Column: Running interference

This week at al-Masri al-Youm, I look at the surreal obsession the Egyptian government has with "foreign interference" — by which it means foreign criticism of its human rights record — and the role some Western countries have played in helping it. France, which this week is sending its human rights ambassador to Cairo with strict instructions to only address anti-semitism (not exactly Egypt's top human right problem), is a particularly telling example.

US is now pro-Taliban, but still anti-Hamas

Helena Cobban makes a good point: U.S. supports Taliban talks; Still opposing Hamas??

So here are Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and SecDef Bob Gates now saying they support-- and are giving active support to-- the Afghan government's initiative to negotiate with the Taliban. But the U.S. government continues to completely oppose any attempt by any parties, Palestinian or other, to reach out and deal with the Hamas government that, lest we forget, was democratically elected in Palestine in January 2006. How does that work again? And why?

So you back negotiations the antediluvian crazies who hosted the people who killed 3000 of your citizens, but can't touch the people who never attacked you, were legitimately elected and are defending their homeland. Makes a lot of sense.

The eunuchs of Washington

 

Chas Freeman, the man passed over as Obama's intelligence czar, shared his thoughts on the recent appointment of Tom Donilon to replace James Jones as Obama's National Security Advisor. Freeman quoted over at Mondoweiss:

. . . there's a broader issue with the appointment of Tom Donilon, a creature of Congress whose professional formation has taken place entirely within the Washington bubble. Nothing in his background as a lawyer or aide to elected officials and political appointees hints at any skill at strategic thinking, foreign policy formulation, or diplomatic maneuver that is directed at anyone other than domestic constituencies. He gives every sign of faithfully reflecting the political risk aversion, venal deference to campaign contributors, and constipated strategic imagination of the Washington establishment. We Americans have spawned our own version of the eunuchs of old, who flourished inside the walls of the Forbidden City or Topkapi/Dolmabah?e Palace. Their counterparts now practice the arts of the courtier within the Beltway at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. (It is said that Afghanistan has jirgas to make village-level decisions and loya jirgas to decide things at the national level, while Washington now makes decisions in circle jirgas.) Donilon is exhibit A of this archetypal Washington type; his presumed successor, Denis McDonough, is exhibit B.
Note that the principal argument for Donilon and McDonough is not their competence or mastery of the subject matter of national security affairs in its diplomatic, intelligence, and military dimensions, but the trust the president has in them. To me, this underscores that American politics has become entirely self-referential and solipsistic. We have evolved the world's most militarily powerful autistic government. The Obama Administration is practicing non-partisanship by carrying on the foreign policy of its predecessor. Mr. Magoo is still at the helm, as I discovered he was years back. See: "America in the World - Magoo at the Helm" -- , now a chapter in the book Just World Books just brought out, "America's Misadventures in the Middle East." )

Read the whole thing. For dissenting opinions, see Steve Clemons and Helena Cobban (update: also Peter Beinart. I know I'll be getting a copy of Freeman's book (click here to get it from Amazon and send Arabist some baksheesh).

On American Jews and Obama

I posted in yesterday's links a long, five-part series on Jews and Obama by Edward Klein and Richard Chesnoff. I had only read the first part when I did so, and, having now read four of the five (the last one still isn't up), I feel it's worth making a few comments on it, especially as it has gotten some considerable attention in some circles.
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Run! Sharia is coming!

Much has been written about the recent Center for Security Policy report, headed by neocon loony Frank Gaffney, about the plot to impose Sharia on America. It fits the current mood of hysteria perfectly, and just shows one other element of the carefully crafted campaign of Islamophobia taking place at the moment. But I particularly liked this response by Joshua Micah Marshall of TPM:

In our investigation into the growth of Sharia Law in the USA we came across some surprising findings. Numerous American cities now have one or more Muslim 'religious courts' in operation where believers go to adjudicate family law disputes, real estate transactions and various other matters according to Sharia Law by binding arbitration. These religious court verdicts can then be enforced by civilian American courts. Various states have also passed laws to codify Muslim dietary laws, though a few of these laws have been struck down. And numerous national corporations now process foods to suit Muslim dietary standards. Finally, one jurisdiction in New York has been settled entirely by devout Muslims; no candidates run for office except those approved by the local imam; road signs in the town are all printed in both English and Arabic; and various local practices have been brought into line with Sharia.

Actually, there's one detail I didn't mention. The law here isn't Sharia; it's Halakhah, Jewish religious law. And all the above are true if you change 'Muslim' to 'Jewish' and 'Arabic' to 'Hebrew'. (Actually, Yiddish written in the Hebrew script, to be specific.)

