IPS Blog

Belgrade: Gritty City

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and surveying its transformations since 1989.

The Turkish bath of Milos Obrenovic, now a bathroom and storage space for the Monument restaurant.

The Turkish bath of Milos Obrenovic, now a bathroom and storage space for the Monument restaurant.

Sometimes that person you immediate dislike becomes, over time, a close friend. In fact, the very things you disliked about that person can end up becoming his or her chief virtues in your eyes.

That’s been my experience with Serbia. The first encounter was certainly not auspicious. I first visited Belgrade in 1989, on my way south from Poland to the beaches of the Croatian coast. Or, at least, that’s where I thought I was heading. I arrived in Belgrade that July only to discover that all the bus and train tickets to Dubrovnik were sold out. During that summer, even with the Yugoslav economy in difficult straits, Dubrovnik remained a popular destination. Air tickets were available, but I didn’t have that kind of money. So, I ended up staying in Belgrade, disgruntled.

Belgrade seemed to me quite ugly, and I couldn’t wait to leave. I rescheduled my flight but still had to pass three days there. I could never get the hang of the city’s geography. Even with a map I was always getting lost. And everywhere I went I ran into the same two guys. Next to all the pictures of Tito hanging on the walls of restaurants and newsstands was this other fellow, Slobodan Milosevic, who looked like an apparatchik from central casting. I couldn’t wrap my head around all the signs that proclaimed “I [heart] Serbia.” I naively thought the creation of Yugoslavia had meant the death of nationalism. I obviously hadn’t been following recent events in the country.

My next visit to Belgrade was a 1990 flight with Yugoslav Air that passed through the country on the way to Poland. In those days, JAT was the cheapest way to get to Eastern Europe, but many of the flights with connections to points north required an overnight stay in Belgrade. On that particular night, we arrived late at night, near 10 pm, and were driven from the airport into the city to a reasonably nice three-star hotel. Sixty or seventy very hungry people crowded into the hotel lobby, waiting for the distribution of room keys. We waited. And waited. After an hour, it turned out that the hotel didn’t have rooms for us.

“Not to worry,” said our JAL representative. He packed us back into our bus, and we drove in the direction of the airport again. Near midnight, the bus stopped at a no-star hotel. Again we waited for an hour for our room keys to be distributed. The hotel had rooms for us, just not enough. I spent a restless night in a small room in a double bed with another guy, sleeping head to foot. Dinner that night was a huge platter of grilled meat that, because we were all ravenous, we tore into with abandon. There was plenty of alcohol to make us forget our ordeal and then, the next morning, to remember it in painful detail.

They woke us early enough to get to the airport three hours before our flights left. The airport wasn’t even open. I sat on a hard plastic seat and tried to sleep. Finally, it was time to check in.

“Ah,” said the young woman behind the counter, “you have to pay the airport tax.”

“Airport tax? No one had said anything about an airport tax.” I didn’t have any Yugoslav dinars, so I offered dollars.

“Oh no,” she said, “it has to be in dinars.”

“But the exchange booths aren’t open,” I pointed out.

She shrugged.

It turned out that I had a 15-minute window to exchange money, pay the tax, and, running with several other unhappy travelers, get onto the plane before it left. Goodbye and good riddance, I thought as Belgrade retreated into the distance.

An acquaintance later told me that she’d been in a similar situation at the Belgrade airport with one important difference: her early-morning flight left before the exchange booths opened. She waited until the last moment, walked up to the ticket-taking official, and threw a crumpled bill in his direction in lieu of the airport tax receipt. Then she ran through the turn style, down the ramp, and onto her plane just before they closed the doors. She became breathless all over again in the retelling, which made the improbable story believable.

Later that same year, I finally made it to Belgrade as part of my multi-country tour of the region. As soon as I arrived in the city, all of these bad memories flooded back. I had only one contact in the city. I called her up, interviewed her, and left for Zagreb the next day. There were even more pictures of Milosevic around, and the news of confrontations between Serbs and Croats in the Krajina region of Croatia were filtering in. Foreboding was thick in the air. The woman who owned the private flat where I was staying told me in a mix of Serbian and Russian that the Croatians were all fascists and the Albanians produced too many children. Civil society activist Sonja Licht, my one interviewee, provided me with an incisive critique of Milosevic and suggested that civil war had become increasingly likely. I couldn’t wait to leave.

