Saturday, March 31, 2007

Detainee Alleges Abuse in CIA Prison

The idiocy of President Bush's stance, that he rejects torture but refuses to clarify which acts he would consider to be torture, were highlighted in the transcript of the US tribunal against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who the US accuse of involvement in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and allegedly organising the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

His lawyer stated:

"The detainee states that he was tortured into confession and once he made a confession his captors were happy and they stopped torturing him," Nashiri's representative read to the tribunal, according to the transcript. "Also, the detainee states that he made up stories during the torture in order to get it to stop."
As any confession obtained through torture is ultimately useless, certainly in obtaining any conviction that carries any certainty of fairness, one wonders why Bush allows such ambiguity on America's position on this?

Tortured people would say anything to make the torturer stop, isn't that the very reason that they are being tortured in the first place? Therefore, no confession obtained by such means can be considered reliable.

And, as Bush refuses to clearly state that the US does not indulge in such practices, isn't he holding out this as a form of defence for every al-Qaeda suspect that he is going to bring before these tribunals?

I am sure the detainee's claims will have no effect on the military tribunal that Bush has formed for the express purpose of finding these guys guilty; however, it does have an effect on how the rest of the world view any guilty findings made by this same tribunal.

The fact that the US are engaging in torture has already been established by Amnesty International.
H (Name withheld) could not see what went on inside the interrogation room but she could hear the screams and some of the questions asked during the interrogations. Whenever interrogators brought in a new prisoner, they would always bring in a block of ice. She did not know why they brought the ice or how they used it during interrogation. But the interrogation sessions always included the ice block and were followed, a few hours later, by a visit to the prisoner, who by then would be unconscious, by two doctors, an American and an Iraqi. The prisoners were invariably taken out of the interrogation room unconscious.
Nor are these isolated incidents, but rather seem part of an established pattern.
Amnesty International has presented consistent allegations of brutality and cruelty by US agents against detainees in Iraq and other US detention facilities across the world at the highest levels of the US Government, including the White House, the Department of Defense, and the State Department for the past two years.
Supporters of the Bush administration will no doubt dismiss any claims from prisoners that they only confessed because of torture, but surely even the most ardent supporter of the Bush regime would have to concede that, the very fact that there is even a hint that US authorities are engaging in such a practice, makes any guilty verdict carry less moral conviction than it would otherwise have done?

A confession gained by such means would not be admissible in a civilian court of law, which is perhaps the real reason why the Bushites are so determined to try these men in front of military tribunals.

Getting an American civilian jury to convict swarthy foreigners accused of terrorism against Americans can hardly be the most difficult job any American prosecutor has ever been handed.

Therefore, there are many of us who suspect that there must be other reasons as to why Bush is so adamant that he will not go down that path. As more and more of them take the stand and profess that their confessions were obtained through torture, many of us will believe that this is one of the reasons that Bush chose this path.

But, more importantly, none of us will ever be sure that they have got the right people behind bars. How does that make anyone feel more safe?

The policy is not only immoral, it's dumb.

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Iranian Hostage Crisis

God, he makes me laugh.

Olmert Rejects Right of Return for Palestinians

Ehud Olmert has said that Israel will not accept the return of a single Palestinian refugee on Israeli soil and has presented his stance as, “a moral issue of the highest standard.” He went on, “I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the refugees. Full stop.”

He then goes on to rewrite history with this astonishing piece of revisionism.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in interviews published Friday that Israel would not allow a single Palestinian refugee to return to what is now Israel, and that the country bore no responsibility for the refugees because their plight resulted from an attack by Arab nations on Israel when it was a fledgling state.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 has already been well documented by many Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe, so Olmert is either ignorant beyond belief or playing to an American lack of knowledge on the subject by making such an astonishingly untrue statement.

However, even if we were to assume for a moment that Olmert's false statement were true, and that the Arabs fled Palestine to avoid the ravages of war, why would that be a good reason to forbid their return? Why would that allow Israel to keep their houses, their farms and their businesses?

Why would the fact that any citizen had fled for safety at a time of war mean that they had somehow nullified their citizenship?

Olmert's argument, apart from being fundamentally untrue, makes absolutely no sense. Is he saying that the Israelis who left Haifa whilst it was under rocket attack from Hizbullah had somehow resigned their right to return? That the Lebanese who fled Beirut when Israeli jets were bombing it had somehow given up their Lebanese citizenship?

Olmert wouldn't argue any of these things because they are blatantly nonsensical, but this logic is one that he reserves for Palestinians who fled during Nakba, but would not apply to any other group of refugees anywhere else in the world.

Regular readers here will know that my sympathy in this dispute is with the Palestinians, however, I do accept that the return of every single Palestinian refugee to their former homes would result in the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. I have also always believed that it is on this issue that the Palestinians would have to relent at the final status negotiations, agreeing to accept the latter part of the gist of UN Resolution 194 which says that Israel must offer either repatriation or compensation.

The Palestinians who fled - or were ethnically cleansed - in 1948 have the right to be compensated for what they have lost. And Israel - and certainly her American backer - are rich enough to afford to pay this compensation.

The solution to the problem already exists in international law, but Olmert serves no purpose by making an argument that is as untrue as the conclusion it leads him to is nonsensical.

The Palestinian's refugee status is not dependent on one's view of what actually took place in 1948. Whether they were driven from their homes by Arabs or Israelis is hardly the point. The point is that Israel forbids them to return in order to preserve her status as a Jewish state whilst allowing Jews from all over the world access to the land that was formerly the property of these same Palestinians.

That is simply a fact no matter what historical revisionism Olmert may wish to indulge in.

He either has to let them back in - which he won't - or he has to compensate them for their loss.

It's really that simple. And Olmert is indulging in the worst sort of red herring debating techniques when he tries to lead us down this irrelevant dead end.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Hot Air? The name's well chosen because they are full of it!

If you want to know how deluded the right wing mindset is go and watch this clip being hosted at Hot Air. They describe it as:

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the video against which all future Rosie clips will be compared. Never has so much useful idiocy about so many subjects been compressed into so little time.

It’s her finest hour.
I didn't know what to expect. I was astonished to find that Rosie O'Donnell says things that the audience applauds and yet Hot Air direct you to this as an example of "too-nutty-for-the-nutroots anti-Americanism". I presume the audience members applauding are displaying the very same, "too-nutty-for-the-nutroots anti-Americanism".

