America Must Manage Decline

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gideon Rachman

Recently I met a retired British diplomat who claimed with some pride that he was the man who had invented the phrase, “the management of decline”, to describe the central task of British foreign policy after 1945. “I got criticised,” he said, “but I think it was an accurate description of our task and I think we did it pretty well.”

No modern American diplomat – let alone politician – could ever risk making a similar statement. That is a shame. If America were able openly to acknowledge that its global power is in decline, it would be much easier to have a rational debate about what to do about it. Denial is not a strategy.

President Barack Obama has said that his goal is to ensure that America remains number one. Even so, he has been excoriated by his opponents for “declinism”. Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist, has accused the president of embracing American weakness: “Decline is not a condition,” he declared. “Decline is a choice.” The stern rejection of “declinism” is not confined to the rabid right. Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor and doyen of US foreign policy analysts, regards talk of American decline as an intellectual fad – comparable to earlier paranoia about the US being overtaken by Japan. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, has just published a book that is subtitled, “What went wrong with America – and how it can come back”.

What is not permissible, in mainstream debate, is to suggest that there may be no “coming back” – and that the decline of American power is neither a fad nor a choice but a fact.

Admittedly, America’s relative decline is likely to be much less abrupt than the falling-off experienced by Britain after 1945. The US is still the world’s largest economy and is easily its pre-eminent military and diplomatic power. However, the moment at which China becomes the world’s largest economy is coming into view – the end of the decade seems a likely passing point. Of course, it is true that China has its own grave political and economic problems. Yet the fact that there are roughly four times as many Chinese as Americans means that – even allowing for a sharp slowdown in Chinese growth – at some point, China will become “number one”.

Even after the US has ceded its economic dominance, America’s military, diplomatic, cultural and technological prowess will ensure that the US remains the world’s dominant political power – for a while. But although economic and political power are not the same thing, they are surely closely related. As China and other powers rise economically, they will inevitably constrain America’s ability to get its way in the world.

That is why America needs to have a rational debate about what “relative decline” means – and why the British experience, although very different, may still hold some valuable lessons.
What the UK discovered after 1945 is that a decline in national power is perfectly compatible with an improvement in living standards for ordinary people, and with the maintenance of national security. Decline need not mean the end of peace and prosperity. But it does mean making choices and forging alliances. In an era of massive budget deficits, and rising Chinese power, the US will have to think harder about its priorities. Last week, Hillary Clinton insisted that America will remain a major power in Asia – with all the military expenditure that this implies. Very well. But what does that mean for spending at home?

Few politicians are prepared to have that discussion. Instead, particularly among Republicans, they fall back on feel-good slogans about American “greatness”.
Those who refuse to entertain any discussion of decline actually risk accelerating the process. A realistic acknowledgement that America’s position in the world is under threat should be a spur to determined action on everything from educational reform to the budget deficit. The endless politicking in Washington reflects a certain complacency – a belief that America’s position as number one is so impregnable that it can afford self-indulgent episodes such as the summer’s near-debt default.

The failure to have a proper discussion of relative decline also risks leaving American public opinion unprepared for a new era. As a result, the public reaction to setbacks at home and abroad is less likely to be calm and determined and more likely to be angry and irrational – feeding what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called “the paranoid style in American politics”.

For the fact is that management of decline is as much to do with psychology, as to do with politics and economics. In 1945, the British task was made much easier by the afterglow of victory in the second world war. Britain’s adjustment was also helped by the fact that the new global hegemon was the US – a country tied to Britain by language, blood and shared political ideas. It will be tougher for America to cede power to China – although the transition will also be much less stark than the one faced by Britain.

These days the British have learnt almost to revel in failure. They buy volumes with titles like the “Book of Heroic Failures” in large numbers. It is quite common for the supporters of a losing English soccer team to chant, “We’re shit and we know we are.” This is not a habit I can see catching on in the US. When it comes to managing decline, self-abasement is optional.

Financial Times (UK)

Afghanistan Is Obama’s Gordian Knot

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By William Pfaff

2011-09-28T055836Z_1463891316_GM1E79S131I01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

U.S. soldiers from Charlie Battery, 321st Field Artillery Regiment fire a 155MM M777 howitzer at a Taliban enemy position from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bostic, in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan September 28, 2011.   

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Useful advice can be found in the past. Gordius, King of Phrygia (in modern Turkey), tied an intricate knot, ever since called the Gordian knot. An oracle told Alexander the Great that whoever could untie it would master Asia.

Alexander drew his sword and slashed the knot. He then conquered the lands between Persia and Afghanistan, pushing on as far as the Punjab.

There his exhausted troops rebelled, and his retreat from Asia began.

The oracle should have known that the mastery of Asia ultimately belongs to Asians.

Barack Obama has promised a withdrawal of many or most American troops  from Afghanistan in the months to come. He has not promised the departure of the enormous State Department and mercenary force of state-builders and democracy-creators and defenders already there.

This, at least, is the plan—a bad and dangerous one that can be relied upon to fail because it refuses to face reality.

The Gordian knot by which this American project is bound is the simultaneous conflict and collaboration of the United States and nuclear Pakistan, certain to end in a wounded American withdrawal, if only because Pakistan lives, and has lived since antiquity, in this particular place in Central Asia, and the United States lives in a different world—geographically, psychically and morally—having arrived in Central Asia yesterday, and being destined to leave tomorrow.

The Gordian knot may be described as follows: The United States and Pakistan are formally allies. They are both at war in Afghanistan, the United States officially, to defeat (or come to a settlement that cannot be interpreted as a “defeat”) the Taliban, radical Muslim nationalist and fundamentalist fighters, and members of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. The Taliban are held responsible by Washington for collaboration with al-Qaida (or what is left of it) against America-in-Asia. At the same time, Washington is held responsible by the Taliban for invading and attempting to control their country, which they want to control themselves.

The United States and Pakistan are actually enemies, with opposed national interests. The Pakistani army clandestinely supports the Taliban, and has done so for many years, so that Afghanistan can eventually be ruled by their clients. Pakistan’s leaders look upon Afghanistan as furnishing strategic depth to their army in case of war with India—their great enemy since the partition of British India in 1947. The United States, in recent years, has been cultivating close relations and nuclear cooperation with India.

The United States and Pakistan are even close to declaring their enmity. The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune reported as much on September 27. There have been repeated Pakistani attacks on U.S. troops, “incidents” considered to be retaliation for American drone attacks inside Pakistan. The drones have targeted individuals and assets thought to be linked to the Taliban or enemies of the CIA.

Civilians have also been killed. The American command says civilians killed in drone attacks are accidental victims. The target selection system for the drones reportedly functions on visual- and radio-surveillance of suspected sites, which identifies everyone connected with these sites, including innocents. The drones are reputed to be considerably less accurate and discriminating than advertised.
The Haqqani network, another target, once part of the Northern Alliance in the war against the Russians, is currently described by some Americans as a group of criminals exploited by Pakistani army intelligence. The Haqqani have been accused of responsibility for the September 13 assault on the U.S. Embassy inside its fortified compound in Kabul. Last Sunday, there was also an attack, fatal to one victim, on Americans inside the CIA annex to the Embassy, by “an Afghan employee” of the CIA.

What is all of this accomplishing for the American taxpayers who are paying millions to finance both Afghan and Pakistani governments, while supporting their own expeditionary force, plus the Afghan army, and part of the NATO force which is inconclusively warring with the Taliban?

What American or Western interests are served in this Gordian entanglement of conflicting interests and useless casualties?

Obama has not dared to challenge the Pentagon because it holds him hostage politically due to his lack of military service. The military will not break off the war because they will not accept “defeat,” and they are driven by a confused geo-strategic notion of America’s need to dominate global energy resources for the future. Even a Republican president could find himself in Obama’s position, for which Republican politician has served in combat?

I can only imagine a noble self-sacrifice by a president, to save his country and people. Who will seize Alexander’s sword and slash the knot, ordering American troops, ships, spies, mercenaries, diplomats, aid workers and democracy promoters all home?

The United States since the Cold War has stubbornly resisted the principle that people must be responsible for themselves. The Afghans must settle their own national destiny. Pakistan and India know their own interests and must be responsible for them. An American president is accountable to the American people.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

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“US Is Destroying Pakistan”

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Imran Khan: ‘America is destroying Pakistan. We’re using our army to kill our own people with their money’

The Pakistani cricketing legend and politician talks about his country’s damaging relationship with the US, how aid and corruption are further ruining it — and how he is sure he will be its next president

By Stuart Jeffries

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File:  Imran Khan

When Barack Obama announced in May that American commandos had killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Imran Khan was furious. “The whole of Pakistan felt this way. Wherever I went I felt this humiliation and anger in people. It was humiliating because an American president announces it, not our president. And because it was the American military, not our military, which this country has given great sacrifices to nurture, that killed him.”

Khan stirs his cappuccino angrily. “Most humiliating of all was that the CIA chief Panetta says that the Pakistan government was either incompetent or complicit. Complicit!” But surely Leon Panetta had a point, didn’t he? The world’s most wanted man was living a mile from Pakistan’s military academy, not in some obscure cave. “They’re talking about a country in which 35,000 people have died during a war that had nothing to do with us. Ours is perhaps the only country in history that keeps getting bombed, through drone attacks, by our ally.”

Khan’s rage is directed not chiefly at Obama’s administration but at successive Pakistani governments for entrapping his homeland in a dismal cycle of immiseration and mass deaths for the past eight years by supporting the war on terror in return for billions of dollars of financial aid. The manner of Bin Laden’s killing and the national shame of its aftermath typify for Khan how Pakistan has never properly learned to stand on its own two feet. He calls it an era of neocolonialism in which Pakistan’s people seem destined to suffer as much as, if not more than, they did during British colonial rule.

“According to the government economic survey in Pakistan, $70bn has been lost to the economy because of this war. Total aid has been barely $20bn. Aid has gone to the ruling elite, while the people have lost $70bn. We have lost 35,000 lives and as many maimed — and then to be said to be complicit. The shame of it!”

Arguably Khan is benefiting from that anger. The legendary cricketer turned politician hopes — even expects — to become Pakistan’s next prime minister. “Every poll has shown the gap widening between us and other parties.” He is modest about his impact on the polls: “It’s not what I have done, it’s that they have got discredited. These are the best of times and the worst of times. The best of it is that people are hungry for a change.”

I sip the tea that his ex-wife, Jemima Khan née Goldsmith, has just handed me. We’re sitting on huge sofas in the vast living room-cum-kitchen of her opulent west London home. He’s here to see his two sons, Sulaiman Isa, 14, and Kasim 12, who live with their mother, when they return from school. Later this evening he will fly home to Islamabad.

Jemima retreats upstairs so that her ex and I can analyse what went wrong with his country — and the couple’s marriage. Understandably, Khan would rather talk about the former.

