Monday, December 31, 2007

The official website of Iran's president yesterday headlined the following nuggets:
- Ahmadinejad terms Iran-Sudan relations "excellent".
- President appreciates filmmakers boycotting Denmark film festival.
- Ahmadinejad calls for enhancement of ties with Latin America.
- President calls for special attention to welfare of villagers.
- Production of auto engines for domestic production a source of natinal pride: president.
(That last one is a classic, my favorite- with the one about Sudan relations th runner-up).

His own personal blog, titled 'Ahmadinejad's Personal Memos' reads like a Dear Abby of (usually Islamic) piety. Something like Mike Huckabee's blog might look like, but perhaps more coherent, and with more crosses, Mathews, and Lukes than sauras and ayahs. Given the eschatology-centered GOP campaigns, any Republican website might look like that....even Rudy's during his first term.

Secretary Rice said she will meet her Iranian counterpart anytime, anywhere with the condition that Iran first stop enriching uranium. Except that the Iranians have not asked for such a meeting yet, and are now less likely to do so.
This was an unusual thing because it will almost certainly be rejected, especially now that the Bush administration looks unlikely to succeed in pushing through tougher international sanctions. Normally, a meeting among diplomats is a means, part of a process, toward a goal. Meetings are what diplomats do, and as such a meeting can never be considered a reward, not by both sides. Unless it is a date, and some dates can be included in the rewards column- which this one certainly ain't, not from the point of view of the dour Iranian mullahs.

The election of a Lebanese president has been postponed for the nth time. Both sides, the Hariri-Saniora camp and the opposition camp, now agree on the same candidate for the job, but there are differences on details- as it is in any deal, the devil is in the details.

President Bush has said that 'the world' wants a Lebanese president elected based on the demands of the Hariri-Saniora-Junblatt camp, which is the American-Saudi (and by default and preference Israeli) camp as opposed to the opposition Hizbollah-Amal-Michel Oun camp, which can be dubbed the Syrian-Iranian camp.
He did not make the mistake of saying that the Lebanese people want that: he may realize by now that many Lebanese, perhaps more than one half of them, do not want that.

Hezbollah responded quickly to Mr. Bush, asserting that they reject his wisaya over Lebanon, a term meaning mandate or guardianship over someone. Its spokesman claimed that it was Mr. Bush who is blocking an agreement which was within reach. Meanwhile a spokesman for the rump cabinet, with the name of Fitfit, said that the cabinet, what remains of it, will not resort to selecting a president on their own, although he said that option was not off the table for the future. Perhaps it is Fatfat in the Lebanese accent which is more singsong than my Gulf accent- either way it sounds French and feline. Back to the basics: Hezbollah and her allies claimed that Mr. Bush's proposals go against the Lebanese constitution.

In Iraq the government is pressing for various 'Awakening Council' Sunni militias that are mushrooming and are funded and armed by the Americans to be brought under central Iraqi control. Baghdad looks with suspicion at these militias, and rightly so, since they had been until recently allied with al-Qaeda. It is suspected that they may be biding their time before turning their guns and bombs against the government. Actually there is no uncertainty here: once US troops start to depart in earnest and petro-money and arms from all the neighboring countries start to flood in more rapidly than now, this is most likely what will happen. Baghdad's suspicion is probably exacerbated by the fact that some Saudi-owned media have recently been calling for similar 'awakening councils' in the Shi'a provinces as well.
Unfortunately the same measures that may have contributed to the current success of the surge may end up defeating US goals in Iraq in the long term, that is if the goal is a stable Iraq under a viable and elected central government.

The Guardian (UK) newspaper has published details of Tony 'Yo' Blair's role in pressuring the British Serious Frauds Office and the Attorney General to quash invetigation of the famous GBP 1 billion payoff (also called a bribe but not in polite mixed company). This was allegedly paid off by the British defense contractor BAE to Prince Bandar Bin Sultan while he was ambassador in Washington- before he became national security adviser to the Bush administration which was before he became head of the Saudi National Security. The report cites the various stages of the exchange between Blair and the investigators, and how they eventually caved in to Blair, who had already caved in to the Saudis.

Friday, December 21, 2007

NewSpeak in Arabia: News media reported recently that Saudi King Abdullah has pardoned the 'Qatif girl' who was abducted and raped by seven men and was later sentenced to prison and flogging for her troubles. Not one outlet noted the irony in this act- but them, we are not known for understanding irony.
This is good news because it shows that world pressure works in some of the darker corners of the world.
It is also good news because the victim was 'pardoned', and 'pardoning' a victim is a good and humane thing- I think it is better than giving her 200 lashes. All victims should be pardoned, because they deserve it more than the criminals who are pardoned, no? There is no more to say on this, for now.

Hillary Clinton's campaign is trying hard to clear itself from any accusations of fear-mongering. Campaign spokesmen have been re-iterating on television, on a daily basis, that they did not bring up the 'cocaine' issue intentionally, that they do not think the 'cocsaine' issue matters, and that they will never raise the 'cocaine' issue again, no matter what new revelations come out about Senator Obama and his association with the use and trade of 'coaine' or other such substances.

Meanwhile, former Senator Bob Kerry, an aspiring VP, has put in his own two Manhattan subway tokens in trying to heal the party. He said that Senator Barack Hussein Obama should highlight (shades of The New School?) his middle name, and should be proud of his African father's name, 'Hussein'. The former senator almost hinted that Obama's father was not likely any relation of Saddam 'Hussein'. Kerry said while standing next to a beaming Hillary "It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim."
Kerry, the war hero possibly turned hatchet man, did not have time to call for a series of one-on-one debates between Barack and Hillary. Nor to offer that Clinton, Hillary not Bill, would be happy to wear a Hijab, or Burq'a, or even the more modernistic Niqab, just to show Iowa voters her cultural sensitivity to any latent Islamic quirks that Obama may hold. She would do it, he would have said, if being open-faced would insult Obama's Muslim heritage.
He did not, however, repeat that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself....."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

There was a Republican debate in Iowa last week. I was following the stock market, and it was moving up earlier. The Dow Jones Index had stabilized around 80 points plus when the debate started. It was interesting to see how the debate influenced the market indices.

The candidates were not exactly Churchillian, even with the country engaged in two wars and possibly facing a third one. But then nobody has sounded Churchillian, not even on 9/11 and the days after- remember the great Decider oratory about defeating the terrorists by going shopping? How more ordinary can leaders get?. But they were excited, drooling, about cutting taxes furiously (or is it slashing, which evokes those teen films) in order to achieve the following lofty goals, not all of them Lafferian:

Clean up the environment (one or two actually conceded that global warming existed, and to hell with Rush Limbaugh and that angry chubby guy on CNN Headline News).

Stop illegal immigration (Rep. Tomas Tancredo was salivating at this point, who knows: perhaps he was even undergoing more although he doesn't seem like the type, because he looked almost joyous, a very uncharacteristic state for him. Or maybe he was just grimacing, thinking of all those child rapists and other criminals waiting to cross the border)
Defeat terrorism, especially Islamic terrorism whether Sunni, Shi'a, Salafi, or Unitarian. (plausible over time).

Improve the quality of education (Rep. Hunter seemed ready to appoint Jaime A. Escalante, the teacher from Stand and Deliver, as secretary of education. Or maybe he just meant Edward James Olmos)
Improve the economy and employment (plausible)
Reduce dependence on foreign oil. (In your dreams, gentlemen. Besides, this may conflict with the goal of cleaning up the environment (see above)).

Encourage celibacy (definitely a quixotic quest, just ask Rudy).

Reduce abortion.

Raise overall moral standards (possible, but depends on what the definiton of it is).

The market indices gradually declined as they debated, and by the end of it the Dow had made a 150 point turnaround to the negative, with the Nasdaq and S&P following closely. The market buttomed at the end of the debate, and once the gentlemen had departed, the indices started to improve. They closed modestly up, and it was a good thing they ended the debate almost an hour before the markets closed- gave the markets time to recover.

I have no idea at this point what people in the Middle East think of all this. Perhaps we can have debates among the eligible sons of potentates to see who will get to the throne without having to off the others. But then all these will be of the male denomination, and where would that put Hillary?

Since there are no taxes in the Western sense in most Arab countries, things work backwards. The rulers and potentates get the income, from oil or sheep or whatever, and they get the first dibs, then it goes to the budget, where it is spent, and they get a second dibs through the various 'services' they provide. So, it is hard to see whose taxes can be slashed and cut here.

I also wonder what our leaders and potentates would think of Mike Huckabee's surprising discourse on the division of labor in the brain: right side for arts and creativity, left side for logic and analysis (I assume it is this way all over the world, not just in Arkansas). I wonder which side, if any, they use the most.

Monday, December 17, 2007

(This was posted on my website last week):
Things seem to be suddenly quieting down in the Gulf region, in terms of rhetoric. There has been little follow-up on the NIE Iran report, after an initial burst of necon damage control spin all over the media outlets. President Bush, and even VP Cheney, have both been quiet on the subject. Even Iran's Ahmadinejad has been silenced- Iran's al-alam TV website has barely referred to the nuclear issue these past few days. His own website barely mentions the issue now.

There is still vocal disappointment in some Arab media, particularly the Saudi-owned media like alhayat, asharqalawsat and a few Gulf satellite newpapers. And in these papers, there has been an increasing tendency over this past week of talk about a conspiracy. Some of the editors and columnists have even started to talk of 'capitulation' by Washington, which is absurd and only reflects nervousness at a possible rapprochement between Washington and the clerical regime in Tehran.
The ire has spread to the Lebanon crisis as well. A regular alhayat correspondent and analyst writes in today's (Dec. 14) edition that Bush is now compromising over Lebanon, abandoning his 'promises' to the Lebanese (meaning to the less than half of the Lebanese who support the Saniora-Hariri cabinet). When a country is as divided as Lebanon, or Iraq, or, come to think of it, as the United States, compromise is the only solution.

