Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ralph Peters and the "Arab mindset".

As Iraq continues to fracture and break the supporters of the war are finding it very hard to work out who to blame.

Ralph Peters of the New York Post originally attacked, "leftists desperate for Iraq to fail tried to block the vote by claiming that the population wasn't ready."

Personally, I was never desperate for Iraq to fail, but I did think that a democracy could not be successfully installed until the local population was prepared to vote for the candidate who would best ensure their standard of living rather than simply voting for a candidate based on their ethnicity or their religious beliefs.

This was always, to me, the fatal flaw in Bush's grand plan. It completely ignored history and the messy way that democracy was installed in Britain, France and even in the US itself. The idea that you could deliver it in a box like a piece of self assembly IKEA furniture was always a supreme delusion.

Mr Peters has now caught on to that fact:

Iraq doesn't have a democracy in any meaningful sense. It isn't even a nation. Iraqis didn't vote for freedom. They voted for revenge against each other.

They elected ward bosses, not national leaders. We could have skipped the balloting and apportioned legislative seats by population shares.
The question is who will Ralph choose to blame for this? Having already poured a good deal of approbation towards "leftists" who had the temerity to successfully predict this outcome, Ralph then rounds on the real culprits for this mess. It is, of course, the Arab mindset itself!
Their social, political, economic and cultural structures leave them catastrophically uncompetitive with the developed world. Societies divided down the middle by religion, inhibited by tribal loyalties and conditioned to accept corruption can't build healthy democracies.
And then he seems to describe the US under George Bush when he states, without a shred of irony:
Above all, societies and cultures that refuse to accept responsibility for their own failures can't build democracies.
Perhaps Ralph and the others who cheered on this disaster would do better to reflect upon those last words themselves. He goes on:

As difficult as it can be to discern in the hype-and-gripe Internet age, our own system works because we shoulder the burden of our errors, seek to understand what went wrong - and fix the problem.

If the latter were true Ralph would realise that he, and others who think like him, are the problem. However, he insists on shovelling the blame towards Arabs in general:
It would be racist to claim that Arabs are genetically inferior. It is simply the truth to admit that Arab societies are volatile disasters.
There! See how he did that? He admits that certain notions are racist, then thinks he's avoiding being racist by simply restating the same sentiment in a different way.

We can expect more of this nonsense in the coming months. It's becoming obvious, even to stalwarts like Ralph, that the US mission in Iraq is a disaster:

We've done what we could in Iraq, and we've done it nobly. We should not withdraw our troops precipitously, but the clock is ticking. It's now up to the Iraqis to succeed - or become yet another pathetic Arab failure. If Iraqis are unwilling to grasp the opportunity our soldiers and Marines bought them with American blood, it's their tragedy, not ours.

We did the right thing by deposing Saddam Hussein. The Arab Middle East needed one last chance. Iraq is it. If Iraqi democracy fails, there will be no hope, whatsoever, for the Arab world.

When the whole misadventure fails, it will not - according to Ralph and his ilk - be the fault of Bush and the neo-con philosophy, it will be the fault of the "Arab mindset". And that's not racist according to Ralph, because he's talking about Arab states rather than Arab individuals. A subtle distinction that I readily admit is lost on me.

What is very clear in all of this is that Ralph and his pro-war supporters intend to take no responsibility for the havoc they have wreaked on that region.

This is no doubt a perfect example of the way we, "shoulder the burden of our errors, seek to understand what went wrong - and fix the problem."

In Ralph's eyes, it's what makes us superior. Ho hum...

Cluster bombing of Lebanon "immoral" UN official tells Israel

The behaviour of Ehud Olmert in the last three days of the conflict with Hizbullah struck most of us as bizarre. The US had finally engaged and a resolution was set to follow and yet Olmert, for reasons best known to himself, decided that this was the time to launch a ground offensive.

He claimed recently that he did so to ensure that the UN adopted the resolution, a ridiculous claim that suggests Israel was keen for a ceasefire whilst the UN dragged it's feet, which is about as far from reality as you can get.

However, his behaviour in that last 72 hours has come under even greater scrutiny with a stinging rebuke from the UN concerning Israel's use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, with most of them having been dropped in the last three days as the resolution was being finalised.

"What's shocking - and I would say to me completely immoral - is that 90% of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution," Mr Egeland said. "Every day people are maimed, wounded and are killed by these ordnance."

It is impossible to argue that Olmert did not mean to bring about civilian casualties using the weapons he was using in civilian areas. Indeed, as I reported at the time, he stated:
"Each expansion of Hizbollah terrorist operations will lead to a harsh and powerful response and its painful response will not be confined to Hassan's gang of criminals".
There is no way to interpret that statement as anything other than a threat to inflict "a painful response" upon the civilian population of Lebanon. And as the civilian population attempt to return to their homes in southern Lebanon, Israel's unexploded cluster bombs are making good on that threat.
Jan Egeland said civilians were facing "massive problems" returning home because of as many as 100,000 unexploded cluster bombs, most of which were dropped in the last days of the war.
Olmert was always out of his depth in this conflict but it's beginning to look like he's strayed into criminality. But, of course, because he's not East European or an Arab, there is no chance that he will ever face prosecution for his crimes. In the world view of the USraelis, war crimes are things committed by the other side which our cultural superiority renders us incapable of committing.

Meanwhile, flying under the world's radar thanks to the conflict in Lebanon, Israel's pounding of Gaza continues on a daily basis.

It is strange that, having seen these tactics fail so spectacularly in Lebanon, Olmert should choose to continue this strategy in the Gaza Strip. But, of course, Hizbullah were properly armed and could inflict genuine pain on Israel, the Palestinians cannot; therefore, the brutal attack on them continues.
The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, called on Israel to end its closure of the Gaza Strip and to halt the fighting that has claimed the lives of more than 200 Palestinians in the past two months. Palestinian officials say more than half of those killed in the past two months have been civilians - among them 39 children killed in July alone.

"Over 200 Palestinians have been killed since the end of June. This must stop immediately," Mr Annan said, after meeting Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. "I have made my feelings known in talks with Israeli officials. Beyond preserving life, we have to sustain life, the closure of Gaza must be lifted, the crossing points must be opened, not just to allow goods but to allow Palestinian exports out as well."

Israel continues to defend it's behaviour in Gaza by claiming it is still trying to find Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli captured at the very beginning of this conflict; however, it has already abandoned military action as a way of recovering it's kidnapped soldiers in Lebanon, so what possible reason can there be for continuing this failed policy in Gaza?

