“Blaming Saddam for everything”

Jimmy Breslin’s editorial in Newsday is mind-boggling for two reasons: one, that such a great number of Americans seem to think that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks despite all the media attention that he is getting since his arrest, and secondly that the role of the Bush administration in spreading that notion is still not seriously attacked. Here’s what one person told Breslin, who was interviewing people near the World Trade Center:

“For me Hussein did it, the other guy, too. These people both is together in Iraq and in the trade center,” Garcia said. “If Saddam don’t do nothing, why he go into a hole? Because he is afraid we catch him for the World Trade Center that he did with bin Laden? The both of them together.”

Saddam has plenty to blamed for in his own country. Perhaps the misguided notion that he was involved in 9/11 will dissipate when he is put on trial and not charged with conspiring in that attack.

New US-funded Arabic language TV station

This has long been rumored, but now seems actually closer to starting: Al Hurra (The Free One) is the name of the forthcoming US-funded Arabic-language TV station. Although based in Virginia, it seems one of its major offices will be in Baghdad. There is considerable irony that this will yet another state-controlled TV station, although if it does as good work as Radio Free Europe this might not be a bad thing.

CIA study says no Arab-Israeli peace until 2020

Haaretz notes a new study by the CIA’s National Intelligence Council posits that no peace is possible until Arafat’s death and perhaps long after that:

The intelligence estimate casts doubt on the likelihood of a full peace settlement materializing in the years before 2020; nonetheless, should an Israel-Palestinian agreement for a “cold peace” win support among a majority of Palestinians, it would constitute the most significant development in the region since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, improve the Arab world’s attitude toward the U.S., and eliminate a pretext used by Arab countries which are reluctant to implement political reforms, the U.S. assessment claims. Israel, the evaluation adds, will not relinquish nuclear weapons it possesses.


The Middle East section of this global assessment warns about the possibility of a war between Israel and Syria, or some other Arab state. In such a future war, it is possible that unconventional (biological, chemical or even nuclear) weapons could be used, warns the National Intelligence Council. Such a war would eradicate the softening of Arab attitudes toward the U.S., and also derail efforts to revive progress on the Israel-Palestinian peace track. Another rout of an Arab army by the IDF would cause Arab populations to reconsider the viability of their political regimes.

Surely that was the argument about 1967, but even the viability of Arab political regimes was doubted, there was little opposition movements could do about it, particularly while these governments became clients of the US or USSR. I also wonder if the 2020 date is perhaps a reflection of wishful thinking — certainly the current Israeli government does not seem interested in achieving peace and thinks time is on its side (which has been more or less the policy since 1967, since time allows the creation of facts on the ground.)

You can download the full report in pdf here and take a look at reports for other regions at this page.

Netanyahu on “Arab demographic threat”

Benyamin Netanyahu has pitched in his two cents in the growing debate on the Israeli right over the demographic threat that Palestinians both inside and outside Israel present:

Netanyahu added that Israel does not face a demographic threat from the Palestinians who will be under Palestinian control and will enjoy “self determination” in the future, but rather faces a threat from the Israeli Arab population. He believes that it is of the utmost importance to maintain the Jewish majority in the country and for this the economy must be improved to encourage more Jews to immigrate from the Diaspora and improve the education of “Jew and
Arab, boy and girl, man and woman.” Netanyahu warned that should the Israeli Arab sector grow to 35-40 percent of the population, Israel will become a bi-national country.

MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash) said in response to Netanyahu’s comments that “the day is not far off when Netanyahu and his cohorts will put up roadblocks at the entrances to Arab villages to tie Arab women’s tubes and spray us with spermicide.”

There has been a number of articles discussing Olmert’s suggestion of a unilateral withdrawal (a concept that was the campaign platform of the Labor Party in the last election) in the Israeli press lately. But this analysis vy Zvi Bar’el says there is no real intention of ending the occupation to solve the demographic threat and that the fence may not be what it

Since the elections you can hardly find a settler who will talk against the fence. In short order they understood that it’s not a security fence, and certainly not a fence that will protect them, but an original political creation: the de facto slicing up of the West Bank into cantons surrounded by fences. No one knows where the fence starts and where it ends, who’s inside and who’s outside. There is only one thing that’s obvious to anyone who looks at its route: a Palestinian state cannot be established inside these compounds.

Nile wars

Egypt is getting worried about Kenya’s intention to withdraw from the 1929 Water Nile accord which regulates usage of the Nile south of Egypt and keeps most of the water for Egypt’s use.

Egypt has reacted strongly to the announcement made by the Kenyan government in which it called for unilaterally revoking the 1929 Water Nile Accord, when the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources Dr Mahmoud Abu Zaid described it a declaration of war and threatened to sever diplomatic ties between his country Egypt and Kenya.

