Friday, November 30

The strange case of Gillian Gibbons: sometimes it takes the actions of a dolt to clarify a situation

Thousands of protesters, many brandishing clubs and swords, took to the streets of Sudan’s capital Friday, demanding the execution of a British teacher who let her students name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, was found guilty Thursday of insulting Islam and sentenced to 15 days in jail. She was spared the more serious punishment of 40 lashes.

That angered many in Khartoum, who rallied in Martyrs Square outside the presidential palace. Protesters waved sticks, knives, axes and swords.

“Kill her, kill her by firing squad!” they chanted. “No tolerance, execution!” (1)

"Ms Gibbons’s son, John, 25. a marketing consultant, told the Daily Mail the family was struggling to take in the punishment. He said: "It’s really difficult at the moment, my head is everywhere. I don’t want the verdict to lead to any anti feeling towards Muslims.

"Everyone has been very nice, but one of my fears, and I imagine my mother’s also, will be that this results in any sort of resentment towards Muslim people." (2)

Let us be clear. It is an insult to idiots to brand Gillian as such; she is simply a dolt. When you see that a government is carrying out genocide, this is not the place to take yourself for a mission to spread happy feelings -- not without an army at your back, or at the least a thorough understanding of the situation you're walking into.

One Sudanese cleric demanding Gillian's execution called her "arrogant." There is a kind of arrogance about Gillian's attitude -- as if the Sudanese Muslims can be petted and stroked into tameness, in the manner of the now-famous photograph of her petting a leopard.

But Gillian's escapade in Sudan most reflects the arrogance of the British government, which bends over backward to pander to the "sensitivities" of Muslims. Yet the situation is clearly not about religious sensitivities. It's about a primitive and repressive form of government.

That it's not Sudan's government calling for Gillian's execution is beside the point. The Islamist government in Khartoum brands Gillian's action a crime, so it's only a difference in interpretation as to the severity of the punishment.

When one considers that Gillian's crime was to allow small children to name a toy "Muhammad," the question is how apologists for Islamic government think there is some way to come to terms with barbarism.

1) New York Daily News

2) London Times Online

Thursday, November 29

Gillian Gibbons, an unlikely Helen of Troy

Crikey, this story is getting bigger, nastier, and more surreal by the hour -- ever since Khartoum decided on Wednesday to charge Gillian with blasphemy, inciting hatred and insulting Islam. This, because she allowed her seven-year-old students in Sudan to name a class teddy bear "Muhammad."

The British government, not to mention the British people and reasonable people the world over, are furious about the situation. One Briton called for 10,000 British paratroopers to land in Sudan and rescue Gillian from her jail cell.

According to The New York Times, some Sudan analysts speculate that Khartoum's decision could be retaliatory:
On Tuesday, the British ambassador to the United Nations asked the Security Council to address warrants against a Sudanese official and a militia leader accused of war crimes in Darfur [...]
But Islamic militants in Sudan are calling for mass demonstrations against Gillian and want her punished to the extent of the law.

If Gillian is found guilty and flogged, international outrage will translate into serious consequences for Sudan. The London Times reports today that
Britain is “reviewing its options” for retaliatory measures against Khartoum should Ms Gibbons be hurt. These could include the expulsion of Sudanese diplomats, tightening travel restrictions on the regime’s leading figures and cutting aid.
The consequences could also be serious for Islam. It seems Islamists are hell bent on portraying Islam as the world's most primitive religion and form of government.

I can't believe that in this era, a defense attorney might have to ask questions such as, 'Why didn't the authorities charge Gillian's class with blasphemy, given that it was the children who actually named the teddy bear?'

And, 'Why do the authorities insist on identifying a stuffed toy as an animal? Does the law state that it is blasphemy to give the Prophet's name to a toy?'

This is going beyond surreal. This is Twilight Zone stuff.

Wednesday, November 28

Did the Annapolis meeting accomplish anything? The Blue-Eyed Genie to the rescue.

The Washington Post's David Ignatius believes something was accomplished, and I think you can read into his analysis how Condoleezza Rice and President Bush are interpreting results of the Annapolis meeting.

Reuters provides a handy checklist on the key demands by each side, and how these fared in the agreement between Olmert and Abbas.

Steven Erlanger at The New York Times, which often reflects the CIA view of things, penned the most unintentionally ironic analysis out of the 30 or so I plowed through last night:
The Middle East peace conference here on Tuesday was officially about ending the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. But there was an unspoken goal just below the surface: stopping the rising regional influence of Iran and Islamic radicalism.

That is why, despite enormous skepticism about the ability of the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final peace treaty, there is enormous relief among the many Sunni Arab countries in attendance that the United States has re-engaged in what they see as the larger and more important battle for Muslim hearts and minds.

“The Arabs have come here not because they love the Jews or even the Palestinians,” said an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They came because they need a strategic alliance with the United States against Iran.” [...]

Hovering over Annapolis are deep anxieties over the challenge from a resurgent Shiite and non-Arab Iran, with its nuclear program and its successful allies and proxies in southern Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Those Arab nations fear that the tide of history is moving away from them, and that they are losing their own youth to religious militancy.
So. After several decades of doing everything they could to promote religious extremism, bigotry and militancy, the Middle East's Arab leaders now find themselves quite alarmed with the results.

But never fear, the Blue-Eyed Genie is here. That's what the previous Saudi ruler called the Americans, who magically popped from a lamp to chase Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and finally off the face of the earth.

At the bottom of all the discussion about what happened in Annapolis, the words not spoken keep coming to my mind: US troop deployment.

It's all very well for David Ignatius to say from behind the safety of his desk in Washington, DC that Hamas and Iran will just have to suck eggs, if they don't like the negotiations to arise from Annapolis. But the reality is that from their stronghold in Gaza, Hamas is lobbing, on average, one rocket every three hours into Israel, round the clock. And if Ignatius thinks that the UN's blue helmuts will be able to stand up to Hamas, they will run as they ran from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

So that leaves -- let me use my special binoculars and scan the Four Quarters for a moment -- why I believe that leaves the United States of America to figure out how Abbas's weak government can defang Hamas and the other militant groups sworn to destroy Israel.

I think President Bush is serious about bringing a Palestinian state into existence, but the only way that's going to happen is if the Palestinians acknowledge that they long ago forfeited the ability to bargain in good faith. It's no longer their call; it's Iran's call. And the only way Iran will back off is through force of arms.

I also think the Palestinians need to recognize that the Palestine state they envision, if it's to come into existence, will be run by international organizations and a coalition of Western governments, and backed by a US-led military force. If Palestinians are not willing to accept that kind of country, they can continue to wait around for Israel to disappear.

Tuesday, November 27

British teacher jailed in Sudan, facing 40 lashes over naming of a teddy bear

The woman sounds a complete dolt but -- 40 lashes? I am afraid that apologists are running out of creative ways to argue that Islam must be distinguished from the worst aspects of tribal law. From the London Times
A British teacher facing 40 lashes in Sudan over a school teddy bear named Muhammad will discover today whether she will be charged with blasphemy.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, is being questioned for a second day by police in Khartoum on suspicion of insulting Islam's prophet for allowing her seven-year-old pupils to give the toy the name of the prophet.

She was moved to a cell at the CID Criminal Police Exploration Bureau for further questioning. A file on the case will be sent to the department of public prosecutions and a judge should decide today whether she should be charged.

Robert Boulos, the director of Unity High School, the British school where Ms Gibbons worked, said that she was in “very high spirits and being treated well”.

Teachers from the Khartoum school, which teaches the children of Sudanese professionals, expatriates and oil workers, have visited her in jail to deliver food and water.

A former colleague of Ms Gibbons, Gill Langworthy, said that the teacher had recently contacted her to say how much she was enjoying her work.

“I saw her in July and had farewell drinks and she was so excited about going. Since then we have been in e-mail contact at least once a week.

“Last week she sent one with pictures of her sitting on a camel and a beach, loving it, she felt so welcomed and loved teaching the children.”

Miss Langworthy, who taught with Ms Gibbons at Garston Primary School in Liverpool, said teaching abroad had always been her friend's dream.

But she added that she feared for her safety and thought that the experience would have damaged her deeply.

She said: “I am constantly worried, and thinking about her sitting in the prison cell is horrible. When we e-mailed, she never mentioned a thing about any problems and only said positive things about the staff and children because I asked her.

“She was just having a great time and said nothing negative at all.”

Miss Langworthy, an assistant headteacher, said that her friend had endured a tough few years with the end of her marriage and several bereavements.

She added that Ms Gibbons would be “petrified” about her children, John, 25, and Jessica, 27.

“She'll be more worried about them. But obviously, she will be scared for her own safety."

Speaking of Ms Gibbons' desire to see the world, she added: “It was always a dream of hers. Gillian is such a traveller and wanted to increase her knowledge of different cultures and countries and every year would go on mad explorations.

“She always said she fancied teaching abroad. She was just fascinated by Sudan and wanted to learn more about their culture and experience life there — which is just Gillian down to a T.”

She continued: “This was supposed to be a fresh start for her but it's just ended like this. I want her happy, healthy, returning to her home, but she has a fighting spirit.”

She added that Ms Gibbons would be “devastated that she has insulted and offended anyone” with “an innocent mistake”.

Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said that information about the Sudanese legal system was hard to come by.

She said: “All the major reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty and the UN Convention on Human Rights have tended to focus on the Darfur region.

"What has been evident in those reports is that the independence of the judiciary has been compromised and that the inclusion of Sharia law into the legal code has led to some confusion.

“In these circumstances, it is hard to say what Gillian Gibbons and her family and supporters can expect."

Ms Wolthuizen added: “One would hope that the authorities will look at this and realise that there was no blasphemous intent.

“Gillian Gibbons had no appreciation of what she was doing. The bear was never intended to be an effigy and I would expect the British Embassy officials to be pressing that message to the Sudanese authorities.”

Why the hell was China's foreign minister invited to Annapolis?