Marshall goes on to say, who cares if this is happening? Personally, I care: I don't think any religious law should be implemented or honored in the US (or for that matter elsewhere.) But that's a separate debate.

Do read TPM's investigative piece on the origins of Sharia-scare in Amreeka.

How the lobby works, then and now

Grant Smith writes in the excellent Israel/Palestine blog Pulse:

A huge trove of newly declassified documents subpoenaed during a 1962-1964 Senate investigation reveals how Israel’s lobby pitched, promoted, and paid to have content placed in America’s top news magazines with overseas funding. The Atlantic (and many others)received hefty rewards for trumpeting Israel’s most vital – but damaging – PR initiatives across America.

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ADL reaches new low

One of the unexpected outcomes of the Cordoba House / Park51 affair is that it has shown the true colors of many people in American life, from the predictable pandering (or is it honest bigotry?) of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich and many Republicans (with the notable and honorable exception of Mayor Bloomberg) to the lamentable moral cowardice of some Democrats.

But if there's been any upside to this sorry story, it's to see the mask pulled down on Abraham Foxman and the ADL.

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On Cordoba House

My new column at Masri al-Youm, on Obama's communication problem, is out. It argues that despite the recent polls showing disappointment with Obama in the Arab world, the real communication problem with regards to Islam that the administration has is with the American people. I've been following with horrified fascination the development of the "controversy" over Cordoba House, which has been cathartic in that it had revealed the strong unease — far beyond the lunatic fringes, the professionals manipulators and the populist opportunists — have with the project. This is America's Danish cartoon crisis.
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Rattling the saber on Iran

The Atlantic magazine is one of the slightly subtler stalwart supporters of Zionism in the American media, taking a gentler approach than, say, the New Republic or its conservative doppelganger Commentary or The Weekly Standard. (It's also, in terms of editorial quality speaking, a far superior magazine.)
Which is why it is far more deadly when it pushes out a piece of propaganda like James Fallows' odious 2002 piece Who Shot Muhammad al-Dura, which tried to impute blame on Palestinians without talking to a single one of them, or the currently much-talked about Jeffrey Goldberg article on why Israel is almost certainly to bomb Iran. The aim of the piece is pretty clear from the get-go: it tries, not always directly but always implicitly, to argue that since Israel is about to strike Iran, the US may as well back it in the endeavor or carry the deed itself. This may very well be the beginning of the campaign for a US attack on Iran, not just an apology for an Israeli attack.
I won't discuss the article at length here because others have done a pretty good job. But I urge others to read it, and perhaps marvel with me how much of it is suffused with talk of the Holocaust and how much sympathetic justification it contains for what would be, after all, an unprovoked attack on a UN member by a nation that already has a considerable nuclear arsenal outside of the international non-proliferation framework. The case for Israel putting a stop to Iran's nuclear program is quite dubious, as most experts and Goldberg concede. The US is both much better able to carry out such a strike, and deal with the long-term conflict that might ensue. Hence the need for this article and a campaign to manipulate US public opinion into thinking that striking Iran is unavoidable. And why would it be unavoidable? Because Iran is being sold as a potential Nazi Germany,  even though Iran — as Stephen Walt argues — is not much of a threat to the US. (See also Walt's thoughts on Goldberg mainstreaming the idea of war with Iran in the US.)
You must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will, is the gist of what Goldberg is doing, argues Paul Woodward.

Worried about an Israeli attack on Iran? That’s the idea.

You must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will.

This is how some Israelis are trying to twist Washington’s arm to get the US to attack Iran.

A more honest way of making the argument would be to say this: If the US won’t attack Iran, then Israel will — even though it won’t accomplish its military objectives and it will open Pandora’s box. Desperate nations sometimes do desperate things. You have been warned.

Another name for this: blackmail.

It’s hard to counter an irrational argument when the irrationality is intentional. Such are the means by which someone like erstwhile Israeli army corporal and current Atlantic commentator, Jeffrey Goldberg, attempts to persuade his readers — not through cogent reasoning based on clear evidence, but by an insidious form of argument that has the clarity of slime.

Consider the way he tries to close his case for an attack on Iran — even while avoiding saying straight out that he supports such a course of action.

The United States must not take the risk of letting Israel attack Iran because if President Obama orders US forces to attack instead, this would be the most patriotic thing to do. Obama would not be serving Israel’s interests; he would be defending Western civilization.

Goldberg, of course, operates with the conceit common to many access journalists, who assume that what they’re hearing from their sources is the unvarnished truth, told to the journalist because they presumably trust him as a confidante and recognize the value of his opinions and insights. Let’s just say that such is the conceit that makes it so easy for those in power in Washington to seduce marquee name journalists to carry water for them by anointing them as “special”, cultivating in the illusion that they’re insiders privy to the inner thoughts of the key power players.

