US Anger at Election Claims Prompt Karzai Call

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Agencies

2010-04-07T124306Z_01_BTRE63417OR00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-AFGHANISTAN-KARZAI

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a shura, or meeting, in Kandahar city April 4, 2010.

REUTERS/Golnar Motevalli

The United States has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s anti-foreigner outburst as “troubling” and “preposterous”, prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends, Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologise during a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, but expressed “surprise” at the furor over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.

The row came just a few days after President Barack Obama made an unannounced trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption and to demand progress on good governance, as Washington’s troop surge strategy unfolds against the Taliban.

The new confrontation will only raise doubts about the fragile relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, whom Washington is forced to consider a partner despite distaste for his political record.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s comments “troubling” and “cause for real and genuine concern”. Gibbs noted the huge US military and political resources – and sacrifices – committed to Afghanistan.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, meanwhile, described Karzai’s intervention as “preposterous”. US Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry also met with Karzai in person to seek clarification on his comments on Thursday.

The Afghan leader then initiated the call to Clinton and expressed “surprise that his comments had created what he called a stir,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Generally we were happy with the call and we’re moving on,” the official added.

Crowley called the conversation a “constructive” one as Washington and Kabul seek to defuse tense relations.

“President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” he said, adding that Karzai and Clinton “pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership”. But the Obama administration scrapped a planned Karzai visit to Washington last month after he gave himself full control over the electoral commission. In another snub to the United States, he then invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Afghanistan.

The Afghan leader drew fierce global condemnation for his speech on Thursday.

“There was fraud in presidential and provincial council elections – no doubt that there was a very widespread fraud, very widespread,” Karzai told Afghan election commission workers in Kabul.

“But Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud,” he added, accusing other countries of interfering in his country’s domestic affairs.

He also claimed that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as “invaders” – terminology used by the Taliban – and the nine-year insurgency as “a national resistance”. Afghan analysts suggested Karzai had lost control after being criticised by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and noted the statements could signal a shift in foreign policy.

Afghan soldiers killed

German troops based in north Afghanistan mistakenly killed at least five Afghan soldiers, NATO forces said on Saturday, hours after the Germans lost three of their own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents, Reuters reported.

A statement from NATO said that on Friday evening a unit of German soldiers was approached by two unmarked civilian vehicles which failed to stop when troops signalled them “using a variety of methods” in the northern province of Kunduz.

“The force eventually fired on the vehicles killing at least five Afghan soldiers … Initial reports indicate that the two civilian cars were part of an Afghan national army patrol en route to Kunduz,” NATO-led forces said in a statement.

A NATO spokesman later said it was unclear if the vehicles were civilian and the alliance was investigating the matter.

Hours before the incident, three German soldiers were killed in a gunfight with insurgents. The unit of German troops that killed the Afghan soldiers were on their way to the scene of that gunfight, when they came across the Afghan soldiers, NATO said.

Earlier, the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, said he had been to a hospital in the province and saw the bodies of six Afghan soldiers who had been killed in the incident, which happened near Char Dara district.

Opinion polls show most Germans oppose Berlin’s involvement in the Afghan war.

Opposition spiked after a German-ordered US air strike in a village in Kunduz in September killed scores of people, at least 30 of them civilians according to the Afghan government, the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War II.

Germany is the third-largest NATO contributor to the war with some 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, most in northern Kunduz where Taliban attacks and strength have increased over the past year. Germany’s parliament has agreed to send a further 850 soldiers.

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Tariq Ramadan to visit Detroit MuslimFest

April 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

tariq-ramadan Tariq Ramadan will be the keynote speaker on April 11 in Detroit. He will address a Sound Vision benefit speaking on the topic of “Jihad within young hearts: Toward positive engagement”.