Now, on my return to the region to retrace my steps, I’ve decided to start with Serbia. This might seem strange, since it’s the place where I talked to the fewest people. But I felt that I had been unfair to Belgrade. On a trip to the city a few years ago, I discovered that it wasn’t such a bad place after all. In fact, the pedestrian area in the downtown was charming and festive. I talked with artists and activists who were doing difficult and important work. But this visit in 2008 had also been brief, and I still felt that I hadn’t really seen Belgrade or Serbia.

I’ve already had several interesting encounters on this latest trip. I interviewed Sonja Beserko, once a member of the Yugoslav foreign ministry and long a sharp critic of authoritarian and nationalist politics. I ventured by bus to Pancevo, a suburb of Belgrade that NATO bombed repeatedly in 1999, to meet Sasa Rakevic, who writes comic strips under the name Alexander Zograf and published the wonderful book, Regards from Serbia. Later I’ll write more about these fascinating conversations along with a return visit with Sonja Licht.

But this Sunday I had a chance to wander around Belgrade and appreciate its intriguing tangle of streets. The city has been repeatedly destroyed over the years, by the Ottomans, the Austrians, and most devastatingly during World War II. Some buildings damaged during the 1999 bombing have been left standing as a reminder. Despite all this destruction, you can still find some lovely architecture – an art nouveau building, an old palace, an stately Orthodox church.

I had dinner at a restaurant called Monument, located in an addition to an old haram, or Turkish bath, that once was part of the extensive quarters of Milos Obrenovic. The placards hanging near the restaurant describe Obrenovic’s key role in Serbian history as a participant in the first uprising against Ottoman rule, a leader of the second uprising, and then a ruler who established the country as an autonomous dukedom.

Coincidentally, I was reading over dinner Helen Leah Reed’s 1916 book, Serbia: A Sketch. Just as I started in on my trout, I came upon the passage about Obrenovic. Reed adds something that the placards leave out: that Obrenovic had likely betrayed Serbian resistance leader Karadgordge to the Ottomans. So, it is fitting perhaps that all that remains of Obrenovic’s once vast estate – he was reputed to be one of the richest men of the Balkans – is this modest stone bathhouse, which now serves as a bathroom and storage facility for the restaurant.

Belgrade is not Prague. It’s not a beautiful city set up to accommodate tens of thousands of tourists. You have to work a little harder to appreciate the charms of the city. You have to dig a little to uncover its quirky history. But in the end, this struggle becomes perhaps this gritty city’s chief selling point.

This Week in OtherWords: October 3-9, 2012

This week, Sam Pizzigati’s latest OtherWords column sums up the findings of a new Inequality Report Card that “grades” lawmakers. He’s part of an Institute for Policy Studies team that assessed the performance of Congress on this important issue. Check it out to see how your lawmakers stack up.

Please note that OtherWords is now distributing commentaries and cartoons on Wednesdays. As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. The Roots of Voter Suppression / Ron Carver
    Opponents of black voter registration have always claimed they were protecting democracy.
  2. A New American Dream / James Gustave Speth
    America is often No. 1 in ways we can’t celebrate — but the fight for real democracy, human solidarity, and devotion to the public good can change that.
  3. America’s Rocky Road Away from Homophobia / Hillary Gibson
    The DADT repeal marked a significant step toward equal rights for the LGBT community, but the problems don’t stop — or start — there.
  4. Promoting Unemployment / Mitchell Zimmerman
    The Republican obstruction of job-boosting policies helps the GOP run against a bad economy.
  5. A Congressional Report Card for the 99 Percent / Sam Pizzigati
    The grades are in, and you can see how lawmakers fare on the most important issue of our time: the grand divide between America’s rich and everybody else.
  6. Romney Passes the Torch to Taxpayers / Jim Hightower
    Mitt won $1.5 billion of taxpayer gold for the Salt Lake City Olympics.
  7. Why John Roberts Upheld the Affordable Care Act / William A. Collins
    While John Roberts may be a remarkably malevolent force in American jurisprudence, he’s no dope.
  8. The Politics of Inequality / Khalil Bendib (Cartoon)
http://www.otherwords.org/files/5271/broken-ladder-economic-immobility-cartoon.JPG?width=800

http://www.otherwords.org/files/5271/broken-ladder-economic-immobility-cartoon.JPG?width=800

Creating an Equal Opportunity Page

Letter to the Editor

I spotted letters from 14 men and three women on the Sept. 22 Free for All page. It caused me to wonder if women’s letters aren’t being published or whether we’re just not writing many letters to the editor. But then I remembered that I’m a woman. And, hey, I wrote a letter to the editor about the extraordinary inaugural reading by our new poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, that wasn’t published. Trethewey is not only a woman but also the first person of color to hold the laureateship in 17 years.

