Sunday, February 26, 2012

Washington’s insouciance has no rival....

Is Obama a hypocrite or merely insouciant? Or is he an idiot?

According to news reports Obama’s White House meeting on Valentine’s day with China’s Vice President, Xi Jinping, provided an opportunity for Obama to raise “a sensitive human rights issue with the Chinese leader-in-waiting.” The brave and forthright Obama didn’t let etiquette or decorum get in his way. Afterwards, Obama declared that Washington would “continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of realizing the aspirations and rights of all people.”

Think about that for a minute. Washington is now in the second decade of murdering Christian and Muslim men, women, and children in eight countries. Washington is so concerned with human rights that it drops bombs on schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, all in order to uphold the human rights of Muslim people. You see, bombing liberates Muslim women from having to wear the burka and from male domination.

One hundred thousand, or one million, dead Iraqis, four million displaced Iraqis, a country with destroyed infrastructure, and entire cities, such as Fallujah, bombed and burnt with white phosphorus into cinders is the proper way to show concern for human rights.

Ditto for Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza And Libya.

In Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia Washington’s drones bring human rights to the people.

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and secret CIA prison sites, and extrajudicial assassinations in the Levant since 2000, are other places to which Washington brings human rights. Obama, who has the power to murder American citizens without due process of law, is too powerless to close Guantanamo Prison.

He is powerless to prevent himself from supplying Israel with weapons with which to murder Palestinians and Lebanese citizens to whom Obama brings human rights by vetoing every UN resolution passed against Israel for its crimes against humanity.

Instead of following Washington’s human rights lead, the evil Chinese invest in other countries, buy things from them, and sell them goods.

Has any foreign dignitary ever raised “a sensitive human rights issue” with Obama or his predecessor? How is the world so deranged that Washington can murder innocents for years on end and still profess to be the world’s defender of human rights?

How many people has China bombed, droned, and sanctioned into non-existence in the 21st century?

Will Syria, Lebanon and Iran be the next victims of Washington’s concern for human rights?

Nothing better illustrates the total unreality of life in the West than the fact that the entire Western world did not break out in riotous laughter over Obama’s expression of his human rights concern over China’s behavior.

Washington’s concern with human rights does not extend as far as airport security where little girls and grandmothers are sexually groped. Antiwar activists have their homes invaded, their personal possessions carried off, and a grand jury is summoned to frame them up on some terrorist charge. US soldier Bradley Manning is held for two years in violation of the US Constitution while the human rights government concocts fabricated charges to punish him for revealing a US war crime. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is harassed endlessly with the goal of bringing him into the human rights clutches of Washington. Critics of Washington’s inhumane policies are monitored and spied upon.

Washington is the worst violator of human rights in our era, and Washington has only begun....

Who will liberate Americans from Washington’s clutches?

Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. Associate Editor Wall Street Journal, Columnist for Business Week, Senior Research Fellow Hoover Institution Stanford University, and William E. Simon Chair of Political Economy in the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Collusion and Betrayal on the Suez Canal....What Really Happened in the “Yom Kippur” War?

Collusion and Betrayal on the Suez Canal....What Really Happened in the “Yom Kippur” War?


Here in Moscow I recently received a dark-blue folder dated 1975. It contains one of the most well-buried secrets of Middle Eastern and of US diplomacy. The secret file, written by the Soviet Ambassador in Cairo, Vladimir M. Vinogradov, apparently a draft for a memorandum addressed to the Soviet politbureau, describes the 1973 October War as a collusive enterprise between US, Egyptian and Israeli leaders, orchestrated by Henry Kissinger. If you are an Egyptian reader this revelation is likely to upset you. I, an Israeli who fought the Egyptians in the 1973 war, was equally upset and distressed, – yet still excited by the discovery. For an American it is likely to come as a shock.

According to the Vinogradov memo (to be published by us in full in the Russian weekly Expert next Monday), Anwar al-Sadat, holder of the titles of President, Prime Minister, ASU Chairman, Chief Commander, Supreme Military Ruler, entered into conspiracy with the Israelis, betrayed his ally Syria, condemned the Syrian army to destruction and Damascus to bombardment, allowed General Sharon’s tanks to cross without hindrance to the western bank of the Suez Canal, and actually planned a defeat of the Egyptian troops in the October War. Egyptian soldiers and officers bravely and successfully fought the Israeli enemy – too successfully for Sadat’s liking as he began the war in order to allow for the US comeback to the Middle East.

He was not the only conspirator: according to Vinogradov, the grandmotherly Golda Meir knowingly sacrificed two thousand of Israel’s best fighters – she possibly thought fewer would be killed — in order to give Sadat his moment of glory and to let the US secure its positions in the Middle East. The memo allows for a completely new interpretation of the Camp David Treaty, as one achieved by deceit and treachery.

Vladimir Vinogradov was a prominent and brilliant Soviet diplomat; he served as ambassador to Tokyo in the 1960s, to Cairo from 1970 to 1974, co-chairman of the Geneva Peace Conference, ambassador to Teheran during the Islamic revolution, the USSR Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. He was a gifted painter and a prolific writer; his archive has hundreds of pages of unique observations and notes covering international affairs, but the place of honor goes to his Cairo diaries, and among others, descriptions of his hundreds of meetings with Sadat and the full sequence of the war as he observed it unfold at Sadat’s hq as the big decisions were made. When published, these notes will allow to re-evaluate the post-Nasser period of Egyptian history.

Vinogradov arrived to Cairo for Nasser’s funeral and remained there as the Ambassador. He recorded the creeping coup of Sadat, least bright of Nasser’s men, who became Egypt’s president by chance, as he was the vice-president at Nasser’s death. Soon he dismissed, purged and imprisoned practically all important Egyptian politicians, the comrades-in-arms of Gamal Abd el Nasser, and dismantled the edifice of Nasser’s socialism. Vinogradov was an astute observer; not a conspiracy cuckoo. Far from being headstrong and doctrinaire, he was a friend of Arabs and a consistent supporter and promoter of a lasting and just peace between the Arabs and Israel, a peace that would meet Palestinian needs and ensure Jewish prosperity.

The pearl of his archive is the file called The Middle Eastern Games. It contains some 20 typewritten pages edited by hand in blue ink, apparently a draft for a memo to the Politburo and to the government, dated January 1975, soon after his return from Cairo. The file contains the deadly secret of the collusion he observed. It is written in lively and highly readable Russian, not in the bureaucratese we’d expect. Two pages are added to the file in May 1975; they describe Vinogradov’s visit to Amman and his informal talks with Abu Zeid Rifai, the Prime Minister, and his exchange of views with the Soviet Ambassador in Damascus. Vinogradov did not voice his opinions until 1998, and even then he did not speak as openly as in this draft. Actually, when the suggestion of collusion was presented to him by the Jordanian prime minister, being a prudent diplomat, he refused to discuss it.

The official version of the October war holds that on October 6, 1973, in conjunction with Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Anwar as-Sadat launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces. They crossed the Canal and advanced a few miles into the occupied Sinai. As the war progressed, tanks of General Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and encircled the Egyptian Third Army. The ceasefire negotiations eventually led to the handshake at the White House.

For me, the Yom Kippur War (as we called it) was an important part of my autobiography. A young paratrooper, I fought that war, crossed the canal, seized Gabal Ataka heights, survived shelling and face-to-face battles, buried my buddies, shot the man-eating red dogs of the desert and the enemy tanks. My unit was ferried by helicopters into the desert where we severed the main communication line between the Egyptian armies and its home base, the Suez-Cairo highway. Our location at 101 km to Cairo was used for the first cease fire talks; so I know that war not by word of mouth, and it hurts to learn that I and my comrades-at-arms were just disposable tokens in the ruthless game we – ordinary people – lost. Obviously I did not know it then, for me the war was a surprise, but then, I was not a general.

Vinogradov dispels the idea of surprise: in his view, both the canal crossing by the Egyptians and the inroads by Sharon were planned and agreed upon in advance by Kissinger, Sadat and Meir. The plan included the destruction of the Syrian army as well.

At first, he asks some questions: how the crossing could be a surprise if the Russians evacuated their families a few days before the war? The concentration of the forces was observable and could not escape Israeli attention. Why did the Egyptian forces not proceed after the crossing but stood still? Why did they have no plans for advancing? Why there was a forty km-wide unguarded gap between the 2d and the 3d armies, the gap that invited Sharon’s raid? How could Israeli tanks sneak to the western bank of the Canal? Why did Sadat refuse to stop them? Why were there no reserve forces on the western bank of the Canal?

Vinogradov takes a leaf from Sherlock Holmes who said: when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. He writes: These questions can’t be answered if Sadat is to be considered a true patriot of Egypt. But they can be answered in full, if we consider a possibility of collusion between Sadat, the US and Israeli leadership – a conspiracy in which each participant pursued his own goals. A conspiracy in which each participant did not know the full details of other participants’ game. A conspiracy in which each participant tried to gain more ground despite the overall agreement between them.

Sadat’s Plans

Before the war Sadat was at the nadir of his power: in Egypt and abroad he had lost prestige. The least educated and least charismatic of Nasser’s followers, Sadat was isolated. He needed a war, a limited war with Israel that would not end with defeat. Such a war would release the pressure in the army and he would regain his authority. The US agreed to give him a green light for the war, something the Russians never did. The Russians protected Egypt’s skies, but they were against wars. For that, Sadat had to rely upon the US and part with the USSR. He was ready to do so as he loathed socialism. He did not need victory, just no defeat; he wanted to explain his failure to win by deficient Soviet equipment. That is why the army was given the minimal task: crossing the Canal and hold the bridgehead until the Americans entered the game.

Plans of the US

During decolonisation the US lost strategic ground in the Middle East with its oil, its Suez Canal, its vast population. Its ally Israel had to be supported, but the Arabs were growing stronger all the time. Israel had to be made more flexible, for its brutal policies interfered with the US plans. So the US had to keep Israel as its ally but at the same time Israel’s arrogance had to be broken. The US needed a chance to “save” Israel after allowing the Arabs to beat the Israelis for a while. So the US allowed Sadat to begin a limited war.