He recalls his greatest cricketing achievement as Pakistani team captain, winning the 1992 World Cup. Perhaps the 2012 Pakistani election will eclipse that triumph. “I played five World Cups and it was only in the last World Cup before we won [in 1992] that I said:

‘Put money on us.’ Now I’m saying my party will win. I’m throwing everyone a challenge that nothing can stop this party. Nothing.”

Perhaps. But Pakistani politics, to hear Khan talk, isn’t cricket. “To have a senior post in the government, you have to have a criminal record.” I laugh. Surely not? He names ministers who have. This was one consequence of ex-president Pervez Musharraf’s 2007 National Conciliation Ordinance that gave amnesties to many politicians (including former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan as a result and was shortly afterwards assassinated). “He did the greatest disservice to us by that ordinance. And guess what — it was brokered by the Bush administration.

“My country can barely stoop any lower. All you need to do with a senior politician today is look at his assets before he came into politics and look at them after and you know why they’re there. My party is made up of people who don’t need politics. You need people who don’t need politics to make money.” But surely that implies government by gentry, by people who are independently wealthy? “Or people who are not necessarily wealthy but who are in a profession and are doing quite well out of it outside politics. Career politicians have destroyed our country.”

I take a sidelong glance at Imran Khan. He’s a young, fit-looking 58, dressed in western playboy uniform (jeans, sports jacket, big-collared open-neck shirt), but with an imposingly stern face that he may have inherited from the Pashtun ancestors on his mother’s side of the family. He claims to be shy and introverted, but to me he conveys the enviably easy assuredness typical of English public schoolboys. Indeed, Khan is steeped in that ethos: he was educated at Aitchison College in Lahore, a so-called English-medium school, before being sent to England to study at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, and then read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. Ironically, one of his party’s policies is that elite schools such as Aitchison should be abolished for being inegalitarian.

If this cricketing legend did become Pakistan’s prime minister, it would involve a remarkable turn around in fortunes. In his early test-cricketing days, he was called Imran Khan’t — and that nickname applied too to his political career. Ever since he established his political party Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) in 1996, Khan has fared abysmally. Even the Guardian’s Declan Walsh described him in 2005 as making a “miserable politician. Khan’s ideas and affiliations since entering politics in 1996 have swerved and skidded like a rickshaw in a rain shower.”

Khan may have been a brilliant cricketer who for 21 years until retirement in 1992 made Pakistan a leading force in the international game. He may have once been renowned as a soigné habitué of toff nightclubs such as Annabel’s and Tramp in the 1980s, and as the playboy who romanced debutantes Susannah Constantine, Lady Liza Campbell and the artist Emma Sergeant. But is he really the man to lead Pakistan from what he calls “the the edge of collapse”?

He, at least, thinks so. “The old parties are all petrified of me now.

They all want to make alliances with me and I say: ‘No, I’m going to fight all of you together because you’re all the same.’”

Excellent. But how does he propose to effect what he calls a soft revolution in Pakistan? “Oh hawk,” he replies unexpectedly, “death is better than that livelihood that stops you ascending.” He is quoting a verse from his favourite poet and philosopher, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who died in 1938 and so missed both Pakistan’s birth, its rule by dicators and corrupt dynasties, and its current ignominy.

How do Iqbal’s words apply to modern Pakistan? “I take them to mean anything that comes with strings attached damages your self-esteem and self-respect — you’d better die than take it,” says Khan. “A country that relies on aid? Death is better than that. It stops you from achieving your potential, just as colonialism did. Aid is humiliating.

Every country I know that has had IMF or World Bank programmes has only impoverished the poor and enriched the rich.” And American aid, he argues, has had a calamitous effect on his homeland.
What Khan is planning politically echoes what he did in cricket.

“Colonialism deprives you of your self-esteem and to get it back you have to fight to redress the balance,” he says. “I know for myself and my contemporaries Viv Richards [the great West Indies batsman] and Sunil Gavaskar [the no-less-great Indian batsman] beating the English at cricket was a means of doing that. We wanted to assert our equality on the cricket field against our colonial masters.”

Isn’t cutting foreign aid a perilous policy for a bankrupt economy?

“But it doesn’t matter,” retorts Khan. “We will cut down expenditure, tax the rich and fight corruption. The reason we’re bankrupt is because of corruption. Asif Ali Zardari [Pakistan’s current president] puts his cronies on top and they literally siphon off money.”

He argues that if Pakistan’s two greatest problems, corruption and tax evasion, can be solved, then the country will become solvent. “We have the lowest tax-GDP ratio in the world: 9%. If we get it to 18%, which is India, we’re solvent.” Not only does Khan believe he can tax the rich but also that exploiting Pakistan’s huge mineral reserves will help the country escape its current mess. “A country that has no power is sitting on the biggest coal reserves in the world!”

Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s other key policy is withdrawing from the war on terror. Why? “The war on terror is the most insane and immoral war of all time. The Americans are doing what they did in Vietnam, bombing villages. But how can a civilised nation do this? How can you can eliminate suspects, their wives, their children, their families, their neighbours? How can you justify this?

“When I came here at 18 I learned about western rule of law and human rights, innocent until proven guilty. The Americans are violating all of this.”

Khan wrote an open letter to Obama arguing that the war was unwinnable.

“I said you do not have to own Bush’s war — you can’t win it anyway.

It’s creating radicals. The more you kill, the more you create extremism.”

Why can’t the war be won? “The Soviets killed more than a million people in Afghanistan. They were fighting more at the end than the beginning. So clearly a population of 15 million could take a million dead and still keep fighting. They [the Americans] are going to have to kill a lot of people to make any impact and they also have in Zardari an impotent puppet as Pakistani president who has not delivered anything to the Americans.

“The Americans also don’t realise that this whole Arab spring was against puppets or dictators. People want democracy. So this whole idea of planting your own man there, a dictator — neocolonialism is what it’s called — is not going to work any more.

“The aid to our puppet government from the US is destroying our country. We’re basically using our army to kill our own people with American money. We have to separate from the US.”

Khan knows what it is to be attacked from both sides. “I’ve been called Taliban Khan for supporting the tribal Pashtuns and I’ve been called part of a Jewish conspiracy to take over Pakistan. I am of course neither.”

The latter allegation came when Khan married Jemima Goldsmith in 1995.

In a chapter on his marriage in his excellent new book Pakistan: A Personal History, he recalls that, when he left for England aged 18, his mother’s last words were: “Don’t bring back an English wife.” But after his mother’s death, Khan did that, even though the British press wailed that Jemima would not be allowed to drive in Pakistan and that she would have to be veiled from head to toe; even though the Pakistani media portrayed the marriage as a Zionist plot to take over Pakistan.

No matter, as Khan writes, that his wife wasn’t actually Jewish (her paternal grandfather was Jewish), but had been baptised and confirmed as a Protestant. No matter that she converted to Islam and set about learning Urdu on her arrival in Pakistan.

The smears got worse a year after their marriage when Khan launched his political career. “Cross-cultural marriage is difficult, especially when one person has to live in another country. But I thought there was a very good chance of it working because people grow together if they have a common passion. But from the moment my opponents attacked her in the first election in terms of a Zionist conspiracy we had to then take her away from politics. That meant we were doing different things. We couldn’t share our passions.”

Jemima returned to England, ostensibly for a year to do a masters in modern trends in Islam, taking her sons with her. She never returned, the couple divorced in 2004 and she is now associate editor of the Independent and editor-at-large for Vanity Fair. They remain on friendly terms. “It was very painful that it didn’t work out but that bitterness and anger that comes when a marriage breaks down through infidelity was not there. We were completely faithful to each other.”

There was no way he could have moved to London? “London is like a second home, but never could I imagine living away from Pakistan.” It must be tough with his sons living half a world away most of the year.

“Very tough. Nothing gave me more happiness than fatherhood. And here’s someone who had great highs in his life. The biggest void in my life is not being close to my children all the time, but mercifully, thanks to my relationship with Jemima, I see them a great deal.”

One way of looking at his failed marriage, then, is that it could not survive the bearpit of Pakistani politics. How could he continue in that grim game given the high cost it extorted from you? “Ever since my mother died in great pain from cancer, I have had a social conscience that can only express itself in getting involved in politics. As long as I played cricket there was hardly any social conscience. It came because of my mother and how she was treated.” It also came after a spiritual awakening and renewed Islamic faith, in which Iqbal’s writings played an important role.

“The No1 thing that struck me about your country when I came here was your welfare state, which I’m sad to say they are dismantling — a big mistake. I thought: ‘What a civilised society.’ When my mother was treated here we were paying for her and there was a national health patient next to her — equal treatment. We didn’t have that in Pakistan.”

After his mother’s death he founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Lahore in her name. “My hospital is the only one in Pakistan where doctors are not allowed to know which patients are paying and which are free. Equal treatment for rich and poor is essential.”

But the hospital was only possible because of donations that he raised  from the streets of Pakistan’s cities. “We needed $4m for the hospital and we had run out of steam so someone suggested we just go out into the streets. I ended up covering 29 cities in six weeks and I just went into the street with a big collecting sack. Only in Pakistan would this happen.”

But that Pakistani generosity, he realises, articulates an important principle of Islam, of doing good deeds to get to heaven. In the book he writes that he asked why poor people would give such high proportions of their income to a cancer hospital not even in their own town. “It was always the same reply, ‘I am not doing you a favour. I am doing it to invest in my Hereafter.’”

That geneoristy proved a catalyst for Khan’s political career, he writes: “I started thinking that these people were capable of great sacrifice. Could these people not be mobilised to fight to save our ever-deteriorating country?” He may have a sentimental vision of poor Pakistanis but Khan has no doubt: they will revolutionise Pakistan, led by him.

Just before I leave him to his children, he tells me that the nadir for Pakistan came last year when Angelina Jolie visited Pakistan’s flood-hit area. “It’s so shameful. The prime minister gave her a reception in his palace and she commented on its opulence. The prime minister gets his family in a private jet to see her, the family give her expensive presents and yet there are people dying in these flood-affected areas. They were living like Mughal emperors in splendour and our people were dying. It took a Hollywood star to point this out. Our politics can never be so shameful again.” That remains to be seen.

Guardian UK

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Back to 1967 Borders?

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

67 Borders Central in Mideast Talks Restart Effort

By Nicole Gaouette and Bill Varner -

3207995924_5cdd1ac332_zPresident Barack Obama’s proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by starting with the 1967 borders will likely be adopted by the international group trying to find a peace agreement.

The meeting today in Washington by the “Quartet” — the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — has taken on added urgency as Palestinians plan to ask the UN to recognize their state in a September vote. Israel and the U.S. oppose the move, which would raise political and legal questions.

Before going into the talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to Palestinians about their UN ambitions and repeated her assertion that talks were the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

“What we strongly advocate is a return to negotiations,” Clinton said. “A resolution, a statement, an assertion is not an agreement. The path to two states lying side by side in peace lies in negotiation.”
The French foreign ministry said the Quartet meeting represents “one of the last chances to lay the necessary groundwork to resume negotiations and avoid a diplomatic confrontation in September,” according to a statement released Friday.