What gives? Is another grammatical error in The Post (the subject of several of the Free for All letters) really more important than one of the most significant cultural events of the season? Or is this some guy thing I just don’t understand?

Sarah Browning
Washingston, D.C.

This letter was originally published in the September 21st edition of The Washington Post.

Romney Versus Realonomy: A Peek Inside the Bubble

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been roundly criticized for being a wooden, out-of-touch plutocrat who pays a lower effective tax rate than the vast majority of Americans yet believes that 47 percent of Americans merely mooch off the government.

It’s no secret that Romney favors tax cuts that will mainly benefit the very rich. And why shouldn’t he? He has a long record of seeking to minimize his own taxes.

But what about the rest of his economic program? Mitt Romney is no one-dimensional “tax cuts are always the answer” Republican. He has a 160-page, seven-part “plan for jobs and economic growth” that includes sections on taxes, regulation, trade, labor, human capital, government spending and energy.

Read the rest of Salvatore Babones’ Truth-Out breakdown of the Romney Plan by clicking here.

If Drone Strikes Are “Surgical,” the U.S. Is Guilty of Military Malpractice

In his latest salvo at the U.S. drone campaign, Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic’s resident anti-militarist, writes about his exasperation with the terminology “surgical” when applied to drone strikes. The Obama administration, he writes, has “successfully transplanted the term into public discourse about drones.”

I’ve been told American drone strikes are “surgical” while attending Aspen Ideas Festival panels, interviewing delegates at the Democratic National Convention, and perusing reader emails after every time I write about the innocents killed and maimed in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

It is a triumph of propaganda.

But, Friedersdorf points out:

Using data that undercounts innocents killed, The New America Foundation reports that 85 percent of Pakistanis killed in drone strikes are “militants,” while 15 percent are civilians or unknown. What do you think would happen to a surgeon that accidentally killed 15 in 100 patients? Would colleagues would call him “surgical” in his precision?

No, he’d likely be named a defendant in medical malpractice suits. Friedersdorf again:

… it is a downright dishonest metaphor when invoked by an administration that could make their strikes more like surgery but doesn’t. For example, the Obama Administration could make certain of the identity of the people it is “operating on.” Instead it sometimes uses “signature strikes,” wherein the CIA doesn’t even know the identity of the people it is killing. It could also attempt autopsies, literal or figurative, when things go wrong. Instead, it presumes sans evidence that all military-aged males killed in drone strikes are “militants.”

Friedersdorf’s criticism, of course, isn’t constructive; he isn’t seeking to assist in legitimizing our drone strikes. He’s just pointing out that the program is even worse than it has to be.

What President Obama’s UN Address on Free Speech and Extremism Means for the “Incitement” Debate

Innocence of MuslimsIn his speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, September 25, President Obama denounced the now notorious film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad as “crude and disgusting.” He also declined to call the film a catalyst for the tragic deaths of four Americans on September 11 at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Instead, President Obama rightly reaffirmed America’s commitment to freedom of expression and shined a light on extremists.

At the heart of the discourse over the incident is the position that Islam forbids any depiction of its founder. This belief should be respected. In her initial speech condemning the deaths, Secretary Clinton noted that America has always stood for religious tolerance. And so we stand today.

Yet, rather than seizing an opportunity to explain the significance of depicting Muhammad and to explore various perspectives on the violence, some commentators and even world leaders, such as newly-elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, suggest that the film constitutes incitement. The implication is that by providing a representation of Muhammad – just like burning a Quran – the creator is inciting Muslims to commit violence. This argument conveniently shifts the blame to the filmmaker.

As last week’s speech makes clear, however, the incitement debate doesn’t work. Along with our acceptance of people of all races and religions, America also honors a strong tradition of respect for freedom of expression, grounded in the U.S. Constitution. This tradition allows criticism of religion, including President Obama’s own Christian beliefs, as he stated in his address. But violence holds no place in this equation.