Is it simply to punish the Palestinians because the Israelis can do so without fear of retribution? Is it an attempt to ethnically cleanse the area by making life there unbearable for the civilian population? I don't know. All I know is that the reasons given by Olmert don't make any sense.

But, to be fair, little Olmert says these days implies that he has any firm grip on reality. He recently stated that "he hoped the ceasefire agreement might be the "cornerstone" of a new relationship between Israel and Lebanon."

Is he on smack? What makes him think that bombing a country back thirty years heralds the hope of a new understanding between them? Does he think a new relationship can be built even as Lebanese civilians are being maimed by the cluster bombs that he cynically dropped as the ceasefire was being negotiated?

Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister, gave Olmert a reality check by stating:
Lebanon "will be the last Arab country that could sign a peace agreement with Israel".
No doubt Olmert will be puzzled by such a reaction, just as Bush would be puzzled that there are some of us who think Olmert should face charges for the cynical and illegal things he did during the final days of that disgraceful conflict.

The US and Israel's determination to inflict their reality on the Middle East is the source of almost all the conflict there. And as long as the US and the Israelis continue to think that they need not consider what any other nation thinks or needs - see the unilateral solution they are attempting to impose on the Palestinians as an example - then conflict in the region is set to continue and Israel, consequently, will be less safe.

That is the irony.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Worried MPs plot to force Blair exit date

It shouldn't be this difficult to oust an unpopular leader. The end of Blair is nigh, a fact that even his most loyal supporters would find hard to deny, and yet the Labour Party remains in a tizzy about how to get the old bugger to bugger off.

Gordon Brown and his supporters are anxious to distance themselves from the plotting that is currently taking place ahead of the party conference where many MP's, anxious that they may lose their seats in future elections, are trying to come up with a method of displacing Blair from his Premiership.

Some Labour MPs had considered signing a letter calling on Mr Blair to stand down in May after the local elections, but the organisers held back after they believed the prime minister had given a clear indication at a meeting of the parliamentary party that he would stand down within a year.

MP's should ignore any hints that the Blair camp gives about possible dates when he may evacuate number ten as he has been giving them for so long that they are meaningless. Indeed, his supporters are insisting that Blair has "a full agenda, including cutting hospital waiting times, social exclusion, the Middle East, and the impact of globalisation on security."

This bugger isn't going anywhere unless he is pushed.

MP's are beginning to catch on to this:

This has prompted some MPs to argue that they need to raise the political pressure, probably through the form of a letter demanding that a timetable for Mr Blair's departure is clear by the end of his party conference speech.

They point to growing signs that formerly loyal MPs, notably in London and the south-east, are voicing fears that Mr Blair needs to go quickly if the party is to see off the growing challenge posed by David Cameron. A Guardian/ICM poll last week showed Labour at a 19-year low and the Tories with a nine-point lead, their strongest position for 14 years.

Many are saying that they do not want a Thatcherite butchering for the sake of the party, although this ignores the fact that - even after the Tories removed Thatcher in such a brutal manner - John Major went on to be re-elected.

Blair lost control of his party after the invasion of Iraq and his recent reluctance to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon only increased party disillusionment with a leader who has never held the values of the party that he led.

It is time now for the sheer scale of opposition to Blair to find some way of making itself be known.

The illusion that it was Blair that made Labour electable was always a lie propagated by his own camp. The party's belief in this lie has always given Blair more sway over the rank and file of his party than his political acumen actually deserved.

It is time for Labour to discard the fantasy and to wield the knife. Blair has now become a political liability.

Click title for full article.

US accused of bid to oust Chávez with secret funds

The United States has been actively working to undermine the government of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez by funding anonymous groups via it's international aid agency.

Millions of dollars are being spent in a "pro-democracy" programme that is really a disguise for an attempt to oust the popular Venezuelan leader.

The money is being provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Office of Transition Initiatives. The row follows the recent announcement that the US had made $80m (£42m) available for groups seeking to bring about change in Cuba, whose leader, Fidel Castro, is a close ally of Mr Chávez.

Information about the grants has been obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the Associated Press. USAID released copies of 132 contracts but obscured the names and other identifying details of nearly half the organisations.

The Office of Transition Initiatives, which also works in such "priority countries" as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia and Haiti, has overseen more than $26m in grants to groups in Venezuela since 2002.

Among the grants detailed in the information are: one for $47,459 for a "democratic leadership campaign"; $37,614 for citizen meetings to discuss a "shared vision" for society; and one of $56,124 to analyse Venezuela's new constitution.

"What this indicates is that there is a great deal of money, a great deal of concern to oust or neutralise Chávez," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (Coha) in Washington yesterday. "The US is waging diplomatic warfare against Venezuela."
It's fascinating that a country that complains so often about Iran and Syria interfering in their affairs in Iraq will be so brazen about it's interfering in the affairs of another nation.

Yesterday, they launched their defence of their actions:

USAID officials denied any suggestion the money had any political aim and said the reason for anonymity for some groups was to protect them from potential harassment.

"The goal of the programme is to strengthen democracy, which is consistent with President Bush's 'Freedom Agenda'," said a USAID official yesterday. "A strong civil society is a critical part of any healthy democracy, just as it is in the United States, England or anywhere else in the world."

This is the same "Freedom agenda" that, as I pointed out yesterday, sees no hypocrisy in inviting President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to Washington, a man who does not allow political opposition and routinely silences his own press.

There is no consistency to the Cheney administration position, and often naked political manoeuvering is dressed in some high moral framework - such as a "Freedom agenda" - when in reality they are simply engaging in the grubby politics of the gutter.

It is the huge difference between their rhetoric and the reality of what they are actually doing that most of us find so stomach-turning and hypocritical.

When the US accuse Iran of interfering, most of us accept that they probably have a point - certainly where it recently regarded Iran and the arming of Hizbulah.

However, when the US interferes, it tries to sell it's interference as some noble cause that benefits the whole of humanity. It's the fact that they employ this rhetoric, which implies that the world should be grateful and is somehow a beneficiary of US actions, that undermines any chance of genuine US beneficence being taken remotely seriously.

A word to the US. Enough liberating, really...

We can take no more of your kindness.

Click title for full article.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Stewart and Colbert present at the 2006 Emmys

These two are hysterical.

Bush invites Kleptocrat to family home.

