..CENTER FOR WAR, PEACE, AND THE NEWS MEDIA, February 15 - February 22, 2006
Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University





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Shiite demonstrators in Basra protest British treatment of captives after the release of a video showing beatings

Mounting Anger at Coalition Forces in Iraq
The British once told themselves they had a superior grasp of the art of occupation than did their American counterparts. Such boasting will be muted by the fury sparked by the emergence of a video shot by a British soldier showing some of his colleagues assaulting teenage captives in Basra. For months now, opinion polls had shown high levels of hostility among the city's Shiite population to the British presence. The broadcast of the video appears to have pushed that hostility to a new high, prompting the local council to break off all ties with the British forces, potentially making their continued presence in southern Iraq untenable.

But the British problem in Basra is only part of what may be a gathering storm of hostility. Iraqis have shared the anger of most of the Muslim world at the publication in Denmark of cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad -- some 5,000 Iraqi Kurds marched in protest in that most tranquil part of Iraq, while in the southern Shiite heartland there were calls for the 550 Danish troops serving with the coalition to be removed. Then, this week, an Australian TV network broadcast new images of torture and humiliation at Abu Ghraib, which are almost certain to spur a new wave of fury. Almost three years after the invasion, with the insurgency more confident, competent and active than ever and limited progress in implementing the Coalition exit strategy, the growing image crisis of Western forces in Iraq carries with it the danger of turning a decisive majority of Iraqis against their continued presence. (The Daily Telegraph, February 15, 2006).

  • The publication of a UN Human Rights Commission report describing treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo as torture and demanding the facility's closure will likely add to the growing image crisis facing the U.S. in Iraq and beyond. (BBC, February 11, 2006)
  • Tom Engelhardt warns that media coverage of exit strategies is obscuring the reality that the U.S. appears to be creating permanent bases in Iraq despite insisting that it has no such plans. Engelhardt shows that the "facts on the ground" of the gargantuan "super bases" being constructed to house U.S. forces as they begin to withdraw from some of the major urban areas suggest that the U.S. military is not going to be withdrawn from Iraq any time soon. (TomDispatch, February 15, 2006)
  • Engelhardt's suspicions appear to be confirmed by Oliver Poole, who notes that the fast food outlets, cinema and hip-hop dance nights, and the Hertz car rental offering bullet-proof vehicles suggest that the U.S is in Iraq to stay. (The Daily Telegraph, February 11, 2006)
  • The International Crisis Group analyzes the state of Iraq's insurgency, and concludes that it has grown in scale, strength and sophistication, and is showing little inclination to participate in the U.S.-nurtured political process. More important, says the ICG, in contrast with the attitude at its outset, the leaders of the insurgency are now confident of victory. (International Crisis Group, February 15, 2006)
  • The nomination of current Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari to a second term, despite fierce infighting within his own alliance, highlights the influence of radical, pro-Iran groups in Iraq's parliament, notes Robert F. Worth. Democracy in Iraq has not produced a government allied with U.S. goals in the region. (New York Times, February 13, 2006)
  • Nobel Economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz of current Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari to a second term, despite fierce infighting within his own alliance, estimate the Iraq war will eventually cost much as $2 trillion, and wonders whether democracy and stability could have been achieved at a fraction of that cost. (Daily Star, February 15, 2006)
  • Previously on Iraq: Iraq on a Downward Slide

    Is the U.S. Trying to Reverse the Palestinian Election?
    The New York Times reported earlier this week that the U.S. and Israel are planning to topple the Palestinian government by means of economic strangulation, believing that if funds are cut off the resulting turmoil would allow President Mahmoud Abbas to call new elections within six months that would be one by his own party. The Times did little to question the giddy neoconservative fantasy on which this proposition is based, i.e. that if the economic collective punishment is sufficiently harsh, that Palestinian voters will dutifully reverse the choice they made in January and instead vote for the party preferred by Israel and the U.S. It's unlikely, even, that the leadership with Fatah would go along with this imposed regime-change, never mind the Europeans and Arab states to which Hamas will look for funding. They are more likely to tie continued support for the Palestinian Authority to good behavior on the part of Hamas, making clear that the organization will be severely punished if it does not act responsibly.