Israel’s leaders had to help the US, its main provider and supporter. The US needed to improve its positions in the Middle East, as in 1973 they had only one friend and ally, King Feisal. (Kissinger told Vinogradov that Feisal tried to educate him about the evilness of Jews and Communists.) If and when the US was to recover its position in the Middle East, the Israeli position would improve drastically. Egypt was a weak link, as Sadat disliked the USSR and the progressive forces in the country, so it could be turned. Syria could be dealt with militarily, and broken.

The Israelis and Americans decided to let Sadat take the Canal while holding the mountain passes of Mittla and Giddi, a better defensive line anyway. This was actually Rogers’ plan of 1971, acceptable to Israel. But this should be done in fighting, not given up for free.

As for Syria, it was to be militarily defeated, thoroughly. That is why the Israeli Staff did sent all its available troops to the Syrian border, while denuding the Canal though the Egyptian army was much bigger than the Syrian one. Israeli troops at the Canal were to be sacrificed in this game; they were to die in order to bring the US back into the Middle East.

However, the plans of the three partners were somewhat derailed by the factors on the ground: it is the usual problem with conspiracies; nothing works as it should, Vinogradov writes in his memo to be published in full next week in Moscow’s Expert.

Sadat’s crooked game was spoiled to start with. His presumptions did not work out. Contrary to his expectations, the USSR supported the Arab side and began a massive airlift of its most modern military equipment right away. The USSR took the risk of confrontation with the US; Sadat had not believed they would because the Soviets were adamant against the war, before it started. His second problem, according to Vinogradov, was the superior quality of Russian weapons in the hands of Egyptian soldiers — better than the western weapons in the Israelis’ hands.

As an Israeli soldier of the time I must confirm the Ambassador’s words. The Egyptians had the legendary Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, the best gun in the world, while we had FN battle rifles that hated sand and water. We dropped our FNs and picked up their AKs at the first opportunity. They used anti-tank Sagger missiles, light, portable, precise, carried by one soldier. Saggers killed between 800 and 1200 Israeli tanks. We had old 105 mm recoilless jeep-mounted rifles, four men at a rifle (actually, a small cannon) to fight tanks. Only new American weapons redressed the imbalance.

Sadat did not expect the Egyptian troops taught by the Soviet specialists to better their Israeli enemy – but they did. They crossed the Canal much faster than planned and with much smaller losses. Arabs beating the Israelis – it was bad news for Sadat. He overplayed his hand. That is why the Egyptian troops stood still, like the sun upon Gibeon, and did not move. They waited for the Israelis, but at that time the Israeli army was fighting the Syrians. The Israelis felt somewhat safe from Sadat’s side and they sent all their army north. The Syrian army took the entire punch of Israeli forces and began its retreat. They asked Sadat to move forward, to take some of the heat off them, but Sadat refused. His army stood and did not move, though there were no Israelis between the Canal and the mountain passes. Syrian leader al Assad was convinced at that time that Sadat betrayed him, and he said so frankly to the Soviet ambassador in Damascus, Mr Muhitdinov, who passed this to Vinogradov. Vinogradov saw Sadat daily and asked him in real time why he was not advancing. He received no reasonable answer: Sadat muttered that he does not want to run all over Sinai looking for Israelis, that sooner or later they would come to him.

The Israeli leadership was worried: the war was not going as expected. There were big losses on the Syrian front, the Syrians retreated but each yard was hard fought; only Sadat’s passivity saved the Israelis from a reverse. The plan to for total Syrian defeat failed, but the Syrians could not effectively counterattack.

This was the time to punish Sadat: his army was too efficient, his advance too fast, and worse, his reliance upon the Soviets only grew due to the air bridge. The Israelis arrested their advance on Damascus and turned their troops southwards to Sinai. The Jordanians could at this time have cut off the North-to-South route and king Hussein proposed this to Sadat and Assad. Assad agreed immediately, but Sadat refused to accept the offer. He explained it to Vinogradov that he did not believe in the fighting abilities of the Jordanians. If they entered the war, Egypt would have to save them. At other times he said that it is better to lose the whole of Sinai than to lose a square yard on the Jordan: an insincere and foolish remark, in Vinogradov’s view. So the Israeli troops rolled southwards without hindrance.

During the war, we (the Israelis) also knew that if Sadat advanced, he would gain the whole of Sinai in no time; we entertained many hypotheses why he was standing still, none satisfactory. Vinogradov explains it well: Sadat ran off his script and was waited for US involvement. What he got was the deep raid of Sharon.

This breakthrough of the Israeli troops to the western bank of the Canal was the murkiest part of the war, Vinogradov writes. He asked Sadat’s military commanders at the beginning of the war why there is the forty km wide gap between the Second and the Third armies and was told that this was Sadat’s directive. The gap was not even guarded; it was left wide open like a Trojan backdoor in a computer program.

Sadat paid no attention to Sharon’s raid; he was indifferent to this dramatic development. Vinogradov asked him to deal with it when only the first five Israeli tanks crossed the Canal westwards; Sadat refused, saying it was of no military importance, just a “political move”, whatever that meant. He repeated this to Vinogradov later, when the Israeli foothold on the Western bank of became a sizeable bridgehead. Sadat did not listen to advice from Moscow, he opened the door for the Israelis into Africa.

This allows for two explanations, says Vinogradov: an impossible one, of the Egyptians’ total military ignorance and an improbable one, of Sadat’s intentions. The improbable wins, as Sherlock Holmes observed.

The Americans did not stop the Israeli advance right away, says Vinogradov, for they wanted to have a lever to push Sadat so he would not change his mind about the whole setup. Apparently the gap was build into the deployments for this purpose. So Vinogradov’s idea of “conspiracy” is that of dynamic collusion, similar to the collusion on Jordan between the Jewish Yishuv and Transjordan as described by Avi Shlaim: there were some guidelines and agreements, but they were liable to change, depending on the strength of the sides.

Bottom line

The US “saved” Egypt by stopping the advancing Israeli troops. With the passive support of Sadat, the US allowed Israel to hit Syria really hard.

The US-negotiated disengagement agreements with the UN troops in-between made Israel safe for years to come.

(In a different and important document, “Notes on Heikal’s book Road to Ramadan”, Vinogradov rejects the thesis of the unavoidability of Israeli-Arab wars: he says that as long as Egypt remains in the US thrall, such a war is unlikely. Indeed there have been no big wars since 1974, unless one counts Israeli “operations” in Lebanon and Gaza.)

The US “saved” Israel with military supplies.

Thanks to Sadat, the US came back to the Middle East and positioned itself as the only mediator and “honest broker” in the area.

Sadat began a violent anti-Soviet and antisocialist campaign, Vinogradov writes, trying to discredit the USSR. In the Notes, Vinogradov charges that Sadat spread many lies and disinformation to discredit the USSR in the Arab eyes. His main line was: the USSR could not and would not liberate Arab soil while the US could, would and did. Vinogradov explained elsewhere that the Soviet Union was and is against offensive wars, among other reasons because their end is never certain. However, the USSR was ready to go a long way to defend Arab states. As for liberation, the years since 1973 have proved that the US can’t or won’t deliver that, either – while the return of Sinai to Egypt in exchange for separate peace was always possible, without a war as well.

After the war, Sadat’s positions improved drastically. He was hailed as hero, Egypt took a place of honor among the Arab states. But in a year, Sadat’s reputation was in tatters again, and that of Egypt went to an all time low, Vinogradov writes.

The Syrians understood Sadat’s game very early: on October 12, 1973 when the Egyptian troops stood still and ceased fighting, President Hafez el Assad said to the Soviet ambassador that he is certain Sadat was intentionally betraying Syria. Sadat deliberately allowed the Israeli breakthrough to the Western bank of Suez, in order to give Kissinger a chance to intervene and realise his disengagement plan, said Assad to Jordanian Prime Minister Abu Zeid Rifai who told it to Vinogradov during a private breakfast they had in his house in Amman. The Jordanians also suspect Sadat played a crooked game, Vinogradov writes. However, the prudent Vinogradov refused to be drawn into this discussion though he felt that the Jordanians “read his thoughts.”

When Vinogradov was appointed co-chairman of the Geneva Peace Conference, he encountered a united Egyptian-American position aiming to disrupt the conference, while Assad refused even to take part in it. Vinogradov delivered him a position paper for the conference and asked whether it is acceptable for Syria. Assad replied: yes but for one line. Which one line, asked a hopeful Vinogradov, and Assad retorted: the line saying “Syria agrees to participate in the conference.” Indeed the conference came to nought, as did all other conferences and arrangements.

Though the suspicions voiced by Vinogradov in his secret document have been made by various military experts and historians, never until now they were made by a participant in the events, a person of such exalted position, knowledge, presence at key moments. Vinogradov’s notes allow us to decipher and trace the history of Egypt with its de-industrialisation, poverty, internal conflicts, military rule tightly connected with the phony war of 1973.

A few years after the war, Sadat was assassinated, and his hand-picked follower Hosni Mubarak began his long rule, followed by another participant of the October War, Gen Tantawi. Achieved by lies and treason, the Camp David Peace treaty still guards Israeli and American interests. Only now, as the post-Camp David regime in Egypt is on the verge of collapse, one may hope for change. Sadat’s name in the pantheon of Egyptian heroes was safe until now. In the end, all that is hidden will be made transparent.

Postscript. In 1975, Vinogradov could not predict that the 1973 war and subsequent treaties would change the world. They sealed the fate of the Soviet presence and eminence in the Arab world, though the last vestiges were destroyed by American might much later: in Iraq in 2003 and in Syria they are being undermined now. They undermined the cause of socialism in the world, which began its long fall. The USSR, the most successful state of 1972, an almost-winner of the Cold war, eventually lost it. Thanks to the American takeover of Egypt, petrodollar schemes were formed, and the dollar that began its decline in 1971 by losing its gold standard – recovered and became again a full-fledged world reserve currency. The oil of the Saudis and of sheikdoms being sold for dollars became the new lifeline for the American empire. Looking back, armed now with the Vinogradov Papers, we can confidently mark 1973-74 as a decisive turning point in our history....