And why Portugal, Slovenia, Mexico and the Vatican for that matter? Look at the guest list! It's not a conference on developing a new framework for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It's a circus.

No wonder a member of the Palestinian delegation, or maybe it was a member of the Israeli delegation, said that Annapolis was going to be "The mother of all photo-ops."

But toward what end? Maybe Condoleezza Rice's idea is to show Hamas and Iran that the whole world is wishing Israel and the Palestinians well in their attempts to negotiate? But in that case why not invite Hamas -- and Iran? Even if they refused the invitation, something akin to a point would have been made. But I'm not sure that is the point. Maybe the point is the high school snub? It's our party and you're not invited?

I give up. I just give up. If I don't give up, I'm going to go mad trying to fathom Condoleezza Rice's logic. I think I shall spend the winter in the south of Italy and go nowhere near a newspaper, radio, television set or computer. Do nothing but eat pasta, drink wine and laugh. Maybe this way I can return to Washington, DC in the spring with my sanity still intact.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The heads of each delegation attending the Mideast peace summit in Annapolis, Md., as provided by the State Department.

_ Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

_ Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas

_ United States, President George W. Bush

_ European Union Commission, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, external affairs commissioner

_ European Union High Representative, Javier Solana, high representative for common foreign and security policy, secretary general of the council of the European Union

_ European Union Presidency, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado

_ Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

_ United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

_ Quartet Representative, Tony Blair, Middle East envoy

_ Algeria, Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci

_ Bahrain, Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa

_ Egypt, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit

_ Jordan, Foreign Minister Salaheddine al-Bashir

_ Lebanon, Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri

_ Morocco, Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri

_ Qatar, Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Abdulla Al-Mahmoud

_ Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal

_ Sudan, Ambassador John Ukec

_ Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad

_ Tunisia, Foreign Minister Abdelwahab Abdallah

_ Yemen, Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi

_ Arab League, Secretary General Amr Moussa

_ Canada, Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier

_ China, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi

_ France, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner

_ Germany, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

_ Italy, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema

_ Japan, Tatsuo Arima, special envoy for the Middle East

_ United Kingdom, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Miliband

_ Brazil, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim

_ Denmark, Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller

_ Greece, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis

_ India, Kapil Sibal, minister of science and technology and earth sciences

_ Indonesia, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda

_ Malaysia, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar

_ Mauritania, Foreign Minister Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine

_ Mexico, Foreign Relations Undersecretary Lourdes Aranda

_ Netherlands, Frans Timmermans, minister for European affairs

_ Norway, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store

_ Organization of the Islamic Conference, Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu

_ Oman, Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdulla

_ Pakistan, Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan

_ Poland, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski

_ Senegal, Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio

_ Slovenia, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel

_ South Africa, Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

_ Spain, Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos

_ Sweden, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

_ Turkey, Ali Babacan, foreign minister and chief EU negotiator

_ United Arab Emirates, Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan

_ Vatican, Pietro Parolin, undersecretary of foreign affairs

_ International Monetary Fund, Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn

_ World Bank, President Robert Zoellick

Monday, November 26

We'll take the deal, for now

On November 19 Threats Watch listed various signs that Iran has recently begun cooperating to help stabilize Iraq at least temporarily. The organization warned that Tehran's strategy shift "has more to do with a desire to further its nuclear program than to build a stable Iraq."

Yes, well, TIW -- this is war. We need to keep following down this road, even though it justifiably worries opponents of Iran's nuclear program.

Here is the rundown on signs of cooperation from the Threats Watch article; visit the site to obtain the source links and for the rest of the report, which focuses on signs of Iran's nuclear advancement:
[...] In recent meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran made “guarantees” to stop supplying explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). While these guarantees and those before them were met with skepticism, Major General James Simmons, the deputy commanding general of Multinational Corps-Iraq, sees reason to be optimistic:

“I’m hopeful… What I see is a diplomatic effort being undertaken by the United States government – and I see a positive response from the Iranian government and that’s good.”

A few weeks later, Simmons once again noted additional signs of Iranian cooperation: “We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq.”

Simmons’ comments echo an early November statement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Iran was playing some role in the reduction of bombings by Shi’a militias. Gates did acknowledge, though, that it was difficult to quantify exactly how much of a positive influence Iran was playing in this matter. Nevertheless, there was a clear recognition that positive steps were being taken.
Similarly, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari noted Iran’s effort to “rein in” Shi’a militias. In a November 6 interview with Ross Colvin of Reuters, Zebari clearly stated that “Iran has been instrumental in reining in the militias and the Mehdi Army by using its influence.” As such, “Part of the security improvement was their [Iran’s] control of the militias. We see this as a positive development.”

For its part, the United States is making a few overtures to Iran as a gesture of goodwill. On November 6, Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith announced that the U.S. military would release 9 of the 20 Iranians they have captured in Iraq. And while the 9 released Iranians do not include the highest ranking or “most troubling” of the detainees, the U.S. is clearly offering Iran a carrot in the hopes of continuing the cooperation.

The release of these detainees reflects a shift in policy for the U.S. as well. Among the 9 being returned are 2 of the 5 Iranians captured in a raid on an Iranian consulate in Irbil in January 2007. Last month while speaking to editors and reporters at the Washington Post, Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno argued that “militarily, we should hold on to them.” Thus, the release of these IRGC members indicates that America sees an opportunity to move the diplomatic process forward. [...]

Wednesday, November 21

China slave labor producing crucifixes for sale to American Christians; St. Patrick's Cathedral embarrassed by publicity

The archdiocese, the president of Singer Company, and the Association for Christian Retail should all stop whining. The National Labor Committee deserves a medal for taking this outrage directly to the public.

As for not knowing that slave labor, and child slave labor, were involved -- aw, c'mon; $1.40 to produce such an item? See the photograph of the crucifix in the following report.

There are many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and the labor committee's good catch is one of them. One might say that this is just a drop in the bucket next to other products China produces with slave labor. But it's hard to catch the culprits, hard to shake the consumer out of complacency. This story is a wake-up call for Americans who purchase without a thought to the source of the goods, so I hope it receives huge press.
St. Patrick's Cathedral Pulls Crucifixes After Sweatshop Claims
by David Freedlander, amNew York staff writer
November 21, 2007

St. Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity Church pulled crucifixes from their gift shops Tuesday after stunning allegations that the items are produced in Chinese sweatshops.

Church officials vowed to keep the crucifixes off the shelves while they investigate as the faithful expressed chagrin.

Charles Kernaghan, the executive director of the National Labor Committee, the advocacy group that released a report on the crosses, called on St. Patrick's "to move immediately, decisively and with compassion to clean up the factories and to guarantee that the rights of workers are firmly respected."

The report alleged that the crucifixes come from a factory in Guangdong, China, where women, some as young as 15, work more than 90 hours a week for about 26 cents an hour, less than half of China's minimum wage. Kernaghan said workers snuck out evidence and gave it to the labor group.

Kernaghan added that the crucifixes, which cost as little as $1.40 to produce, are sold in church gift shops for $17.95.

"That's a markup that would make even Nike blush," Kernaghan said in a news conference outside St. Patrick's Cathedral Tuesday.

The archdiocese said that it was investigating the matter, but accused the labor group of trying to embarrass the church.

"This individual did not contact us prior to using the cathedral as a stage for a press conference," said Joe Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.

Trinity Church, of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, said in a statement it would "look into this situation," adding: "We are selective in the products we carry and do not support manufacturers who are associated with sweatshop labor."

The report accuses a trade group, the Association for Christian Retail, of knowing about the sweatshops but looking the other way. The group dismissed the allegations as "unfounded and irresponsible."

The crosses are supplied by the Singer Co., a Mount Vernon-based "inspirational jewelry" concern. "We are not a Nike or a big corporation that can inspect every single factory," said company president Gerald Singer, who vowed to investigate the matter. "My God, making religious objects in a sweatshop, that's the last thing we need."


Tuesday, November 20

Wow! Zenpundit gets his own dot com!

I see his wife won out; the Star Wars emperor avatar is gone, replaced by a photograph of the actual Zenpundit! Congratulations, Mark, on your super-looking new blog!

Monday, November 19

With your psychic powers and my gift for diplomacy we can rule the world

Venezuela's President Hugo "Flapping Lips" Chavez and Iran's President Mahmoud "I see auras around people" Ahmadinejad, the perfect power couple:
(Associated Press) In Tehran, Chavez and Ahmadinejad signed four memorandums of understanding Monday to create a joint bank, a fund, an oil industry technical training program and an industrial agreement, Iranian state television said. [...]

On Chavez's visit in July, the two leaders broke ground for a joint petrochemical complex in Iran, with 51 percent in Iranian ownership and 49 percent owned by Venezuela. The two nations also began construction of a petrochemical complex in Venezuela, at a total combined cost of $1.4 billion.

Since 2001, the two countries have signed more than 180 trade agreements, worth more than $20 billion in potential investment, according to official reports.

Iran has partnered with Venezuela on several industrial projects in the South American nation, including the production of cars, tractors and plastic goods.

"Por que no te callas?" Capitalism sticks it to Hooey Chavez

T-shirts, coffee mugs, phone ringtones flying off the shelves --
MADRID, Spain (Associated Press) — Many Spaniards were so amused when their king told Venezuela's president to "shut up" they want to hear the words every time their phone rings.

About half a million people have downloaded a mobile phone ringtone featuring the phrase "Por que no te callas?" or "Why don't you shut up?" leading Madrid daily El Pais reported on its Web site Monday.

That's what King Juan Carlos told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a heated confrontation at a summit in Chile last week.

The ringtone is thought to have generated around $2.2 million for the companies selling it, El Pais said.

T-shirts and mugs featuring the words are also becoming a profitable business, and videos of the confrontation have been a hit on the YouTube Web site.

Chavez's opponents in Venezuela are no less obsessed.

Pirated copies of the quote have been popping up in the South American country.

