Heretical Odds & Sacrificial Ends!

So, all tests came back negative, and the two more scheduled for the future appear to be too routine to warrant fretting about. I remain both ulcer-free and cancer-free.I am more gnawed by angst than by disease, it seems, and my symptoms, no matter how painful and bloody, continue to be mostly psychosomatic. No one dies of that, no one dies of hemorrhoids, and no one dies of gastritis. And I am no longer too young for any of these things, but I am getting too old to think that I can still afford to ignore them.

So, while Khawla and my doctors conjure up a new dietary lifestyle for me, one that I will most surely find impossible to fit within everything else I have to juggle these days, I can finally go back to my beloved and necessary hobby of blogging – of emptying my soul out for the benefit of those hapless specks out there who remain interested in perusing them for reasons that continue to be unfathomable to me. Who’s punishing whom here?, I can never tell. But I can tell you this, my two ends, that is, my mouth and my anus, have witnessed enough punishment recently, and they deserve some rest, albeit none is forthcoming. I am doing some punishment as I type.

So, what is the best way I can return to abusing myself again? Let me see… How about wasting my breaths on some something totally foolish and idiotic, not to mention soul-poisoning, like politics, especially Syrian politics?

And a lot has been happening in this regard recently. But most of it smacks of too much bullshit to warrant any direct dabbling or handling on my part. This is why I will restrict my return to a more active blogging-style to the following points:

* The recent White House meeting with representatives of the National Salvation Front was, contrary to attempts at undermining it by many, quite a success and indicated a growing willingness by members within the current administration to assume a more open posture towards one of the most important and pragmatic Syrian opposition groups in exile. This openness is not restricted to members of the National Security Council. Indeed, and over the last few months, we have had quieter endorsements from all relevant decision-making centers within the administration. No, this does not mean that the Administration will be holding direct talks with Khadddam and Bayanouni soon, for tactical and ideological reasons on both sides. But contacts with the NSF through its liberal members will now take place regularly and on a high enough level to make it worth our while at the NSF to make point of acknowledging them at this stage.

So, people can denounce, speculate, object, interpret, analyze and dismiss the fact and nature of these contacts to their hearts’ content, but, and at the end of the day, the fact cannot be denied: there is indeed a new kid on the block these days, a new player that, whether people like it or not, and for better or for worse, will make quite on an impact on the scene of Syrian external opposition. Attacks, denunciations, vilifications from all sides are more than welcome and encouraged. And please, interested ones, be as profuse, profane and vociferous about it as you like. Free publicity is appreciated.

Let’s not forget in this regard as well that similar high level contacts have taken place in Europe as well, and in the region itself. The NSF will open an office in London soon, and soon thereafter an office in DC. Whether people are going to engage the Assads or not, we still have to be ready. We still have to be relevant to whatever process that unfolds. Personally, I can finally say that I am, come what may.

* There was recently a resurgence of talks about a deal that is being cooked with the Assads. Perhaps an effort in this regard was indeed made by the British, but then, and as the French tell us, it did not pay off. Perhaps the Assads are too confident to accept the pitiful deal the British were offering, and perhaps, the one element that the Assads want to see included in the deal is exactly the one element that no one can deliver at this stage: an end to the Hariri investigation. Be that as it may, for now, there is no deal, and the Hariri investigation continues to remain as the major source of headaches for the Assads wary.

* Indeed, the age of dragging dictators by their hooves to trial may not be over yet. This is what the jailed heroes of the Syrian opposition suggested yesterday upon hearing the news of the Saddam verdict. Michel Kilo, Anwar al-Bounni and Kamal Labwani were quite outspoken despite their growing physical fragility following days of hunger strikes and a physical assault on Labwani by one of the criminal inmates.

36 thoughts on “Heretical Odds & Sacrificial Ends!

  1. There has never been a time in the last forty years when the Syrian regime has been as illegitimate in the eyes of the world as it currently is. Syria’s neighbors and so-called Arab brothers have publicly abandoned the Assads as lost black sheep and some are vocal and active in efforts to overthrow the regime. The forty years of self deceptive policy of trading occupied Golan for Sovereign Lebanon has come to a disastrous end. The image of Syria being the champion and thriving heartbeat of the Arabs has been uncovered as a shameful mask that not even a kid in Somalia would care to look at with any serious sense of acceptance not to say admiration. The fall of Syria under Iranian tutelage is yet another milestone in its steady regression towards political irrelevance. The regime’s reliance on rogue elements such as Hezbollah and Hamas to further its aims is exposing the regime’s impotence and further isolating the country from the civilized world. Poverty has never been so widespread in a country that has always maintained a relatively reasonable standard of living despite odds. There has never been a time in the last forty years when the people of Syria are faced with so many challenges affecting first and foremost their well being, their national honor, their standing in the Arab world and respect among World nations due to the policies of the impostors occupying the government in Damascus. Therefore, the Syrian opposition has a challenge in front of it as well as an opportunity to present itself as the true alternative that will save Syria from the dragons clawing on its neck that may soon stifle its soul.