Assad, though not in a de-jure mutual recognition pact with Israel has “forever” been in a de-facto non-aggression pact with Israel. The Israelis have been quite happy with Assad up to now. The Assads have not been very bothersome about the return of the Golan. I am sure Israel is more concerned about the unknowns that would follow Assad’s departure than the knowns that ensue from his continuation in power....

To Israel, Assad has been a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and I’m sure they are quite happy with that....

Kuril Islands,The Thorn in Japan-Russia Ties....

Kuril Islands,The Thorn in Japan-Russia Ties....
By Richard Weitz

Japan and Russia would undoubtedly benefit from finding a resolution to the dispute over the Kuril Islands. But domestic pressure is holding them back.

J. Berkshire Miller offers a number of good reasons why Russia and Japan would benefit from setting aside their territorial dispute and concentrating on developing their joint security and economic interests. Unfortunately, no recent development looks sufficiently strong to break the logjam that has blocked progress on this issue for decades.

The core territorial dispute concerns what the Japanese call their Northern Territories and what the Russians term the Southern Kurils. Russian and Japanese historians can cite competing evidence to support their legal claims, but this is irrelevant since the issue can’t be settled by historical or legal reasoning since the problem has long been one of competing contemporary national interests aggravated by national prestige, diverging priorities, and nationalist public opinion that makes it hard for elected politicians to compromise.

As a result, the territorial tensions between Russia and Japan prevent these two countries from aligning together to advance their common security and economic interests. Excluding their territorial dispute, Russia and Japan share several overlapping geopolitical and economic interests that should make them natural partners if not allies.

In East Asia, Russia and Japan confront similar challenges of China’s growing economic and military power as well as North Korea’s nuclear testing and missile launches. Better ties between Moscow and Tokyo might prove to be the catalyst for a long-anticipated geopolitical realignment that sees them adopt a more guarded approach to China’s rise by strengthening their bilateral ties. This repositioning would allow them to concentrate their efforts on matching China’s growing economic and military power. It might also induce the Chinese to moderate their policies towards Russia, Japan and other countries.

Russia and Japan are certainly striving to become more influential players in the Korean issue. For example, the two Koreas, China, and the United States all expect that any Korean peace treaty would be signed by these four countries alone, excluding Russia and Japan from even the negotiations of any treaty.

In the economic realm, meanwhile, Japan and Russia are also finding themselves marginalized from the newly dynamic economies of ASEAN. China and the United States are leading the external competition for their influence by, among other means, offering Association of Southeast Asian countries diverging models for free trade agreements, with diverging principles and memberships.

In addition, the Japanese would like to expand their access to Russia’s natural resources, especially oil and natural gas, while the Russians would like to secure more Japanese investment to modernize their energy and other industries and to develop the Russian Far East. This Russian region’s lagging development and alienation from Moscow represents a long-term security challenge in the face of China’s growing population and economic-military potential.

Unfortunately, the Russian-Japan territorial dispute has made it difficult for these countries to pursue these shared interests. Various proposals to divide control of the islands or establish a creative shared sovereignty arrangement have never gained decisive support in both governments simultaneously. Whenever one side seemed prepared to make a deal, the other party has declined in the end to endorse it.

At present, the most commonly proposed compromise options are: (1) some kind of joint Russian-Japanese sovereignty or condominium over all the islands, with the two countries focusing on pursuing joint economic projects and other combined Russian-Japanese activities; (2) Russia transfers two islands (Shikotan and Habomai are most often discussed in this context) to Japan and the two countries joint develop the other two; (3) Russia transfers three islands to Japan (splitting the difference between Moscow’s recurring offer to surrender two of them and Tokyo’s formal insistence on receiving all four); and (4) the so-called “fifty-fifty” plan in which the total area of the islands is equally divided, which would result in Japan’s receiving three of the islands and some part of the fourth and largest island.

But Japanese and Russian public opinion remains strongly opposed to any of these compromise solutions or any plausible territorial deals. The Japanese public has substantial sympathy for the thousands of Japanese nationals who were displaced from their ancestral homes on the islands by Soviet military occupation that began in 1945. Whenever prominent Japanese have proposed consideration of compromise scenarios, they have therefore been denounced by many other Japanese calling for a hard line.

Polls show that the Russian public is equally hostile to making further territorial concessions. The 10,000 to 20,000 Russian citizens who now live on the islands would most strongly resist a return of Japanese sovereignty there, but many other Russians, recalling the loss of so much potential Russian territory in the early 1990s in the vain hopes of ending Russia’s alienation from the West, oppose further territorial transfers at Russia’s expense. Russian politicians regularly burnish their nationalist credentials by stressing their opposition to returning the islands.

Since any compromise settlement would see extensive criticism from nationalist politicians, Russian and Japanese leaders typically have found it easier to stand firm on principle regardless of the high opportunity costs – notably, the lack of a formal peace treaty and the discouraging of potential investors and other business deals due to the increased uncertainty.

Economic and military considerations also discourage Moscow from accepting the loss of the islands. They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds as well as what are thought to be valuable natural resources, including underwater oil and gas deposits. Russian ships regularly detain Japanese sailors who attempt to fish in the waters surrounding the disputed islands, charging them with violating Russia’s maritime boundaries. In August 2007, a Russian coast guard ship killed a crew member of a Japanese fishing boat with a warning shot aimed at the vessel.

A foreign military presence on the islands could also threaten Russia’s Pacific Fleet, which sails through their straits as it leaves and enters its home port of Vladivostok. Conversely, the Russian forces on the islands prevent foreign navies from entering the Sea of Okhotsk, where Russia’s strategic submarine fleet conducts its patrols rather than in the high seas, where they would be more vulnerable to detection and attack. The Russian Navy plans to deploy its newest Yury Dolgorukiy or Borei-class strategic submarines with its Pacific Fleet when the current fleet of Delta-IIIs set to retire during the next few years.

Prestige considerations are also relevant since Russia gained possession of them through a highly successful Soviet military campaign at the end of World War II, which marked Moscow’s military recovery in Asia from its disastrous defeat in 1905 in its war with Japan. Conversely, the Japanese resent how the Soviet Union’s exploited Japan’s imminent defeat to seize the territories in the last days of World War II.

Another obstacle to Tokyo’s making major concessions is that Japanese officials and analysts continue to believe that economic imperatives will induce Russia to make territorial concessions. It’s true that Russians desperately want to attract more Japanese foreign direct investment, especially in the high-technology sphere, to help modernize the Russian economy and revitalize the Russian Far East in particular.

But Russian leaders have little incentive to compromise now that bilateral economic ties are developing regardless of the sovereignty issue. In 2003, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Koizumi agreed to a “Japan-Russia Action Plan” that set aside the sovereignty dispute while the two countries promoted greater economic and other cooperation. Bilateral trade exceeded $30 billion in 2011, a record level. Russian and Japanese energy companies are partnering to develop a liquid natural gas (LNG) plant in Vladivostok, while Japan's Mitsui and Mitsubishi corporations already have invested in the $22 billion Sakhalin-2 LNG project.

Furthermore, the Japanese Diet has recently approved a 25-year bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. The new accord establishes a framework in which Russian and Japanese companies can reach specific deals to exchange peaceful nuclear power technologies, sell nuclear services, enter into joint business ventures as well as jointly design, construct, and operate nuclear reactors and dispose of nuclear waste. It should help the Japanese nuclear energy industry recover and help Russia’s nuclear energy sector realize its ambitious growth plans.

It’s true that Russian-Japanese economic ties would probably increase further if the two countries could settle their territorial dispute. For example, Japanese companies avoid conducting business in the disputed islands for fear of legitimizing Moscow’s sovereignty over the islands. But Russian leaders believe that Russia-Japan relations can develop satisfactorily even without a formal peace treaty. For example, Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov told the attendees of last summer’s Shangri-La Dialogue that, “I don’t think it is the only example in the world when countries normally coexist, trade and exchange people without a peace treaty. In my view, it is becoming a more formal matter, not a substance matter.”

In addition, Russia already has strong alternative economic partners in Asia in the case of China and South Korea. The long expected energy partnership between Russia and China is slowly gaining steam, while Russia-South Korea economic ties are also improving.

And Russia is succeeding in raising its profile in East Asia more generally even without resolving its dispute with Japan. The partnerships with China and especially India remain solid. Russia is chairing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum this year, and will host its annual summit this September in Vladivostok. Last year, Russia joined the East Asian Summit, which could emerge as the most important multinational security institution in East Asia. Russian representatives regularly participate in the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting and Dialogue Partners, the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence‑Building Measures, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

It would be ironic if Miller is correct that Japanese leaders are eagerly awaiting Putin’s return to the Russian presidency since they expect he would pursue a more conciliatory stance on the territorial dispute. Before 2008, some Japanese analysts had hoped that they could wait out Putin’s first term in the presidency and deal with a more pliant successor. But Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has adopted an even harder line than Putin toward the islands. In November 2010, Medvedev broke decades-long precedent and visited Kunashiri Island, becoming the first Russian (or Soviet) head of state ever to visit one of the disputed islands.

Moscow leaders had always avoided such a provocative act for fear of antagonizing Japan, but Medvedev may have calculated that the Japanese government, led by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, wouldn’t respond too strongly because Japanese commentators had repeatedly been describing the government as weak and ineffective. They had also highlighted increasing strains between Japan and the United States as well as with China, North Korea, and other neighbors. Indeed, the Kan government actually didn’t respond strongly to Medvedev’s move. After some initial pro forma protests, anonymous Japanese officials told the Japanese press – with the presumed expectations that the Russians would hear their message – that they wouldn’t take any further actions provided that Russia also refrained from further provocations.

