Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University





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U.S. Ambassador John Bolton at the UN Security Council

Iran: Regime Change or Normalization?
Now that the U.S. and its European allies have succeeded in getting Iran referred to the UN Security Council for discussion of its nuclear program, they face a classic dilemma: The incentives on offer to Tehran right now don't appear sufficient to persuade it to accept IAEA demands to refrain from uranium enrichment; but the Western powers appear unable to muster sufficient disincentives to produce the same effect. Russia and China see the Security Council referral as likely to harden positions on both sides and narrow the space for finding a diplomatic solution, and as a result they want the matter taken out of the Council's hands and referred back to the IAEA with the backing of a Security Council expression of concern. But the U.S. and the EU 3 want the Council to hold onto the dossier and set Iran a short deadline for compliance, with the threat of further action to follow. The problem is that further action is precisely what China and Russia want to avoid, Beijing having made clear that it cannot tolerate any option that puts additional pressure on world oil markets.

The diplomatic deadlock won't especially trouble those in the Bush administration who favor a policy of regime-change in Iran -- and according the Washington Post, they are now in the ascendant in shaping Administration policy towards Tehran. Thus the strangely mixed messages of recent weeks -- President Bush insisting that he wants a diplomatic solution, but reminding journalists that Iran is part of his "Axis of Evil"; Secretary of State Rice calling Iran the "central banker of terror" while urging it to do the right thing; Defense Secretary Rumsfeld accusing Iran of stirring up trouble in Iraq at the same time as Washington and Tehran move towards holding talks on their common interests in Iraq. For the hawks, the diplomatic process was expected to fail, proving the intractability of the problem and the need for regime-change. But there is negligible support for a regime-change strategy in the international community, and the extent to which there is suspicion that this motive is driving the West's handling of the crisis, the diplomatic deadlock is likely to continue.

Jon Wolfsthal suggests that even a diplomatic united front is unlikely to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. The only thing that might, he argues, is a political incentive, noting that "the geo-strategic situation seems to be on Iran’s side" because of its share of oil markets and because of the limits on U.S. military power right now as a result of Iraq and other commitments. Iran, in the absence of an effective stick, a suitable carrot is required: "While not a democracy, Iran is still a highly political country and any viable solution to the standoff must include some way for decisionmakers in Iran to justify their decision publicly," says Wolfsthal. "To be sure, it would be preferred if the United States could find a solution that would both end Iran’s nuclear ambitions and weaken the regime, but such a compromise is unlikely to emerge unless the international landscape changes significantly.” Indeed, rather than regime-change, normalization of relations with Tehran may offer a more prospect of resolving the nuclear issue. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 9, 2006)
AUDIOClick here to hear Wolfsthal discuss options for dealing with Iran on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, along with fellow guests Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Charles Pena of the Cato Institute.