The people over at Hot Air no doubt can't hear that the programme's audience are in total agreement with what O'Donnell is saying as she asks "What do you have to do to get impeached anymore?" The Hot Air folks don't realise that they are the ones operating outside of the mainstream, they are the nutty extremists.

There's a little blonde thing - representing the right wing nutters I presume - who, when asked if she trusts Bush as much as when he first came to power, replies, "In a time of war I think you are in a position where you have to."

She's saying it's your patriotic duty to blindly believe. It's almost Orwellian this notion. Blind faith in the Leader is something you have to give. She regards handing over her faith and trust to another person as the pinnacle of her patriotism.

And yet she is no doubt nearer to the opinions held by Hot Air than by the audience of ordinary Americans that Hot Air dismisses as people who display "too-nutty-for-the-nutroots anti-Americanism".

Talk about an own goal.

Sampson gives evidence

Sampson on Lam

Sampson on Patriot act provision

Sampson on perception

Sampson on Griffin/Rove

Sampson on experience

Sampson Discusses Voter Fraud

Sampson suggested removing Fitzgerald

Schumer Questions Sampson about Gonzales Remarks

Sampson defines what a "Loyal Bushie" is...

Camp Delta inmate 'who helped MI5' to be freed

Bisher al-Rawi is to be released from Guantanamo Bay after five years imprisonment without any charge being made against him.

He is one of the remaining British residents of Guantanamo that the UK government have been refusing to aid as they do not hold British citizenship.

Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer for the UK-based charity Reprieve, said he thought the decision to help Mr Rawi was only taken because the Government did not want an embarrassing court case in which Britain's involvement in his capture would have been made public.

The High Court in London has already permitted the disclosure of classified documents linking MI5 to Mr Rawi's arrest.

Mr Katznelson said: "Mr Rawi helped MI5 as an interpreter and acted as a go-between with Abu Qatada [a terror suspect later arrested and detained by the British authorities]. All this would have... been very embarrassing for the government and... MI5."

Al Rawi's family fled Iraq in the eighties after his father was arrested by Saddam's secret police, taking refuge in Britain.

After his arrest in Gambia, where he had flown to assist his elder brother Wahab set up a peanut-oil processing plant there he asked for either a lawyer or a representative from the British high commission. .

"At his request [the Gambian agents] laughed and told him it was the British who have told us to arrest you."

He was then held in Gambia incommunicado for a month before being sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. What's most shocking about all this is that the British government themselves were responsible for his arrest and subsequent incarceration in Guantanamo Bay and, if the lawyer for Reprieve is correct, he has only now been released to prevent further details of his involvement with MI5 from becoming public.

His local MP, Edward Davey, has stated:

My constituent, Bisher al-Rawi, lives in New Malden, Surrey, but he is currently in camp 5, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has been imprisoned there by the Americans for over four years, without charge or trial, and has been subjected to continual degradation and torture.

That would all be bad enough, but there is undeniable evidence—we have the telegrams—that MI5, and therefore the UK Government, was complicit in Bisher's illegal arrest, complicit in his rendition, and complicit in his long, illegal detention. As MI5 must have known about the psychological torture techniques of the United States, I believe that the UK has been complicit in his torture, too.

For years the British authorities hid behind the line that, as al-Rawi was not an actual British citizen, they had no responsibility for his welfare; a disgraceful decision that implied that al-Rawi had no status and existed in a virtual international legal black hole.

It was only when Reprieve took the case before a British court that Jack Straw had an apparent change of heart, "because of the particular circumstances of his case."
His lawyers said afterwards that the decision to intervene was only an expedient way of avoiding the publication of sensitive information about MI5's relationship with Mr al-Rawi.

Zachary Katznelson, senior counsel at Reprieve, said: "It's high time that the British government recognised their responsibilities to Bisher al-Rawi.
He's always maintained, and the Government has never denied, that he was helping MI5 by acting as a go-between with Abu Qatada.

"That's his only connection and that is why he was detained - because he chose to help British intelligence."

More will come out about this in the next few weeks, but it seems clear that the UK authorities must have been aware of MI5's dealings with this man. Indeed, it is reported that when he got scared about any trouble that assisting MI5 in liaising with Abu Qatada might get him into, he was reassured that assisting British intelligence was actually a safeguard against getting into trouble and that they would assist him in anyway they could.

It would now appear that they hung him out to dry. His only crime, as far as I can tell from all that I can come across, is that he was a friend of Abu Qatada and that he agreed to assist MI5 when he was approached by them following 9-11. It is clear that he never accepted any payment for helping them and did not accept British citizenship when it was offered to him.
"All I did in Britain was try to help with steps necessary to get a meeting between Abu Qatada and MI5. I was trying to bring them together. MI5 would give me messages to take to Abu Qatada, and Abu Qatada would give me messages to take back to them."
For that, he has spent the last five years in the Hell. And his actual story was known to the British authorities the whole time.

Heads should roll for this. But they won't.

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Arab nations approve peace plan

The Arab League has come up with a land for peace proposal for Israel which promises full recognition of Israel and guarantees her security if she will only return to the 1967 borders and provide a "just solution" for Palestinians displaced in 1948. They have presented their plan as a "take it or leave it" last chance for the Israelis.

"Israel must choose between two options: to live in a cycle of constant war and increasing hatred or to accept the option of peace and co-existence," King Abdullah of Jordan told the summit in Riyadh.
The Israeli's have obviously got some problems with this, including the right to return for Palestinian refugees and the extent of territorial withdrawal being demanded.

Arab states should be willing to compromise over some issues and should not try to force the deal on Israel without any room for flexibility, the Israeli deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, said today.

"I would say this: let's conduct negotiations. You come with your positions, and we will come with ours," Mr Peres told Israel Radio.

"I don't think we need to predetermine what we accept or don't accept. Each side should come with their own positions and negotiate from there."

Now, Peres is obviously speaking perfect sense when he talks of how future negotiations should be conducted. But there is an obvious discrepancy here. Why do the Israelis spend so much time determining what the Palestinians are allowed to discuss during their negotiations with Condaleezza Rice? Why, indeed, did Israel spend so much time attempting to influence what the Saudis could put into their peace plan, stating that they wanted to make clear what "was acceptable to Israel". And why do the US demand that Uranium enrichment should be halted before negotiations can be conducted with Iran?