    The State Department quickly rushed to correct the initial Times report, insisting it has no plan to topple the Palestinian government. Nonetheless, the U.S. is unlikely, simply by dint of its own laws, to continue funding the PA once Hamas is in government. Hamas, for its part, does not appear unduly troubled by these threats. It has indicated that it will abide by existing treaties with the Israelis, and its talk of long-term truces suggests the movement's leadership is already acting on the basis of a de facto recognition of Israel even if de jure recognition remains unlikely for the foreseeable future. Hamas is even attempting to employ the legalistic ruse of saying that the issue of recognition doesn't arise, because the PLO recognized Israel a decade ago when it entered the Oslo Agreements, and that the PLO will continue to handle negotiations with Israel. Hamas will surely calculate that if it lives by the basic demands for coexistence from potential European and Arab patrons, the U.S. and Israel will find themselves isolated if they continue to pursue the regime-change option. (New York Times, February 14, 2006)

  • Danny Rubinstein argues that Hamas is shifting towards a pragmatic coexistence with Israel, and its will likely satisfy most of the international community. Moreover, he notes, the movement looks likely to succeed in its goal of creating a government of national unity, which includes representatives of Fatah, suggesting that the notion of turning Fatah into an aggressive opposition is unlikely to fly. (Haaretz, February 13, 2006)
  • The Israeli government currently insists it will have nothing to do with a Palestinian government headed by Hamas. But, Haaretz notes, the current Israeli government statements must be read against the backdrop of an Israeli election next month in which the question of how to respond to Hamas is the major campaign issue. (Haaretz, February 14, 2006)
  • Hassan Nafaa dismisses the call for Hamas to recognize Israel simply in order that Israel will be willing to negotiate with Hamas -- it's not as if Palestinian goals were achieved by Israel negotiating with Fatah, he writes. Instead, the conflict must be resolved on a legal basis with reference to the relevant UN resolutions, to which all parties should be bound.(Al-Ahram, February 9-15, 2006)
  • Previously on the Hamas victory: Hamas Sets Out its Peace Terms
  • Iran: Dangers of a Military Option
    As Iran upped the ante in its confrontation with the West over its nuclear program, discussion in much of the U.S. media turned to the question of a military option for dealing with Tehran. Most of the discussion accepts as its starting point that a full-blown invasion and occupation of a country three times the size of Iraq is beyond the capabilities of the U.S. military, and that allies would be even fewer than the limited number that joined the U.S. in Iraq. Instead, the talk is of a "surgical strike" that uses air power to eliminate the facilities that would give Iran the ability to manufacture nuclear fuel. The model, in such discussion, is the 1991 Israeli air strike that eliminated Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak. But while the likes of Dick Cheney like to cite this action as having averted a major threat to the West, the countervailing view is that, in fact, the Osirak strike drove the Iraqi program underground, and the U.S. and its allies discovered after their 1991 Gulf War victory that Baghdad had been far closer than anyone had suspected to being able to manufacture nuclear weapons.

    Suffice to say that the Iranian program will have been premised on the expectation of an Osirak-type strike, which is why Iran's facilities are dispersed, hardened, and possibly include redundancies -- second facilities built for the contingency that the first facility performing a particular function is destroyed. Under those circumstances, argues Charles D. Ferguson II, the U.S. and allies would do better to learn the lessons of the 1998 Operation Desert Fox launched by the U.S. and Britain against Iraq after UN weapons inspectors were blocked: "An all-out military attack against Iran is out of the question because American forces are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan," Ferguson writes. "A limited US surgical strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would bring down international censure on the United States. While the Bush administration may be prepared to weather that storm, the far more dangerous consequence is that military action could stimulate a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tehran may not have crossed the nuclear Rubicon with a political decision to make nuclear weapons. But a US attack would undoubtedly convince Iran's leaders to take that momentous step and would prevent International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from having access to Iran's nuclear program." (Council on Foreign Relations, February 14, 2006)