  2. Ammar-Before my colonoscopy or prostate exam I always tell the doctor “the procedure does not much bother me, as long as I feel only ONE hand on my shoulders.You did get a colonoscopy I assume?

  3. Mustapha-Help me with a question I have never really got a good answer on.Why these references to “Arab unity” or “Arab leadership”…what do 1/2 billion Arabs have in common anyhow? Most of them seem to argue over who and what and Arab is?I can understand Muslim brotherhood or maybe some local nationalism (though I don’t much care for nationalism)…a shared religion…but “Arab” is what? Not a race, not a nationality…maybe a people? But why ANY loyalty on that basis? Did Naser pull the wool over some folks eyes?What if people tried to unite more based on important shared values or something along that line.Is the Arab thing more of an emotional response than anything based on some real and/or useful?I really don’t much get it at all. And haven’t Arabs pretty much been Arab’s biggest enemy for centuries?

  4. Howie, Arab unity is over rated, but it is not entirely fictitious.Any group (Nato?) can provide its members a perception of higher sense of security or relevance, and as you know, it all depends.There were times when the Arabs helped each other. It is not always arguing and competing with each other.But I absolutely agree with you that the countries of the area should not be open to this one grouping. Hopefully when there is peace, Israel can be part of any local group that makes sense. There are indeed many shared values and goals one can think of that are not entirely contingent on being an Arab.Ammar, 12 years ago I was convinced I had an ulcer or cancer in my aching stomach … when the doctor inserted a camera down my throat, into my stomach (I almost threw up of course) and he told me that there was nothing .. the pain disappeared instantaneously.I had the stomach pain for 3 months before the test.Howie, who invented the medical devices used in these painful tests?This time I bet it was the ….

  5. Alex-I do understand that Arabs were not always pickering etc. My point is that I think this term has lost almost all utility even meaning and primarily is abused by various leadership to get folks worked up…the old “they” are out to get us. I was surprised, e.g. to go on an Eyptian blog and hear many writers take offense to being referred to as Arabs…yet Naser was really the 20th century godfather of pan-arabism. I just think the “Arab” deal has limited use, great misuse and folks need to think a bit more deeply about it before getting worked up about “them” going after “the” Arabs. Heck..most folks I have heard discuss the idea end-up arguing about what an Arab even is (descendent from the Arabian penninsula I guess…good luck tracing those roots. especially you Caucasion looking Syrian’s.)The endosocopy and the colonoscopy…don’t know…I do know the Israeli’s invented the MRI and also they recently came up with a camera inside of a pill that you can swallow and it will take pictures…not real refined yet…but could save a whole lot of gagging.Also…the Jews did invent the wheel.

  6. Again, you will always have people who prefer to belong to a larger group, while others are more proud of their own local group. Being an Arab could mean that a Somali or a Bahraini can now enjoy cheering “his Arab team” win a gold medal in the Olympics. Whereas the Egyptian bloggers who preferred to be proud of their rich Egyptian history did not care much for sharing the credits with the rest of the “Arabs”Same with the Rich Arabs (Dubai?, Saudi, Kuwait) .. they are less in need of the help and prestige of the Arab group.It is very complicated. As you noticed, you have infinite variations of what a Syrian could be. Same applies to the Lebanese and Iraqis. In Egypt there is less variance in the population. But when Sadat went to Israel, he was on TV every night for a couple of months (touring the country) and every time he would tell his people: “what did we ever get from the Arabs? nothing! … they are dirty and selfish and they don’t care about Egyptians like you and me”. This of course affected the way younger Egyptians started to look at the Arab world. Their parents were more in love with Nasser and his Arab nationalism.In Syria, Hafez Assad was Nasser’s equivalent. There are those who hate him, and there are those who admire him… But Arab nationalism is not general is not taken seriously anymore by the majority of Syrians today.I think Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait confused them all … Iraq invaded Kuwait, Syria and Egypt stood with the US coalition against Iraq…

  7. Mustapha, I cannot agree more.Indeed, Howie, they ran all sorts of tests, and I had all sorts of –oscopies and blood tests. Alex, unfortunately the pain is not all in my head, and while the tests and the whateveroscopies were relatively painless, due to the use of anesthesia, the symptoms at the heart of the matter can be quite painful at times. Anonymous, do you mean that Farid is blogging about his hemorrhoids too?