In your dreams, Jeff: The Israelis talk to you because they want to convey a particular message in Washington; and the White House talks to you because they want you to convey a particular message to the Israelis and, more importantly, to some of their most powerful backers in America.

Making Aggression Respectable | The National Interest: Here Paul Pillar makes an important point:

Perhaps one reason a prospective launching of a war against Iran has not gotten the condemnation it deserves is that the one big recent exception to the American tradition of non-aggression—the Bush administration’s war in Iraq—has shifted the terms of reference and the definition of the mainstream so much that even an offensive war has come to be considered a policy option worthy of consideration. And this has happened despite the mess in Iraq that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and despite George W. Bush’s restraining (to his credit, as mentioned in Goldberg’s article) of hotheads in his administration who were itching to attack Iran.

Yes you can dispute America's tradition of non-aggression, at least in the postwar era, but the fundamental point that Iran shouldn't be attacked simply because it's against international law is crucial. We have yet to deal with the illegality of Iraq's war.

Other reactions worth reading:

Did top Obama donor carry Israeli message to W.H.? Here Justin Elliott picks up on a side revelation in Goldberg's article, that a senior Israeli military official traveled to Chicago to urge one of the most important early Obama backers in the Jewish community to have a word with him.

How propagandists function: Exhibit A Gleen Greenwald.

The Leveretts, whom I don't like on Iran's internal politics, catch the same thing: THE CAMPAIGN TO TURN IRAN INTO AN “EXISTENTIAL THREAT”

Steve Clemons points out the interesting stuff about Bush being against an Iran attack late in his presidency in Jeffrey Goldberg Probes Israel's Iran Strike Option: Is Netanyahu a "Bomber Boy"?

And finally, coming back to The Atlantic, it's worth highlighting this bizarre line in this Robert Kaplan article about how to deal with a nuclear Iran:

Indeed, I would argue that because Sunni Arabs from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Egypt perpetrated the attacks of September 11, 2001, and because Sunni hostility to American and Israeli interests remains a conspicuous problem, the United States should theoretically welcome a strengthened Shiite role in the Middle East, were Iran to go through an even partial political transformation.

Because, of course, all Shias and all Sunnis think alike. And this article's main argument is that the US should be more willing to consider a limited nuclear war with Iran, and limited wars in general. Chilling.

Ahmet Dogan

You absolutely must read Roger Cohen's op-ed taking the US media to task for almost completely ignoring that Israel murdered an American citizen during the flotilla raid.

I'll just quote his conclusion to the question raised by Dogan's father: whether, had his son been Christian living in America, he would have faced the same silence.

It’s different, however, when an American Muslim male gets stuck in a hail of Israeli gunfire.

That lousy US Congress

Here's the latest bill going around Congress:

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

Of course no such concern for the sovereign of Iran, or the protection of its civilians. The bill explicitly expresses support for an Israeli attack on Iran:

(4) expresses support for Israel's right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran, defend Israeli sovereignty, and protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within a reasonable time.

It was supported by 46 Congressmen, mostly Republicans I believe.

Meanwhile, there's also a bill supporting democracy in Egypt [link corrected], introduced by Russ Feingold and supported by John McCain. It makes general commitments to democracy and calls for greater democracy, free elections, repeal of the emergency law and other issues, but does not introduce any idea of conditionality in the relationship. In fact the only different thing it advocates from what is currently being practiced is:

(7) recalls that pursuant to the laws of the United States, organizations implementing United States assistance for democracy and governance activities, and the specific nature of that assistance, shall not be subject to the prior approval of the Government of Egypt.

Khouri on Clinton's Internet Initiative

Two points  on Rami Khouri's latest column, about US initiatives to encourage internet use and youth etc.

This one I partly disagree with:

But what do young people actually do, or aim to achieve, with the new media? Are the new digital and social media a credible tool for challenging established political orders and bringing about political change in our region?

My impression is that these new media today play a role identical to that played by Al Jazeera satellite television when it first appeared in the mid-1990s — they provide important new means by which ordinary citizens can both receive information and express their views, regardless of government controls on both, but in terms of their impact they seem more like a stress reliever than a mechanism for political change.

Watching Arab pundits criticize Arab governments, Israel or the United States — common fare on Arab satellite television — is great vicarious satisfaction for ordinary men and women who live in political cultures that deny them serious opportunities for free speech.