  • John Chipman explains that the diplomatic priority on Iran is preventing any uranium enrichment from occuring there. Although Iran is 5-10 years away from being in a position to build a bomb, allowing enrichment experiments will put the technical knowhow within its hands in a matter of months, if it is allowed to master the technique of enrichment by cascade of centrifuges. He suggests graduated diplomatic responses proportionate to Iran’s infractions of IAEA demands, eventually designed to make the cost of matering enrichment techonology prohibitive to Tehran. (Financial Times via IISS, March 15, 2006)
  • Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw this week set out a program for engagement with Iranian society at all levels, markedly different from the regime-change agenda of the Bush administration hawks. Straw ruled out military action against Iran, and stressed a cautious buildup of diplomatic pressure on the nuclear issue at the Security Council, always leaving the door open for negotiation and retreat. He expressed support for the Arab position that Iran's nuclear ambitions must be addressed as part of a drive for a nuclear-free Middle East, and waxed nostalgic for the opening to the West represented by the reformist government of of former President Mohammed Khatami, stressing that political change was in the hands of Iranians and could not be pushed from outside. As part of his call for Western engagement with Iranian society at all levels, he urged a normalization of relations with Tehran(Financial Times via IISS, March 13, 2006)
    VIDEO: Click here for Jack Straw's Q&A session, which draws out the significance of some of his positions.
  • Israel's security is front and center of the Bush Administration's case for restraining Iran from building nuclear weapons. But the Israelis clearly have assessed the issue through the prism of their own interests. Former IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe Yaalon briefed the Hudson Institute on the mechanics of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. . But he also offered advice on how to push back against Iran's geopolitical ambitions -- by rewarding Israel's own: "The international community could undermine Iran’s perception of victory by supporting political benefits for Israel and exacting prices for continued Palestinian cooperation with Iran," he said. "The international community could, for example, recognize Israeli positions on a number of issues relevant to future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, including the right of return, refugees, Jerusalem, the Jordan valley, settlement blocks, and the 'safe passage' between the West Bank and Gaza." Making the Palestinians pay the price for Iran's nuclear program, in other words. (Washington Institute for Near East Affairs, March 7, 2006)
  • Tony Karon suggests that U.S.-Iran talks on Iraq could improve the hostile atmosphere clouding the nuclear issue. "The premise of direct talks is each side's recognition that the other has a legitimate (or, least, unavoidable) interest and role in shaping events in Iraq — and that the interests of both sides can be better served by coordinating their interventions. And in light of the mounting sectarian political tension, each side has good reason to establish channels of communication for crisis management." If they manage to agree to cooperate in Iraq, they will have achieved a historic breakthrough and also opened a pattern of communication that involves neither side appearing to back down in the face of the other's hard line. (TIME, March 17, 2006)
  • Trita Parsi reports on the complex interaction between Iran and Israel over the past decade, noting that Khatami had actually offered talks with Israel over achieving a modus vivendi based on Iran adopting a "Malaysian profile" -- not recognizing Israel and occasionally criticizing it, but refraining from acting or supporting any action against the Jewish State. Although the tides of politics on both sides have shifted against such back-channel engagement, Parsi reports that Iran's foreign policy chief, Ali Larijani, is believed to still favor that approach even as President Ahmedinajad calls for Israel's destruction. (Forward, March 16, 2006)
  • The Christian Science Monitor invited four experts to share their views on the Iran nuclear standoff, and the consensus was that subtler and more imaginative diplomacy is required, because the path of confrontation is unlikely to prevent Iran going nuclear. (Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 2006)
  • Background Material on Iran
  • The Center for Defense Information has posted extracts from the IAEA report on Iran which is to be discussed by the Security Council. (CDI, March 6, 2006)
  • The International Crisis Group sees two possible diplomatic solutions to prevent a breakdown from which Iran would quite likely emerge nuclear-armed. The first is that Iran would agree to refrain entirely from enriching uranium on its own soil, but for that to happen, warns the ICG, the U.S. would have to offer a far greater political incentive than is currently on the table. If the U.S. is unlikely in the near term to offer full recognition and rehabilitation of the regime in Tehran, the only other plausible outcome is for the West to back down on the principle of Iranian enrichment but in exchange for Iran agreeing to delay its onset by a number of years and submit to a far more intrusive inspection regime. As imperfect as this solution would be to all sides, the alternative is worse, the ICG argues. (International Crisis Group, February 28, 2006)
  • George Perkovich warns that proposals allowing limited enrichment in Iran simply defer a confrontation and make it more difficult to rein in what will then be a fait accompli in Iran. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 7, 2006)
  • In an interview with TIME's Scott MacLeod, Iran's top nuclear negotiator suggests his regime remains open to a deal, even direct talks with the U.S.. But they would not be willing to be "harangued" by President Bush, and they insist that their right to uranium enrichment be recognized. (TIME, March 1, 2006)
  • As in the case of North Korea, China's position may prove to be the critical influence on how the Iran standoff plays out. Dingli Shen suggests Beijing is caught in the dilemma of balancing its emerging status as a global diplomatic power, maintaing stqability and the nuclear status quo, and protecting Iran's sovereign right to civilian nuclear program and China's bilateral energy relationship with Tehran. Beijing's view is that Iran must account for its nuclear past under NPT commitment before it can demand full cycle rights under the treaty. Of course if it withdrew from the treaty, it could legally puruse both energy and weapons. Beijing's own concerns militate against support for a strategy of confrontation by either side. (Washington Quarterly, Spring 2006) 2006)
  • Stephen Sestanovich assesses the Russian posture on Iran, parsing its likely course against the backdrop of the current geopolitical posture of President Putin. (Council on Foreign Relations, March 3, 2006)
  • Previously on Iran:
    -- Nuclear Standoff Escalates