In Venezuela, T-shirts with the slogan in Spanish have the "NO" in uppercase — a call for voting against constitutional reforms that would significantly expand Chavez's power. The Venezuelan leader says the changes would empower neighborhood-based assemblies and advance the country's transition to socialism.

"The king said what Venezuelans have wanted to say to Chavez's face for a long time," said Jenny Romero, 21, a student sporting one of the T-shirts in Caracas. "I'm wearing this T-shirt to protest everything bad that has happened in the country."

The spat last week began when Chavez repeatedly called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a "fascist."

Spain's current prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, asked Chavez to be more diplomatic and show respect for other leaders. As Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt, King Juan Carlos leaned forward and said: "Why don't you shut up?"

Sunday, November 18

"Iran has become the engineer of China's economic growth"

Beijing needs to update their outmoded policy on Iran but before I elaborate here are excerpts from the report I'm pondering:
Deepening China-Iran Ties Weaken Bid to Isolate Iran by Robin Wright
Washington Post, Sunday, November 18, 2007

The rapidly growing relationship between Iran and China has begun to undermine international efforts to ensure that Iran cannot convert a peaceful energy program to develop a nuclear arsenal, U.S. and European officials say.

The Bush administration and its allies said last week that they plan to seek new U.N. sanctions against Iran, after the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iranian officials had given inadequate answers to questions about the country's past nuclear activities. But U.S. and European officials now worry more about a Chinese veto than about opposition from Russia, which has previously assisted and defended the Iranian nuclear energy program.

U.S. and European officials charged Friday that Beijing is deliberately stalling to protect its economic interests. [...]

China now gets at least 14 percent of its imported oil from Iran, making it China's largest supplier and the source of as much as $7 billion worth of oil this year, according to David Kirsch, a manager at PFC Energy. Tehran in turn gets major arms systems from Beijing, including ballistic and cruise missiles and technical assistance for Tehran's indigenous missile program. Dozens of Chinese companies are also engaged in several other industries.

On the eve of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's visit to Tehran last week for talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Beijing suggested that it could reject U.S.-orchestrated efforts for a new resolution. "We believe that all parties should show patience and sincerity over this issue, while any sanctions, particularly unilateral sanctions, will do no good," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. [...]

But the new Tehran-Beijing relationship is likely to further delay or dilute international diplomacy, because the two powers share a strategic vision, experts say. Both are determined to find ways to contain unchallenged U.S. power and a unipolar world, said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.

China's voracious appetite for energy has cemented the relationship, U.S. experts say. China's oil consumption is expected to grow by about 6 percent over the next two years, analysts have said.

"Iran has become the engineer of China's economic growth. It may not be like Saudi Arabia is to the U.S. economy, but it's close," Berman said. [...]
I think China's leaders are not so much playing ostrich as practicing Scarlett O'Hara logic. They know that a nuclear-armed Iran would further destabilize the Middle East and could result in the interruption of critical energy supplies to China. But all that for tomorrow; right now China is greatly dependent on Iran and so is dancing to Tehran's tune.

As to China using Iran to challenge US power: if Beijing's military is indeed continuing with that 1990s geostrategy, the military needs to get more in synch with today's energy realities for China. China's skyrocketing energy requirements means that since the 1990s the power in the relationship has shifted from China to Iran. China can no longer manipulate Iran; it's now the other way around. China's generals need to think about that, if they are still determined to use Iran as a pawn against the United States.

They also need to think about the true ground rules in the US-Saudi Arabia relationship. The Saudis keep the lid on things at OPEC and keep their oil flowing. The United States stands ready to protect Saudi Arabia against an invasion. Is China willing to develop the same ground rules with Iran? Does Beijing honestly believe it would be in their best interest to set themselves against most of the world in order to play Iran's military defender?

Robin Wright reports in the same article that the analyst she quoted thinks the US should offer big carrots to China if we want the country to change their Iran policy:
"We're presenting China with an untenable proposition. We're asking them to unilaterally divest from Iran and not offering them energy alternatives. This is not sustainable for policy-makers whose predominant priority is to maintain and expand their country's growth," [Ilan] Berman said. "It's not that we shouldn't ask them to scale back their relationship, but China has put a lot of its eggs in Iran's economic basket, and a sophisticated American strategy would provide alternatives."
Actually, a sophisticated American strategy would be to offer India big help in their quest for energy supplies. And to strengthen US ties with Russia.

Saturday, November 17

The hunt for Saddam Hussein's treasure

Ben Gates: It was amazing, Dad.

Patrick Gates: And the treasure?

Ben Gates: No, no. But we found another clue that led us here.

Patrick Gates: Yeah, and that'll lead you to another clue. And that's all you'll ever find, is another clue ... The treasure is a myth.

-- From National Treasure: Book of Secrets
"Civilian volunteers, mostly retired intelligence officers belonging to the non-partisan, have been poring over the secret archives captured from Saddam Hussein. The inescapable conclusion is this: Saddam really did have WMD after all ..."
-- John Loftus

At times it seems a ten-year boy resides in the deep part of my brain although these times have become seldom the older I've grown. For many years now he makes an appearance only when I'm ill. At those times I will curl up with a copy of Treasure Island or find myself willing to believe that a Civil War ironclad ship can end up buried in the sands of the Sahara.

But after battling a bug to a standstill last week I was feeling quite myself when John Batchelor and John Loftus chattered on Loftus's show about Loftus's find on Google Earth: the location of a mysterious black building and military ammo dump in Syria. A site that Loftus believed to be the final resting place for Saddam Hussein's nuclear materials and the real target of the mysterious Israeli air raid on September 6.

Loftus and Batchelor kept interrupting each other while giving out the coordinates for the location, which ended up in my lap when every ten year boy in the radio audience who also reads Pundita emailed and asked, "Did you happen to get down the coordinates?"

No I didn't happen to. It wasn't a news show that night; it was a clubhouse and only those who had the secret code ring could enter. In revenge I plotted to write a post titled, "Google Earth and the male brain."

Thinking better of it I decided to let the matter go. I had learned enough over the years to be fairly certain that at various times a sizeable portion of Saddam's forbidden nuclear-related materials had been transported to Libya and Syria. But during war the truth doesn't matter; it only matters how you can use the truth to gain an advantage.

In the case of Libya, the United States negotiated cooperation from Muammar Gaddafi in exchange for silence about what went on in a Libyan factory carved out of a mountain. Whatever part of Saddam's treasure had ended up in Syria would also become a tool of war negotiations if the US could catch Syria red-handed.

It would be the same with any North Korean participation in the Syria part of the Saddam WMD tale. Pyongyang over a barrel right now would be far more useful to the broader war than nailing down a few truths about an executed dictator's defunct nuclear weapons program.

So it really didn't matter what Loftus and his trusty band of volunteer sleuths had discovered or whether his speculations were right. The treasure hunt would only lead to another clue, and that would lead to another clue. And even if the quest eventually struck gold, at the end would be a Pentagon official saying, "No comment."

And besides, Saddam's WMD are a moot issue for the public. Today, most people are sick of the US campaign in Iraq; they think it's a debacle no matter what the reasons for the invasion.

So even if it were somehow possible to turn up forensic proof that there were WMD in Iraq at the time of the US invasion, people no longer care. That means the funding just isn't there for an army of analysts and researchers to take another whack at the treasure hunt.

But last night the bug I'd battled returned with a vengeance. This left me tucked under blankets on the couch, watching National Treasure and perfectly willing to believe for a few hours that a clue to a priceless treasure could be on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

When I was about to retire for the night an email pinged into the inbox. Front Page Magazine had picked up an article that Loftus had written about his treasure hunt.

The article is only an introduction to the 9,000 word paper that Loftus wrote on his monumental efforts to hunt down Saddam's lost WMD. But the paper, and a photograph of the Syrian location that Loftus found at Google Earth, were locked behind a token $5.00 subscription price at Loftus Report.

And the sheer complexity of the data would discourage an amateur attempt to decipher the map. Unless, of course, the amateur is one of those people who love puzzles, treasure hunts, detective novels, or has a ten-year old boy sitting at the back of the brain.

If you tell me, "I think I'll wait for the movie," I'll allow it's an investment of time and mental energy to follow Loftus's tale. And if you want to find a clue to add to the map -- that could turn into a quest.

The payoff wouldn't be a fortune; in fact, you might end up considerably poorer or even with health problems from mucking around at radioactive sites in Iraq, if you really threw yourself into it. But you would have a shot at changing history and, perhaps, altering its future course. For some treasure hunters that would be reason enough to embark on a quest.

For those of a more practical mien, there is one pressing reason for sorting out what happened to Saddam's WMD program: Those opposed to a tough US stance on Iran's nuclear program are using vaunted US intelligence failures on Saddam's WMD as an argument by association; this, in the effort to tar current intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.

And the least you might owe yourself is the satisfaction of discovering that maybe you weren't nuts, after all, to support the US invasion of Iraq.

If you dislike wading into data that doesn't reflect a Germanic zeal for organization, maybe the best place to start is at the Flopping Aces website, which earlier this year collected the best-known data pointing to Syria as the final resting place for Saddam's WMD.

The website indulges in some I Told You So verbiage, but quickly settles down to an excellent five-part account titled Did Saddam's WMD go to Syria?

By the time you finish the last account you'll at least understand why so many, including John Loftus, are unwilling to drop the matter of Saddam's WMD.

From there, you might proceed to Loftus's article for Front Page Magazine titled Shattering Conventional Wisdom about Saddam's WMD.

Then you'll be ready for a trip to the Loftus Report website -- have your five dollars ready -- to take a look at the entire research paper here, several WMD resource documents here, and the picture of the mysterious Syria site here.

I will wave you off on your adventure by taking poetic license with a clue Loftus dug up:

It was a dark and stormy night. The Iraqi truck driver, thin as a rail and shivering in the cutting wind, pulled his cotton shirt closer around him. As the minutes dragged by, he thought he might never see the large payment promised to him for driving a mysterious cargo from Baghdad. He considered that he just might die in Syria. Finally, a Syrian in a leather coat stepped out of the shadows.