It is funny how the US and Israelis are quick to note how unfair it is to limit the scope of future negotiations where such limitations apply to themselves, but seem to have no problem applying such limitations to others when they are in charge of the negotiations.

The final communiqué, officially known as the Riyadh declaration, offers Israel normal ties with all Arab countries in return for its withdrawal from land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, the creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinians displaced in 1948.

The declaration describes this as the basis for a "just and comprehensive peace", but also warns of the potential for "a dangerous and destructive arms race in the region" if the initiative fails.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, appealed to the Israeli people to embrace the plan, saying his own citizens were "sincere in extending the hand of peace".

In practice, the 22 Arab states that have signed up - only two of which, Jordan and Egypt, currently recognise Israel - could well end up compromising in certain areas.

So we have 22 Arab states offering Israel peace in exchange for Israel agreeing to obey an international law that she has flouted for the past forty years. Now, I don't believe Olmert has any intention of signing up to this plan but, as I have said before, his problems are that Saudi Arabia are the proposers and he can't dismiss the Saudis because of their relationship with the US as easily as he has been able to dismiss other Arab nations in the past.

He has taken to the Israeli newspapers to give his spin on this:
In an interview appearing in the Haaretz supplement Week's End, Olmert said he would be happy to take part in a regional conference that would support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

"A bloc of states is emerging that understands that they may have been wrong to think that Israel is the world's greatest problem. That is a revolutionary change in outlook," Olmert said.

"There are interesting ideas there, and we are ready to hold discussions and hear from the Saudis about their approach and to tell them about ours," he added.

"We aren't going overboard in this matter, but we are also not discounting it. We will act cautiously and wisely out of a willingness to create a dynamic that will improve and strengthen the process."

"The Riyadh summit is certainly a serious matter. We do not delude ourselves - they want us to go back to the 1967 borders and they also want the right of return. We were not surprised; we understood it would be this way. The content is important, but it is also important to relate to the atmosphere, positioning and direction.

"Saudi Arabia is the country that in the end will determine the ability of the Arabs to reach a compromise with Israel," Olmert said.
The official Israeli government response has been lukewarm. Although, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has stated that Israel would be making a mistake if she did not accept this offer as a serious one.

The Saudi plan is not only a serious one, as Olmert has conceded, it is the only plan that is ever going to succeed in ending the tensions in the region. The irony here is that, despite forty years of Israel continuing to steal Arab land and build settlements on it, despite forty years of bloodshed and loss of life, the only solution to this problem is going to be the very place where we started forty years ago. Resolution 242.

Bush may have attempted to rewrite international law when he told Sharon that the settlements were "facts on the ground", but the simple fact is that Bush declaring something don't make it the law. Especially if it only results in further bloodshed.

I have no great hope that Olmert is about to embrace the plan, but that's the irony of the Israeli position. One day, Israel will accept a plan very similar to this one. They'll come to an arrangement to compensate the refugees and they will hand back most of the land seized in 1967. The only real question is how many more must die before Israel are willing to accept the only solution that the international community - with the notable exception of the US - finds to be fair and just.

America loves to state that she is the "honest broker" in all of this, attempting to find peace between the two sides, when nothing could be further from the truth. America is the problem here, not the solution, for she continues to encourage Israel to believe that there is an answer to this other than 242. A good friend would tell the truth. Peace cannot be established down the barrel of a gun. The last forty years should have taught both the US and the Israeli's that universal truth.

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Tehran raises the stakes in hostage crisis

As I said yesterday about the crisis between the UK and Iran:

In dealing with an adversary looking for a face saving way out of an incident that they regard as a matter of national honour, I don't think ridicule is a very sensible way forward. Indeed, it is highly likely to have the opposite effect of the one the British want.

The more Blair increases pressure, the less likely he is to get the result he wants without Iran feeling it is losing face.
And today we find that we are no further forwards than we were yesterday, indeed, we appear to have taken a rather large step backwards. Yesterday there was talk of releasing Faye Turney and of Iran being willing to accept that Britain had made a mistake in entering Iranian waters.

Today we have Tehran withdrawing the offer to release her and issuing a bizarre letter reported to be from her but sounding like it has been dictated by a dalek.
"Unfortunately during the course of our mission we entered Iranian waters. Even through our wrongdoing, they have still treated us well and humanely, which I am and always will be eternally grateful," the letter said.

"I ask representatives of the House of Commons after the government had promised this type of incident would not happen again why have they let this occur and why has the government not been questioned over this? Isn't it time for us to start withdrawing forces from Iraq and let them determine their own future?"

Blair has also approached United Nations who have issued a statement expressing its "grave concern" at the capture of the sailors and marines, although the language is considerably weaker than Blair's original wish for them to "deplore" Iranian actions. It is also notable that country's like Russia, China, Indonesia and Qatar refused to sign up to a version of the statement which stated that the British boats were illegally arrested in Iraqi waters.

Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, declared that an offer of an early release of Leading Seaman Turney has now been rescinded. "It was announced that a woman in the group would be freed but this development was met with an incorrect attitude", he said.

"They [the British] have created a ballyhoo over diplomatic ties and raised the issues with the UN. This will not solve the issue. The British leaders are miscalculating the case."

Mr Larijani, a highly influential figure, continued: "With the excuse of controlling ships that go to Iraq, they want to make it a norm to violate other countries' sovereignty. But they should know that the cost of this is not cheap."

Now, the notion that captured prisoners can only be released when their host nation shows a "correct attitude" is a nonsense. If they are spies they should be charged or expelled and if they are not they should be released, despite the attitude of the host nation. However, this statement does reflect the degree to which Blair is misplaying his hand here.

By attempting to box Iran into a corner he has only succeeded in getting them to dig their heels in further, with Iran now stating that the British government had "miscalculated this issue, and if they follow through with the threats, the case may face a legal path", an apparent reference to a future trial.

In an ITV interview Mr Blair was asked directly about the treatment of Leading Seaman Turney, who is the mother of a three-year-old girl, and who was shown on Iranian TV on Wednesday "confessing" to having entered Iranian waters.

He said: "I just think it's ... a disgrace when people are used in that way. The longer it goes on, the more the pressure will be stepped up. We are going to have to step up pressure, not just with them in the UN and the European Union, but see what further measures are necessary to get them to understand it's not merely wrong but only going to result in further tension."