“They want to restart negotiations on the basis of Obama’s speech and the 1967 borders and use that as a way to convince the Palestinians not to go to the UN in September,” said Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan and vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The chances of that are very slim,” he said in a telephone interview.

Clinton was to host the Quartet at the State Department, meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Quartet representative Tony Blair over a working dinner.

The Obama administration restarted talks between the parties in September with the goal of reaching agreement on core issues a year later — a deadline now just weeks away. The talks quickly stalled.

In a May speech, Obama called for an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines” that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem in the Six-Day War with Arab nations.

The president said Israel’s security should be ensured before other core issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, are settled. And he proposed that Israel retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said immediately after the speech that the 1967 borders would be “indefensible” and leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.

In the months since, U.S. envoys have repeatedly urged both sides to consider the president’s proposal, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The U.S. feels that “going to the United Nations is not helpful, it will not achieve the goal of a lasting peace of two states living side by side” and it “could be detrimental to our goal to get the parties back together,” Nuland said at a July 8 briefing.

Palestinians decided to seek recognition at the UN because they have given up on negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, senior negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said June 16.

As the vote has come closer, Palestinians have begun to reconsider the effectiveness of their UN plan, said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based group that advocates for a peaceful solution to the Mideast conflict.

“It’s become in so many ways a less attractive proposition than it was a few months ago,” Ibish said in a telephone interview. Palestinian leaders “feel that politically they have to act,” he said, as negotiations have gotten them nowhere and the Palestinian public watches protest movements lead to political change across the Arab world.

Muasher was among several analysts who said that the September vote might trigger Palestinians to take to their streets “if it becomes clear this is just a vote on paper and doesn’t result in a Palestinian state on the ground.”

“Time is running out for the parties involved, the Quartet, Israel, the PLO, to find a way out of any kind of damaging confrontation at the UN in September. That is not in anyone’s interest,” Ibish said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview that he hoped something “meaningful comes out the Quartet meeting, in the form of parameters that would include the ideas in the speech of President Barack Obama.”

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said both Israelis and Palestinians have an interest in returning to talks. Danin, a former head of office for Quartet representative Blair, has also worked on Israeli- Palestinian issues for both the State Department and the White House. “Netanyahu sees an Israel that is increasingly isolated and a pariah,” Danin said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has an administration in the U.S. that seems more well-disposed to Palestinian positions and concerns than they’ve seen in the past, and he recognizes that without a negotiating process, he’s not going to gain anything.”

Another former U.S. diplomat with long experience in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations said restarting the talks wasn’t likely. “The gaps are too big. The suspicions are too great. The motivations of everyone are too questioned by the other,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

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U.S. Afghanistan Drawdown Begins Slowly, 800 Marines Out in Fall

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s drawdown in Afghanistan will begin slowly, with the departure of just 800 National Guard troops this summer, followed by some 800 Marines in the fall, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The details provided by Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the outgoing No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Pentagon officials offered the most detailed look so far at how the U.S. military intends to carry out the withdrawal ordered by Obama in June.

Facing growing political opposition to the nearly decade-old war, Obama announced plans to pull out about a third of the 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012 — a faster timetable than the military had recommended.

The first 10,000 troops will come home by the end of the year. But Obama left the details up to his commanders.

“We have begun the process of working ourselves out of a job — meaning we will hand over the lead to the Afghans gradually, over time,” said Rodriguez, speaking to reporters in a video-conference from Afghanistan.

The Pentagon’s small initial drawdown leaves as many as 8,400 troops to withdraw in the last few months of 2011, and Rodriguez said he expected commanders to wait until later in the fall before deciding how to thin out those forces.

Jeffrey Dressler at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, said Rodriguez’s announcement was within expectations — particularly given the need to keep the bulk of troops in place until the end of the year.

“What the commanders are trying to do is conserve as much combat power as they can until the end of the fighting season,” Dressler said.

Rodriguez and the Pentagon offered the following details on the initial drawdown, without ruling out further changes.

* The Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment in Kabul, with about 300 troops, leaves in July.

* The Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 113rd Cavalry Regiment, also leaves in July.

* 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in southwest Afghanistan, with over 800 troops, will leave in fall.

Critics have said Obama’s decision to bring troops home from Afghanistan faster than the military has recommended could jeopardize the next major push of the war, to unseat insurgents in the east.
Republican Senator John McCain, speaking in Kabul on Sunday, said Obama’s drawdown plan created “unnecessary risk.”

Although extra U.S. troops ordered into southern Afghanistan have made security gains there, the situation in the east of the country bordering Pakistan has deteriorated.

Rodriguez, however, said U.S. military plans to shift the focus to the east remained on track, despite the drawdown.

“As we continue to maintain the momentum in the south … we will end up thinning out down there first, and then focusing more and more of our energy in the east,” he said.

Still, he declined to say when that might happen, adding: “It’s a little bit too early to take that guess right now.”

The drawdown comes amid intense fighting in Afghanistan, where more than 1,500 U.S. forces have been killed since the war began. Last week, insurgents staged a brazen raid on the Kabul Intercontinental hotel, killing 12 people and raising fresh questions about whether Afghan forces are ready to assume responsibilities as U.S. forces pull out.

Rodriguez commended the Afghan forces on what he called a “great response” to the attack but played down expectations that violence would ebb any time soon.

Asked whether he expected violence to start subsiding this year or next, Rodriguez said: “That remains to be seen. It’ll actually probably be next year.”

(Additional reporting by David Alexander; editing by Todd Eastham)

13-28

US Mulls Larger Troop Pullout from Afghanistan: Report

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

AFP

WASHINGTON: Top White House national security advisers are considering much more significant troop reductions in Afghanistan than those discussed even a few weeks ago, The New York Times reported late Sunday.

The newspaper said some officials were arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden.

President Barack Obama is expected to address these decisions in a speech to the nation this month, the report said.

The National Security Council is convening its monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday, and assessments from that meeting are likely to inform decisions about the size of the force, The Times said.

Before the new thinking, US officials were anticipating an initial drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops, the paper noted.

Those advocating steeper troop reductions did not propose a withdrawal schedule, according to the report.

But the latest strategy review is about far more than how many troops to take out in July, the paper noted. It is also about setting a final date by which all of the 30,000 surge troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan, The Times said.

Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan last year in a bid to gain the initiative in the war against Taliban-led insurgents which started in 2001, while vowing to begin pulling out forces by mid-2011.

Roughly 100,000 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of an international force.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Afghanistan Saturday that a “modest” number of troops would likely be pulled out in July and argued for maintaining pressure on the insurgents to force them to the negotiating table possibly by the end of the year.

13-24

Obama Warns Gaddafi of “No Let Up”

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Falloon and Joseph Logan

LONDON/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – President Barack Obama warned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Wednesday there would be ‘no let up’ in pressure on him to go, following a second successive night of heavy NATO bombing in Tripoli.

Six loud explosions rocked Tripoli late on Tuesday within 10 minutes, following powerful strikes 24 hours earlier, including one on Gaddafi’s compound that Libyan officials said killed 19 people.

Obama told a London news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron he could not predict when Gaddafi, who is fighting a three-month-old insurgency, might be forced to go.

“I absolutely agree that given the progress that has been made over the last several weeks that Gaddafi and his regime need to understand that there will not be a let-up in the pressure that we are applying.”

“We have built enough momentum that as long as we sustain the course that we are on that he is ultimately going to step down,” he said. “Ultimately this is going to be a slow, steady process in which we are able to wear down the regime.”

Fighting between Gaddafi’s forces and rebels has reached a stalemate, despite two months of NATO aerial support under a U.N. mandate intended to protect civilians. Gaddafi denies his troops target civilians and says rebels are criminals, religious extremists and members of al Qaeda.

Strikes drove back Gaddafi forces shortly after he pledged “no pity, no mercy” to rebels in their stronghold of Benghazi. Rebels have since proved unable to achieve any breakthrough against better-trained and equipped government troops.

Cameron echoed Obama’s calls for the departure of Gaddafi, who denies targeting civilians and portrays the disparate rebel groups as religious extremists, mercenaries and criminals serving Western schemes to seize Libya’s oil.

“I believe we should be turning up that pressure and on Britain’s part we will be looking at all the options of turning up that pressure,” he said.

Such pressure will not include NATO troops, Obama said.

“We cannot put boots in the ground in Libya,” he said. “There are going to be some inherent limitations to our air strikes in Libya.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday the NATO bombing should achieve its objectives within months.

France said this week it would deploy attack helicopters to ensure more precise attacks against Gaddafi forces embedded among the civilian population of Libyan cities. Britain said on Tuesday it was considering doing the same.

Heavy Bombing in Libya

In the second day of heavy NATO bombing of Tripoli, the alliance hit a vehicle storage bunker, a missile storage and maintenance site and a command- and-control site on the outskirts of Tripoli, a NATO official said. Government targets around the Western rebel outpost of Misrata had also been hit.

Libyan news agency Jana says NATO hit a telecommunications station in Zlitan overnight, causing “material and human casualties losses” west of Misrata.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague dismissed fears that Western states were being drawn into an Iraq-style conflict.

“It’s very different from Iraq because of course in the case of Iraq there were very large numbers of ground forces deployed from Western nations,” Hague told BBC Radio.

Diplomatic activity is intensifying. G8 world powers will discuss ways to break the impasse this week, with some expecting Russia to propose a mediation plan to the meeting.

South African President Jacob Zuma announced he would visit Tripoli next week for talks with Gaddafi in his capacity as a member of the African Union high-level panel for the resolution of the conflict in Libya.

Zuma headed an African Union mission to Tripoli in April but the bid to halt the civil war collapsed within hours. The AU does not have a good track record in brokering peace deals, having failed recently to end conflicts or disputes in Somalia, Madagascar and Ivory Coast.

Unlike France, Italy and Qatar, the United States has not established formal diplomatic ties with the rebels. Jordan said on Tuesday it recognized the rebel council as a legitimate representative of Libya’s people and planned to open an office in Benghazi.

The United States bolstered the credentials of the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council as a potential government-in-waiting on Tuesday when a U.S. envoy invited it to set up a representative office in Washington.

(Reporting by Joseph Logan in Tripoli, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Mohammed Abbas in Misrata, Sherine El Madany in Benghazi, Nick Vinocur in Paris; writing by Ralph Boulton; editing by Alison Williams)

13-23

The Fake Outrage of the Israel Firsters

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By MJ Rosenberg

ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS/NETANAYHU

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man walks past mannequins on a street in Jerusalem’s Old City May 25, 2011. Palestinians and Israelis alike saw little prospect of a fresh start to Middle East peace talks on Wednesday after Israeli PM Netanyahu’s keynote speech to Congress. 

REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

There was absolutely nothing about President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech to get excited about (and even less in his statement following Friday’s meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu). The president did not even attempt to set out an action plan; he offered broad principles, ones that have been offered before by five previous presidents.

He delivered the speech in an effort to get the jump on Netanyahu who is in town to address Congress and AIPAC. Bibi’s goal is to mobilize his followers against any U.S. efforts to promote an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Netanyahu, who grew up in the United States, is a de facto Republican and, as in 1998 when President Clinton was in office, he wants to strengthen the GOP vis a vis the Democrats.

Delivering the speech was probably a mistake. But Obama felt that he had to deliver it — to preempt Netanyahu’s war-mongering with some good pro-Israel boilerplate and to neutralize some of the opposition to U.S. policies toward Israel that is weakening our standing with the evolving Arab democracies.

For obvious national security reasons, the United States cannot afford to have a new generation of Arab democrats in nations as significant as Egypt hating us because they view America as being in Israel’s pocket. A strong rhetorical endorsement of peace would both help neutralize Netanyahu’s demagoguery and defuse opposition to both America and Israel in the Muslim world. Meanwhile, it would please Netanyahu’s followers.

In the end, it didn’t turn out that way. As the Wall Street Journal reported in an article called “Jewish Donors Warn Obama on Israel,” a tiny (but incredibly well-heeled) group of donors told Obama in advance that any deviation from the line laid down by Netanyahu would cost Obama campaign contributions. The article quotes a bunch of fat cats, unknown to most Jewish Americans who essentially threatened Obama.

It’s crazy. In 2008 78% of Jews voted for Obama. According to the definitive American Jewish Committee poll, Israel ranks 7th on the list of issues on which Jews cast their votes with 3% citing it as the top concern. 54% mentioned the economy, and many more cited health care, energy and a host of other issues.

But the self-appointed fat cat representatives of the Jewish community tell the White House that our #1 concern is Israel. And, for the AIPAC directed donors, it probably is.

And that is why President Obama delivered a speech on Thursday that was utterly innocuous. There was nothing in it that has not been said before by a host of previous presidents. Virtually all his empathy was directed at Israel while he offered a little sympathy, and nothing else, to the Palestinians. He did what he thought he had to do: appease AIPAC and Netanyahu while pleasing Arab democrats too.

But he failed. Arabs saw the speech as a bunch of empty words. And the Israeli firsters went ballistic. Why? Because of one paragraph.

The president said:

The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

And suddenly all hell broke loose. But not immediately. Initially, the right-wing of the “pro-Israel” claque praised Obama for not saying anything that challenged Netanyahu but then Netanyahu, said that he was outraged by the reference to the 1967 lines.

But then the robotic Israel-firsters switched their line as quickly as Red 1930s folk singers changed their lyrics when Moscow complained of deviation. (Stop bashing Nazi Germany; we just signed a pact with it).

This is beyond ridiculous. Obama did not say that Israel would have to go back to the 1967 borders; he said that the “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines…”
That means that Israelis and Palestinians would sit down with a map that dated back to 1967 and decide what would be Israel and what would be Palestine. What other “lines” could a deal be based on? The border between China and Russia?

As far back as the 1967 United Nations Resolution 242, which Israel signed, it has been the stated policy of the entire world (including Israel) that Israel would return to the ‘67 borders, with alterations made, as necessary, to guard Israel’s security. Every American president has said that and every Israeli government has accepted it. Even AIPAC supports the “two-state solution,” which means a Palestinian state in the territories captured by Israel in 1967. Where else?

So what are these people up to when they suddenly decide to descend into faux-rage when Obama says what they have been saying all along?

The answer is simple. The Israel-first crowd has decided on two things: (1) They do not want Israeli-Palestinian peace, period. They want Israel to keep all the land. And (2) they want to see President Obama defeated in the next election, hoping against hope that they can drive the Obama Jewish vote, and especially campaign contributions, way below 2008 levels. They don’t trust him. They suspect (hopefully, rightly) that in his heart he does not believe the status quo loving nonsense Dennis Ross is feeding him.

Obama’s mistake is to think he can appease these people by going to AIPAC (as he will do next week) or to Israel (as he probably will this summer) and trying to explain himself. Unless he is prepared to tell AIPAC and right-wing Israelis that he supports both settlements and the permanent disenfranchisement of Palestinians, he will not win over these people. They are not potential friends, not of him or of U.S. interests. Or, frankly, of Israel’s. (They seem to prefer the West Bank over Israel itself).

Instead, he should mobilize Americans, pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews, like those of J Street who support the two-state solution and territorial compromise. He should reach out to Palestinians who are prepared to live in peace with Israel (including Hamas, if it will permanently end violence against Israel). And he should support moderate Israelis (still a sizable percentage of the population) who hate the occupation and are desperate to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

Trying to appease Netanyahu and AIPAC empowers the right and cuts moderates off at the knees. It’s time for Obama to treat these people as what they are: enemies of everything he aspires to do. Why would the president think he can possibly find friends on the right? He can’t.

13-22

Could Bin Laden Become An Arab Icon After All?

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

With A Little Help From A Foe

By Stephanie Doetzer

The reactions following Bin Laden’s death are a disaster. A person’s death may sometimes be good news. But somebody’s assassination never is. A commentary by Angela Merkel is happy. Hillary Clinton is happy. Barack Obama claims that justice has been done and hundreds of Americans celebrate cheerfully right next to Ground Zero. Hmm. Is this the Western world that likes to think of itself as an epitome of civilisation?

Bin Laden has never been the Arab icon that many Westerners believed him to be. And during the last four months of Arab revolutions Al Qaida has become even more irrelevant. But the fact that he was shot by American Special Forces on a “kill mission” changes the picture. He now has a chance of becoming an icon after all.

To be sure, many Arabs aren’t even interested in Bin Laden’s death. There are far bigger issues to care about these days and the young revolutionary crowd doesn’t have time for a man they perceive as a mere Western obsession. They didn’t care while Bin Laden was still alive, and why would they now?

German chancellor Angela Merkel comments on the death of Bin Laden in front of the press:

Epitome of civilisation? Chancellor Angela Merkel was chided in Germany for expressing “joy” of Osama Bin Laden’s death Others, however, do care quite a lot. They started caring when the news of the killing broke and changed the tone in which Bin Laden is being talked about. While most Western media prefer to use the word “killing” rather than “assassination”, Arab media go for either ightiyaal, meaning political murder, or istishhad, which is martyrdom said to lead straight to paradise.

More than ever, Bin Laden is now referred to as “Sheikh Osama Bin Laden”. In most Arab countries this is a sign of respect – or at least, it’s not the kind of word one would use to describe a heretic who has besmirched religion and misused Islam for his own goals.

Complex picture of Arab realities

In secular media, formulations are neutral and almost indifferent, but in many more religiously conservative outlets the tone is clearly one of mourning. But how to write about this for Western media without distorting the complex picture of Arab realities with its many shades of grey?

Does it make sense to quote the most outrageous reader’s comments from Al Jazeera Arabic’s website? From “May God have mercy on his soul and let him enter paradise” to “If he’s dead, then we’re all Bin Laden”?

Or is it more appropriate to quote those Arabs who say exactly the kind of stuff that Westerners want to hear? Like the commentators in Egypt’s Al Wafd newspaper who call Bin Laden a “black spot in Islamic clothes” and hope to close a dark chapter of Arab history.

There has been plenty of both. What is new is that people who are neither Salafi, nor particularly religious now defend Bin Laden as a person. They don’t approve of attacks on civilians, but they do consider him a fighter for a just cause rather than a criminal. And not because of 9/11, no. It’s because of his criticism of the Saudi royal family, because of his speeches about Palestine and because he allegedly relinquished his family’s fortune to lead a life of poverty.

Those who praise his principles and ‘good intentions’ don’t hate the West, nor are they likely to ever turn terrorist. But they feel an immediate urge for solidarity when one of them – and that’s what Bin Laden remained after all – gets shot by the special forces of a country of which they have ceased to expect anything good.

What may sound offensive to most Westerners, doesn’t shock many Arabs. After all, Bin Laden’s image in the Arab world has never only been that of a ruthless mastermind of international terrorism. He was the man that you could see on those Al Qaida videos from time to time, until they were replaced by audio-tapes. A man with a calm voice, a charismatic face and a captivating way of speaking classical Arabic – which is not exactly what the Western world got to see. Outside the Arab world, Bin Laden was reduced to fear-inspiring sound bites without context.

Front page of a Pakistani newspaper covering the death of Bin Laden

Is Bin Laden merely an obsession of the West? Al Qaida believes in violence as a political means, and, writes Doetzer, “the problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging it” By listening to him directly, Arabs could disagree, discard his ideas and compare him with their official leaders they liked even less. Unlike most Westerners, they knew Bin Laden wasn’t only talking about US foreign policy and Israel, but also about climate change and food security. And that he sometimes came up with suggestions for a US withdrawal from the Middle East that weren’t completely preposterous.

Emotional mishmash and contradictions

But events in these days also show that many Arab Muslims never quite figured out their own take on Bin Laden: Within one conversation, the same person may well claim that Bin Laden was on the payroll of the CIA, then deny his involvement in the 9/11 attacks – and end up by saying that the attack could be morally justified given the American atrocities on Arab soil.

It’s usually an emotional mishmash without much moral reflection, but a high dose of an intra-Islamic sense of unity that allows downplaying crimes committed by one’s own group by pointing to those committing by others.

The mechanism is strikingly similar to what Americans and Europeans do when they celebrate the extrajudicial killing of an individual and justify their reaction by highlighting his crimes.

It’s yet another example to show that the current enemies may have much more in common than they would ever admit: The problem with Al Qaida is that it believes in violence as a political means. The problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging it.

Watching those YouTube videos of Americans cheering in front of the White House feels a bit like a Déjà-vu. Last time, it was some Palestinians cheering the killing of Israeli settlers. And if I remember it rightly, Westerners were appalled by the pictures.

US Americans celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden in front of the White House in Washington

An eye for an eye:

Doetzer criticises the extrajudicial killing of Bin Laden, arguing the victory of Al Qaida’s ideology would have been more sustainable had it been achieved in court those chanting “U.S.A.” and “We did it” in New York and Washington don’t sound fundamentally different from Islamists chanting “Allahu Akbar”. And in both cases, it’s not the words that are problematic; it’s the spirit behind them.

A myth rather than a man

Both are tearing at each other for double standards, but neither truly believe in the rule of law. After all, things could have been done differently: Bin Laden could have been captured and put on trial. We could have listened to his version of events and might have found out what kind of person he was.

Instead, all we have are a couple of pictures: Bin Laden as a young fighter in Afghanistan, and then the man with a turban and a greying beard. It’s not much. And it allows him to be a myth rather than a man who has lived until a couple of days ago.

Had he died of kidney failure instead of the bullets, it may indeed have been a blow to Al Qaida.