France's Nicholas Sarkozy has come under some fire as well this week, partly because of perceived laxity about Lebanon. He can't be compared to Chirac who was close to the Hariris- Chirac has had his own ethical/financial issues since leaving office, but these are the kind of issues that make some Arab media and rulers comfortable with a Western politician. Sarkozy doesn't seem to have these kind of issues, not yet, but then he is just a rookie.
There have also been dark hints in some Arab media this week about Sarkozy's close relations with 'Jewish goups', whatever they are, and talk of his Jewish 'roots' or connections. At the same time, he is criticized for being too easy on Syria in Lebanon, allowing her to regain some influence, something that clearly would conflict with the interests of these alleged 'groups'.
In the end, Riyadh may have more money, but it is too far and Lebanon is surrounded by Syrian territory except for a short strip of Israeli border.

Sarkozy has been under fire in Algeria as well, even during his latest visit. The Algerians, led by the forever-ruling FLN, are still blaming France for what they themselves, led by Mr. Bouteflika's FLN, have done during 45 years of independence to screw up their own country. Seeing how Algerians cross the Mediteranean by droves to live and work in France, they probably would have been better off staying part of France- after some changes to empower the Arab and Berber citizens. They would be free to speak, write, and vote by now. And they would enjoy European Union living standards by now.

Iraqi officials have hinted at a proxy war waged in Iraq between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran finances her allies and probably arms them, although anybody can buy any kind of arms in Iraq these days. Saudi Arabia is financing her proxies among the Sunni tribal shaikhs, and is trying now to buy off some of the marginal Shi'a shaikhs as well. The latter is unlikely to work for long, given the history and treatment of Shi'as in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are good at this sort of thing, funding a civil strife, and they have had longer experience in it than anyone else in the region. They had perfected this long before the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

The first time was probably during the (North) Yemen civil war of the 1960s, after army officers overthrew the monarchy and proclaimed a republic. They were Nasserist pan-Arab secularists, and the Saudi regime was terrified at having a pro-Nasser secular republic next door, especially with unresolved border issues. They poured money among the tribal shaikhs and got the civil war started. Their nemesis, Egypt under Gamal Abdel-Nasser, had no choice but to send in troops to counter the flow of petro-money. Egypt's military was bogged down for several years in a guerrilla war with seventh-century tribes being financed by an eighth-century petro-dynasty. The Egyptians were bloodied and demoralized, and although this crtainly did not cause their defeat on June 5, 1967, it probably added to the other serious issues they had. They, together with Jordan and Syria would have lost the war anyway. The audacious Israeli war plan, tactics and superior training did most of the job.

Is it deja vu all over again, as they say in Riyadh? The Yemen war ended as a stalemate, but the monarchy was not restored: it remained a republic in name, although of course not democratic. It is not likely that the new Saudi efforts will fare any better in Lebanon or in Iraq- nor would any Iranian efforts to dominate these countries succeed, despite the media frenzy about that possibility. Not when at least half of the people in each of these countries seems to be on the 'wrong' side, or is it the 'right' side. Maybe this is why King Abdullah and Mr. Ahmadinejad have a date: they will be going to the Hajj together next week.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Closed Shop Media:
I was looking up inormation on Arab media ownership when I came across the minutes of a conference on Arab media held during March 2005. It was titled "Arab Media, Power and Influence" and it was sponsored by various groups, including Woodrow Wilson (Princeton), James A. Baker (yep, Rice), and the IISS.
What was shocking, or maybe it should not have been, was that almost all the Arab participants were either directly or indirectly employees of two ruling houses of the Gulf monarchies who own these major media outlets. The Arab participants were from Alhayat (published in London and reportedly owned by Prince Khalid Bin Sultan al-Saud), Asharq Alawsat (published in London and reportedly co-owned by Prince Salman al-Saud), Alarabiya TV (Saudi but broadcasts from Dubai, and has the same ownership as Asharq Alawsat), and Aljazeera (Qatar, and owned by an al-Thani shaikh).Then there was James Abourezq and a couple of other people. The rest were all either full-time staff of these venerable organizations or regular columnists and commentators. No one else of the media anywhere in the vast Arab world was deemed to have anything to say about the important issue except for these three semi-state-owned organizations.

They talked about some general aspects of Arab media including, oddly, "how ownership of Arab outlets drives media agenda". But that is not what they really talked about: the topic was plainly open for everyone to see, in the participants to the conference. It is not clear who financed that conference.....but in this case I am a betting man.

It is noteworthy (an understatement) that many pan-Arab media outlets have been snapped up and are now owned by Saudi conglomerates, including all the satellite multi-channels operated by ART, MBC, Rotana, and LBC of Lebanon (control of LBC was purchased recently by Prince al-Waleed from another Saudi potentate). They also pull the strings of a few newspapers that tow the official Saudi line on all issues in other Gulf states, especially in Kuwait and Bahrain- no need to mention Lebanon here. Now if they can only make a deal with Mel Karmazin and manage to shut up Howard Stern.

Now that the pressures of the 'unifying' threat of an American attack have receded, Iran's Ahmadinejad is coming under intense fire at home, from both rival politicians and college students who normally have little love for the hardliners. This must be seen in the context of parliamentary elections next spring and presidential elections in 2009. It is possible that Ahmadinejad will be voted out of office just a few months after Bill Clinton moves back into the White House (if she wins he'll probably be confined to the Lincoln Bedroom at night).

BTW on Oil prices: whatever happened to threats and predictions about a year ago that Saudi Arabia would follow a strategy of increasing oil production in order to halve crude prices and apply pressure to the Iranian econmy? The threats were tied to increased Iranian influence in Iraq and were taken quite seriously in the West, although this site dismissed them at the time mainly because of doubts about production capacity and the budgetary, and internal political, impact on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers. We also speculated at the time that the thousands of princes would not stand for having less dinero and lowering their lifestyles. Oil prices have since increased by about 30% or so, depending on the base price used for calculation. Apparently the princely Samsons decided to keep the temple standing because they did not like losing all that dinero and incurring public ire.
To paraphrase a famous lame duck: If they really want to beat the troublemakers, they should keep on shopping.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Kuwaiti daily alwatan reports on its front page two days ago that US forces have been trying to draw Iran into a conflict by provocative flights and firing artillery across its border. Alwatan claims to have 'credible' reports form 'reliable' European diplomatic sources that the military option is not off the table, and that in fact Israel is slated to attack Iran, and that if Iran retaliates, then the US will side with Israel. The report claims that this plan aims to ease fears of Persian Gulf states that host American military facilities of Iranian retaliation and to limit the coming conflict to three sides: Iran-Israel-USA. (This is pure twisted Gulf logic: it still doesn't make sense to me, it will still have the US using its forces in the Gulf in a conflict and possibly drawing retaliation).

There is another serious problem with the report: its source, Alwatan is arguably the second least credible newspaper in Kuwait and perhaps the whole Gulf region, after alseyassah. Both tabloids have many times attributed wild reports to un-named "confidential and reliable" sources in the past, often with certain dates set for wars on Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, the al-Maliki government or all of the above. The owner/editor of one of these newspapers has been editorially kissing royal flanks so often that he can probably nose his way to Riyadh with his eyes closed, if you get my drift (he won't). So, this latest bit of wishful thinking can be safely relegated to the dustbin of journalism as well.
These people really had their heart set on another war- they really want their war, to be fought by the brave children of others, of course.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has publicly denied comments by Iraq's National Security Chief Muaffaq al-Rube'ie that Iran and Saudi Arabia are seeking to settle their own rivalries and disputes in Iraq. He also said that a Saudi embassy may open soon in Baghdad, which would be a first positive step in any effort to balance Iranian influence in Baghdad. Maybe the Arab governments are finally waking up.

In Iraq, in an important symbolic move, Arab media report that Ayatollah Sistani announced that the Eid Adha will be December 21st for Shi'as- except that the Iraqi government had already announced the Eid holiday to start on the 19th. Perhaps he was telling the bureaucrats that they should have left it to the Hawza to set the date. Still, the holiday can be started by the bureaucrats before the actual Eid itself on the 21st. There has been no confirmation of this yet in the Iraqi media.

Even as the Gulf seems to cool down, the Arab region is heating up again this week:

Bombings have picked up in intensity in Iraq, especially in the north and south (Al-Amarah).

Huge bombings in Algeria that killed UN and local personnel were attributed to al-Qaeda.

The general slated to head the Lebanese army was killed, among others, probably by a favorite Lebanese invention and wartime pastime, a car bomb. The current army chief looks set to become the new compromise president, if the two sides can agree on the shape of the new cabinet. Right now it looks like there will be no reconciliation unless Mr. Saniora leaves, but anything can happen in politics.
Clearly Lebanon needs a new covenant among its various factions: the old one has not worked, at least not for the past thirty five years as the demographics and political power have shifted.

Shifting the blame on the Nile: In Egypt a newly-wed groom failed to deflower his bride on their wedding night, a must if he is to have his breakfast of fool medammas the next morning. The man suspected that she was not a virgin, and stabbed her to death. The police decided to hold the husband, who has already confessed, for four days pending an investigation- it is not clear an investigation of what. In an earlier case, a man also killed his bride for the same reason: when medical tests showed that in fact she had been a virgin that man was sentenced to hard labor- but only after the medical test results....which means what it means.
Perhaps they should start Sex-Ed classes, for men only, in the New New Middle East?


Friday, December 07, 2007

With one simple paragraph, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stole Christmas from the neocons in the administration and at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Until recent days, AEI 'experts' were on cable TV networks calling for a bombing campaign to start soon, before it was too late. The report vindicates a man much maligned in Washington, Mohammed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who stated recently that reports of Iranian weapons development are exaggerated- he was Blixed (as in Hans) by the neocons and the media.

Worse, the report vindicates none other than Vladimir Putin, who also stated that there was no evidence of such Iranian development. Now Mr. Cheney cannot dream of riding through the rugged Persian Plateau, with the secular (Muslim secular, not 'Christian' secular, which somehow makes it kosher) peasantry throwing wild flowers at his motorcade. It also comes on the heel of Iranian gestures toward the Arab GCC states, all U.S allies whose leaders are now left wondering who or what to believe.

One result of this new development is that the winds of war will quickly recede from the (Persian) Gulf region. Oil prices should at least stabilize at lower levels than $ 90. The Bush administration will not likely go out with a bang, as it had evidently wished. This will also reduce the chances of any stricter UN sanctions against Iran, Charles Krauthammer's wishful analysis notwithstanding. Another possible result will be within the Democratic Party. This reduces the 'wisdom' of Senator Hillary Clinton's vote to label Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. It may have some ramifications in Iowa next month and beyond.