Societies do place limits on rights of expression, and these conditions vary based on community beliefs. There is no absolute right to free speech – even in the United States. To push the debate forward, we must understand these relative norms. The internationally recognized crime of incitement, however, generally prescribes that there must be direct incitement to commit a crime. To be direct, the alleged inciter must have intended to induce his audience into the commission of the crime, or at least have been aware of the likelihood of its commission due to his conduct.

To call these actions incitement begs the question – what crime did the filmmaker induce or know he was likely to induce his audience to commit by lobbing it out into the Internet? Murder? The film may have been distasteful, insensitive, and created to inflame certain viewers. Accordingly, in a free society, protests against it should be permissible and legal. A disturbing assumption, however, anchors the incitement argument with respect to events in Libya: Islam permits individuals to commit violence in response to representations of Muhammad. It follows that the filmmaker knew acts of murder might be a consequence of his actions.

The “depiction equals violence” scenario puts the filmmaker on the legal hook. It seems incredulous, however, that the second largest religion worldwide would condone the murder of innocent civilians – diplomats from the very same nation that supported them, along with France and the United Kingdom, through the revolution. The alternative is too ridiculous, and horrifying, to entertain. As President Obama noted Tuesday, “There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents.” Reactions in Libya to the violence, including the statements of their newly elected Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur, indicate that many Libyans agree.

The more likely scenario, promulgated by President Obama, is that these murders are the work of extremists. Recent acts of destruction throughout Libya and in its neighbor Mali – in which Salafists have used bulldozers and pickaxes to damage Sufi mosques considered idolatrous, including ones in UNSECO World Heritage Site Timbuktu – support this phenomenon. The splintering of Islam, just like the factionalized components of modern day Christianity, is on the rise. As with relative free speech norms, the current state of Islam must enter the dialogue.

Blaming the filmmaker is not the answer. This approach is futile not only for its dangerous precedent for free speech and condemning views on Islam, but also because it is impractical in a digital era. As President Obama told the UN General Assembly, “In 2012 … the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.” We must therefore drop the illusory incitement debate. The consequences of failure to do so are grave. Without an acknowledgement of the true causes of this violence, Libyans will continue to face the risk of being high jacked by extremists seeking to hinder the journey to democracy. In his speech, President Obama reminded us that when Ambassador Stevens died, Libyans said he was their friend; and so the United States should make the Libyans ours.

Annie Castellani is a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit law firm, the Public International Law & Policy Group, where she focuses on transitional justice, constitution drafting, and civil society development in Libya and other post-conflict nations. Her views are independent.

Washington’s Problem in the Middle East: Policy, Not Personality

AbdullahBushA reference to “personal” relationship appears five times in the headline story “In Arab Spring, Obama Finds a Sharp Test” by Helene Cooper and Robert Worth in the September 25 edition of the New York Times and there is an additional reference to the President’s alleged “impersonal style.” It seems, the report says, that much of the quandary the U.S. finds itself in the Middle East derives from the fact that Obama “has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders.” One piece of evidence cited is that he was not on good enough terms with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Reading all this, my mind quickly went back to late April 2005 when the Times reported, “Mr. Bush even held the crown prince’s hand, a traditional Saudi sign of friendship, as he guided Abdullah up the steps through a bed of bluebonnets to his office, the very picture of Saudi-American interdependence.”

The Cooper-Worth story cites an unnamed U.S. diplomat in Bahrain as saying that had Obama cultivated a closer relationship with the Saudi monarch “he might have bought time for negotiations” between the Bahraini authorities and the opposition. “Instead, the Saudis gave virtually no warning when their forces rolled across the causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the ensuing crackdown destroyed all hopes for a peaceful resolution.”

I suspect the word “virtually” is important here because Washington was warned in advance by Riyadh. In any case, if U.S. intelligence agencies remained unaware as the Saudis rounded up troops from other Gulf monarchies for the invasion of Bahrain, their powers of observation are woefully inadequate.

Can the success of the Saudis and their Bahrain cohorts and much of the problems that have arisen in the region be even remotely traced to Obama’s alleged “character trait” and “impersonal style”? A dubious proposition at best. There is, however, another matter the Cooper-Worth history reveals that is of great importance: the inadequacies of major media reporting while events like the brutal crackdown in the gulf was transpiring.

“On March 14, White House officials awoke to a nasty surprise: the Saudis had led a military incursion into Bahrain, followed by a crackdown in which the security forces cleared Pearl Square in the capital, Manama, by force,” wrote Cooper-Worth. Sure. “The moves were widely condemned, but Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton offered only veiled criticisms, calling for “calm and restraint on all sides” and ‘political dialogue’,” they continued.

