IPS Blog

Syria: The End of the Beginning

The bombing that killed Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rahja may have been the handiwork of defectors from President Assad’s inner circle.

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

Key defecting Syrian General Manaf Tlass.

Key defecting Syrian General Manaf Tlass.

The “Free Syrian Army” has claimed responsibility for a stunning attack on the Assad regime’s inner circle in Damascus. The heretofore unknown organization “Liwa al-Islam” claimed one of its suicide bombers had been responsible, but spokespeople from the FSA countered that they had infiltrated the secure compound where the meeting was held month prior to today and planted bombs there with this meeting in mind. The regime asserts that it was a suicide bombing by “hireling tools that are implementing foreign plots.”

Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Deputy Chief of Staff Asef Shawkat were reportedly killed, along with one of Assad’s top aides. Former Defense Minister Hasan Turkmani was also reportedly killed. Hisham Bekhtyar, head of the General Security Directorate, and the Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar were said to be injured as well (rumors additional top officials’ deaths are swirling around, as are ones that Bashar al-Assad himself was caught in the blast).

What the regime must be really worried about now is that if members of the FSA did carry out the attack as they claim, then it strongly suggests that there were defectors inside the regime’s inner circle who made the bombing happen. The Wall Street Journal reports that the FSA is claiming unnamed members of the Republican Guard Division as accomplices (the Guard is led by Assad’s brother, Maher).

Assad’s clique is no stranger to such internal paranoia — they came to power in a coup, the Muslim Brotherhood targeted Ba’athist Party members in the 70s and 80s, and Bashar’s father stood down an abortive 1984 coup by his brother Rifaat — but the increase in ranking defections this summer, most notably of Manaf Tlass, a general whose father was Syria’s Defense Minister from 1972 to 2002. He is now believed to be hiding in France after defecting earlier this month.

This attack is significant from the rebels’ and the regime’s perspective because of the casualty list and where it occurred. The message is that Assad’s inner circle is not safe, and that inner circle is what keeps Assad himself in power (of course, larger factors, like “Alawite preference” and Russian backing, keep the inner circle in power).

Rula Amin of Al Jazeera reports that there is “[a]nxiety in Damascus as people anticipate a strong government reaction against the armed rebels on the ground.” Syrian activists report that heavy weapons and Alawite militias have been deployed inside Damascus, and that the Syrian Army is withdrawing forces from the Golan to reinforce Damascus. Demonstrations are taking place in Damascene neighborhoods, as are firefights, and access in and out of the city has reportedly been severely restricted.

There is indeed reason to fear that this attack will lead to reprisals. In the regime’s collective mind, this simply cannot go unanswered. A major new military push against the rebels, if it occurred, could be damaging to them if in their recent push towards Damascus they are stretching their forces too thin.

A reoccupation of areas outside Damascus by the Syrian Army and the paramilitary shabbiha would harm the rebels in the short term, and be deadly for civilians judged to have been helping the rebels. But if they are able to continue holding their gains, such heavy-handedness will benefit the armed opposition in the same way that the depredations of anti-partisan brigades in other wars have undermined an occupying army’s position. Even if the partisans’ movement among the civilian population brings down the hammer on noncombatants, it is precisely because the violence of the “counterinsurgency” strategy pursued — in the Syrian village of Tremesh, for instance — that the partisans’ legitimacy grows in these communities.

Eventually, when such forces become strong enough, it is possible that they can hold back the anti-partisan brigades and protect their operational areas better — in Syria’s case, especially so if defections increase. If this were to happen on a wider scale following the assassinations and fighting in Damascus, the regime would be severely embarrassed. What the regime would do then is difficult to determine. There is talk of a regime retreat to the coastal plain if the army becomes too strained to hold onto the Sunni-dominated inland. Others hope that a decisive moment is coming in Damascus, while less optimistic observers believe this is not a turning point but another indicator that Syria is in for a long, ever-worsening internal conflict along the lines of the 1976-82 conflict.

North Korean Gulag Story Gains Traction — and Opposition — in Social Media

Where did the down-votes that inundated Reddit’s North Korean gulag post come from?

“Dead bodies storage — because rats eat the eyeballs first, most corpses don’t have eyes.”
– Caption to drawing, translated from the original Korean

So begins a gruesome visual accounting of the methods of torture, control and execution practiced in North Korea’s extensive labor camp system, thought to hold between 150,000 and 200,000 inmates (out of a total population of approximately 24.3 million) arrested for “political crimes” against the communist government.

A former guard from one of these camps reportedly drew these images after defecting to South Korea, now home to some 23,000 defectors/refugees, according to The Wall Street Journal. A larger collection of the drawings can be seen at cafe.daum.net, a popular South Korean Internet forum. They were posted there in April, around the same time a report on the enduring scale of the North Korean labor camps came out from the US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (CHRNK). The report made use of satellite surveillance to pinpoint what are believed to be the five main camps in the system.

This past month, though, these images made the jump to English-language social media through the efforts of South Korean redditor Ryan Yang, who translated two sets of the images on imgur and posted links to them and the original Korean-language images on reddit. “I just wanted to spread awareness to a topic barely anyone knew about,” he said when asked why he chose to translate and publicize these images. He told reddit users that he hopes “[i]f the issue gets big enough, human rights groups, foreign governments may be able to pressure North Korea.”

He was also surprised that only now were the drawings getting such attention in the US media (Gawker, Business Insider, The Huffington Post and Digital Journal have since picked up the reddit post), since they have been going around universities and NGOs in his country for almost a year now, as part of an awareness campaign by North Korean human rights groups. They have been heavily discussed on South Korea’s own social media sites. Ryan, in fact, learned of the drawings from an exhibition at his university in Seoul.