All this does not mean that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons in the future, it just makes it a less imminent threat. It also may only mean that the administration will shift gear and may focus on Iranian influence in Iraq as a casus belli, an issue that does not concern the international community.

Of Interest: The Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf (religious affairs) has issued a fatwa saying that anyone who dies of AIDS will be considered a martyr. It did not specify if they will be considered martyrs by the bureaucrats down here or by those up there, presumably by both. The justification is quite logical, based on repentance and forgiveness: those who die of HIV will have suffered so much and repented so much that they deserve to be considered martyrs. This is a surprisingly humane fatwa by Arab theological standards, even by some American 'Christian' standards.
Now it will be interesting to see what the Salafi Jihadists will do once they get wind of this new fatwa: will they switch away from blowing themselves up among Iraqi Shi'as (Shi'ites to most of you infidels) and instead espouse unsafe sex as a way to get there? Instead of slipping across the border into Iraq, will they head for the nearest unsafe outlets, say, Beirut or Dubai?

The most boring NFL games, are those of New England. The Patriots win so predictably and consistently that they have taken the excitement and fun out of a great game. I hope they don't make it to the Super Bowl, and that they lose it if they do. Nothing personal, but I hate shooting ducks in a fenced backyard.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In Doha, Iranian president Ahmadinejad proposed to the Arab GCC leaders a joint security agreement. He invited them to Tehran to discuss the matter. He also proposed an extensive array of deals, including an organization for economic cooperation. He also mentioned a proposal for 'clean family tourism', clearly emphasizing something quite different from the usual erotic tourism that Gulf men enjoy in places such as Beirut, Amman or Cairo. Ahmadinejad proposed that Iran provide the Gulf states with water and natural gas (Iran holds the second largest world reserves in natural gas). He did not mention anything about the GCC supplying Iran with much-needed refined products like gasoline which his country needs to import now because of poor refinery maintenance.

The media report that the leaders will approve a "Gulf Common Market", and that they will vote to keep the unified Gulf currency on track for 2010, and that whoever wishes and can will join the unified currency- which most likely will be somewhere between two countries or none. This is probably a way to save face for the finance and central bank officials who really botched the project. Doing the common market first makes sense. Doing a unified currency before a common market is like putting the cart before the horse: it makes no sense, if you have any sense to start with, that is. Maybe someone went back and read about the history of the Deutsche Zollverein and the European Union.....maybe.

In Sudan, the president of the republic (for the past 20+ years) has pardoned the well-meaning British teacher who named a teddy bear after me. Demonstrators in Khartoum, apparently having no other passtime on a slow Friday, had rioted for her to be put to death. Now, if she were a native or another African, or Arab....we would have a Saint Gillian (Gibbons). Well, she would have a different name.

Nawaz Sharif is back in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto is back in Pakistan. General Musharraf is still in Pakistan. A gunfight at Islamabad Corral, and that's definitely not O.K, is looming, but who are the Earps and who are the Clantons here? It doesn't really matter.
The feudalist Sharif is favored by Saudi Arabia (it figures). The quasi-kleptocrat Bhutto is favored by Washington (and the UAE, if it matters). Oddly, the Generalissimo comes across as the least unsavory Pakistani politician around. Pakistan has always been ruled by military dictators and feudal landowners, occasionally behind a figleaf of Islam, the raison d'etre of the nation that was carved out of India at the end of the Raj. Had they stayed part of India, the Pakis would have remained a large and very influential minority in a democratic country. Quel dommage.

In Lebanon, the politicians and warlords (usually the same), have resorted again to the only 'national' institution in the country, the army. It looks like all will agree on the commander of the army, a general Michel Suleiman, to become the new president. They will need to change the constitution first to allow for that. In Venezuela yesterday the people voted in a referendum on a constitutional change, and the Chavez government lost the vote. In Lebanon they cannot put an amendment for a vote by the Lebanese people: there is no such thing as one Lebanese people anymore, not for the past year and a half. So, the warlords will decide the matter among the capos of the various 'families'.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

In Saudi Arabia, a young women (19) was punished, again, last week for being kidnapped and raped by seven men in the Eastern Province Shi'a (Shi'ite) town of al-Qateef. Initially a court sentenced the victim to 90 lashed plus time in prison, while the rapists got light jail terms (harsh Islamic law stipulates death sentences for rape). Later, the Higher Judicial Council ordered a retrial and revised the sentence to 200 lashes for the woman- I guess that this should be enough to whitttle her down to the bare bone level, with most of the flesh and gore gone. The men got jail terms of between 2 to 9 years. The victim's laywer, a Mr. al-Lahim, was punished as well: he was barred form pursuing the case and his law license was withdrawn. Alarabiya TV's website to its credit, covered the incident and the intial sentences.
Reports (AFP) claims that the raped woman is of the Shi'a minority sect, while the seven rapists are Sunnis- alles klar?

According to Human Rights Watch: "The young woman, who is married, said she had met with a male acquaintance who had promised to give her back an old photograph of herself. After she met her acquaintance in his car in Qatif, a gang of seven men then attacked and raped both of them, multiple times. Despite the prosecution’s requests for the maximum penalty for the rapists, the Qatif court sentenced four of them to between one and five years in prison and between 80 and 1,000 lashes. They were convicted of kidnapping, apparently because prosecutors could not prove rape (this time the Saudi investigators could not obtain their normally easily obtained confessions). The judges reportedly ignored evidence from a mobile phone video in which the attackers recorded the assault." HRW notes that the harsher new sentence for the victim was a result of the woman speaking out to Human Rights staff about what she considered an injustice. It hints that the woman insisted on pursuing the case, and hence drew the anger of the court. (Are there such cases, then, where the victims do not insist in pursuing and never draw the anger of a bigoted court?)

According to HRW: "There is currently no rule of law in Saudi Arabia, which does not have a written penal code. Judges do not follow procedural rules and issue arbitrary sentences that vary widely. Often, judges do not provide written verdicts, even in death penalty cases."

No indication yet if the departure of Karen Hughes from the Arab scene in the New New Middle East had anything to do with the new harsher sentence for the victim.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Yes; M. Danglars is a money-lover, and those who love money, you know, think too much of what they risk to be easily induced to fight a duel." Alexandre Dumas, Le Comte de Monte Cristo

Saudi Deputy Defense Minister, acronym SDDM, Prince Abdulrahman Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, has called on Gulf GCC countries to prepare their armies to face threats, presumably external threats. He added that these states must coordinate and cooperate in defense matters. What have they been doing all these years in the tough neghborhood? After all these years, and, more telling, after tons of billions of weapons purchases and billions of commissions paid to local potentates?

Riyadh-Beirut: The Arab Thought Institute, there really is such an intitute, is headed by Prince Khaled Bin Faisal al-Saud- makes sense, who else can head a creativity institute in the Arab world but a prince who needs a job? It has issued a press release that it does not like being ignored, and that it has decided to take a huge step by sponsoring and encouraging Arab creativity in all fields and activities, based on subjective criteria, according to a statement published in the Saudi Elaph website. The fields of interest include: science, literature, art, economics, technology, sociology, media- sorcery is not included. Great, the wait is over, Godot has finally arrived- now we can expect to see a burst of creative activity across the Arab world, and in due time a slew of Arab Nobel laureates surrounded by a gaggle of beaming royal princes with deep pockets and sticky fingers.

Amendment: Elaph, published in London but owned by a Saudi potentate, has shyly announced that it has just won the creativity award from the above institute, for, what else, media creativity. Now that is creative intellectual incest.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Yesterday there was hardly anything about the Iraq war in the media. Oprah and her sex scandal, rather that of her African school, took up most of the pre-dinner and post-dinner TV news shows, at least the part not taken up by the young teacher who eloped with a teenage Mexican boy. Americans do love their dinnertime spiced with some sex and crime scandals, but what about the après le dîner? (BTW: where is Paris these days?).
Yet data released at night indicate that 2007 has been the worst year for US deaths in Iraq. That was an increase in deaths of about 20% for the year! But the recent trend has been downwardm so maybe it was the surge after all.

Arab media report that the US government has imposed sanctions, including freezing of assets, on some Lebanese who are against 'democracy in Lebanon'. It is not clear what these people have done, maybe there is something specific other than belonging to the opposition which we don't know. Yet perhaps at least half the population of Lebanon is opposed to the current Saniora-Hariri government, without necessarily being members of Hizbollah- should they all be sanctioned? Will the new visa form have a question such as :"Do you oppose, or have you ever opposed, the Saniora-Hariri government in Lebanon?". It is interesting that these sanctions were announced within a week or two of visits to Washington by pro-government warlords Sa'ad Hariri and Mr. Jumblatt.
If Lebanon is a democracy, should opponents of the government be punished for their political positions by a foreign power?

The Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday that the FBi and other government agencies had at some time taken to watching and monitoring 'falafel joints' as one way to track possible 'Iranian terrorists'. This was especially done in the SF Bay Area, for some reason. I got two pieces of information, call it free advice, gratis for the G-men:
1. Iranians do not hang around falafel joints. Mostly Arabs, and Israelis, hang around falafel joints. Falafel is not part of an Iranian's customary diet- there are no falafel joints in, say, Tehran or Qom - most mullahs don't even know what they are. Now Hezbollah types, being Lebanese, do hang around falafel joints, especially in Dearborn, but then again, when was the last time that group was engaged in terrorism in the United States?

2. Usually Iranians, as well as Arabs, who get to these shores want nothing to do with the ruling Iranian mullahs, Arab potentates or their politics. They also want little to do with falafel joints. So far all acts of terrorism have been committed by citizens of 'moderate allies' who support democracy, justice, tribal rule, and the American way of life. Which makes a good case for watching falafel joints: one way to know a potential terrorist's intentions is through his sandwich..

