Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps an eye on an earnest George Bush during the World War II Victory ceremony in Moscow's Red Square. President Bush's visits to former Soviet satellites as well as his persistent urging that Russia adopt American-style democratic reforms have irritated the Russians.
|President Bush (at bottom of photo) gets royalty treatment in Tbilisi. Moscow was not amused.
THE TROUBLESOME CAUCASUS
President Bush got a hero's welcome in Georgia. It is not hard to understand why Putin was upset. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has been playing hardball in negotiating a final withdrawal of Russian troops, and to emphasize his point, he snubbed Putin by declining to attend the Moscow World War II victory celebrations.
Saakashvili may be counting on Bush to bail him out if the situation turns nasty. If so, he may be misjudging just how far Washington is prepared to go.
Molly Corso analyzes the situation for Eurasianet.org. (Molly Corso, Eurasianet.org, May 6, 2005)
GEORGIA: PROMISING, BUT STILL FULL OF CONTRADICTIONS
Ivlian Haidrava reports for the Institute for War, Peace Reporting that although Saakashvili has probably had more successes than failures, it is the failures that tend to get the attention of most Georgians. (Ivlian Haidrava, IWPR, May 5, 2005)
A RETURN TO A PRE-9/11 GLOBAL FOREIGN POLICY?
The Brookings Institution's Ivo Daalder notes that President Bush's latest trip may signal a return to Great Power Politics in place of the Global War on Terrorism. "This change is all the more remarkable," observes Daalder, "since Bush won re-election mainly because he convinced a majority of Americans that he, unlike John Kerry, understood the terrorist threat and therefore would keep America safe." (Ivo Daalder, Brookings, May 5, 2005)
RUSSIA'S PRAGMATISM IN MOTION
Yevgeny Bendersky reports in the latest issue of Power and Interest News Report that when it comes to the former Soviet Union, it is a mistake to count Russia out. Moscow can still makes its wishes felt in its former satellites, simply by threatening to shut off the gas, and relying on its economic leverage. (Yevgeny Bendersky, May 4, 2005)
CHINA: SLUMMING FOR OIL
This month, ChevronTexaco foiled an attempt by the China National Offshore Oil Corp. to buy Unocal, America's ninth-largest oil company... China's exploding oil demand is sparking competition with the United States...More important, China's willingness to cut deals with nasty regimes has already begun undermining American policy priorities. (Mark Christopher, Houston Chronicle, May 7, 2005)
BAHRAIN'S VOLATILE SHIITE MIX
With Saudi Arabia increasingly allergic to the presence of U.S. troops, Bahrain now serves as a crucial U.S. base in the Persian Gulf, yet the government in Bahrain is coming under increasing pressure now from Shiites who make up 70% of its population and want the reforms promised by the ruling emir to become genuine. (International Crisis Group, May 6, 2005)
-The Neo-Con Shiite Gamble
The Pentagon, and notably Paul Wolfowitz when he was still active in formulating policy, favored emphasizing support to the Middle East's traditionally oppressed Shiites--the notion was to pressure ruling Sunnis to toe the line, crack down on Al Qaeda movement and adopt American-designed "democratic" reforms. The neocons seemed oblivious to the risk of increased regional instability. Lee Smith explores the implications of a radical policy initiative that now threatens to destabilize more than Iraq. (Lee Smith, New York Times News of the Week in Review, May 1, 2005)
-How the gamble plays out in Saudi Arabia
Princeton professor Michael Doran describes the dynamics in a now classic Foreign Affairs essay on the divisions in Saudi Arabia. (Michael Doran, Foreign Affairs, January-February 2004)
AFTER U.S. SWEEP NEAR SYRIAN BORDER, INSURGENTS KIDNAP IRAQI PROVINCE CHIEF
Raja Nawaf, governor of the western province of Anbar, was seized at a roadblock between the town of Qaim and the provincial capital Ramadi.The kidnappers later demanded that US troops pull out of Qaim, where the US says it has killed 100 insurgents. (BBC, May 10, 2005)
SHARON ON MID-AUGUST GAZA PULLOUT
In a flurry of interviews to Israeli television over the weekend, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he had pushed back the Gaza turn over out of respect for Israel's period of religious mourning. Sharon promised to demolish the homes built by Israeli settlers before abandoning them. "I know what pictures will be shown around the world [if the houses are demolished]," Sharon said. "On the other hand, I wouldn't want to see terrorists raising their flags and dancing on Jewish homes."(Aluff Benn, Ha'aretz, May 10, 2005)
WHAT TO DO WITH ISRAELI HOMES IN GAZA?
