his site, but among other things, he points out that the price of oil would spike to over $140 a barrel, killing any recovery of the US economy.

My friends, this is madness. This is madness of an order fit for Caligula, not the nation that was founded to lift the lamp of Liberty unto the world.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rape by Deception

In a way, I cringe from even addressing this story. After all, rape is a criminal issue, arguably a social issue, but is it a political issue?

In this case, yes, I do think so.

The bare bones of the matter seem to be this. An Arab citizen of Israel, Sabbar Kashur, met a Jewish girl, talked to her for a while, and then the two went into an office building and found a place to have sex. Consensual sex, meaning, she agreed.

Now Mr Kashur has been convicted of "rape by deceit", and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Because the woman claims that she thought he was Jewish.

Here are a few choice quotes from the court's verdict -

If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have co-operated.

It is incumbent on the court to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth, sweet-talking offenders who can mislead naive victims into paying an unbearable price: the sanctity of their bodies and souls.

Again, I cringe to be even venturing upon these treacherous waters, but...a serious romantic relationship? She went into a nearby building and found an empty office to have sex with a man she just met, because she wanted a serious romantic relationship? Let me be clear, there's absolutely nothing wrong with casual sex, though one may hope she used a condom. And it is not my place (or any other man's place) to tell this woman (or any other woman) how to order her personal life.

What I cannot help but question is the yawning gap between behavior and alleged expectation.

For purposes of ordering her own life, she is an competent and independent adult. But then somehow in court she is transformed into this innocent little victim who must be protected by the (male) judge?

Can you say hypocrisy, boys and girls? Of course you can.

So, what makes it political? The fact that this is strong evidence of institutional racism within Israel.

Gideon Levy, a columnist with Haaretz (one of Israel's largest online news sites, linked at right of page), offered this juicy quote -

"I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?

"Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not."

Gideon Levy's story at Haaretz here

Story at Loonwatch here

Story at Al Jazeera here

Video from Russia Today

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Will Obama Attack Iran?

Lawrence Davidson of Westchester University has a new piece this morning entitled "Is the US Replaying Iraq in Iran?"

In this article, he makes some disturbing points about the similarities between the rhetoric coming out of Washington in 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, and the rhetoric being used by the Obama administration now.

For example, the Bush accusations against Iraq were of WMD's that did not exist. The Obama accusations against Iran are of Nuclear weapons that do not exist.

He also offers the perhaps controversial assertion that-

The whole notion that Amadinejad wants to “wipe Israel off the map” is a Zionist propaganda story based on a mistranslated speech.

The article (linked above) is a bit wordy, yet still worth reading.

The other Iran-related news is the story in today's Telegraph on Khamenei's accusation that the USA and UK were behind the suicide bomb attacks on a mosque last week in southern Iran. Twenty-eight people died in that attack and several hundred were wounded. This is not the first bloody attack in Iran by a group called Jundullah, who claim to be fighting for the Sunni Baluchi, some of whom live in Iran, along the border with Pakistan. The rest of the Baluchis live just across the border in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Now, growing up in the USA, we are accustomed to hearing our nation accused of everything from creating AIDS to assassinating Santa Claus, and we generally shrug off such accusations. In this particular case, unfortunately, it appears that Jundullah did in fact receive about 8 million dollars in aid from the USA under the Bush administration. We can certainly hope that Obama has not continued this unfortunate course, but how many other objectionable Bush-era policies has he left in place?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Love Being Wrong

Well, perhaps not always. But when I'm lamenting the sad state of something and then find I was mistaken, that is cause for a smile.

Just yesterday, I was bemoaning the lack of any visible progress in indicting those responsible for the phony war on Iraq. Lo, today we see that there is indeed progress being made, just not on this side of the Atlantic.

David Hughes of the Telegraph reports on some very interesting events in the ongoing UK investigation of British involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

It seems to boil down to this. The former head of MI5 (UK counter-intelligence) has just testified that she told Blair in 2003 that Iraq was only a "very limited" threat, and that information on the supposed MWD programs was "fragmentary". Blair then turned around and told Parliament-

…that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population, and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

And on the basis of that, the UK decided to participate in the US-sponsored invasion of Iraq in 2003. And his pay-off for this bit of skullduggery came 4 years later. Within hours of being ousted from power in the UK, Blair was named Special Envoy to the Middle East.

It would be nice to see a parallel investigation here in the USA, but Obama seems determined to cover up the numerous sins of his predecessor, no matter how grievous. And, to be honest, when was the last time a government investigation in this country was anything but a shameless whitewash?

Didn't Obama promise us something like "transparency in government"?

OK, you can stop laughing now.

(edit 1030hrs 072010)

I just noticed that Al Jazeera English now has an article posted with more detail than was available from the Telegraph story earlier. It seems Manningham-Buller, who was running MI5 in 2003, also told the inquiry that 16 "substantial" bomb plots against the UK resulted from the invasion of Iraq, 12 of which were stopped. In mid-2005, four suicide bombers detonated explosives on London's public transportation system, killing over 52 commuters and wounding several hundred.

She is
also reported to have testified that the invasion of Iraq gave al Qaeda a substantial boost in popularity, and brought them a whole new generation of recruits.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Quo Vadis

Where are we going?

I think even the most casual of observers must have realized by now that life in the USA is no longer business-as-usual.

The earth is changing around us in visible ways. To offer a few examples, the Arctic ice cap is melting, the glaciers in the Andes mountains are melting, the blue fin tuna fishery is in utter collapse, and the Gulf of Mexico, which already had huge dead zones, has been given the kiss of death by BP, aided and abetted by the dithering incompetence of our beloved President. Let us just hope they have not killed the entire Atlantic Ocean.

The US economy, in spite of the grossly falsified "official" figures, continues to slowly melt down into smoking ruin, as the numbers of the unemployed, the real numbers, remain the same or increase. And the Obama administration, desperate to show improvement in exchange for billions in stimulus money poured down the toilet, resorts to publishing unemployment numbers which do not include those who have exhausted all their UI benefits.

I do believe that historians of the future, looking back upon this time, will record this as the deliberate destruction of the American Middle Class.

So where are we going?

Think back, if you will, to Inauguration Eve of 2009. We were outraged at the newly-revealed proof of torture, outraged that prisoners had been tortured into giving false confessions of Saddam-Al Qaeda connections, so that Cheney could justify the invasion of Iraq. We were eager to see those responsible prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and Eric Holder assured us he would be investigating the matter fully, (that should have been our first clue). So, a year and a half later, any progress? When was the last time you heard any mention of the torture issue in the media?

On Inauguration Eve of 2009, we were so sure Guantanamo would be closed down within a year, and all those within would either be released, or given a fair trial in a court of law. Keep in mind these people were kidnapped off the street on the mere suspicion of terrorist connections. A year and a half later, Obama is still using "extraordinary rendition" to abduct people and imprison them without trial, and most of those who have left Guantanamo have been transferred to Bagram prison instead, where we can say they're no longer in US custody.

And while we are speaking of the triumphant accomplishments of our dearly beloved Chief Executive, let us not neglect to mention al-Amrikki. In short, a US citizen turned jihadi. Perhaps a madman, perhaps a traitor, perhaps a clown, but definitely a US citizen. And not even Benedict Arnold was executed without a fair trial. Yet Obama has authorized the death of this man. Without any sort of due process, without a trial by a jury of his peers, without any of the things that the US Constitution says a citizen is entitled to.

And yet there is no protest, because after all he's a terrorist.

So, tell me, where are we going?