An Islamic fiqh (theology) assembly in Mecca has urged Moslems in the West to merge their societies. It urged them to participate in elections and vote- it did not , however, urge Moslem rulers to also allow people the chance to participate in free local elections.
The assembly did, however, allow prior identification of the (unborn) fetus, but only if this is necessary for medical or health purposes- definitely not for practical shopping purposes. They required that any demand to identify the sex of a baby must be approved by the Mufti, the bureaucratic religious arbiter appointed by the rulers of the country.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The march of democracy in the New Middle East has been stymied:

In Egypt, the ruling party conference has renewed for somnolent president Mubarak as its leader, and is poised to select his son, Jamal (Gamal) as the second man, in the tradition of the Assad, Hussein, Kim, and other Arab monarchical families. Mr. Mubarak has been in power since 1981, and the only man ever to run against him has been in prison ever since the rigged election. Egypt has been in an official state of emergency since the day Mr. Mubarak became president- it has also been in a state of political-economic-moral stagnation ever since.

In Pakistan, Generalissimo Parvez Musharraf has flushed the constitution, such as it is, down the toilet. A state of emergency, the ultimate tools of dictators, has been declared. This emergency comes loaded with nuclear warheads, which the neocons do not consider dangerous in a country half of which is ruled by al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies.

In Saudi Arabia, an Egyptian man was beheaded in a public square last Friday for 'sorcery', among other things. The official Saudi Press Agency stated that the man had also confessed to adultery and desecrating the Holy Quran as well- it seems this guy really wanted to be beheaded. Apparently Saudi investigators always obtain confessions when the accused are poor Third World types. Many Arab, Asian, and Africans have been beheaded over the years, but oddly not a single Westerner- perhaps because they have higher moral standards.

In Lebanon, the expected showpiece of the New New Middle East is still in limbo, torn evenly between two visions (if one can call them that): the vision of the Hariri-Saniora cabinet with its Western and Saudi backers and the vision of Hezbollah-Amal-Oun opposition and its backers, including Iran.

Is this relevant? CNBC reports that its own superstar and cat's meow, Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal has lost about $4 billion from his holdings in Citibank, courtesy of his friends Sandy Weill and Charly Prince. Easy come, easy go- hey, it may even come again.

On a brighter note: in Kuwait, the legislature has won another battle with the government, and perhaps put an end to a nasty habit by the government of recycling old ministers to new jobs in a game of silly political musical chairs. Whenever a minister faces a no-confidence vote, he resigns and is often given a new portfolio. Parliament does not confirm or approve cabinet appointments, but it can hold hearings and withdraw confidence- so far, not one minister has chosen to face no-confidence hearings (istijuab), which says something about the quality of the government cabinet.

Not even the speaker, Mr. al-Kharafi, who was largely chosen by the government and is basically its mouthpiece in the assembly, could save the former minister of finance B. al-Humaidhi. The minister was switched to the Oil portfolio in a silly political game, but the angry legislators threatened to hold no-confidence hearings on the prime minister himself, and His Highness was forced to relent. The minister had to resign within a few days, he did not even have the chance to appoint a bunch of his cronies in high positions in the oil ministry and its corporations, as recent national tradition requires. Now the poor man can't claim any achievement for his tenure- not even enough time for a major screw-up.

BTW: Mr. al-Kharafi himself was minister of finance during the corrupt and unconstitutional 1980s, when he appointed many of his cronies to top positions in public corporations, which they proceeded to screw up real good, as recent national tradition seems to expect and require.
The legislature is dominated by Islamist fundamentalists, and the Salafis, in alliance with the tribals, are probably the strongest and most conservative bloc.

Meanwhile Mckenzie International has prepared a proposal on suggestions for developing Kuwait into a financial and commercial center. A high committee of grandees and recycled potentates is holding meetings on the issue- actually a couple of them are quite good professionals, but a few others belong to the dum and dummer (or is it dumb and dumber?) school of economic thought. Over the past two decades, several international consulting firms have been commissioned to prepare proposals on 'making' the country a financial and commercial center, and several local committees have dealt with the matter. But alas, all to no avail. Now with oil prices so high, it is extremely unlikely that the matter will get anywhere beyond where it has been for years.
There is a good and succinct American (East Coast) term which summarizes what I expressed some years ago in a paper at a symposium on this very subject: fohgetaboutit.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Passing the Buck: the Saudi Foreign Minister told Channel 4 in London that he personally believes Saudi women should be allowed to drive. He then said that the matter is not in the hands of the ruling family, but that it depends on the families! He explained that it was a social issue, not a political one. So, if a woman goes out to drive in Riyadh, the police will not stop her, but everyone will give her nasty, maybe lascivious, looks? What about the mautawwa'een squads?

I expect that Saudi women will start driving, if only because the costs of paying and maintaining Asian drivers are going up. Once women start driving, the rate of accidents will increase sharply- not just because women will drive recklessly (some do), but because it will take men some time to get used to the idea. A young Saudi man, for example, may show his infatuation with a driving lass by ramming her car, or by making a complete ass of himself and causing a major accident. A goateed grandee (there are many of those) may feel insulted if a female driver cuts him off or passes him on the highway. We may see a wave of Arabian Road Rage that could make Los Angelenos look like pussy cats. It is possibe that a new type of Bassooss War may start, this time because of totaling a girl's car instead of killing her camel (that old war lasted many many years among the Arab tribes).

The bar for Arab reform has been lowered so much these past two years that once women get the right (or is it a privilege) to drive, we can all declare victory, for we will know that the New Middle East has become a reality.

The Mufti of Dubai, a Dr. A. al-Haddad, yesterday issued a fatwa to the effect that chat rooms and video-phoning between the sexes is haram (i.e taboo, as Melville would have said). He said that it allows men and women to be in the same 'room' without chaperon, and this could lead to sin and adultery. He did not say anything about the bars, nightclubs, and other forms of 'trafficking' that go on in the boom city.

The (non)natives are getting restless again along the Gulf. There have been riots, demonstrations and strikes by Asian workers attributed to bad treatment, non-payment of wages, and work conditions. Asian labor is vital for the functioning of all economic units in the (Persian) Gulf states, and that applies to large corporations as well as small households. The recent unrest has been mainly in the UAE, with a few limited cases in Kuwait. Not much these days about labor unrest in Saudi Arabia perhaps because the punishment/retribution is more severe. Or, to be fair, maybe because they are treated better. But then again, we probably would not hear about it either.

Breaking News Flash: The Crown Prince of Bahrain, His Highness Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Bin Issa Bin Salman al-Khalifa has had an epiphany. Today he told the London press that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. His Highness is definitely ahead of the curve.

A new idea circulating some Arab media (it is part of our conspiracy obsession, but conspiracies do exist, you know, just ask the late Jim Garrison or Oliver Stone): the US will attack Iran after the 2008 elections, so that the Republicans' chances will not suffer. Imagine a scene like the finale of Dr. Strangelove with Darth Vader skydiving hugging the bomb over Tehran. Or maybe it is wishful thinking by some editors.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Iran is getting more confusing by the day. It has never been easy to figure out the power structure in Tehran, mainly because there is no one power center- there are several. Now the dormant reformists are stirring again, perhaps because elections are near, the economy is stagnant, and the dangers of war are closer. The Iranian reformists are not particularly liked by the fading neocons in Washington: Bush included in his infamous 2002 axis of evil sound-bite a reformist-led Iran that had just helped the US in Afghanistan.

Oddly, the Bush administration, which detests Ahmadinejad, may be giving him a new lifeline. Each statement about Iran by the President or Darth Vader pushes petroleum prices higher, giving the regime a safety net- more money to appease the voters for the next year, just in time for the Iranian elections. (It has also pushed Halliburton share prices up to over $40 in recent weeks, but I am sure that is irrelevant). The Bush administration may be giving the Ahmadinejad administration a new lease on life, a chance to get re-elected, even as Bush leaves office in 2009.

Two weeks ago Hillary Clinton went against her natural instinct, against her obvious beliefs, against all that her generous donors stand for, and she did it again (she hasn't said ooops yet, but that may come after the bombs drop and the missiles fire across the Persian Gulf)!

Hillary wanted to look macho short of growing a moustache, so she showed up at the Capitol in figurative drag (can one say that women dress in drag? Je ne sais pas! I know that Rudy Guiliani did it, literally, at least once, and I am sure it'll make great campaign ad footage come Fall 2008). She voted to give the Bush administration what it wanted, a crack in the door that can be pushed open onto a new war in the Middle East, this time against Iran.
The Democrats, who almost universally detest the war in Iraq, have largely chosen to ignore the vote. They can almost taste victory in '08, and apparently they think she is their last best white hope. (Secretly, many Democrats I know like Obama much better, but do not think he can win. It is the fear factor Michlle Obama talked about).

The Dems record with electability has not been good. In 2002 their hearts were with Bill Bradley, but they chose Al Gore because of the electability issue (he almost lost to Bush). In 2004, their hearts were surely with Howard Dean, but their votes went for Kerry, because he was considered electable. Will Hillary's electability illusion make it three strikes for the Dems?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Speaking Loudly, But What About the Stick?In Beirut, US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman is at it again, opining on internal matters. He published an article in the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, owned by Prince Salman al-Saud. The audience would be mainly Saudis and Gulf Arabs, who form the readership of that newspaper. Very few Lebanese read it- the goal is not clear, unless it is preaching to the converted.

Feltman is not doing the March 14 bloc, the Hariri-Jumblatt-Saniora bloc, any good with his periodic statements about internal Lebanese politics. Even Bashar Assad and Ahmadinejad, the designated and real American foes in Lebanon do not meddle so openly- at least they do not meddle so ineffectually. Feltman's public statements only reinforce the widespread notion, probably erroneous, that he is the real leader of the March 14 movement, the real el jefe of the rump cabinet that is clearly paralyzed. Someone ought to tell him to shut up already and do his job quietly- tone down the high profile.

An earlier statement by a Pentagon underecretary created a firestorm in Lebanon when it was interpreted in the Arab world, probably wrongly, as calling for American military bases in Lebanon.

Lebanese Ayatollah Hussein Fadlallah, a leading Shi'a authority, has contributed his own two cents in an article in a Bahraini newspaper. Fadlallah blames the Bush administration for "opening new files' in the Middle East and failing to close them. He means administration neander-cons are stirring up hornets nests all over the region without apparently giving any thought to how to settle matters. Most intelligent people now agree with this last assessment.

Fadlallah also blames the administration for stirring up sectarian and ethnic tensions in the region, citing the Kurdish, Armenian and Shi'a-Sunni issues raised by US leaders. He claims the Bush administration is giving the Lebanese people the option of agreeing to the country becoming a US base or facing sectarian divisions. He cites statements by US leaders about the Lebanese national army and the need to change its 'ideology'. (FYI: the Lebanese army can have no ideology. If it did, it would disintegrate as a unified force).