“The reasons for Mr. Obama’s reticence were clear: Bahrain sits just off the Saudi coast, and the Saudis were never going to allow a sudden flowering of democracy next door, especially in light of the island’s sectarian makeup,” wrote Cooper-Worth. “Bahrain’s people are mostly Shiite, and they have long been seen as a cat’s paw for Iranian influence by the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In addition, the United States maintains a naval base in Bahrain that is seen as a bulwark against Iran, crucial for maintaining the flow of oil from the region.”

“We realized that the possibility of anything happening in Saudi Arabia was one that couldn’t become a reality,” William M. Daley, President Obama’s chief of staff at the time,” told the Times reporters. “For the global economy, this couldn’t happen. Yes, it was treated differently from Egypt. It was a different situation.”

The problem is that neither the Times nor any of the other Western mass media told the story that way at the time. Why? Go back to the story about the hand-holding stroll through the garden at Bush’s Texas address.

The April 25, Times Story by Richard Stevenson noted that while many things were discussed at the Crawford ranch, “the focus was on oil prices.”

“Officials from both sides emerged from the meeting to say there was agreement on the value of Saudi Arabia’s signaling to global markets that it would push down prices over the long run as demand for energy increased,” the report said. “American officials said they hoped the Saudi policy might put immediate downward pressure on oil prices, even though the expansion plan has been public for weeks.”

“The crown prince arrived at the Bush ranch late Monday morning from Dallas, where he had met Sunday with Vice President Dick Cheney, who was briefed on the Saudi production plan,” read the Times story. “Reflecting the importance of the meeting to the administration, Mr. Bush was joined for the meeting here by Mr. Cheney; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Mr. Hadley; Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff; and Fran Townsend, the White House’s homeland security adviser.”

What the Saudis got or requested in return for the never-stated-explicit promise to increase oil production is unclear but the report said “the two sides cited progress on a variety of fronts” and “Saudi officials said only technicalities remained in negotiating a trade deal with the United States, a big step toward Saudi Arabia’s goal of joining the World Trade Organization. The two governments agreed to work toward making it easier for Saudi students and military officers to study and train in the United States.”

Saudi Arabia became a full WTO member December 11, 2005.

Unnamed Arab officials told Cooper and Worth that Obama is “a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics.” “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders. He doesn’t believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames.”

More likely what they really meant is that Obama doesn’t get it on too well with despots. He seems to have hit it off quite well with the likes of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio da Silva and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

As the UN General Assembly session was getting underway, Cooper and Worth wrote, “In many ways, Mr. Obama’s remarks at the State Department two weeks ago — and the ones he will make before the General Assembly on Tuesday morning, when he addresses the anti-American protests — reflected hard lessons the president had learned over almost two years of political turmoil in the Arab world: bold words and support for democratic aspirations are not enough to engender good will in this region, especially not when hampered by America’s own national security interests.”

Or the price of oil.

For that U.S. Presidents have for decades shown a willingness to hold hands with just about anyone.

President Obama is no anti-imperialist. And our country’s standing and reputation in the international community is being ill-served by the continuing drone attacks that take the lives of innocent women, men and children. The same can be said for framing the one-sided framing of the Israel-Palestine conflict the way the President did in his UN address September 25. Ditto for the continued suggestion that tyranny should be met with stern outside interference in Libya or Syria but not Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. The cause of Washington’s problems in the Islamic world is not personality but policy.

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial board.

A Tale of Two Speeches

Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Barack Obama (C) and Mahmud Abbas in New York, 22 September 2009. (Photo: Reuters)

Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly was as much about trying to reclaim his dwindling support among Palestinians as it was designed to outline Palestine’s intention to move for a new status at the UN. The consequence of “non-member state” status, while not granting full UN membership, would provide a UN imprimatur to the identity of Palestine as a state, meaning it would have the right to sign treaties. Of particular significance would be Palestine joining the Rome Treaty as a signatory to the International Criminal Court. That would, at least potentially, enable an ICC investigation of potential Israeli war crimes on Palestinian territory.

Beyond his anticipated call for the new UN recognition as a “state,” much of Abbas’ speech focused on Israeli violations of international law, particularly the Geneva Conventions. While he issued his usual call for resuming peace talks with Israel, he called for the United Nations, specifically the Security Council, to pass a binding resolution setting out the terms of reference for any renewed diplomatic process, something that seems to contradict his longstanding willingness to allow unchallenged U.S. control of the negotiating process.