Friday, November 16

Pundita screwed up yesterday's post

Perhaps I can blame this on Blogger gremlins. Or perhaps Soros hired a black magician to put the whammy on Mark Almond and me. It was probably just brain furballs but we take no chances here in Punditaland. I have squirted demon repellent around the keyboard and computer screen.

Anyhow, I somehow dropped a few sentences and the links to Almond's two essays on his blog when I copied them to Blogger. I have corrected the post, which now reads:

[...] I came across a new blog by Mark Almond (H/T Slate), whose writing on Georgia for the International Herald I featured in yesterday's post.

The blog has only got two posts so far -- one titled Georgia: The strange silence of George Soros, which discusses Soros's part in Georgia's Rose Revolution and his silence in the face of the Georgia government's trammeling of democracy.

The second post is titled Black Roses: Georgia's reformers fall out. [...]

Thursday, November 15

Troubling connection between democracy activism in Georgia and Burma

Well! I see that a history lecturer at Oxford has taken on the ghoul crowd, including George Soros.* I learned this when I came across a new blog by Mark Almond (H/T Slate), whose writing on Georgia for the International Herald I featured in yesterday's post.

The blog has only got two posts so far -- one titled Georgia: The strange silence of George Soros, which discusses Soros's part in Georgia's Rose Revolution and his silence in the face of the Georgia government's trammeling of democracy.

The second post is titled Black Roses: Georgia's reformers fall out.

Once you read both posts you'll see more clearly the webs of intrigue that have marked sham democracy movements in this century, and how the battle lines are being drawn between true democracy advocates and ghouls.

What I call ghouls are those in advanced democracies who play on the yearning of third-world peoples for democracy, but whose goal is to advance their business interests in a particular region. Nowhere have the ghouls been more active than in the post-Soviet Union regions.

The ghouls want control of Russia's energy reserves, or they serve those who want control, and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal even if it means restarting the Cold War. This includes fronting sham democracies and supporting any powerful clan, no matter how thuggish, willing to stand against Russia.

So the debacle in Georgia, as with the one in Ukraine, has ramifications beyond the immediate political situations in those countries. The question is whether Western governments will learn from situations which they had a hand in creating, or whether they will continue to treat the awful consequences of their actions as an anomaly.

The question is crucial because the machinations of the ghoul crowd are not limited to the former Soviet Union. It's because of the infamous tactics of the ghouls that my first post on the Burma protests was titled Western democracy activists, stay the hell out of Burma! protests and why I warned against labeling the protests a "saffron revolution."

My warning was far too late -- the protests were already underway, I had only just learned that Soros operatives were pussyfooting around Burma, and I did not know at the time how much Burma's expatriate democracy activists had come to lean on Western democracy activist organizations. Not to say that all such organizations are connected with Soros, but I got quite a turn last night while reading quotes that Almond provided in his Black Roses post from Georgia's ex-defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili:
[...] Many of the Western groups who funded and trained the so-called “rose revolutionaries” in Georgia in 2003 have been behind the scenes of the “saffron revolution” in Burma. If Burma’s military rulers should go the way of Eduard Shevardnadze will Burma fall through the floor into the same politics of corruption, drugs smuggling and backstabbing which have pock-marked Georgia’s tragic post-Soviet history[?]

Proponents of “People Power” from the Caucasus to South-East Asia ignore the poverty, oppression, disease and death which have followed events like the “Rose Revolution.” Western media like The Economist and so-called human rights watchdogs like the Council of Europe have a lamentable record of fellow travelling with successive corrupt and cruel regimes in Tbilisi since 1991. It is not too much to say that there isn't any bad situation which the nexus of Western intelligence agencies, media and human rights agencies cannot make worse, while singing their own praises as the proponents of a new dawn of human happiness.

The infighting and mutual accusations of crime, corruption and killings among the Rose Revolutionaries is the starkest case yet of the reality of a post-People Power country contrasting with the myth peddled abroad in the Western media. No journalists who painted a rosy picture of the new rulers of Georgia has yet come forward to correct, let alone apologise for their myth-making under the guise of reporting.[...]
That's saying a mouthful. However, Burma's junta doesn't need to be taught a lesson by Georgia on corruption and drug smuggling, and I can't imagine the installation of a Western puppet regime in Burma making the corruption and smuggling in Burma that much worse. Yet it is painfully obvious by now that Burma's rulers are as wised up about 'Color Revolution' putsch tactics as the mullacrats in Iran -- and it is a safe bet that many Burmese protestors who had no connection with outside democracy activists died as a consequence.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the machinations of the ghouls have given despots and authoritarian leaders their most powerful argument for discouraging or outright repressing democratic opposition. Another tragedy is that they've made it hard for outside activists who are genuinely trying to help developing countries such as Burma democratize.

And the ghouls have given the concept of 'open society' an Orwellian shade -- just how Orwellian, read Mark Almond's Black Roses.

* Mark Almond is Lecturer in History at Oriel College, Oxford. He has visited Georgia a dozen times since 1992 on behalf of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group and (in 1995) the Norwegian Helsinki Human Rights Group. According to a note on his blog the opinions he expresses in his writings are his own.

Wednesday, November 14

A Georgia expert wises up the hayseeds in Western governments

Saakashvili demolished both the neo-classical building that had housed the Imperial Russian gendarmerie and a district of Armenian houses to make way for his new palace. Georgians noted the contrast with his claims in 2003 that he only needed a "three room apartment," but the neighboring nations heard his apologists say that the new government's massive re-ordering of old Tbilisi only "affect Armenians, Azeris, Kurds and foreigners."
Gideon Rachman has pointed out that the annual budget for the U.S. Department of State is $10 billion a year, in contrast to the Department of Defense budget of $460 billion, which means "The entire State Department costs less to maintain than just one of the US's eight carrier battle groups."

The question is what State would do with a bigger budget -- or to put it bluntly, how much more trouble would State get into?

I'm all for increasing annual funding to the US foreign office during this very complex era, but not until I have seen clear evidence that State has learned to spot when they've been lured into a game of Three Card Monte.

The only trouble spot in the world where I've seen such evidence is in Iraq, where after years of stumbling around State wised up and worked closely with the US military's clever circumvention of the central government there.

It's not enough to promote democracy or 'American interests' in the world. It's a matter of training your eyes to be quicker than the card player's hands in regions of the world where corruption and bad faith are synonymous with government. The case of Georgia is an instructive example. So, here I present the entire article written by a sharp-eyed expert on that country, and who gives very sound advice. State, take copious notes.
The West should stop picking losers by Mark Almond, International Herald Tribune, November 12

The tear gas has cleared from Tbilisi streets, but the political crisis in Georgia is not resolved.

Even President Mikhail Saakashvil's surprise decision to call early presidential elections for Jan. 5 merely offers his country an increasingly tense eight-week run-up to what on past form will be an election that settles nothing.

The Georgian political class has yet to throw up good losers or magnanimous winners. Since independence in 1991, Georgia has not seen a president serve out his term. The first post-Communist president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, an emotional Georgian nationalist, was overthrown only eight months after winning 87 percent of the popular vote.

His successor, Eduard Shevardnadze, took 92 percent of the vote. Western well-wishers were anxious to promote stability in the post-Soviet Caucasus, so they happily endorsed Shevardnadze's election, despite the lack of an opposition candidate. After all, wasn't he the man who ended the Cold War and opened the Berlin Wall?

But as Shevardnadze got older his Soviet ways began to show. The Tbilisi street toppled him in 2003.

The beneficiary of that outburst of "people power," Saakashvili, was endorsed by 97 percent of the voters, and the West ardently welcomed a bouncy 35-year-old who could speak English and knew how to speak our political language.

Trained as a lawyer at Columbia University, with a Dutch wife, he waxed eloquent on how to rescue Georgia from its decline into ever deeper poverty and corruption. Anything Western advisers could say, Saakashvili could say clearer.

Last week the world saw the "rose revolution" dissolve in tears and police beatings that even Saakashvili's Western admirers found hard to stomach.

Saakashvili and his rose revolutionary team averaged 34 years old. Sadly, youth is no inoculation against corruption. Quite to the contrary, thirty-somethings across the Caucasus have grown up knowing nothing other than the corruption of competing clans.

Born into Leonid Brezhnev's decaying Soviet Union, the Saakashvili generation barely had time to finish military service (as a border guard, in Saakashvili's case) before the Communist system collapsed and the in-fighting to control the spoils of post-Communism.

Anthropologists would not be surprised that formative years in the Caucasian cockpit of corruption under Brezhnev and Shevardnadze bred ambitious people who knew to spin a plausible line when it came to attracting Western sponsors. Saying what Big Brother wanted to hear was ingrained in Soviet people.

Honest or hard work was not the way to fame or fortune in the Caucasus. The collapse of Communism shifted the Caucasus states from the Second to the Third World, which exaggerated the negative aspects of late Soviet-socialization.

Like many failed regimes dependent on foreign aid and playing one power off against another, Georgian politicians learned to pre-echo what Uncle Sam and the Eurocrats think. Some of it they meant. Our knee-jerk Cold War suspicion of the Kremlin made their Russophobia seem natural. But playing up nationalism even when it has a real emotional basis is not the way to stabilize a society, not to stabilize its regional relations.

Anti-Armenian and anti-Azeri rhetoric worried the near neighbors. Saakashvili demolished both the neo-classical building that had housed the Imperial Russian gendarmerie and a district of Armenian houses to make way for his new palace.

Georgians noted the contrast with his claims in 2003 that he only needed a "three room apartment," but the neighboring nations heard his apologists say that the new government's massive re-ordering of old Tbilisi only "affect Armenians, Azeris, Kurds and foreigners."