Blogging, reading politically racy Web sites, or passing around provocative text messages by cellphone is equally satisfying for many youth. Such activities, though, essentially shift the individual from the realm of participant to the realm of spectator, and transform what would otherwise be an act of political activism — mobilizing, demonstrating or voting — into an act of passive, harmless personal entertainment.

Sure, there might be a lot of passive users of the internet. But when in so many countries the internet is being used to mobilize, spread information and organize, it can hardly be called a passive medium. It draws in an admittedly small number of internet users and turns them into activists and organizers,  And unlike al-Jazeera, no one is paying the bloggers and activists who use the internet to mobilize. It's a substantive improvement over what al-Jazeera does, especially because the internet is not controlled by a government.

The second point is dead on:

One cannot take seriously the United States or any other Western government that funds political activism by young Arabs while it simultaneously provides funds and guns that help cement the power of the very same Arab governments the young social and political activists target for change.

Feeding both the jailer and the prisoner is not a sustainable or sensible policy. I would not be surprised if some wise-guy young Arab soon sends a tweet to Hillary Clinton saying, “you’re either with us, or you’re with the security state.”

This is an awkward and untenable position for any foreign government that wants to promote political activism and pluralism in the Middle East. It damages Western government credibility, leads to no significant changes in our political cultures, and often discredits the local activists who become tarred with the charge of being Western lackeys.

Clinton's Internet Initiative is essentially a substitute — and a poor one at that — for a real policy to deal with authoritarian regimes. As was Obama's Cairo speech and its 16 micro-initiatives. You don't have to invade dictatorships — please! — but you don't have to support them either. Training young people to use the internet is a ridiculous idea — they will do so anyway.  

Better to learn from the largely American success of internet start-ups such as Google: don't be evil. Cut off the funding to dictators, occupiers and regimes that carry out ethnic or religious segregation. Refuse to meet them and give them the recognition they crave. Stop humoring them because of your imperial ambitions in the Middle East — these ambitions are ruinous to America both financially and morally.

Gingrich and Cordoba

When I was in New York about two months ago, the controversy over Cordoba House, the mosque being built near the site where the World Trade Center once stood, was just getting going. I remember seeing conserative blogger Pamela Geller on Mick Huckabee's Fox News show (when in the US I watch Fox News compulsively) calling the project, which is designed to promote cross-cultural understanding, as a desecration of the memory of those who died on 9/11. As Geller engaged in tarnishing an entire religion (what else can it be called?) and Huckabee politely nodded, I wondered how mainstream this stupidity had become.

A couple of days ago the prominent Republican Newt Gingrich — often said to be one of the smartest guys in his party — joined Geller's campaign. Gingrich wrote:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over. 

The proposed "Cordoba House" overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks - is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites.  For example, most of them don’t understand that “Cordoba House” is a deliberately insulting term.  It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.

Gingrich is clearly actually a moron, on at least two counts. First, why does he want the US to follow the same policies as Saudi Arabia? Is that the standard he sets for the country? When will Freedom House condemn this dangerous voice against freedom of religion?

Secondly — and this is pretty galling from a historian — the Cordoba mosque was built on the site of a Spanish Visigoth church, but only after it had been a place of worship for both Christians and Muslims, and Emir Abdel Rahman actually bought the property and then began building what is generally recognized as one of the most beautiful buildings on the planet. It was after the Reconquistada, along which came the Inquisition that drove Jew and Muslim from Spain, that the building was converted into a church and its interior symmetry ruined by the construction of a huge, and ugly, Baroque wooden chapel inside it.

Geller and her friends like to describe the Cordoba House project as "the Islamic supremacist mosque", which reminds me of another supremacist project Geller has no problem with: Israel. It's amazing, and I'm sure no coincidence, the overlap you get between anti-Muslim fanatics and those who support Israel's wars and land grabs. Geller notably once ranted:

Israel is essential. And I pray dearly that in the ungodly event that Tehran or its jihadi proxies (Hez'ballah, Hamas etc) target Israel with a nuke, that she retaliate with everything she has at Tehran, Mecca, and Medina...............

Not to mention Europe. They  exterminated all their Jews, but that wasn't enough. Those monsters then went on to import the next generation of Jew killers.

LoonWatch has more of the same. To me it seems clear that Geller and her ilk have embarked on a project to fan Islamophobia because it is convenient for another cause, maintaining US public opinion (already fed years of anti-Arab propaganda) on Israel's side as the legitimacy of the Zionist project erodes globally. They want to carry out this Muslim-bashing for its own sake, of course, but also comes with a nice benefit of boosting Israel, which has long had an interest in spreading anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria. Sooner or later — and I think sooner — these people will start discrediting themselves and the causes they support.