  8. Howie,Since you directed that question to me, I will try to offer my understanding of this contentious issue. Arabism has never been a rallying slogan until perhaps the end of the nineteenth century. It was in fact formulated at the AUB in Beirut by Arab literary figures (mostly Syrian and Lebanese with the help of immigrants who had some distinguished literary backgrounds) beginning around the year 1870. It gained political currency in the First World War due to its expediency in rallying Arab against Turk when the Ottomans were at their death bed. It particularly suited Britain in its effort to enlist the help of the Emir of Hijaz in the campaign in return for a disputed promise by Britain to the Emir of a Great Arab Kingdom which would have encompassed the Arab Peninsula as well as present day Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. That history, of course, is well known and resulted in very bitter feelings from Arabs against the West in general and particularly Britain due to the perceived reneging on the aforesaid promise. Arabism however didn’t die as a result of this ‘mishap’. It was later developed into ideological political parties that some remain with us up until today.The Arabs define their identity with Islam occupying a central position in that definition. It was in fact, Islam which brought the Arabs into the world scene and in a sense it was a transforming moment in the history of the Arabs of Hijaz, Najd and Yemen. Racially speaking, over 90% of the people of the fertile crescent (including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the greater part of Iraq) and the Arab Peninsula descend from Arab stock originating in the Peninsula and Yemen (Please See Philip Hitti). On the other hand Egypt and North Africa are mixed. The Arab proportion varies from country to country with Egypt being about 70% while the rest of North Africa is somewhat less.The ideologues who raised the flag of Arab Nationalism after the failure of the Hashemite’s project attempted different schemes to come up with a definition for an Arab. The only common denominator they found among these ½ billion (as you said but they’re probably closer to 300 million) was the language and the common history. These ideologies sprang during the turmoil years that Europe faced between the two wars. Most of the ideology was actually a copy cat of nationalist ideologies originating in Europe, particularly German. Anton Saade came up with his Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party which initially gained popularity but later on discarded and bloodily fought, specifically because of its disregard to the centrality of Islam in Arab society. The Baath came out afterwards championed by Salah al-Bitar, a Muslim Syrian bourgeois, and Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian. It was a modified version of Saade’s creed accommodating those aspects which caused the failure the Syrian Nationalists.During and after the Second World War Britain attempted to mend fences with the Arabs (of course in order to maintain its famous route to India hoping to extend its dominion way beyond the end of hostilities in Europe and elsewhere). It further promoted the idea of Arab Nationalism. Indeed Britain was instrumental in creating the present day Arab League of nations.This trend towards Arab Nationalism is receding nowadays in favor of more Religious based ideologies. You may say we are now witnessing a reaction taking place in the so-called Arab World to the last centuries’ Western meddling in its affairs in an effort to shape this World in the image of Europe. This trend is taking place at the grass root level and it is very dangerous, particularly because of the introduction of concepts that bring Religion directly into political life.

  9. Mustapha-You are quite the scholar (didn’t just copy and paste Wikipedia now did you 😉 )Anyhow…yes I understood a bit of that and now I am better informed. Is it not sad though that folks can get all fired up about a concept, not only a concept…but one that folks can’t really agree on, like going to war for the sake of “the Arab people”…a con job like most forms of nationalism, patriotism, or “great ideas” that tend to get the average shmuck on the street shot.But yes…you are very correct about Islamism taking over for pan-Arabism and it is far far more dangerous. It is one thing when the Fruher says it is OK to rape and pillage because we are all…ah I don’t know..Paraguians”, but when God is telling us it is right and righteous…well and guess who typically gets the direct messages from God??? Yep…the Fruher.So…the Nazis had their run, the Commies, the Brits, Japanese, the Spaniards, the French and all the others taken by their own verisons of Manifest Destiny and are going to destroy and torture in the name of God’s love or love of country or some other whacky vision. It has been about 1300 years…but I guess it is “your” turn again to fill the vacum once again.

  10. Howie,I will ignore what you said between brackets for I will not presume you’re the presumptuous type. I will take it as a ‘humorous’ attempt to ‘break the ice’ (only this time though).I would like to ask you, however, to read what I said once again because I have a feeling that you believe I may be advocating some of the “great ideas”. I was presenting facts as I understand them…. I have no answer to your ‘sad’question…. I am quite positive, however, that the Arabs will NOT produce another Fuhrer (even though it appeared that they came close to it in the last 100 years).