Whereas the authoritarian Aliev clan running neighboring Azerbaijan has enough oil revenue to fund a stable state system and many Azeris have jobs, Georgia's much-praised reforms have boosted unemployment and mass migration. The only surviving industry from Soviet days seems to be massaging the statistics.

The oil pipeline across Georgia to Turkey from the Azeri oil fields in the Caspian has been a nice cash cow for the Georgian government and its appointees, but it hasn't provided any boost to the rest of the economy. In fact, now that the Baku-Ceyhan project is finished, lay-offs - not new jobs - are the result. Part of the political infighting in Tbilisi is to control the transit fees.

The West has a long history of misguided efforts to promote democracy and economic reform. Ninety years ago, two giants of British imperial policy debated intervention in the Caucasus.

Lord Curzon insisted that a British presence in the Caucasus was essential to keep the Russians out and facilitate nation-building: "We are talking of staying in the Caucasus to put the people on their feet there."

But Arthur Balfour counseled against placing too much hope in the capacity of Western neo-colonialism to do anything beyond protecting its economic interests: "If they want to cut their own throats why do we not let them do it? . . .We will protect Batum, Baku, the railway between them, and the pipeline." In the end the Red Army's advance put paid to Curzon's hopes and Balfour's cynicism.

Nowadays no one seriously expects the Russian Army to cross south of the Caucasus again. In fact, while Saakashvili was denouncing Russian meddling, the remaining Russian troops in Batumi on the Black Sea were being withdrawn ahead of schedule.

Georgia suffers from Russia's economic boycott, not any meddling by the Kremlin in its politics. Sadly, the zero-sum game of Georgian politics is something the natives are perfectly capable of playing without foreign interference.

Worse still, Western efforts to pick model reformers have failed twice. Backing Shevardnadze and then Saakashvili produced only "reform in one family" rather than spreading the benefits of democracy and the market to the population at large.

Instead of hoping third time lucky, Washington and the EU should step back from trying to pick a winner in the coming elections, who most likely will only make ordinary Georgians losers again. We should remember the Georgians don't forget the West's mistakes even if we do.

Mark Almond is a lecturer in history at Oriel College, Oxford, and a frequent election and human rights monitor in Georgia since 1992.

Tuesday, November 13

More on Gordon Brown's first annual foreign policy speech

While we're waiting for the transcript of the Mansion House speech last night (see earlier Pundita post today), here are two more analyses -- one from the US and one from Britain -- worth studying. Americans will note that Brown comes close to defending the case for preemption under certain circumstances, although he terms this "hard-headed intervention." Note, too, his call for an international "standby civilian force," including police and judges, to "rebuild civic societies" that have been degraded under dictatorial rule.

However, I am not entirely sure what Gordon Brown means by "hard-headed internationalism" and less sure I'd like it if I understood. But all that is for the future. Right now he's come out strongly on Iran and strongly reiterated Britain's close ties with the United States; that's more than one might have hoped for.

The Sun report also mentions that Mark Malloch-Brown's job is in danger. Yippeee! Couldn't happen to a more deserving person. But MMB will try to hold on by the skin of his teeth until the US presidential election, on the theory that if Clinton wins she'll restore her hubby's roster of foreign policy ghouls to power in Washington.

The New York Sun

Guardian Unlimited

Gordon Brown channels Sarkozy

On last night's Loftus Report John Batchelor mentioned this news item from the Financial Times. Britain's prime minister has come out with guns blazing on Iran and he's chastised America bashers in Europe and Britain.

First Nicolas Sarkozy's speech to Congress and now this speech from Gordon Brown. How much good news can we take in one week?

The Financial Times sniffs that Brown has not really differentiated his view on Iran from that of his predecessor's. I think there are indications in Brown's speech that he's caught up with Nicolas Sarkozy's tough stance on Iran and that he's willing to entertain sanctions that Tony Blair wasn't prepared to consider while in office.

As to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's position on Iran, she came out of her meeting with Bush a little stronger than she went in -- Loftus reported a rumor that Bush showed her a "ton" of intel on Iran's nuke program. However, Malcolm Hoenlein reported to the Loftus audience on the bottom line for Merkel:

There are 5,000 German companies doing business with Iran and much of that business is 'dual-use' technology; i.e., technologies that can be converted for nuclear weapon development.

As to the argument that if German companies don't supply the technologies to Iran China will take up the slack -- Malcolm said that China doesn't have the technologies.

Malcolm's figure is much higher than the one supplied by the International Herald Tribune in September:
At least 1,700 German companies are active in Iran, including household names like Siemens and BASF. Many of these connections go back decades, though few companies like to advertise that nowadays. Siemens, for example, supplies locomotives and gas turbines to Iran. "We're not giving out much information, primarily because of security issues," a spokesman, Wolfram Trost, said.
In any case, Germany did $5.7 billion worth of trade with Iran in 2006, according to the IHT report on Germany's halting attempts to disengage from business in Iran.

As to Russia -- look at your watch. Right this minute, Russia is considering doing less business with Iran. Loftus reported last night that they've canceled a LukeOil contract with Iran and pulled out of some other business deals. Who knows what they'll do about the issue ten minutes from now.

But right now that leaves everyone else sitting around the P5+1 table and asking China, 'What have you done to brake your business ties with Iran?'

China's rulers are living in terror of inflationary pressures in China, which includes dealing with the rising cost of petroleum, as John Batchelor grimly pointed out on his Sunday show and again on the Loftus Report last night.

Monday, November 12

Advice from a real expert on Iraq: Stay the course with the "new American-created reality," hang tough with Iraq's central government

When Michael Ware speaks about Iraq, I listen. Michael, an Australian journalist who worked for Time Magazine before joining CNN in May 2006, is, according to Wikipedia:
... one of the only mainstream reporters to have lived in Baghdad near-continuously since before the American invasion and he gained early acclaim as one of the few reporters to establish contacts with the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi insurgency. Ware was one of the first mainstream journalists to report on the severity of the growing opposition to Western coalition forces ... Ware is also known for his stark assessments of conditions on the ground and his repudiation of the overly-optimistic assessments sometimes made by politicians. Ware has also been 'embedded' with American and British military forces on numerous occasions, and the coalition forces have been the focus of many of his reports ...
Michael always looked rumpled and rather tired when he reported from Iraq, but he finally got a much-deserved vacation by covering the World Rugby Championship. On the November 10 CNN edition of This Week at War, the show host Tom Foreman interviewed Michael about his impressions since his return to Baghdad. From the show transcript:
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to say it truly is a blessing what the Iraq that I have returned to. Whichever way you look at it, yes, American and Iraqi lives are still being lost, but they are at levels phenomenally lower than they were a year ago. There is considerably less violence. This is still a war zone. There is still sectarian bloodshed, but at least now, there is something of a lid to that and that has to be celebrated as a success. The question is, a success of what?

Now, clearly the military would like to attribute this to the surge, the increase of 30,000 extra forces here in the capital and of course, the addition of that kind of military might has played a part, but it hasn't achieved the end result that it was advertised that it would, the political reconciliation between the major parties, but what it has done is it's given America time to build the Sunni militias, these concerned citizens' organizations, these awakening councils where we now see America with 67,000 insurgents on the U.S. payroll. These men that the administration called dead enders and criminals and Saddamists and rejectionists, America is now paying. They are out there slaughtering al Qaeda and they're out there forcing this Iraqi government, which is Shia-dominated and according to U.S. intelligence with many ties to Iran, to come to terms with the new American created reality, and that is that the Sunni must play a part. We have armed them. We are organizing them. You can no longer ignore them.

[...] reconciliation is the main thing, getting these incredibly scarred Sunni and Shia communities to come back together and whilst we might see that on the street level, even perhaps the neighborhood level, we are not seeing it now, and we are not going to see it at the level of the upper political stratagem. That is not what's going to happen. What we need to see is this momentum continuing, but for me personally, the blinding frustration of this enormously successful program that America has initiated with the Sunnis by bringing them in, befriending their old enemies, the men who had been shooting at them is that the Sunnis offered this four years ago.

It is almost as if we have now witnessed the end of or coming to the end of a guerrilla war we never had to have. 3,000 American lives and one wonders, did they have to be lost? Either way, now that they are finally doing it, that General Petraeus is doing what others wouldn't, this needs to be consolidated and this Iraqi government, which does not share American agendas, needs to know that America is playing tough and it has to get on board and Iran needs to know that suddenly, there is a buffer within Iraq to curb their influence and obviously, this will keep America's Arab allies happening. Essentially more of the same; this is what we need.
Tom Foreman also interviewed CNN military analyst Brig. Gen. David Grange, (Ret.) about his impressions of the situation, and General Grange came to the same conclusion as Michael:
I would caution to be careful here [about] rushing to withdraw [US troops] too rapidly when you have this type of success ... you get these spikes, these valleys. You don't want that right now, especially when we want to put pressure on Iran like Michael said, when you want to keep things going and show [that] at grass roots level where things are working in the communities, in the tribes [and say] to the national government, 'Get on with it.' Your countrymen are doing it. Now get on with it, because that has to be done.

Sunday, November 11

America's Veterans

An astonishing statistic mentioned on the current edition of CNN's This Week at War: 70 percent of America's troops in Iraq have received enemy fire or returned fire, the highest percentage in history of direct troop involvement in combat.

America's all-volunteer military is not receiving the veteran's benefits they need. We express gratitude to our war dead by prayers and memorials. We must express gratitude to our veterans by rendering practical help.

Visit the National Veterans Foundation site for more information.

News about John Batchelor Show

Los Angeles KFI 640-AM radio is now providing an archived podcast of the previous week's John Batchelor Show. This is a break for Batchelor listeners who can't fit in the entire six hours of broadcasts on Sunday nights.

To review, John's Sunday radio show starts on New York WABC-77 AM at 7:00 PM Eastern time, then rolls to KFI starting at 10:00 PM Eastern time (7:00-10 PM Pacific time). And both shows are available on the internet.