An enduring territorial settlement between Russia and Japan would require the advent of either of two conditions, neither of which looks likely to arrive any time soon. One possibility would be for a Russian government to resume pursuing the now discredited policy Moscow adopted during the early 1990s, when the new Russian Federation was willing to make territorial and other major concessions as gambits to resolve longstanding sources of tension with neighbors. The strategy, which failed, aimed to eliminate those disputes that alienated Russia from the West and thereby facilitate the Russian Federation’s entry into the Western bloc of countries that includes Japan.

A second alternate scenario would be that a strong Japanese government could arise that was willing and capable of selling domestically the kind of compromise settlement that Russians have repeatedly demanded – that Tokyo renounce its claims to at least two of the islands in return for a peace treaty with Moscow and evidence that Japan would contribute to Russia’s economic development.

In the meantime, as welcome as a deal would be, the issue is set to remain a thorn in both countries’ sides....

Russia is to modernise two airfields and deploy extra surface-to-air missiles at military bases within its western exclave of Kaliningrad, it has been announced.

Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov, commander of Russia's Baltic fleet, said that the runway at Chkalovsk airfield would be extended to 3,500m in length to allow it to "receive any kind of aircraft, including Boeings and Airbuses".

Construction to extend the airfield is expected to take around two years, and Russia will also look to rebuild a disused airfield on the Baltic Sea coast.

The country has already delivered S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missiles to Kaliningrad, and they are expected to be deployed within a month.

S-400 missiles have only previously been deployed around Moscow, and will be joined in Kaliningrad by an unknown number of Iskander missiles.

Kaliningrad shares borders with Poland, to the south, and Lithuania, and Russian officials have said the weapons deployments are directly related to the country's anger over NATO's planned missile defence shield, which is set to see radar systems and SM-3 interceptor missiles deployed throughout Europe in coming years.

Yury Gorlach, deputy director of the Russian foreign ministry's department of European cooperation, said the country would take a "phased approach" to any deployments.

"If there is no threat to Russian strategic potential, there will be nothing in Kaliningrad region," he is reported to have said.

In November 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that bases in Kaliningrad would be put on combat alert, that he would reinforce protection of Russia's nuclear weapons, and that he was asking the armed forces to draw up plans to disable European missile defence systems.

If the measures proved "insufficient", Medvedev warned, Russia would "deploy modern offensive weapon systems in the west and south of the country, ensuring our ability to take out any part of the US missile defence system in Europe"....

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Chinese vision begins to emerge....

A Chinese vision begins to emerge....
By Peter Lee

The dominant stereotype of Chinese foreign policy in the Middle East is "amoral oil grubbing mercantilists who never met a dictator they didn't like".


But the job of an amoral, oil-grubbing mercantilist has been made much more complicated and challenging as tensions rise in the region and heightened demands are placed on the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Saudi Arabia, China's largest oil supplier, expects China's support in its campaign against Iran.

Iran turns to China for help in breaking the sanctions blockade that threatens its oil exports, its access to the global financial system, and its domestic economy.

The United States, the European Union, Turkey, the Gulf States and a big chunk of the Arab League excoriate China for seconding Russia's veto of an anti-Bashar al-Assad resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

However, contrary to its image as an opportunistic and reactive player in the Middle East, China has not only dug in its heels on Syria; it has stepped up with a diplomatic initiative of its own.

China also voted against the non-binding Syria resolution drafted for the UN General Assembly by Saudi Arabia, the oil baron that is generally regarded as calling the tune for China on Middle Eastern issues.

On February 23, China also announced it would not attend the "Friends of Syria" aka "Enemies of Assad" meeting in Tunisia this Friday designed to further delegitimize and isolate Assad to pave the way for his ouster, putting it at odds with the West, the Gulf nations, and much of the Arab League.

China had already dispatched Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun to Syria and the Middle East to lobby for Russia's and China's (and Assad's) preferred solution to the crisis: channeling political and opposition activity into votes on a referendum on a new Syrian constitution on February 26, and parliamentary elections four months down the road.

Chinese diplomats have also reached out to the Arab League to argue that the PRC's stance is in line with the league's policy on Syria.

China took the extra step of decoupling its position from Russia's, presenting itself as an honest broker and not an Assad partisan, and reaching out further into the ranks of Syria's opposition to publicize its contacts with Haitham Manna of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change.

Chinese papers are full of articles asserting the "principled stand" and "responsibility" of China's Syria policy, one that will "withstand the test of history". [1]

The interesting question is why the PRC is getting out in front on this issue, instead of letting Russia, Syria's long-time ally and arms supplier, carry the ball.

Syria means virtually nothing to China in terms of oil or trade. Assad's fall would discommode China's friend and energy supplier Iran but would also please China's friend and energy partner Saudi Arabia.

So why not simply reprise China's acquiescence on Libya, stand aside, and deliver a final adieu to Assad as he and his regime vanish into the meat-grinder of domestic and sectarian anger, international sanctions, and Gulf-funded subversion and destabilization?

The back-of-the-envelope explanation is that Russia and China were burned by the Security Council's humanitarian resolution on Libya, which turned into a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led free for all against Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

However, an abstention on the Syrian resolution, whether or not Russia decided to veto, would have allowed China to have burnished its rather tarnished West-friendly humanitarian credentials while reasserting its abhorrence of foreign interference.
It appears that China has decided it is time to stake out its own position in the Middle East as a great power with its own significant and legitimate interests in the region, instead of trying to shoehorn itself into whatever diplomatic coalition the United States or Russia invokes to deal with the latest crisis.

Yes, China as "responsible stakeholder" appears ready to take the Middle Eastern stage.

The Chinese move is an ironic and predictable counter-point to America's "strategic pivot" into East Asia.

The Barack Obama administration has openly announced its desire to shed the incubus of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (and quietly signaled that the last thing it wants is to go for a Middle East conflict trifecta with a third war against Iran) and seek its future in the Pacific.

This presents an opportunity for China to fill the leadership vacuum, at least in part, and stake its claim to the Middle East as a crucial fulcrum of the PRC's own Pacific Century future.

The PRC claims two qualifications as a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East.

First, and most obviously, it is the biggest importer of Middle East energy. China and the other Asian importers have a far bigger stake in the stability of the region than the United States.

Second, and less intuitively, the PRC believes that its model of authoritarian rule underpinned by economic development offers the best model for a stable and peaceful Middle East.

Partisans of democracy and Western values will respond with a derisive snort at this idea, especially after the intoxicating spectacle of the Arab Spring.

However, with the apparent exception of happy little Tunisia, the revolutionary upheavals in Libya and Egypt have brought with them enough bloodshed and division to make a lot of people nostalgic for the days when a strong man mediated and suppressed at his discretion the political aspirations of various ethnicities, races, confessions, tribes and classes.

A lot of these nostalgic people, it can be imagined, inhabitant presidential palaces - or just plain palaces - east of Suez and west of the Indus.

Virtually all of the states in the Middle East, including Israel, are either authoritarian or employ a type of managed democracy to keep a lid on things. In fact, they resemble the PRC, which itself struggles to impose unpopular Han dominance on restive populations in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Therefore, China can present itself as a more natural and sympathetic partner to rulers in the Middle East than the United States, which shocked Saudi Arabia in particular with its abandonment of Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak as the revolutionary agitation reached its climax.

Tellingly, the Chinese media have been virtually silent on the Saudi-directed crackdown on Shi'ite democracy protesters in Bahrain and its suppression of Shi'ite demonstrations inside the kingdom itself, a piece of forbearance that Saudi Arabia perhaps appreciates as much as America's embarrassed silence over the issue.

The first crisis in which China has the opportunity to test-drive its Middle East strategy is Syria.

Though to Western observers it may appear utterly quixotic for the PRC to promote a peaceful political resolution through a referendum and elections conducted by the Assad regime, given the bitterness engendered by the one-year crackdown and the chorus of Western and Arab derision and condemnation, the Chinese hand is not as weak as it appears.

Minorities' fears of sectarian bloodletting, even if self-servingly encouraged by the Assad regime, are genuine. The liberal, democratic, non-sectarian peaceful uprising has been overshadowed by a resistance that is rural, Sunni, conservative, armed and, in some manifestations, alarmingly sectarian, and which has largely stalled without penetrating the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo.

Formal armed intervention on behalf of the Syrian opposition is off the table, largely because of deep-seated doubts about the Syrian National Council, which looks like a stalking horse for the Muslim Brotherhood filled with bickering exiles with little presence inside the country.

Tellingly, the "Friends of Syria" conference scheduled for Friday is expected not to anoint the Syrian National Council as its only friend, merely describing it as "a" (as opposed to "the sole") legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

Simply imploding the Assad regime to spite Iran would appear to be easy, but has not happened.

Turkey is already providing safe havens for the Free Syrian Army, but apparently has not unleashed it. Western Iraq is aboil with doctrinaire Sunni militants happy to stick it to the Alawite regime, and Qatar has allegedly already laid the groundwork for underemployed Libyan militants to find profitable occupation fighting alongside the opposition in Syria, but utter bloody chaos has yet to erupt.

The fact that Aleppo and Damascus have only been ravaged by two car bombs is perhaps a sign of Wahabbist restraint, and may have been taken by the PRC as a sign that the Gulf Cooperation Council's commitment to overthrowing Assad is not absolute.

By the brutal calculus of authoritarian regimes, the Syrian government has shown restraint in its military suppression of the populist revolt and has not completely forfeited its domestic legitimacy. Seven thousand dead over 12 months is no Hama. Assad's uncle Rifaat (now residing in a $10 million mansion in London's Mayfair district and somehow beyond the reach of world justice) killed approximately 30,000 over a few weeks as he besieged, assaulted and purged the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold in 1982.

By Chinese standards, 7,000 dead is, if not a bloody blip, something along the magnitude of the show of state force inflicted on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing and other cities in 1989.

Just as the ruling group in Beijing considers the Tiananmen incident the key act in an authoritarian drama that kept the PRC from sliding into political chaos, and established the political foundation for 20 years of high-speed growth, the Ba'athists apparently regard Hama as the cornerstone of three decades of national stability.

In fact, 30,000 killed apparently doesn't even disqualify one from eligibility as a potential leader of Syria.