Increasing the pressure has so far proved to be totally counter productive, but Blair appears to have no other route left open to him other than to state that the British were in Iranian waters which he is obviously not prepared to do.

The Americans have quietened down at British request, but I think it's only a matter of time before Bush exploits the situation.

Nicholas Burns, under-secretary of state, testifying before the Senate's foreign affairs committee, said he hoped Iran would reach the right decision. He told the committee that the recent US approach to Iran, a combination of diplomacy and economic squeeze, was helping to unnerve the Iranian government. He said the two US carrier battle groups on exercise in the Gulf were "not to provoke Iran but to reassure our friends in the region".

Joe Biden, the chairman of the committee, said: "If there is anything worse than a poorly planned intentional war, it's an unplanned, unintentional war."

On this Joe Biden and I would disagree. I don't think this is either "unplanned" or "unintentional". I think Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are playing right into Bush's hands here.

They have been pressuring Iran relentlessly for many months now in the hope of producing an incident just like this one, where they can take military action without being encumbered by Congress.

Iran may be mistakenly giving Bush exactly what he wants.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

GSA Misconduct Hearings: Bruce Braley and Lurita Doan

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) questions Lu... Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) questions Lurita Doan, GSA Administrator. The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform holds hearings on allegations of misconduct in GSA. Lurita Doan is questioned on many allegations, which include using GSA facilities for partisan, Republican activities and improperly awarding federal contracts.

She gives an extraordinarily unconvincing performance. Reagan got away with this defence only because he was thick as a post, which actually helped people believe the government was being run by people other than himself. Doan comes across as someone who's lying very badly.

Hat tip to Anything They Say

O'Reilly takes on Turley... and loses

Why is O'Reilly such a masochist? Why does he put himself on national television debating with people who are so clearly brighter than he is?

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Bush vents fury at Congress demand for troop withdrawal

Bush has never faced a Senate that he did not control before, and the rubber stamp quality of that Senate before the November mid term elections has led him to believe - erroneously - that the American people share his views regarding the importance of an American victory in Iraq, and that they will share his sense of outrage at any attempt to stop him carrying out this mission.

It is surely that which leads him to threaten to veto any legislation which attempts to put a timetable on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and his insistence - against the evidence of every available poll - that the public will punish the Democrats for curtailing him.

But even considering the fact that he has always got his own way up until this point, his outburst last night was astonishing in it's petulance.

Once again, Mr Bush repeated his threat to veto any bill that linked a deadline to the $122bn of new funding he has requested for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - even though without it, the White House maintains, money for the two wars will run out next month.

To impose "a specific and random date of withdrawal" would be "disastrous," the President said, and play into the hands of America's enemies in Iraq.

"They'd simply have to mark their calendars, and spend the months ahead plotting how to use their new safe haven once we were to leave," he said.

Politicians, he insisted, should not be setting "arbitrary timelines for our military commanders in a war zone 6,000 miles away."

He went on to deride Democratic lawmakers for including a deadline for troop withdrawals and "pork" projects in an Iraq spending bill, declaring that "the American people will know who to hold responsible" if funding for the war stalls. Well, of course they will. It will be the man who wields the veto against the democratically elected Senate and House of Representatives wishes.

Nancy Pelosi was quick to remind Bush that he faces a new political reality:

"Calm down with the threats. There is a new Congress in town," Pelosi said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "We respect your constitutional role. We want you to respect ours."

But of course, this is a man who, when he talks of non-partisan politics actually means Democrats doing as he wishes. A man who has ruled for six years as if he possesses the power of a monarch is going to find the adjustment to two party politics a jolt to the system to say the least. And, judging from last night's performance, it's a jolt to the system that seems destined to bring out the worst in this President.

There have always been rumours about his temper behind closed doors and the nearest we ever got to witnessing it in public was during the debate with Kerry, which most pundits agreed showed Bush angry at having to listen to any form of criticism of himself or of his performance. Now that his authority is being openly challenged, he is starting to behave quite irrationally; threatening to veto an Iraq spending bill but hoping that the blame will be heaped on to the shoulders of the people who are doing what the majority of Americans want.

As Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate put it: "Why doesn't he get real with what's going on with the world? We're not holding up funding in Iraq and he knows that. Why doesn't he deal with the real issues facing the American people?"

But, of course, this is also a problem of the President's own making. The Baker report offered him a way out of Iraq and he, supported by William Kristol and other foreign policy "experts", decided that this was a path he was not going to take and decided on the highly unpopular avenue of escalation. I think I described him at the time as desperate gambler doubling down on his bet.

It was always a desperate risk that he could carry public opinion down that route when public support for the war was already, at that time, leaking like a sieve.

“The president’s response just drove many people on the fence to our side,” Senator Durbin said. “The idea of sending more soldiers into this was exactly the opposite of what the American people were looking for.”

It is a sign of delusion if Bush thinks that the Democrats will be punished for doing what the public wants done.

But then, this President has always confused his legacy with the greater good of the nation as a whole, seeing the two as in some way related, when nothing could be further from the truth.

The damage done by this President to America's reputation abroad is almost incalculable. One of the few things I hope I can provide to an American audience is some sort of perspective from across the pond. And Americans friends I know who come even to Britain, which is an ally of the US in the War on Terror, are often shocked at the visceral feelings that Bush generates amongst British citizens.

Bush has, on almost too many subjects to mention - Kyoto, ABM missile Treaty, Geneva Conventions, Guantanamo Bay and many, many others - literally told the world to, "Go hang". He has always ruled oblivious to the opinions of others, becoming an almost classic example of the wrongful sense of entitlement felt by people who have gained power or wealth through inheritance rather than through any individual talent that they might possess. It is his ugliest quality.

He is now about to treat the American people in the same way that he has treated the rest of the planet for the past six years. The difference is that the American people have a power at the ballot box that the rest of the planet have no access to. They have made their views crystal clear at that ballot box, but Bush still thinks he knows best and that the American people will back him in this dispute.

They won't. They have already said so. But a man who stopped listening to opposing viewpoints six years ago has forgotten that there is even such a thing as a valid opinion that is not his own.

This train is about to come off the tracks...

