Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ex-aide criticises Bush over Iraq

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Ex-aide criticises Bush over Iraq

Former White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said US President George W Bush was not "open and forthright" on Iraq and rushed to an unnecessary war.
Scott McClellan announces his resignation, flanked by George W Bush, April 2006
Scott McClellan was a member of Mr Bush's inner circle for years

In a book to be published on Monday, Mr McClellan says Mr Bush "veered terribly off course". He also attacks the White House's handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Mr McClellan was a long-standing member of Mr Bush's inner circle, having worked for him when he was Texas governor before following him to the White House.

Important developments and international trends

All Asian nations are vying for influence in Africa and the Middle East. The US has just squandered trillions of dollars in the Middle East, and done precious little in 8 years to stake a foothold in resource rich Africa, only to find itself increasingly pushed to the side (regional peace negotiations), denied (twice by Fahd for oil), and now needing to shake off the international pariah image (deserved or not). Meanwhile, economic tectonics slowly begin to realign the immediate future.

Here are two articles in two days showing the growing interest in Africa and the Middle East:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mideast negotiations now bypassing Washington


WASHINGTON — In a week of dramatic developments in the Middle East, the most dramatic development of all may have been the fact that the United States, long considered the region's indispensable player, was missing in action.

As its closest allies cut deals with their adversaries this week over the Bush administration's opposition, Washington was largely reduced to watching.

More painful for President Bush, friends he's cultivated — and spent heavily on — in Lebanon and Iraq asked the United States to remain in the background, underlining how politically toxic an association with the U.S. can be for Arab leaders.

Over the past few days:

  • The Lebanese government, which has received $1.3 billion and political support from the Bush administration, compromised with the Hezbollah-led opposition, giving the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group, which Washington considers a terrorist organization, a greater role in running the country.
  • Israel ignored U.S. objections and entered indirect peace talks with Syria through Turkey, another longtime U.S. ally.
  • The U.S.-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki deployed military forces to Baghdad's Sadr City slum under an agreement that specifically excluded U.S. troops.
  • Saudi Arabia, a crucial oil supplier and long a major buyer of U.S. weapons, is quietly closing what could be a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Russia, according to a U.S. defense official.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Israel says it is holding peace talks with Syria

By MATTI FRIEDMAN, Associated Press Writer

Israel and Syria on Wednesday said they were holding indirect peace talks through Turkish mediators — the first official confirmation of contacts between the longtime enemies.

In statements issued minutes apart, the two governments said they "have declared their intent to conduct these talks in good faith and with an open mind," with a goal of reaching "a comprehensive peace."

Both nations thanked Turkey for its help, and Turkey issued its own confirmation. Muslim Turkey has good ties with both Israel and Syria.

There have been reports in recent months of new Israeli-Syrian contacts through Turkey, and Turkey's foreign minister said earlier this month that his country was trying to bring the sides together. But this was the first official confirmation that contacts have resumed.

An Israeli government official said Olmert's chief of staff and diplomatic adviser have been in Turkey since Monday. "In parallel their Syrian counterparts are in Turkey as well," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks. He declined to discuss the substance of the talks.

Israel and Syria are bitter enemies whose attempts at reaching peace have repeatedly failed, most recently in 2000. The nations have fought three wars, and their forces have also clashed in Lebanon.

Peace with Syria would require Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed. Today, the heights are home to 18,000 Israelis and roughly the same number of Druse Arabs who regard themselves as Syrian nationals. Syrian and Israeli forces are separated by U.N. peacekeepers.

A committee representing Israeli settlers on the Golan said Olmert's move "put the State of Israel's survival at risk."

"The people of Israel will not support such a deluded and irresponsible move, which would hand over such a vital Israeli strategic asset to the Arab axis of evil," the Golan Residents Council said.

Israelis generally regard the Golan as an important buffer against Syrian attack.

A Golan withdrawal would be extremely controversial among Israelis, and it could be difficult for a weakened leader like Olmert, whose already low popularity has been battered by a recent corruption investigation, to win public support for such a move. Peace talks with Syria also could divert attention from newly relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which aim to reach an agreement by the end of the year.

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed news of the Israel-Syria contacts. "We hope that the two sides will reach peace," he said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also said the Palestinians welcomed the latest news. "We want to reach a comprehensive peace and therefore we support talks between Israel and Syria," he said.

Israel, meanwhile, has demanded that Syria — which offers refuge to militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad and supports the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah — distance itself from them, and from its Iranian ally, as a condition for talks. That condition appears to have been dropped.

Last September, Israeli warplanes carried out an attack on Syria, targeting an installation that the U.S. has said was an unfinished nuclear reactor built by North Korea. And in February, a top Hezbollah commander was assassinated in the Syrian capital in an attack widely assumed to have been engineered by Israel.