    -- Dangers of a Military Option
    -- Tehran Raises the Stakes
  • What is Left of Iraq?
    Much of the media is marking the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq with questions about whether the war was worth it; reflections on the many failures the U.S. has confronted and the perils facing efforts to establish a new government of national unity. President Bush, mindful of the level of U.S. public support for the war effort being at an all-time low, is back on the campaign trail, painting a picture of progress despite setbacks, guided by the objective of transferring security control to Iraqi forces. And the U.S. military appears to be playing ball, mounting an expansive counterinsurgency policing operation, touted as the largest airborne assault since the invasion, in which hundreds of Iraqi commandoes were landed around three villages north of Samarra -- but it quickly became clear, in the absence of any significant engagements there, that the whole exercise may have been designed primarily to send a message back home that U.S. forces are enabling Iraqis to to take the fight to the enemy.

    Although Iraq is supposedly once again a sovereign entity running its own affairs, Michael Schwartz questions the extent of its sovereignty. Iraq currently has no government because electoral rules bequeathed by the U.S. and the largely ethnic- and sectarian basis on which Iraqis have voted in two elections has thus far precluded the creation of one. Even more importantly, it has no national army capable of defending the country's borders -- the Iraqi forces built by the U.S. have no air capability, very little armor or heavy weaponry, and are largely capable of operating only to the extent that they are integrated with U.S. forces, under whose command they continue to fall. And the current plans for developing these forces envisages such a dependence on the presence of U.S. forces for the foreseeable future. And in instances where paramilitary police forces are, in fact, answerable to Iraqi authorities, these forces are often simply uniformed versions of ethnic and sectarian militias, whose loyalties are not to the new state but to old political factions.

    The central government in Iraq is so weak that without the presence of foreign troops, real power would devolve quickly into armed ethnic and sectarian fiefdoms. Central government writ hardly applies in the Kurdish north, where the crypto-separatist regional government is already negotiating its own oil exploration deals with foreign companies, nor in large parts of the south where Shiite militias hold sway. In this sense, the breakup of Iraq has already begun. In the Sunni heartland in central Iraq, Schwartz notes that the dominant political force is the nationalist insurgency and the political parties broadly aligned with it. The only question is whether a governing entity will be established capable of pulling it back together. And the indicators, thus far, are not good.

    The U.S. has put itself at the fulcrum of three sets of negotiations, all of which are central the prospects of stabilizing Iraq: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is holding the ring among the rival parliamentary factions, pressing them to achieve consensus over a unity government, but he is also overseeing talks with what he calls "the resistance" (an extraordinary linguistic turnaround for a representative of an Administration that had denounced all anti-U.S. violence in Iraq as the work of remnants of a discredited dictatorship and foreign terrorists) and now looks set to hold talks on the situation in Iraq with representatives of Iran. This is a wise and prudent policy, of course, if the situation is to be stabilized. But it also tell how little sovereign power the government being created as a result of the December elections will have. Three years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq remains very much a U.S. protectorate, and right now still looks more like a failed state than a beacon to the region of the promise of democracy. (TomDispatch.com)

