The big New York Times story on the Afghan War today (3/27/12) focuses on public opinion in the United States, which is now dramatically anti-war: 69 percent think we shouldn’t be there.
An interesting point argument is raised later in the piece, when two sources make the argument that the war wouldn’t be so unpopular if Barack Obama would just do a better job of selling it:
Peter Feaver of Duke University, who has long studied public opinion about war and worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, said that in his view there would be more support for the war if President Obama talked more about it. “He has not expended much political capital in defense of his policy,” Mr. Feaver said. “He doesn’t talk about winning in 2014; he talks about leaving in 2014. In a sense that protects him from an attack from the left, but I would think it has the pernicious effect of softening political support for the existing policy.”
And later we get this from Brookings Institution hawk Michael O’Hanlon:
“I honestly believe if more people understood that there is a strategy and intended sequence of events with an end in sight, they would be tolerant,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “The overall image of this war is of U.S. troops mired in quicksand and getting blown up and arbitrarily waiting until 2014 to come home. Of course you’d be against it.”
This is a pretty widespread belief in recent press coverage of Afghanistan– that somehow Obama could better explain the Afghan War if he’d just decide to do so. Here’s Liz Marlantes of the Christian Science Monitor (Chris Matthews Show, 3/18/12):
The criticism that you keep hearing from Republicans, and I think there’s some validity to this, is that the president also didn’t really spend any political capital selling this mission to the public. I’m not sure the public really understands what the mission is there anymore. Once bin Laden was dead, I think a lot of Americans feel like, “OK, we’ve solved our main problem over there.” In terms of our goals there, it keeps getting defined down. We’re not going to, you know, build a perfect democracy there anymore. And so I think people are thinking, “Well, why are we even there anymore?”
The Washington Post editorial page (3/20/12):
Mr. Obama must do more to build support in the United States for his policy. The president has given just a handful of speeches on Afghanistan during his first term, and his recent public comments have focused on bringing troops home, rather than completing their mission.
Obama has made broadly responsible decisions on Afghanistan. He bears the private burdens of wartime leadership with dignity as he comforts the families of the fallen. He has a strong national security team, a serious military strategy and measurable successes to highlight. But with a nation in need of rallying, his public voice is weak.
The assumption, of course, is that there is, in fact, an Afghan War “strategy” to defend. And that if Americans really understood what their country was doing there, they would support it.
- Record number of Americans oppose Afghan war (capitolhillblue.com)
Details emerging about Mohamed Merah, the alleged gunman in a series of murders in the Toulouse area from March 11 to March 19, raise serious questions about the conduct of French intelligence and police agencies.
Merah allegedly killed one paratrooper in Toulouse on March 11, two paratroopers in nearby Montauban on March 15, and a father and several children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19. He was killed in an armed standoff with police at his Toulouse apartment Thursday, shot in the head by a sniper as he fell from his balcony.
Officials are scrambling to explain how Merah—though known to both French intelligence (DCRI, Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence) and to police—operated undetected for over a week, and why he was killed in the operation.
Speaking to Europe1 radio Thursday, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé admitted: “I understand why one would ask if there was an error or not. As I do not know whether there was an error, I cannot tell you what type of error, but we must shed light on this.”
Christian Prouteau, the founder of the GIGN (Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie), a counterterrorism squad that rivals the elite police unit that killed Merah, criticized the assault yesterday. He said he was surprised that the standoff ended in Merah’s death: “How is it that the best police unit cannot arrest a lone man? They could have hit him with tear gas. Instead they threw armfuls of grenades at him. The result was that the criminal was put in a psychological state to continue his ‘war.’”
He added: “It may appear presumptuous, but in 64 GIGN operations under my command, there was not a single fatality.” Echoing comments by local Toulouse police, Prouteau asked why police did not simply wait in ambush outside Merah’s apartment and detain him as he left; this technique is apparently used often against Basque nationalists and mafia operatives.
These questions arose as incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy seeks to exploit the tragedy to push for wide-ranging police state powers, and to burnish his law-and-order credentials for next month’s presidential elections.
A recent CSA poll taken after the shootings showed Sarkozy increasing his vote, winning 30 percent of the vote in the first round of the elections versus 28 percent for Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande. Hollande is still expected to win the second round of the elections, however, due to Sarkozy’s unpopularity outside the UMP’s voter base.
In a televised speech Thursday, Sarkozy called for “criminal punishment” of anyone reading internet sites that promote “terrorism” or “hatred,” traveling abroad for “indoctrination,” defending “extremist ideologies,” or promoting them inside prisons. Such proposals, couched in such broad terms as to allow the state to criminalize virtually any oppositional politics, trample basic constitutional rights of free speech and travel.