“I’m quite pleased that many people are taking interest in this subject,” Ryan Yang told me in an email interview this week. “I honestly didn’t expect this much attention and the amount of enthusiasm people are having over this.”

And like the haunting sketches of Soviet gulag chronicled in Danzig Baldaev’s sadomasochist cartoons or Joe Sacco’s “Safe Area Goražde,” a graphic novel of the Bosnian War, the images are a form of protest that most viscerally captures the horrors of the system.

The images chronicle beatings, prisoners being forced to stone their fellow inmates, maulings by guard dogs, abject poverty – a man searches for corn kernels in horse dung, boots are crafted from old tires – and in particular, forced abortions on female inmates. The guards, like their predecessors in Soviet service, also find themselves at the capricious mercy of their superiors at times, superiors who may find themselves among the “political criminals” in the course of a power struggle. For all North Koreans, even the most loyal apparatchiks, life in the country is capricious under the watchful eyes of informers and shifting cliques within the ruling Kim family’s inner circle. To be accused of political crimes is a life sentence that encompasses not just the accused, but their family members as well.

In less than two weeks, the album generated over 19 million views on imgur. The post itself has around 2,800 points right now, plus a few hundred comments, on reddit, a substantial number, to be sure but it’s actually lower than one would expect. While nearly 20,000 votes have been cast on it at the subreddit r/pics, around 8,500 of them are downvotes.

Where are they coming from? (“I’m quite surprised,” Ryan stated.) Obviously, those down-votes do not hail from Internet users within North Korea, since Internet access is so heavily restricted. Only a few North Koreans – top Communist Party officials, namely – do have regular Internet access inside (or rather, outside) the country. For all intents and purposes, North Korea still has an intranet consisting almost entirely of state media reports and sanitized foreign “reports.” Los Angeles Times correspondent Barbara Demick noted in her book “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” which features interviews with North Korean refugees who’d fled the country following the disastrous famine of the 1990s, that the government puts on that intranet heavily encyclopedias entries for university students to use.

News on the official Korean Central News Agency of DPRK mainly consists of banal listings off of friendship delegations and veiled threats against the South Korean “government,” a word which is always placed in quotes on these sites to denote Seoul’s illegitimacy in Pyongyang’s eyes. North Korea does have country Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts labeled Uriminzokkiri-Uriminzok (“our people”), but these are devoted to reposting Korean-language editorials extolling the virtues of the country and denouncing “US imperialism” and the “warmongers” of the “puppet south.” It may seem laughable to outsiders, but even such cookie-cutter, propagandistic reports are still seriously scrutinized by South Korean authorities fearful of the North’s intentions.

These camps are, following the collapse of the gulag system in the Soviet Union that was their inspiration, one of the few such camp system left today. A similarly extensive system, the “laogai,” is still maintained in the neighboring People’s Republic of China.

Ironically, it is through the Chinese economy that more and more North Koreans have become aware of the outside world. “Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans saw firsthand the economic progress in China when they went back and forth across the border in the 1990s [during the famine],” notes John Feffer, and even the “Hermit Kingdom” now has a cellphone network.

But “information has its limits,” Mr. Feffer concludes. Ryan Yang explained to redditors that this cellphone network is so heavily monitored that people have reportedly been jailed over their conversations. The fog of paranoia and state control has been stirred about, but not dissipated. North Korea’s ruling class “won’t change their allegiances simply because of what they hear on foreign radio broadcasts or what they see on black-market DVDs,” Mr. Feffer argues. “They will collectively break from the status quo only if their core interests are threatened” in the way that Eastern Europe’s communist regimes collapsed twenty years ago. Even approved outside connections can land North Koreans in prison.

Although it is unlikely the translated images will be seen by many in North Korea – unless the North’s samizdat (“self-publishing”) purveyors are successful in moving these images around the country – it is clear that the social media explosion they’ve generated abroad is not something that Pyongyang’s @Uriminzok Twitter can spam away. But Twitter is hardly a priority for the regime, and in the absence of a coherent policy towards the North, silence is the regime’s greatest asset.

Indeed, revealing drawings of camp conditions have been featured in US media before. Over the course of the past few years, several US media outlets reviewed “Escape from Camp 14,” a 2007-Korean language memoir by the defector Shin Dong-hyuk translated into English. Shin had the supreme misfortune to be born of an inmate mother in Camp 14, located in the mountains 45 miles north of Pyongyang. Shin’s mother was “bought” by a lathe operator in the camp workshops, which is how she was able to avoid a forced abortion.

Shin’s account of his life in the camps – 24 years, from his birth until his successful escape in 2005 – took a surprising turn this year after his admission that he had actually been responsible for sending two prisoners to their deaths by reporting their escape plans to the guards. Shin, who was 14 at the time, confessed that he had done this to gain extra rations (but despite the camp hierarchy that sometimes rewards snitches, his “reward” turned out to be several weeks of brutal torture sessions).

Shin later admitted that two prisoners caught and executed on his testimony were his own mother and brother. At the time, “Shin thought she deserved to die,” his translator, Blaine Harden, wrote. But such betrayals are, as shown in Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” a graphic novel recounting the life of his father Vladek, a Polish Jew and Auschwitz survivor, not exceptional in such camp systems. “Maus,” in fact, opens with Vladek saying to Art “Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!”

Shin’s father is either still living in the camps, or may be dead. Defectors’ families are often executed or jailed, making every decision to leave behind a relative a life sentence or death warrant for that person, even if they knew nothing of the escape.

