S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Foreign news sources report from the Middle East -

Iraq remains in chaos and Palestine's leaders are attempting to establish a unity government without much help from the United States. Stories in the BBC News, Financial times, International Herald Tribune, and Aljazeera reveal that Iraq remains primarily a military operation, with little in the way of U.S diplomatic efforts there or elsewhere in the region.
Militia harassed & Iraq army is late- The BBC News reports the lastest news from Baghdad is the arrest of a Deputy Minister, reportedly connected to the cleric Moqtada al Sadr, as well as the latest leadership efforts from the Iraqi Prime Minister. Quoting from the story,
US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad have arrested the deputy health minister during a raid at his offices. . . He is accused of aiding Shia militiamen and using ambulances to move weapons, a ministry source told the BBC.
On Wednesday Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urged his military commanders to speed up preparations for the new security measures in Baghdad. He said a delay in implementing the US-backed plan had started to give a negative message.
Allies remain skeptical about our war in Iraq - The Financial Times has revealed that French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is weighing in on the U.S. decision to escalate the war in Iraq. To quote,

Violence in Iraq will continue to worsen until all foreign troops are pulled out, Dominique de Villepin has warned, dismissing as “absurd” the idea that an enlarged US force could bring stability and peace to the country.
. . . However, Mr de Villepin said all domestic, regional, and foreign parties in Iraq had a long-term interest in preventing the country’s downward spiral into civil war.
. . . He also warned the international community was “lacking imagination” in its attempts to stop Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme. “Iran with nuclear military capacity is unacceptable,” he said.
Diplomacy is not in the lead in the new "strategy" for Iraq. The State Department has had trouble getting anyone to serve in that war-torn country. And the military continues to claim that there is no military solution without diplomacy. Two stories in the International Herald Tribune report that the military and diplomatic arms of the administration are publicly at odds over the next steps to be taken in Iraq. To quote from one of the articles (emphasis mine):
Many U.S. employees have outright refused repeated requests that they go to Iraq, while others have demanded that they be assigned only to Baghdad and not be sent outside the more secure Green Zone, which includes the American Embassy and Iraqi government ministries. And while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice maintained Wednesday that State Department employees were "volunteering in large numbers" for difficult posts, including Iraq, several department employees said that those who had signed up tended to be younger, more entry-level types, and not experienced, seasoned diplomats.
The reluctance highlights a problem with the administration's new strategy for Iraq, which calls on American diplomats to take challenges on a scale unmatched anywhere else in the world, when the lack of security on the ground outside the Green Zone makes it one of the last places people, particularly those with families, want to go.
. . . The issue flared this week when Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified at a Senate hearing that he shared the concerns of officers who complained about a request from Rice's office that military personnel temporarily fill more than one-third of 350 new jobs in Iraq that the State Department is supposed to be responsible for. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that senior military officials were upset at the request and told President George W. Bush and Gates that the new Iraq strategy could fail unless more civilian agencies stepped forward quickly to carry out plans for reconstruction and political development.
. . . The complaints from the Pentagon are part of long-simmering tensions between the Pentagon and the State Department over who is responsible for what in Iraq, The differences go back to the months before the invasion, when State employees complained that they were being cut out of the postwar planning by a Pentagon bent on doing everything itself.
"There's some outrage that the collective capacity of American reconstruction capability was ignored prior to the war," said one State Department employee who is learning Arabic before deploying to the Middle East. "And now we are expected to clean up the mess."
"Quartet" talks and EU head tours the Middle East - The Quartet (U.S., Russia, the EU, and the UN) met on February 2 in Washington, with little coming out of the meeting besides a typical statement (see reference below). Next the President of the EU, Germany's Cancellor Angela Merkel began touring the Middle East, talking with leaders about the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Aljazeera has the (2/5/07) story, from which I quote:

Before heading to Riyadh on Sunday, Chancellor Merkel held talks in Egypt with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, and Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, who stressed the need to act quickly if progress is going to be made.
. . . In Riyadh, Merkel met King Abdullah for more than an hour for talks that were described by officials in the German delegation as taking place in a "good atmosphere".
. . . Merkel, who has made the revival of Middle East peace efforts a goal of Germany's turn at the six-month rotating European Union presidency, is on a four-day Middle East tour. She also will visit the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
The Palestinians headed for Mecca - Aljazeera's article details the Mecca peace talks between rival factions from Palestine, quoting a Hamas leader who vows, "They must not fail." And Hamas and Fatah have indeed been in meetings in Mecca, according to the Financial Times. Quoting from the article,
Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president, arrived in the Islamic holy city of Mecca on Tuesday for what officials depicted as a last-ditch effort to end factional fighting and a crippling Western embargo.
. . . Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister who is based in the Gaza Strip, were due to arrive in Mecca on Tuesday afternoon.
They were expected to perform pilgrimage at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, before beginning talks in the evening which are expected to continue on Wednesday.
. . . Azzam al-Ahmad, senior aide to Mr Abbas, said the talks would aim to persuade Hamas to accept the programme of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which would involve an implicit Hamas recognition of Israel that could end the aid blockade.
“This won’t contradict the requirements for lifting the siege . . . I’m sure once Hamas honours PLO agreements the Quartet will not be asking Hamas to recognise Israel any more,” he said, referring to a bloc of Middle East peace mediators including the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. [*]
Mecca talks into second day - Abbas, Meshaal and Haniya are still talking. The BBC News carried the latest good news on the discussions. To quote,

Leaders of Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas are to continue crisis talks for a second day in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca.
They are trying to negotiate forming a national unity government and resolve differences that have threatened to ignite a civil war.
Officials from both sides have said they will stay in Mecca until an agreement is reached.
Meanwhile the State Department continues its ineffectual Middle East efforts with bluster about Iran. U.S. has urged Europe to do more against Iran. A (2/7/07) article in the Financial Times explained:

The US on Wednesday night voiced its growing frustration over the failure of European governments to toughen financial sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
Differences over the sanctions between Washington and European governments threaten to open a new transatlantic division over how to deal with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, which have until now been papered over.
. . . Mr [Gregory] Schulte [US Ambassador to the IAEA] said Europe should use “the full range of non- military measures at its disposal” to direct political, economic, communications and other non-military pressure at Iran’s leadership and those who influenced them.
His remarks suggested that bolstering economic and financial sanctions against Iran could avoid military action, which the US has refused to rule out.
Congress has heavily weighed in on Iraq, though it had been politically contentious and difficult.

"Senate vote blocks Iraq plan debate" - is the headline linked to Aljazeera's version of the Senate story. And it turns out that a few Republicans are fed up with the stalemated Senate debate, according to Steve Clemons at The Washington Note (5:15 P.M. yesterday). To quote the opening paragraphs,
Seven Republican Senators -- seven renegade samurai, or ronin --- have essentially blasted in a letter just prepared in the last hour both the Democratic and Republican leadership for behind-the-scenes gamesmanship that undermined a floor debate about America's options in Iraq.
While American citizens saw a procedural motion to move to "debate" the Warner-Levin Iraq War Resolution lose a 49-47 vote, what they did not see was a snarling, nasty tug-of-war between Reid and Durbin on one side and McConnell and Lott on the other that ripped the guts out of any possible comity needed to get to that debate.
The House of Representatives is doing oversight. Paul Bremer, who headed the Iraq Provisional Authority, and others from the administration were grilled in a House hearing held Tuesday. A Financial Times story detailed that,
In a hearing before the chief House oversight committee, Democrats on Tuesday demanded answers from Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq’s first post-occupation government, and oversaw the disbursement of $12bn in cash in reconstruction funds in the months after the invasion.
. . . Mr Waxman said that, in a 13-month period, the US government had shipped 360 tonnes of cash to Iraq. “Who in their right minds would send 360 tonnes of cash into a war zone? But that’s exactly what [this government] did.”
. . . Many of the critics of the Bush administration’s handling of the war have pointed fingers at Mr Bremer’s tenure at the CPA, asserting that his early missteps, from the de-Ba’athification policies he put in place, to the disbandment of the Iraqi armed forces, set the stage for the turmoil in Iraq today.
Mr Waxman also hinted that he might subpoena Tim Carney, a new State Department official in charge of co-ordinating reconstruction in Iraq. Mr Carney had been invited to the hearing but the State Department had kept him from testifying, in spite of his willingness to do so, Mr Waxman said.
It remains easier to find out what is really happening in the Middle East by reading from foreign news sources or blogs. From the stories, articles and a good blog, it is clear that our current president is still focusing on the military to get it done for him over there. It totally baffles me why he appears to be so disinclined to favor diplomacy. I thought he and Condoleezza Rice were the best of friends. Maybe not.

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