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Once again, Bush nostalgia

Oh, come on Saad Eddin Ibrahim, for God's sake:

When a billboard appeared outside a small Minnesota town early this year showing a picture of George W. Bush and the words "Miss me yet?" the irony was not lost on many in the Arab world. Most Americans may not miss Bush, but a growing number of people in the Middle East do. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unpopular in the region, but his ardent support for democracy was heartening to Arabs living under stalled autocracies. Reform activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and elsewhere felt empowered to press for greater freedoms during the Bush years. Unfortunately, Bush's strong support for democracy contrasts sharply with President Obama's retreat on this critical issue.

I understand Dr. Ibrahim has reasons to be grateful towards George W. Bush, who forcefully pressured the Egyptian government to release him when he was on trial in 2002-03. But he should remember that Bush's support evaporated in January 2006 after Hamas' electoral victory (and the Muslim Brothers' electoral advance in Egypt). What reform activists in Lebanon — surely this should be "March 14 partisans", who for the most part did not seem very interested in democratic reform and are quite committed to Lebanon's twisted sectarian system, even if they rightly opposed Syrian interference in their own affairs. More reform activists in Egypt were anti-Bush. I could go on about "reform activists."

Also, no need to cite elections over 2005-06 as proof of reform. Egypt's were deeply flawed. The CIA funded Fatah's campaign in Palestine. Most of these elections were already scheduled — Bush did not order them to be held! There are other problems with the piece, but I'll stop here on the details. Ibrahim concludes:

Democracy and human rights advocates in the Middle East listened with great anticipation to Obama's speech in Cairo. Today, Egyptians are not just disappointed but stunned by what appears to be outright promotion of autocracy in their country. What is needed now is a loud and clear message from the United States and the global community of democracies that the Egyptian people deserve free, fair and transparent elections. Congress is considering a resolution to that effect for Uganda. Such a resolution for Egypt is critical given the immense U.S. support for Egypt. Just as we hope for a clear U.S. signal on democracy promotion, we must hope that the Obama administration will cease its coddling of dictators.

This is ill thought out. Obama has actually this year taken a few steps towards pressuring Egypt.

1. The US expressed disappointment over the renewal of the Emergency Law in May, which is more than the EU, which unbelievably put out the following crap under French and Italian pressure:

"I note Egypt's decision to limit the new State of Emergency to fighting terrorism and its financing and drug-related crimes. However, I strongly encourage the government to speed up the steps needed for the adoption of an antiterrorism law compliant with international human rights standards as soon as possible, noting the government's commitment to this goal in the EU/Egypt Action plan and in other forums".

"Note"? As in, "I note you're not wearing glasses today"? Pathetic.

2. Vice President Joe Biden raised the UNHCR's Universal Periodic Review of Egypt with Mubarak. At least there's a sign they're talking about it.

3. The State Dept. has called for an investigation into the death of Khaled Said. The day after that, a new investigation was ordered.

Bottom line: there's been a slight improvement since last year, but it could go much further. Rather than aping a Congressional resolution on Uganda Ibrahim could have called for specific measures, such as: the imposition of conditionalities for the disbursement of aid and the negotiation of any endowment for Egypt, sending messages that arms sales are conditional on freer elections after the disaster of the recent Shura Council elections, and holding to the Egyptian government to account on its claim that the Emegency Law will only be used in drug and terrorism cases. 

Ibrahim had a chance at making a much stronger case with specific recommendations. Claims of "Bush nostalgia" won't win friends in the Obama administration — just among the Washington Post's neoconservative editorial board.

Cordesman on Afghanistan and more

The latest by Anthony Cordesman weighs whether the Afghan war is worth it. Pretty strong stuff from this establisment commentator:

The current situation is the product of more than eight years of chronic under-resourcing, under-reaction, spin, self-delusion and neglect. It is the result of one of the worst examples of wartime leadership in American history.

Although he ends up doing what every serious expert on Afghanistan seems to have done so far: say that it's "too close to call" to decide to pull out. That kind of hedging seems dangerous, purely from the strategic standpoint either there has to be full commitment or a pullout, halfway measures have been a big part of the problem. I am very troubled by his conclusion that accepts that the US should be some kind of global nation-builder:

This is not likely to be a century of confrontations between Western powers fighting conventional wars on their own territory. It is almost certain to be a century where the US must learn to fight irregular wars and exercises in armed nation building whether it likes it or not. If nothing else, the case for the war in Afghanistan may be that it is the prelude to an almost inevitable future. 

More maintaining of empire where such things could be more easily handled by the region's own powers. Has the US not wasted enough money yet on neoconservative pipe dreams? I'd rather repair bridges in Minneapolis and increase funding to California's state universities.