Saad Eddin Ibrahim writing in Dar Al Hayat observes that Arabs are divided on what to do with the soon to be abandoned Israeli settlements. "What are needed are high-occupancy apartments," say the proponents of destruction. "If the homes were left standing, it would be a nightmare to decide who would get to occupy them..." However, destroying the fortified settlements could cost up to $18 million. (Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Dar al Hayat, May 7, 2005)
BLOGGING FREE SPEECH IN NEPAL
10:25 a.m. on February 1, King Gyanendra of Nepal dismissed Nepal's multi-party government. Simultaneously, telephone lines across the country were cut, mobile phone service discontinued, and fax and Internet connections shut down. The king seized state television and radio, placed the country's political leaders under house arrest, and silenced the press. Things didn't quite work out the way the king had planned. The unintentional result: While attempting to plunge Nepal into a communications dark age, he spawned a small legion of online journalists. Kristin Jones reports for Dangerous Assignments on the website for the Committee to Protect Journalists (May 6, 2005)
THE CASE OF LUIS POSADA CARRILES
When a former CIA agent turns terrorist and blows up a passenger airliner, then seeks asylum in the U.S., what is a homeland security-conscious administration supposed to do? The National Security Archives publishes CIA and FBI background reports on the Carriles case. Using a false passport, Posada apparently slipped into the United States in late March and remains in hiding. His lawyer announced that Posada is asking the Bush administration for asylum because of the work he had done for the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s. The documents posted today include CIA records confirming that Posada was an agent in the 1960s and early 1970s, and remained an informant in regular contact with CIA officials at least until June 1976.(National Security Archives, May 10, 2005)
A UNIFIED U.S. SECURITY BUDGET FOR 2006
The Bush Administration's proposed 2006 security budget, which includes spending for the military, international affairs and homeland security, would allocate seven times as much to military programs as to all other security spending combined. And, taking into account projected costs of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that ratio stands at nine-to-one. A new report by the Center for Defense Information and Foreign Policy in Focus recommends cutting $53.1 billion from military spending and spending $40.5 billion more on international affairs and homeland security operations. It calls for a four-to-one ratio of spending on military programs to all other security spending. (CDI, May 10, 2005)
THE PROFITS OF WAR
"If you had invested $1,000 in a defense portfolio at the peak of the Taliban boomlet, by March 2003 you would have lost a third of your stake," notes James K. Galbraith, in the latest newsletter of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction, "But then came Iraq. And it’s been clover for contractors ever since. Total gains since March 2003 are above 80 percent. Even if you’d put your money in at the beginning, in September 2001, you’d be up over 50 percent. That isn't bad, considering. This is no scandal, of course. War is naturally good for the arms business. The companies involved are public -- anyone can buy their stocks. Suppose that back in 2001 you'd had unlimited access to bank credit. And suppose you’d also had the certain knowledge that George W. Bush would take out Saddam Hussein, come what may. Well then you, too, could have made billions over the past three years. The really big scandal lies elsewhere. It isn’t in the fact that a small group of political insiders made big money from the Iraq war. The big scandal is in all those other numbers: the Dow Jones industrial average. The Standard and Poor’s 500. The NASDAQ composite index. Look at them -- they haven’t budged in three years..." (James Galbraith, ECARR, Spring 2005)
U.S. SENATE SUBCOMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS CHARGES FRANCE'S CHARLES PASQUA AND BRITAIN'S GEORGE GALLOWAY RECEIVED ALLOCATIONS TO SELL OIL FOR FOOD FROM SADDAM
A bipartisan Senate staff report argues that Saddam quickly adapted the Oil for Food Program to provide benefits to influential foreign dignitaries ready to campaign against sanctions. By allocating oil rights to certain individuals, Saddam effectively turned them into gatekeepers controlling who would be able to buy Iraq's oil at discounted prices. The report suggests that Pasqua, a former French interior minister, has evaded investigators for years by holding legislative posts that guaranteed him parliamentary immunity from prosecution. He is currently serving in the French Senate. Galloway, recently elected to a seat in Britain's Parliament, is an outspoken critic of the war and of Tony Blair. He has said that he is prepared to testify before the Senate subcommittee next Tuesday. (Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, May 12, 2005, 22 pages pdf)
A rash of suicide bombings in Baghdad left helpless U.S. military commanders wondering when, if ever, the insurgency would start to run out of men and equipment.