The truth about just how serious President Bush is about pushing his so called "Freedom agenda" is highlighted by the visit of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to the Washington, where he will not only be received in the White House, but he will also be taken to the Bush family compound in Maine.

Nazarbayev has not only been accused of creaming off some $78 million in bribes from an American businessman, but he also runs a regime that bans any opposition parties and regularly intimidates the press in Kazakhstan.

However, his country does sit on top of some very large oil reserves which apparently blinds the Bush administration to any other faults he may possess.

Nazarbayev is hardly the only controversial figure received at the top levels of the Bush administration. In April, the president welcomed to the Oval Office the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who has been accused of rigging elections. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosted Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the president of Equatorial Guinea, who has been found to have millions of dollars stashed in overseas bank accounts.

But the Kazakh leader has received especially warm treatment, given that the same government that will host him next month plans to go to trial in federal court in January to prove that he was paid off in the 1990s by a U.S. banker seeking to influence oil rights. Although the banker faces prison time, Nazarbayev has not been charged and has called the allegations illegitimate.

In addition to Nazarbayev's upcoming visit, Vice President Cheney went to the former Soviet republic in May to praise him as a friend, a trip that drew criticism because it came the day after Cheney criticized Russia for retreating from democracy. The latest invitation has sparked outrage among Kazakh opposition.

"It raises the question of how serious is the determination to fight kleptocracy," said Rinat Akhmetshin, director of the International Eurasian Institute, who works for Kazakh opposition. "Nazarbayev is a symbol of kleptocracy . . . and yet they are bringing him in. That sends a very clear signal to people inside Kazakhstan who are very well aware that he stole money from them."

The Bush administration has declined to comment as the visit has not yet been publicly announced although one official, speaking on condition of anonymity said:
President Bush often meets with leaders of countries "that are not yet democracies" and uses the time to push for more freedom. "We've always been frank in our discussions with government officials from Kazakhstan about our concerns about lack of democratic movement, and we always press them for democratic reform."
I love the implication that Kazakhstan is "not yet" a democracy, implying some kind of imminence to something that we all know is as likely as pigs flying.

Kazakhstan, a vast nation of 15 million on the Central Asian steppe, has emerged as an increasingly important player in the world energy market. With the largest crude oil reserves in the Caspian Sea region, Kazakhstan pumps 1.2 million barrels a day and exports 1 million of that. The Kazakh government hopes to boost production to 3.5 million barrels a day by 2015, rivaling Iran. U.S. and Russian companies and governments have competed for access to its oil.

Nazarbayev, 66, a blast-furnace operator-turned-Communist functionary, has led Kazakhstan since 1990, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and has since won a series of tainted elections. His government has banned or refused to register opposition parties, closed newspapers and harassed advocacy groups. Two opposition leaders were found dead of gunshots in disputed circumstances.

You can be reassured though that Bush won't mention the oil as he rips into Nazarbayev about his commitment to democracy in the region.

Transparency International, an anti-corruption organization, ranks Kazakhstan 2.6 on a 10-point scale, placing it 107th out of 159 countries graded. That's a decline from a 3.0 grade and 65th place in 2000.

"You don't have free elections, and the press is pretty much controlled by his family, and a significant portion of assets in Kazakhstan are directly or indirectly controlled by his family," said Miklos Marschall, the group's regional director.

Transparency International go on to say that he's "not the worst". Which no doubt in the eyes of the neo-cons allows the whole disgraceful visit an air of respectability.

I am reminded of Rummy shaking hands with Saddam. These people would shake hands with a snake if it had access to oil.

Tags: , , ,

Olmert orders a Whitewash

Olmert has ordered a whitewash. His excuse?

"We don't have the luxury to spend years examining the past. What we need is a businesslike, professional investigation that gets to the root of the problem quickly," Olmert said in a speech in Haifa, addressing leaders of communities damaged by Hezbollah rocket fire.

He also said he did not want to subject the army to "collective flagellation."
When he says the army, he is also talking about himself. He has rejected both an independent commission of inquiry and a government commission of inquiry which would have had the power to call for resignations.
The inquiry into the government's conduct and functioning during the war will be headed by former Mossad intelligence service chief Nahum Admoni.

Law Professor Ruth Gavison, Professor Yehezkel Dror and Brigadier General (res.) Yedidya Yaari will also serve on the panel.

Olmert emphasized that the decision to go to war had been his alone, and said he was responsible for the war's results. "I want to make one thing clear, the responsibility for the decision to go to war... is entirely mine," the prime minister said.
It's really big of him to state the bloody obvious, that the decision to go to war was his alone, at the exact same time as he sets up an enquiry designed to save him from facing the consequences of that disastrous intervention.
In his speech, Olmert justified the war, saying Israel inflicted heavy damage on Hezbollah. He described the cease-fire, which calls for a beefed-up international force to help police the border, as a major diplomatic success.
Damage was undeniably done to Hizbullah, but the real damage done was to the Irsaeli reputation as a fighting force that trampled all before it.

And to sell the ceasefire as "a major diplomatic success" ignores the fact that the US, UK and Israel went to extraordinary lengths to try to avoid the ceasefire in the first place, such was their confidence that Israel could destroy Hizbullah.
He also said the ground offensive, launched just as the cease-fire agreement was taking form, was "unavoidable," despite the heavy Israeli casualties. He said the offensive put pressure on the United Nations to approve the cease-fire.
This is now bordering on fantasy. The launching of a ground offensive - just as the ceasefire agreement was forming - was one of the most bizarre moves he made in an already highly bizarre military campaign. And to claim that it helped put pressure on United Nations to approve the ceasefire ignores several truths.

1. The United Nations always wanted a ceasefire, it was the US, UK and Israel who didn't.

2. If he's implying, as I think he is, that the ground offensive was pressure to make the UN approve the US version of the resolution that declared victory for Israel where none existed on the ground, then one would have to look at the various drafts that circulated before the vote and ask yourself if the resolutions became more or less favourable to Israel during this time.

The truth is that Lebanon rejected the first resolution proposed and the second was not as favourable to Israel as Olmert might have liked.

The only thing he might be hinting at is that the resolution might have been a lot less favourable had Israel not launched a ground offensive, which is hardly a noble cause for young Israelis to have sacrificed their lives for, especially as the US had the power of veto and, as such, the power to demand that the resolution didn't accurately reflect the sheer scale of Olmert's defeat.

Olmert has only been in office a few months but he has already learned Bush's trick of acting as if reality is what you say it is rather than what facts demand.