Magistrates Union official Marie-Blanche Régnier said Sarkozy’s call was a “political maneuver.” She rhetorically asked whether he would include Marine Le Pen, the neo-fascist candidate whose voters Sarkozy has aggressively wooed with anti-immigrant rhetoric, on the list of “extremists.”
Under conditions in which the PS, the Communist Party (PCF), and the New Anti-capitalist Party are not challenging Sarkozy’s calls for “national unity,” most objections to the investigations have come from police and security specialists. However, the details that have surfaced already make clear that, if Merah was indeed the killer, he was able to carry out the murders only due to a remarkable breakdown of French police and intelligence operations.
Given the immense political stakes in Sarkozy’s exploitation of the shootings, it is only logical to ask whether there is any connection between this breakdown of intelligence and Sarkozy’s attempt to save his chances in the upcoming elections.
Shortly after the March 15 Montauban killings, officials were already saying they were exploring “all possible suspects” in the murders. According to the daily Libération, when on March 19 Toulouse police provided investigators with a list of Islamist “radicals” in the Toulouse area, it had only six names on it, and Merah’s was at the top of the list. Merah was therefore well known to police.
After the Montauban killings, however, Merah was apparently not identified—even though his mother’s IP address was on a police list of computers that had been in contact with the March 11 victim. This list was examined carefully by investigators, and it eventually played a role in Merah’s capture. However, investigators apparently did not cross-check this list with the list of Islamists until Monday the 19, after the killings at the Ozar Hatoreh school.
Defense expert François Heisbourg told Libération, “There are only a few dozen Frenchmen who have traveled to Afghanistan, and only a few units in the Midi-Pyrénées region [around Toulouse]. One wonders why no one paid more attention to him! One can perhaps understand this before the Toulouse and Montauban killings—it’s surprising, but not shocking. But afterwards? This means that either the agencies involved are completely out of cash, or they are not doing their job.”
He added, “I am puzzled when I hear the Paris and Toulouse prosecutors explain that they did not have the suspect’s address. It seems the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DCRI) interrogated him in the autumn and concluded he was not dangerous. How did they contact him if they did not have his address?”
Heisbourg also raised questions about Merah’s training as a gunman, apparently acquired during a couple of trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, though he spent most of his time working as a mechanic: “This ‘lone wolf’ acted in ways the most experienced mafiosi do not dare attempt. He ran his operation himself, and carried out the killings with an unprecedented degree of cold calculation and absence of hysteria. Even the September 11 terrorists were more unnerved. He has therefore received absolutely first-rate training. Who trained him and how?”
Indeed, some questions remain as to whether Merah in fact was the killer. He did not resemble the description given by witnesses at the Montauban shooting, who spoke of a corpulent figure with tattoos and a scar on the left cheek. By contrast, Merah was thin and had no facial markings.
While the Syrian regime was pleased with last week’s UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Syria, the Syrian National Council (SNC) was not. It registered its objections, and saw it as providing another chance to President Bashar Assad. Damascus welcomed both the statement and the plan which the UN and Arab envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, devised after gaining the approval of the international community.
Sources who got to meet high-ranking Syrian officials over the weekend sensed the extent to which the presidential statement was welcomed by Damascus. They also provided some insight into the level of cooperation between Damascus and Moscow on the substance of Annan’s initiative, and their commitment to making a success of it.
While the Syrian leadership supports the general principles of Annan’s plan, it has taken a cautious view of the mechanisms and measures which will need to be taken to implement it.
This stems from a conviction that the devil will lie in details if they are left vague, especially when the time comes for a ceasefire and political dialogue. Accordingly, while Annan completes his talks in Russia and China and prepares to begin implementing his plan, Damascus’ approach will be based on a number of considerations:
1. The initiative must be implemented through the “Syrian state” at all stages: starting with the proposed ceasefire and restoration of calm, extending to the delivery of humanitarian aid, and culminating in a national political dialogue. None of this will occur unless the process for implementing this initiative is approved by the regime and conforms with what it is describes as the “principles of sovereignty.”
Damascus’ position is that it is waiting to see how this initiative will be implemented, while affirming its endorsement of the plan. But the regime insists that any political dialogue about the future of Syria – the end-goal of the initiative – must be held under the auspices of the “Syrian state.”
2. Damascus is greatly satisfied and encouraged by the fact that the presidential statement did not reiterate the demand that the Arab League, France, the US, and Turkey had been insisting on. Namely, that the Syrian president step down and immediately transfer power so a political settlement can be concluded in isolation from him. The regime sees this tacit re-acknowledgement of its authority as a chance to open up dialogue again.