The report also has this intringuing line touching on the Arab world:

Moreover, it is time to stop demonizing Bin Laden and Al Qa’ida and focus on the broader threat. Massive population increases, poverty, decaying educational and social infrastructure, culture shock and alienation, and failed secularism affect far too much of the Islamic world. Yemen and Somalia are only the two worst cases, and some form of extremist and terrorist threat is likely to be a regional constant for the next two decades –regardless of whether the US and its allies win or lose in Afghanistan. Moreover, the trade-offs involved do raise serious questions abouthether the same – or a much lower – investment in helping key allies like Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco would do far more to provide overall security.

I must say that, aside from not being sure what "failed secularism" is, I am a bit troubled by this view of these countries at strategic bulwarks of stability in a troubled region — especially considering what Western-backed stability has meant for these countries in the last few decades.

Also my doubts about Cordesman have grown since reading Norman Finkelstein's takedown of his reporting on the Gaza War in This Time We Went Too Far. Still, this is an interesting — and alarming — establishment point of view.

Afghanistan: super-rentier state

I suppose one should be happy that a poor country like Afghanistan discovers vast mineral wealth that could drag it out of under-development and help solve some of its problems. Except it seems to rarely happen that way for mineral-rich states with weak central governments (just look at Congo):

WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

 

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Turkey, Israel and the US

I have to take issue with my friend Steven Cook of CFR in his take on Turkey's recent behavior over the flotilla raid. Steve, a talented Turkey and Egypt expert, argues that Ankara is departing from its longstanding alliance with the US by "taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict": 

It is hard to admit, but after six decades of strategic cooperation, Turkey and the United States are becoming strategic competitors -- especially in the Middle East. This is the logical result of profound shifts in Turkish foreign and domestic politics and changes in the international system.

This reality has been driven home by Turkey's angry response to Israel's interdiction of the Istanbul-organized flotilla of ships that tried Monday to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. After Israel's attempts to halt the vessels resulted in the deaths of at least nine activists, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu referred to Israel's actions as "murder conducted by a state." The Turkish government also spearheaded efforts at the U.N. Security Council to issue a harsh rebuke of Israel.

Monday's events might prove a wake-up call for the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. Among the small group of Turkey watchers inside the Beltway, nostalgia rules the day. U.S. officialdom yearns to return to a brief moment in history when Washington and Ankara's security interests were aligned, due to the shared threat posed by the Soviet Union. Returning to the halcyon days of the U.S.-Turkish relationship, however, is increasingly untenable.

The aberration here is not Turkey is calling Israel's actions a murder, but the US in refusing to do the same. It is not Turkey that has acted aggressively towards Israel, but vice-versa — diplomatically for a while and now with violence. That Turkey has a regional policy at odds with Israel's is not an attack on the United States, and thinking it is implies a worrying assumption: that US policy should be driven by Israeli interests and desires. Turkey has not broken off diplomatic relations with Israel, or even its military purchases. But as the most democratic state in the Middle East, it has reacted in a manner commensurate with its public opinion and its desire for international respect. The same goes for Turkey's policy with Syria: Turkey's policy is driven by its own interests; whereas US policy is driven by a political desire to lend protection to Israel.
He concludes more timidly:
Given the mythology that surrounds the relationship, the divergence between Washington and Ankara has proved difficult to accept. Once policymakers recognize what is really happening, Washington and Ankara can get on with the job of managing the decline in ties with the least possible damage. Obama's goal should be to develop relations with Turkey along the same lines the United States has with Brazil or Thailand or Malaysia. Those relations are strong in some areas, but fall short of strategic alliances. "Frenemy" might be too harsh a term for such an arrangment, but surely "model partnership" is a vast overstatement. It's time to recognize reality.
Turkey is still a NATO member, houses a key US base and provides logistical support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That seems pretty special and more than what Brazil or Malaysia do. The country that needs to review its policy is the US.
Cook's analysis is echoed in Thomas "Toto" Friedman's latest column — always a bad sign. He begins, as he frequently, by talking about his anguish:
As a friend of both Turkey and Israel, it has been agonizing to watch the disastrous clash between Israeli naval commandos and a flotilla of “humanitarian” activists seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Personally, I think both Israel and Turkey have gotten out of balance lately, and it is America’s job to help both get back to the center — urgently.
. . .
Therefore, it has been painful to hear the same Prime Minister Erdogan in recent years publicly lash out with ever-greater vehemence at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Many see this as Turkey looking to ingratiate itself with the Muslim world after having been rebuffed by the European Union. I have no problem with Turkey or humanitarian groups loudly criticizing Israel. But I have a big problem when people get so agitated by Israel’s actions in Gaza but are unmoved by Syria’s involvement in the murder of the prime minister of Lebanon, by the Iranian regime’s killing of its own citizens demonstrating for the right to have their votes counted, by Muslim suicide bombers murdering nearly 100 Ahmadi Muslims in mosques in Pakistan on Friday and by pro-Hamas gunmen destroying a U.N.-sponsored summer camp in Gaza because it wouldn’t force Islamic fundamentalism down the throats of children.
I don't remember the United States, France, the UK or any other US ally going out of its way to condemn these things. On the other hand, Turkey's citizens have been killed and a ship flying its flag. Surely that's worse than something happening elsewhere for any country? And if Turkey is speaking out about the issue that has fueled regional tension for over 60 years — the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — surely that's not an irrational position.
After spending an inordinate amount of blood, treasure and political capital trying to regulate the Middle East according to a neoconservative idea of Israeli interests, the US has a unique opportunity to let strong regional leaders like Turkey try to manage issues that are of direct importance to them. It should not stand in the way; it should step aside.  
Update: Steve Cook responds:
I see your point about U.S. policy and how a democratic Turkey is taking a principled stand against the Israelis.  That said, two observations:
 