The two broadcasts are actually one show; they feature a different roster of guests and John's closing monologue is only available on the KFI program.

Another note is that sometimes on Sunday evenings WABC is finishing up broadcasting the New York Jets football game (which is not available on WABC's internet connection).

This means that a few times since the show debut on WABC, Batchelor's show has only run 90 minutes -- starting around 8:30 PM instead of 7:00 PM. The situation will happen again on November 18 and maybe again sometime in December, but that should finish up the football season for the Jets and return Batchelor's Sunday show to its normal time slot on WABC.

In any case, the WABC Batchelor broadcast will be aired in its entirety this Sunday, November 11. And right now you can access the KFI archive of the November 4 show.

Saturday, November 10

Speaking your truth vs fighting the ideas of others

My truck with Robert Satloff's How to Win The War Of Ideas is that he seems to assume that democracy is so strong around the world, and so well understood all around the world, that America can focus on supporting 'moderate' Muslims, as the way of winning the war of ideas with 'extremist' Muslims.

Satloff does a good job of outlining US government failures to help moderate Muslims argue effectively with extremist Muslims. And he is clearly speaking from the viewpoint of strategic communication -- a necessary component of US military-based operations in the war on terror.

However, as I indicated in a post on strategic communication, a big part of building effective argument is controlling the ground of discussion. In other words:

Do you want to invest your resources in helping moderate Muslims argue matters of religious doctrine? Or do you want to invest in teaching democracy and rule by law?

I suppose Muslims who are arguing with the extremists would say that both approaches meet at the same place. I'm just not sure this convergence works out at the resource allocation level. And I am not sure that Muslims should be the specific focus of any new broad-based US communications effort with developing-world peoples.

Even cursory attention to this week's headlines from Georgia and Burma reminds that many peoples around the world, not just extremist Muslims, have only the most tenuous grasp of democracy and its conceptual underpinnings.

As to the grasp that moderate Muslims have on democracy-- a Pakistani Talking Head pointed out last week that Musharraf's crackdown, which was clearly supported by the 'moderate' junta he leads, was alienating the very Pakistanis who support liberal democracy and the war on the terror.

And I am not entirely convinced that there are extreme and moderate forms of Islam. I think it can be argued that there are just different views among followers regarding how much Islam is to rule their life and society.

Perhaps the same observation applies to other religions as well. I won't labor the point but I mention it because I'm not sure it is the responsibility of the United States government to help Muslims take a more moderate approach to practicing their religion.

I am sure, however, that repressive forms of government of all kinds arise wherever democracy and its conceptual basis are nonexistent or very poorly understood. So I should think that teaching democracy would be where the US government should concentrate the bulk of communication resources.

This doesn't mean that Satloff's advice should be ignored in all quarters, particularly among NGOs dedicated to arguing against Muslim extremism. However, the advice overlooks the ground rules of argument itself:

If you're trying to argue people away from a set of ideas, you first need to clearly establish the other shore. This on the time-tested theory that it's hard to ask people to wade across rapids to a shore they can't see.

In like manner if you want people to give up, say, Sharia as the law governing society, you have to create a clear conceptual map of the alternative you're proposing. The map can't be made by pointing to Western prosperity and saying, "See, we're free." It's based on the abstract argument that all humans have rights regardless of their differences.

Making that argument to someone who's not familiar with it takes brain sweat. It takes great familiarity with the map. It takes skill at logic. And it takes creativity and considerable knowledge to develop analogies and metaphors that are already very familiar to those you're trying to persuade.

So maybe, just maybe, we here in America should rebuild our own dilapidated intellectual defenses of democracy before trying to help Muslims modernize their ideas of the best way to govern society.

In Iraq, grass roots democracy and community empowerment lurching along splendidly

Blinkered critics of the US operation in Iraq insist that ethnic cleansing, and an exodus of refugees from the country, are the main reasons for the marked drop in violence in Iraq over the past two months.

Staunch supporters of the invasion insist that the US troop surge coupled with a new counterinsurgency strategy have done more than anything to reduce the violence.

Writing for Bill Roggio's top-rated milblog Long War Journal, Bill Ardolino explains that actually several converging factors have helped tamp down violence. In addition to examining the role of the above-mentioned factors, Ardolino cites:

> Strengthened Iraqi security forces
> The truce with Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army
> Fewer foreign fighters and weapons getting across Iraq's borders.

Ardolino stresses that the gains against violence are still easily reversible. But two other factors he discusses -- the rise of the Iraqi people and "reconcilliation" -- are approaching a critical mass that can't be easily overturned.

That suggests support for democracy in Iraq is holding and building. It's not the Disneyland concept of democracy we envisioned at the outset and it's not the centrally-administered democracy we'd hoped for. But it's the birth of a genuine democracy in all its chaos and messiness. The majority of the Iraqi people have taken to freedom like ducks to water. Amazing, when you consider how long they were used to living under oppression.

First, kill all the independent TV stations: new media outwit Pakistan's blackout; old media felled by government goons in Republic of Georgia

Pakistan police allowed Benazir Bhutto to leave her home today but then blocked her from visiting ousted chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is under house arrest. Bhutto also briefly joined journalists protesting the government blackout on independent TV stations (including CNN and BBC) in Pakistan.

The government is allowing newspapers to publish -- gee thanks, in a nation where independent sources place the literacy rate at 26% overall and 12% for females. But it's independent television the government goons are after during the imposition of martial law. New media had a surprise for Pakistan's junta. First, though, we'll take a trip to Georgia to see how independent TV is faring under martial law:
MOSCOW, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. described as "totally outrageous" on Friday the storming of its Georgian television station Imedi by armed police, saying they caused "very extensive" damage.

Georgian special forces charged the station on Wednesday night, forcing staff to the floor and holding guns to their heads before smashing equipment and blacking out the signal, witnesses said.

"Two hundred, I don't know what they were, special police, thugs, came into the station, did not serve any papers, did not say why they were there," News Corp. executive vice-president Martin Pompadur told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"I have no idea who gave them the authorisation, someone in the government I assume. And they destroyed the station, they destroyed the control room, they destroyed equipment, they obviously had been given instructions to do just that".

Imedi, which had broadcast extensive coverage of anti- government protests, remains off the air. Under President Mikhail Saakashvili's 15-day state of emergency, only government media are allowed to broadcast news [...]

Pompadur said News Corp. were very surprised by the Georgian government action because Saakashvili was a pro-American leader and News Corp. was a U.S. company. President George W. Bush has called Georgia a "beacon of democracy" under Saakashvili.

"This has been the only independent voice in the country so for this guy (Saakashvili) to be so insecure and to think that because the media has been presenting the news which is sometimes not to his liking that he has to go to this extreme, it is pretty crazy," he said.

Imedi was founded and owned by Georgian billionaire tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, a key opposition figure who wants to end Saakashvili's rule.

News Corp. co-owns the station but Patarkatsishvili gave News Corp. a power of attorney over his shares for one year last month, effectively granting the Murdoch company full control.

"Although Imedi is managed by News Corp. It is still controlled by Patarkatsishvili," Giga Bokeria, a close Saakashvili ally and member of parliament, told Reuters.

"Imedi TV was clearly aggravating tension during protests in the streets. Patarkatsishvili was using this TV for his own purposes," he said.

Pompadur said the station's news coverage was balanced.

"We are in favour of presenting balanced, fair, independent news, which obviously is sometimes critical of the president, which people can interpret that we are favouring Russia," he said.

Human rights groups have called on Saakashvili to restore Imedi and other opposition media to the air as quickly as possible. The Georgian parliament defied this pressure on Friday, endorsing Saakashvili's state of emergency for 15 days.

Pompadur said Imedi "could not go on the air even if it wanted to" at present because the damage had been so extensive.
Now on to Pakistan

Nov 8, ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Associated Press via Internews Pakistan) — TV journalist Asma Chaudhry runs from baton-wielding police, shields her face as they fire tear gas and then describes to viewers how yet another protest against Pakistan's military ruler has been brutally crushed.

A tape of her broadcast is rushed to one of Geo TV's secret transmission sites and fed to the United Arab Emirates. Within minutes, millions of Pakistanis are watching it via satellite or Internet — thanks to newly created online video streams.

When President Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced a media blackout following his imposition of emergency rule on Saturday, he underestimated the determination of independent television networks and the desire of the country's 160 million people to get news.

"The media didn't cow down, they struck back," said Adnan Rehmat, who heads Internews Pakistan, a Washington-based media watchdog. "As soon as channels were taken off the air, they quickly created and found new ways to ensure that the flow of information did not stop."

The television news landscape has changed dramatically since Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, when the only available option to viewers was state-run Pakistan TV. Twenty independent stations have sprung up since then. There are also at least 5 million Internet users, nurturing a huge dependence on real-time information.

The government's response was to cut access to cable, the source of the news.

"They thought, somehow, if we turn off TV sets, no one will get any information," said Rehmat, recalling the local expression 'close you're eyes and the mountain goes away.'

"Well that's not really a sophisticated take on things, especially when you look at how the country has progressed on the IT front."

Geo TV, the most popular of the independent TV stations that started hitting the airwaves in 2002, has always transmitted news to Dubai via satellite and maintained facilities there — in part, owner Imran Aslam said, "because we realized there would be a time when, eventually, we would face a situation like this."

There have been numerous attempts to muzzle the press throughout Pakistan's 60-year history, much of which has involved military rule.

Immediately after Musharraf imposed his state of emergency, authorities installed a nearby satellite system and matched frequencies with Geo TV, jamming the signal and forcing the station to change its transmission tactics, said Hamid Mir, the company's executive editor in the capital, Islamabad.

"Not even the producer knows where we're feeding from now," he said. "We change the site every few days."

It is one of many challenges the station is facing, the most pervasive being concerns over security.

The Geo TV office, which runs on a bustling street across from parliament, is now ringed by dozens of police, many clutching bamboo sticks.