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Fury as Iran shows footage of captured sailors on television

The Iranians have badly undermined their credibility in the case of the fifteen British sailors arrested almost a week ago by giving co-ordinates that placed the incident inside Iraqi territorial waters and then changing their minds and giving a second set of co-ordinates which placed the incident inside Iranian waters.

They have also infuriated the British by parading the fifteen on national television and forcing the female in the group, Faye Turney, to give a taped "confession" stating, "obviously we trespassed into their waters."

The Foreign Office reacted furiously to the video, calling it "completely unacceptable" and expressed "grave concerns" about the conditions under which Leading seaman Faye Turney was persuaded to admit on film that the 15-strong British naval patrol had strayed into Iranian territory last Friday.

Both sides appear, to me, to have boxed themselves into corners with very little room for manoeuvre. The British are saying that they will increase pressure on Iran but, considering the fact that we are already applying sanctions as a result of the Iranian nuclear programme, I am unsure of what steps the British have left at their disposal. And Iran have gone so far out on a limb over this that one wonders if displaying the fifteen on national television and broadcasting the "confession" will be enough to assuage Iranian national pride.

The new phase that Blair promised appears to have included a threat to ridicule the Iranians by revealing the incompetent way that the matter has been handled.

Mrs Beckett also introduced another, perhaps riskier, element into the strategy in her announcement - her note of ridicule will not have been missed in Tehran. By recounting an apparent comedy of errors in the Iranian foreign ministry's handling of the affair - with the Iranian ambassador to London initially presenting map coordinates for the incident that bolstered Britain's argument that it happened in Iraqi waters - she made Iran's diplomats look inept.

In dealing with an adversary looking for a face saving way out of an incident that they regard as a matter of national honour, I don't think ridicule is a very sensible way forward. Indeed, it is highly likely to have the opposite effect of the one the British want.

The British have always wanted this situation sorted quicker than the Iranian national holidays for their New Year were ever going to allow. These holidays are strictly observed by almost everyone including the political and clerical elite. Blair was obviously not prepared to wait until early April when they officially end to sort this out.

That said, the more Blair increases pressure, the less likely he is to get the result he wants without Iran feeling it is losing face. And accusations that parading the prisoners in front of TV cameras is a violation of their rights under the Geneva Conventions may be correct, but such condemnations should be left to the people who also condemned the leader of Iraq being checked for nits by US forces on national TV, it is hardly a credible claim from the US's co-occupier of Iraq who stayed silent whilst Saddam was paraded in a similar fashion.

It is hard to know what Ahmadinejad or Khommenei hope to gain from this confrontation. At first, I was of a mind that the British must have been up to something else for the Iranians to have reacted in this way, especially as we know from Seymour Hersh that US forces are operating inside Iran. Perhaps they have simply lashed out as pressure on them has increased. If this is the case, it was not a wise move and they both may regret the fact that they have played into Bush's hands and strengthened rather than weakened the likelihood of future military strikes by US forces, as it is precisely incidents like this - which reinforce US public opinion that madmen are running Iran - that Bush's pressure was designed to produce.

The actions of Bush yesterday only reinforced that point:
Meanwhile US forces were engaged in the largest military operations they have carried out in the region since the Iraq invasion in 2003 - a move described by Tehran as highly provocative.
Of course Bush is being provocative, that's the whole point. He wants the Iranians to react. He is actively looking for an excuse to attack them.

The only sliver of hope came with an Iranian announcement that Miss Turney would be released, and an offer to accept that the British may have entered their territory "by accident."

It was the first sign that the Iranians may be prepared to step back from the precipice.

But make no mistake, we brought them to this precipice. And we did so deliberately.

By declaring - without an ounce of proof - that they are attempting to produce nuclear weapons, and by introducing sanctions at the UN which punish Iran for engaging in perfectly legal research under the nuclear non proliferation treaty, we have consistently pushed them into a corner.

The Iranians have had every attempt to sort this out amicably rejected by the US, especially when they offered to make their nuclear programme more transparent, on the condition that the US end it's hostility.

US hostility has continued apace and the Iranians have reacted. Lets not pretend, as Bush and Blair mouth their platitudes, that Bush hasn't got exactly what he wanted. Iran has over-reacted, and that was exactly what the pressure was designed to produce. I can almost hear Dick Cheney chuckling as I type this.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Musclemouth needs our help

Regular readers here will remember an old friend of this site who ran a blog called Great Power is a Blunt Object, the one and only Musclemouth. He stopped blogging some months ago and was going to devote more time to his music.

He has fallen on hard times and finds himself homeless and, ever a man of resource, has started blogging about his experience as a homeless person. Visit the blog here, but more importantly donate whatever you can here, and lets help get an old friend get back on his feet.

I urge every blogger who visits here to run a similar post.

Lets use the power of the internet to do some real good.

McCain is in Neverland

During an interview on "The Situation Room" this afternoon, John McCain told Wolf that he needs to "get up to speed" and stop reporting three-month-old news from Iraq. According to McCain, the surge is working to such an extent that the streets of Baghdad are safe for Americans to walk down. Michael Ware, speaking from Baghdad, reacts.

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Mugabe nears the end.

Mugabe is stepping up his attacks on MDC supporters in a desperate last attempt to hold on to power that appears to be slipping away from him for the first time in 27 years. Opposition supporters are not only being beaten, but they are being branded to make them more easily identifiable in future.

Mugabe's henchmen have carried out more than 100 documented attacks in the past two weeks alone as he attempts to put down an opposition who show no signs of cowing in front of his brutality.

"They didn't ask anything," says Jonathan. "They just said you are MDC and we are going to beat you until you die."

The last thing he remembers before losing consciousness was being marked.

"I don't know what it was. It was made of wood. But they said they were going to mark me so I would be easier to identify next time."

His mark is a circle of skin the size of a coin gouged from his forehead above the right eye. The rest of his body is an orgy of bruising, with deep welts the shape of rifle butts.

Despite this orgy of violence against them, opposition leaders went ahead yesterday with a memorial service for Gift Tandare, an activist shot as he left a prayer meeting. It was only a memorial service because Mugabe had kidnapped the dead boy's body in order to prevent a funeral service from taking place, lest this unite opposition forces.

It says a lot about the determination of the MDC that, despite all the violence being waged against them, and despite Mugabe attempting to ban the memorial service, that yesterday it went ahead. And yes, it did take the form of an opposition rally.