In other parts of his speech, the PLO Chairman reasserted the PLO’s role as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while rejecting the occupation’s efforts to divide Gaza from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and reaffirmed the need for a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees under the terms of UN resolution 194. In language clearly designed to win support from Palestinians both in the OPT and in the diaspora, many of whom remain dissatisfied with the current Palestinian leadership and whom he identified as “an angry people,” he spoke of Israeli “apartheid,” asserted Palestinian rights and the need to continue “peaceful popular resistance” against occupation. In a clear effort to win support from Palestinian civil society, whose call for a global campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions has fundamentally challenged longstanding PLO/PA strategy, he spoke in a language of rights, rejecting the notion of statehood being bestowed on Palestinians, and identified Israel’s “settler colonialism” as something that must be “condemned, punished, and boycotted.”

As anticipated, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, reflecting the huge political gain that he has won from his year of escalating threats against Iran, barely touched the Palestinian question. He has taken advantage of the fact that as long as the claim (however specious) that Israel faces an “existential danger” from Iran is on the table, no one, certainly not the United States, has been willing to exert any real pressure on Israel regarding the occupation. His reference to Israel’s occupation was limited to a brief paragraph in which he claimed that “we seek peace with the Palestinians.” He then went on to lecture the Palestinians, saying “we won’t solve the conflict with libelous speeches at the UN, that’s not the way to solve them.” He said the conflict wouldn’t be solved with “unilateral declarations of statehood,” that the only goal can be a “mutual compromise in which a demilitarized Palestinian state [heavily emphasized in his delivery] recognizes the one and only Jewish state.”

Netanyahu’s speech focused almost solely on Iran, comparing it to Nazi Germany and calling for the world to join his crusade against it. He spoke derisively of those who claim that a nuclear-armed Iran might stabilize the Middle East, looking up from his prepared notes with a sarcastic “yeah, right.” Interestingly, he reminded the world — seemingly as a point of pride — that he had been speaking about “the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons for over 15 years.” It apparently didn’t appear to his speechwriting team that this admission, when all of those earlier warnings were shaped by the same “it’s almost too late” rhetoric that we heard today, might somehow discredit his unchanging claim.

Ignoring the fact that the United States, unfortunately, already has an “all options on the table” red line of its own (preventing Iran from obtaining a bomb), Netanyahu called on the United States to endorse his own specific red line for using force against Iran. He set his red line as Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to bomb grade, and demanded that the U.S. join. While Iran has not enriched anywhere close to that level, Netanyahu’s language reflected his red line on Iran’s “capability,” a line that he argued is almost here. He spoke on the need to attack Iranian facilities while they are “still visible and still vulnerable.” Perhaps taking a lesson from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s use of fake “anthrax” props when trying to persuade the Security Council of the need to go to war against Iraq in 2002, Netanyahu held up a primitive grade-school level poster prop and used insulting “this is a bomb, this is a fuse” language.

Netanyahu’s overall language, however, was significantly more conciliatory towards President Obama than much of his recent rhetoric. Perhaps it was the cohort of Jewish Democratic Party heavyweights who scolded the Israeli prime minister for interfering in U.S. politics, or perhaps it was his U.S. advisers, or perhaps his own political team at home — but whatever the reason, Netanyahu’s overt embrace of all things Romney, and his disdain for all things Obama, was kept well under wraps in New York.

HuffPost Live: Is Libya better off now?

“I think we have to look at the situation as a very complex one,” said Bennis, who runs the New Internationalism Project in our institute.

Other participants were HuffPost Live Host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, Mouaz Moustafa of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Steve Clemons, the Washington editor for The Atlantic, political analyst Raed Jarrar, and Dubai-based political analysr Taufiq Rahim. Watch the full discussion on the video below:

P5+1 Stacks the Deck Against Iran

At Sic Semper Tyrannis (Pat Lang’s blog), Dr. Christopher Bolan of the U.S. Army War College wrote about “the relative ease with which the US and Iran could now easily drift toward war with dire consequences for both sides.” He cited five reasons:

Fear and honor, “rational” or not, can motivate as much as interest [can].

Iranians and Americans remain largely ignorant of each other’s history and culture.

Economic sanctioning can be tantamount to an act of war.