However, unlike the USA, the Israeli press is not as cowed as their American counterparts and I find it unlikely that they will sit idly by whilst Olmert attempts to carry out this subterfuge.

Already members of the Labor coalition are expressing their discontent.
Two ministers from the Labor Party, a senior partner in Ehud Olmert's coalition government, said late Monday that they would vote against the prime minister's decision not to hold a state inquiry into the Lebanon war.
Olmert is not out of the woods by a long chalk.

Click title for full article.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hurricane Katrina Retrospective

Year After Katrina, Bush Still Fights for 9/11 Image

He would no doubt like his administration to be defined by the image of him holding a bullhorn with the twin towers smouldering in the background, but the truth is that it is the image above that has come to define his Presidency.

The President of the most powerful country in the world flying past a city where thousands of his citizens, mostly poor and black, suffered in the most appalling conditions without any help from their Federal government.

He flew past.

His approval ratings have never rebounded from their post-hurricane plummet. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted this month found that 51 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the way Mr. Bush had responded to the needs of hurricane victims, a figure statistically no different from last September, when 48 percent disapproved.

“This is a real black mark on his administration, and it’s going to stay with him for a long time,” said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. “It will be in every textbook.”

“I might argue that this was the worst thing that’s happened to George Bush in the whole six years of his presidency,” Mr. Schumer said. “It was a perception-altering event. People had questioned his ideology. People had even questioned his intelligence. But before this, average people rarely questioned his competence or his caring.”

One year later, Democrats are not the only ones raising questions. In follow-up interviews to the Times/CBS News poll, Republicans and independents also expressed lingering doubts about Mr. Bush, using language suggesting that their memories of the storm and his handling of it remained fresh and deep.

“Bush did nothing for the people,” said one Republican, Joseph Ippolito, 75, a retired highway superintendent from Bayville, N.J. “Bush didn’t have the proper people in office to take care of Katrina. The whole administration is wacky — and I voted twice for him.”

Bush plans to be at the Gulf Coast on Monday and Tuesday to observe the anniversary of this dreadful event, but I doubt it will do much to undo the damage that this has done to his public image. He's in a no-win situation now. If he attends, he emphasises how long it took for him to get there a year ago. If he doesn't attend, he's callous.

Nor is the damage solely limited to President Bush, rather it extends towards Republicanism in general.
“Here was an opportunity for a new conversation on race and class and poverty, and they blew it,” said the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a Bush supporter who runs a coalition that represents mainly black churches. “It’s not even just President Bush. Here was an opportunity for Republicans and conservatives in general to make a moral and intellectual case for a positive policy agenda for the black poor, and they did not advance it.”
Indeed, many on the right, rather than criticise the government response, attacked those who had stayed behind, attempting to make what happened to them somehow their own fault. It's become an almost knee-jerk response from this administration and it's supporters, to instinctively attack anyone who offers any degree of criticism.

Unfortunately, during Katrina, they were attacking some of the poorest and most vulnerable of their fellow citizens.

It's a stain on conservatism that few of us will easily forget. Just like the picture at the top of this article, it's seared into the memory bank.

When thousands of their fellow citizens were dying on the streets of America, they didn't care. They thought it more important to defend their President's non-actions than to fight to save their fellow citizens.

It was Bush who chose to define the language of political discourse as "with us or against us". If I were black and poor in America, I would have to come to the conclusion that most Republicans, and certainly the administration of this President, are against me.

Click title for full article.

Nasrallah: we regret the kidnappings that led to war with Israel.

The leader of Hizbullah, Nasrallah, has admitted that he would not have given orders for two Israeli soldiers to be kidnapped if he had known that Israel would launch a war on the scale of the one it launched.

On one level this could be perceived as an attempt to pass the blame on to the Israelis whilst simultaneously claiming an historic victory, sort of having your cake and eating it. However, I think there is a certain truth to what he says. Certainly, at the time I and many others thought that Olmert would be forced to stop his actions in Gaza and search for a negotiated solution. I certainly didn't foresee that Olmert would widen the conflict into a war that he was certain to lose.

I argued that Olmert would have to begin a climbdown, never thinking for a minute that he would indulge himself in the orgy of violence that he did.

However, I do suspect that Nasrallah's penitence is no more than an attempt to rub salt in Israel's wounds and make Olmert's position even more untenable as, during the interview, Nasrallah made it clear that a prisoner exchange is about to take place.

The Israeli government refused to confirm this, although officials have said privately that a prisoner exchange was probably the only way forward.
Nasrallah is reminding the Israeli public that this was all he ever wanted and that all the death and destruction was a chosen Israeli response. He's turning the screw on Olmert, knowing that he's in a terrible corner of his own making.
"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude," Hassan Nasrallah, the cleric who leads Hizbullah, told Lebanon's New TV channel. "You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not." He said Italy would play a part in negotiating the soldiers' eventual release. "Contacts recently began for negotiations," he said. "It seems that Italy is trying to get into the subject." From the start, Mr Nasrallah has said he wanted to exchange the soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians held in Israel.

Sergio de Gregorio, head of Italy's senate defence committee, said that Iran, Hizbullah's backer, wanted Italy involved. Mr de Gregorio told Reuters he expected talks to start this week. He said the two Israelis were "still alive, fortunately", but would not talk about how they were or what kind of deal might free them.

An Egyptian newspaper reported that German diplomats had helped negotiate a deal to have them freed in two or three weeks. A number of Lebanese held by Israel would be freed in return a day or two later, it said.

A second deal to free Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured near Gaza in June, was also imminent, the paper said. The Israeli government has said repeatedly that it would not strike a deal with the Palestinians to secure his release.

And so Nasrallah highlights his victory. Reminding us all that the prisoner swap was always on the table and completing Olmert's humiliation as he now has no option other than to engage in the very deal that he said he would never strike.

Since the war ended, the Israeli government has come under growing pressure from critics in the press and the army angry at the handling of the war.

In particular, soldiers complain that Israel failed to emerge from the conflict with a convincing victory over Hizbullah or with the release of the two soldiers. Protests have demanded the resignation of prime minister Ehud Olmert and his defence minister, Amir Peretz.

Many people have also called for a state commission of inquiry, a quasi-judicial investigation into the government's handling of the war. So far, Mr Olmert has refused to give in; a state commission was not even raised yesterday at his weekly cabinet meeting.

Mr Nasrallah also said he did not expect a renewed conflict, even though many others are worried about the ceasefire lasting. "We are not heading to a second round," he said.