Egypt: “A grave and gathering threat” says JPost

This comment piece by Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post is telling of an evolving concern in the Israeli right about Egypt, and especially Egypt after Mubarak.

One of the worst-kept secrets in our region is that aside from Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Egypt is the greatest looming threat to Israel’s national security. As our governing officials pander to Mubarak and his top brass, these men oversee diplomatic and military policies that endanger the very existence of the Jewish state.

But I wouldn’t give too much credence to Glick’s claim that Egypt has achieved military parity with Israel. More interesting is what seems to be Israeli worries about Egypt after Mubarak:

A former senior IDF intelligence officer allows that “Egypt’s military buildup is beyond any proportion to conceivable external threats to Egypt and is a cause for alarm.” Yet, at the same time, he argues that under Mubarak’s dictatorship, Egypt has no interest in moving towards open warfare with Israel. “The problem will arise if a succession crisis ensues after Mubarak’s death.”

This argument, that 75-year-old Mubarak’s despotic rule of Egypt acts as a barrier to protect Israel from his own massive buildup of Egypt’s military forces, is the conventional wisdom on Egypt. It is voiced by officials throughout the political spectrum in Israel and accepted unquestioningly in Washington. The problem is that Egypt’s military is explicit in naming Israel as the intended recipient of the full brunt of its massive might.

Veiled is beautiful

Nyier Abdou has an interesting article in the Independent about the rise of muhagaba fashion in Egypt:

The increasing number of women wearing the hijab has brought about a radical change in the image of the Egyptian woman. As young, urbane women increasingly take the veil, age-old associations between hijab and the traditional religious conservatism dissipate. “It’s not a matter of old women getting veiled, just out of a habit,” says Nesrine Samara, project manager at the new English-language magazine Jumanah , a fashion bible for veiled women due to launch this month. “It’s not a matter of just covering up; it means a lot of other things.” Ms Samara, a 27-year-old marketing executive, is a political science graduate of the American University of Cairo. Smartly dressed in camel boots, a long coat and a bright orange scarf, she resists the notion that being veiled is simply about being modest. Women are increasingly taking the veil as a way of identifying with the larger culture of Islam, she argues.

The increasing number of women wearing the hijab has brought about a radical change in the image of the Egyptian woman. As young, urbane women increasingly take the veil, age-old associations between hijab and the traditional religious conservatism dissipate. “It’s not a matter of old women getting veiled, just out of a habit,” says Nesrine Samara, project manager at the new English-language magazine Jumanah , a fashion bible for veiled women due to launch this month. “It’s not a matter of just covering up; it means a lot of other things.” Ms Samara, a 27-year-old marketing executive, is a political science graduate of the American University of Cairo. Smartly dressed in camel boots, a long coat and a bright orange scarf, she resists the notion that being veiled is simply about being modest. Women are increasingly taking the veil as a way of identifying with the larger culture of Islam, she argues.

This is part of a much bigger trend that is still under-studied: the commodification of Islam (Google cached page, original is gone.)

Bush launches sanctions against Syria

I missed a few days ago with the whole Saddam capture thing, but it’s worth noting that President Bush has (reluctantly?) signed the Syria Accountability Act.

The legislation says Syria has provided a safe haven for anti-Israel terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is accused of pursuing the development and production of biological and chemical weapons.

It states that Syria must end its support of terrorists, terminate its 27-year military presence in Lebanon, stop efforts to obtain or produce weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles and interdict terrorists and weapons from entering Iraq.

If Syria fails to meet those conditions, the president must ban sales of dual-use items, which can have both civilian and military applications.

He also must impose at least two out of a list of six possible penalties: a ban on exports to Syria, prohibition of U.S. businesses’ operating in Syria, restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the United States, limits on Syrian airline flights in the United States, reduction of diplomatic contacts or a freeze on Syrian assets in the United States.

At the White House’s insistence, the law gives Bush broad leeway to waive both the dual-use ban and the two sanctions on the basis of national security, or after determining that Syria has taken the actions required.

The White House may therefore choose to limit the effects of the Act, and it seems that for now that none of it has been implemented yet. Syria has called for dialogue with the US, and other Arab countries have also urged Washington to use a different approach to deal with Damascus, and this may a type of negotiating tactic. On the other hand, the Bush administration is usually direct about its feelings and some think that this is opening the way to war against Syria:

The Accountability Act sets out, in even more detail than the administration had done over Iraq, a host of reasons for an invasion of Syria. And of course President Bush did not forget to mention the lack of democracy in Syria in his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy on November 6th, where he invoked democratization as his expediently retrospective rationale for invading Iraq.