Al-Arabiya, the English-language voice of conservative Saudi opinion, interviewed Rifaat al-Assad in his luxurious digs. Rifaat, who has assumed leadership of a Syrian opposition group, the National Democratic Council, generously shared his view on the Syrian problem:
"The solution would be that the Arab states guarantee Bashar al-Assad's security so he can resign and be replaced by someone with financial backing who can look after Bashar's people after his resignation," he argued.

"It should be someone from the family ... me, or someone else," he said. [2]
Perhaps Bashar al-Assad will extract the lesson that the slaughter needs to get into five-digit figures before he is considered genuine leadership timber by the demanding standards of the Middle East.

In a situation in which the opposition political movement has stalled, the situation is degenerating into an armed conflict, and the great powers are apparently unwilling to hurry things along militarily, Chinese support of Assad's referendum and election plan is not unreasonable.

But there are difficulties, the greatest of which is that the door to reconciliation is in danger of swinging shut permanently as the government tries to squelch the defiant opposition and make a defendable case for itself as the indispensable guarantor of Syria's stability and unity.

Significant swaths of the Syrian countryside and many towns are apparently de facto out of government control. The government, which still possesses an overwhelming and relatively loyal military force, appears to have made the decision that trying to reassert government control is either too difficult or too polarizing, and is letting the local opposition run things, at least for now.

Probably the Assad regime is hoping to get some political wind at its back so it can move back into these villages under the banner of reconciliation or stability as part of the referendum/election process, and not a simple reconquest.

Then there is Homs or, more accurately, the Baba Amro district of Homs, which has turned into a symbol of resistance, armed and otherwise, to Assad's rule.

Assad's Western and domestic opponents have put the onus on Russia and China for enabling the Homs assault by their veto of the UN Security Council resolution, a toothless text that would have called for Assad to step down.

However, the significance of the veto was not that it allowed Assad to give free rein to his insatiable blood lust for slaughtering his own citizens, as the West would have it.

The true significance of the veto was the message that Russia and China had endorsed Assad as a viable political actor, primarily within Syria, and his domestic opponents, including those holding out in Baba Amro, should think twice before basing their political strategy on the idea that he would be out of the picture shortly thanks to foreign pressure.

It is difficult to determine exactly what the government's objectives are for Baba Amro. Hopefully, they are not simply wholesale massacre through indiscriminate shelling.

Recent reports indicate that the government, after a prolonged and brutal softening-up, has decided to encircle the district, send in the tanks, and demonstrate to the fragmented opposition that "resistance is futile", at least the armed resistance that seems to depend on the expectation of some combination of foreign support and intervention to stymie Assad and advance its interest.

Whatever the plan is, the Chinese government is probably wishing that the Assad regime would get on with it and remove the humanitarian relief of Homs from the "Friends of Syria" diplomatic agenda.

The difference in coverage of Homs between the Western and Chinese media is striking.

Even before the deaths of journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, the agony of Homs has been the subject of wall-to-wall coverage in the West. A Google News search for "Homs" yields over 6,000 stories.

Even as the siege grinds on and horrific reports and footage fill the Western media space, Chinese media coverage seems to echo the old saw about the tree falling in the forest, as in "if a mortar shell falls in Homs and it isn't reported, maybe nothing important is happening".

Chinese references to Homs are usually along the following lines:
Libyan websites disclosed the death of three Libyan Islamists at the Baba Amro neighborhood in Homs last Monday. Other websites cited similar cases about the killing of a number of fundamentalists who came in from Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan to fight in Syria.

Even foreign press have reported the killing of five Wahabbi terrorists in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, including the Kuwaiti Fuad Khaled, better known as Abu Hozaifa, during clashes with security men.

Media reports also said that no less than 1,000 gunmen from al-Qaeda have infiltrated into Syria and most of them stationed in Damascus suburbs and the central city of Homs. [3]
The message that Syria and China hope the domestic opposition will extract from Homs in the next few weeks is that, in the absence of meaningful foreign support, armed resistance has reached a dead end; it is time for moderates to abandon hope in the local militia or the gunmen of the FSA and turn to a political settlement.

To Syria's foreign detractors, the message will be that the genie of armed resistance has been stuffed back into the bottle thanks to "Hama Lite"; and the nations that live in Syria's neighborhood might reconsider their implacable opposition to Assad's continued survival.

In particular, China would need to make its vaunted good offices available in the matter of getting Saudi Arabia to overlook its hatred for all things Assad, perhaps by serving as guarantor that Syria would no longer funnel aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

China is playing a dubious hand.

After one year of a brutal crackdown, that on top of decades of bullying and torture by Syria's security apparatus, even members of the moderate opposition will probably be disinclined to put their future in the hands of the Ba'ath and the new constitution.

Internationally, Assad has been officially designated the current Monster of the Century and the intangible psychic benefits and real political and strategic advantages of terminally ostracizing his regime, no matter what it means for Syrian society, will probably be too tempting to ignore.

However, if Assad can manage the Baba Amro endgame and put Homs behind him, and gets some of the genuine opposition to participate in the summer elections, perhaps China will offer Syria a much-needed economic boost: supporting the war and sanction-crippled economy and, through it, Assad's regime by a program of aid and investment that will defy the sanctions regime that will undoubtedly continue to dog the regime.

If Assad can survive through the long, hot summer of 2012, China will count it as a victory for its approach to the Middle East - and a rebuke to American pretensions to moral and diplomatic leadership in the region.

It's a long shot, as Global Times, China's voice of brawny nationalism, acknowledged:
China has chosen a difficult role as a mediator. If neither the West nor the Arab League cooperates, the Syrian opposition can hardly heed the appeals of China. The chance of a prompt and peaceful settlement is slim. ...

It's unnecessary for China to see a quick effect. The time for the opposition to agree to a compromise is yet to arrive. But if the Assad administration continues to hang on, chances of a peaceful negotiation will grow. ...

Any progress made by Chinese efforts to promote a peaceful settlement will mark a significant diplomatic achievement. China will not become deeply involved in the way the US has become with the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue. The West will not allow that to happen, either. What China wants is for the principle of settling a crisis through peaceful channels to be understood and supported. [4]
Yes, the West might not be ready to have China play a leading role in the Middle East. But China can afford to be patient ... especially since the consequences of any miscalculation and failure will be borne by the citizens of small and distant Syria.

China's stance on Syria "withstands test of history": spokesman, Xinhua, Feb 17, 2012.
Exiled Assad's uncle wants to lead Syria transition, Al Arabiya News, Nov 14, 2011.
Escalating situation in Syria evokes fears of similar Iraqi fate, Xinhua, Feb 13, 2012.
China has a tough job as Syria mediator, Global times, Feb 24, 2012.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.
US must drop the donkey policy....

By Hooshang Amirahmadi and Shahir Shahidsaless

In the growing war environment between Iran and Israel comes a blinking light with an offer from Iran to restart negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (5+1). More significantly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU commissioner for foreign relations Catherine Ashton have cautiously expressed hope that this time the engagement would lead to satisfactory results, otherwise the last chance for a diplomatic settlement of Iran's nuclear dispute may be forever lost.

During the past three decades, the United States and Iran have set aside continued animosity on many occasions to seek negotiation,and at times they have even sat round the table. However, none of those attempts could be sustained for any meaningful time and they never were able to engage substantially on the issues that divide them. Why can't the two sides negotiate sustainably and substantially and how might the problem be addressed?

The US official position is that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward developing "military capability", but that Iran has not as yet made the "decision" to build bombs. To stop Iran, the Obama Administration has committed itself to a "dual-track policy of applying pressure in pursuit of constructive engagement, and a negotiated solution". The pressure includes economic sanctions, political isolation, and the threat of war.

According to David Petraeus, the director general of the Central Intelligence Agency, US-led sanctions are biting the Iranian regime. Thus, Washington believes, or hopes at the least, that this pressure approach is working and will soon make Iran change behavior. The US is also basing its hopes on the European cooperation against Iran, the popular opposition to the regime, and the growing domestic political chasm within the top leadership of the Islamic Republic.

While the US pressure approach is causing the Islamic Republic's regime serious harm - and the domestic political chasm is real - the policy will nevertheless fail to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program, and it cannot cause regime change. Worst yet, the dual track policy will in its conclusion lead to an unwanted war or make Iran build nuclear weapons. These eventualities, according to General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff "would be really destabilizing". In his view, "we should be in the business of deterring as a first priority".

The popular view is that Tehran's resistance to calls for a compromise is due to its desire to build bombs. Some facts call this assessment into question. Under the same Supreme Leader, Iran suspended enrichment in 2003, accepted the swap deal that Brazil and Turkey negotiated, allowed snap and unexpected inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and unlike North Korea, and despite immense pressure, has not exited the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iran's intransigence is not also due to a lack of cost-benefit analysis or ideological dogmatism. One glaring example is Iran's cooperation with the US over the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the choice of Hamid Karzai to lead the government at the Bonn Conference in 2001. Oddly, only a few weeks later, US President George W Bush named Iran as part of an "axis of evil". Iran has also stood on the sideline of wars and repression against Muslims in the Middle East, Europe, China and Russia.

The real reason for Iran's stubbornness is the dual-track policy itself. Before it is a solution, the policy is a problem, if not the problem. Specifically, it is based on a profound misunderstanding of the Iranian society, and is insensitive to its culture and politics. Significantly, the policy is oblivious to the power of cultural sentiments of national pride and resistance to pressure as well as deep-rooted mistrust of the US, which in words of Mohammad Khatami, Iran's former reformist president, has created a wall between the two countries.

National pride is a major driving force of Iran's nuclear program and the main reason for the Islamic regime's resistance to demands for its suspension. Indeed, the nuclear program is often equated to the oil nationalization in 1950s. It is no wonder that a 2011 survey, conducted by the RAND Corporation, reports that more than 90% of Iranians, obviously among them those who oppose the Islamic regime, support the country's nuclear program. When President Mahmud Ahmadinejad accepted to swap Iran's 3.5% enriched uranium for 20% enriched uranium from Russia and France, Mir Hossein Mousavi, leader of the Green Movement, called him a "traitor."

