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Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, April 2, 2007

 

On McCain's Straight-Talk Express, a Rose Covered Windshield

The American people are not getting "a full picture" of the progress made in Iraq.
-Senator and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain (AZ)

There has been a drop in murders in Iraq, so the "Surge" must be working, right Sen. McCain?

It seems that the Arizona Senator has installed a permanent hitch to President Bush's Iraq war and appears to be the heir to it. While many more of his party brethren fall off the "Iraq or Bust" bandwagon each and every day, McCain appears to be riding shotgun right next to GW.

"cautious optimism,"
-McCain

Of course, as McCain was leaving, yet another car bomb blew up and many more were killed.

"Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today. But I am not saying 'Mission Accomplished.' . . . It's a very difficult task ahead of us."
-McCain

It appears that the "Straight Talk Express" can now get to Baghdad's Airport without being blown up, so things must be okay on the road to get out of town in McCain's eyes. One might think that the giant American contingency of soldiers accompanying the Senator to the airport contributed to his safe departure. And as far as "Mission Accomplished" is concerned, just what else might McCain be saying? Is it truly his belief, despite "the rest of the story" that Iraq is, indeed, on that "MA" (Mission Accomplished) road? Then say it, senator McCain. WHEN do you anticipate that "MA" will happen? What is standing in the way of "MA" today that is different from a year ago? We all know by now that places such as Tal Afar, which President Bush and his cronies have touted as places where "real progress" is being shown just a year ago are in turmoil today with the sectarian violence that has fueled Iraq's Civil War.

When, senator McCain?

"His comments came on a day when the military reported that six American soldiers had been killed by roadside bombs southwest of Baghdad. Murder rates are down, but suicide bombings continue to plague the capital, and violence in other parts of Iraq is surging. At least 152 people were killed last week in twin truck bombings that targeted Shiites in Tall Afar, according to the Interior Ministry, which would make the attack the deadliest since the U.S.-led invasion four years ago. The strike triggered reprisal attacks against Sunnis that left at least 45 dead."
-The Washington Post's Visiting Iraq, McCain Cites Progress on Safety Issues, by Sudarsan Raghavan and Saad al-Izzi

I wonder just what measures McCain would put on President Bush in the final two years of his administration. For all of his third-party, subjective observer views, I guess the answer would be "none". It's funny (as in ironic) how those Republicans up for re-election in close 2008 Senate Races are jumping ship while Senator John "This is my last chance to be president, so I'll do anything to get elected" McCain "stays the course" with President Bush.

And it appears that McCain will really do or say anything. After his "Straight Talk Express" was derailed for telling the truth about the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, its new destination has been "Just-Another-Hack-Town", USA.

And as for the other three attending American GOP politico's which included Senator Lindsey Graham (REPUBLICAN-SC), Rep. Rick (I-Want-McCain's-Seat-in-the-Senate) Renzi (REPUBLICAN-AZ) and Rep. Mick Pence (REPUBLICAN-IN), I think their trip could be best be summed up by Graham:

""I bought five rugs for five bucks,"
-Graham

A business bonanza for future global corporation! another brilliant GOP Iraqi policy. Leave it to the Republicans to make a trip to Iraq into a junket.

Although all four Republicans were telling of their wonderful purchasing trip to the Shorja market, one should note that just a day before, when there wasn't all of this extra American troop presence, that an Iraqi soldier was shot by a sniper, while two days prior, a sniper claimed two shoppers as victims. But, overall, I'm happy that the foursome had a pleasant shopping day.

"Everybody closes their shops by 2:30 p.m.,"
-Amir Raheem, 32 , a floor carpeting merchant at the market and a witness to the shootings

The market "is not even 10 percent of our work before the bombings, because people are afraid to come,"
-Raheem

IRAQI JOURNALIST #1: I just read on the Internet that you said there are areas in Baghdad that you can walk around freely?
MCCAIN: I just came from one.
IRAQI JOURNALIST #1: Yeah, and which area would that be?
IRAQI JOURNALIST #2: What kind of security you had today?
MCCAIN: General Petraeus goes downtown almost every day. Of course, he has protection, and we had protection today. Things are getting better in Iraq, and I am pleased with the progress that has been made.