Fadlallah was kidnapped during the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s, and he was also target of several assassination attempts. He survived all, but one car bomb killed tens of people- some Arab sources claimed at the time that the CIA planned the attempt and that a rich Arab oil state financed it. (Maybe, or maybe not- our region is also known as Paranoiastan).

Profile in Power: Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia holds the folllowing titles, at least: Crown Prince- Deputy Prime Minister (the King is PM)- Minister of Defense- Minister of Aviation- Inspector General (remember the old Danny Kaye film?).

The Prince is visiting some Gulf nations this week accompanied by a delegation consisting of, among others:

Prince Khaled bin Fahad bin Khaled.....(remember the Fibonicci series in math?)
Prince Khaled bin Saad bin Fahad
Prince Sattam bin Saud bin Abdulaziz
Prince Faisal bin Saud bin Mohammed
Prince Faisal bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz
Secretary General of the Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud Charitable Institution (I don't think he is named unless he is the same last gentleman up there, presumably because he is just a flunky, not a royal prince)
Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz
Prince Ahmad bin Fahad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz
Prince Turkey bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (happy thanksgiving)
Prince Nayef bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Trop de 'bins', but not to worry, there are more, many more, bins where these came from.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Did Israel Bomb?
Everyone agrees that someone, most likely Israel, bombed something somewhere deep inside Syria a couple of weeks ago. That is the only point of agreement.

Let's analyze the known facts and offered theories:
The Israelis refuse to discuss the reported bombing, something quite different from their usual attitude which depends to some extent on deterrence. Why?:
It is possible that they bombed the worng target.
It is also possible that they do not know, are not sure, what they have bombed.
Only Syria knows for sure what they have bombed, and they ain't talking.
The United States most likely knows something about it, perhaps whatever Israel knows. But that may not be that much.

So, Israel is not talking because they are not sure what they have bombed. It is unlikely that they are protecting some human asset on the ground, but it is possible.
The Syrian regime is not talking, except to acknowledge that something was bombed, because the Syrians are not that stupid and they want the Israelis and the United States to keep guessing. Why give them valuable intelligence for free?

So, both sides are playing chicken, but it is highly unlikely that Syria was working on nuclear weapons. Even Assad's advisers are not stupid enough to think that they can hide a nuclear program right in Israel's backyard, right within view of the US Sixth Fleet. And where the hell would they get the money from? The US media went too far in its paranoia, hyping up the 'nukular' angle in this episode. Or maybe it was fooled once agian.
It is not likely that this was merely a message to Iran: beating on the bully's little buddy never deters the bully- it merely shows that you fear him.

And if Israel is refusing to confirm 'what' it has bombed, how does the UN Security Council justify this unexplained raid deep into another country? What if Syrian planes bombed inside Israel (this is highly unlikely given the quality of Syrian C & C, planes and pilots)? How can a raid be justified if it is unexplained? This is definitely against the 'cogito, ergo sum' philosophy.
So, the plot thickens. More on this later, after I meditate some more.

Hill & Bill:
Hillary Clinton looks headed for the Democratic nomination, unless Iowa pulls a surprise during the caucus in January. It is possible. Her likely running mate? Well, her pillowmate, Bill Clinton. That would be the Republican's worst nightmare come true. With the Democratic majority in the House and Senate almost certain to increase, with a Democrat president, and then Clinton roaming the halls of th White House at will- and attending cabinet meetings. SNL will get a new lease on life, for the next eight years.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Libya's Colonel Qaddafi has done it again, perhaps because it worked the first time. He said yesterday that the identity and culture of North Africa is Shi'a (Shi'ite), and that it comes from the Fatimid dynasty that ruled the region from Egypt. Qaddai had called some time back for the re-establishment of the Fatimid Empire as a solution to the sectarian divide in Islam.

Qaddafi exaggerates the point about the "Shi'a identity' of North Africa, although he is right in that many Fatimid Shi'a influences have remained in Egypt and other countries of the region. One notable remaining legacy is the al-Azhar University in Cairo, which was founded by the Fatimids who establised Cairo as their capital but is now a center of (Sunni) Islamic Studies.

Last time the Colonel made such remarks he drew sharp attacks from some Arab media, especially from the vast Saudi-owned media. Some speculated that he was trying to irritate the Saudi ruling family, which he evidently did. The Saudis, in turn, were angry about reports that tied him to a plot against King Abdullah.

It is these outbursts and quirky ideas that make Qaddafi the most interesting, the only interesting, Arab leader around. His knowledge of history is not too wide off the mark either, although his intrepretation of it is quite unusual.

In Jordan a State Security court has sentenced a former legislator to one year in prison for 'insulting the state' and accusing high officials of corruption on his web site.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar claims today that the Shaikh of Al Azhar in Egypt has issued a fatwa that anyone who publishes rumors about the president of the country should be punished with 80 lashes. That's not so bad, at least he did not propose un-manning as a punishment for journalists. No report on what a shaikh should get for kissing up to the leader who appointed him. BTW: does a sheikh have to be a US citizen to be nominated for AG?

Iranian Schindler or Wallenberg? Iranian Television is showing a local serial in which a young Iranian diplomat posted to Europe during World War II falls in love with a Jewish girl and saves her from the Holocaust. Titled 'Journey to Nowhere', it depicts the persecution of Jews in Nazi Europe and shows them wearing mandatory the large yellow Stars of David. Media reports indicate that the serial is extremely successful in Iran. (Helloo Ahmadinejad, did you read? That spells h-o-l-o-c-a-u-s-t.) This doesn't bode well for Mahmoud's chances in his last election in 2009.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The US Senate vote in favor of a federal Iraq was met with howls of anger and dismay in the Arab world. Most of it was knee-jerk reaction to a concept that is novel in the Arab states: reduction of centralized power in favor of local autonomy! Sounds lik something Bush would espouse, not in Iraq but perhaps in, say, the USA!
Actually a federal system would be ideal for most Arab states that are tribally and ethnically heterogeneous, with the exception of Egypt, which is homogeneous (no, the two funny foreign terms have got nothing to do with eros- that would be the naked little guy with bow and arrow). It is especially appropriate for Iraq, given how much water has flown under the bridge already. The Senate vote merely recognized obvious facts on the Iraqi ground (cliches ARE useful).

Hypocrisy check: Arab governments and media commentators howled, as expected, before they had read the full text of the measure, which is based on the original Biden-Gelb proposals. Actually Arab governments don't howl, they just sniffle and titter. Perhaps they will mumble if they feel bold enough to face anyone other than their own helpless peoples- a rare occurrence these days because all bold Arab leaders have been dead for some time.

Most of the comments in the Arab media, and by Arab potentates, have railed against the vote 'to divide' Iraq. In Arabia, it is either one extreme (oppressive central rule, which is the norm) or another extreme (division and breakup). There is only black and white, with no gray area in between: something that might resonate on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The same governments that opened their airbases, naval facilities, and lands for the operation that overthrew the Ba'ath dictatorship want another strong central regime in Iraq, preferably with a Sunni honcho on top, sort of like the system the British installed in the 1920s. Some are openly lamenting the demise of the gas-and-chemical-loving old Iraqi army, and the old security services that kept people safe- safe until the midnight knock at the door came. But the Americans, strongly attached to the electoral process and the one-man one-vote ideals of the Republic, are not likely to oblige, even if they could engineer it, which is extremely doubtful fifty some years after Operation Ajax.

BTW: what the hell does the US Senate have to do with Iraq's internal governing structure? Can Iraq's parliament vote to support statehood for the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico?

Now for Lebanon: the election of a president was postponed until late October because the warlords and their factions could not agree. The March 14 group, inherited by Mr Hariri and cemented with a lot of local and foreign (Saudi, Western) money, sent its leader to Washington this weekend for consultation. Apparently Mr. Bush gave Hariri an Iftar meal and stiffened his backbone during halftime, because he came out for the third quarter roaring, insisting that the next president must be from his (March 14) group. This is not likely to happen because the opposition, also cemented with a lot of local and foreign (Iranian in this case) money, will do what oppositions are wont to do: oppose the non-opposition. Overall things look worse for Lebanese accord than they did before Mr. Hariri's visit to Washington.

The plot thickens: Mr. Bush said after his meeting with Hariri that foreign powers should not dictate who Lebanon's president should be. I assume that includes Iran, Syria, USA, France and Saudi Arabia, among others. Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Lebanese Hezbollah, claimed in a speech that Israel was the culprit behind the political assassination in Lebanon during the past year. He said that both Israel and the United States want a 'certain' kind of president for Lebanon, and insisted that both sides must agree on who the president will be. He said that a populat election may be the last resort: that would be a tricky business in the precariously balanced Lebanese population mix.

When I read Arab media recently talking of Saudi Arabia mediating among Somali factions, I did a loud 'OH, OH'. I tried a Reaganesque 'there they go again' but my wife said that it did not sound right with my accent. Saudi attempts at mediation are admirable, but they have consistently failed from the Gulf to Lebanon to Palestine. They remind me of one of my favorite books: Don Quixote, written by a Catholic infidel long ago.

BTW: It is awfully quiet along the Nile these days- not even a 'booo'. Is the old man in some sort of coma? Is his designated Dauphin already pulling the strings? Or are the military and security services, the real rulers, pulling his strings? In any case, the whole country is quiet, which is a very un-Egyptian stance.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

President Bush just vetoed SCHIP, the bill expanding children's (not childrens' as Harvard MBA's apparently are taught) health insurance by $35 billion over five years. That averages to a paltry $7 billion each year, about what the Iraq war costs in a few days. He said that it was a "step toward socialized medicine". Goody, now parents of sick children will sleep better knowing that their children will not be treated through a system that looks suspiciously like socialized medicine. Better dead than red, eh?

BTW: isn't Walter Reed operated through what is a socialized public health system? The House apparently lacks the votes to overturn the veto. Oh well, maybe after 2008 there will be enough votes to overturn such a veto...if needed.

The biggest news headline yesterday, after Britney and her brood, was that Hillary had raised $80 million to Obama’s $79 million in the first three quarters of ’07. That was taken that she was more popular, and polls indicated that she was. It was also interpreted that she was somehow more qualified to be US president. Large money feeds the candidate’s popularity, and perhaps vice versa. Perhaps: Mother Teresa could not have raised $80 million in three quarters, nor can Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt combined.