"They're not here for our protection," quipped Mir, a 20-year news veteran, who for the first time in his career has guards at his office and at home. "We're trying to survive on an hourly basis, not day-to-day or weekly, because we don't know when they will storm in and arrest me."

Police raided Geo TV in March after it aired live coverage of clashes between police and lawyers supporting Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the independent-minded chief justice who was removed from his post following Musharraf's state of emergency. Equipment was broken and journalists were beaten.

Keeping the news coming has also been difficult. Reporters say even close sources within the government are no longer answering their phone calls. Journalists have also been barred from covering some events, like parliament's rubber-stamping this week of Musharraf's emergency decree.

Government officials are also hesitant to go on camera.

One solution has been to send several analysts and political activists to Dubai, so programs could continue to be churned out. Though the anchors refrain from editorializing, the opposition view in this way continues to get out.

"We are fighting that our screen should not be empty, we cannot go black," said Mir, who sees Musharraf's stranglehold of the media as a sign of his imminent demise. "I can tell you from past experience. This is a last desperate attempt to save himself."

But perhaps the most dramatic changes in recent years have come with greater access to the Internet, said Rehmat, who said there are about 5 million users.

"With several people in each house having access as well, the real number is probably closer to 13 million, and that's a huge number," he said, noting that there are also about 70 million mobile phone users, further speeding the spread of news, mostly by text message.

As soon as Musharraf ordered the media stranglehold, GEO TV started live video streaming — a sequence of moving images that are sent in compressed form over the Internet and displayed by the viewer as they arrive.

The number of simultaneous users immediately jumped from 100,000 to more than 300,000. That forced the Web site to go "light" by removing all other content except for text updates, said Asif Latif, the Web master at GEO's Karachi headquarters.

"We were completely flooded," he said, adding that at times more than 700,000 hits are now tallied.

The crackdown is taking a financial toll as well, with a loss in advertising revenues.

"It's a huge amount of money that we're losing" said Aslam, the station's owner, though he was unable to provide any dollar figures. "It's going to have an impact, obviously, on our staff and the industry as a whole."

"There are already signs of nervousness," he said, referring to security jitters. "As soon as it hits people's wallets, I'm afraid they will walk away."

But reporters say the crackdown has only emboldened them.

"If anything, it's given me more courage," said Chaudhry, 27, one of the few female journalists in Pakistan who goes regularly into the front lines to cover the deepening political crisis. [...]

Friday, November 9

Phew! This rose by any name stinketh!

This is addressed to the U.S. Department of State, which is wrestling with the debacle in Georgia.

Are you happy now? It's no use scurrying to Georgia to express "disappointment" at Saakashvili's Soviet-style repression tactics. And I don't want to hear that the Russians are behind the protests. YOU supported Shevardnadze until he became a liability then YOU instigated a phony "Rose Revolution."

Since the putsch Georgia has been harboring Chechen terrorists. So did you expect Moscow to sit on their hands? Yet it's not only Moscow that's upset with Saakashvili. The World Bank can applaud Saakashvili's anti-corruption drive all they want; the government is still terribly corrupt, 54% of Georgians still live below the poverty line, and Georgians are protesting this. And now Saakashvili has shown his true face. He's another thug.

So what have all your machinations accomplished? Don't put the blame on Brussels. Since when does the European Union run Russia policy for the U.S. Department of State? On second thought better not answer that question but you get my meaning. Just because Brussels is doing something doesn't mean we have to do the same.

You need to acknowledge that everything you're doing to carry on the Cold War is boomeranging. So what is the way out?

The first step is to remove your Cold War blinders once and for all, then study what's happening in Georgia against the backdrop of events in Burma, Pakistan, Venezuela, Iran, China, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia.

You need to squarely confront the grave seriousness of Saakashvili's brutal crackdown on opposition parties and Georgia's independent media. You need to do this in the most blunt language and do it publicly.

Forget expressing your "disappointment." You should be speaking of your outrage.

Next, it's late in the day but you need to acknowledge that Russia has a sphere of influence in that part of the world, then act accordingly.

If you are genuinely concerned about the welfare of Georgians and democracy in that country -- as distinct from concern about oil pipelines and your desire to stick it to Russia -- you can engage in diplomacy with Russia when you wish to protest excesses by a government in Georgia. And you can offer concessions to Russia in exchange for their help.

Rule Number One: Do not make a superpower look like a fool on the world stage if the superpower is your only support

Pakistan's President Musharraf has made a fatal mistake by putting Benazir Bhutto under house arrest and arresting 5,000 of her followers simply to prevent their march in protest of his policies. So, despite Bhutto's shouted assurances to those gathered near her house, it's not "okay" -- not anymore.
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto returned to her residence in Islamabad after police blocked her way after she tried leaving to attend a rally against President Pervez Musharraf on Friday.

"The government has been paralysed," Bhutto shouted to supporters across a barbed wire barricade using a megaphone. Two buses and an armoured personnel carrier blocked the road outside her house.

"If he restores the constitution, takes off his uniform, gives up the office of the chief of army staff and announces an election by Jan. 15 then it's okay," she said, adding that she would defy Musharraf if he didn't meet her demands.
Nov 10 Update
Yup, he backpedaled fast. Bhutto was freed today from house arrest.
9:00 PM Update
ABC's Martha Raddatz was outside Benazir Bhutto's house when supporters tried to get Bhutto out of her compound in today's confrontation with the police. Martha reported on ABC World News Tonight (6:30 PM ET) that barbed wire and police trucks remain outside Bhutto's house and that Bhutto would be detained at her compound for three days. This contradicts earlier reports that Mrs. Bhutto was now free to leave her compound.
2:30 PM Update
Musharraf backpedals fast
I guess he remembered Rule Number One but this might have come too late:
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was freed from house arrest late on Friday, hours after she was stopped from leaving her Islamabad home to lead a rally against the president's imposition of emergency rule.

"The detention order has been withdrawn," said Aamir Ali Ahmed, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Islamabad.

Breakthrough in Burma!

Ibrahim Gambari's shuttle diplomacy, U.S. financial sanctions against Burma's army officers, upcoming ASEAN meeting, wholesale gem buyers' boycott of Burma's gems, protests to the junta from ASEAN members and China, continuing unrest among Burmans despite the crackdown, continuing expressions of outrage around the world, disagreement in the junta's ranks over attacks on Burma's monks, and just maybe the junta reading a hint from Sarkozy's threat to withdraw France's Total oil company from Iran -- not by any which way but by combined events and sustained efforts, a breakthrough:
YANGON (Reuters)- Detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi thinks there may have been a change of heart within the junta on political reform after September's bloody crackdown on democracy protests, her party said on Friday.

At a two-hour meeting with top members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) -- her first in more than three years -- Suu Kyi said the generals were "serious and really willing to work for national reconciliation", spokesman Nyan Win said.

"She is optimistic," he told reporters at NLD headquarters in Yangon, citing unspecified "practical measures" as reasons to think the military that has ruled for the last 45 years may be willing to consider relaxing its total grip on power.

However, Nyan Win said Suu Kyi, 62, had also asked for two NLD liaison officers to be appointed, suggesting there was little prospect of the Nobel laureate being released any time soon.

Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, also had a second meeting on Friday with General Aung Kyi, a go-between appointed as a result of world outrage at September's crackdown, in which at least 10 people were killed.

In a statement released on her behalf by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari after his second visit in a month, Suu Kyi described her initial contact with Aung Kyi as constructive and said she was ready to work with the military to establish proper negotiations.

"In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success," she said in her first public comments since her latest period of detention began in May 2003.

A junta statement saying it would "make efforts steadfastly for national reconciliation with the correct cooperation of the U.N. Secretary General" also gave cause for hope, despite the army's litany of broken promises. [...]

Thursday, November 8

President Nicolas Sarkozy's speech to the Joint Session of Congress, November 7

I will get this out of the way first: The transcripts of President Sarkozy's speech I've found thus far on the internet (at Real Clear Politics and NY Sun, which seem to have the same transcript) are incomplete. I have not done a word-for-word comparison but I immediately caught one glaring omission, which I highlight in brackets here:
My generation shared all the American dreams. Our imaginations were fueled by the winning of the West and Hollywood. By Elvis Presley, Duke Ellington, Hemingway. By John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth. And by Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, fulfilling mankind's oldest dream. [On the day when Americans walked on the moon, that day America was universal. And each of us wants to be part of that great adventure.]

What was so extraordinary for us was that through her literature, her cinema and her music, America always seemed to emerge from adversity even greater and stronger; that instead of causing America to doubt herself, such ordeals only strengthened her belief in her values
So I advise that you visit C-SPAN if you want to be assured of taking in the entire speech.

The above observations are typical Pundita; nothing is easier for me than to spot errors and omissions, and my highly discursive mind allows me to easily write pages of analysis and criticism. But when it comes to speaking of my true feelings it can take days of painful attempts to squeeze out a few words.

So I did not notice at first that my hand kept brushing my face during Sarkozy's speech. When I realized that I was brushing away tears I could return to full focus on Sarkozy's words only by scolding myself with the thought: 'This is historic. Pay attention.'

After the speech was over, more tears came as I realized that over the seemingly endless decades of the Cold War and the two decades of my personal war I had become a brittle person.

I will not be tedious and pose questions about some of the points made by Sarkozy. Now is not the correct time. I will only say thank you to France's president for honoring America, for bringing in a new era in France's relations with America, and for prompting me to remember that I have a heart.

Tuesday, November 6

Pakistan: the perils of cutting expedient deals with lunatics

"... few believe that Abdul Qadeer Khan acted alone and the affair risks gravely damaging the [Pakistan] Army, which oversaw and controlled the nuclear weapons development programme and of which Musharraf is still the Commander-in-Chief."(1)

Although much remains to be learned about Khan's activities, enough is known about the Pakistan military involvement that it's merely a convention to refer to Pakistan's clandestine nuclear proliferation program as the "A. Q. Khan network."