Speaking to a packed church yesterday at the highly charged memorial service for one of the activists murdered during the recent crackdown, student leader Prosper Mkwananzi voiced the growing anger of a country in crisis: "If they make a peaceful revolution impossible they are making a violent revolution inevitable," he told a roaring crowd.

Civil society leader Lovemore Madhuku, one of the regime's staunchest critics, nursing a broken arm from police beatings, led the calls for change. "Some of you may not recognise victory when it comes. Today is victory. They said they would break this memorial. They steal a body... Fine, you've done that but we still go ahead. Mugabe has given up."

The final word went to Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, pictures of whose graphic head wounds put Zimbabwe's plight back in the international spotlight.

"Oppression is oppression whether it's by a white government or a black government. Independence alone isn't freedom," he said.

As if to emphasise Tsvangirai's point, Mugabe had another opposition leader, Last Maenghama, abducted as soon as he left the church. His badly beaten body was discovered dumped 40 miles outside of Harare.

This has to be the end. Mugabe's behaviour has now descended to that of a street thug. Any pretence at statesmanship has been abandoned. We are left looking at a vicious, nasty old man prepared to go to any lengths to hold on to power for powers sake.

We have, indeed, reached a tipping point. For, conversely, the more violence Mugabe now enacts upon his opposition rivals, the more he reveals how near he is to toppling. It's becoming an almost self fulfilling prophecy.

Speaking at his home in the suburb of Avondale Mr Tsvangirai told The Independent that these desperate acts by the state showed his country has reached a watershed and that the Mugabe era is coming to a close.

"Mugabe has reached a dead end within his own party. He is paralysed. He is not able to unite his own party. The opposition in the meantime has a new spirit and people are looking to the MDC for change. These two forces have never before presented themselves at the same time."

I have spoken before about my reservations about replacing one Zanu-PF dictator with another, and will no doubt return to that subject in the near future, but for today I will simply be watching as Mugabe teeters towards the brink.

The end is nigh, and in Osterley the champagne is going on ice...

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Senate sets deadline for withdrawal of troops from Iraq

The hardest thing for any person to ever admit is that they were wrong.

I think it is for this reason that supporters of the war continue to see victory as always just over the next horizon. They have maintained this optimism, in the face of vast tracts of totally contradictory evidence, for literally years now.

As the Senate yesterday set a deadline of March 31 2008 for American troop withdrawal from Iraq, a deadline that Bush has already promised to ignore through the power of veto, the war supporters rushed to condemn this rash act. Despite the fact that, were the troops to leave Iraq on the day that the Senate has named, American troops would have been in Iraq for five years and eleven days, that's even longer than they participated in the Second World war.

What we are witnessing here is the same mindset displayed by some of the more extreme wings of the Republican party concerning Vietnam, where there are still some who argue that America could have won that conflict had they simply had the resolve to stick the course.

Even after ten years and the loss of 58,000 men, they still saw victory as attainable just over the next hill.

I honestly believe that there is nothing honourable in this stance, it is simply an inability to admit that you were wrong. And an inability to accept reality as it is experienced by the rest of the world.

I actually understand this mindset when it comes to President Bush. He knows his legacy is tied to this war which makes him psychologically unable to accept defeat, for to do so renders his Presidency a failure. That's why I thought at the time that the Baker Report offered him his best way out. It didn't mention victory, but neither did it mention defeat. It was for that reason that he found it unacceptable. For he knew what implication was buried under it's polite phrases and wasn't willing to accept that he had got it wrong.

But if it's understandable why Bush can't accept the enormity of his failure in Iraq, what excuse is there for the other war supporters?

They came out in force yesterday to berate the Senate for it's decision, and mostly did so in language with which we have all become drearily accustomed to. With one notable exception.

The Republican presidential candidate senator John McCain said the vote came just when "we are starting to turn things around" in Iraq, while former Democrat senator Joe Lieberman, elected last year as an independent Democrat, suggested that to vote for a timetable for withdrawal would be akin to snatching "defeat from the jaws of progress in Iraq".
For McCain I notice that victory is still over that next hill, but I was struck by the phraseology employed by Liebermann. "Snatching defeat from the jaws of progress" is a very odd construct.

The more common phrase is "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory", however it appears that Libermann can't even bring himself to use this phrase as it's most often used. Now I don't want to play armchair psychologist, but I do find it fascinating that Liebermann can't utter the word "Victory".

He may be unwilling to ever admit that he was wrong, but in some remote part of psyche -whether he acknowledges it or not - part of him has, at least, accepted that victory is highly unlikely. Why else would he paraphrase in the way that he does?

Senator Reid expressed his hope that the White House might accept it's defeat and be more conciliatory:
"He doesn't get everything he wants now, so I think it's time that he started working with us. I would hope that he would be willing to work with us in coming up with some language that both [houses of Congress] could accept. At this stage, he has been very non-negotiable. So we'll see what happens."
Hope springs eternal, Senator. This White House will never accept your proposal because that would entail admitting that they were wrong. And that is something that they simply cannot bring themselves to do.

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White House Proves Why Transcripts are Necessary... Albeit unintentionally

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

PM warns Iran over Navy captives

Blair has now started issuing vague threats towards Iran regarding the 15 captured sailors, warning Iran that we will move into a "different phase" unless there is a speedy release of the captured British sailors.

"These people have to be released," the prime minister told GMTV.

Mr Blair GMTV: "What we are trying to do at the moment is to pursue this through the diplomatic channels and make the Iranian government understand these people have to be released and that there is absolutely no justification whatever for holding them.

"I hope we manage to get them to realise they have to release them. If not, then this will move into a different phase."

He doesn't specify what this "different phase" consists of, although there was another enigmatic statement from his spokesperson.

The prime minister's official spokesman said Mr Blair's remarks about a "different phase" did not refer to any extreme diplomatic action, such as expelling Iranian diplomats from Britain or military action.

"We have been clearly stating that we are utterly certain that the personnel were in Iraqi waters.

"We so far have not made explicit why we know that, because we don't want to escalate this."

What the Hell does that mean? It's hard to believe that they are now sending public signals to each other in some sort of code, after all Margaret Beckett has already had the Iranian Ambassador into her office, so I presume she could have said anything she wanted to during that exchange.

So what the Hell are they threatening to reveal? Or is this an attempt to make the rest of us think that there is more to this than meets the eye.