Leaders of the Islamic Republic have frequently condemned the dual-track policy and the 'tone' of American officials as 'disrespectful and derogatory.' They are particularly annoyed by the terms 'carrot and stick' as they are applied to donkey in Iran. Mohammad ElBaradei, when serving as the head of the IAEA, repeatedly cautioned the US that "carrot and stick … is a policy suitable for a donkey but not for a proud nation". It is no wonder that the Supreme Leader Khamanei should upsettingly remind the West that "our nation hates threat and enticement".

The Iranian Shia culture of resistance to pressure is another important obstacle to a negotiated settlement of US-Iran dispute over the nuclear matter. It is worth noting that the most heroic figure in the Shia history is their Third Imam, Hossein, who preferred death in the hands of the caliph of the time, Yazid, over submission under coercion. After 1,400 years, Shia Muslims still mourn his martyrdom. It is this culture that is on display when the Supreme Leader says, "under bullying and intimidation [we should] not retreat from the enemy, not even one step."

Mistrust plays even a more powerful role in US-Iran conflict. The roots of the mistrust go back to the 1953 CIA-assisted coup against Mohammad Mosadeq, the Iranian popular and democratic prime minister. Thus, the broadly shared view among the ruling hardliners in Iran is that suspension of the nuclear program 'under coercion' would open the door to more coercion and demands of concessions by the US. According to Grand Ayatollah Makarem, once Iran gives up to the pressures and halt the nuclear program, the US would then use issues such as human rights to again impose draconian sanctions. The process, the hardliners perceive, can eventually bring the Iranian regime to its end.

Tehran's fear of regime security is a potent obstacle. It is the Iranian regime's perception that a victory over the nuclear issue could boost the US confidence and encourage it to aggressively use sanctions as a weapon to actualize regime change. While the US policy is not aimed at overthrowing the regime in Iran, it has been careless in distinguishing its rightful support for human rights and democracy in Iran from the calls for regime change that has been voiced by so many quarters. The role of mistrust in the failure of the US policies is broadly admitted by the American influential analysts as well as the policy-makers. However, ironically, policy measures move toward the intensification rather than mitigation of mistrust.

The pervasive role of these powerful cultural sentiments in the nuclear issue is incomprehensible and completely alien to the Western analysts and policy-makers alike. It is no surprise that the US policies toward Iran, particularly with respect to the nuclear dispute, almost unreservedly discount the influence of these cultural sentiments. The policies are also oblivious to the fact that the political leaders in Tehran, the Supreme Leader in particular, would incur a high cost and would be even accused of selling out Iran's dignity if they were to completely back down from the nuclear program under duress.

Advocates of the dual-track policy might argue that, regardless, under tightening sanctions, once the Islamic regime's survival is threatened, the leadership would have no choice but to surrender. This argument disregards serious risks. First, an endangered regime would understandably take retaliatory actions against the US and its allies in the region.

Second, a war against Iran that does not end its Islamic regime will lead to an Iran with nuclear bombs even if the US were to engage it in a 'permanent war'. The chance that the Islamic regime will collapse under a war is nil given the Iranian patriotism, lack of a viable alternative to the regime, and the likelihood that the regime would eliminate most opposition leaders and activists at the very start of the war.

Third, for the sanctions to threateningly weaken the government, time is needed. Under an open-ended embargo and destabilization process, Iran will find enough time to build nuclear arms if indeed it intends to do so. Besides, protracted "crippling sanctions" can create a moral dilemma and public diplomacy fiasco as they will mostly hurt the same Iranian people whom the US claims to support against the authoritarian Islamic regime.

Finally, as was the case with Iraq, sanctions may at the end fail to make the Islamic Republic surrender. Under this condition, pressures will build over time and patience for a lengthy diplomatic solution will wane. A war then can become the only option to overcome the deadlock. As Zbigniew Brzezinski has put it, "the more you lean towards compulsion, the more the choice become war if it doesn't work."

Any of these possibilities would signal the failure of the US policy tenets of "applying pressure in pursuit of constructive engagement" and a "negotiated solution". If the US wants a diplomatic settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran, it must abandon its delusion that the dual track approach will work, and adjust its current policy by adopting a realistic approach that is more sensitive to both the Iranian cultural sentiments which pervasively rejects pressure and intimidation, thus obstructing constructive dialogue, as well as the country's political realities. The US must appreciate the fact that in Iran, national pride is more important than national interest.

First, the US must abandon the language of carrot and stick as well as threat and intimidation, replacing them with a respectful tone; second, the US must alleviate Tehran's fear of regime change by abandoning the "all-options-are-on-the-table" mantra, replacing it with a policy of negotiations on an equal basis and national security guarantees; and third, the US must build trust with Iran by supporting a nuclear-free Middle East, a move that can bring Israel and Iran into an indirect, if not direct, overdue dialogue.

Finally, for the reasons offered above mainly the issue of national pride and the severe consequence of a complete retreat from the nuclear program for the Supreme Leader's credibility and the regime's survival, a zero-enrichment option on the Iranian soil is unrealistic. Instead, the US and allies must focus on averting Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium. The most realistic form of achieving this outcome is intrusive monitoring of Iran's nuclear sites through the IAEA's Additional Protocol. Iran will accept this condition, and it may even accept a partial suspension as a measure of mutual face-saving, as long as the perceived 'bullying' policy is abandoned.

Hooshang Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers University and President of the American Iranian Council. Shahir Shahid Saless is a political analyst and freelance journalist. He writes on US-Iran relations primarily for Farsi publications.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Israel's Iran war planning stumbles on many fronts....

Israel's Iran war planning stumbles on many fronts....

February , 2012 -- Israeli strategy for Iran war exposed....

WMR has learned from U.S. defense intelligence community sources that America's signals and human intelligence collection activities aimed at Israel have yielded important intelligence on how the Israelis plan to ratchet up a war with Iran between a planned "window of opportunity" from April to June. The window was revealed publicly by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a recent interview with The Washington Post's David Ignatius but new details of Israel's plans were conveyed by senior Pentagon sources to WMR.

Israel's secret plans to set the stage for an attack on Iran are two-pronged. Firstly, Israel has concluded secret military basing and refueling agreements with Zioconned Sunni Muslim countries bordering on or near Iran. Azerbaijan has granted Israel warplane refueling rights at airbases in Azerbaijan. Israeli planes would conceivably re-fuel in Azerbaijan before and after air strikes on Iranian nuclear facility and other targets. Israel has also been given access to a number of Azerbaijani intelligence agents among Iran's Azeri community, which represents some 20 percent of Iran's population, most of whom live in northern Iran's majority Azeri province. The Azeri agents have been providing logistical support to Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) terrorists operating from Azerbaijan and Iraqi Kurdistan. MEK agents have been responsible for car bombing assassinations and assassination attempts of Iranian scientists linked to Iran's nuclear power program.

Recent charges by Azerbaijan's government that Iranian agents planned to target Jewish and Israeli facilities in Azerbaijan appears to be part of a Mossad "false flag" campaign designed to keep Azerbaijan firmly in the secret Israeli-Sunni government alliance. Iran has counter-charged that Azerbaijan has allowed Mossad agents to use its territory to launch covert operations inside Iran.

The Israeli "false flag" operation that saw a car bomb defused outside the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia also appears aimed at garnering full support from Georgia for base rights in an Israeli attack on Iran. Georgia and Iran have had friendly relations in the past.

In addition to support for MEK terrorists, the government of Zioconned Iraqi Kurdistan has also agreed to allow Israel to establish forward-area search and rescue (SAR) bases near the border with Iran to allow Israeli teams to extract from Iran Israeli pilots who might be shot down over Iran during military action.

Israel has also received military logistics basing rights with Zioconned Saudi Arabia in a secret agreement. Although Israel sought to hammer out support agreements with Sunni governments on Iran's periphery in support of a military attack on Iran, an Israeli feeler personally extended by then-Vice President and assassin in Chief of the infamous White House Murder INC, in the Levant Dick Cheney to the Sultan of Oman in March 2008 failed to achieve an agreement that would allow Israel to use Omani bases to re-fuel its aircraft in a military attack on Iranian targets. Subsequently, Azerbaijan replaced Oman in Israel's military operational planning for an attack.

The second part of Israel's strategy is to paint Iran as a terrorist sponsor responsible for attacking Israeli targets. Israel hopes to gain international sympathy in support of an attack on Iran. Israel's reasoning is that Israel will be viewed as acting in self-defense.

The car bombing of the vehicle of the Israeli defense attaché in New Delhi was part of the propaganda blitz aimed at Iran. In addition, the bombing in the Indian capital was also designed to warn India away from plans to import more oil from Iran in the face of increased Western sanctions on Iran. As previously reported by WMR, India's intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has discovered evidence of Israeli "false flag" terrorist activities in Mumbai, Goa, and Kochi and has made its feelings about such activities known to Israeli officials.

In Thailand, a cell said to have been responsible for the construction of magnetic car bombs in Bangkok were not working for Iran, as alleged by an Israel-compliant international news media, but were members of the MEK building small bombs disguised as cell phones and sending them to Iran for use in targeting nuclear scientists. After WMR scooped the media in reporting on the MEK connection to the Bangkok bombers, the Shia leader of Thailand, Syedsulaiman Husaini, confirmed, in a report in the Bangkok Post, that four Iranians suspects said to be involved in carrying out a planned bombing of Israeli targets in Bangkok were members of the MEK. The Bangkok Post also reported that a secret Iranian intelligence report identified the four Iranians in Thailand as MEK members.

An MEK safe house in the Ekkamai district of Bangkok that was partially destroyed in an accidental bomb explosion was identified as the miniature magnetic bomb-producing factory used by the MEK. The safe house was outfitted with un-Islamic purple sofas often found in Bangkok karaoke clubs and gay discos. There was not even a prayer rug found inside the house allegedly used by Iranians willing to die for Allah and the Ayatollah Khamenei.