Romney Passes the Buck

Because Bain Capital did things between 1999 and 2002 that Mitt Romney doesn’t want to defend — such as exporting American jobs — Romney claims that its outsourcing program wasn’t his doing. He says he played no “active role” in deciding on Bain’s investments after 1999. But even if we take Romney at his word, does that mean he bears no responsibility for what his company did?

Romney doesn’t dispute he was the 100-percent owner of Bain Capital in those years. Documents show he also held key management posts between 1999 and 2002. But let’s make believe that all of the government filings you’ve heard about, in which he described himself as the chairman of the board, CEO, president, and managing director, were pretend, and that as Romney now says: “I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999.”

So what? It was his company! He was the sole owner. He drew a $100,000 yearly salary. He profited handsomely from its business practices. And, certainly, as Bain Capital’s sole shareholder, he had total power to control the company.

That means the actions of Bain Capital were his responsibility.

He apparently chose not to exercise his power to micro-manage the company because he was happy with the job his employees at Bain Capital were doing — making a gigantic pile of money for him at the expense of working people whose jobs were sent overseas and whose companies went bankrupt under the weight of Bain-imposed debt. He’s still responsible for what his employees did, particularly because he does not claim the American-job-eroding actions were those of rogue employees.

If your dog gets loose and bites someone, aren’t you responsible, even if you didn’t deliberately unleash the dog? If you own a pizza chain and urge your drivers to make ever-faster deliveries, aren’t you responsible when someone gets run over by one of your drivers? And if you are the 100-percent owner of a multi-hundred-million-dollar enterprise, aren’t you responsible for what it does — regardless of whether you got into the details or instead told the managers to do whatever they’d like so long as the profits roll in?

Romney claims his business experience qualifies him to be president of the United States. That job demands great responsibility. “The buck stops here,” Harry Truman said of his Oval Office desk. The former governor of Massachusetts can’t spurn his responsibility for the darker side of his money-generating enterprise: destroying jobs and companies.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney who lives in Northern California. He supplements his work as a Silicon Valley intellectual property lawyer with pro bono work on behalf of the underrepresented. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Supreme Court Side-Steps Hate, Racial Profiling in Arizona

Em Dickey is an intern for the Break The Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies.

A partial repeal of SB1070 is not enough. Photo by Ivan Boothe/Flickr

A partial repeal of SB1070 is not enough. Photo by Ivan Boothe/Flickr

The Supreme Court split decision on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law came just 10 days after President Obama’s memo expanding prosecutorial discretion and granted immediate deferred status to all DREAM Act eligible youth. While both announcements deserve to be celebrated in light of the tenacious and courageous organizing that precipitated them, they are not lasting solutions.

Four provisions of SB 1070 were in question: Section 3, which would make it a state crime for immigrants to fail to carry federal registration papers; Section 5(C) which would make it a state crime to work in Arizona as an undocumented person; Section 6, which would give police the authority to make warrantless arrests of individuals suspected to be undocumented; and Section 2(B), which would require Arizona law enforcement to verify the citizenship of any individual they stop if they appear to be undocumented.

Of these provisions, all were struck down but Section 2(B), the notorious “show me your papers” section of the law.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based on an argument about whether or not the state of Arizona has the right to create its own immigration enforcement rules. The case did not address civil rights’ violations or racial profiling. In fact Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (representing the U.S. government), “unequivocally admitted in response to questioning from the Justices that racial profiling was not at issue in the case.”

So, let’s name the elephant in the room. Racism is and has always been an issue in Arizona. SB 1070 is steeped in, produced by, and serves to perpetuate racism. From the beginning, racism has been shaping America, when the first immigrants (read: pilgrims) arrived and stole the land from the Native peoples who lived here and still live here. In fact, many Native people in Arizona are harassed and humiliated in the name of SB 1070’s “show me your papers” provision by police officers whose ancestors were themselves this land’s original “illegal aliens.”

So what is the result of this case neatly sidestepping the issue that is creating a real civil and human rights crisis for real people in Arizona right now? What impact, if any, will the Supreme Court’s decision have on people living in Arizona?

Continue reading this post at the Break The Chain Campaign website.

Netanyahu Has Little to Fear From Kadima’s Desertion

Give Netanyahu a cubic centimeter of wiggle room, and he will carve out a square mile of new apartments beyond the Green Line.

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

Shaul Mofaz, leader of Kadima.

Shaul Mofaz, leader of Kadima.

On Tuesday evening, Shaul Mofaz, leader of the Israeli political party Kadima, convened his fellow parliamentarians and offered them his rationale for leaving the 94-seat Knesset majority they’d made possible in May when they joined PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition. In doing so, he has largely sealed Kadima’s fate as a political force in Israel.

According to The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov, Mofaz asserted in his defense that “there are red lines I can’t cross” and that “there’s a difference between compromising and just paying lip service.”

Mofaz’s red lines are the military service exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Palestinians. He supports a much more expansive draft program than Netanyahu. Netanyahu prefers a much more gradual course and maintaining a greater percentage of exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men. July 31 is the deadline Israel’s High Court set for a reform of the Tal Law, which since 2002 has governed the current exemptions policy. If no compromise is reached, the IDF could begin drafting 18-year-olds in these demographic groups without having the civilian government set quotas for exemptions, and non-military alternative “national service” options that would primarily granted to Israeli Arabs). Only around 1/5 of ultra-Orthodox draft-eligible males currently serve in the IDF.

The main question to ask now is not what the compromise will look like, but “when’s the next election?” Whenever it is, it will not be a good one for Kadima.