The best example of bully politics was the Columbia University-Ahmadinejad fiasco. As most of the world saw it: the president of the elite university sounded like the demagogue, albeit a nervous demagogue, while the real demagogue sounded and even looked more like a president of Columbia. People in the Middle East were reminded by local media how Columbia University officials had gushed over other guests, such paragons of democracy as General Musharraf and the late Shah of Iran- and perhaps Arab potentates who also have the habit of throwing dissidents in jail, muzzle freedoms, and behead, or hang- depending on your killing preferences- people for their sexual preferences. The sort of things the Iranian regime does.

The use of the Hitler comparison is also another type of bully politics. What is this silly habit of dusting off old Adolph every time a disagreeable Middle Eastern leader causes some trouble? It has been used for sixty years to describe Middle Eastern and Arab leaders, mainly by US politicians and almost never by Europeans who know what Hitler really did. Surely all these slick politicians can string together a few terms to make their points without having to rely on someone's ghost. Besides, the Austrian pervert was much smarter than any recent Muslim leader: he did, after all, conquer almost all of Europe, except for one pesky desolate rain-soaked island.

I was reading some data on military service online. It is shocking how almost all the neocons who are eager to play war with other people's children as canon fodder had never served. Many of them, ranging from V.P Dick Cheney down to airwave mouth-meister Rush Limbaugh got deferments of one kind or another during war, including Vietnam. But they do their share of national service during times of national crisis and peril: they go shopping in order to defeat the terrorists.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad's performance today at Columbia University was true to form. A former professor, he also acted the politician and made several evasive answers, especially about the holocaust. He avoided most potentially embarrassing issues. He did make one clearly truthful answer: when Saddam Hussein used chemical and biological weapons against his country's troops, the West, especially the United States under Reagan was at best silent.
I did learn something new from him: that they have a don't ask, don't tell, (and don't tap?) policy regarding sexual preference in theocratic Iran, which is in line with the rest of the region. I suspect that one was a whopper.

What gave Ahmadinejad his advantage was the poor performance o Mr. Bollinger of Columbia. His introduction was ungracious and longer the the speech itself, a sure mark of a boor. He was so eager to pander to his vocal critics that he made a mockery of the notion that Columbia was a neutral academic venue where the little Iranian can answer, and occasionally evade, members of academia. Normally you give the man a chance to speak before dumping on him: and you dont call a president who was elected, can run for one more term only, and may lose the next election a petty dictator.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The situation in Iraq can be summarized in one word: Blackwater.

Blackwater symbolizes the failure of both the US and the Iraqi government to secure the center of the country- effectively the only region in Iraq that is still contested by various ethnic and sectarian groups. The center is the only contested region in what is effectively a confederacy of regions and provinces.
In this, Blackwater's case resembles something out of a dark futuristic film, where private companies oversee security, law and order and the central authority is a vague concept. It is what might happen to security and law enforcement if they are handed over to private profit-making companies run by MBAs (not necessarily out of Harvard). Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against MBAs, I may be worse in running law and order: I have a PhD in Monetary Economics, and we are known to solve problems by making convenient assumptions. In one of my former jobs I even had people with high school degrees as colleagues on policy committees. One potentate was a Junior High (Middle School) graduate, and they are probably less qualified than MBAs to advise on economic policy- but perhaps not on security matters.

Blackwater symbolizes to Arabs the helplessnes and impotence of Iraq's elected government (both legislative and excutive) vis-a-vis the United States. It also symbolizes the failure of all Iraqis to provide and respect law and order.

Blackwater is basically, at least in the eyes of most Iraqis and other Arabs, another extra-legal militia, although, unlike the others, its armed men are professional and are not cutthroats. And they only kill in self defense, or try to.

Iraqi officials declared Blackwater persona non grata in the aftermath of 11 civilian deaths in Baghdad, and I noted that this may not stand. Today its spokesman backtracked, saying the company will stay but must respect Iraqi laws, whatever that means nowadays.

Homework Time: Wikipedia calls Blackwater a "private military company and security firm". It is a group of nine specialized companies with speciallties ranging from security aviation to training canines (as in dawgs). Like most of us, it has been called many names by different people- it has been called the largest private army in the world, and a major war profiteer. Earlier this year, a book about the company made the NYT Besr Sellers list, whatever that signifies besides a lot of money for the author. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005), when the government failed to provide security in New Orleans, Blackwater soldiers were reported patroling some of the streets. It has also been reported to operate in other places such as Afghanistan and Central Asia.

So, Blackwater succinctly summarizes the four-year mission in Iraq. The mission started with high hopes and some misgivings, on both the Amrican and Iraqi sides, and it ended up thus: hired armed men to provide security where 150,000 American troops and double that number in Iraqis cannot. That tells me it is time to start getting out.

In Lebanon, another legislator, again a member of the pro-government March 14 Movement, was killed. He was blown up along with nine others by means of a favorite Lebanese invention of the 1980s: the car bomb. It looks suspicious, but then most car bombings tend to look suspicious to most of us, no?


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It looks like the current French government is departing from the trend of the past years. It is abandoning Old Europe, and returning to the future of an even older Europe- in terms of relations with America. No longer will French paratroopers be used solely to land in African capitals and shore up friendly dictators or keep order, nor will they watch mass genocide from across the border a la Rwanda. The French aspire to replace Les Anglais as America’s staunchest allies, in the Middle East anyway, at least for now. That should last until the fall/Christmas season flood of popular American films are unleashed in Europe….then it’ll be Sacrebleue! le nouveau defi Americain, l’invasion culturelle!

The Iran-West rift has shifted toward France now. France’s new Foreign Minister Bernie Kushner is almost as tactful as Iran’s Ahmadinejd. He went to Baghdad, predicted the fall of the Iraqi cabinet, and hinted at the desirability of that outcome. A week later he hinted at a war against Iran that may be inevitable, and all but claimed that France, at least he and Sarko, was getting ready for that war. So far it looks like he was wrong about Iraq. The jury is still out about the Iran war.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has criticized all the talk about an Iran war. Elbradei stated that all the noise about Iran reminds him of the noise before the invasion of Iraq. It is possible that El Bradei wants to succeed where Hans Blix failed in 2003 to stop the Bush administration from invading Iraq. Blix was demonized by conservatives and by others in the United States because he publicly doubted claims of Iraqi WMD. I was one of those who suspected Blix at the time- but it is not always true what the old song says, that ‘a fool never learns’. Fools outside Washington anyway.

Perhaps the next war will come in the Fall of 2008, either before of just after the elections, although Fox News has not hinted at a date. It may come just in time to saddle the next administration with three wars in the periphery of the Persian Gulf, some messy unfinished business in Lebanon and Palestine, besides the wider and now largly defensive war on terror.

Speaking of Iran, it is almost UN General Assembly time, and it looks like the Hugo & Mahmoud show will be on again- notwithstanding the bombastic and self-serving demands of Mitt Romney to deny the Iranian president access to NYC. It would be interesting if Libya's Qadhafi (Gaddafi) also shows up; then the meetings will be much more entertaining. Maybe all three will show up on Jay Leno or Letterman, although the staid Jon Stewart is a more likely venue.

The Iraqi government may have put itself in a corner by publicly announcing that it “will revoke the license of” Blackwater Corporation to operate in Iraq. That was after a battle in which the company’s agents killed some 11 Iraqis and wounded many more. US organizations, including the Embassy, have depended on the firm for security and protection in the wild streets of Baghdad.

By mutual agreement, Blackwater staff are not subject to Iraqi laws: this was fine as long as there were no large-scale fights and large numbers of publicized killings. Over time, with more news like this, the special position of Blackwater will be exploited in Iraq and around the Middle East to fan the flames of anti-Americanism. There was a similar legal-status agreement in Iran under the Shah which was publicly derided by Ayatollah Khomeini and others.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Are we misunderestimating Baghdad?
Saudi media is already exploiting the assassination of Iraqi tribal Shaikh Abu Reesha in al-Anbar for its own political ends. Asharq Alawsat, owned by a Saudi prince, contains two editorials by its top editors, no less, hinting that perhaps the govenment in Baghdad, or the Shi'a militias, or some 'foreign' party was responsible. They do not absolve al Qaeda outright, after all it did announce responsibility- but they do try to muddy things up. (Isn't al Qaeda a 'foreign' party as well, since most its terrorists are from other Arab states?) Now, if the hapless Baghdad government can get inside and strike this deep inside a Sunni bastion like al-Anbar, then it is being grossly 'misunderestimated', even by the man who coined this term.

A column in the same newspaper takes an interesting position on the jailing of four Egyptian journalists for not being nice enough to President Mubarak and his Dauphin. S. Attallah suggests that jailing them is harsh and perhaps they should get lesser sentences, perhaps fined, even prevented from practicing their profession. Now that is being for free speech in the New New Middle East.

A US State Dept report today notes the decline of religious freedom in the Middle East: it especially notes Iraq, Iran, and Egypt. In Iran the Baha'is are still persecuted, although Christain and Jewish faiths are recognized, probably barely tolerated by the mullahs. (Still, this is not a legit casus belli).The report does not record any decline in religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, since there is none to start with.

In fact the report notes 'some' improvement in Saudi Arabia and Sudan: these relate to promises of improvement and revising some educational texts. The odd thing is that Sudan has citizens of various religions, like Christians and animists and has had a Christian vice president, while Saudi Arabia has only Moslem citizens and does not allow other houses of worship (like churches) or celebration of other religious ceremonies; nor does it allow other religious books like the Bible, the Torah, The Teachings of Don Juan, Journey To Ixtlan or the Road Books of Jack Kerouac (in fairness the last three items are almost certainly not allowed in most other Muslim countries, especially in theocratic Iran).
The report notes that Saudi sanctions were waived due to reforms "to ensure that the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims are protected"- this last one must be news to everyone except the people at State; does that mean they are about to allow churches, temples and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in Riyadh?
Yet Cuba is castigated in the report about not easily allowing new churches. Hypocricy is not a four-letter word.