And with that, the "Straight Talk Express" with the "Rose Colored Windshield", much like the ghost of Elvis leaving the building, left the market.

-Noah Greenberg



The Smartest Idiot

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of parliament's passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act, Tony Blair expressed "deep sorrow and regret for our nation's role in the slave trade." Today, Niall Ferguson says that Blair's "needless kowtowing over slavery" was the proximate cause of Iran's seizure of 15 British sailors and marines a week ago. It demonstrated weakness, you see.

Seriously. That's what he said.

-submitted by Victoria Brownworth with thanks to Kevin Drum

It's nice to know that idiots can be found in the form of intellectuals, isn't it? -NG



FAILURES OF DIPLOMACY
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.


I was too young to remember an historical event called the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I have read a great deal about it in the intervening decades. The short version of the event is this: nuclear standoff becomes nuclear stand down via diplomacy.

There’s no such diplomacy going on in the Persian Gulf right now. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are in a face-off over whether or not a crew of 15 British sailors and marines may or may not have crossed a nautical mile into Iranian waters.

On March 23rd, the 15 British naval personnel were captured while in the waters of the Persian Gulf. Iran asserts that “confessions” and other evidence indicate that they had illegally entered Iranian waters. British officials, however, maintain that the 15 were seized in Iraqi waters.

Since the capture of the 14 men and one woman, Britain has demanded their immediate release and shown its proof that the 15 were indeed in the waters off Iraq and nearly a full two nautical miles from Iranian waters. Iran, however, has declared it has proof that the 15 were indeed in Iranian waters.

Standoff.

Last week Iran racheted up the tension by first declaring that the female sailor would be let go and then not releasing her. Then she and another sailor were forced to give “confessions” (both exactly the same) on camera.

On March 31st, the Iranian foreign ministry announced the 15 would be held for trial.

Iran initially claimed that the 15 were performing “a suspicious act” when they were captured and that this constituted “invading,” according to the foreign ministry.

Iran has since backed away from that statement, but has not withdrawn the assertion that the naval personnel had transgressed their waters. Iranian forces seized the British sailors and marines in the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that marks the southern stretch of Iraq's border with Iran.

The incident has become an international trigger, as neither Tehran nor London will back down from their assertions.

The U.S. had declined involvement for a week, which given the kind of diplomacy the Bush Administration proffers, was likely for the best. The UN Security Council gave its usual vague “we’re gravely concerned” pabulum response to the incident.

But on March 31st the crisis hit a crescendo when a vacationing George Bush decided to make some comments from Camp David. He used the inflammatory word “hostages” in his description of the 15, a word Britain had been careful not to use, and a word which, when coupled with Iran, strikes a very sour chord in the U.S., where the memory of Iran’s capture and detention of Americans for 444 days in 1979 had tremendous impact on American sentiment toward that nation.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Bremen, Germany, followed suit. The group threatened “appropriate measures” if Tehran did not release the 15. The EU foreign ministers, after examining the facts, supported Britain’s contention that the crew were in Iraqi waters when they were captured March 23rd.

While the ministers did not say what measures would be taken, sources say Downing Street hoped it would mean a series of increasingly punitive steps against the Ahmadinejad regime.

Whither, then, diplomacy?

There seems no question that the entire international community sides with Britain on the issue. Nevertheless, this crisis is not just about who is right and who is wrong; there larger issues at stake–like another war in the Middle East or a nuclear attack.