But as things are, American Special Forces did him a huge favour by making him a martyr in the eyes of many. “I swear not to die but a free man” he said on an audio tape released in 2006.

He got what he wanted – with a little help from a foe.

Source: Qantara.de

13-22

50 Things Every American Should Know About The Collapse Of The Economy

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Economic Collapse Blog

Right now, we are witnessing a truly historic collapse of the economy, and yet most Americans do not understand what is going on.  One of the biggest reasons why the American people do not understand what is happening to the economy is because our politicians and the mainstream media are not telling the truth.  Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke keep repeating the phrase “economic recovery” over and over, and this is really confusing for most Americans because things sure don’t seem to be getting much better where they live.  There are millions upon millions of Americans that are sitting at home on their couches right now wondering why they lost their jobs and why nobody will hire them.  Millions of others are wondering why the only jobs they can get are jobs that a high school student could do.  Families all across America are wondering why it seems like their wages never go up but the price of food and the price of gas continue to skyrocket.  We are facing some very serious long-term economic problems in this country, and we need to educate the American people about why the collapse of the economy is happening.  If the American people don’t understand why they are losing their jobs, why they are losing their homes and why they are drowning in debt then they are going to keep on doing all of the same things that they have been doing.  They will also keep sending the same idiot politicians back to Washington to represent us.  There are some fundamental things about the economy that every American should know.  The American people need to be shocked out of their entertainment-induced stupor long enough to understand what is really going on and what needs to be done to solve our nightmarish economic problems.  If we do not wake up enough Americans in time, the economic collapse that is coming could tear this nation to shreds.

The U.S. economy was once the greatest economic machine in modern world history.  It was truly a wonder to behold.  It worked so well that entire generations of Americans came to believe that America would enjoy boundless prosperity indefinitely.

But sadly, prosperity is not guaranteed for any nation.  Over the past several decades, some very alarming long-term economic trends have developed that are absolutely destroying the economy.  If dramatic changes are not made soon, a complete and total economic collapse will be unavoidable.

Unfortunately, the American people will never agree to fundamental changes to our economic and financial systems unless they are fully educated about what is causing our problems.  We have turned our backs on the principles of our forefathers and the principles of those that founded this nation.  We have rejected the ancient wisdom that was handed down to us.

It has been said that those that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

We are about to experience the consequences of decades of really bad decisions.

Hopefully we can get the American people to wake up.

The following are 50 things that every American should know about the collapse of the economy….

#1 Do you remember how much was made of the “Misery Index” during the presidency of Jimmy Carter?  At that time, the “Misery Index” was constantly making headlines in newspapers all across the country.  Well, according to John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics, if we calculated unemployment and inflation the same way that we did back during the Carter administration, then the Misery Index today would actually be higher than at any point during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

#2 According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of about 5 million Americans were being hired every single month during 2006.  Today, an average of about 3.5 million Americans are being hired every single month.

#3 According to the Wall Street Journal, there are 5.5 million Americans that are currently unemployed and yet are not receiving unemployment benefits.

#4 All over America, state and local governments are selling off buildings just to pay the bills.  Investors can now buy up government-owned power plants, prisons and municipal buildings from coast to coast.  For example, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey recently sold off 16 government buildings (including the police and fire headquarters) just to pay some bills.

#5 When Americans think of “government debt”, most of them only think of the federal government, but it is not just the federal government that has a massive debt problem.  State and local government debt has reached an all-time high of22 percent of U.S. GDP.

#6 If you can believe it, one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards.

#7 Credit card usage in the United States is on the increase once again.  During the month of March, revolving consumer credit jumped 2.9%.  Sadly, it looks like Americans have not learned their lessons about the dangers of credit card debt.

#8 Last year, Social Security ran a deficit for the first time since 1983, and the “Social Security deficits” in future years are projected to be absolutely horrific.

#9 The U.S. government now says that the Medicare trust fund will run out five years faster than they were projecting just last year.

#10 Right now we are watching what could potentially be the worst Mississippi River flood ever recorded play out right in front of our eyes.  One agricultural economist at Mississippi State University believes that this disaster could do 2 billion dollars of damage just to farms alone.

#11 The “tornadoes of 2011” that we just saw in the southeast United States are being called the worst natural disaster that the U.S. has seen since Hurricane Katrina.  It has been estimated that up to 25 percent of all of the poultry houses in Alabama were either significantly damaged or destroyed.  It is also believed that millions of birds were killed.

#12 The economic effects of the BP oil spill just seem to go on and on and on.  The number of very sick fish in the Gulf of Mexico is really starting to alarm scientists.  The following is how one local newspaper recently described the situation….

Scientists are alarmed by the discovery of unusual numbers of fish in the Gulf of Mexico and inland waterways with skin lesions, fin rot, spots, liver blood clots and other health problems.

#13 The number of “low income jobs” in the U.S. has risen steadily over the past 30 years and they now account for 41 percent of all jobs in the United States.

#14 All over America, hospitals that care for the poor and needy are so overwhelmed and are so broke that they are being forced to shut down.  Recently, a local newspaper in Florida ran an article about two prominent charity hospitals in Illinois that have served the poor for more than 100 years but are now asking for permission to shut down….

Two charity hospitals in Illinois are facing a life-or-death decision. There’s not much left of either of them – one in Chicago’s south suburbs, the other in impoverished East St. Louis – aside from emergency rooms crowded with patients seeking free care. Now they would like the state’s permission to shut down.

#15 The U.S. dollar is in such bad shape that now even Steve Forbes is predicting that the U.S. is “likely” to go back to a gold standard within the next five years.

#16 Most Americans don’t realize how much the U.S. dollar has been devalued over the years.  An item that cost $20.00 in 1970 would cost you $115.93today.  An item that cost $20.00 in 1913 would cost you $454.36 today.

#17 Over the past 12 months the average price of gasoline in the United States has gone up by about 30%.

#18 U.S. oil companies will bring in about $200 billion in pre-tax profits this year.  They will also receive about $4.4 billion in specialized tax breaks from the U.S. government.

#19 It is being projected that for the first time ever, the OPEC nations are going to bring in over a trillion dollars from exporting oil this year.  Their biggest customer is the United States.

#20 According to the Pentagon, there are minerals worth over a trillion dollars under the ground in Afghanistan.  Now, J.P. Morgan is starting to tap those riches with the help of the U.S. military.

#21 Speaking of J.P. Morgan, most Americans don’t realize that they are actually the largest processor of food stamp benefits in the United States.  In fact, the more Americans that go on food stamps the more money that J.P. Morgan makes.

#22 When 2007 began, there were about 26 million Americans on food stamps.  Today, there are over 44 million on food stamps, and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

#23 Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid.  Today, one out of every 6 Americans is on Medicaid.

#24 Only 66.8% of American men had a job last year.  That was the lowest level that has ever been recorded in all of U.S. history.

#25 The financial system is more vulnerable today than it was back in 2008 before the financial panic. Today, the world financial system has been turned into a giant financial casino where bets are made on just about anything you can possibly imagine, and the major Wall Street banks make a ton of money from this betting system.  The system is largely unregulated (the new “Wall Street reform” law has only changed this slightly) and it is totally dominated by the big international banks. The danger from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”. It is estimated that the “derivatives bubble” is somewhere in the neighborhood of a quadrillion dollars, and once it pops there isn’t going to be enough money in the entire world to bail everyone out.

#26 Between December 2000 and December 2010, the United States ran a total trade deficit of 6.1 trillion dollars with the rest of the world, and the U.S. has had a negative trade balance every single year since 1976.

#27 The United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and the U.S. trade deficit with China is now 27 times larger than it was back in 1990.

#28 In 2010, the number one U.S. export to China was “scrap and trash”.

#29 All over the United States, many of our once great manufacturing cities are being transformed into hellholes.  In the city of Detroit today, there are over 33,000 abandoned houses, 70 schools are being permanently closed down, the mayor wants to bulldoze one-fourth of the city and you can literally buy a house for one dollar in the worst areas.

#30 During the first three months of this year, less new homes were sold in the U.S. than in any three month period ever recorded.

#31 New home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.

#32 America’s real estate crisis just seems to get worse and worse.  U.S. home prices have now fallen a whopping 33% from where they were at during the peak of the housing bubble.

#33 According to a new report from the AFL-CIO, the average CEO made 343 times more money than the average American did last year.

#34 The European debt crisis could cause a global financial collapse like the one that we saw in 2008 at any time.  The world economy is incredibly interconnected today, and the United States would not be immune.  A recent IMF report stated the following about the growing sovereign debt crisis in Europe….

Strong policy responses have successfully contained the sovereign debt and financial-sector troubles in the euro area periphery so far. But contagion to the core euro area and then onward to emerging Europe remains a tangible risk.

#35 According to one study, the 50 U.S. state governments are collectively 3.2 trillion dollars short of what they need to meet their pension obligations.

#36 A different study has shown that individual Americans are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.

#37 The cost of college tuition in the United States has gone up by over 900 percent since 1978.

#38 According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, health care costs accounted for just 9.5% of all personal consumption back in 1980.  Today they account for approximately 16.3%.

#39 One study found that approximately 41 percent of working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt.

#40 The combined debt of the major GSEs (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Sallie Mae) has increased from 3.2 trillion in 2008 to 6.4 trillion in 2011.  Thanks to our politicians, U.S. taxpayers are standing behind that debt.

#41 The U.S. government is over 14 trillion dollars in debt and the budget deficit for this year is projected to be about 1.5 trillion dollars.  However, if the U.S. government was forced to use GAAP accounting principles (like all publicly-traded corporations must), the U.S. government budget deficit would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 trillion to $5 trillion each and every year.

#42 Most Americans don’t understand that the Federal Reserve and the debt-based monetary system that it runs are at the very heart of our economic problems.  All of this debt is absolutely crushing us.  The U.S. government spent over 413 billion dollars on interest on the national debt during fiscal 2010, and it is being projected that the U.S. government will be shelling out 900 billion dollars just in interest on the national debt by the year 2019.

#43 Standard & Poor’s has altered its outlook on U.S. government debt from “stable” to “negative” and is warning that the U.S. could soon lose its AAA rating.

#44 In 1980, government transfer payments accounted for just 11.7% of all income.  Today, government transfer payments account for 18.4% of all income.

#45 U.S. households are now receiving more income from the U.S. government than they are paying to the government in taxes.

#46 59 percent of all Americans now receive money from the federal government in one form or another.

#47 According to Gallup, 41 percent of Americans believed that the economy was “getting better” at this time last year.  Today, that number is at just 27 percent.

#48 The wealthiest 1% of all Americans now own more than a third of all the wealth in the United States.

#49 The poorest 50% of all Americans collectively own just 2.5% of all the wealth in the United States.