The event organizer, Sound Vision, says that young Muslims today face tremendous pressures. These pressures arise from a variety of sources: adjusting to a culture different from their parents’ culture, living and working in environments often hostile to Islamic values, facing outright prejudice that results from the constant negative portrayal of Muslims in the media. Muslim youth are among the least happy and the most angry among American youth groups, according to one Gallup poll; 16% Muslim youth participate in binge drinking; and 29% use some other name to hide their faith.

Speaking for Sound Vision Quaid Saifee said that the April 11 benefit offers a multimedia presentations on these topics along with what is being slated as Mini MuslimFest. It will feature live Adam mascot which is the main character in children’s Adam’s World series produced by Sound Vision. The Sunday event will take place in Burton Manor, Livonia, MI.

This is the first time Tariq Ramadan is visiting Detroit area. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently ended US visa ban on Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan entering the country.

The State department spokesman Darby Holladay said “Both the president and the secretary of state have made it clear that the US government is pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

2004, Tariq Ramadan was to join his tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana when his visa was revoked.

The event will focus on the challenges faced by Muslim youth according to the latest Gallup poll and Columbia university research and will offer some concrete suggestions about what the community must do. For more information visit www.SoundVision.com/TariqRamadan

—-contact: Quaid Saifee: 586-944-7880

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Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society’s support for the people of Gaza. Nearly 1,400 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of their governments’ support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) that support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Team Visits Underground Wall Construction

The US government continues to assist Egypt in building an underground wall to cut off tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt. According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, three US military personnel from the US embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the barrier project. According to security sources in Rafah, visits by US military have been taking place monthly.

In a press conference this week in Washington, US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, “What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped.” Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

In December 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.

Deadliest Week Since Last Year’s Israeli Attack

Last week, January 6-12, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the January 18, 2009, ceasefire that ended Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed. Another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis were injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On January 8, 2010, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian was hurt in a separate airstrike. In two other incidents, on January 6 and 10, Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of them in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone Into Gaza

On January 7 this year, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with “smugglers” in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. This doubled the buffer zone along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters, but Israeli forces have opened “warning” fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened “warning” fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza’s coast, forcing them to return to shore.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on January 6 and 9 this year, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no one was hurt, but property damage was reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youths Burned in Tunnel Fire

In January 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it. At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the “Cast Lead” Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16 this year, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connecting the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza. Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy. However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, plus tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day.

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010. Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea. According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats will keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. “It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at,” the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14-kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza. The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must Go Through Red Crescent

On January 6, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt’s delay in allowing the aid convoy Viva Palestina into Gaza, as well as Egypt’s plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injured, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies.

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza will go through the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No Internationals Allowed Into Gaza

During December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30. During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allowed in for 24 hours. Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations to assist in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January. Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not is tragically being strangled.

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Deputy Says Bin Laden Truce Offers Still Valid

August 6, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Maamoun Youssef (AP)

CAIRO—Osama bin-Laden’s deputy said in a video message released Monday that the al-Qaida leader’s offers of a truce with the U.S. and Europe remained on the table, though he ridiculed President Barack Obama as “the new face of the same old crimes.”

In a video posted on an Islamic militant Web site, al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, scorned the American president over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nonetheless, al-Zawahri said “fair” truces offered by bin-Laden were still valid.

In 2004, bin-laden offered a truce to European countries that do not attack Muslims. Two years later, he offered the American people a “long-term truce” without specifying the conditions, though in that same audio recording he also warned that his fighters were preparing new attacks in the United States.

“These offers were dealt with impolitely but are still valid, and the offer is fair,” al-Zawahri said. “But they (Americans) want a relationship with us based on suppression.”

“Obama is like a wolf whose fangs tear your flesh and whose paws slit your face and then he calls on you to talk about peace,” he said.

Al-Zawahri has been critical of Obama since his election, even releasing a message that referred to him as a “house negro,” a slur for a black subservient to whites.

In the message released Monday by al-Qaida’s media operation, Al-Sahab, al-Zawahri said Obama is seeking to mislead the Muslim world with calls for better ties and was doing so because wrath from the Muslim world had inflicted catastrophes upon America.