It is highly unlikely that either side would want a second round of the madness that we have witnessed in Lebanon. However, if anyone is resigning over this it will be Olmert and not Nasrallah who will be walking the plank. Further emphasis of the nonsense Bush talks when he claims victory for his tactics and the state of Israel.

Click title for full article.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Gimme Some Truth

Report: Israel, Hezbollah to hold prisoners exchange in 3 weeks

It is being reported in the Egyptian state-run daily Al-Ahram that Israel and Lebanon are preparing to exchange prisoners in three weeks time.

The sources said that under the agreement, abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev would be released first, and a day or two later Israel would release Lebanese prisoners according to a list provided by Hezbollah.

Al-Ahram also reports that a deal for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted by Palestinian militants on the Gaza border, is to be finalized soon.
So we now witness Israel accepting the very deal that was on the table before the invasion of Gaza and Lebanon.

We have the right to now ask why Israel indulged herself in such an orgy of violence, killed hundreds of people, maimed thousands and destroyed billions of dollars worth of Lebanese property if she is now simply to accept the deal that was always available to her.

Surely such a deal is an admission that Olmert got it horribly wrong and should now be seen as a matter demanding his immediate resignation?

Indeed, in an ideal world both Bush and Blair should now be reconsidering their positions as the people who backed Olmert's disgraceful actions.

But, since their illegal war in Iraq based on false pretences, we have discovered that no-one resigns anymore on matters of principle. If only because the people who now lead us do not have any principles.

Cameron: we got it wrong on apartheid

In his strongest break yet with the Conservative's Thatcherite past, David Cameron has denounced their stance on Apartheid and stated that Thatcher was wrong to call the ANC and Nelson Mandela "terrorists".

To most of us he's twenty years too late in stating the bloody obvious, but to some in the Tory Party he's almost a reactionary.

Sir Bernard Ingham, said: 'I wonder whether David Cameron is a Conservative.'
In Sir Bernard Ingham's eyes there is obviously nothing to regret about the shameful stance that Thatcher and Reagan took regarding one of the most odious and racist regimes in history. Indeed, Sir Bernard appears to think that being proven utterly wrong does not change the fact that, in his eyes, the stance the Tories took regarding the ANC was the right one.

Lady - then Mrs - Thatcher, in close alliance with American President Ronald Reagan, championed a policy of 'constructive engagement' with Pretoria in order to urge reform on a government which they saw as a bulwark against Soviet-backed radicalism.

To the fury of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, she described the ANC as 'terrorists'. In 1987, she said that anyone who believed the ANC would ever rule South Africa was 'living in cloud-cuckoo-land'.

It would appear that it was Thatcher and Ingham who were living in "cloud-cuckoo-land" although Ingham has yet to acquire the grace to admit it. Nor is Ingham alone in his condemnation of Cameron's actions. Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher's most loathsome henchmen, has said:
'Because of his age, Mr Cameron is looking at these events as part of history. Others of us who lived through them and had input into the discussions at the time see things very differently. The policy of the Thatcher government was a success.

'The result was an overwhelmingly peaceful transition of power in which the final initiative for the handover came not from foreigners but from native South Africans - and Afrikaner South Africans, at that.'

Another former minister, who did not wish to be named, said of the Cameron comments: 'They are ignorant.'

So here we have the stalwarts of the Tory Party still arguing all these years later over whether their stance towards Apartheid was the correct one, with Tebbit now arguing retrospectively that their actions managed to bring about change, in much the same way that the insane amongst the right wing in America argue that Reagan defeated Communism.

Indeed, David Hain reminds us of just how much the Tories were opposed to Mandela in the eighties:
I remember Conservative students of David Cameron's generation wearing "Hang Nelson Mandela" badges on campus,' he said. 'For those of us in the struggle - a bitter struggle, a life-and-death struggle - the Tories were the enemy as much as Pretoria. If the change is for real, I'm glad. But I wonder how many Tories are behind this change in mood music.'
Cameron has also challenged another of Thatcher's most famous stances by declaring, 'There is such a thing as society, it's just not the same as the state.'

Now I'm sure many will, rightly, welcome Cameron making this break with the Conservative past. However, it is a sign of how unelectable the Tories remain that stating such obvious truths as Mandela was right and the racist government of South Africa was wrong should, to this day, remain controversial amongst the Tory rank and file.

Those of us who fought against Apartheid will never forgive or forget the assistance they were given by the Reagan and Thatcher governments, nor will we ever forget Dick Cheney voting for Mandela to remain in prison.

When it comes to civil rights, the conservative movement is once again playing a game of catch up, as they have on every social issue for the last fifty years. The social advancements of the last fifty years in terms of women's rights, gay rights and equality for all regardless of colour, have all been advanced against a wall of conservative opposition.

So, people may clap Cameron for advancing such an audacious proposition, but I'll remain sitting on my hands. I don't think it's such a great thing to admit twenty years too late that you were flat wrong.

Don't get me wrong, it's welcome, but it's essentially a game of catch up rather than a stride in a brave new direction.

Click title for full article.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Katrina Blows in the Truth Regarding Bush Adm.

On the first anniversary of Katrina, let us never forget that for five days Bush watched this and did nothing...

In the richest country in the world.

Possibility of vote rigging using electronic voting machines

Clint Curtis testifies under oath that there is a way to rig elections in the US using electronic voting machines.

Countdown - Keith Olbermann - Johnathan Turley

Calls for Blair to go increase.

The end of Blair's premiership has never felt more palpable.

He has managed to cling to office despite invading Iraq on false premises and unleashing catastrophe in the Middle East, the crime for which Anthony Eden had to resign after Suez. However, it now appears as if his reluctance to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon has proven the straw that broke the camels back.

Thirty-seven party activists in foreign secretary Margaret Beckett's constituency of Derby South yesterday defected to the Liberal Democrats in protest at his Lebanon policy. The defectors, predominantly Muslims of Pakistani origin, included Mohammed Rawail Peeno, a Labour party ward chairman, and Masood Akhta, a former city and county councillor. He was also under pressure to name his departure date, amid reported concern among ministers that the government is "drifting".
The Labour Party under Blair are now tanking in the polls, showing their worst poll position since Blair became Prime Minister.
The Conservatives reached 40% in this week's ICM poll for the first time since 1992, while Labour's 31% was its second lowest since 1984.
The departing words of some of the Labour activists deserting the party should ring in Blair's ears.