  • Military action against Iran may be tactically and strategically difficult, but politically it may be less so. Jim Lobe reports that opinion polls show that almost half of the U.S. population are ready to support military action against Iran should diplomacy fail to deter its nuclear ambitions. And that despite the fact that a majority of them are unhappy about continued engagement in Iraq. (Inter Press Service, February 9, 2006)
  • Most discussion on the question of a "surgical strike" assumes it would be Israel, rather than the U.S., that would mount such a strike. The option is certainly under discussion in Israel, and Vice President Cheney has previously indicated that such a scenario could be plausible. But the recent statement by President Bush in a Reuters interview that the U.S. would rise to Israel's defense in response to aggression from Iran raised many eyebrows, marking the first time the U.S. has included the Jewish State under a protective umbrella. The real import of that announcement, suggests Dan Williams, may have been to extend a guarantee that, at the same time, limits Israel's options for launching a preemptive assault on Iran. (International Institute for Strategic Studies, February 9, 2006)
  • The distinction drawn by President Bush between the people of Iran and their leaders on the nuclear issue is wishful thinking -- the government's defiance of the West has struck a chord with nationalist-minded Iranians across the political spectrum. Mehdi Khalaji warns that the West faces major obstacles in explaining to Iranian civil society why it has a problem with Iran pursuing uranium enrichment. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 10, 2006)
  • Washington is nonetheless pressing ahead on a familiar track by asking Congress for $75 million in funding for anti-regime Iranian groups in the hope of promoting its overthrow. The proposal harkens to the $200 million allocated during the 1990s to Iraqi opposition groups. But the fact that such money is usually allocated largely to exile groups of dubious standing at home tends make them at best, ineffective, and at worst they actually play into the hands of the regime in a fiercely nationalist country. (San Jose Mercury News, February 16, 2006)
  • Ramin Jahanbegloo of the Department for Contemporary Studies at the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran warns that no political leader in Iran is able to back down on the country's nuclear demands, and suggests that the regime believes the West's limited options make defiance a viable option. (Daily Star, February 15, 2006)
  • Dan Badger argues that the best way to stop Iran building nuclear weapons may be to help it build a civilian nuclear energy program, because that would keep Tehran's nuclear activities under Western scrutiny. (Foreign Policy, February 14, 2006)
  • Previously on Iran: Iran Raises the Stakes

    Pakistan: Myth of an Islamist Peril
    As many as five Pakistanis have been killed in a week of clashes sparked by various European newspapers publishing cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad, and those protests have quickly targeted a wider range of grievances, particularly with the U.S. Still, according to the argument of Frederic Grare, such events may play into the hands of Pakistan's military regime, which, he says, maintains the "myth" of the risk of an Islamist takeover to consolidate its own hold power. "Religious political parties and militant organizations are manipulated by the Pakistani Army to achieve its own objectives, domestically and abroad," he argues. "The army, not the Islamists, is the real source of insecurity on the subcontinent. Sustainable security and stability in the region will be achieved only through the restoration of democracy in Pakistan." (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February, 2006)

  • Syed Saleem Shahzad concurs that the free rein given to the protesters in Pakistan suggests that the protests are being stoked ahead of the visit of President George Bush next month, when they will be used to show the indispensability of military rule. The problem, says Shahzad, that having allowed these sentiments to be unleashed, the regime may not easily contain them. (Asia Times, February 15, 2006)
  • In an interview with Egypt's Al-Ahram, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen attributes the cartoon debacle to a cultural misunderstanding. "Danes are deeply saddened by the fact that an event in Denmark has caused this kind of distress among Muslims all over the world," he says, adding that the editor of the paper that originally published them would not have done so had he known the damage they would cause. The fact that he didn't was a sign of the cultural difference that created the furor in the first place. (Al Ahram February 10-15, 2006)
  • Baradan Kuppusamy reports from a conference in Malaysia that the cartoon anger is driven more by the U.S. war on terror than by satirical drawing of the Prophet Muhammad. (Inter Press Service, February 13, 2006)
  • Yassin Musharbash visits the campus of Al-Azhar university, often touted as the most influential Sunni Muslim center of learning in the world, and finds it surprisingly oblivious to the wave of outrage sparked by the Danish cartoons. (Der Spiegel, February 14, 2006)
  • Previously on the Cartoon Crisis: Caricature 'Clash of Civilizations'

  • Turkish U.S.-bashing movie 'Valley of the Wolves: Iraq' has drawn record crowds

    Where the Bad Guys are American
    It's not likely to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but the runaway success of the Turkish movie "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq" is a sign that local filmmakers have figured out a way to make pots of money out of the simultaneous loathing of American foreign policy and love of its action movies: Cast Americans as the bad guys in Rambo-style shoot-em-ups.

    On its website, which offers explanations, images and a trailer, the film is explained as a Rambo-style revenge fantasy in which a group of Turkish Special Forces soldiers head into Iraq to avenge some of their comrades who've fallen foul of U.S. forces and end up championing the stolen honor of the Iraqi people. The movie's popularity resonates with attitudes in the Turkish mainstream: The Prime Minister and his wife have seen the movie and recommended it to others, the first lady calling it "a beautiful film."