“We are not idiots to accept meaningless flexible words. Obama is the new face with the same old crimes,” he said.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday that the United States believes it has “turned a tide” in the struggle against extremists. He spoke of success in Afghanistan, “difficult as it is,” and “meaningful steps” by the Pakistani government against al-Qaida and others.

“This is not a struggle that al-Qaida is destined to win,” Crowley said. “As to a truce, I have no further comment.”

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Obama Administration Renews Sanctions on Syria

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Pleming

2009-05-07T125052Z_01_SYR06_RTRMDNP_3_SYRIA-US

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) meets Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, in Damascus May 7, 2009. The portrait on the wall shows Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Friday he had renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests, despite sending two envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties.

In a letter notifying Congress of his decision, Obama accused Damascus of supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts in trying to stabilize Iraq.

“For these reasons I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions,” Obama said in the letter to Congress.

The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush and which are up for renewal annually, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system.

While the United States has made clear it wants better ties with Syria, which appears on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the renewal of the sanctions shows it is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement.

“We need to see concrete steps from the Syrian government to move in another direction,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

Obama signed the executive order extending the sanctions on Thursday, shortly after two U.S. envoys met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Damascus.
The visit by senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman and White House National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro was their second since Obama took office in January and started talking to Damascus.

Tough Words

The two officials discussed Syria’s role in Iraq, where Washington has accused Damascus of allowing fighters to cross into its neighbor, and Lebanon, where the United States says Syria plays a destabilizing role.

“Part of Feltman’s trip to the region was trying to get the Syrians to take some steps that will move us toward a better relationship,” Wood said. “But there is a lot that Syria needs to do.”

The United States wants a commitment from Syria that it will not interfere with a June election in neighboring Lebanon, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last month to show U.S. support.

The administration hopes direct talks with Syria, which will continue despite the sanctions, will weaken its ties to Iran.

Syria and Iran are the main backers of Hizbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim political and guerrilla group that fought a war against Israel in 2006 and has representatives in the Lebanese government and parliament.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad indicated this week he did not plan to change course. After meeting Iran’s president in Damascus, he said their strategic relationship contributed to Middle East stability.

The administration is reviewing whether to send back an ambassador to Damascus but a senior U.S. official said this week a decision had not yet been taken.

The U.S. ambassador was pulled out of Syria after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria denies any involvement in the killing but the United States pointed fingers at Damascus.

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US to Iraq: You Need Uncle Sam

July 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Interpress Service

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A U.S. soldier from the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment holds his weapon next to a villager during a joint operation with Iraqi police near Muqtadiyah in Diyala province July 24, 2008.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

WASHINGTON – Instead of moving toward accommodating the demand of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for a timetable for United States military withdrawal, the George W Bush administration and the US military leadership are continuing to pressure their erstwhile client regime to bow to the US demand for a long-term military presence in the country.

The emergence of this defiant US posture toward the Iraqi withdrawal demand underlines just how important long-term access to military bases in Iraq has become to the US military and national security bureaucracy in general.

From the beginning, the Bush administration’s response to the Maliki withdrawal demand has been to treat it as a mere aspiration that the US need not accept.

The counter-message that has been conveyed to Iraq from a multiplicity of US sources, including former Central Command (CENTCOM) commander William Fallon, is that the security objectives of Iraq must include continued dependence on US troops for an indefinite period. The larger, implicit message, however, is that the US is still in control, and that it – not the Iraqi government – will make the final decision.

That point was made initially by State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos, who stated flatly on July 9 that any US decision on withdrawal “will be conditions-based."

In a sign that the US military is also mounting pressure on the Iraqi government to abandon its withdrawal demand, Fallon wrote an op-ed piece published in the New York Times on July 20 that called on Iraqi leaders to accept the US demand for long-term access to military bases.

Fallon, who became something of a folk hero among foes of the Bush administration’s policy in the Middle East for having been forced out of his CENTCOM position for his anti-aggression stance, takes an extremely aggressive line against the Iraqi withdrawal demand in the op-ed. The piece is remarkable not only for its condescending attitude toward the Iraqi government, but for its peremptory tone toward it.