To cut to the bone, Pakistan is a rogue state selling nuclear technology and equipment to any government willing to purchase. Much of the story has been suppressed. But with the October publication of Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons, it's harder to maintain the argument that if other governments (most notably China and the US) don't support Musharraf, Pakistan will be taken over by foaming Islamists who won't hesitate to deploy the Bomb.

Pakistan's government was taken over long ago by lunatics who did not hesitate, and still don't hesitate, to sell nuclear technology to any government, Islamist or otherwise, willing to build and deploy nuclear weapons.

If you were listening closely to John Batchelor's discussion on the Loftus Report last night -- and I hope you were listening very closely -- you'll have noted that Batchelor spoke in the present tense, when he relayed what one of the Deception authors told him about Khan's nuke proliferation activities.

(Khan, by the way, was released in July 2007 from the fig-leaf house arrest.)

From what Loftus said last night, it is likely that tonight he and Batchelor will continue their discussion of issues related to Deception, and expand on their Monday discussion of Israel's bombing of a nuke facility (or facilities) in Syria.

If you missed the Loftus Report conversation last night, you can catch up here. Forward to the second half of the show; you'll have to pay five dollars to listen to the archived podcast if you're not a subscriber. If you have the time the first part of the show, which includes Malcolm Hoenlein, is also a very important discussion and mentions Iran's activities in Latin America.

In any event, don't fail to tune in tonight.

1) Wikipedia

Monday, November 5

Hi! Are you a mestizo? I'm an Iranian. Let me tell you about all the wonderful things Islam has done for the downtrodden peoples in Africa!

I think I'm going to end up an agnostic by the time the war on terror is over. I had internet problems during last night's John Batchelor show on WABC. But I caught enough of John's conversation with Malcolm Hoenlein about Iranian doings in Latin America to recall that a strict form of Islam is making big inroads in that region, and that Iran watchers have been concerned for years that Hezbollah is mucking around in Latin America.

Maybe it's time the US government adopted a more active attitude toward Hugo Chavez -- a point made by House Resolution 435.

Sunday, November 4

The Witness Tree

John Loftus has a gift for telling war yarns and when he recounts incidents he dug up while he was a Nazi war crimes investigator for the Justice Department, he's spellbinding. He doesn't get much chance to reminisce during his radio show, but last Wednesday he and Brendan Howley chatted about the background to their work on their just-published novel, The Witness Tree.

So there were some war stories. My favorite was the one about British assassins throwing American businessmen out windows. The Americans were profiting off the Nazi war machine, at a time when Britain was under German bombardment.

If you want to know more of the story, I guess you'll have to access the podcast archive for the Wednesday show. It'll cost you five bucks to sign up for a month of access the archives if you don't already have a subscription. Have fun!

CNN's This Week at War: getting swifter at tracking GWOT but much room for improvement

CNN's weekly This Week at War program, anchored by Tom Foreman, began airing in June 2006; I only began watching it a couple months ago. People who closely follow GWOT via the internet might not see the need for a college try from television, but Pundita was impressed.

Foreman's show struck me as being part of the John Batchelor revolution in news media. Foreman only has an hour to work with, but he manages to cram in an empirical (fact-based) review of war-related developments over the previous week, along with analysis that mixes MSM and OTMSM (other than mainstream) analysis. This week's show featured analysis of the Iraq situation by independent journalist/ milblogger Michael Yon.

The show also discusses situations that while not technically part of GWOT represent potential challenges for the US military; this week Foreman featured segments on the Kosovo crisis and on piracy.

I like it that Foreman stands at a table, which allows him to walk to the large maps that highlight a region under discussion, and that Talking Heads in the studio do the same. And of course this Batchelorite likes the maps.

Foreman himself seems plugged in; his questions and responses to guests' observations suggest he's not simply reading from a monitor. Also, the show's website gives a nod to the internet by featuring transcripts of the shows and a comprehensive list of guests and topics.

All in all, This Week at War is a serious effort to help the TV viewing public get a handle on the huge volume of information about war-related developments. The show is clearly more focused on understanding situations than spinning for a political agenda. I hope CNN brass realize this kind of effort helps rebuild trust in the mainstream media.

Yet just as clearly the show needs a bigger budget, so it can hire more researchers to keep a closer eye on the blogosphere's tracking of GWOT.

Foreman did a good job this week of summarizing news about a sharp decline in the number of Iranian-supplied roadside bombs in Iraq. And he was careful to point out that the US command isn't clear on whether the decline represents Iran's curtailment of EFP shipments into Iran.

Foreman fell down by not picking up on US concerns about Iranian shipments of weapons into Afghanistan. And yet this story is gravely important for reasons that go beyond the trials of NATO forces in Afghanistan.*

This past week Iran announced a willingness to return to discussions with the US about the security situation in Iraq. Those trying to defuse the confrontation between Iran and the US over Iran's suspected nuke building program, and who criticize the US imposition of sanctions against Iran's military, have seized on the straw. And they couple it with hopeful news about the recent decline of Iranian-made EFPs in Iraq and Ahmadinejad's pledge to Maliki to control shipments of Iranian weapons into Iraq.

Yet even if Maddy's pledge is directly connected with the decline of Iranian EFPs in Iraq, he did not pledge to curtail weapons shipments into Afghanistan. Whether and how much Iran's government is involved in shipping weapons into Afghanistan is still a matter for discussion, but this story needs close attention before we read much into any peace signals Iran sends up about Iraq.

(And before I receive more letters demanding to know why I haven't uttered a peep against the new US sanctions, even though I opposed them when they were first floated. My answer is that holding back on sanctions is off the table with even a hint that Iran's military is shipping weapons to the Taliban.)

So it's not enough to be empirical; one needs to isolate the significant dots and connect them, if analysis is to be helpful.

Dan Riehl at Riehl World View knows a significant dot when he sees it. So he pounced on Frank Rich at The New York Times for Rich's clearly agenda-driven attempt to dismiss intelligence about Iranian shipments of weapons to the Taliban.

Dan did more than pounce; he was very precise in his analysis of Rich's assertions in order to expose their flaws. The blogosphere's best representatives shine at this sort of thing, and the Internet medium allows for exhaustive research and pin-pointing of facts and flaws in analysis and opinion.

Granted, one shouldn't expect the television medium to display the strengths of the blogosphere. Yet if TV producers want to break away from the Bunching syndrome they need to look at Foreman's show as hope for the future of television analysis of news events.

Bunching is my term to describe the staple of TV news analysis: A bunch of talking heads are rounded up to discuss a news report, to be replaced by another bunch of talking heads explaining a completely different news topic in the next segment.

The Bunching syndrome has created a crazy-quilt of perceptions in the public mind about world events. The syndrome is to some extent unavoidable because mainstream TV news reporting is organized around pictures, not around a central theme of events.

For example, there is no weekly analysis of a region in Asia or even Asia as a whole. Here's how this works out:

When, say, Burma can provide footage of a crisis, this is picked up by the MSM and the footage is accompanied by bunches of Talking Heads. If Burma doesn't provide footage, it quickly falls off the TV news. But when Burma disappears from the TV screen so does interest and understanding of a region-wide situation.

By the next time Burma can provide pictures, the public has to go to the world map again to find Burma and its border countries. And nobody can connect what is happening in say, Thailand or China with important events in Burma.

This Week at War is not picture-driven, even though it addresses major war news that broke during the previous week. The show is organized around the theme of threat assessment, or at least it's moving in that direction.

That's a good move because it's through organizing news around central concepts that the audience builds up a coherent mental picture of world events. Without such coherence, it's impossible for the public to assess when their government is moving in the right or wrong direction on foreign policy.

Granted, CNN can expect to lose viewers if they move farther down the road of empirical, theme-driven reporting on world events. However, if they stay on the road they can pick up many more viewers.

There is a contingent in the US viewing public that refuses to watch Fox because they accuse it of being a Republican mouthpiece, and another contingent that refuses to watch CNN because they accuse it of being a Democrat mouthpiece. But I think there's a large subgroup in both contingents, and certainly a large group outside partisan groups, which is mostly upset because they don't feel they can trust anything they take in from the mainstream media.

Trust, once destroyed, is hard to rebuild. That is the legacy from decades of extreme partisanship in the major media -- decades that saw a trammeling of empirical-based reporting and comprehensive analysis. That, combined with Bunching, turned the news consumer public into paranoids by the time 9/11 came along, and not without justification.

The road to rebuilding trust is long, but a milestone is This Week at War, if they keep moving in the same direction. If.

American Democrats represent a small fraction of CNN (International) viewers. The station is more oriented toward the world public, which has been greatly anti-American since the US invasion of Iraq. Yet much of what the world public knows about America is from news reports picked up from major media outlets in the US.

So CNN, as with every mainstream US media outlet, has to decide. Do they want to pander to prejudices and assumptions the world over, or do they want to focus on bringing a comprehensive picture of US war-related events to the world public?

Meanwhile, do what faithful Pundita readers do anyhow: support the revolution in reporting on US foreign policy/security issues. Some ways to do this:

Check MSM reports against blogosphere analyses of the same news when it relates to important foreign policy/security issues.

Drop in at Loftus Report radio (on Monday through Wednesday nights from 11:00 PM to midnight ET) to learn about US security threats that don't make it onto the MSM news. (Did you catch the two recent segments about the nightmare of Canada's lax security enforcement and prosecution of criminals and terrorists?)

And stay tuned to the John Batchelor Show (on the air tonight on WABC at 7:00 PM ET and at KFI at 10:00 PM ET.)

* I have missed a few shows since first tuning in and haven't read the transcripts from the missed shows. So it's possible that the show featured a report on the intercepted Iranian weapons shipments to Afghanistan. Yet this wouldn't overturn my point. The important places to analyze the Afghanistan shipments are in connection with new US sanctions on Iran and last week's report that Iranian EFPs are declining in Iraq.