Congressman James Moron (D-Va) opined the other day on MSNBC that we should have learned from history and did as the British did in the 1920's-i.e. appointed a 'moderate' Sunni regime. What the Brits did was bomb Shi'a and Kurdish villages into submission and chose a minority regime (Sunni) to rule Iraq. The minority elite tried to join Nazi Germany as allies in 1941. After a series of bloody coups they dragged the country into three major wars. Is that what Congressman Moron has learned from history?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Foreplay in Cairo: an Egyptian state court has sentenced the sditors of four (4) independent newspapers to one year in jail for 'insulting' President Mubarak and 'his son'. I did not realize it was possible to insult an Arab leader, let alone his son. The editors were also accused of spreading rumors and lies about leaders and 'symbols' of the ruling party ( i.e Mubarak et fils). Reports claim there is now some anger in the Egyptian Journalists Union: but don't hold your breath, it was never known for its defense of the freedom of speech- they just want to show that they can think independently of the ruler.

Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Reesha (a.k.a al-Reeshawi) was shown recently on TV basking in the presence of President Bush, eating qoozi (roast stuffed lamb to you infidels), and doing a good PR spin for a desert tribal thane. Today the young leader of the ad hoc Anbar Revival Counci was blown up along with some bodyguards at the entrance to his home. Clearly al Qaeda is not completely finished in al-Anbar, unless it was an inter-tribal rivalry.

In the meantime, a slow case for a nasty war with the ruling mullahs of Iran is being prepared through almost daily media leaks that Iranian-made weapons were found in Iraq. It is almost certain that British, American, German, Russian, and Chinese weapons are also found on a daily basis in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Many countries are the sources of 'normal' weapons that are to be found in Iraq, except Arab countries: Arabs haven't yet learned how to make weapons. However, the IED's and cutom-designed weapons like armor piercing missiles are another thing: no other country is known to make them.

A Sheik Khalil, member of the royal-appointed Council in Saudi Arabia was pissed yesterday while talking on CNN. He was foaming at the mouth that "Iran must get out, be forced out of Iraq, completely out". Fine and dandy, many people inside and outside Iraq agree with the noble sentiment. But the worthy thane did not offer his country's blood and treasure to that end: he was implicitly demanding that American boys AND GIRLS do his bidding, do the fighting for him. But let's not lose faith, his country is 'considering' opening an embassy in Baghdad: now all they need is to find someone who is brave enough to reside in the Iraqi capital. That is what influential countries, like the USA and Iran, have done for the past four years.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In Egypt: Ayman Rifa'i, the man who was a witness in the 'trial' of jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour, was found hanged last week in his jail cell. Authorities attributed his death to suicide. Originally he was called as witness against Mr. Nour, but later he recanted, saying that he was 'pressured'. Suicide is rare in the Middle East, unless you are a Salafi with a truckload of explosives among unwary civilians. It is especially rare in Egypt.
Mr. Nour is the only man ever to run against Mr. Mubarak, or against any other Egyptian leader, in a rigged election and live to tell about it- so far, knock on wood. PS: Mr. Nour is still in jail, pending accession of Gamal (Jamal) Mubarak to the throne of Egypt whenever his father realizes that he is in fact brain dead and needs to move on.
Note to the State Department Spokesmen/women: Aymn Nour is definitely not suicidal- not yet.

Meanwhile, speculation has intensified about the health of Mr. Mubarak pere, who already looks quite mummified, thank you. His Prime Minister stated that Mr. Mubarak will be re-elected as leader of the ruling party in November, which was a surprise in this day and age of the New New Middle East. He also said that Mubarak's health is good, but that there is an 'organized'scenario' for accession in Egypt- WTF that means, perhaps that the security services will insure that the Dauphin will sit on the throne.

Syria: last week an Israeli warplane flew over Syria and dropped 'something'. Some claim that it was bombs and Syria crypticallt talked of reserving the right to retaliate. The latest speculation is that Israeli planes have bombed a Hezbollah supply convoy along the Ho Chi Assad Trail. The oddest claim: a Kuwaiti tabloid, Alseyassah, claimed that it was an American warplane that did the bombing and cheered the impending moment of 'Operation Syrian Freedom'. Typically, the newspaper attributed its information to 'reliable sources', almost certainly meaning its own editor's imagination.

In Saudi Arabia many thousands of camels have died over the past few weeks of a mysterious ailment. Some have attributed the cause to food poisoning and blame the substitute feed used recently to nourish the numerous dromedaries that are deeply intertwined with the history and culture of Arabia. Many attribute the cause to a switch in the animal feed, away from barley whose price has been rising. Yet the phenomenon is widespread around the country and has been called in the media a 'national tragedy', and many fortunes have been lost. If it continues, and pending discovering the real cause, this could expand into a regional tragedy beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia. It is not clear yet if international specialists and organizations have been approached for help.
The authorities, in typical fashion, claim to have opened an investigation-which is what authorities are good at doing.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

(Mis)Quote of the Day: UBL to Bush (whipping out his tax proposal): My Tax Cut Is Bigger Than Yours.

Osama Bin Laden's latest tape today should infuriate Mr. Bush for more than one reason. Not only does it remind the American public, next year's electorate, that OBL (UBL if you will) is alive and well- the wayward Saudi also outdoes W in a couple of points that he thought were his own points of strength.

Take taxes: OBL offers the American taxpayer conversion to Islam and the automatic kind of cuts that not even Bush, Limbough, and Bob Nardelli, combined, dare advocate. Imagine the flatest of the flat taxes: the Moslem 2.5% Zakat tithe will be all you're required to pay- no progressive rates, no worries about taxes on dividends and capital gains, and no estate taxes. And no need for expensive shelters and attorneys. And to think that Osama never went near the University of Chicago nor studied under Milton Friedman- probably never even heard of him, let alone understood the difference between positive and normative economics. Besides, Friedman was Jewish and definitely a no no for any publicly self-denying shaggy Salafi- besides he was not even an orthodox Jew, a la Wahhabis. He did, however, surprise me by mentioning Noam Chomsky- but Arabs of all political. ethnic, and sectarian stripes seem to love to refer to Chomsky these days.

(Disclaimer: Moslem taxes are a little more complex than that, and there is the alms, Sadaqa, which is more voluntary. Nevertheless, they are much much much simpler and cheaper than the IRS Code- that is why H&R Block will never thrive in the Middle East. Besides, most Arab countries do not really need income taxes: extensive public expenditures are financed directly by state oil revenues in the oil states and by foreign aid in the non-oil states. Voila! Simple, n'est-ce pas?).

Osama also tried , unsuccessfully I think, to wrest the mantle of "Uniter Not Divider" away from Bush. He rambled on about Democrats and others and did not do a good job. It is not likely that his appeal to the American people will resonate anywhere- not even on a post-post-housing debacle-Labor-Day Friday, likely the bluest of blue Fridays this year. Not with the NFL season just starting and the Colts convincingly beating the Saints, and the MLB World Series on the line.

Still, the telling blow, the one that I think drew blood, was the taunt of "my tax cuts are bigger than yours". And it was all in Arabic!

The leader of the terrorist al Qaeda also managed to get one below the belt at Arab dictators, kings, and princes. He did that a la Clinton. Remember how Clinton was rumored to steal Republican ideas as his own? Well, Osama stole the regulation jet-black hair-dye from ruling Arab potentates. As they all do, so did he, for the first time, dye his beard jet black. By imitating the potentates, is he having pretensions at "potency"? Perhaps not, it is most likely that he has only dyed his beard. The others, the rulers, are more consistent: they dye everything.....all over. Or so their peoples say- in private gatherings, of course.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Terrorism and Kicking AssA Sydney newspaper quotes President Bush telling Australian VP "we're kicking ass". It is also likely right now that, in some cave or lair in the Pashtun areas of Northwest Pakistan, a tall bearded Saudi and his Egyptian sidekick (he jokingly calls him abu arb'a 'ayoon, four-eyes), are saying very much the same thing, but in Arabic. Of course the one who kicks ass last is usually considered the eventual winner, but the situation is complex, with many players. In the short and medium term anyone can claim that they are kicking ass. At the moment al Qaeda in Mesopotamia seems to be at the receiving end (not necessarily a pun here) of the boot. But then again, it looks like the Coalition is firmly at the receiving end in Afghanistan.

Mr. Bush, however, seems to be winning some friends and influencing people in the heart of 'old' Europe- right in that most American-sceptic place, the Elysee Palace. Not only did France's Sarkozy make the right noises about US policy, he also spent his vacation in Maine, not exactly a playground for French politicos. It was a fortuitous choice of destination, because he happened to run into W.
Sarko even seems to be picking up some of Bush'e vernacular- he came close to calling for 'kicking ass' somewhere in the Middle East, perhaps in Lebanon or Iran. Of course the French do not use that vulgar but succinct American term, especially in their own language. And their boots seem to be big enough only for unruly West African derrieres.
It would sound funny for Sarko to claim that he is doing 'ruer le posterieur', or to use a more extensive version, 'le fait de donner un coup de pied au cul'- I'm sure most of you got the very last word. Some may take his use of the term as another example of the famously suspected French prurience.

Arab Military Industry
When it rains it pours: Sudan's defense minister has claimed that his country is producing what he calls pilotless airplanes, i.e drones. Of course they could be just kites. He said that Sudan will become self-sufficient in weaponry and that it is the third African country in terms of military industries. He was too polite to claim that the country was also the top Arab producer of muzzle-loading carbines. Now the Arab world can rightly boast the greatest military-industrial complex south of Israel, west of Iran, and north of Zimbabwe. Of course the really smart Arab rulers, well the 'relatively' smart Arab rulers, have access to the best international weapons that money can buy. But then again, it has nothing to do with cerebral prowess, does it?