#50 The percentage of millionaires in Congress is more than 50 times higher than the percentage of millionaires in the general population

13-22

Pres. Obama’s Speech on the Middle East and North Africa

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

2011-05-25T163719Z_1335237166_LM1E75P1A4V01_RTRMADP_3_OBAMA-BRITAIN
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to both houses of Britain’s parliament, in Westminster Hall in London May 25, 2011.  REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/POOL

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Please, have a seat.  Thank you very much.  I want to begin by thanking Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles.  (Laughter.)  I count on Hillary every single day, and I believe that she will go down as one of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.

The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy.  For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.  Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights.  Two leaders have stepped aside.  More may follow.  And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.

Today, I want to talk about this change — the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.

Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts.  After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there.  In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead.  And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was no martyr.  He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate –- an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change.  He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy -– not what he could build.
Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents.  But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life.  By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia.  On December 17th, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart.  This was not unique.  It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity.  Only this time, something different happened.  After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.  In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.  So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.  Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands.  And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home –- day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise.  The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not.  In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few.  In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn  -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well.  Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity.  But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere.  The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism.  Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.  Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.  Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil.  Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before.  And so a new generation has emerged.  And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.” 

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now.  It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.” 

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region.  And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily.  In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks.  But it will be years before this story reaches its end.  Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days.  In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual.  And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds.  For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region:  countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them.  We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks.  We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies.  As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind.  Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense.  Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.

And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.  I believed then -– and I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals.  The status quo is not sustainable.  Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.  Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise.  But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility.  It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome. 

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region.  But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.  (Applause.)  

The United States supports a set of universal rights.  And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders  -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest.  Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific.  First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.  That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation.  Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership.  But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence.  The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats.  As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force -– no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.  Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.  The message would have been clear:  Keep power by killing as many people as it takes.  Now, time is working against Qaddafi. He does not have control over his country.  The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council.  And when Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it’s not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power.  Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens.  The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy.  President Assad now has a choice:  He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.  The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests.  It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests.  It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition.  Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.

So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression.  And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home.  Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail.  We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran.  The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory.  And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Now, our opposition to Iran’s intolerance and Iran’s repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known.  But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today.  That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.  And that’s true today in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security.  We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. 

Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.  The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.  (Applause.)  The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict.  In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy.  The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security.  Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks.  But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress.  And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region.  Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike.  Our message is simple:  If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. 

We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people.  We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease.  Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths.  And we will use the technology to connect with -– and listen to –- the voices of the people.

For the fact is, real reform does not come at the ballot box alone.  Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information.  We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger.  In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview.  Let me be clear, America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them.  And sometimes we profoundly disagree with them.

We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy.  What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent.  Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion.  In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.”  America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them.  In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation.  And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women.  History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.  And that’s why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men -– by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office.  The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential.  (Applause.)

Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there.  So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy. 

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets.  The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family.  Too many people in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, perhaps hoping that their luck will change.  Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job.  Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas. 

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people.  In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world.  It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google.  That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street.  For just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance.  The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young.  America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy.  And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.  Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year.  And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past.  So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship.  We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation.  And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt.  And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region.  And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa.  If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland.  So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.  And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.  

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress -– the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect.  We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption — by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable.  Politics and human rights; economic reform.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region.  For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.  For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.  Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations.  Yet expectations have gone unmet.  Israeli settlement activity continues.  Palestinians have walked away from talks.  The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate.  Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.

I disagree.  At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.  That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.  Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.  And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable.  And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.  But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth:  The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River.  Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.  A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible.  The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action.  No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else.  But endless delay won’t make the problem go away.  What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples:  Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear:  a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.  The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.  We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. 

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.  The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.  And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations.  Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met.  I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain:  the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.  But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. 

Now, let me say this:  Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table.  In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel:  How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?  And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.  Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be.  Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.  We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones.  That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.”  We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza.  “I have the right to feel angry,” he said.  “So many people were expecting me to hate.  My answer to them is I shall not hate.  Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.  It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by the people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful.  In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests.  In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, “peaceful, peaceful.”  In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known.  Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar.  Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire.  Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.  And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” 

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. 

It will not be easy.  There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope.  But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves.  And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you. 

END               1:00 P.M. EDT

13-22

Bin Laden: Obama Snatches Defeat from Jaws of Victory

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Yvonne Ridley

As the news of Osama bin Laden’s death filtered out onto the streets of America it triggered unsightly scenes of undiluted hysteria, chest-thumping and back-slapping which has sadly become a trademark of the vengeful ‘hang’em high’ lobby that emerged from the rubble of 9/11.

And just like George W Bush did on that horrific day way back in 2001, US President Barack Obama unashamedly wallowed in a flag-waving, nationalistic wave of emotion, crowing about national unity and everyone pulling together as he revealed the manhunt for the world’s most wanted man had finally been concluded.

It mattered not the al-Qaida leader was unarmed – that detail was kept back as hugely distorted stories zoomed around the globe about how the evil Arab used his wife as a human shield while firing off rounds at the heroic soldiers who risked their all for Uncle Sam.

The naked display of uncontrollable gung-ho emotion was bad enough but then a smug-looking Obama began sounding like Glenn Ford in a scene from High Noon as he lectured the world about “justice being done”.

To quote my favourite journalist Gary Younge: “This was not justice, it was an extra-judicial execution. If you shoot a man twice in the head you do not find him guilty. You find him dead. This was revenge. And it was served very cold indeed.”

Mercifully, in this sea of madness another sane voice in America also drowned out the hate-filled chorus and it came from an unlikely source – 9/11 survivor Harry Waizer.
If anyone had a right to jump up and down like a lunatic at the show of a full moon it was him, but instead of adding to the hatefest he said: “I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”

I hope now that America’s Number One Bogeyman is no more the USA returns to some semblance of normality that has been absent from its landscape since the now discredited War on Terror began.
And I hope that the US Administration will stop using the politics of fear on its own people who have been ruthlessly hyped up in to a state of advanced paranoia at every opportunity. High days and holidays have been blighted by accelerated levels of terror alerts while the latest airport scares and the latest suspect parcels have brought major cities and their transport networks to a halt.

While it is always dangerous to generalize the American people appear to have been kept suspended in fear ever since 9/11 – the reality is ordinary citizens have more chance of being shot in their backyard than be killed by a terrorist.

30,000 innocents die every year in gun-related crime – that’s a 9/11 multiplied by ten – but the close relationship with deadly weapons shows no sign of abating in trigger-happy America.

In terms of a violent society and armed citizens, the US is in a league of its own and sadly the state of disregard for the law and justice filters all the way down from The White House.

That the most powerful man in the world can stare straight into the cameras and say: “Justice was done” over Bin Laden’s murder borders on absurdity; it’s almost Pythonesque.

Real justice would have involved an arrest, a trial by jury and a sentence in an international court should the thought of holding him on USA soil prove too frightening.

Real justice would not have involved shooting an unarmed man in front of his wife and children – there were no bodyguards in the house in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

Real justice would not have involved charging into someone else’s country with armed forces unannounced, if indeed that was really the case in Pakistan.

I’m surprised David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and other political leaders went into congratulatory mode in the House of Commons over the whole saga.

Had it not occurred to them that if OBL had chosen to hide out in Didsbury, Tooting or Chipping Norton then US Special Forces would have come into the UK all guns blazing?

I wonder, would Cameron have gushed forth with undiluted praise then?

We don’t know who America’s next Bogeyman is going to be, but what if he does live in Britain or chooses to hide in the UK? What then? Do we sit back and allow America to breach our sovereignty in the name of US justice?

Are there any real guarantees that we won’t have US Navy Seals bursting into our neighbourhoods anytime soon?

OK, it’s highly unlikely but not impossible. This is what happens when there’s total disregard for international law, Vienna and Geneva conventions et al.

Distinguished QC Geoffrey Robertson is a man I’d like to lock in the Oval Office with the Commander in Chief for maybe 30 minutes. A renowned international human rights lawyer, he is not at all impressed by Obama’s interpretation of justice.

Writing about the OBL killing he said the law “permits criminals to be shot in self-defence. They should, if possible, be given the opportunity to surrender, but even if they do not come out with their hands up, they must be taken alive, if that can be achieved without risk. Exactly how Bin Laden came to be shot (especially if it was in the back of the head, execution-style) therefore requires explanation. Why the hasty “burial at sea” without a post-mortem, as the law requires?”

Why indeed? The trouble is various US Administrations have lied to the world – lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, lied about the existence of WMD, lied about Saddam being in league with al-Qaida.

And the problem with serial liars is that when they do tell the truth no one believes them.

Once again America has managed to shoot itself in the foot in the name of justice – a justice that has earned the admiration and praise of the chairman of the Israeli parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security.

Shaul Mofaz of the right wing Kadima is now urging the Zionist Government to assassinate Palestinian leaders like the “US did with Osama bin Laden”.

He seems to have overlooked the fact that Israel has been “doing an Obama” for years as the leadership of Hamas can testify.

Nevertheless, it seems that even though international law prohibits the use of extra judicial assassination policies, various states of terror may now starting “Doing an Obama”.

After bringing an end to the biggest manhunt in US history, the US President has managed to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is a patron of the London-based NGO Cageprisoners – www.cageprisoners.com

13-20

US Warns Pakistan over NY Bomb Plot

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The US secretary of state says Islamabad would face “very severe consequences,” if a terrorist attack on US soil was traced to Pakistan.

“We’ve made it very clear that if — heaven-forbid — an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences,” Hillary Clinton told CBS TV during an interview on Saturday.

However, she acknowledged that Pakistan’s attitude toward fighting terrorists had changed remarkably, but emphasized that US President Barack Obama’s administration “expects more.”

The remarks followed the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the suspect behind a failed bombing in New York’s Time Square.

US investigators believe the bomb plot was formulated by more than just one person and US media suggested that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was linked with the attempt.

However, TTP, a pro-Taliban militant group, has denied any connection with Shahzad.

The Obama Administration officials have said that “their top priority was to nail down Shahzad’s links to militant groups, and then to press Pakistan to act against the groups.”

12-20

Obama to Hold Global Summit if Latest Middle East Talks Fail

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem

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File:  U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden smile as they are pictured with bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 21, 2010.

REUTERS/Jason Reed 

Barack Obama could call a world summit by the end of the year to pave the way for a Palestinian state should hoped-for peace talks bring no breakthrough in coming months.

The US President is understood to have informed European leaders of his plan to break an Israeli-Palestinian deadlock if negotiations have not borne fruit by September or October, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz cited unidentified Israeli officials as saying.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday told reporters that special envoy George Mitchell would be returning to the Middle East next week, when she said that proximity talks – the first since peace talks stalled in January 2008 – would begin again. The planned return to the negotiating table was delayed last month after a row over Israeli plans to build new homes in East Jerusalem.

If those talks are again knocked off course, a broader summit will become more likely. The four members of the Middle East Quartet negotiating group – the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – would be expected to play a leading role in the summit to present a united front, the paper said. The summit would address core issues, including Jerusalem and final borders.