1)      It’s politically impossible for the United States to shift its position on Israel.  We saw that after Obama tried a more robust approach on settlements.  He backed down quickly, but I believe the episode demonstrates the limits of Washington’s actual room for maneuver.  It’s a problem, but the unfortunate reality.
 
2)      The central theme of the piece was the evolution of U.S.-Turkey relations, which you chose not to emphasize in your post.  I wasn’t really making a normative statement, I was making an observation that b/c Turkey is more democratic and b/c of changes in the international system, Washington and Ankara are diverging.  I was trying to wake up my friends in the administration to this reality so they can figure out what to do.
 
Some quibbles:
 
1)      Turkey’s military procurement from Israel is coming to an end; there is very little left in the pipeline once the soon to be completed main battle tank refurbishment program ends.
 
2)      The relationship between Turkey and Israel is collapsing.  It might not end completely, but the days of strategic cooperation are over.  It is politically unsustainable for both sides.
 
3)      Incirlik is important to the United States, but for how long?  The U.S. will be down to 50,000 soldiers in Iraq by August.  Those forces can easily be resupplied through Kuwait, though that isn’t optimal.  IF, a big if, the President is to be believed, the clock is also running on the Afghanistan operation.
 
4)      NATO.  Really?  It’s done.
Fair enough and 1 and 2 — I'm not complaining!

Iran, Brazil, Turkey and the US

Yesterday morning I was at the UN building in New York, with a small group of journalists meeting Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. One of the issues that came up was Iran — in fact the buzz at the UN generally speaking is that Iran is the main topic of conversation at high-level meetings and the G-summits, no matter what's officially on the agenda. Ki-Moon had just received news that the US had just gotten a tentative agreement over a new package of sanctions on Iran and shared it with us, although he didn't have much to say about it apart some vague statement that the best way of addressing the Iran issue was through dialogue.

Shortly before Hillary Clinton announced the consensus over a new sanctions resolution, which is going to the UN Security Council soon, Brazil and Turkey had successfully inked a deal with Iran. The deal would have Tehran turn over about half of its nuclear fuel stockpile for a period of a year, a similar deal that the US had earlier said it would be amenable to. So the announcement on new sanctions came as a big f-you to not only Iran, but also Brazil and Turkey, as Gary Sick writes:

Only hours before Clinton’s announcement, the foreign minister of Turkey held his own press conference. Obviously unaware of what was about to happen, he described in some detail not only the tortuous negotiation process with Iran, but his perception that he was acting directly on behalf of the United States.
According to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he had been in “constant contact” with Clinton herself and with national security adviser James Jones, while his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had face-to-face encouragement from President Obama in December and April.
The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.
Read More

Breaking down US democracy policy in the Middle East

In what is becoming an annual must-read for Middle East policy wonks, POMED has published its detailed report on Financial Appropriations for Middle East Democracy for FY2011. I'll let you read its overall conclusions — quite a marked increase (32%) for MEPI funding notably — which would suggest a real commitment to one form of democracy-promotion, funding NGOs that do work on issues that deal with the wider notion of democracy endorsed by the Obama administration (away from elections, focus on women, minorities, and other aspects.) Specifically on democracy and governance programming it's 10%. It would not be entirely fair to suggest a break from the Bush administration in this regard, but rather a continuity with the post-2007 Bush policies — i.e. the post 2006 Hamas election trauma dealt to a political/electoral focus in democracy-promotion. 
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WINEP and the lobby