  • Warren P. Strobel and Hanna Allam note that by every measure of possible U.S. objectives in invading Iraq from promoting democracy to fighting terrorism, promoting stability and intimidating hostile regimes to improving the flow of oil, the region is now worse off than it was before the invasion. (Knight-Ridder, March 18, 2006)
  • Brian Bennett and Al Jallam report on a major U.S.-led counterinsurgency offensive that coincided with the anniversary, but captured more headlines than insurgents. Indeed, cynics suggested that the whole operation was driven by the concern to demonstrate to a domestic audience in the U.S. that Iraqi forces were taking the fight to the enemy. (TIME, March 17, 2006)
  • The New York Times reports on a surprising turn in a conflict usually covered strictly along ethnic lines -- the Kurdish population of Halabja has turned violently against the nationalist leadership that represents them in Baghdad. So deep was their anger over the allocation of resources that they trashed and burned a shrine to the victims of Saddam Hussein's notorious gas attack on the town. (New York Times, March 17, 2006)
  • Stephen Biddle argues in Foreign Affairs that the U.S. is fighting the wrong war in Iraq -- its tactics are those designed to combat a Maoist "people's war," as in Vietnam, where Iraq is now a low intensity civil war. U.S. tactics therefore should be based on balancing the interests of the combatants, creating incentives for good behavior and sanctions for acting badly. (Foreign Affairs, March-April, 2006)
    AUDIO: Click here to listen to Hilterman and Biddle discussing America’s options and the likely outcome in Iraq on Christopher Lydon’s NPR program Open Source.
  • Richard Haass makes the case that invading Iraq has weakened the geopolitical position of the U.S. It has absorbed so much of America's military capability that it has not only restricted the availability of force that could be projected elsewhere, but also the deterrent power and diplomatic leverage that comes from the perception of U.S. power that has now been diminished. Economically, it has sapped the U.S. fiscus and clouded the financial outlook, and diplomatically it has alienated the U.S. from many traditional allies and diminished U.S. leadership -- it has become far easier and more commonplace for allies to simply say no to Washington. (Foreign Affairs, March16, 2006)
  • Nir Rosen, whose reporting from inside Fallujah was some of the best early coverage of Iraq’s insurgency, explains to Foreign Policy magazine why "leaving Iraq is the best option for the U.S., why Moktada al-Sadr is the only man who can keep Iraq together, and why Iran and the United States are natural allies." (Foreign Policy, March16, 2006)
  • Background on Iraq:
  • The Project on Defense Alternatives compiles an exhaustive bibliography of online reports and studies on the Iraq insurgency. (Project on Defense Alternatives, March 2006)
  • So what was Saddam thinking in the run-up to the war? Kevin Woods, James Lacey, and Williamson Murray share the findings of their book-length intelligence study for the U.S. military. (Foreign Affairs, May-June, 2006)
  • Previously on Iraq:
    -- Civil War and the Region

    -- Is Sadr the Key to Avoiding Civil War?
    -- Mounting Anger at Coalition Forces in Iraq

    Jericho Raid Humiliates Abbas
    Israel's raid last week on a Palestinian prison in Jericho to arrest a number of prisoners held there under the watch of U.S.-British monitors may have played well with the Israeli electorate, but it could prove to be the final nail in the political coffin on President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas inherited the deal imprisoning the men from Yasser Arafat, but with one of them elected to the Palestinian Legislature, it had become increasingly untenable. And Hamas had indicated it would free the men since they had not been found guilty of any crime in any court. That prompted Abbas to indicate he might do the same, and then when U.S. and British monitors left, citing concerns for their own safety, Israel pounced.
    The resulting humiliation of the Palestinian Authority -- as epitomized by images of Palestinian policemen fleeing the prison in their underwear -- further erodes Abbas's standing, and burnishes the image of Hamas as the redeemer of Palestinian dignity.

    U.S.-Israeli schemes to undermine Hamas by restricting funds to the PA are premised on the idea that if Hamas can be "helped" to fail, the Palestinian electorate will restore Fatah to power at the earliest opportunity. But the Jericho humiliation of Abbas in the eyes of Palestinians was a potent reminder of why that may be wishful thinking. (TIME, March 16, 2003)

  • The Palestine Media Center reports that the Fatah leadership was so incensed by Jericho that they urged Abbas to resign and dissolve the PA, turning over responsibility for the West Bank and Gaza back to Israel. Hamas, of course, suggested that would be a bad idea. (Palestine Media Center, March 17, 2006)
  • Graham Usher notes that Palestinians see the Jericho raid as evidence of the bad faith of Britain and the U.S. as mediators, suggesting it has diminished their potential to act as mediators in the conflict. (Al Ahram, March 16-22, 2006)
  • Previously on the Hamas victory:
    --Hamas and Israel: An Unspoken Peace?

    --Rice Fails to Secure Hamas Blockade
    -- Is the U.S. Trying to Reverse the Palestinian Election?

    U.S. and India Rewrite the Nuclear Rules
    The historic deal announced in New Delhi Thursday, under which India will be allowed access to U.S. nuclear technology and fuel in exchange for subjecting the non-military part of its nuclear program -- 14 of its 22 facilities -- to international inspection has been greeted by some, including International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei, as a visionary breakthrough that will strengthen non-proliferation efforts on the basis of contemporary realities. Others, including a number of legislators on Capitol Hill, decry it as a tragic end-run around the NPT that sends the worst possible message to Iran, North Korea and other potential nuclear aspirants: That the best way to win acceptance as a nuclear nation is to simply go ahead and build and test weapons, show an intent to manage them responsibly and then wait for the international community to make its peace with the new reality.