U.S.-mediated talks between the two countries broke down in 2000 because of disagreements over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. The main point of contention concerns a narrow strip of land along the Sea of Galilee, which Israel wants to keep to ensure its control of vital water supplies.

The latest round of contacts began in February 2007, when Olmert visited Turkey, Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said.

Stuart Tuttle, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Israel, said the U.S. was not directly involved in the talks.

U.S. relations with Syria have been frosty for years because of Syria's meddling in Lebanon, support for militant groups in the Palestinian territories and Iraq and ties with Iran.

The announcement comes as Olmert finds himself mired in yet another corruption probe — the fifth investigation into his conduct since he took office in 2006. His dismal approval ratings have sparked widespread speculation about his ability to clinch a deal with the Palestinians or even survive in office much longer.

Opposition lawmakers charged the new announcement was designed to divert attention from Olmert's legal woes.

"Evidently the prime minister is so corrupt that he is not only taking cash money in envelopes but he is ready to trade the Golan Heights and our most vital interests in an attempt to save himself from criminal investigation," said lawmaker Yuval Steinitz of the hardline Likud Party.

Political scientist Efraim Inbar suggested the announcement might be linked to Olmert's current political woes and the apparent deadlock with the Palestinians.

"He might be using it as a ploy to divert public attention from his troubles and perhaps bring forward elections," said Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

"He has failed with the Palestinians and he might be romancing the Syrians to pressure the Palestinians to reach an agreement," he said.

In Olmert's defense, Yoel Hasson of the prime minister's Kadima Party said he was only doing what other Israeli governments had done in the past. "As a prime minister, he should do what he can to try to achieve peace and to try to open the negotiations with Syria," Hasson said, adding that a final agreement should be subject to a national referendum.

The Israeli government official who spoke with The Associated Press said the talks with Syria "will not be at the expense of the Palestinian track."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Karmapa in America '08

On Saturday, May 17, 2008 I was greatly blessed to attend together with my family the discourse of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Here is the report on this day, that appears on the website of His Holiness:

Today, American Buddhism saw yet another historic occasion revealed, as His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje, gave his first ever public dharma teaching on American soil. Speaking from the stage of the Hammerstein Ballroom, at which he gave one morning and one afternoon talk, His Holiness provided a lively, humorous, and down-to-earth description of “Awakening the Heart of Enlightenment,” discussing topics such as developing a stable practice even while leading a busy lifestyle, realizing the inseparability of oneself and others, and working gently and playfully with our own minds.

His Holiness’s second talk was preceded by a musical tribute from the American rock ‘n’ roll legend Lou Reed, who began his brief set with an acoustic rendition of his hit, “Perfect Day.” For the thousands of members of the sold-out audience at the Hammerstein who received the historic nectar of His Holiness’s first U.S. teachings, the day was perfect, indeed.

In the evening, His Holiness was the guest of honor at a dinner offered by the local Tibetan Association, which was led in hosting His Holiness by Kalon Tashi Wangdi, Representative to the Americas of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Afterward, at Hunter College in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, His Holiness kindly bestowed the empowerment of the deity Hayagriva upon an assembly of the local Tibetan community.

To understand a bit more about the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and learn, for example what is the relationship of this young man to the better known His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, please read this brief and helpful exposition.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Callenges from President Bush's speech at the World Economic Forum in Egypt

On the final leg of his President Bush's latest Middle East tour, he addressed world leaders in at the World Economic Summit in Egypt. There he pressed Arab leaders to embrace democray. In that same speech he declared "All nations in the region must stand together in confronting Hamas, which is attempting to undermine efforts at peace with continued acts of terror and violence."

The Palestinian elections, while conducted under military occupation, were different than those in Iraq. The process was created and implemented overwhelmingly by Palestinians themselves, voter turn-out was high, and appears more or less free of intimidation. The most significant impediment was Israel's refusal to allow campaigning of Hamas and other parties in occupied East Jerusalem, and its severe limits on who could vote within the city. But there is no indication yet that those problems had a significant impact on the result. (link here <-- click)

Other democratically elected governments that invite confusion in US activism and nation-building having just democracy as its raison-detre include Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, Hugo Chavez, and others.

We have come to a point in political history in which the term Democracy no longer functions as a cure-all to guide foreign policy and the world of international relations. Political science must begin to treat the question of domestic and international relations, as well as structures of domestic leadership with greater nuance, and seek to provide their findings to policy makers.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Important information on the Bush Knesset speech, beyond the news of his inappropriate foray into domestic partisan politics on foreign soil

President Bush, for some reason persists in visiting the Middle East where he continues to rack up points on the scorecard of rebuffs, embarrassment, and indignity. Once again, (didn't I just watch this program) King Fahd spit in Mr. Bush's beggars bowl, once again violence raged all around the occasion of the visit, and once again militancy defined Mr. Bush's approach to the region.