After its Bangkok bomb-making operation was discovered, the Mossad attempted to cover its tracks by putting out the word to a salivating media that a number of clearly visible signs with the Arabic word "SEJEAL" found along Sukhumvit Road between the Marriott Hotel in Nana and Asoke in Bangkok were Iranian marker signs to point out Israeli targets to the Iranian bombers. In fact, the Marriott is a favorite hotel for visiting Arabs and Iranians who fly to Bangkok from Dubai on Emirates airline. Across the street from the Marriott, is the Arab district in Nana. There are no Israeli "targets" anywhere near the area....

However, after the bungled Mossad-MEK operation in Bangkok, Mossad tried to salvage its mess by trying to link the alleged planned "attacks" to the Palestinians as well as the Iranians, the same ruse Mossad employed on 9/11 by having Israeli agents dressed up as Palestinians seen around the North Jersey/New York region celebrating the hijacked planes impacting the World Trade Center. In Bangkok, the Israelis pushed the notion of Palestinian involvement by pointing out that the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel are called "Sejeal Stones" by Palestinians in a Koranic reference to a Yemeni attack on the Prophet Mohammed being repelled after stones dropped by "birds from heaven" repelled the Yemenis after the stones scared their elephants away.

Some 52 SEJEAL signs were discovered on power poles, traffic signs, phone kiosks, and billboards along a route from Nana to Asoke. Other SEJEAL signs were said to have been discovered in the Nasa Vegas Hotel along the Sukhumvit Road where one of the suspected MEK operatives, Leila Rohani, had stayed. Six of the signs were found under the seat of one of the other MEK agent's motorcycle seat.

SEJEAL signs: "Much 'bird do" about nothing."

The SEJEAL signs would not have meant much to the Arabs and Iranians in the area since they could have taken the signs as a warning for unsuspecting pedestrians to beware of droppings from the many birds, especially starlings, that roost on electric lines and overhead signs in the area.

Pentagon sources point out that the next two weeks are critical as far as an Israeli attack on Iran is concerned. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has moved up its annual meeting in Washington from the usual April/May time frame to March 4. That day is the same day as Russia's first round presidential election. If Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wins the first round outright, as some Russian polls suggest, Israel will be pressed to launch an attack before Putin consolidates his new government, a government that can be expected to strongly back Iran. Putin is currently riding high with the spike in world oil prices, with pensions and salaries in Russia being paid on time.

On March 5, the same day President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House, the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to release its official report on the status of Iran's nuclear program.

On March 6, Netanyahu is scheduled to address AIPAC. It is the same day as the Republican Party's "Super Tuesday" primary, one that could indicate whether the ardently pro-Israeli Rick Santorum can sustain his current momentum to win the GOP presidential nomination, an event that would bolster Israel's stranglehold on America's political process and push Obama into a difficult corner with the Jewish lobby.

Some of that Israeli pressure has already been applied by Jerusalem officials on Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey who has been criticized by Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak over an interview given to CNN in which Dempsey publicly warned against an Israeli attack on Iran. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is in Israel where Dempsey's comments resulted in a strong rebuke by Netanyahu and Barak. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is due next in Israel to convey similar misgivings about Israel's war plans from the Obama White House....

Assad, though not in a de-jure mutual recognition pact with Israel has “forever” been in a de-facto non-aggression pact with Israel. The Israelis have been quite happy with Assad up to now. The Assads have not been very bothersome about the return of the Golan. I am sure Israel is more concerned about the unknowns that would follow Assad’s departure than the knowns that ensue from his continuation in power....

To Israel, Assad has been a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and I’m sure they are quite happy with that....

Moscow stirs itself on Syria, while Obama is singing the blues....

Moscow stirs itself on Syria, while Obama is singing the blues....
By M K Bhadrakumar

With the "Friends of Syria" (FOS) grouping sponsored by the Western powers and their Arab allies scheduled to hold its first meeting in Tunis on Friday, Russian diplomacy has shifted gear into a proactive mode. The Kremlin was a beehive of diplomatic activity on Wednesday.

The venue of the birthplace of the "Arab Spring" for the FOS to gather might, prima facie, give an impression that the name of the game is high-flown rhetoric and nothing more.

But that is not how Moscow views the developing paradigm. It estimates that Tunis with its Mediterranean climate and languid look has been carefully chosen as a deceptive location for the West to launch a concerted assault on the citadel of President Bashar al-Assad and to legitimize it in the world opinion. Moscow senses that the final assault on Syria by the United States may not far off, although the US propaganda makes it out to be that the Barack Obama administration is on the horns of a dilemma, torn apart by an existential angst.

Moscow has point-blank turned down the "invitation" to be part of the FOS. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Tuesday:
Officially we were not informed who will take part in the [FOS] conference or what the agenda will be. Most importantly, it is unclear what the actual goal of this initiative is ... Serious questions arise about the final document of the meeting. According to some information, a small group of countries, without knowledge of others, will be asked to simply stamp a document that is already in the process of being written ... it seems that we are talking about slapping together some kind of international coalition as was the case in organizing the Libya Contact Group in order to support one side against the other in an internal conflict. Russia is for all members of the world community to act as friends of all Syrian people and not only part of it.
That statement may leave the impression that Moscow retains the option to review its association with FOS at some future stage. But its most important salient is the analogy drawn with the West's Libyan intervention and the uncanny resemblance between the Libya Contact Group and the FOS in the making.

Against the backdrop of the Libyan analogy, the Kremlin swiftly moved into the diplomatic arena on Wednesday. President Dmitry Medvedev phoned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Saudi monarch King Abdullah and the Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The conversation with Abdullah apparently didn't go far as the terse Kremlin announcement suggests. The state-owned Saudi Press Agency's account claims that Abdullah rebuffed Medvedev virtually by insisting that any dialogue about the Syrian situation is "futile". He said Moscow should have "coordinated with Arabs ... before using its veto [in the UN Security Council]." Abdullah was quoted as saying, "But now, dialogue about what is happening [in Syria] is futile."

Abdullah made it clear that Riyadh has a closed mind on Syria and nothing short of a regime change in Damascus will satisfy the House of Saud.

Medvedev, however, held productive discussions with Maliki and Ahmadinejad. Interestingly, Moscow has sized up Baghdad as a meaningful interlocutor in the Syrian crisis in so short a time after the pullout of the United States' troops from that country.

The Russian initiative to Baghdad is tantamount to an acknowledgement both of Iraq having got back its sovereignty after eight years of foreign occupation and its relevance and its capacity to play a role in the Syrian crisis, as well as a reminder to those who forgot that Iraq along with Syria were two staunch allies of the former Soviet Union in the Middle East.

The Kremlin account of the conversation between Medvedev and Maliki said:
The main subject of discussion was the situation in the Middle East, in particular in Syria, with the emphasis on not allowing outside intervention in Syria's affairs and the need to end the bloodshed as soon as possible and launch a comprehensive dialogue in the country itself between all sides in the conflict. Both leaders stressed that political and diplomatic efforts to stabilize the situation in Syria are the only option and noted the counterproductive impact of economic sanctions against Syria, which only aggravate the Syrian people's social and economic problems. [Emphasis added.]
Medvedev and al-Maliki "stressed the importance of continued coordination through bilateral and multilateral contacts in order to guarantee regional peace and security". Interestingly, the two leaders have agreed to expand and deepen the bilateral ties, which, incidentally, had a big security content in the Soviet era.

The stunning development, however, was Medvedev's phone call to Ahmadinejad on Wednesday. Interestingly, it was made on the day after International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors concluded in Tehran what appears to have been an inconclusive mission.

Moscow has been chary of openly displaying a strategic understanding with Tehran on major regional problems lest it got unwittingly entangled in the US-Iran standoff. This political reserve conditioned Moscow's lukewarm attitude to Iran's persistent requests for membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Thus, whichever way one looks at it, Moscow crossed the Rubicon on Wednesday to touch base with Ahmadinejad on the Syrian crisis, which Russian commentators increasingly flag as the most critical international issue today, which is reaching "boiling point".

The Russian media account of the Medvedev-Ahmadinejad conversation claimed the two leaders "spoke out" against foreign interference in Syria, while the Kremlin statement said they "urged the resolution of the current crisis by Syrian people using only peaceful means and without any foreign interference. The sides agreed that the main goal today ... is to prevent a civil war in the country, which may destabilize the situation in the whole region."

The Iranian account was more forthcoming.
"Given their common views and positions, Iran and Russia must make more effort to help establish peace in the region and prevent foreign intervention," Ahmadinejad said.

Medvedev, for his part, said certain trans-regional powers seek Syria's disintegration, which is a threat to Middle East security. The Russian president added that Iran and Russia can cooperate to peacefully resolve the crisis in Syria.
Significantly, Moscow wrapped up its diplomatic initiatives on Wednesday with the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov also making a demarche with the US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul at a meeting in the foreign ministry in Moscow over the Iran situation.

Rybakov voiced Moscow's "strong objection" to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the US against Iran and pointed out that such political pressure only impeded a "negotiated solution to the West's standoff with Iran" and complicated Iran's talks with the P5+1 - "Iran Six" - the US, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany.

The demarche comes at a point when Russian commentators - like their Chinese counterparts - are increasingly placing the Syrian crisis and the situation around Iran as two vectors of the same matrix. It will bear watch how the Russian-Iranian strategic understanding over Syria develops.

A Russian commentary on Wednesday analyzed that the co-relation of forces in the heart of the Middle Eastern region is changing dramatically:
Syria is developing a special relationship with Iraq, which sympathizes with Syria's efforts to stabilize the domestic situation. It is quite probable that with the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Iran, Iraq and Syria will at some point naturally form a loose, tripartite alliance in the Middle East. Given that the majority of the Iraqis are Shiite and Iran's growing influence in Iraq in the last few years, such a scenario is by no means improbable.
The Kremlin diplomatic initiatives on Wednesday seems to have factored in the emergent regional scenario....