    Iran lost no time in pointing to the hypocrisy of agreeing to supply fuel and technology to a state that stayed out of the NPT and used its nuclear energy program to build nuclear weapons, while denying the rights of an NPT signatory that has undertaken to refrain from building weapons (itself). Asked by U.S. journalists how he rationalized the decision in light of questions over the likes of Iran, President Bush said simply it was a question of "leadership." Advocates of the deal are certainly correct that India's nukes are an intractable reality, and that having them belatedly join the NPT on their own terms is better than nothing. To be sure, the NPT itself is under existential strain in a world where its basic premise -- not only that those without nuclear weapons would refrain from pursuing them, but also that those who have them would negotiate them away -- is widely ignored. But the India deal also makes it increasingly difficult to make the case that restraining Iran is a matter of enforcing universally accepted rules rather than singling out a regime in conflict with the West. Those in the Iranian leadership who may be inclined to press ahead with a nuclear weapons program may well be quietly joining in the celebrations of the U.S.-India deal. (The Times, March 3, 2006)

  • George Perkovich parses the terms of the India-U.S. nuclear deal and finds them wanting, but also acknowledges the breakthrough they represent: “U.S. and Indian leaders have, in their boldness, identified premises that must be questioned and policies that should be rethought in both bilateral relations and in the international non-proliferation regime.” Still, he says, the deal was done with little public discussion, and there is considerable room for improvement. (Carnegie Endowment, February 2006)
  • Randeep Ramesh suggests the real motivation behind the nuclear deal is to rein in an independent nuclear power that had managed to master the technical complexities of the reprocessing cycle all the way to being able to assemble a bomb. In response, the U.S. is trying to ensnare India in a series of rules designed to benefit Washington. (Guardian, March 3 2006)
  • The New York Times reports that members of both parties on Capitol Hill are concerned about the timing of the deal and the message sent to Iran and North Korea, while some arms-control experts suggest India got everything it could have asked for on its weapons program. (New York Times, March 3 2006)
  • Ron Hutcheson and Jonathan S. Landay report on congressional skepticism over the India nuclear deal. They also note that Pakistan has asked for a similar deal and been rebuffed because it is "not in the same place as India." A true enough political, economic and strategic assessment, but one that will fuel the fires of those claiming that the non-proliferation regime is being rewritten on the basis of political preferences. (Knight-Ridder, March 3 2006)
  • Claude Arpi suggests that the strategic rationale for the U.S. giving India a generous nuclear deal is Washington's belief that New Delhi will be an essential counterweight to Beijing. (Rediff.com, March 1 2006)
  • Parties on the Left in India, including some in the ruling coalition, were skeptical of the deal. Amit Baruah argues in the Hindu that India’s strategic options are expanding with its rising power, but that these options will be limited if India allies too closely with the U.S. (The Hindu, March 1, 2003)
  • New Delhi's Insistute for Peace and Conflict Studies offers a comprehensive discussion of India's strategic nuclear doctrine of credible minimum deterrence and its implications for the country's nuclear arsenal. (ICPS, February 2006)
  • Does Musharraf Need Bin Laden?
    There's something almost surreal about the fact that almost five years after 9/11, President Bush is heading for Pakistan -- knowing that it's the country where Osama bin Laden is based. The bizarre state of relations between the Bush administration and Islamabad was further underscored in a press conference shortly before his departure, where an Indian journalist asked why the U.S. had never questioned A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who had operated a veritable supermarket for rogue regimes looking to acquire strategic weapons. Bush replied: "Well, we were the nation that exposed the conspiracy to deal with — more than the conspiracy, the activities, let me rephrase that — we were the nation that exposed the activities of sharing technologies, sensitive technologies, nuclear weapons-related technologies. And we, of course, want to know as much about the A.Q. Khan network as possible. But had it not been for US intelligence, coupled with British intelligence, this network never would have been exposed. And the light of day helps understand proliferation." Indeed, or put more succinctly, Pakistan has refused U.S. requests to interview Khan.