Oh, and Blair also dismisses any attempt to make a link between the capture of the fifteen Brits and the American snatching of five Iranian diplomats:

Mr Blair said the situations were "completely distinct" as any Iranian forces inside Iraq were breaching a UN mandate.

"In the end, it is a question really for the Iranian government as to whether they want to abide by international law or not," he said.

Leaving aside the absurdity of this serial abuser of the UN Charter now demanding that others follow it's remit; he is simply flat wrong about the Iranians snatched by the US as they were snatched from inside the Iranian consulate in Erbil where, unless I am completely mistaken, they were supposed to enjoy diplomatic immunity.

Blair coming out with this sort of nonsense is nothing new, international law as it applies to his actions are always "completely distinct".

But what the Hell is this new phase he keeps hinting at?

Time will tell...

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The hands of history: Two worlds come together to broker a new era of hope

And so it has come to pass. The day that most people in the UK never thought to witness in our lifetimes. Adams and Paisley sit side by side in a power sharing Northern Irish government.

They did not shake hands, but the sight of the two men sitting together was epoch making on it's own.

The substance of what they said was breathtaking enough, but the way they did it was even more phenomenal: they sat calmly side by side, exuding a sense of purpose and the intention of doing serious business together.

The picture of Belfast's two commanding political figures, flanked by their senior lieutenants, carried a subliminal but unambiguous message: after 3,700 deaths the Troubles are over and real politics can begin.

The two warriors of the Troubles believe they can work together. The statements they delivered in the ornate surroundings of a Stormont dining-room were exquisitely crafted to avoid giving anyone offence.

The big news they contained was that Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party will be going into government together, launching a new era and underpinning the peace process with a political foundation.

But even more striking was the absence of accompanying threats or conditions - no begrudgery, no condemnations, no blame game. The two listened carefully and politely to each other, conveying something new in Belfast politics - mutual respect.

When idiots on the right espouse their mantra that there can be no negotiation with terrorists, one should remind them that, without negotiation, there would be no peace in N. Ireland. And that, whilst it is right that the IRA's methods were condemned as wrong and immoral, only a fool would allow those methods to blind oneself to the rightness of their cause. Catholics had for years lived as second rate citizens in a system controlled by their Protestant rivals. And only by addressing that fundamental wrong could one ever hope to end the violence.

There are many lessons to be taken from this. As Bush insists that Iran suspend Uranium enrichment before any talks can begin, and as Israel repeats their tired mantra that there can be no negotiation until Palestinian violence ends, it is worth looking at how the British solved this intractable conflict.

High praise indeed must be reserved for John Major, the Conservative leader who secretly went against everything his party believed in and began secret talks with the IRA regarding what they required to bring the violence to a halt.

Their main requirement, it turned out, was fairness. They did not want to live in a political system that so blatantly favoured their sectarian rivals. At this point Major could have emulated so many Conservatives who went before him and insisted that the IRA disarm before any talks could begin. However, Major had the good sense to realise that the IRA were well aware that it was only their propensity to cause violence that had ever captured his attention and that they would be unlikely to give up the only tool in their armour until they could see a political advantage in them doing so.

This sensible policy was continued by Blair, asking the IRA to destroy their weaponry only when a power sharing structure had been established and, even then, doing so in a way that was secret and which did not humiliate Britain's longest standing foe.

There are many on the right who love to throw around phrases like, "One must never reward terrorism", seeing the only solution to such problems as military ones. Northern Ireland is the greatest existing example of the foolishness of such a stance. There are few military tactics that the British did not try over the past forty years, including many at the more extreme end of the spectrum. This succeeded only in politicising a new generation of terrorists by emphasising the unfairness of the system under which they were being forced to live.

Only by treating the underlying cause can one hope to defeat the cancer of terrorism. That's a lesson that can be applied to almost everywhere that terrorism flourishes. Grant the Palestinians a territorially contiguous state based on the 1967 guidelines and, not only will the suicide bombs stop, but al-Qaeda will lose their most potent recruiting tool. Treat the cause, not the symptoms.

When one does so, miracles like the one we are today witnessing in Northern Ireland become possible.

Yesterday's news was greeted, even in Northern Ireland, with open mouthed disbelief. Two of the world's most bitter rivals had agreed to work together.

Mr Paisley announced the timetable for devolution with a phrase no one has ever heard him use before: "Today we have agreed with Sinn Fein that this date will be Tuesday 8th May 2007." He added: "We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future."

The two statements were studiously symmetrical. Mr Adams provided an echo by accepting that "the relationships between the people of this island have been marred by centuries of discord, conflict, hurt and tragedy." He continued: "The discussions and agreement between our two parties shows the potential of what can now be achieved."

George Bush's "with us or against us" mentality might play well amongst his own supporters. But, when looked at in the context of Northern Ireland and the objective of achieving real change, one swiftly realises that people with that mindset are part of the problem rather than the solution.

If Blair had had more influence in Washington in the days immediately following 9-11, and had he applied the same mindset that he applied to Northern Ireland to the problems faced by the USA on that terrible day, we might have made saner choices and been in a much better place than where we currently find ourselves. He didn't. And that's a loss for all of us.

However, as someone who once supported him and has since become one of his many critics, I am pleased to concede that, at last, Blair has something on his legacy that does not say "Iraq."

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US envoy bows out with warning to Iraqis: 'Our patience is wearing thin'

I can't even imagine how galling it must be to be an Iraqi and have the people who invaded your country with too few troops to establish order tell you that their patience is running out regarding the violence that is wreaking havoc in your once orderly communities.

And yet, that was precisely the message that Zalmay Khalilzad gave as he stood down as US ambassador to the Green Zone.

At a final news conference in Baghdad, the Afghan-born diplomat warned of the growing pressure in the US to commit to a timetable for a withdrawal of troops.

"I know that we are an impatient people, and I constantly signal to the Iraqi leaders that our patience, or the patience of the American people, is running out," said Mr Khalilzad, who has been nominated by President Bush to succeed John Bolton as America's envoy to the UN.

I think the patience of the Iraqi people has probably run out long before that of their American counterparts, who live in cities where police control the streets and there are no bombs going off, however the poorer Iraqis have no choice in the matter. Though I'm sure there is some comfort somewhere to the Iraqis that their American counterparts are getting tired of watching them being blown up as they shop and go about their daily lives.