Fallon is dismissive of the idea that Iraq can take care of itself without US troops to maintain ultimate control. “The government of Iraq is eager to exert its sovereignty,” Fallon writes, “but its leaders also recognize that it will be some time before Iraq can take full control of security.”

Fallon insists that “the government of Iraq must recognize its continued, if diminishing reliance on the American military." And in the penultimate paragraph he demands “political posturing in pursuit of short-term gains must cease”.

Fallon, now retired from the military, is obviously serving as a stand-in for US military chiefs for whom the public expression of such a hardline stance against the Iraqi withdrawal demand would have been considered inappropriate.

But the former US military proconsul in the Middle East, like his active-duty colleagues, appears to actually believe that the US can intimidate the Maliki government. The assumption implicit in his op-ed is that the US has both the right and power to preempt Iraq’s national interests to continue to build its military empire in the Middle East.

As CENTCOM chief, Fallon had been planning on the assumption that the US military would continue to have access to military bases in both Iraq and Afghanistan for many years to come. A July 14 story by Washington Post national security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus said that the army had requested US$184 million to build power plants at its five main bases in Iraq.

The five bases, Pincus reported, are among the “final bases and support locations where troops, aircraft and equipment will be consolidated as the US military presence is reduced."

Funding for the power plants, which would be necessary to support a large US force in Iraq within the five remaining bases, for a longer-term stay, was eliminated from the military construction bill for fiscal year 2008. Pincus quoted a congressional source as noting that the power plants would have taken up to two years to complete.

The plan to keep several major bases in Iraq is just part of a larger plan, on which Fallon himself was working, for permanent US land bases in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Fallon revealed in congressional testimony last year that Bagram air base in Afghanistan is regarded as “the centerpiece for the CENTCOM master plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."

As Fallon was writing his op-ed, the Bush administration was planning for a video conference between Bush and Maliki, evidently hoping to move the obstreperous Maliki away from his position on withdrawal. Afterward, however, the White House found it necessary to cover up the fact that Maliki had refused to back down in the face of Bush’s pressure.

It issued a statement claiming that the two leaders had agreed to “a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals” but that the goals would include turning over more control to Iraqi security forces and the “further reduction of US combat forces from Iraq” – but not a complete withdrawal.

But that was quickly revealed to be a blatant misrepresentation of Maliki’s position. As Maliki’s spokesman Ali Dabbagh confirmed, the “time horizon” on which Bush and Maliki had agreed not only covered the “full handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi forces in order to decrease American forces” but was to “allow for its [sic] withdrawal from Iraq."

An adviser to Maliki, Sadiq Rikabi, also told the Washington Post that Maliki was insisting on specific timelines for each stage of the US withdrawal, including the complete withdrawal of troops.

The Iraqi prime minister’s July 19 interview with the German magazine Der Speigel, in which he said that Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s 16-month timetable “would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes”, was the Iraqi government’s bombshell in response to the Bush administration’s efforts to pressure it on the bases issue.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack emphasized at his briefing on Tuesday that the issue would be determined by “a conclusion that’s mutually acceptable to sovereign nations."

That strongly implied that the Bush administration regarded itself as having a veto power over any demand for withdrawal and signals an intention to try to intimidate Maliki.

Both the Bush administration and the US military appear to harbor the illusion that the US troop presence in Iraq still confers effective political control over its clients in Baghdad.

However, the change in the Maliki regime’s behavior over the past six months, starting with the prime minister’s abrupt refusal to go along with General David Petraeus’ plan for a joint operation in the southern city of Basra in mid-March, strongly suggests that the era of Iraqi dependence on the US has ended.

Given the strong consensus on the issue among Shi’ite political forces of all stripes, as well as Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shi’ite spiritual leader, the Maliki administration could not back down to US pressure without igniting a political crisis.

[Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.]

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