The high-ranking officials insisted to their visitors, however, that Syrian leaders had at no stage been fixated on or alarmed by this demand. They were never under any illusion that, in current international conditions, it was within the capacity of any party, domestic or foreign, to force Assad to step down.
This applies equally to the Syrian opposition, to the many declarations made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her French counterpart Alain Juppe, the Arab League in its second initiative on January 2, and Qatari, Saudi, and Turkish leaders. Damascus never commented on any of their statements. It declined to get into an argument with them about whether Assad should leave office.
The view put forward by Damascus in defense of its position is that the new Syrian constitution furnishes a mechanism for the transfer or rotation of power. But decapitating the regime – the argument Moscow has also been stressing – would be a recipe for chaos. As the regime sees it, the president stands for the integrity and cohesion of the army and the unity of the country. This position was matched by the similar stand taken by Russia and China against any external foreign military intervention to compel Assad to step down or depose him by force. Also this is why they opposed arming the opposition.
As a result, the international picture has changed significantly since the two countries blocked the attempt to issue a Security Council resolution on Syria on February 4. The threat to force Assad out has been practically dropped – though Arab and Western states may still speak of not just the president’s days, but the regime’s, being numbered – and everybody has opted for a political settlement to be brought about under him.
This approach was reinforced at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s March 10 meeting with the committee of Arab foreign ministers dealing with Syria. It was confirmed in the appointment of Annan as envoy, and again in the proposals he has put forward, and the Security Council’s endorsement of it last Wednesday.
3. Damascus believes that the real gain it made from the presidential statement was the UN’s acknowledgement that there are two sides to the violence in the Syrian crisis.
This dispensed with the pretext with which the Arabs and the West had armed themselves until Lavrov’s visit to Cairo – namely, that the violence was one-sided, indiscriminate, and practised exclusively by the regime. The existence of armed anti-regime groups was either denied outright, or justified as self-defense.
But the presidential statement, by calling for a ceasefire and end to fighting, conceded that there is another party engaged in violence, and that an armed confrontation is underway. While it did not identify that other party – composed of a combination of Salafis, Muslim Brothers, and deserters – it recognized its existence. This reinforced the regime’s rationale for using decisive military force to try to eliminate members of the armed opposition in Homs, Idlib, and Deir al-Zour, so as to pre-empt any attempt to create buffer zones or similar enclaves in border areas.
Damascus is indebted to Russia and China for supporting its viewpoint and steering the Security Council in the opposite direction to which the Arab League had intended. It had insisted, without hesitation, that the violence was from one side only. The Arab League ignored the report by the chief of its own observer mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, and transferred the Syria dossier to the Security Council.
But once there, it did not take long for Moscow’s view to converge with Washington’s over the issue of arming the Syrian opposition. The Americans are wary of Al-Qaeda infiltration of Syrian rebel groups, and fear their weapons could end up reaching the terrorist organization.
4. Damascus believes Annan fully understands the many difficulties involved in his task of bringing about a political settlement. Two sets of these stand out in particular: those connected to convening the proposed national dialogue, and those related to halting the violence on the streets.
Defining the party that will sit opposite the regime at the national dialogue table will be an early obstacle. It is not just that the political opposition, both at home and in exile, is deeply divided. So is the armed component of the opposition, which includes Salafi organizations, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter are part of the SNC, which has set up its own military bureau and is at odds with the FSA. That in turn is divided between followers of Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad and Brigadier Mustafa Ahmad al-Sheikh.
The political dialogue cannot include the non-SNC armed opposition when it has not yet said who speaks for it. Annan does not know who to talk to in this regard, at least not yet. In the meantime, the political dialogue stands to be between a known actor, the regime, and an undetermined interlocutor, half of which is clandestine, and the other half of which is at odds with itself.
A second obstacle lies in the measures to be taken on the ground to bring about an end to fighting, the withdrawal of gunmen and the army, and the delivery of humanitarian aid to residents of affected areas. Syrian leaders see potential problems in the plans that Annan and his aides devised for arranging these measures and deploying international observers to monitor them.
The Syrian authorities are not simply waiting to see what Annan comes up with in this regard. They have been stressing an issue of extreme sensitivity, which the Syrian leadership considers an absolute necessity for the restoration of normal life to the country: there must be no consolidation of dividing lines between army- and rebel-controlled areas, either in towns or the countryside. Also they have stressed that there must be no deployment of international observers on such lines, which would effectively enforce a fait accompli ahead of political talks.