It was delightful to read Stephen Walt's rebuttal to WINEP's Robert Satloff on the issue of "dual loyalty" and where WINEP stands. Let us be clear about this, it may be the case that WINEP produces decent material on, say, counter-terrorism in Algeria or the domestic politics of Oman. But on anything that touches Israel, and issues of interest to Israel like Iran, it is one of several think tanks that serve to produce ideological justifications for policies supported by the likes of AIPAC. That is its main and most important purpose, and to pretend otherwise is beyond hypocritical.
I remember attending a WINEP luncheon in Washington a few years ago. It was the kind of thing targeted at fundraisers and supporters, with Dennis Ross as key speaker. The person sitting to my left was a very nice elderly lady, half of a wealthy couple of Jewish retirees from upstate New York. The person sitting on my right was a young Jewish campus activist for Israel. That seemed to represent the range of people in the crowd, and audience and speakers were trying to outdo each other in Iran-bashing and support for Israel. I don't think you see that at serious think tanks.
As M.J. Rosenberg, formerly of AIPAC and now of J Street, writes in his Talking Points Memo blog:

In my piece yesterday, I pointed out that I was in the room when the plan for WINEP was first drawn up. I was working at AIPAC and it was Steve Rosen who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would put forth the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.

There was no question that WINEP was to be AIPAC's cutout. It was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC Headquarters (no more. It has its own digs). It would also hire all kinds of people not identified with Israel as a cover and would encourage them to write whatever they liked on matters not related to Israel. "Say what you want on Morocco, kid." But on Israel, never deviate more than a degree or two.

It's always been slightly painful to see Egyptian friends — journalists, analysts etc. — take up a job at WINEP, which actively tries to recruit Arabs for fellowships to deflect its lobbying role. I understand why being given a nice salary and a year in Washington is appealing, but it smarts that WINEP is the organization doing this. I tease more mercilessly my American friends who've worked there (not on directly peace-process related issues), but they've moved on now. WINEP has a lot money to throw around, some good researchers, and can afford to buttress its claim of neutrality by hiring former officials and analysts who do not necessarily share their views on Israel — as long as they don't work on the issue. Presumably the same people won't speak out against the house line while they work there, either. 
In any case, that so many are taking Satloff down on his ridiculous claim of WINEP not being part of the lobby is very satisfying personally. In 2005, when I edited Cairo magazine, we ran article tying WINEP to AIPAC. Satloff sent us an angry letter. It was true that WINEP is not funded by AIPAC in a legal sense, but they share donors. Rosenberg elucidates the motive behind separating AIPAC's research arm, then led by Martin Indyk (another person, alongside Dennis Ross, who has no business running US policy in the Middle East) with this tidbit from a reader:

WINEP was created initially at a time when AIPAC was in financial trouble and having a lot of problems raising money, so it was suggested, probably by Steve Rosen. (I was at the same meeting) that we split the AIPAC research department into two parts, a minor part to service the legislative lobbying, and the major part to become a 501(C)3 that could raise big bucks tax free unlike AIPAC itself which did not enjoy that tax status.

As you wrote, it was originally in AIPAC's building and on the same floor but we started getting a lot of pressure from some of the other Jewish organizations which were worried that AIPAC would cut into their (C)3 fundraising.

As for funding, the Weinbergs were key and even worked out a deal with some big money folks who didn't want to contribute to a political operation like AIPAC but would give to (C)3's. So one could give to the (C)3 and someone else would match it for AIPAC.

This became the ultimate in interlocking directorates.

As Helena Cobban points out, some of us have been saying this for a long time. Kudos to Foreign Policy, TPM and of course the invaluable Mondoweiss for bringing this discussion out in the open. But this discussion should not only involve American Jews, it affects all of us. Talking about the "dual loyalty" problem is necessary — not because, as Satloff argued rather heinously, because people who doubt Ross' neutrality on Israel are engaged in a McCarthyite and anti-Semitic campaign and believe Jews can't be trusted (that accusation is the real canard), but because these people and these organizations have a clear record as lobbying organizations for a foreign government that make them poor choices as policymakers.
Consider also that Dennis Ross disagrees with Obama's stated policy on both Iran and the peace process, and even his friend Aaron Miller thinks he's too biased to be a fair negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians. Is it really too much to ask that he be taken off Middle East policy?
On a related note, I've had some fun making fake AIPAC logos, you can take a look at them here. They're inspired by the commonsensical remarks made by Gen. David Petraeus about the peace process being important to American interests in the region, and how its undermining by the Netanyahu government (and previous Israeli administrations) is hurting those interests.