I’m not sure whether the Bush administration could afford another war even if it wanted to, but a doubt lingers in my mind. I still remember when Richard Armitage went to Lebanon and said that Hizbullah was the “A-Team” of terrorism and Al Qaeda only the B-Team. Speaking of Hizbullah, it’s worth mentioning that it is hardly the terrorist group it used to be, having morphed into a thriving political party and provider of social services for disaffected Lebanese Shias.

Saddam Hussein captured

The official announcement was made by Tony Blair at 11:15am London time, although the Iranian National News Agency and a few members of the Iraqi Governing Council knew of the arrest earlier. President Bush is set to make an announcement later in the day.

According to Ahmed Chalabi’s spokesman, Entifadh Qanbar, Saddam had dug a hole in the basement of a house where he was hiding and buried himself. He had a salt and pepper beard when soldiers arrested him, was shaved and photographed and then his blood was drawn for DNA testing. The test confirmed his identity.

Iraqis started celebrating in the streets as the news spread. Many will undoubtedly want to exact (well-deserved) revenge on him, but officials are saying that he will stand trial in Iraq. But Iraq’s war crimes tribunal, which unlike similar courts set up for the former Yugoslovia and Rwanda among others is not an international court, leaves to be desired. The war crimes tribunal was announced last week and will be composed entirely of Iraqis. Some human rights experts have criticized it for not meeting the standards of international law.

Experts questioned by AFP agreed the Iraqi tribunal should work with the UN to ensure that trials will be impartial.

“Bring it under the UN and take it away from the Iraqi governing council, which is a political organ, and the US,” Jones recommended. Human Rights Watch also proposed a role for the UN with Iraqi judges and prosecutors mixed with international judges and prosecutors who are used to trying war crimes cases.

“The only way to set it up is hold it in another country and internationalize the process,” McDonald agrees.

As an example they point to the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone which is UN backed but not a UN institution like the courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and based on a mixture of international and national law.

Update: The BBC has posted a nice “Saddam Hussein in pictures” feature as well as a profile. Upon reflection, this arrest may well mark a turning point for the situation in Iraq and the way it is viewed outside. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot changes over the next few weeks in the diplomatic debacle over Iraq as well as the way the occupation is viewed both inside Iraq and inside the US. This brings a real sense of closure that may be more psychologically important than any other event in the war so far.

Update 2: The AP’s Hamza Hendawi looks at the possibility of putting Saddam on trial, and US forces have released a picture:

Saddam with beard

Congress to consider “National Security Language Act”

Rush Holt, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, and 34 others (mostly Democrats) have cosponsored a bill that would provide increased federal funding for languages considered to be critical to national security.

Al Qaeda operates in over 75 countries, where hundreds of languages and dialects are spoken. However, 99 percent of American high school, college and university programs concentrate on a dozen (mostly European) languages. In fact, more college students currently study Ancient Greek (20,858) than Arabic (10,596), Korean (5,211), Persian (1,117), and Pashto (14) put together. We need to do more to make sure that America has the language professionals necessary to defend our national security. This cannot be done overnight. We are already years overdue.

As reported by the 911 Joint Inquiry in July, our intelligence community is at 30 percent readiness in languages critical to national security. Despite this alarming statistic, we do not appear to be taking aggressive action to address this problem. When I asked a panel of intelligence experts at a recent Intelligence hearing what the federal government is doing to increase the pool of critical need
language professionals, they answered with silence. Two years after the events of September 11, we are still failing to address one the most fundamental security problems facing this nation.

This National Security Language Act would:

* Provide loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 for university students who major in a critical need foreign language and then take a job either in the federal workforce or as a language teacher. 

* Provide new grants to American universities to establish intensive in-country language study programs and to develop programs that encourage students to pursue advanced science and technology studies in a foreign language. 

* Establish grants for foreign language partnerships between local school districts and foreign language departments at institutions of higher education.

* Commission a national study to identify heritage communities here in the United States with native speakers of critical foreign languages and make them targets of a federal marketing campaign encouraging students to pursue degrees in those languages. 

Here are the languages covered in the text of the bill (pdf) as submitted to Congress:

The term less-commonly taught foreign languages includes the languages of Arabic, Korean, Chinese, Pashto, Persian-Farsi, Serbian-Croatian, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, and any other language identified by the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Defense Language Institute, the Foreign Service Institute, and the National Security Education Program, as a foreign language critical to the national security of the United States.

This can only be a good thing. Since 9/11 intelligence officials and others have noted that there is a dearth of Arabic and other Middle Eastern language speakers in the intelligence community. The targeting of “heritage communities” is a particularly good thing, especially considering that these have often been historically under-represented compared to other groups in certain parts of the federal government for political reasons — see for instance the State Dept. Near Eastern Affairs bureau, which for a good part of the 1990s was dominated by pro-Israeli appointees at the senior level.