The entire EU and the U.S. have been concerned about Ahmadinejad’s interest in obtaining nuclear materials and building nuclear weaponry. (Those who assert the Iranian president just wants nuclear energy and “everyone” has that are simply wrong. Fewer than 30 nations in the world use nuclear energy and the use of nuclear energy is on the decline, not the upswing. Only nine countries have nuclear weapons, and all but three of those have agreed to nuclear disarmament.)

Those who think that nuclear materials are interchangeable, are also incorrect. The materials used for fuel rods in nuclear power plants are not the same as those used for nuclear armaments. Ahmadinejad has sought to obtain the latter, not the former.

Ahmadinejad is not the only questionable character here. Blair and Bush bear blame as well.

Whether or not the British sailors and marines transgressed Iranian waters has actually ceased to be the main issue. Now Britain and Iran and the U.S. are engaged in a shouting match. That is simply not the way to handle international affairs–particularly not with a nation that has been circling its wagons for more than a year and thumbing its nose at international concerns over nuclear weapons. The last time the U.S. and EU eschewed diplomacy with that kind of nation, the U.S. invaded Iraq.

The world cannot afford another war in the Middle East, particularly not one in which Russia, which has more nuclear weapons than any other nation and has been selling and trading them since the fall of the Soviet Union, is a reluctant signatory to the sanctions against Iran, a nation it has always supported.

Diplomacy has been the route to avert nuclear war since August 1945. It’s the right route and, frankly, the only route. There is no recovery from a nuclear war. It is the end for every nation, whether they were engaged in the conflict or not.

Which makes the current state of affairs between Iran and Britain all the more troubling. The UK has nuclear weapons. Iran may or may not have nuclear materials–Ahmadinejad has refused to allow inspectors into the country and Russia has declined comment on whether it has indeed sold nuclear weaponry to Iran, although it was known to be in the process of doing so. Add to this already volatile mix, the talk-first, think-later voice of George Bush and the fuse is nearly lit on a dangerous international incident.

No one likes Ahmadinejad, most especially his own people. Of the three leaders, his approval rating is–incredibly–even lower than that of Bush and Blair. Iranians almost wholly disapprove of his tactics and feel he has put his country in an untenable position with the international community. No Iranian wants the sanctions of the West he had brought about.

Ahmadinejad may be attempting to curry favor with his own people with the capture of the 15. Giving the impression that these naval personnel are being held in comfort and being treated well after allegedly having transgressed Iranian territory makes Ahmadinejad look good and Britain and the U.S. look surly and uncooperative. Certainly the move has worked to some extent since while Iranians may not be happy with their own leader, they are even less inclined to like or approve of anything the U.S. and Britain are engaged in–protests were held in front of the British embassy in Tehran on April 1st.

But that strategy cuts both ways. Unhappy as Britons are with Blair and what is perceived as his toadying to Bush, they are even less happy seeing British sailors and marines–including a woman being forced to wear a burka–reading scripted confessions while looking utterly unnerved. Polls in Britain show that the people are overwhelmingly in support of Blair on this particular issue and believe Iran is wholly in the wrong.

Stalemate.

This would be where the role of the U.S. should be as negotiator, rather than someone prodding the wound with a stick. It would behoove the U.S. to ratchet *down* the tension, rather than intensify it. But Bush loathes Ahmadinejad and has been looking for a back-door route into a war with Iran for well over a year.

The U.S., however, cannot afford another war–not in dollars or expenditure of personnel. What’s more, this incident should already have been resolved. The only reason it has not been is because of the intransigence of the three leaders involved.

Diplomacy is more essential in 2007 than ever before. There *are* rogue nations in the world. Zimbabwe, Somalia and North Korea have dictatorial governments so extreme that the people in those nations are suffering unbearably. There are other nations that are poised at the edge of anarchy and chaos, like Iraq and Palestine.
In nations that are stable, however, like Britain and the U.S. and, whether or not we approve of it, Iran, diplomacy *is* an answer and must always be the goal.