Kadima’s eleventh-hour deal with Likud back in May postponed emergency elections originally set for September 4. Polls showed that Kadima was likely to lose close to 2/3 of its Knesset seats in the September 4 contest, while Likud would gain seats. Mofaz, in seeking to avert that disaster, broke an earlier promise to never join in a coalition with Netanyahu. Kadima, not Likud, was negotiating from a position of weakness then.

It would constitute a Herculean feat for Kadima to now dispel the scorn the Israeli right is heaping on it. The “left’s” enthusiasm for Mofaz is not exactly a tangible quantity. The scorn felt in the country towards his party is rather aptly exemplified by an Israel Hayom political cartoon portraying Mofaz as a weather vane. Mofaz plainly failed to deliver — he says he’s quitting because there is no compromise on the draft and some of his party’s backbenchers are yelling that he gave up too easily on it.

Kadima’s withdrawal over the Tal Law is the most visible — and risible — issue that it’s stepping out on now. Ironically, on Monday, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz stepped out on Kadima because it didn’t go as far he wanted it to on the law — Halutz wants universal conscription for all, starting at age 1, and Kadima was willing to accept a compromise for gradual enlistment over the next 4 years — which again makes one wonder as to what Kadima’s fate will be in the next election.

Mofaz’s defection was apparently triggered by Netanyahu’s dissolution of a committee that would have presented a compromise package on the draft. The Times of Israel reports:

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu had adopted a proposal put forward by Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), which called for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs to join the army or perform national service, such as serving in police or fire units, by ages 23 to 26. The motion also included incentives for those who enlist at a younger age.

Mofaz blasted the proposal as “disproportionate and contrary to the High Court ruling,” which stated that the burden of serving should be shared by all citizens. He also said it did not meet the principle of equality laid out by the Plesner Committee.

A full-scale draft is the preference of many members of Kadima, and it is preference of the secular-nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu as well, whose leader, Avigdor Lieberman, is Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister.

Yisrael Beiteinu’s national-secular members of Knesset (KMs) have little patience for exemptions to the Palestinian Israelis or the ultra-Orthodox, or arguments from those on the Israeli left castigating the whole exercise as political theater. Kadima, at odds with the national-religious establishment on much else, found a natural ally in Yisrael Beiteinu this time since they do not support special privileges for the ultra-Orthodox or Israeli Arabs. Lieberman’s party is Likud’s main ally right now, and he opposes further Tal Law extensions in favor of a full-scale national draft — though his bill to effect this was recently voted down.

That said, it is Likud that has the most to gain from the coming deadline dance over the Tal Law, primarily because its opponents are so politically weak.

This is important to note because the law is one of the most controversial provisions of Israeli life, and one that it is easy to rally support for or against in Israeli domestic politics without having to have an uncomfortable discussion about the Occupation. As Karl Vick notes, “it leaves him [Netanyahu] weaker and more vulnerable to the passions of the factions who remain — nationalists on one hand, and religious parties on the other”.

And this is all true, but only to a certain extent. Netanyahu has to prefer the 19 votes of the national-religious bloc to Kadima’s seats because those are the people he broke bread with in 2009, and there is also the matter of the settler bloc in his own party. The dissent of this bloc’s leader, Moshe Felgin, over the Tal Law handling is much less threatening to Netanyahu than Lieberman’s is.

Kadima is setting out to make the universal draft the issue for the next election — though if that’s your only issue, why vote for the flip-flopping Kadima when you can vote for Yisrael Beiteinu, which actually has weight because of their staying in the government? Netanyahu might indeed be worried over what will happen before July 31, since he has relied so much on, perhaps sometimes without even quite realizing it, the domestic breathing room provided by his fractious partners to undertake his foreign policy program. This breathing room has helped him avoid a serious political confrontation in the Knesset over his Iran policy (this is less so with respect to the Occupation since few on any side of the political spectrum question its sustainability).

Without that breathing room, Netanyahu really does run risks going into the next elections because an issue as divisive as the Tal Law has the potential to explode Israeli society.

But it is a slim risk for Netanyahu, who is predicted to easily win the premier-ship again in 2013. His response to the current dust-up will likely compare to how he dealt with a “settlement crisis” just as his grand coalition formed. +972’s Noam Sheizaf had theorized that Likud’s incentive to get the coalition formed was to head off a serious confrontation over the legality of multiple apartments in the Beit El settlement’s Ulpana neighborhood: “By postponing the elections, the prime minister has bought himself some time to deal with the crisis,” though Sheizaf also noted that the settlers were politically weak.

But that weakness, Sheizaf concluded, was belied by the “political theater” that the bigger players put on. A compromise on Ulpana, was, in fact, accomplished: the apartments were physically relocated and then the government promised to undertake massively expanded construction, as it so often does when an evacuation occurs. An incident that could have prompted a wider debate of the Occupation was headed off by last-minute compromises. Gone was any talk about the peace process that some hoped Mofaz would re-introduce.

By any measure, Netanyahu won the debate — such as it was — over Ulpana, and he did so not by using Kadima’s Knesset votes. They simply sat in his tent as his partisans worked out a solution with the furthest-right whose expansionism he sympathizes with. How that episode played out is indicative of Netanyahu’s strength as a politician. Give him a cubic centimeter of wiggle room in committee, and he will carve out a square mile of new apartments beyond the Green Line because there is really no strong, organized constituency behind Kadima to match Likud’s appeal.

Even as Lieberman thunders on about the universal draft, the Foreign Minister is surely mindful that had those September 4 elections been held, Likud, not his party, stood to gain the most. And for what it’s worth given Mofaz’s recent performance, Lieberman did announce he would not leave the coalition. It is much easier for Lieberman and Netanyahu to stay together than it is for either man to go over to the smaller national-religious parties like Shas or seek accommodation with the Labor Party.