    Shortly before Bush's arrival, the Pakistani security forces mounted a raid on a purported Qaeda cell operating in Waziristan, and claimed to have killed dozens of fighters -- the announcement of such successes shortly before Musharraf is due to meet top U.S. officials has become a familiar pattern. But they do serve to remind that the fact of Osama bin Laden lurking in the wilds of Waziristan gives Musharraf a free pass with Washington on everything from his military rule through A.Q. Khan. It's difficult not to wonder how difficult life might get for Musharraf if Bin Laden were ever caught or killed. But regardless of the fate of the Qaeda leader, the mounting tide of protest against his regime by both Islamists and the traditional secular opposition who claim he uses the 'Islamist Peril' to justify suppressing democratic opposition, as well as a secessionist rebellion in Baluchistan and ongoing hostility in Waziristan, suggests that the Musharraf regime may be fast becoming untenable. (TIME, March 1, 2006)

  • Paula Newberg suggests Musharraf's efforts to portray himself as the custodian of democracy in the face of extremism are mocked by his actions against the democratic opposition. The Bush administration should press Musharraf to move back towards freely elected government, she argues, because the crisis building in Pakistan as wider sections of the society turn against Musharraf will hurt U.S. interests. (Yale Global, March 1, 2006)
  • Simon Tisdall warns that Musharraf is now politically weaker than at any point since he seized power in 1999, and that the Islamists have never been stronger. But, he says, Bush is unlikely to heed advice to balance his ties with the general by engaging in contacts with democratic opposition groups, and pressing for greater democracy. (The Guardian, March 1, 2006)
  • Husain Haqqani explores the history of the relationship between Pakistan’s military establishment and the country’s radical Islamists, and finds the latter playing an integral role in realizing the vision of the military establishment that has ruled the country, brief democratic interludes notwithstanding, since independence. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2006)
  • Previously on Pakistan: Myth of an 'Islamist Peril'

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    A bloodied camera lies on a carpet at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel after it was struck by U.S. fire

    Green Zone Journalism
    To mark the third anniversary of the Iraq war, Orville Schell went to Baghdad to chronicle the state of media coverage of the conflict, and the lives of the journalists tasked with getting the story in the face of mounting obstacles. Extracts:
    As Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times explained, "Squeezing off a few rounds of automatic weapons fire here in Baghdad is the equivalent of honking your horn in America." So unless an explosion is quite close, people hardly break step. At most, if there is a particularly loud report, a journalist might go up onto his bureau's rooftop to see where the smoke is coming from.

    There is undeniably a Blade Runner-like feel to this city. The violence is so pervasive and unfathomable that you wonder what people think they are dying for. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the everyday violence is horrendous, it does not take too many days before the deadly noises and the devastation everywhere seem to become just part of the ordinary landscape. Soon, quite to your surprise, you find yourself paying hardly more attention to the sounds of gunshots than a New Yorker does to the car alarms that go off every night... until, that is, someone you know, a neighbor, or just someone you have heard about, gets blown up, shot on patrol, or kidnapped by insurgents….

    Visiting any of the news bureaus gives an immediate sense of how embattled foreign journalists now are and how difficult it has become for them to do their jobs. Everyone I spoke to complained that the deteriorating security situation has increasingly made them prisoners of their bureaus.

    "We could go almost anywhere in Iraq in a regular car, unprotected," wrote the Wall Street Journal correspondent Farnaz Fassihi this February, in a wistful front-page story for her paper about the situation she found when she first arrived in 2003. "I wore Western clothes -- pants and T-shirts, skirts, sandals -- walked freely around Baghdad chatting with shopkeepers and having lunch or dinner with people I met." By the spring of 2004, she writes, "the insurgency had been spreading and gaining strength faster than we had imagined possible. For the first time, I hired armed guards and began traveling in a fully armored car. Outings were measured and limited and road trips were few and far between... As security deteriorated around the country, the areas in which we could safely operate shrank."….

    Foreign news bureaus are either in or near the few operating hotels such as the Al Hamra, the Rashid, or the Palestine. Like battleships that have been badly damaged but are still at sea, these hotels have survived repeated bomb attacks and yet have managed to stay open. A few hotels like the Rashid, where once there was a mosaic depicting George Bush Sr. on the floor of the lobby, are sheltered within the Green Zone. A few other bureaus have their own houses, usually somewhat shabby villas that have the advantage of being included inside some collective defense perimeter that makes the resulting neighborhood feel like a walled medieval town….