The bold move reflects Mr Obama’s resolve to find a solution to the decades-old conflict that has eluded his predecessors and raises the possibility that Washington might seek to impose its own settlement on the parties, a prospect viewed with hostility by Israeli politicians.

Mr Obama has placed negotiations at the forefront of his political agenda while acknowledging that a continued stalemate threatens the US’s own security interests.

After months of intense US diplomacy in the region, the indirect “proximity” talks represent the best chance of a breakthrough in the peace process.

While a final settlement has appeared tantalisingly close in the past, few Palestinians believe that a solution can be reached without outside help, and Israelis repeatedly insist they have no partner for peace.

“Leaving the peacemaking hostage to agreements between both sides is not a good idea,” said Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority. “The international community has to play a larger role.”

Earlier this month, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Mr Obama to impose a peace solution, a plea that will have worried Israeli officials, who insist that a negotiated solution between the two parties is the only way out of the impasse.

Mr Obama’s efforts to bring both sides to talks have stalled over the critical issue of Jewish settlements in Arab-dominated East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and later annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestinians covet East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Mr Abbas backed out of talks in early March after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by the US Vice-President Joe Biden. The resulting row plunged relations between Israel and the US, its closest ally, to their lowest point in recent memory.

A US State Department official declined to confirm back-up plans for a global summit, saying: “Peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside. Our focus remains on seeing the discussions that are under way lead to formal negotiations that will address all of the complex issues.”

12-19

US Hopes Obama Trip Will Boost Trade with Indonesia

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Doug Palmer

2010-03-16T103621Z_11355208_GM1E63G1FMP01_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA

Barack Obama’s impersonator Ilham Anas of Indonesia poses in front of an image of U.S. President Barack Obama after being interviewed by Reuters TV in Obama’s former school, State Elementary School 01 Menteng, in Jakarta March 16, 2010. Obama is scheduled later this month to visit the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where he is a popular figure. Obama studied at State Elementary School 01 Menteng from 1970-1971.

REUTERS/Dadang Tri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes President Barack Obama’s visit next week to Indonesia will help spur reforms that boost trade with Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous nation.

“Economic nationalism, regulatory uncertainty and unresolved investment disputes give pause to American companies seeking to do business in Indonesia,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in a speech on Wednesday.

To increase trade, “it’s incumbent upon Indonesia to make market-oriented reforms that will make it a more attractive market, not just for U.S. companies but companies all around the world,” Locke said.

“Growing trade with Indonesia is a piece of the president’s broader plan to create jobs here at home by growing market access overseas.”

Obama is returning to the country where he spent part of his youth for talks in Jakarta with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a stop in Bali to meet civil society groups and urge further progress on democracy.

Indonesia — a majority Muslim nation of 230 million people — and the United States are expected to sign a “comprehensive partnership” agreement, which Locke said would be a “blueprint for cooperation on a whole host of issues.”

Two-way trade between the United States and Indonesia was just $18 billion last year, a tiny chunk of the $788 billion in trade the United States did with all Pacific Rim countries in 2009.

“In fact, Indonesia does less trade with the United States than some of its smaller, less populous ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand,” said Locke, who will be leading a clean energy trade mission to Indonesia in May.

The United States exported $5.1 billion of goods last year to Indonesia, led by civilian aircraft and farm goods such as soybeans, animal feeds and cotton.

U.S. imports from Indonesia were just $12.9 billion last year, included clothing and textile goods, furniture, electronics, computer accessories and coffee.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Indonesia just weeks after Obama but Locke downplayed the idea that the back-to-back trips were a demonstration of Washington and Beijing vying for influence.

“I don’t think these visits in any way were set up to compete against each other,” Locke said.

But Ernie Bower, director for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he did see a healthy competition between the United States and China for “hearts, minds and markets” in Southeast Asia.

China “really picked up its game” in Indonesia with help it provided during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and Obama’s trip helps set the stage for more U.S. involvement in a strategically important region, Bower said.

But Indonesia has a long way to go before it is ready to join a proposed regional free trade agreement with the United States, said Mark Orgill, manager for Indonesia at the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.

A much less ambitious trade deal between ASEAN and China already has raised concerns among Indonesia’s manufacturers, Orgill said.

The United States began talks this week on the proposed Transpacific Partnership pact with Australia, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, Peru, Vietnam and Brunei. Two other ASEAN countries, Malaysia and Thailand, have expressed interest in joining the talks.

“Indonesia fights battles at home” over moves to open its market, Orgill said.

Editing by John O’Callaghan

12-12

US Special Representative Favors “Friendship” With Indian Muslims

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Farah Pandith, United States’ first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, was here on a four-day visit to apparently “win over” the Indian Muslims and improve President Barack Obama administration’s image among them. Farah has come and gone (Feb 16-19), leaving many questions unanswered about the role such visits can really play in improving United States’ image among the Indian Muslims. Asserting that her visit was “not a popularity contest,” Farah said that it was an “effort to engage with people and strike partnerships to find a common ground of interest for the common good of all.”

Farah, an American of Indian origin, was born in Kashmir. It was her first visit to India as an US Special Representative, a new position created by Obama administration to improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world and also to actively “listen and respond” to their concerns in Europe, Africa and Asia. Sworn to this position last year on September 15, Farah has visited 12 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq and Kuwait. Her visits are a part of Obama administrations to reach out to Muslims dominated by “propaganda, stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations” about Washington.  This is the message Farah conveyed during her addresses in New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia University and India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC).

Farah played her part in displaying her consciousness about her religious identity as a Muslim and also in fulfilling the responsibility assigned to her in reaching out to Muslims across the world. She kept her head bowed as a cleric recited from the holy Quran at the function held at IICC. Farah began her brief address with the traditional Muslim greeting: “Asalaam Alaikum.” It was President Obama’s “vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” she said. “I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you,” she asserted.

Highlighting the significance of her position, Farah said: “Never before America had an envoy for Muslim communities. This is the first time an envoy for the Muslims was appointed. My job is to work with our embassies worldwide to engage with the Muslim communities and focus strongly on the new generation.” “Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to engage with Muslim communities around the world at the grassroots level, and to build and extend partnerships through the US embassies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. I have to look at out-of-the-box ways to engage, based on mutual respect. That is my job, my mandate,” she said.

“With one-fourth of the world’s population that is Muslim, of course our country (United States) wants to do as much as we can to build partnerships across the board,” Farah stated. “We can and we want to extend the partnership in a very strong way that will allow us to develop long-term relationship with Muslims all over the world,” she said.

Drawing attention to Islam being practiced in United States and the diversity there, Farah pointed to having learned reading holy Quran at a mosque there. She also tried convincing the audience that she was “this was not an effort to increase popularity of America by a few percentage points.” Nevertheless, while interacting with Indian Muslim leaders, she pointed to Obama administration being serious about working closely with Islamic world. This, she said, was marked by appointment of Indian born Rashid Hussain as envoy for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Obama’s advisory council for faith also includes Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago.

The US government can act as a “convener, facilitator and intellectual partner” and help forge partnerships on basis of common ideas and common goals, the benefits of which will be useful not only for Muslims, but everyone, Farah said. Elaborating on her mission to reach out to the young generation, she pointed out that 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30. “I will focus more on the young generation in Muslim world and I want to understand the diversity of Islam in different countries and communities as well,” she said.

Though Farah expressed that she was “interested in talking to the Facebook generation, the youth,” she evaded questions posed at Jamia University on United States’ foreign policy on issues that have bothered Muslims across the world. To a question regarding Israel-Palestine, she said: “That is not my job. I am not George Mitchell (US Mideast envoy).” On Washington’s policy regarding West Asia and Pakistan, Farah replied: “I am not Richard Holbrooke (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). It’s not my job to work on Kashmir or Pakistan.”

Irrespective of whether Farah succeeds in improving image of Obama administration among the Muslims, her own identity has certainly played some part in compelling the world to revise the stereotyped image they have of Muslim women. The Obama administration is apparently hopeful that Farah’s image as a “modern Muslim” will help win over the young generation. Suggesting this, Farah said: “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”

12-9

U.S., Turkey Launch New Trade, Investment Forum

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

2009-12-21T113419Z_2140208691_GM1E5CL1I6101_RTRMADP_3_EU-TURKEY

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis (L) talks to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a news conference at the European Union Council headquarters in Brussels December 21, 2009.    

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir  

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and NATO ally Turkey launched an initiative Monday aimed at boosting trade and investment ties, but said there were no plans for the two countries to negotiate a free trade agreement.

“We can … build on what is a good trade and commercial relationship and make it a much more robust one,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a press conference with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.

The initiative creates a new Cabinet-level forum to discuss ways to expand bilateral trade and investment flows and to try to resolve disputes when they arise, similar to one the United States has with China.

“This framework … will be an important vehicle for expanding trade and investment and creating new jobs for the workers and the people” of both countries, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

The announcement followed a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama told reporters he believed Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and long-time U.S. ally, could be an ‘important player’ in moving Iran toward resolving its dispute with the West over its nuclear program.

Erdogan said Turkey stands ready to do whatever it can to achieve a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue.

Turkey, which has applied for membership of the European Union, is the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner in the Muslim world and 27th overall.

U.S-Turkey trade has dropped from a record of nearly $15 billion in 2008, but there is every reason to expect the two countries can surpass that “when the world economy gets back on its feet,’’ Locke said.

Babacan said the two countries would seek suggestions from business on how to increase trade in areas ranging from energy to agriculture to military equipment.
He downplayed the chances of Ankara using the forum to press Washington to reduce high U.S. tariffs that Turkey faces on textiles and some other exports.

Kirk said the initiative was not intended as a stepping stone to talks with Turkey on a free trade agreement. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Chris Wilson)

11-53

Obama to Investment Guru Buffett: Hi Cuz

December 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama, who won political support and has sought advice from investment guru Warren Buffett, may now feel even closer to the world’s second richest man.

According to their family trees, the two men who at times shared the stage together during the 2008 presidential campaign are seventh cousins three times removed.

Genealogists at ancestry.com announced Tuesday that Obama and Buffett are related through a 17th century Frenchman named Mareen Duvall.

According to the online genealogists, Duvall — who immigrated to Maryland from France in the 1650s — is Obama’s 9th great grandfather and Buffett’s 6th great grandfather.

The discovery was made by accident when the same team of genealogists who had researched Obama’s family tree went on to investigate details about Buffett’s relatives.

“We recognized the name Duvall and it made us wonder if this was a connection,” said Anastasia Tyler, the lead researcher on the project. “So we started focusing on Duvall.”

“We’re always looking for a way to show how interesting family history is. Like this, when you start finding similarities in family trees,” Tyler said in an interview. “The tree leads you in directions you don’t expect.”

The family tree shows Obama related to Duvall through his mother Stanley Ann Dunham while Buffett is linked to Duvall through his father Howard Buffett.