Harkov also reported that 3 members of Kadima formally voted to remain in the coalition, and that seven more might prefer to jump ship. Not all that many, but bear in mind that Kadima was expected to hold onto only 10, perhaps 12 seats in the September 4 election, out of the 28 it held in May when it entered the coalition.

Netanyahu may indeed be scared of the ultra-Orthodox, but he’s not afraid of Kadima. A few defections on, and who at all will be afraid of Shaul Mofaz in the next general election?

Condi Rice Rumor Reveals Divisions in Romney Camp and on the Right

Condoleezza Rice gets mixed reviews from Republicans these days.

Condoleezza Rice gets mixed reviews from Republicans these days.

Well, we now have some idea of what it was about Condoleezza Rice’s appearance at the exclusive Romney fundraiser in Utah that got the Presidential candidate’s supporters’ juices going and thus attracted the major media’s attention. Turns out somebody recorded her remarks and judging by the poor audio quality of the version on the Internet it was probably done surreptitiously.

On July 13, Buzzfeed.com posted a 13-minute audio clip of the speech.

Up until now the reports on what Rice said at the confab have come from what are called surrogates. It is quite clear that their testimonies were stage managed and designed to create a media stir. According to Buzzfeed, one person said he “was surprised by the red meat rhetoric employed by Rice, who has largely eschewed the political arena in recent years, devoting her time instead to an academic career at Stanford. “She’s either very worried about a socialist threat to America, or she wants to be Vice President,” the surrogate said.

Of course, Rice has consistently said she not interested in being a candidate but as soon as a Drudge Report—citing other unnamed surrogates—suggested she was “near the top” on Romney’s list of potential running mates, the speculation took wings. It could have been a real trial balloon. The Republicans have a problem; opinion polls indicate no enthusiasm for any of the other names that have been thrown into the hat. It has been suggested that the whole hullabaloo was concocted to divert public attention from the unfolding story about the former Massachusetts governor’s days as head of Bain Capital. That could be, but the remarks Rice made in Utah are also a window into the foreign policy views that turn rich Republicans on these days.

With Romney standing at her side while she spoke, Rice told the suits that the Obama presidency has been a failure, and in a period of “dangerous, chaotic times,” has led to an international crisis. She accused the current administration of displaying weakness on the world stage, engaging in class warfare, and employing failed economic policies at home.

According to Buzzfeed the comments that got her the first standing ovation were about the domestic situation. “It is a narrative that is being pushed by our current president, that ‘I’m doing poorly because you’re doing well,'” she said. “That has never been the American narrative. Ours has never been a narrative of aggrievement, and ours has never been a narrative of entitlement.”

Later, Rice declared, “It is time for all of us, in any way we can, to mobilize, get our act together, and storm Washington D.C.” That got the audience on their feet again.

The theme of Rice’s remarks on foreign policy centered on attacking the President’s unwillingness to more forcefully assert U.S. power, his refusal to ascribe to “American exceptionalism” the way she says Romney has, and her charge that Obama has allowed U.S. policy to be “governed by the lowest common denominator collective will of the so-called international community of the United Nations.”

“What we’re feeling most is not just that tumult, we’ve been through tumult before,” Rice said. “What we’re feeling is the absence of American leadership.”

“When our friends aren’t certain that they can count on us — and they aren’t so certain now — and when our foes don’t fear us or respect us, this is what you get: tumultuous, dangerous chaotic times,”

Rice was part of the group of foreign policy hawks known of as “The Vulcans” that advised George W. Bush during his campaign and went on to form a core group in his Administration, herself as National Security Adviser, and later Secretary of State.

Condoleezza Rice will not be the next vice-president of the U.S. She won’t be the party’s nominee. (But, she could be positioning herself – or is being positioned – for a place in a possible Romney administration.) While the idea of her on the ticket drew some favorable comment from some members of the Republican establishment, including rightwing hawk William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, the suggestion elicited howls from much of the right. Most of it has centered on her position on reproductive rights and immigration where she and Romney are not on the same page. Some of it relates to her association with the foreign policy of the Bush Administration, something the Romney campaign tries to avoid discussing.

Meanwhile, the idea of Rice on the ticket drew some flak from another quarter – supporters of the policies of the Israeli government. Morton Klein, the national president of the Zionist Organization of America and a frequent critic of the Obama administration, sounded a similar note. He was quoted by the Jewish Telegraph Agency this week as saying. “It understandably would be concerning to us if he’s picking somebody who shows herself to be hostile to Israel and to U.S.-Israel relations.” Klein, who often criticized Rice when she was secretary of state, continued, “She pressed Israel to make one-sided concessions while not making sure the Palestinians fulfilled their obligations.”

“Choosing Condoleezza Rice would inject tremendous excitement into the campaign and remove all suspense from the outcome,” conservative columnist George Will said on ABC‘s “This Week” last Sunday. “You would have such an uproarious convention in Tampa. You’d have perhaps a third party. You’d have a challenge to her on the floor. You’d have walkouts of delegations, and he’d lose 40 states.”

On his very rightwing RedState blog Erick Erickson called the notion of Rice on the ticket “silly,” adding, “I don’t know who is hitting the crack rock tonight in the rumor mill, but bull shiitake mushrooms.”

On some of the further out rightwing Internet outlets the language used to reject a Rice candidacy have been – how do you put this? –well, outright racist.