Ravail Peeno said: "The Lebanon war has made me change my mind and made me feel I am in the wrong party. The people who are getting killed out there are innocent women and children.

"It's sad. For many years I have been a Labour Party member but we have no choice. We can't take it any more."

His fellow defector, Shayad Mahmood, 31, a father of three, said: "We are not backing Hizbollah but we are against the killing of innocent women and children. They are dropping bombs in highly populated areas where civilians are. In this day and age, in 2006, there is no way this Government can allow this to carry on."

Blair, as he always does when demands for him to quit reach a peak, has announced a new range of measures in the hope of distracting the public and ending the speculation. To be honest, he has always been very good at this. However, there is a feeling that the Labour Party is no longer simply discontented with Blair, they are sick of him and simply want him to go.

Lebanon was the final proof that he does not represent the values of the party that he leads.

He has also still to be interviewed by the police regarding the cash for honours scandal.

The writing is on the wall for Blair. He will now scramble and try to find a dignified exit. However, no matter what route he chooses, Iraq will be engraved on his political tombstone. He, like Bush, has always insisted that history will be the final judge of the wisdom of his decison to invade Iraq without a UN resolution.

However, it appears as if the Labour Party may make that decision rather sooner than Blair would like.

Tags: , , , , , ,

EU to commit biggest force in its history to keep the peace

The European Union have pledged to mount the biggest military operation in it's history by agreeing to commit 7,000 troops to Lebanon.

Its willingness to commit troops demonstrates that the EU is capable of military deployments independent of the US. It also answers criticism from Washington that Europe is happy to engage in diplomacy but unwilling to put boots on the ground. As well as the 2,000 troops promised by the French president, Jacques Chirac, on Thursday, Italy committed 3,000, Spain up to 1,200, including a mechanised battalion, Belgium 400, Poland 500 and Finland 250.

Britain, Germany, Greece and Denmark offered to contribute to the 2,000 specialist forces. Britain, which was represented at the meeting by the Europe minister, Geoff Hoon, will provide six Jaguar aircraft, two AWACS reconnaissance planes and a frigate or destroyer, and offer the use of its air and naval base on Cyprus.
This will form the backbone of the UN peacekeeping force hoping to enforce the Israeli-Hizbullah ceasefire.

The Israelis are reported to be unhappy with the fact that the European forces have no intention of disarming Hizbullah, instead they are leaving that task to the Lebanese army who we all know have made it clear that they will not be carrying out this part of resolution 1701. There are many, myself included, who feel that asking the UN to carry out a task that Israel was unable to carry out itself is unrealistic.

This will no doubt increase the pressure on Ehud Olmert, Israel's beleaguered Prime Minister, who is already facing calls from a majority of the Israeli population to resign according to a poll in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

63% wanted Mr Olmert to go. The defence minister, Amir Peretz, appears even more vulnerable after 74% called for his resignation, and 54% want Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the chief of staff, to resign as well.

The poll reflects the growing disillusionment within Israel about the 34-day conflict with Hizbullah and the fact that the country emerged without a clear victory over the Lebanese militia. The two Israeli soldiers whose capture triggered the conflict are still not free. The war claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people in Lebanon, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

These figures appear impossible to ignore and one must wonder how long Olmert can continue with this sizeable part of the population opposing him remaining in office.
"Ladies and gentleman: an upheaval," the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper wrote in a report about its poll. "Upheaval is not the word. Earthquake would be more suitable to describe the condition of the Olmert government 110 days after its term of office began."
Meanwhile, just to compound Olmert's problems, the US state department is to conduct an investigation into whether Israel used cluster bombs against the civilian population of Lebanon contravening secret agreements with the US over the use of such weapons which limit their deployment strictly to military targets.

The investigation should be able to establish Israel's guilt as a matter of course according to United Nations:

"There are about 285 locations across southern Lebanon, and our teams are finding 30 new ones every day," a UN spokeswoman said. "A lot of them are in civilian areas."

Since the 14 August ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah, eight Lebanese - including two children - have been killed by cluster bombs, and 38 injured.

Israel, however, insists it has done nothing wrong. All the weapons used in the war were legal under international law, "and their use conforms with international standards," an army spokesman said. Israeli commanders have frequently accused Hizbollah of deliberately operating out of civilian villages.

Israel's defence seems to me an admission that they used cluster bombs in civilian areas, albeit with an attempt to move the blame on to Hizbullah for sheltering in these areas. No matter what one thinks of Hizbullah's tactics, international law does not make an exception for such a circumstance. Cluster bombs are not to be used in civilian areas. Period.

Olmert appears to be on his last legs. There is still a way for him to reinvigorate his Premiership, but that would require him realising the significance of his defeat and opening talks across the Middle East requiring Arab nations to recognise Israel in return for Israel handing back all the land seized in 1967.

However, despite being elected to remove Israel's presence in the West Bank, Olmert has now gone in the exact opposite direction declaring this evacuation dead for the time being.

If he falls, it will be deserved. He seems to lack the imagination to realise the significance of what has happened in Lebanon. The danger is that he could be replaced by Netanyahu, destroying any chance of peace in the Middle East for another decade.

Israel should have learned that it's days of ensuring it's survival through force alone are over. It is a time for negotiation and compromise and a return to international law as demanded by UN resolution 242.

It appears no-one in Israel is yet ready to accept that new reality.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Jon Stewart dissects Bush's latest 'desperate soundbites'

Israel must pay.

By Brian Whitaker

The security council ...

Observing that the military action by the armed forces of Israel against the civil international airport of Beirut was premeditated and of a large scale and carefully planned nature ...

Condemns Israel for its premeditated military action in violation of its obligations under the [UN] charter ...

Issues a solemn warning to Israel that if such acts were repeated, the council would have to consider further steps to give effect to its decisions;

Considers that Lebanon is entitled to appropriate redress for the destruction it has suffered, responsibility for which has been acknowledged by Israel.

I am quoting here from UN security council resolution 262 which was approved - unanimously - almost 38 years ago, on December 31, 1968.

The historical background was an incident at Athens airport on December 26, 1968, when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attacked an El Al plane with machine guns, killing one Israeli. One member of the group came from Lebanon and the PFLP issued a statement claiming responsibility from there.

As a reprisal, a few days later Israeli commandos raided Beirut airport, blowing up 13 airliners and causing damage estimated at $43 million.