Tyler called Duvall’s life a “rags-to-riches” story. He arrived in America as an indentured servant but by 1659 he had bought property in Maryland and became a planter and merchant and was considered a “country gentleman.”

“It’s quite an achievement,” Tyler said of Duvall’s rise in society. “You can see similarities to him in both (Obama’s and Buffett’s) lives.”

During the presidential campaign, Lynne Cheney said she found while tracing her family roots that her husband, then Vice President Dick Cheney, was a distant cousin of Obama’s.

Obama has also been found to have had German roots through his sixth great grandfather, and a connection to Ireland through his third great grandfather.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

A Talk with the Taliban

December 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

121109french
Former Taliban are part of the ongoing dialogue between the Karzai government and the Taliban in Pakistan. (Photo: Codepink / Flickr)

Obama has finally opted for troop reinforcement. But by evoking the beginning of a scheduled withdrawal 18 months from now, he has also incited the Karzai government to keep the channels of discussion with the Taliban open.

And what if the stabilization of Afghanistan could come only at this price? While Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan seems to sound the death knell for that option envisaged by the more cynical members of the American administration, those who don’t believe in a military solution in the country continue to militate in favor of a “discussion” with the enemy. Not with the “pragmatic” Taliban Hamid Karzai boasted of having been able to rally to his cause – and who are today considered traitors by the guerrilla – but with the most ideological fringe of the “students’ of religion” representatives, the Mullah Omar and Hezb-e-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. These are the ones who are inflicting losses on NATO’s forces and laying siege to Kabul. “If you want significant results, you have to talk to important people,” Norwegian diplomat and UN representative in the country Kai Eide declared the day before the elections to encourage discussions with the guerrilla movement’s leadership.

The idea is highly controversial. Its detractors explain that any attempt at dialogue would be considered a sign of weakness by the fundamentalist guerrilla at precisely the moment when the West is demonstrating the scope of its determination to pacify the country militarily. Didn’t Mullah Omar just violently reject the proposals for national reconciliation that President Karzai since his investiture has ceaselessly tried to engage him in? Nonetheless, Barack Obama has repeated that NATO’s troop withdrawal should begin in 18 months. Yet, nothing proves that the counterinsurgency strategy he has opted for will be a success in the meantime. Consequently, the Afghan president maintains all channels open and, far from official platforms, enemy leaders are talking to one another.

In spite of the fighting, meetings occur between the clandestine headquarters of the blind mullah and the Afghan government. From Pakistan to Kabul, intercessors see to it that messages are passed under the watchful eye of the Americans. Even American Defense Secretary Robert Gates has declared that, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, it would be necessary to come to the point of conducting a policy of a reconciliation with people who have killed American soldiers: “Isn’t that how wars always end?” he declared during a NATO meeting.

Maulvi Arsala Rahmani is one of those messengers. Under the Taliban regime, he was minister for religious affairs. Today, he has returned to the Afghan Senate. He receives people in his house in Kabul, where he is under good protection and spied on by several countries’ intelligence agents. Enveloped in an Uzbek coat lined in gray fur, he prays with fervor, as though better to reflect on the questions he is asked. To hear him tell it, he would like to reconcile everybody. For he likes Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and … Mullah Omar. He mentions his “friend, Osama” (bin Laden), whom he knew well in Sudan, then during the jihad. According to Rahmani, Mullah Baradar, the present Taliban operational commander, is a “good and honest man.” And he misses Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose armed groups are covering the south of the country with blood: “We always used to be together …” Nonetheless, he believes that the time has come for the guerrilla movement to dissociate itself from his “friend Osama.” But are the members of Mullah Omar’s choura (council of notables), with whom he is in contact, ready for that divorce? In his opinion, it’s not impossible. For, in spite of their military “success,” the Taliban, like all soldiers, would like to be able to go home. Moreover, and contrary to what has been suggested in Mullah Omar’s communiqués, it is sometimes the guerrilla leaders, and not the Afghan presidency, who take the initiative for these meetings, Maulvi Arsala Rahmani assures me. Last year, Mullah Baradar led a Taliban delegation to Kabul to talk with Karzai’s older brother, Qayyum.

Born to the same tribe as the Afghan president, Mullah Omar’s right hand man is supposed to be a more conciliating man than his mentor. Patient, charismatic, he has proved to be a redoubtable enemy for NATO’s troops. At the head of the Quetta choura in Pakistan, it is he who manages the war chest – the booty from kidnappings and trafficking – and who coordinates attacks. Above all, it is he who has been authorized to speak in the name of the man the insurgents consider the commander of the faithful: Omar. “Should there ever be discussions, he will be an indispensable interlocutor,” asserts Rahmani.

In Kabul, the former minister is sharing his home with another one of these “intermediaries” who sound out the Taliban and regularly meet with Barack Obama’s advisers. His beard is black, his turban, cream-colored: Pir Mohamed was the president of the University of Kabul under the Taliban regime: “Afghanistan is composed of several groups. No one should be excluded … That’s what I said to Holbrooke, who shares my point of view!” Repeating – for whatever purpose it might serve – that, at the time, he had tried several times to convince Mullah Omar to allow him to give girls a religious education, he asserts that today he has warned the White House special envoy against the new pacification strategy for the country: “Afghanistan is not Iraq. The Taliban come from very different origins. Mores come from Uzbekistan, Kandahar or Khost. And one may neither set the tribes against one another nor buy them: there are too many of them!”

Yet, is seems that the political leadership of the Taliban, tossing around between Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi, would like to put an end to its wanderings in Pakistan. That’s the sense of the messages from the Quetta choura and its representatives, Baradar and Mohamed Mansour, former chief education officer. The rebels would like to install themselves somewhere, then form a government-in-exile to elaborate the conditions for a negotiation with the Karzai government. Why not in Saudi Arabia where Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, has already tried to organize a meeting between the enemy sides? Then from Riyadh, the Taliban leadership could negotiate its own neutrality in exchange for a right to return, amnesty and participation in political life after the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Isn’t this scenario unrealistic or premature? Our intermediaries agree: it will not be easy to convince Westerners to guarantee a safe haven for the same people they’re fighting. But the two men insist on the necessity of cutting the guerrilla off from its Pakistani sanctuary. Even though they know Afghanistan will not be at peace until Pakistan agrees to it. “As long as Pakistan’s vital interests, such as the future of the Durand Line, are not taken into account, all discussions will fail,” explains Rahmani. According to him, the key to potential negotiations is in the hands of the Pakistani mullahs, themselves under ISI – the Pakistani secret services’ – control.  As are Mullah Fazel Rahman and Sami ul-Haq, who lead the coalition of Pakistani fundamentalist religious parties. “Before the Taliban, it is they who must be convinced to make peace, because today they control al-Qaeda and bin Laden and hold the future of the region in their hands …” On this point, at least, the former Taliban and Barack Obama come to the same conclusions.

Maulvi Rahmani

Religious affairs minister under the Taliban regime, he is a member of the Afghan Senate today. He has contacts within circles close to the Pakistani secret services.

Pir Mohamed

Former rector of Kabul University. He meets regularly with Richard Holbrooke and representatives of the Quetta choura.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef

He was the sole interface between the Taliban regime and the international community from 1996 to the end of 2001. He was imprisoned at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2005. He would like to see the Saudis play a role in future peace talks.

Wakil Muttawakil

Former foreign affairs minister for the Taliban, he played the role of intermediary between the Americans and Taliban groups in Kandahar and negotiated the conditions for surrender with the Americans at the fall of the regime.

11-52

What Lies Beneath the War in Afghanistan

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Eric Margolis, Sun Media

Truth is war’s first casualty. The Afghan war’s biggest untruth is, “we’ve got to fight terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them at home.”

Many North Americans still buy this lie because they believe the 9/11 attacks came directly from the Afghanistan-based al-Qaida and Taliban movements.

False. The 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany and Spain, and conducted mainly by U.S.-based Saudis to punish America for supporting Israel.

Taliban, a militant religious, anti-Communist movement of Pashtun tribesmen, was totally surprised by 9/11. Taliban received U.S. aid until May, 2001. The CIA was planning to use Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida to stir up Muslim Uighurs against Chinese rule, and Taliban against Russia’s Central Asian allies.

Al-Qaida only numbered 300 members. Most have been killed. A handful escaped to Pakistan. Only a few remain in Afghanistan. Yet President Barack Obama insists 68,000 or more U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida and prevent extremists from re-acquiring “terrorist training camps.”

This claim, like Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is a handy slogan to market war to the public. Today, half of Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Anti-American militants could more easily use Somalia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, North and West Africa, or Sudan. They don’t need remote Afghanistan. The 9/11 attacks were planned in apartments, not camps.

The United States should not be waging war on Taliban. However backwards and oafish its Pashtun tribesmen, they have no desire or interest in attacking America. Even less, Canada.

Taliban are the sons of the U.S.-backed mujahidin who defeated the Soviets in the 1980s. As I have been saying since 9/11, Taliban never was America’s enemy. Instead of invading Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. should have paid Taliban to uproot al-Qaida.

The Pashtun tribes want to end foreign occupation and drive out the Afghan Communists, who now dominate the U.S.-installed Kabul regime. But the U.S. has blundered into a full-scale war not just with Taliban, but with most of Afghanistan’s fierce Pashtun tribes, who comprise over half the population.

Obama is wrestling with widening the war. After eight years of military operations costing $236 billion US, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan just warned of the threat of “failure,” a.k.a. defeat. Canada has so far wasted $16 billion Cdn. on the war. Western occupation forces will be doomed if the Afghan resistance ever gets modern anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

The U.S. is sinking ever deeper into the South Asian morass. Washington is trying to arm-twist Pakistan into being more obedient and widening the war against its own independent-minded Pashtun tribes — wrongly called “Taliban.”

Washington’s incredibly ham-handed efforts to use $7.5 billion US to bribe Pakistan’s feeble, corrupt government and army, take control of military promotions, and get a grip on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, have Pakistan’s soldiers on the verge of revolt.

Obama has been under intense pressure from flag-waving Republicans, much of the media, and the hawkish national security establishment to expand the war. Israel’s supporters, including many Congressional Democrats, want to see the U.S. seize Pakistan’s nuclear arms and expand the Afghan war into Iran.

Obama should admit Taliban is not and never was a threat to the West; that the wildly exaggerated al-Qaida has been mostly eradicated; and that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is causing more damage to U.S. interests in the Muslim world — now 25% of all humanity — than Bin Laden and his few rag-tag allies. The bombing in Madrid and London, and conspiracy in Toronto, were all horribly wrongheaded protests by young Muslims against the Afghan war. We are not going to change the way Afghans treat their women by waging war on them, or bring democracy through rigged elections. I wish Obama would just declare victory in Afghanistan, withdraw western forces, and hand over security to a multi-national stabilization force from Muslim nations. Good presidents, like good generals, know when to retreat.

11-52

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