On the other hand, even as it became clear she would not be selected vice-presidential candidate, the Boston Herald endorsed her, reporting that she had been a “superstar” at the Utah moneybags gathering. Noting Rice’s comment about the alleged absence of U.S world leadership, it said editorially, “That is at the heart of what has gone seriously wrong with American foreign policy and rarely has it been articulated so boldly and succinctly.”

The editors of The Independent in Britain took the Rice rumor seriously, editorializing on the subject July 15, and warning that, “She also has political baggage, both as the adviser who told Bush Sr. not to back Ukrainian independence, and as National Security Adviser in the run-up to the Iraq war. Raising such ghosts may do the Republican cause more harm than good.” The newspaper concludes, “Condi is an interesting suggestion; but she is absolutely the wrong choice. Unless, of course, one is a Democrat.”

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 State’s WMD Are Just as Likely to Threaten It as Protect It

In March at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Charles Blair wrote:

Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is thought to be massive. One of only eight nations that is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention … Syria has a chemical arsenal that includes several hundred tons of blistering agents along with likely large stockpiles of deadly nerve agents, including VX, the most toxic of all chemical weapons.

On July 13 the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials were alarmed by reports that Syria has begun moving some of its chemical weapons out of storage facilities. Then, the BBC reports, Nawaf al-Fares, Syria’s defecting ambassador to Iraq, said that, if cornered President Bashar al-Assad “will not hesitate to use chemical weapons.” Worse, “There is information, unconfirmed information of course, that chemical weapons have been used partially in the city of Homs.”

On the other hand, at the Atlantic, Sara Sorcher thinks that, in fact, “Assad’s strong hold on power has so far, from a chemical-weapons standpoint, staved off a potential disaster without an easy fix.” Her concern is reflected in the subtitle to the piece:

What happens to Bashar al-Assad’s stockpile — one of the largest in the world — if the deeply divided and untrained rebels overthrow his regime?

Blair aired the same concern in March.

While it is uncertain whether the Syrian regime would consider using WMD against its domestic opponents, Syrian insurgents … are increasingly sectarian and radicalized; indeed, many observers fear the uprising is being “hijacked” by jihadists. Terrorist groups active in the Syrian uprising have already demonstrated little compunction about the acquisition and use of WMD. In short, should Syria devolve into full-blown civil-war, the security of its WMD should be of profound concern, as sectarian insurgents and Islamist terrorist groups may stand poised to seize chemical and perhaps even biological weapons.

Furthermore, Sorcher writes, “the latest development underscores what some worry is a fundamental lack of preparation in Washington for what might happen next.” She quotes Leonard Spector, deputy director of the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who

… argues the U.S. should encourage the sites’ trained custodians–who may be contemplating defection–to remain in place. “You want to advise them that if they stick to their mission of protecting these sites … that they will be treated in a special category that will get some protection,” Spector said, calling on Washington to advise the Syrian opposition to get this message out. However, Syria’s opposition is still disorganized, and the West retains a lingering distrust of opposition groups with possible extremist ties.

If not for the fear that Assad might use WMD, the case could be made to prop him up if only to keep WMD out of the hands of insurgents who range from unpredictable to outright malevolent. The situation parallels that of another state somewhat. With its enmity for India, the West fears that Pakistan might not be able to restrain itself from launching nuclear weapons at India. Still that’s preferable to the West’s greater fear: that Islamic militants will seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

A state acquires weapons, especially WMD, not just for national security, but to ensure the survivability of the ruling regime or prevailing mode of government (such as democracy or communism). But, it may fail to anticipate conditions that can result in WMD being seized — or just plain lost in the shuffle, as when the Soviet Union dissolved — and used against it.

‘Twas ever thus with weapons. It’s just that, with WMD, the danger is exponentially amplified.

President Obama’s Strangely Pragmatic Doctrine

America's first line of defense against shari'ah -- Monica Crowley.

America’s first line of defense against shari’ah — Monica Crowley.

Cross-posted from There Will Be War.

It can be really depressing studying foreign policy and international conflicts. It’s mostly bad news. Especially when, in addition to the death, destruction, terrorism and war reporting on mainstream media, you must also study the conspiracy sites. Blogs like The Ugly Truth, which I found off a link on a great foreign policy roundup of blogs. I signed up for the newsletter and the next day received 10 emails of anti-Israel and anti-U.S. propaganda (not necessarily all untrue). Though there are some worthwhile alternative media perspectives among the posts, 10 highly subjective posts in a day is a bombardment. And gratuitous: Commenting on the link to a story about how U.S. sanctions are compromising the safety of Iranian airlines, The Ugly Truth editors noted

ed note–which means that if (when) there is some crash of an Iranian airliner, resulting in the deaths of many innocent civilians, more likely than not it will be due to the American (Israeli) sanctions put in place.

Just in case we didn’t see what this post had to do with Israel. Thanks for making your bias so blatant, The Ugly Truth. Another Ugly bias example is the tying of Israel to the Syrian opposition. From what I’ve read, Israel is at worst ambivalent about the somewhat one-sided Syrian Civil War. And I read a lot of different sources. For instance with Syria, Aljazeera English’s website is predictably anti-Assad, Russia Today is mildly anti-U.S. so they support Russia’s position even while they criticize the Kremlin and report on protests. The Economist is capitalist, imperialist and interventionist and The New York Times is, well, getting better.

They no longer just trumpet that “Massacre in Syria blamed on Assad, says everyone”, and try to use vague terms when they don’t know something (like “bloody clash”) instead of just repeating what the Syrian opposition claims (like “civilian massacre”). The Times got a bit of a beatdown, and rightly so, for its reporting on Iran’s nuclear program because it kept substituting “weapon” with what should have been “capability.” As in, it’s been proven Iranians want a “weapon” as opposed to just the capability to build one. Foreign correspondent David Sanger wrote the most egregious substitutions.