We were self sufficient in weapons once. Some years ago, when we were childern along the warm northwestern Arab shores of the Gulf (Persique, pas du Mexique), we used to be self-sufficient. We made our own slingshots, the weapon of choice which we called nabba'ta (plural: nababee't), for use against innocent birds and evil human foes. Nowadays, even the slingshots are foreign-made, mainly in East Asia- but they are still cheaper and, tellingly, they are used much more effectively than the high-tech weapons are used by our military. Besides, the prices of the slingshots do not include exorbitant commissions, kickbacks, or bribes to princes and potentates.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A New Turkey in Baghdad
Probably no embassy has been written and talked about for the past 27 years as much as the new American embassy in Baghdad. And for good reasons, that is, for all the wrong reasons. Media comments about it have ranged from "mysterious', "shrouded in mystery" (sort of like Bram Stoker's description of Dracula's castle), "monstrous", "fortress on a hill", to "as cloaked in mystery as a ministate in Rome" (a good one, with Ambassador Ryan Crocker as the Pontifex Maximus?). It has also been plagued by accusations of using slave labor or forced labor through a Kuwaiti sub-contractor: the contractor was accused in congressional hearings of having tricked Asian workers to fly to Baghdad on the pretext of flying them into Dubai and forcing them to disembark at gunpoint- and frankly that doesn't sound far-fetched. The sub-contracting was done through a subsidiary of Halliburton (HAL: the share price has been stuck in the low 30's).

One British newspaper even absurdly claimed that the location of the embassy was a secret, even with 21 buildings over 104 acres of land, and a budget that is estimated at over $ 1 billion (Congress has appropriated about $ 600 million so far).

John Brown, a former diplomate writing in, quotes a former US ambassador recalling a Cold War era joke: the Soviets were proud to have the biggest microchip in the world. He hopes the same will not be said about the new embassy- unflattering media descriptions make it sound quite Stalinesque but with an Arab twist: a lot of palm trees.

Ironically and sadly this new embassy will be known as the only major project in Iraq to be completed on time, with its own reliable power and water systems- but it was not built to benefit Iraqis. It may prove to be a public relations and media nightmare for U.S policy in Iraq, and perhaps in the Arab region as a whole. It stands out like the proverbial sore thumb, reminiscent of a Saddam palace only much bigger, telling Iraqis everyday, 24/7, where the real power lies in their country. From the point of view of many detractors of constitutional change in Iraq it makes a mockery of the idea of sovereignty and self-rule.
Who and where are the geniuses who think up such projects? How the hell do they come up with these turkeys?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

He is back! Iran’s Ahmadinejad apparently is feeling confident enough to opine publicly on regional politics. He has said publicly that there will be no war with the United States- at least not a hot war. This should disappoint some warmongering media in the Gulf monarchies- Uncle Sam is not going to do the little spoiled piggy’s bidding by beating on the big bad mullah wolf next door, not yet. Perhaps this will disappoint some extremists in Iran as well- they remember well how Saddam’s invasion in 1980 solidified the theocrats’ power quickly.
Yet yesterday both sides, Bush and Ahmadinejad, suddenly escalated the rhetoric again, with France's Nicolas Sarkozy putting in his two eurocents. Some in the Paris media have mentioned a new policy by Sarko of le carrot et le stick- but the French don't have much of un stick now in the Middle East.

The Iranian president took time out from cracking down on pretty ladies with too much hair showing in public, and young men flaunting the abs which he does not have, to opine on America in Iraq. He says that the US will leave a vacuum in Iraq and that Iran and her friends and neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, will fill. He is well aware that his term ends in 2009, just months after George Bush leaves office, and he is not guaranteed a second, and last, term with current economic conditions. It all depends on who is allowed to run against him.

Speaking of France, the foreign minister had apologized a day earlier for dissing the Iraqi government soon after leaving Baghdad. But being French and stubborn, M. Bernard Kushner reiterated today that "M. Maliki may leave us soon." I would find the statement ominous if I were in al-Maliki's sandals.

Alarbiya TV reports a new twist that on the face of it reopens the whole Lockerbie (Pan Am bombing) case of December 1988. It quotes an AFP and the Paris daily Le Figaro report that a vital witness in the case has said that he lied in his testimony that implicated Libyan agents. There are hints that the real culprits may be Syria, Iran, and the PFLP Palestinian group. The report hints that the Lockerbie bombing was a retaliation for the US Navy shooting down an Iranian airliner that killed over 120 people over the Persian Gulf in July 1988.
Sounds odd and very convenient though, given the regional poltical rivalries and tensions these days- but, then again, Le Figaro and AFP are not owned by Saudi Arabia. Are they???
The worst of it is that this assertion will wreak havoc, as the cliche says, on the emotions of the families of the victims.

Alzawraa, an Iraqi 'Sunni' site reports an odd but possibly telling development if it is true, quoting an 'unknown' Sadrist spokesman as accusing the government of helplessness in the face of Iranian encroachmnt in southern Iraq. But, the again, Alzawraa is not exactly a nuetral observer. Next day, al-Sadr tried to clarify matters by issuing a statement banning 'others' from speaking publicly on his behalf. He also froze all activities of al-Mahdi Army for six months., presumably to reduce intra-Shi'a tensions and clashes. His very own anti-surge.

Arab news websites today covered extensively the travails, and travels, of GOP Senator Larry Craig, with mucho comments.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Colonel David Sutherland in Iraq: "the insurgent group known as the Brigades of the Revolution of Twenty (as in 1920) has been helping the coalition forces in its campaign against al Qaeda in Dialy Province. Now we are calling this group the Baquba Guardians."
Aljazeera TV (August 25): "The Brigades of the Revolution of Twenty has denied their participation with the Americans in any operation against al Qaeda. They did speculate that some other breakaway group may be involved."
Sacrebleu, zee plot thickens, comme on dit en France! The Colonel can't be fibbing, so either Aljazeera is fibbing or there is a misunderstanding somewhere.
An ironic historical segue here: The original 1920 Revolution was led mainly by Shi'as against the British occupation.

Baghdad- J'accuse: A close political adviser to PM al-Maliki this week accused unnamed Gulf countries of fanning the flames of sectarian (inter-Shi'a) strife in southern Iraq. Sami al-Askari accused "Gulf' countries of sending millions of dollars across the border to buy and incite some tribal leaders and create instability in the heretofore stable south. This may explain a group of tribal leaders who declared to the media about a new'southern' alliance of tribes and shaikhs a few weeks ago. This also comes only a few weeks after senior U.S officials, including UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, expressed frustration with some of Iraq's neighbors who are considered US allies and their role in undermining Iraqi stability.
al-Askari cliams to the news site Elaph that the device that killed one governor in the south last week was made in a 'neighboring' country, and that there have been arrests and confessions (now, how did they get those?).

NIE Report: predicts that the Iraqi government will grow yet "more precarious"- someone mentioned yesterday on a news website, I forgot which one, that by stating it so publicly the NIE ensures that Iraq's government will become "more precarious". Aren't these guys so good at predicting and forecasting?

Ryan Crocker, ambassador to Baghdad: declares that Iraqi political progress has been "extremely disappointing. Progress on national level issues has been extremely (nice word, this 'extremely') disapppointing and frustrating to all us, to Iraqis, and to the Iraqi leadership itself." August 21

Senator Carl Levin, Chair Armed Services: "Iraq's prime minister can't bring peace to his country (ummm, but we have proven over the past four years that we can, senor Carlito?), so the Iraqi parliament should declare a vote of no confidence and replace him." August 21

Sen. Hillary (me too) Clinton: "Iraqi leaders have not met their own political benchmarks to share power (and we have met our security and military goals, senora?), modify the Baathification (that must be de-Baa....) laws, pass an oil law (does she know what is in the oil law and why it is not eagerly accepted by Iraqis of all stripes?), schedule provincial elections, and amend their constitution (she knows how long it took to hammer out and ratify the US constitution). I share Senator Levin's hope that the Iraqi parliament will replace prime minister Maliki with a less divisive (cute) and more unifying figure (does she know that Saddam is dead?)..." August 21

The Daily Standard, Stephen Schwartz: "Almost six years after 9/11....the American media and government have begun to admit something every informed and honest muslim in the world has known all along. That is: the "Sunni insurgency" in Iraq, as well as 9/11 and certain acts of extremist violence...are consequences of the official status of the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Wahhabi clerics have preached and recruited for terror in Iraq; Saudi money has sustained it; the largest number of those who have carried out suicide bombings north of the Saudi-Iraqi border hav been Saudi citizens. "Counterproductive" is a euphemism for Saudi state subsidies to wahhabi clerics who demand the genocide of Shi'a muslim, urg young men to go north to suicide... It is also a diplomatic way to describe the official policy of ignoring financial contributiuns by rich saudis to support wahhabi terror in Iraq..." July 30

Christian Science Monitor, Sam Dagher: "This years pilgrims to Karbala come amid an unprecedented wave of anger toward Saudi Arabia. Government and religious leaders here charge that the neighboring kingdom is doing little to stem the flow of its national to Iraq to wage 'holy war' om Shiites (Shi'as)" August

Memorabilia from Saudi and Gulf media:

"The historical role and rights (i.e. entitlement) of Iraq's Sunni Arabs must be taken into account in any power structure."
"Al-Maliki and his sectarian government are on the way out. The Americans have already decided."
"Iraq is facing a Safawi (Safavi) Persian invasion."

"No Arab country should allow foreign influences, forces and agents to run amok and alter its culture (not clear if they mean Iraq, all of it, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf states, or all of the above)."

"The Americans are dealing secretly, or soon will be dealing secretly (also the Israelis, depending on who writes where and when) to divide the Arab world into spheres of influence."

"The (American) invasion (of Iran) is imminent. The date has been set."
"The (Ameriacn) invasion (of Syria) is coming soon. The date has been set."

"The system in Iraq is not realy democratic (unlike the ones in other Arab states, for instance?). It is based on a flawed constitution (unlike our nonexistant constitution: ours does not exist, ergo it can't be flawed)."

"Iraq's parliament is divided and sectarian (unlike ours which does not exist, ergo it can't be divided and sectarian)." Imagine, a divided parliament. What will they think of next, a two-party system?

"Bashar Assad inherited power from his father (true, great insight there- and our potentates ar presumably elected?)"

"Hassan Nasrallah (leader of the radical Shi'a Hezbollah) should return Lebanon to its people, so that Lebanon can become a healthy territory breathing the free air of 'real democracy'." Editor of the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, August 26.

Angry Arab News: "People in Lebanon have been wondering why there i no monument erected at the tomb of slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri (it is common among all Lebanese religions and sects to erect headstones on graves). I am told that the reason is due to the Hariri family's deference to Wahhabi doctrine which forbids such measures." August 24

Cultural Coup de grace: Riyadh was selected Arab Cultural capital for 2000 (I know, I know).

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