Pro-Israel Iraqi indicted

Mithal Al Alusi, a former Iraqi exile close to Ahmed Chalabi and former head of the de-Baathification effort, has been indicted by an Iraqi interim government court for attending an anti-terrorism conference in Israel and suggesting that Iraq should establish ties with the Jewish state. Seems that not everyone got the neo-con memo on Iraq-Israeli ties...
Read More

Paranoid Saddam

One interesting aspect of the recently released CIA report that, once again, made it clear that Iraq did not have WMDs is that we now know that even Saddam Hussein's top lieutenants didn't know that there were no WMDs at all. This radically changes the picture of Saddam as an out-of-touch leader manipulated by underlings who were too afraid to tell him the truth: Only Hussein Had Full Picture:
For example, many in the U.S. intelligence community had believed that Hussein's sycophantic generals kept him in the dark about the state of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs — that is, that the dictator was misled by associates who told him what he wanted to hear.
Far from being misinformed, the report says, Hussein was micromanaging Iraq's weapons policy himself and kept even his most loyal aides from gaining a clear picture of what was going on — and, more important, not going on — with the program.
"Saddam's centrality to the regime's political structure meant that he was the hub of Iraqi WMD policy and intent," the report concluded.
His paranoia and his fascination with science and technology "meant that control of WMD development and its deployment was never far from his touch," it said.
Read More

Palestine in formaldehyde

Dov Weisglass, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's key advisor, went public today saying that his administration's plan was to use the Gaza withdrawal to shelf the peace process and the creation of a Palestinian state. The headline of the Reuters story on this, Israel: Palestinian State Shelved with U.S. Blessing, is telling. Here is the Weisglass quote from Haaretz:
"The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process," Weisglass, one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, said in an interview for the Friday Magazine.
"And when you freeze that process," Weisglass added, "you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.
"Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."
"The disengagement is actually formaldehyde," he said. "It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.
Remember that this is taking place in the midst of a large offensive by Israel into Gaza. An Arab attempt to get the UN to condemn this was, as usual, vetoed by the US because it was considered "lopsided and unbalanced" and "absolves terrorists in the Middle East." All of which is another way of saying that the US once again puts its credibility on the line to damage Israel, especially when you could easily have separate resolutions condemning Israel's offensive and the use of terror by Palestinian groups. I am also curious about the timing of this announcement in the middle of the last stretch of the US presidential election campaigns. The US has now asked for "clarifications" -- which sounds like they might end up pulling out the old chestnut that Israel is "not helpful." But it would be nice to hear strong condemnations from both presidential candidates, and indeed an attack from the Kerry campaign on Bush's ineffectual Middle East peacemaking. Elections however make all this unlikely. It may be that this is really for domestic consumption, a throwaway phrase to placate the extreme Israeli right. But at this point it makes more sense to believe that Sharon, Weisglass and company are the Israeli extreme right -- the difference being that while in power they have to try to appear more moderate. Which is why there can never be a peace process while Likud is in power -- if Menachem Begin ignored the Palestinian parts of Camp David and Benyamin Netanyahu buried Oslo, Sharon will also kill the roadmap. That his top adviser is willing to say so publicly says a lot about their cynicism -- and that they know they'll get away with it.
Read More

Shatz on Khadra

Adam Shatz penned an excellent review piece on Yasmina Khadra's work in the London Review of Books. Khadra -- his real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul -- wrote several extremely successful books in French under his wife's name before being coming out openly to a massive fanfare in the French literary world. In his review, Shatz takes a look at what may have caused his books to be translated into English when so few Arab novelists are. Among the top causes are the current trend for what's-wrong-with-Islam? books, a category Khadra fits neatly into because he is virurently anti-Islamist. But that, Shatz says, is ignoring the bigger and more complicated picture:
Khadra is a talented writer, but he isn't a dissident. (As anyone who has spent time in Algeria knows, everyone there fancies himself a critic of the pouvoir, as they call their political system; the closer one is to the pouvoir, the more loudly one's dissidence is proclaimed.) Whatever troubles Khadra once had with military censors, they are now a thing of the past. In a recent interview he declared that Algeria has 'no political exiles', which will have been news to exiled opponents of the military government such as Mohammed Harbi, a former FLN leader and modern Algeria's leading historian. Though witheringly critical of Algeria's Islamists, and of its business and political elites (the 'political-financial mafia'), Khadra is notably indulgent of the army, which runs the country along with the Sécurité Militaire, the secret police, the regime's 'spinal cord'. Khadra's books are prominently displayed in every Algerian bookshop, while La Sale Guerre (2001), a scathing memoir by Habib Souaidia, a former officer exiled in France, is banned.
It really is worth reading in full as a quick overview of Algeria's recent history, and how the tragedy of the civil war has been manipulated by le pouvoir to create a group of anti-Islamist intellectuals who are quite mute when it comes to the military junta. It also applied to Algeria's myriad feminist movements, which in some cases have been mostly regime apologists. This type of problem is at the core of the tendency in the West to quickly support "cosmetic democratizers" in the Arab and Islamic world -- the Ahmed Chalabis and Benazir Bhuttos -- or simply pyt up with the military types who say that the only alternative is the Islamists. And while you're at it, revisit this classic Shatz article on Fouad Ajami. Spotted via Moorish Girl.
Read More