    I had arrived here in Baghdad naively expecting that as an antidote to their isolation from Iraqi society, journalists might have kept up something of a fraternity among themselves. What I discovered was that even the most basic social interactions have become difficult. It is true that some of the larger and better-appointed news bureaus (with kitchens and cooks) have tried to organize informal evening dinners with colleagues. But while guests were able to get to an early dinner, there was the problem of getting back again to their compounds or hotels by dark, when the odds of being attacked vastly increase. The only alternative was to stay the night, which posed many difficulties for everyone, especially Iraqi drivers and guards.

    The result is that reporters find themselves living in a strangely retro mode where their days end before sunset, and they are pulled back to their bureaus for dinner like an American family of the 1950s. Not a few have sought solace in cooking….

    Few reporters I talked to, whether Western or Iraqi, have any direct contact with the insurgents or with the sectarian militias: it is too difficult and dangerous, they say, to talk with Iraqis who do the fighting and set off the explosives. And thus, the various attacks, suicide bombings, and the pervasive anti-Western sentiment, as well as the sectarian hatred that has erupted during the occupation, continue to be largely unexplored and unexplained from the viewpoint of the Iraqis, whether they are Sunni insurgents, members of the Shia militias, or from the American-supplied Iraqi forces that are attacking them.
    (New York Review of Books via TomDispatch, March 13, 2006)

    President Bush addresses AIPAC

    America's Israel Lobby
    If social security has long been the "third rail" of U.S. domestic politics, then its equivalent in the sphere of foreign policy has been the U.S. alliance with Israe. John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy school tackle the taboo head on, in a provocative research study that assesses the impact of the Israel lobby on decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East. And it asserts that the Israel lobby's influence on U.S. policy has been bad both for the U.S. and even for Israel:

    " The Lobby’s influence causes trouble on several fronts. It increases the terrorist danger that all states face – including America’s European allies. It has made it impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation that gives extremists a powerful recruiting tool, increases the pool of potential terrorists and sympathisers, and contributes to Islamic radicalism in Europe and Asia.

    "Equally worrying, the Lobby’s campaign for regime change in Iran and Syria could lead the US to attack those countries, with potentially disastrous effects. We don’t need another Iraq. At a minimum, the Lobby’s hostility towards Syria and Iran makes it almost impossible for Washington to enlist them in the struggle against al-Qaida and the Iraqi insurgency, where their help is badly needed.

    "There is a moral dimension here as well. Thanks to the Lobby, the United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians. This situation undercuts Washington’s efforts to promote democracy abroad and makes it look hypocritical when it presses other states to respect human rights. US efforts to limit nuclear proliferation appear equally hypocritical given its willingness to accept Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which only encourages Iran and others to seek a similar capability.

    "Besides, the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy. Silencing sceptics by organising blacklists and boycotts – or by suggesting that critics are anti-semites – violates the principle of open debate on which democracy depends. The inability of Congress to conduct a genuine debate on these important issues paralyses the entire process of democratic deliberation. Israel’s backers should be free to make their case and to challenge those who disagree with them, but efforts to stifle debate by intimidation must be roundly condemned.

    "Finally, the Lobby’s influence has been bad for Israel. Its ability to persuade Washington to support an expansionist agenda has discouraged Israel from seizing opportunities – including a peace treaty with Syria and a prompt and full implementation of the Oslo Accords – that would have saved Israeli lives and shrunk the ranks of Palestinian extremists. Denying the Palestinians their legitimate political rights certainly has not made Israel more secure, and the long campaign to kill or marginalise a generation of Palestinian leaders has empowered extremist groups like Hamas, and reduced the number of Palestinian leaders who would be willing to accept a fair settlement and able to make it work. Israel itself would probably be better off if the Lobby were less powerful and US policy more even-handed... "What is needed is a candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about US interests in this vital region. Israel’s well-being is one of those interests, but its continued occupation of the West Bank and its broader regional agenda are not. Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided US support and could move the US to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel’s long-term interests as well. (London Review of Books, March10, 2006)

    Racism Over Ports?
    Foreign Affairs managing editor Gideon Rose gets to the heart of the matter when he charges that any sober assessment of the issues in the furor over the acquisition of management contracts at six U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World must lead to the conclusion that the only problem being cited by the naysayers is simply that this is an Arab-owned company. Notwithstanding the fact that it has an excellent record of cooperation with the U.S. on security matters and is run by American executives -- or the fact that security in U.S. ports is the responsibility of Homeland Security regardless of who owns the management companies -- politicians began alerting the media with warnings about "a country involved in 9/11" taking over American ports. (Dubai may not have been more involved in 9/11 than Germany, but nobody was bothering with the details.)