The presumption of moral or spiritual superiority can fatally discount the consequences of an enemy’s material superiority.

Inevitable” war easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This last point correlates with my theory that sometimes the simple need to relieve the mounting tension of looming war leads to war. As with a temptation that gnaws at you, in the end you give in less to what’s tempting you than to just rid yourself of the relentless feeling of being tempted.

Greasing the skids to war can also occur if one party appears to be conducting negotiations in good faith, when, in fact, it’s sabotaging them. At IPS News, Gareth Porter explains in a piece titled Iranian Diplomat Says Iran Offered Deal to Halt 20-Percent Enrichment.

Iran has again offered to halt its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which the United States has identified as its highest priority in the nuclear talks, in return for easing sanctions against Iran, according to Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who has conducted Iran’s negotiations with the IAEA in Tehran and Vienna, revealed in an interview with IPS that Iran had made the offer at the meeting between EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul Sep. 19.

Soltanieh also revealed in the interview that IAEA officials had agreed last month to an Iranian demand that it be provided documents on the alleged Iranian activities related to nuclear weapons which Iran is being asked to explain, but that the concession had then been withdrawn.

“We are prepared to suspend enrichment to 20 percent, provided we find a reciprocal step compatible with it,” Soltanieh said, adding, “We said this in Istanbul.”

Soltanieh is the first Iranian official to go on record as saying Iran has proposed a deal that would end its 20-percent enrichment entirely, although it had been reported previously.

“If we do that,” Soltanieh said, “there shouldn’t be sanctions.”

Makes sense, right? Not, apparently, to the P5+1 nations (U.S., Russia, China, France, U.K. plus Germany), nor even the IAEA.

Even if Iran agreed to those far-reaching concessions the P5+1 nations [U.S., Russia, China, France, U.K. plus Germany] offered no relief from sanctions.

The uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, near the city of Qom, is a sticking point (emphasis added).

“It’s impossible if they expect us to close Fordow,” Soltanieh said.

The U.S. justification for the demand for the closure of Fordow has been that it has been used for enriching uranium to the 20-percent level, which makes it much easier for Iran to continue enrichment to weapons grade levels.

But Soltanieh pointed to the conversion of half the stockpile to fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, which was documented in the Aug. 30 IAEA report.

That conversion to powder for fuel plates makes the uranium unavailable for reconversion to a form that could be enriched to weapons grade level.

Soltanieh suggested that the Iranian demonstration of the technical capability for such conversion, which apparently took the United States and other P5+1 governments by surprise, has rendered irrelevant the P5+1 demand to ship the entire stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium out of the country.

Also …

Soltanieh revealed that two senior IAEA officials had accepted a key Iranian demand in the most recent negotiating session last month on a “structured agreement” on Iranian cooperation on allegations of “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear programme – only to withdraw the concession at the end of the meeting.

Why?

The issue was Iran’s insistence on being given all the documents on which the IAEA bases the allegations of Iranian research related to nuclear weapons which Iran is expected to explain to the IAEA’s satisfaction.

The Feb. 20 negotiating text shows that the IAEA sought to evade any requirement for sharing any such documents by qualifying the commitment with the phrase “where appropriate”.

… Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei recalls in his 2011 memoirs that he had “constantly pressed the source of the information” on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research – meaning the United States – “to allow us to share copies with Iran”. He writes that he asked how he could “accuse a person without revealing the accusations against him?”

In answer to ElBaradei’s question: only if you wanted to stack the deck against that party. Another unresolved issue, according to Soltanieh is “whether the IAEA investigation will be open-ended or not.”

The Feb. 20 negotiating text showed that Iran demanded a discrete list of topics to which the IAEA inquiry would be limited and a requirement that each topic would be considered “concluded” once Iran had answered the questions and delivered the information requested.

But the IAEA insisted on being able to “return” to topics that had been “discussed earlier”, according to the February negotiating text.

Furthermore …

“The objection we have is that the DG [IAEA Director General Yukio Amano] isn’t protecting confidential information,” said Soltanieh. “When they have information on how many centrifuges are working and how many are not working (in IAEA reports), this is a very serious concern.”

Iran has complained for years about information gathered by IAEA inspectors, including data on personnel in the Iranian nuclear programme, being made available to U.S., Israeli and European intelligence agencies.

In other words, it seems as if there’s no way that Iran can win unless it entirely abrogates its self-respect and lets the P5+1 walk all over it.

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