    And given the popularity of American action movies, the fact that the genre is now being turned against U.S. foreign policy represents a far more serious challenge than the droning video sermons of Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

    Nor does "Valley of the Wolves" have the genre all to itself. Over in Cairo, record crowds are turning out to see The Night Baghdad Fell, a vicious satire in which Egypt is conquered by an invading U.S. army. In the socially conservative Egyptian cultural landscape, the film's depiction of the fantasy of one of its main characters having sex with Secretary of State Condolleeza Rice, who is portrayed as a belly dancer, is no doubt contributing to its salacious appeal. (Knight-Ridder, February 14, 2006 and Al-Jazeera, January 10, 2006)

    The object of slander: Iran's national soccer team

    The Next Cartoon War?
    Even as people continue to die in protests sparked by the Prophet Muhammad caricatures, a German newspaper decided to open a second front by publishing a cartoon depicting Iran's national soccer team -- due to compete in Germany in the World Cup finals in June -- as suicide bombers. Iran immediately announced formal protests, and demanded an apology. Keep a watching brief on this one, which has the potential to merge the passions of the current cartoon war with the nationalist soccer passion of the Iranians in a volatile political cocktail. (The Guardian, February 15, 2006)

    Kim Jong Il visits China

    China and North Korea: Comrades Forever?
    U.S. strategy for dealing with the challenge of North Korea's nuclear weapons program is premised largely on the willingness and ability of China to hold Pyongyang's feet to the fire, using its status as North Korea's major trading partner to deliver good behavior. But, warns the International Crisis Group, China's position vis-a-vis North Korea is often misunderstood in Washington.

    "China's influence on North Korea is more than it is willing to admit but far less than outsiders tend to believe," the ICG writes. "Although it shares the international community's denuclearisation goal, it has its own concept of how to achieve it. It will not tolerate erratic and dangerous behaviour if it poses a risk of conflict but neither will it endorse or implement policies that it believes will create instability or threaten its influence in both Pyongyang and Seoul."

    China's priorities with regard to North Korea are not the same as Washington's. They include maintaining economic and social stability, preventing the U.S. from dominating a united Korea, and using its role in mediating the standoff to enhance its diplomatic prestige, while avoiding triggering a regional arms race. Although its almost $2 billion in trade and investment is the lifeblood of North Korea's economy, "there is virtually no circumstance under which China would use it to force North Korea's compliance on the nuclear issue." It fears that sanctions would do more harm than good, and also set a precedent that could prove uncomfortable for Beijing on other fronts. Its fear of a flood of refugees crossing the border also gives it a greater stake in maintaining the status quo on the Korean peninsula, or altering it very gradually through market reforms.

    "Although it cannot deliver a rapid end to Pyongyang's weapons program, China must still be an integral component of any strategy with a chance of reducing the threat of a nuclear North Korea," the ICG writes. "No other country has the interest and political position in North Korea to facilitate and mediate negotiations. It is also the key to preventing transfers of the North's nuclear materials and other illicit goods, although its ability to do this is limited by logistical and intelligence weaknesses, and unwillingness to curb border trade. Over the long-term, Chinese economic interaction with the North may be the best hope for sparking deeper systemic reform and liberalisation there." (International Crisis Group, January 31, 2006)

    Quadrennial Defense Review

    Reshaping the Military
    The Pentagon has released its Quadrennial Defense Review, which sets combating terrorism as a major long-term focus. The Project for Defense Alternatives offers an ongoing assessment of the discussion around the QDR, which appears to scale back Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's plans for overhauling the military, focusing instead on more familiar patterns of deployment and action that have proven effective in recent years. (Project for Defense Alternatives, February 2006)

  • Dr. Cindy Williams argues that America's best defense against the prospect of new terrorist attacks in the long run is to increase spending on conflict-avoidance strategies, including non-military foreign aid, focusing assistance on states in danger of failing, expanding the State Department's diplomatic corps and placing more emphasis on conflict prevention strategies than on war fighting.
  • Carl Conetta parses the QDR and finds that it leaves us mostly in the dark over the Pentagon's intentions, although it makes clear that they will cost $2.5 trillion.
  • Winslow Wheeler argues in a time of war and when certain critical elements of the defense budget require steadfast support and straightforward justification, today’s Pentagon leadership gives the nation mismatches between rhetoric and realities and a focus on budget gimmicks.
  • Larry Korb sees in the QDR a colossal failure to learn the lessons of the last four years.

  • U.S. Central Command's website and Newsletter
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