Britain should apologize for any “misperception” that its naval personnel transgressed Iranian waters. Such a comment skirts any admission of guilt, yet would mollify the volatile leader that Ahmadinejad is.

Sometimes the high road must be taken and it is in the best interests of the West to take that high road more often rather than less so. It does not hurt international perception of Britain or the U.S. if Blair and Bush back down from the shouting match with Tehran. Tehran has a long history of both brutality and hostage-taking; would not the entire international community or at the very least the allies of Britain know that such a diplomatic move was just that–diplomacy to save the lives of 15 British sailors and marines and avert further conflict in the region?

What is most disturbing in this current incident is the failure of diplomacy on all sides. Britain may be utterly right that the naval personnel were not in Iranian waters. Certainly the GPS logs seem to prove this. Iran may have been utterly wrong in judging where the sailors and marines were and may have taken them precipitously. This is indeed the likely scenario.

But Iran belongs in the region and Britain and the U.S. are occupying forces that are universally despised there. Whether Britain is in the wrong or not, the sentiment is against them.

This is why diplomacy is essential. The West does not need more outrage leveled at it in the Middle East. Quite the opposite. In the same week that the crisis over the 15 Britons was escalating, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made comments during the opening ceremonies at the Arab League summit meeting in Riyadh that caused consternation in Washington. Calling Iraq a place “where blood is spilled between brothers under an illegitimate foreign occupation and despicable sectarianism that threatens civil war,” Abdullah–considered a close ally of the Bush Administration–blind-sided the Administration with his surprise statement.

The King’s assertions coupled with the increased tensions in the region, should add more incentive, not less, regarding diplomacy. There are many internecine struggles in the Middle East and Abdullah illuminated some of them in his speech. Maintaining a balance between the West and the Middle East, the concerns of Arabs and Palestinians and the concerns of the West and Israel is delicate indeed and no one seems to be achieving that goal or even approximating it.

The U.S. and Britain ignored the sectarian issues in the Middle East both before and after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Iran is dominated by the Shiite branch of Islam, while Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria are Arab nations dominated by Sunni Islam. Iran is a theocracy dedicated to Islamist revolution, but Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Egypt are ruled by monarchs or presidents and have their own concerns about religious extremism.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is going to Syria this week to talk about issues in the region. The Bush Administration has refused to engage in discussions with Syria, calling it a nation that sponsors terror.

What Pelosi is doing is called diplomacy. (She also addressed the Israeli Knesset on April 2nd.) Quite simply, we need more of this, regardless of how we view a particular nation. We give millions of dollars to Sudan every year and call Sudan an ally in the so-called war on terror, yet the Sudanese government is sponsoring the genocide in Darfur. Doesn’t that implicate the U.S. in terrorism by association? Where exactly are these lines drawn? Are they any different than the lines between the Iraqi waters and the Iranian ones?

Diplomacy is the only answer to the most volatile situations in the global village.

If, for example, you have a crazy neighbor who has a gun and is always threatening to shoot anyone who comes onto his property, it would be foolhardy to even get close to his place, wouldn’t it?

Britain knows the volatility of Iran. Why even approach Iranian waters?

There is only one answer to this current crisis: Diplomacy. Sometimes there are more important issues at stake than simply saving face. Britain knows the international community supports it on this point. So why not simply say that Iran need not worry about British sailors and marines transgressing its waters and get the 15 personnel (who must be terrified, no matter how well they are being treated, because they are being held against their will and with heavy charges against them) out now?

Iran has a history of being able to hold onto hostages interminably. Why test how long they will hold these young sailors, some of whom have small children at home? In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Falstaff says, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

In this case diplomacy is the better part of valor. If the West does not start exercising diplomacy soon, it will find itself staring down very real WMDs. That is a reality none of us wants to nor can afford just to save face. Bush, Blair and Ahmadinejad all need to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. And act accordingly.


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-Noah Greenberg