Baghdad Year Zero

The essential Iraq article of September seems to be Baghdad Year Zero, a Harper's piece by Naomi Klein, which is both an interesting political essay and a fine example of investigative business journalism. It's all about the neo-cons' dream of making Iraq a shining example of neo-liberal economic policy-making, and how that dream failed miserably in the face of reality and probably helped fuel the degeneration of the situation in Iraq.
The great historical irony of the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq is that the shock-therapy reforms that were supposed to create an economic boom that would rebuild the country have instead fueled a resistance that ultimately made reconstruction impossible. Bremer’s reforms unleashed forces that the neocons neither predicted nor could hope to control, from armed insurrections inside factories to tens of thousands of unemployed young men arming themselves. These forces have transformed Year Zero in Iraq into the mirror opposite of what the neocons envisioned: not a corporate utopia but a ghoulish dystopia, where going to a simple business meeting can get you lynched, burned alive, or beheaded. These dangers are so great that in Iraq global capitalism has retreated, at least for now. For the neocons, this must be a shocking development: their ideological belief in greed turns out to be stronger than greed itself. 
Read More

The era of tough oil

The Chronicle of Higher Education reviews two books on The End of Easy Oil and concludes that the "securitizing" of oil issues has led and could lead to more instability and war in the Middle East:
“Rather than develop a sustained strategy for reducing our reliance on such sources, he says, American leaders "have chosen to securitize oil -- that is, to cast its continued availability as a matter of 'national security,' and thus something that can be safeguarded through the use of military force."
Klare argues that our demands for energy and those of other major powers will require the petroleum-rich Gulf states to "boost their combined oil output by 85 percent between now and 2020. ... Left to themselves, the Gulf countries are unlikely to succeed; it will take continued American intervention and the sacrifice of more and more American blood to come even close. The Bush administration has chosen to preserve America's existing energy posture by tying its fortunes to Persian Gulf oil."
Even more worrisome, Klare says, is the intense and growing competition among countries such as the United States, China, India, and those in the European Community over petroleum supplies. "This competition is already aggravating tensions in several areas, including the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea basins," he writes. "And although the great powers will no doubt seek to avoid clashing directly, their deepening entanglement in local disputes is bound to fan the flames of regional conflicts and increase the potential for major conflagrations."
Read More

"Muslims teach their children to hate"

As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has sponsored a survey on perceptions of Muslims in the US, in which almost one third of respondents associate the term Muslim with a "negative image" (and only 2% with something positive). You can also see the entire survey here. I find something like this interesting because it raises such a host of related questions. The way Islam is portrayed in the Western media for example, which is almost always as violent or irrational. Not to say that Islam can't be very intolerant and isn't used to spread intolerance (Muslims should ask themselves why about half of the American respondents said "Islam oppresses women.") But I don't think it's the case with Islam more than with any other religion. I mean, when we talk about Islam as a violent religion, have we forgotten the Crusades? the Inquisition? Abortion clinic bombings? Also, the way all conflict in the Middle East is reduced to religion. The Palestinians happen to be Muslims, but the violence in the Occupied Territories has to do with nationalism, not religion. That goes for a lot of Arab countries, where the roots of violent action are more political/social/economic, and religious terminology is used to frame and give legitimacy to grievances. Finally, I think the current US administration bears a lot of responsibility for negative stereotypes about Muslims. Bush has made several disclaimers about how all Muslims are not terrorists. But if you want to be running a perpetual and amorphous war, and you want to drum up support for it, then you need a perpetual and amorphous enemy, and all the talk of "evil-doers" and "thugs" and "ideology of hate" has rendered the entire Middle East, in many Americans' minds, one large hotbed of fanatical, freedom-hating, inhuman terrorists. This is convenient.
Read More

State Department blues

Salon is running a particularly disturbing and very detailed opinion piece by a current State Department official. The piece chronicles ongoing attempts on the part of neo-cons to infiltrate the last bastion of the US government that might offer dissenting views on their unabandoned, destructive, pro-Likud plans to reshape the Middle East. The writer is understandably distressed at the prospect of the State Department being taken over after Powell's term by someone like Wolfowitz or Condoleezza Rice.
Read More