The UN resolution set an important precedent, making clear that it is not acceptable to punish one party for the actions of another, and that compensation should be paid in such cases.

It is easy to spot the parallels here with more recent events: a non-state organisation (Hizbullah) captures a couple of Israeli soldiers and Israel responds with a full-scale onslaught against the Lebanese nation.

Particularly relevant in the light of resolution 262 was Israel's bombing of Jiyyeh power station, south of Beirut, last month. As with many other attacks during the war, it could not, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, be construed as an act of self-defence. It was essentially punitive and directed against Lebanese citizens as a whole.

As a result of this, some 10,000-15,000 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea, causing the worst environmental disaster in Lebanon's history. The pollution now stretches along 100 miles of Mediterranean coastline, from Lebanon into Syria, and the cost of initial clean-up operations is put at $64m. Israel made the situation considerably worse by preventing any serious action to deal with the slick for more than a month. More information can be found on the UN Environment Programme's website.

There is little doubt that Israel ought to pay for this; actually getting the money is the problem. It will come as no surprise that Israel never complied with resolution 262 back in 1968 - though France took revenge by refusing to deliver 50 warplanes that Israel had already paid for.

So far, the Lebanese government has talked of claiming compensation through the courts. This will certainly not be quick: the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is still rumbling on in the courts 17 years after it happened.

Though the Lebanese government may be able to afford the best lawyers, claiming through the courts is not a practicable option for the thousands of Lebanese individuals who may also be entitled to compensation.

An alternative solution would be to activate the UN Compensation Commission which processed millions of claims - both large and small - resulting from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Again, this would need some kind of enforcement mechanism in order to collect payment.

In the case of Iraq, money was collected by the UN taking charge of its oil exports. Israel, of course, isn't an oil exporter but it is an oil importer. One way of recouping the money might be to impose a surcharge on these imports, since its oil supplies are not only vital to its economy but would be relatively easy to block in the event that it failed to pay the surcharge.

Click title for source.

France send 2,000 troops, but it's too late for Olmert.

President Chirac has at last agreed to send 2,000 French troops to Lebanon, paving the way for an international peacekeeping force of up to 15,000 soldiers to be placed on the Israeli-Lebanese border, although he has only agreed to do so after receiving a reassurance that his forces will not be asked to disarm Hizbullah as the Israelis have been insisting.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, speaking as Italy prepare to send 3,000 soldiers to the region, said that America and Israel's aggressive stance towards the Middle East had failed and said that Europe now had to prove to Israel that only international intervention can bring security to Israel. He also insisted that the international forces were not being deployed to disarm Hizbullah by force. However, he went further by questioning America's insistence that Hizbullah are a terrorist organisation - a view that is not shared by the EU or the UN.

It would be "simplistic" to describe Hezbollah solely as a terrorist organization. "Were Hezbollah merely a small terrorist group, it would not enjoy the support of so many Lebanese," he said. "Even Tzipi Livni says that if Hezbollah becomes a political organization, this will be a success, and I agree with her."
The US and Israel have found their views on Hizbullah increasingly isolated and challenged as a result of the Israeli war against Hizbullah, with Europeans far more willing to express their disagreements publicly than ever before.

Meanwhile in Israel the pressure on Olmert to resign is increasing with the bereaved families of soldiers killed in the recent dispute marching to the grave of Golda Meir calling on Olmert to resign as Meir did after the Yom Kippur war.

The march will begin at the grave of Staff Sergeant Refanael Moskal who was killed in the recent war.
Moskal's mother said "we will demand that Olmert resign within four days, and if he doesn't then we will open a strike before his office."

On Thursday, dozens of reservists staged a protest in Jerusalem to demand the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into events during the war in Lebanon.

The demonstrators said that they did not want "heads to roll or to settle the score," but rather a serious and thorough examination of events. The protesters also called for a representative of the reserve soldiers to serve on the commission.

The most senior officer to join the protest was Colonel Amnon Nahmias.

In response to the rising wave of protest, Minister of Culture, Science and Sport Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) said Thursday that he expects Olmert to hold a cabinet vote on Sunday on a proposal for a state commission of inquiry into the failures revealed by the war.

Pines-Paz said that there was no choice but to establish such a commission, which should submit its findings in a matter of months and be headed by an outstanding public figure such as Supreme Court President Aharon Barak or his recently retired deputy, Mishael Cheshin. Only a serious commission of this type could restore the public's faith in the government, Pines-Paz said.
Olmert has so far resisted all calls for a state commission of enquiry, no doubt because after such enquiries in the past Israeli Prime Ministers have had to resign.

However, one has to wonder what the Olmert government is for anymore as he has already dumped the plan to evacuate West Bank Jewish settlements, the very task that he was elected to perform.

Whilst attempting to appear decisive by launching his ill advised war in Lebanon, he now appears to be trying to govern in a vacuum, having abandoned any sense of direction that his government ever had.

This has not gone unnoticed in the Israeli press:
Olmert has no answers. The response to calls to dismiss him is the threat of Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm. But what, exactly, is the difference? Both now propose preservation of the status quo in the territories, rehabilitation of the North and grappling with Iran.

At this point, what advantage does the head of state have over the head of the opposition? Olmert aides credit him with an advantage in demeanor; his office is better run than Netanyahu's. Even if true, this is questionably sufficient cause to leave Olmert in the government.

Doubts regarding his ability to implement the convergence plan arose before the war. But removing this issue from the agenda negates the reason for having the Kadima party and its government. Olmert merely offers the public and the international community efforts to survive ("rehabilitation of the North") and a political holding action ("Bashar Assad is contemptible"). If the government is too weak to embark on new political initiatives to replace unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, it should end its term quickly.
What, one has to wonder, has Olmert gained by his rash decision to wage war against Lebanon for the crimes of Hizbullah? What has he gained for the hundreds of civilians he has killed and the billions of dollars worth of damage he has inflicted upon the Lebanese infrastructure?

Hizbullah has never been more popular and, although the UN peacekeeping force is now arriving, it is making clear that it has no intention of disarming Hizbullah as Olmert as always insisted it will.

And now, as a result of the war, he has abandoned the very reason for which his government was voted into office. It is fair to say that he has had a very bad war.

The UN Cavalry may be arriving, but they are arriving far too late to save the skin of Ehud Olmert.

Click title for source.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Nancy Pelosi on Letterman

"Stay the course is not a strategy".