Damascus has informed all concerned parties that it will not agree to measures which recreate the kind of “confrontation lines” that were established during the Lebanese Civil War, which entrenched the positions of the opposing parties and fuelled the conflict.
It has stressed that a ceasefire must not entail the drawing of such lines inside Syria. Rather, it should result in the disappearance of gunmen and their weapons from the streets, an end to all illegal armed activity, and the reconnection of different parts of the country with each other. Only that would justify ordering the army back to barracks.
Similarly, the task of international observers must not be to monitor a ceasefire, police ceasefire lines, or separate two warring parties, but to monitor the restoration of normalcy in the country. Damascus sees this is as a key point in the Annan initiative which all sides must respect.
Nicolas Nassif is a political analyst at Al-Akhbar.
- UN – Arab League envoy hails Syria’s plan acceptance (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Syrian govt accepts Annan’s 6-point peace plan (rt.com)
The struggle over the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) is facilely cast as a battle between Left and Right. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A tussle between the dominant factions of the Democratic and Republican Parties it certainly is in a superficial and temporary way, until the kabuki politics of the presidential campaign is over. But a battle between Left and Right, it most assuredly is not. Obamacare is opposed by the Left, which has long sought Single-Payer (Medicare for All) as a proven way to universal and egalitarian coverage. But many Leftists have been too cowed by Democratic operatives or by Obama loyalists in their midst to speak their convictions. Now that silence has been shattered.
Recently 50 physicians, all strong supporters of Single-Payer, along with the Left wing non-profits, Single Payer Action and It’s Our Economy, have joined conservative and libertarian opposition to Obamacare. They have submitted to the Supreme Court an amicus brief which is a dagger aimed at the noxious heart of Obamacare, the individual mandate which codifies in law the domination of the health care system by the insurance companies. The brief states:
Amici thus submit this brief for the purpose of disputing the primary tenet of the Government’s position, that Congress cannot regulate the national healthcare market effectively unless it has power to require that citizens purchase insurance from private insurance companies. On the contrary, as set forth herein, Congress has already demonstrated that it can regulate healthcare markets effectively by implementing a single payer system such as Medicare or the VHA (Veterans Health Administration).
And in case the dagger failed to pierce its mark with that, the brief plunges deeper:
Government contends that the provision is not only “reasonable” but also “necessary” to its broader regulation of the national healthcare market. In particular, the Government contends that the individual mandate is “key to the viability of the Act’s guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions.” But while it might be true that these provisions will adversely impact private insurers’ profits, and that the individual mandate offsets this adverse impact by guaranteeing the private insurers a large stream of new customers who are required by law to purchase insurance, that is not sufficient to render the individual mandate constitutional. If it were, Congress could “reform” any private industry – whether it be automobiles, coal, pharmaceuticals or any other – by enacting legislation requiring that every American purchase the industry’s goods or services in exchange for some perceived public good the industry provides. Yet Congress has never before enacted such a mandate.
The amicus brief makes no argument against other features of Obamacare, for example, regulation of insurance companies and coverage of those with pre-existing conditions. Such “severability” has been advocated by many, most recently by Columbia law professors, Abbe Gluck and Michael Graetz in a New York Times Op-ed on March 23. But the Obama administration has resisted this separation and many Left groups have been pushed into silence for fear that they will be seen as opposing the “good” features of Obamacare. Severability, never mentioned by Obama loyalists, provides a simple way to oppose the nefarious features of Obamacare and yet allow the other features to go forward.
Much of the rest of the brief is devoted to describing the superiority of single-payer systems, most notably affordability and equality of care. The simplest argument for Single-Payer is that it works as advertised, as can be seen readily in Canada or France, for example.
It is a grave misperception to regard Obamacare as a stepping stone to Single-Payer, as promoted by Obama loyalists. It is not. In fact, it is a massive obstacle. Once in place it will create the impression that universal coverage with cost controls has been achieved, postponing genuine change to another day. And until that day there will be much needless suffering, even as we spend ever more on health care.
Quite simply, Obamacare is the preferred option for both the Republican and Democratic establishments and their backers in the financial sector. Romneycare, its older, Republican twin, has failed to deliver on the promise of cost control and decent care for all. Instead it has delivered a captive population up to the tender mercies of the insurers. Obamacare is more of the same. The coinage Obomneycare says it all.
The real struggle is not between Left and Right but between the top, which favors Obomneycare, and the bottom, the 99% in the parlance of the moment. Hence it is no surprise to see groups of diverse political philosophies, even divergent ones at first sight, rise from among the vast majority to oppose this latest scheme to make money from human illness in the guise of health care reform.