And this brings me to the good news. David Sanger’s new book about the Obama foreign policy, Conceal and Confront, came out recently. Guess who was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review this week. The Times writer was getting his book reviewed in the Times about what he wrote about for the Times. This must be a totally objective review, right? No, of course not. But to tell the truth, I didn’t care. I was just so happy that Sanger’s book was not a hatchet job of the President’s record. There are plenty of complaints to level at Obama from both the left—legit concerns like drone strike legality—and the right—mostly bullshit, like Obama’s no friend of Israel—but, like Sanger, I believe that President Obama, aside from the Af/Pak surge, has a strangely decent, pragmatic and limited so-called doctrine.

First of all, to address the Israel criticism, the main reason there was tension between Washington and Jerusalem, was Obama wanted to avoid dragging us into war with Iran. We definitely don’t want to go to war with Iran, because if there were any case at all for it, Mitt Romney would be howling. Republicans don’t want to go into Syria; even John McCain has shut up about it. Hell, we told Turkey not to go to war with Syria.

No politician in the U.S. can sell any more American war. Republicans have shut up about the lack of soldiers left in Iraq, even while Iraq gets closer to teetering on the edge. With soldiers in Afghanistan being blown up or murdered by their allies almost weekly, Obama’s strategically ridiculous decision to surge with 30,000 troops and announce a short-ass withdrawal date at the same time has worked to his political advantage pre-election. Accelerating the withdrawal was cynical yet shrewd.

The other Republican criticism, correct if not utterly hypocritical, has Obama running an imperial presidency. Notice how no one in Congress actually bitched about Obama’s decision to help NATO topple Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, just how he didn’t check with Capitol Hill first. Big deal, every president gets this “overreach” criticism at some point.

Obama is certainly impenetrable to the charge of softie, ordering countless more drone strikes than W. and virtually assassinating quantities of al-Qaeda and Taliban officers. He refused to apologize for a chopper strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, even though Pakistan is a client-ally we need. He ordered the Afghanistan surge and the killing of Osama bin Laden. He hit Iran with the toughest sanctions yet and unleashed a cyberwar on their nuclear program (detailed in Sanger’s book).

Hell, we are sending warships to the Persian Gulf right now. Our defense department’s pivot toward East Asia strategy has led to the an arms race with China, the budding superpower. And this all in one term.

Where Obama’s foreign policy sought restraint was in the Arab Awakening. Well-played! The left attacks him for not acting in some inspirational role with the Egyptian masses and the right attacks for betraying Hosni Mubarak, whom they claim was an ally. He was just a client and a really greedy dictator who started killing his own people when they rallied. That’s why we “betrayed” him, Monica Crowley! Crowley is a racist fear-monger who preaches that Obama would rather see America destroyed than win a second term and that Sharia law is quietly strangling America.

State and Defense had to walk a tightrope through the Mideast revolts, often following a healthy dose of rhetoric with, well, nothing. It was the safest, sanest thing to do in such a complex situation. And of course, Hillary Clinton is meeting with new Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, as well as the leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The rightist critique again fails because Egypt’s Islamists—a veritable Third Reich for Republicans and Fox News—are still off-set by the military, whom the U.S. supported to help keep things status quo. Clinton is asking the SCAF to give power to the President Morsi in public. Both cynical and shrewd again.

As a realist who understands how low our country can sink (from Rumsfeld/Cheney’s Iraq and Iran-Contra to Pinochet), I have such confidence in current foreign policy best practices with regard to this epoch of unstable nations, religious extremism and runaway deficits that should Mitt Romney become president, I bet little will change.

As the Times review of Sanger’s book reads: “But in truth [Obama] has positioned himself nicely within a political sweetspot, one where Americans are loathe to see their country relinquish its premier global position but wary of unnecessary wars undertaken on wispy rationales.”

Michael Quiñones’ latest project, a fizzy look at foreign policy predictions, was launched in July 2012 at There Will Be War.

Wild Fires are Exactly What Global Warming Looks Like

Round Mountain Wild Fire. Photo by Bo Insogna/Flickr (www.TheLightingMan.com)

Round Mountain Wild Fire. Photo by Bo Insogna/Flickr (www.TheLightingMan.com)

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said at a press conference that “there is substantial evidence that some of these fires [in Arizona] have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally. The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border.”

He added that illegal immigrants set such fires to send signals, keep warm or distract law enforcement agents. McCain did not specify which fires illegal immigrants allegedly had started, nor did he identify his sources or provide details of the “substantial” evidence he cited.

Actual experts disagree with the above quoted intellectuals. For example, Princeton University’s Michael Oppenheimer, also a lead author of the United Nations’ climate science panel, compared “what we’re seeing [to] a window into what global warming really looks like. It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster. … This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future.”

In other words, the fires in Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Utah might sober up some of the climate change doubters.

Continue reading at Progreso Weekly.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP screens August 14th in Washington DC’S AVALON THEATER. Click here for more info.

India’s Gambit in the Central Asian Abyss

Central AsiaThe importance of Central Asia tends to be under-estimated by most Western observers, particularly in the major print media and on TV. It was only the Western business world that understood the region’s significance promptly after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the Central Asian Republics (CARs) claimed their independence from Moscow. Since then, the region has increasingly dazzled players from near and far, once they’ve grasped its worth as a crucial source of energy — both oil and gas as well as hydroelectric power, and as a strategic asset — political and economic.