Though I can't help feeling that such a sentiment might be better expressed by an incoming American Ambassador, carrying the implication that he has arrived to do something about it, rather than an outgoing one, who appears to be saying "Clean up our shit or we are out of here."

Khalilzad then listed what he thought was wrong with things in Iraq as they currently stand and there was much he said on which it is easy to agree. There needs to reconciliation between Sunni and Shia groups, there should be a fairer distribution of Iraq's oil between the ethnic groups, etc,. etc,.

Then he dropped this:

American and Iraqi officials were also trying to convince so-called "reconcilable insurgents" to unite against al-Qaida in Iraq and other Islamist militant groups.

"We have had discussions with those groups," Mr Khalilzad said. "They are continuing to take place and I think one of the challenges is how to separate more and more groups away from al-Qaida."

The myth that al-Qaeda are behind the violence in Iraq has surely been dropped by now? I mean seriously, Khalilzad has the nerve to talk of running out of patience and then plays the most worn out record in the Iraqi hit parade. When are the US going to accept that a civil war has broke out and that it broke out, not because of Al-Qaeda interference, it broke out because Donald Rumsfeld sent too few troops and the occupation army were unable to establish order in Iraq's streets?

If Americans are going to lecture Iraqi's on their patience or lack thereof, can't we at least have a conversation that proceeds from a point of honesty? Does everything have to fit into this preordained American myth that they are fighting al-Qaeda on the streets of Iraq so that they don't have to fight them in America's heartland? I think the world's patience has run out with that particular lie.

During his 21-month stint in Baghdad, Mr Khalilzad's attempts to reach out to Iraq's once all-powerful Sunni minority won praise. Yet his tenure coincided with a catastrophic rise in violence that brought the country to the brink of all-out civil war. Meanwhile, Iraq's post-Saddam political elite struggled to extend their influence beyond Baghdad's Green Zone.

Industry minister Fawzi Hariri said: "We can't say Iraq is better after his term, but believe me it could have been a lot, lot worse." Mr Khalilzad listed as his accomplishments the drafting of a constitution, the participation of all Iraqis in a second round of elections and the tortuous formation of a national unity government led by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

It's true. He wasn't the worst American Ambassador to the Green Zone by a long chalk. But it is noticeable that, as he leaves, he accepts all the praise for anything positive that has happened during his tenure, and blames the Iraqis for anything negative.

It's as if the government of Maliki is more powerful than that of the United States, who also failed to restore order to Iraq's streets. When the Americans failed in this regard, Rumsfeld declared, "Freedoms messy" and invited us to all enjoy the looting and general lack of law and order as a welcome respite from Saddam's savage totalitarian control.

When the Iraqi's fail to restore order they are treated as if they are being truculent. It's as if the Americans are saying, "Look, we've all had great fun but now is the time to stop!"

The implication is that the Iraqi's are choosing not to restore order and that the US is losing patience with this.

However, it was not the Iraqis who wanted this war. The Republicans wanted this war, they actually went out of their way to cherrypick evidence to support it and they then attacked the patriotism of anyone who tried to prevent them having it.

They should have heeded the wisdom of that great British politician that they flatter themselves that they emulate:
Never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.

~Winston Churchill

The Republicans, having started a war against the advice of wiser souls than themselves, are now attempting to blame the Iraqis for being unable to put the lid back on a dangerous box that the Republicans prized open.

But unpredictability is the very nature of war, they are notoriously easy to start and difficult to end, which is why most of us didn't want this to begin with.

If Khalilzad wanted to say anything meaningful to the people of Iraq, if he truly wanted to express an emotion that the world could have rallied around, he would have surveyed the carnage that his Republican colleagues have inflicted on the people of that battered nation, said, "Sorry" and slipped away.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Gonzalesgate: Russert gets the point!

RUSSERT: If the attorney general is saying that these attorney—U.S. attorneys lost his confidence because of their performance-related reasons, then he obviously reviewed the cases, reviewed their situations, reviewed their work records and came out with this reason for their dismissal. That means he was intimately involved.

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars

U.S. plans talks with Israel, PA on Palestinian state

Condi Rice has descended on the Middle East in what must be the most pointless visit she has ever made there. And, with her track record, that takes some doing.

She wants to conduct a series of talks concerning how Israel plans "to implement the vision of a territorially contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank." And she hopes to achieve this by meeting with Olmert and Abbas SEPARATELY.

Yes, you read that right. There are no plans for a summit because Olmert refuses to take part in one, so she plans to pop between both sides asking them what they think of the others viewpoint.

It's a stunning example of the Bush administration's total refusal to ever put any pressure on the Israelis to take part in talks in the same way that previous US administration's have been forced to do to in order make any kind of headway with the situation.

Now, it is a matter of public record that Olmert does not want a negotiated solution and would much prefer to impose unilateral borders on the new state of Palestine, assuming that he has any real wish to see such a state in the first place.

Rice, rather than confronting Olmert - at a time when Olmert has been seriously weakened by the Lebanon fiasco and might be more malleable than usual - has decided to embark on a series of utterly useless talks that even she is admitting are likely to end in failure. Oh, she has a diplomatic way of saying this, of course, but make no mistake she knows this is doomed.

Speaking to U.S. reporters before dining with Olmert, Rice acknowledged her approach was cautious and said the chances for quick dramatic progress were low.

"My approach has been, I admit, careful. It's been step by step. I have not been willing to try for the big bang. I don't think that that's where we are," she said.

"The question here isn't speed. The question is trying to really move forward toward the establishment of a Palestinian state."
The woman has a stunning gift for understatement. Indeed, the chances of the non-meetings resulting in any kind of success will be dependent on what each side is prepared to talk about with Condi as opposed to each other.

The Israelis have clearly set out their stall:
Israel would like to avoid formulations that will be binding in a final agreement or which deal with issues of serious dispute (most likely, Jerusalem and the refugees).
So, not only are the Israelis refusing to meet with Abbas, they are also insisting that, even when they meet just with Condi, that the conversation be limited to only Palestinian "terrorism" and the weather.

Whatever one thought of Henry Kissinger and other persons who have held Condi's office, they had a way of using America's influence to force people to make deals. They had a way of banging heads until adversaries at least hammered out the issues with each other.

Under Condi's visionary plan for the Middle East the two sides don't even meet. That's beyond pointless. Wake me up when she's gone home.

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