- Real Health Care Advocates Should Support Repeal of the Insurance Mandate (alethonews.wordpress.com)
CAIRO – The Palestine Electricity Company on Tuesday announced a deal with Egypt to provide gas to the Gaza Strip.
Palestine Electricity Company director in Gaza Walid Saad Sayil signed the agreement with the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation in Cairo on behalf of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
Sayil told reporters that Egyptian technicians have been instructed to conduct geographical surveys to find the best route for a network of pipelines to transport gas from Sheikh Zweid to the Rafah crossing on Gaza’s border.
Meanwhile, technicians in Gaza will prepare to install a 30-kilometer pipeline from Rafah to the power plant in Gaza City, he said.
Sayil send the new agreement will increase the plant’s capacity from 40 to 180 Megawatts. The power station currently runs on diesel but generators will be converted to use gas, he added.
The sole power plant in Gaza has shut down four times since February due to chronic fuel shortages, causing rolling power outages of up to 18 hours a day.
Ambulances and firetrucks have been taken out of service and bakeries were forced to reduce their hours as petrol pumps ran dry across Gaza.
The latest crisis began after Egypt cracked down on tunnels smuggling fuel into Gaza. Egypt, which is also experiencing fuel shortages, urged Hamas to import fuel across its border with Israel.
Hamas refused, citing concerns that Israel would then have the power to block supplies. Meanwhile, Cairo was reluctant to transfer fuel through the Rafah crossing over fears it would exempt Israel from its responsibilities as an occupying power.
- Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood pushing for end to Gaza siege (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Gaza to be connected to Egypt’s power grid: Egyptian envoy (alethonews.wordpress.com)
HEBRON — An Israeli settler shot an 18-year-old Palestinian in Hebron’s Old City on Tuesday morning, leaving him moderately injured, locals said.
Medics at Al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron said Muhammad Hisham Abu Aker was shot in his right leg and is undergoing surgery.
On Saturday, a Palestinian man was moderately injured when armed settlers stormed Burqa village east of Ramallah and attempted to vandalize property, witnesses said. Hassan Muatan, 40, was shot in the abdomen, they said.
Settler violence is on the rise. In 2011, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that settler attacks had increased by 50 percent over the previous year.
Around 800 Jewish settlers live in Hebron’s Old City, among 30,000 Palestinians in the parts of the ancient city that are under Israeli control.
- Settlers Attack Two Towns Near Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Settlers Install New Outpost Near Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- International Solidarity Movement volunteers encounter settler attack and sexual harassment in Hebron (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Settler Violence: Broken Glass on Shuhada Street (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Demanding justice for Yousef, a quiet boy killed by Israeli settlers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli Settlers Attack Palestinian Boys in Hebron (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- The massacre of 1929 and the War of Narratives (alethonews.wordpress.com)
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has praised the Syrian government for accepting his six-point plan to end the unrest in the country.
“I indicated that I had received a response from the Syrian government and will be making it public today, which is positive, and we hope to work with them to translate it into action,” Annan told reporters after meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
In a Tuesday statement, Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi confirmed that Damascus has written to the Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.
Fawzi added that Annan views this as an important initial step that could create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
Annan’s proposal includes a ceasefire, access for humanitarian aid agencies as well as political dialog between Damascus and the opposition.
Earlier, the Chinese premier expressed his support for Annan’s efforts for a peaceful end to the crisis.
Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said Western calls on President Bashar al-Assad to step down are short-sighted, adding that Assad’s departure will not end the conflict in Syria.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011.
Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon, one of Europe’s finest jazz musicians, was in Washington, DC for the first time at the end of a multi-city North American grassroots tour to discuss his recently published and highly controversial book, The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics.
On March 14, Atzmon was interviewed by Prof. Norton Mezvinsky, Connecticut State University Professor of History Emeritus, at Washington’s Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. The previous day a letter signed by 23 Palestinian activists called for “the disavowal of the racism and anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon.”
Watch the video of the Atzmon addressing the charges frequently levied against him. Decide for yourself—should Atzmon continue his frank discussion of Jewish identity or should his voice be silenced?
The Washington Report believes that no writer or thinker should be shunned in the United States—or anywhere—and we stand by our decision to host his DC events.
- Cynthia McKinney Interviews Gilad Atzmon about Israel, Zionism, and Jewish Identity Politics (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Who Is Gilad Atzmon… and, Who Are We? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Why Hate Gilad Atzmon Pt. 2: “He’s WRONG!” (Or Is He?) (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The unfortunate division over Gilad Atzmon – Alison Weir – thanks to BB (jhaines6.wordpress.com)