President Bush spoke in the Knesset on the occasion of Israel's 60th birthday and much happened there. One of the things that happened embroiled the president in domestic presidential politics, which then dominated the news of the speech, distracting Americans from other important information.

Here are more things we should know about this speech in addition to the "appeasement bomb."
Bush visit to Israel revives talk of a strike on Iran

Israel's Army Radio reported Friday that the possibility of an American strike on Iran was raised in private discussions during Bush's visit.

And Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that the Israeli prime minister and American president were "on the same page" on the issue of Iran.

"Both Israel and the United States agree that tangible steps have to be taken, that we cannot sit idly by and see Iran develop a nuclear weapon and that the international community has an obligation to take tangible steps to prevent that from happening," said Regev.

Meanwhile, Bush practically ignored a central foreign policy goal for his final year: to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that the president himself launched in Annapolis, Md., last November....

Two conservative religious lawmakers walked out during a speech by Olmert when he raised the subject of ceding land to the Palestinians.

One of them suggested that Bush is a stronger Zionist than Olmert. Olmert should "learn from the president of the United States what Zionism is," Israeli lawmaker Zvi Hendel said in a statement after walking out of the session as Bush looked on. Had Bush broached the issue, some analysts said, he could have been greeted with hisses, catcalls or even a similar walk-out protest....

At the same time, Bush's hesitancy to push the Israelis in the peace talks provoked three Arab-Israeli lawmakers to raise a "We shall overcome" sign when Bush started speaking....

Read the entire article here (<--click)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Belief and Charity in a World of Religions

Click here (<-- click) to read this article

This article appears in this month's issue of the Mission Herald, the denominational newspaper of the national baptist convention.

It speaks particularly to Christian believers, but the essential truths regarding strong personal and particular faith and interfaith consciousness can apply universally for believers of all faiths.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Remarkable artists

Here are two artists at work

Both are true and real (this site explains the work of the second artist)


Friday, May 9, 2008

Important early article on the future of Israel

The LATimes-WaPo news service published an important article in today's Gulf News:
Some consider possibility of a 'shared state' for Palestinians and Jews

Majorities on both sides dismiss the current US-backed peace talks as futile. And a small but growing number of moderate Palestinians contends that Israel's terms for independence offer less than they could gain in a single democratic state combining Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Please read the entire article here

The mere mention of such a prospect is naturally radical and at its outset draws the virulent posturing of ideologues, but an ideal of harmonizing people with a vision toward a shared and prosperous future has some pleasant appeal.

US reputation will need repair

KARACHI, (Dawn): US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson has said that the depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, especially in the middle class, has surprised her because Pakistan’s long-term interests are aligned with “ours and with those of other western countries”.
By Sabihuddin Ghausi

This article quoted above reveals the uphill battle facing US former administrations. The United States has been an invaluable ally and supporter of Pakistan for decades. Yet the assumptions about US intentions and how it has related to Pakistan has deteriorated even among the educated and the middle class who if any should be the first to understand and recognize the importance of close relationships with the United States.

I recommend to read this article as part of recognizing the ground for upcoming foreign policy. Ambassador Patterson, who represents this current administration is well represented in her efforts to stand for our the good in America, but the decay of our standing in the world under the militarism and questionable human rights decisions of this administration also is interesting to read in this balanced report. One still sees, even in her sound and careful efforts with the press, the predominance of military mindedness in the current US approach to its foreign relations.

Guantanamo Bay has only just begun to haunt the United States

The 70% of Americans who have gifted President W Bush with the highest disapproval ratings of any US president in polled history (going back to 1930), including higher than Richard M. Nixon immediately prior to his resignation, tend to focus on the invasion of Iraq as their greatest point of regret.

It is my view that decisions on the periphery of the invasion are far more damaging to the United States, decisions by this administration that deprived America of its 200 year earned moral status. It is the recussitation of America's efforts to be a good nation that is most fully required of the current president's successor.

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Pentagon Drops Post in Pakistan for Top General

WASHINGTON — When the Pentagon announced in March that Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood would become the senior American officer based in Pakistan, it reflected the military’s aim to put a crisis-tested veteran in a critical job at a pivotal time in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

But nearly two months later, the military has quietly canceled the assignment of General Hood, a 33-year Army veteran who was excoriated in the Pakistani news media for one of his previous jobs: commander of the United States prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The decision to withdraw General Hood’s assignment has not been announced, but it appears to reflect the widening shadow that the military prison at Guantánamo is casting over American foreign policy.
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