Is Obama really singing the blues?
By Pepe Escobar

It ain't easy being POTUS (President of the United States). Korans burned in Afghanistan, "liberated" Libya run by militias, Syria descending into civil war, the never-ending Iran psychodrama. How to find some solace? Simple; if POTUS can't sneak into the House of Blues - the Secret Service won't let him - the blues comes to the (White) House.

In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues, was an in-house concert at the East Room praising the blues and Black History Month in the US, part of a music series hosted by POTUS (Barack Obama) and FLOTUS (First Lady Michelle Obama). It will air on PBS on Monday.

And then came the magic moment; ersatz bluesman Mick Jagger hands the mic to POTUS - and the rest is history (see the video [1]). There was the Al Green precedent (see the remixed video [2]) when POTUS sent a not so subtle campaign message coded as Green's "Let's Stay Together".

But this was the real deal; POTUS summoning the spirit of Robert Johnson via "Sweet Home Chicago". And what a supporting cast, including the "King of the Blues" himself, B B, 86, introduced by POTUS; Mick Jagger (still delivering the goods on "Can't Turn You Loose"; Buddy Guy; Jeff Beck; and Stax living legend Booker T Jones - who should have been canonized by now - as band leader and musical director. Talk about a home run for the singer-in-chief.

POTUS even issued an official declaration praising the blues; it "teaches us that when we find ourselves at a crossroads, we don't shy away from our problems. We own them. We face up to them. We deal with them. We sing about them. We turn them into art." [3]

Nuke me baby all night long
Why shouldn't a black man play with the blues at the White House? After all, the US economy is - slowly - starting to turn around (somewhat), even though that nagging song, "16 Trillion/What do you get?" (as in the national debt) can still be heard in the background.

Unemployment is - slowly - down. And the remaining Republican would-be presidential candidates slugging it out are either deranged or carping on that same "Jesus" motif; mullah (Rick) Santorum bills himself as the man who will save America from Satan.

The Tea Party lot are freaking out. Newt Gingrich, in desperation, calls POTUS "the most dangerous president" ever. Mitt Romney - in a presidential debate - says that Iran will give a nuclear bomb to Hezbollah in Lebanon; Hezbollah will bring it to Mexico; then the dirty bomb will be smuggled across the border as an illegal immigrant and explode in Ohio.

And worse of all; these people all suck, musically. They couldn't sing the blues - or soul, or jazz, or gospel, even country - even if their (paranoid) lives depended on it.

Still, the singer-in-chief was not exactly singing the blues when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act late at night on New Year's Eve - when no one was paying attention. The warrior-in-chief has in fact legalized the slipping of the US into a militarized police state - where the Pentagon may send Americans to jail without charge and without trial for the "duration of hostilities" in the never-say-die "global war on terror".

Late next week, POTUS will not exactly sing the blues when he addresses the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - thousands of high rollers in a Washington ballroom clamoring in unison to destroy Iran.

But the day before seems straight out of Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on My Trail"; that's when POTUS has to meet with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who every grain of sand in the Negev desert knows wants to get rid of POTUS and install his own warmongering puppet at the White House.

After all, Bibi even had the nerve to scold US Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey because the Pentagon stalwart exercised some common sense, saying an Israeli attack on Iran would be "destabilizing" and "not prudent".

POTUS would rather sing the blues than go to war; as for the average American, they seem to be puzzled, or anesthetized by too much ambient noise. According to the latest CNN/Gallup poll, almost 80% believe that Iran either has a nuclear weapon or will get one like, tomorrow; at the same time 63% prefer diplomacy to war in dissuading Iran from going nuclear. So what's the story? To convince Iran to give up the non-existent bombs they might have?

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may regard the blues as devil's music - but at least he has once again stated on the record that Iran "does not seek a nuclear weapon". At the same time, he encouraged Iranian nuclear scientists to proceed with their "fundamental" work for "Iran's national interests".

Amid all this madness, at least Mad Men is back in the Ides of March [4].

And while his opposition cavorts in the swamps of doom and gloom, POTUS - whom polls attest would defeat any of them - does seem to be singing the blues all the way to the comfort zone.

C'mon/baby don't you wanna go/back to that same old place/Sweet Home White House.

1. See
2. See
here. 3. Here is a look back at Robert Johnson's crossroads, only a few weeks before POTUS burst into the American political landscape like the Hoochie Koochie Man. 4. See the teaser here.
Ex-watchdog calls for nuclear cool....
By Jasmin Ramsey

WASHINGTON - Even as United Nations inspectors expressed disappointment about the results of their visit this week to Iran, a former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) urged all parties to make greater efforts to defuse rapidly rising tensions over Tehran's nuclear program to avert war.

"We don't expect too much now, but we need to defuse the most acute things and prepare the road for further talks," said Hans Blix, the former Swedish foreign minister who headed the IAEA, the UN's atomic watchdog, from 1981 to 1997, at a Capitol Hill briefing for congressional staffers on Tuesday. "We are now hoping that there will be a meeting between the Iranians and the P5+1 ["Iran Six" - the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany] perhaps in Istanbul relatively soon, and we are now fearing there could be a war."

"I think we can sit and dream about the big solutions. But for the moment we should be defusing a very acute and dangerous situation," noted Blix, who also led the special UN inspection unit that investigated whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion.

The latest developments came as a high-level IAEA delegation returned from a two-day visit to Iran - its second in less than a month - apparently frustrated that some requests of the Iranian authorities were denied.

Although IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said that the visit to Tehran took place in a "constructive spirit", Iran had refused his delegation's request to visit its Parchin military base, which the IAEA suspects may be used for weapons-related testing.

For its part, an Iranian government spokesman insisted that cooperation with the IAEA "continues and is at its best level".

Mark Fitzpatrick, a nuclear expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote Wednesday that Tehran's refusal to permit the inspectors to go to Parchin did not mean the end of diplomacy.

"In dealing with Iran, nothing ever happens quickly," he wrote, adding that more meetings to press Tehran into answering a series of questions about the possible military applications of its nuclear research will likely take place.

Meanwhile, Blix warned that all parties in the growing crisis over Iran's nuclear program "have boxed themselves into a corner".

Blix, who in a 2004 book accused president George W Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair of exaggerating the WMD threat in Iraq in order to rally their publics behind the invasion, stressed that the most urgent task for the moment was to reduce tensions between Iran and Israel, which have risen sharply over the past two months, and prepare "the road for further talks" to prevent any disastrous "unintended consequences".

Among other things, the US and the European Union (EU), which, besides Israel, have taken the hardest line on Iran, should make clear to Tehran that "all our offers are on the table" and "not just the threats", he told a briefing that was sponsored by the National Iranian American Council.

Reports that Israel may attack Iranian nuclear facilities some time this year, as well as counter-threats by Tehran, have raised anxieties - as well as the price of oil - in key capitals around the world, including in Washington and London, two of Israel's closest allies.

Last weekend, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, who had returned from talks the week before with top officials in Israel, told CNN that an Israeli strike wouldn't be "prudent" at this time. He also described Iran as a "rational actor".

Dempsey's remarks reportedly drew scorn from top Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, complained to President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, when he visited Jerusalem last weekend.

"The Iranians see there's controversy between the United States and Israel, and that the Americans object to a military act. That reduces the pressure on them," a senior Israeli official told the daily.

Appearing with Blix at Tuesday's briefing was Colin Kahl, until recently the Pentagon's top Middle East official. He told staffers that an Israeli strike on Iran would prove counter-productive. "If you're worried about an Iranian nuclear weapon, the nearest pathway to that is probably a relatively ineffective Israeli strike," he said.

Kahl argued that the Israeli calculation about Iran's nuclear program is "slightly different" than Washington's.

The Israelis say they are worried that key uranium-enrichment capabilities could soon be buried so deep underground - notably at its Fordow plant near Qom - that they may be impervious to Israel's biggest conventional bombs, allowing Tehran to enter a "zone of immunity" within months.

The Obama administration, however, has argued that the situation is not nearly so urgent, not only because Washington has munitions that could penetrate Fordow, but also because Iran faces many more challenges that would take at least two to three years to overcome in building a missile-deliverable weapon if it chose to do so.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to launch a preventive war on the basis of the zone of immunity if all you'll do is force your adversary to reconstitute its program in the facilities you can't get at," Kahl noted.

That point was echoed at Tuesday's briefing by former chief IAEA inspector Robert Kelley, who stressed that all of Iran's facilities that could be used to develop a nuclear-weapons capacity are under IAEA inspection.

"We want that to stay that way, and the worst thing that I can imagine right now is doing something short of war that causes the Iranians to kick the IAEA out. That would be a disaster."

If, indeed, Iran threw out the inspectors as a result of an Israeli attack, noted Kahl, the international community would go "blind, [and] we would be forced into this situation of having to permanently encircle Iran and be ready to restrike on a moment's notice with very bad intelligence on what they were actually doing," he said.

"Eventually it's a question of will power, a question of decision," said Blix, who argued that, while the Iranians are on a nuclear "path", it's a "long fuse before they will have a weapon". He added that the "end of the diplomatic line" has not yet been reached and that the benefits for all parties of a negotiated settlement would likely outweigh the costs.

Nonetheless, the Israel lobby is working hard on Capitol Hill to limit Obama's flexibility in any upcoming P5+1 negotiation.

Last week, at least 30 senators introduced a resolution calling on the administration to rule out both a strategy of "containment" against a nuclear Iran and any negotiated settlement that would permit any enrichment of uranium by Iran on its own soil, even if Tehran agreed to the strictest possible IAEA oversight to ensure that none of it could be diverted to a weapons program.

A former top Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Paul Pillar, warned on Monday that the resolution, if adopted, "walks the United States farther down a path to launching its own war against Iran".

While noting that the resolution is not binding, Kahl agreed that its "rhetoric" and "signaling" would prove counter-productive to prospects for a successful negotiation.

The effect of "boxing negotiators in" is to make a diplomatic solution "less likely and a kinetic outcome more likely", he warned.

On Wednesday, Russia added its voice to warnings against an Israeli strike on Iran. "Of course any possible military scenario against Iran will be catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.