    Tom Friedman echoed the racism theme, warning that to reject a company playing by the rules of the globalization game and international counter-terrorism simply because it is Arab will actually weaken the U.S. ability to win moderate allies in the Muslim world, and leave it even more vulnerable. The Nation notes that the real security issue in U.S. ports is the rules and procedures adopted by the U.S. government, and how much the U.S. taxpayer is willing to spend on keeping America's harbors safe. But Bill Greider sees a dark irony in the fact that the Bush administration is being stymied by a climate of fear it helped stoke.
    (Foreign Affairs, February 27, 2006)

    Fatman and Little Boy launched a generation of weapons designed to ensure U.S. strategic primacy

    No Limit on U.S. Nukes
    Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press argue that the end of the Cold War has removed restraints on the U.S. pursuit of nuclear primacy, because the MAD (mutually assured destruction) principle that served as the foundation for arms control no longer serves as a brake on U.S. ambitions. The Bush administration is pursuing a revitalized nuclear program as part of its strategy to remain, in perpetuity, the single superpower and to prevent the emergence of a peer competitor to replace the Soviet Union on the strategic map. That requires substantially altering the rules of arms control and non proliferation.

    “During the Cold War, MAD rendered the debate about the wisdom of nuclear primacy little more than a theoretical exercise," they write. "Now that MAD and the awkward equilibrium it maintained are about to be upset, the argument has become deadly serious. Hawks will undoubtedly see the advent of U.S. nuclear primacy as a positive development. For them, MAD was regrettable because it left the United States vulnerable to nuclear attack. With the passing of MAD, they argue, Washington will have what strategists refer to as 'escalation dominance' -- the ability to win a war at any level of violence -- and will thus be better positioned to check the ambitions of dangerous states such as China, North Korea, and Iran. Doves, on the other hand, are fearful of a world in which the United States feels free to threaten -- and perhaps even use -- force in pursuit of its foreign policy goals. In their view, nuclear weapons can produce peace and stability only when all nuclear powers are equally vulnerable. Owls worry that nuclear primacy will cause destabilizing reactions on the part of other governments regardless of the United States' intentions. They assume that Russia and China will work furiously to reduce their vulnerability by building more missiles, submarines, and bombers; putting more warheads on each weapon; keeping their nuclear forces on higher peacetime levels of alert; and adopting hair-trigger retaliatory policies. If Russia and China take these steps, owls argue, the risk of accidental, unauthorized, or even intentional nuclear war -- especially during moments of crisis -- may climb to levels not seen for decades."
    (Foreign Affairs, April-May, 2006)

    Why the Islamists Are Winning
    Rami Khouri sees much of the discussion in the West about the rise of Islamist politics in the Middle East as misguided, and shaped by Western cultural and political assumptions transposed onto a very different context. After analyzing the prevailing misconceptions, and periodizing the phases of the modern Islamist phenomenon, he offers the following conclusion:

    "This wave of victories is not due to a longing for virgins in the afterlife or the consequence of poor primary education. It is the consequence of a modern history combining the cumulative pain of poor, often corrupt and brutal, governance, with foreign military occupations and threats (mostly from Israel, the U.S. and Britain recently). Most ordinary people consequently feel they have been denied their cultural identity, political rights, national sovereignty, personal freedoms and basic human dignity.

    "Islamist groups in turn have responded with an irresistible package that speaks to the citizenry about religion, national identity, legitimate governance, and resistance to foreign occupation and subjugation. That's why there is nothing surprising about victorious Islamists. The best response to their victories, whether you like or dislike the Islamists, is to understand the political, national and personal issues that have generated their victories, and to address the real grievances behind them, rather than to wander off into intellectual swamps and fantasylands."
    (Daily Star, March 15, 2006)

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