Among these we may count India. While establishing diplomatic contacts with the CARs in the 1990s, India was rather slow to pursue expanded relations more energetically — whether in the economic, political or military spheres. Several factors may account for this:

  1. In the early 1990s, India had just embarked on a policy of economic reforms, and it was in no position to exploit trade and investment opportunities with these new republics, especially inasmuch as they themselves lacked the wherewithal to cast their economic nets abroad;
  2. Until the last few years, India had concentrated its economic and diplomatic resources on its “Look East” policy which focused on the development of wide-ranging relations with Southeast and East Asia;
  3. Transportation facilities which could allow trade and other exchanges were sharply restricted by formidable political and geographical barriers — the latter being largely the Himalayan Mountain Range. But it was the partition of India in 1947 and ensuing hostilities with Pakistan that immeasurably complicated access to Central Asia. The loss of Northern Kashmir to Pakistan, following initial hostilities between the two new states, and principally the creation of Pakistan itself, added considerable distance — physical and political — between India and Central Asia.

Over the last two to three years, India has been unrelenting in its efforts to correct this oversight — especially as economic growth has facilitated these endeavors. Starting in 2009, high-level visits by top Indian and CAR leaders to each other’s respective capitals culminated in India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy. Inaugurated in June 2012 at the first India-Central Asia Dialogue in Kyrgyzstan, the policy was fleshed out by India’s Foreign Minister, S.M. Krishna, during his visit to Tajikistan on July 2-3, 2012. This served to add weight to India’s commitment to “engagement with Central Asian Countries, both individually and collectively” for the purpose of securing “core national interests” — political, cultural, strategic and economic.

Tajikstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamrokhon Zarifi meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Somanahalli Malayah Krishna.

Tajikstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamrokhon Zarifi meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Somanahalli Malayah Krishna.

Attaining those objectives would clearly be difficult, if not impossible, given the very tangible physical and political barrier to Central Asia epitomized by Pakistan. There was one way out of this dilemma: reliance on a peaceful and stable Afghanistan as a bridge to Central Asia. But that, in turn, could be assured only if Afghanistan could function as it had in antiquity, when it was the central location of a highway system linking East and West. The famed Silk Road had enabled the transport of goods and people over nearly 7,000 miles, from the Han Chinese, through ancient Bactria — now part of Afghanistan, to the vast Roman Empire. This ancient system of transport was also viewed as a symbol of “collective security and global peace” throughout these huge expanses. No less today than it was in olden times, commerce remains an anchor of peace and stability. Hence, the New Silk Route initiative, introduced at the United Nations in September 2011 by U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, envisaged the creation of modern highway and railroad networks as well as energy pipelines. Washington saw this as part of the transition program following the reduction of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan through 2014, when the nation’s security would be turned over to the Afghan government.

In the post-2014 milieu, India is on the same page as the U.S., as evidenced by India’s investment of $2 billion to build up Afghanistan’s infrastructure, and the hosting of an investment summit on Afghanistan aimed at improving its economy and military security. This is also attested to by Foreign Minister Krishna’s visit to Tajikistan (a neighbor of Afghanistan) when both agreed that the region’s stability depended on a stable Afghanistan. Words were reinforced by strategic ties between the two countries, such as a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, and cooperation in strategic and security programs, including the free military training of Tajik cadets and officers in Indian training institutes, as well as joint research and consultation on Afghanistan — all within the framework of India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy.

The key word here is “connect”: connectivity between India and Central Asia — both physical and electronic — is extremely poor. This has restricted trade and other economic exchanges, as well as diplomatic and political ties. Hence, India has been negotiating on initiating direct flights to each Central Asian country. One of the more creative initiatives on India’s part has been a plan to link the 5 CARs to each other and to India electronically, along the lines of the Pan-African e-network developed by India for the African Union nations. It is a plan that has been gifted to Central Asia.

For India, the most valuable resource available in the region is energy — whether oil, gas or hydroelectric power. Tajikistan is only one Central Asian state with which economic cooperation can benefit energy-hungry India: it is the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the Commonwealth of Independent States, after Russia. Yet it has exploited only 3-5% of its potential. India is a latecomer (after Russia, Iran and China) in providing investment in this sector.

However, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are much richer sources of energy. One of the more promising (though still incomplete) projects is the natural gas pipeline (TAPI) which would bring gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally to India. A hugely rich oil and gas resource is the Caspian Sea, and the fortunate littoral states which can claim ownership of their offshore energy fields include Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as well as the Caucasus state of Azerbaijan on the west, and finally Russia on the northwest and Iran on the south. While not a littoral state, Uzbekistan deserves mention as Central Asia’s largest natural gas producer.

Without doubt, Indian companies (whether state-owned or private) are deeply interested in oil and gas exploration in Kazakhstan’s Caspian Sea region and in Uzbekistan, as well as a hydropower project in Tajikistan. But they are also interested in Afghanistan’s iron ore resources and in the development of copper and gold deposits in the country.

It should come as no surprise, of course, that Indian players have encountered and will continue to face sharp competition from the Russians and Chinese who have a head-start in the region, as do Western energy players who saw the wealth of opportunities open up there right after 1991.

This brief introduction to Central Asia and India’s interest in the strategic, political and economic opportunities offered by the region’s resources and its strategic location provides only a minimal glance at this important but inadequately understood arena of geopolitics. In such a brief narrative, one can only hint at the complexity and rich diversity of the region’s resources and the manifold opportunities provided not only to the regional players but even more, to external players — both in the neighborhood and beyond.

Mary C. Carras, professor emerita, Rutgers University, is an analyst of Indo-American relations. Her writings include a political biography of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and a study of Indian political factions.

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