MARINES SURPRISED BY SOPHISTICATION OF ENEMY TACTICS
The shock was that the enemy was not supposed to be in Ubaydi at all. Instead, American intelligence indicated that the insurgency had massed on the other side of the river. Marine commanders expressed surprise Monday not only at the insurgents' presence but also the extent of their preparations, as if they expected the Marines to come...Commanders said Marines also found a house where insurgents were crouching in the basement, firing rifles and machine guns upward through holes at ankle height in the ground-floor walls, aiming at spots that the Marines' body armor did not cover...(James Janega, Chicago Tribune, May 10, 2005)
NEWSWEEK BACKS AWAY FROM ITS STORY ON GUANTANAMO KORANS IN THE TOILET
Newsweek's editor, Mark Whitaker, expressed sincere regret at getting the story wrong on U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushing Korans down the toilet in order to "soften up" detainees. In fact, while various detainees have reported similar stories, Newsweek thought it had confirmation from a higher source, a top ranking administration official, speaking on background. The official reportedly told Newsweek that an investigation had also turned up the information. Pressed to confirm the story, the official admitted that he could not remember which report he had read with the details on Guantanamo in it. Newsweek felt that it could not stand behind information that was that indefinite, even if it might turn out to be true. The fact that the information was used to trigger rioting in Afghanistan made the issue more painful.
--Newsweek's mea culpa...
--Newsweek on the fallout in Afghanistan and Iraq
--BBC on the fallout
--BBC on U.S. Army interrogator's account of alleged sexual innuendos at Guantanamo
NUMEROUS REPORTS FROM FORMER DETAINEES SPEAK OF DISRESPECT FOR RELIGION AT GUANTANAMO
Calgacus, a researcher in national security affairs, details an extensive history of reports from detainees of attacks against Islam and the Koran at Guantanamo.
Read Calgacus' report
RECYCLING "IRAN CONTRA" IN IRAQ
David Corn remarks that Iraq has served as a convenient pretext for the Bush administration to rehabilitate and provide employment for a number of individuals who lied to Congress after being involved in the late President Reagan's Iran-Contra fiasco. John Negroponte, who saw no evil as American ambassador to Honduras during the height of the Death Squads may be the highest profile example. But James Steele, who is currently running a proudly murderous Sunni paramilitary militia group in Iraq, is another case in point. Corn puts the multiple cases in context in the latest issue of The Nation. (David Corn, The Nation, May 9, 2005)
ROUGH STUFF IN THE SERVICE OF DEMOCRACY
Peter Maas' account of a hit-squad made up of former Baathists, now financed, supported and led by American "advisors" makes chilling reading. In this version of a dirty war, torturing family members to get at a suspect seems perfectly OK to the Americans advising the affair, as long as someone else is there to take the blame. Writes Maas: " A few minutes after the interview started, a man began screaming in the main hall, drowning out the Saudi’s voice. ‘‘Allah!’’ he shouted. ‘‘Allah! Allah!’’ It was not an ecstatic cry; it was chilling, like the screams of a madman, or of someone being driven mad. ‘‘Allah!’’ he yelled again and again. The shouts were too loud to ignore. Steele left the room to find out what was happening. By the time he returned, the shouts had ceased. But soon, through the window behind me, I could hear the sounds of someone vomiting, coming from an area where other detainees were being held, at the side of the building... That evening, as I was eating dinner in the mess hall at Olsen base, I overheard a G.I. saying that he had seen the Syrian at the detention center, hanging from the ceiling by his arms and legs like an animal being hauled back from a hunt. When I struck up a conversation with the soldier, he refused to say anything more. Later, I spoke with an Iraqi interpreter who works for the U.S. military and has access to the detention center; when I asked whether the Syrian, like the Saudi, was cooperating, the interpreter smiled and said, ‘‘Not yet, but he will.’’
Maas points out that the militia is employing men who might otherwise join the insurgency, and it is effective at terrorizing Iraqis--both enemies and friends. What is missing is an explanation of how this brings American-style democracy to the area, or what the U.S. is doing there in the first place. "Just as the right political developments can tame an insurgency, so, too, can the wrong developments give new life to it," notes Maas, "Arriving at the correct calibration of military force and political compromise is excruciatingly difficult. Historically, insurgencies have lasted at least 5 to 10 years; the endgame tends to begin when one or both sides become exhausted, and that rarely occurs after only a year or two. "
(Peter Maas, New York Times Magazine, May 1, 2005)
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