Some in G.O.P. Say Iran Threat Is Played Down

The Bush regime are getting impatient over how much time Bush has left in office and whether or not there will be time to attack Iran before he steps down. What other possible reading is there of some senior Bush officials criticising intelligence services for not issuing more ominous warnings of the threat posed to the US by Iran?

It's almost a re-run of the same tired arguments they made before the invasion of Iraq.

Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate.

The dissonance is surfacing just as the intelligence agencies are overhauling their procedures to prevent a repeat of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate — the faulty assessment that in part set the United States on the path to war with Iraq.

The new report, from the House Intelligence Committee, led by Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, portrayed Iran as a growing threat and criticized American spy agencies for cautious assessments about Iran’s weapons programs. “Intelligence community managers and analysts must provide their best analytical judgments about Iranian W.M.D. programs and not shy away from provocative conclusions or bury disagreements in consensus assessments,” the report said, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction like nuclear arms.

Leaving aside the obvious desire of these people to invade Iran - a mission that would light the Middle East up like a Roman candle and probably ensure the US eviction from Iraq - what is staggering is that the GOP don't realise that any reluctance from the intelligence community to overstate their case is probably a result of the behaviour of the Bush administration before and after the Iraq war.

Before the Iraq war they made the same arguments, with Cheney visiting intelligence agencies to pressure them to re-examine previously discarded information and Rumsfeld operating a counter intelligence unit - the Office of Special Plans - with the one aim of ensuring that the intelligence told the Bush administration what it wanted to hear. That Saddam was a threat and that he should be attacked.

However, when the war was over, and the intelligence exposed as the overstated rubbish that it always was, the Bush administration had the gall to pretend that they had nothing to do with the hyping of this intelligence and promptly placed the blame for the debacle on the intelligence community.

Are the GOP really so surprised that intelligence officers aren't lining themselves up to be the fall guys for this administration for a second time?

I thought Bush had already memorably covered this topic.
"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

President George W. Bush, Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
Related articles:

U.S. Spy Agencies Criticized On Iran

Tags: , , , , , , ,

US marine corps calls up reserves as army feels the pressure of fighting on two fronts

The neo-cons have continued to insist that Iraq is showing signs of continuing improvement and have attacked as naysayers anyone who has questioned that assessment or George Bush's insistence that the war in Iraq is being won.

Now their own actions undermine their earlier optimism with George Bush introducing what amounts to a back door draft by forcing the US marine corps to call up its reserves for compulsory service in Iraq and Afghanistan as they are unable to find enough volunteers.

This is quite a significant change in US plans as they had originally hoped to reduce troops in Iraq from 130,000 to 100,000 by the end of this year. However, the sheer scale of sectarian violence has rendered these plans as unworkable. This is a much more accurate indication of what direction the war is heading in than George Bush and Tony Blair's almost continual optimism.

The marines' involuntary call-up, seen as a "back-door draft" by Pentagon critics, is the first since the start of the Iraq war, and will begin in a few months when a first batch of up to 2,500 reservists will be summoned back to active service for a year or more. The army has already sent 2,200 reservists back to the front, of which only about 350 went voluntarily.

"All that happy talk about getting down to 100,000 by the end of this year, that's not on the cards for this year," said John Pike, the director of, a military thinktank in Washington.

"Instead, they might bump up the numbers even further ... They are going to do whatever it takes to keep a lid on this damn thing in Baghdad, because if there's anywhere it's going to fly off the handle it's in Baghdad. And if ethnic cleansing takes on a life of its own, people in this town are going to say it's time to leave."

Gary Anderson, a retired marine colonel and now a Pentagon adviser on Iraq, said the call-up reflected the strain the Iraq war was putting on the force. "We're in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and we still have commitments in the Far East. I think if Iraq was the only game in town, it would be different," he said.

"Quite frankly some of these guys have gone to Iraq two or three times, and they feel they've done their bit ... It's going to put a strain on them. Both people and equipment are getting worn out. There's an old saying - long wars ruin armies, and I think that's an accurate statement."

Jack Reed, a Democratic senator on the armed services committee, said the marines and army were "stretched perilously thin and the equipment is seriously degraded".

There are further indications that the Bush regime is at last waking up to the reality of the nightmare the have made for themselves in Iraq. Peter Baker of the Washington Post has noticed that, during his recent press conference, there is one word that has been dropped from the Bush lexicon: Progress.

Of all the words that President Bush used at his news conference this week to defend his policies in Iraq, the one that did not pass his lips was "progress."

For three years, the president tried to reassure Americans that more progress was being made in Iraq than they realized. But with Iraq either in civil war or on the brink of it, Bush dropped the unseen-progress argument in favor of the contention that things could be even worse.

The shifting rhetoric reflected a broader pessimism that has reached into even some of the most optimistic corners of the administration -- a sense that the Iraq venture has taken a dark turn and will not be resolved anytime soon. Bush advisers once believed that if they met certain benchmarks, such as building a constitutional democracy and training a new Iraqi army, the war would be won. Now they believe they have more or less met those goals, yet the war rages on.

While still committed to the venture, officials have privately told friends and associates outside government that they have grown discouraged in recent months. Even the death of al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq proved not to be the turning point they expected, they have told associates, and other developments have been relentlessly dispiriting, with fewer signs of hope.

I have always thought the Bush regime's basic mistake in Iraq was to believe that they would ever be greeted as liberators. The UN sanctions - which were enthusiastically supported by the US and the UK - were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi babies. The idea that the Iraqis had such short memories that their rage over our actions would have subsided, or that they blamed the need for sanctions on Saddam, was always a fanciful vanity.

This whole adventure was doomed from the outset. However, what we are now witnessing from Bush is not a "road to Damascus" moment rather than a fallback position from a "progress is being made" argument that is impossible to sustain, especially with the mid term elections just around the corner.

Christopher F. Gelpi, a Duke University scholar whose research on public opinion in wartime has been influential in the White House, said Bush has little choice.

"He looks foolish and not credible if he says, 'We're making progress in Iraq,' " Gelpi said. "I think he probably would like to make that argument, but because that's not credible given the facts on the ground, this is the fallback. . . . If the only thing you can say is 'Yes, it's bad, but it could be worse,' that really is a last-ditch argument."

However, with the entire success or failure of his Presidency certain to be defined by the Iraq war, there is no chance of Bush ever admitting the scale of defeat that he is facing. He will hang on grimly no matter what happens in the hope of passing this problem to his successor, hoping that some of the blame will also be passed along the line.

It's not an honourable position, but then this is not an honourable administration.