  11. It seems to me that ‘Arabism’ is above all an identity….for whatever that is worth to any individual person or group. This identity could represent a cultural grouping, an ethnic or ancestoral heritage, or a nationalistic sentiment. It is for the choosing – what this identity means. Nobody seems to criticize much – the need or desire for smaller identity grouping for political and social purposes – religious affiliations, gay identity groups, pan- latin americanism, and what-not. Of late, many of these identity politic movements are clearly viewed as struggles for poliitical power and liberation or civil rights. Although they are irritating and annoying at times – the purpose- is understood.but Identity – is a choice….and should be so. Nobody has to be required to affiliate with a group no matter whether others identify them as part of it. To my mind – identity is a representation of a self determined assertion of who one is and ones connections to other human beings. And, I don’t think there is any reason to assume that groupings are mutually exclusive. One can be an Arab or a Latina or a member of the EU or a pan-Asian group and also be a humanist above all.I don’t think it is sad, actually, for people to seek identification with a group; after all, it is intrinsic it seems to our human and animal nature. Obviously, history has shown the dangers and the sometimes disasterous outcomes of this predilection, but I don’t think this means that all desire for affiliation has to lead to violence towards those who are “other” to a particular group.I think a connection to a group doesn’t have to be a negation of some larger connection to the human race or to life period – it could simply be an assertion of a sentiment of caring and concern for the furthering of certain cultural values or the survival of a cultural history and identity of a people. Who cares if these are all constructions. Even the historical knowledge are in part constructions. But they give people meaning and identity. And identity is almost as significant to the human soul as food is to our bodies. People kill and die over this.

  12. In practice people have a very fluid sense of identity. It’s their inability or unwillingness to acknowledge this and to come to peace with it that it the problem.

  13. Ammar,I too wish you speedy recovery. I have a minor observation about your statement regarding identities being fluid in practice. I’d say this is quite likely so in the ‘new world’ for very obvious reasons. I wouldn’t dare to generalize, particularly when dealing with the ‘old world’. I think identities in Europe, ME and elsewhere are not as fluid as we would like them to be. Globalization may have erased corporate identities but not people in general. Modern communication may bridge the gap but it will take quite a long time.

  14. Ammarspeedy recovery , am glad you are keeping your sense of humor , i guess we all find some refuge in bloggingHowie – i do agree that culture wise arab countries are different in so many aspects , but i think that arabism is inside all of us , we get it with milk since childhood and to some extent it kept us busy with all the troubles around us except our internal affairs.The general feeling of frustrations and defeat among arabs has left us all confused about our identity , some as you have seen in the egyption blogs have choosen the denial for their arabism and they are not only blogging about it but they even founded a party for this , others and they seem to be the majority have choosen religion and on this principal Afghanistan and even Indonisia become part of the “group”with the political and intellectual opression in the the arab countries , religion remains the only ideological reference , it becomes an identity rather than sprituality , this is the main trend in the arab world currently.whats left from arabism is some false feeling of pride that we are still trying to cling on and we better get more mature about it and focus our efforts in our own countries.

  15. Mustaph-No…my comments were actually meant as being very complimentary…Wikipedia was a joke. You sound like a college professor or at least a grad student in history.No I am not inferring at all that you are advocating a “great idea”, in fact you clearly state that the move towards religious expression of pan-Arabism is dangerous and I could not agree more. I found your comments educational but frustrating in the sense that, as Ammar notes, these identities can be quite fluid. Zen. is right that people do need to indentify…my issue is that this identity is so vague and broad and that it has so often been grossly abused for political reasons. How many Arabs do y’all think, especially some offended ones, couold give you a clear definition of what an Arab is? Yet many are primed and ready to get real excited about it.Though I don’t agree with radical Islam…at least identifying as a Muslim makes clear sense to me…identifying as an Arab does not.

  16. Istar?Arabic is close enough to Hebrew where I could make out an “a” “s” and “r” I think?Anyhow…you responed to me with a very critical idea:”religion remains the only ideological reference , it becomes an identity rather than sprituality , this is the main trend in the arab world currently.whats left from arabism is some false feeling of pride that we are still trying to cling on and we better get more mature about it and focus our efforts in our own countries.”Your comment is brilliant and I think right on the mark.We need to get excited about good people and good ideas. Not slogans, and “isms” etc. Arabs, of course, do not have the market cornered in that foolish regard.

  17. One last comment about pride, identity etc.I am freakin sick of people taking pride in something they have NOTHING to do with…I am proud to be Jewish, I am proud to be Arab, I am proud to be black or Albanian or Bolivian. Bullshit!!. What did you accomplish by being born in Baharin or Finland besides maybe being the fastest sperm amongest millions in that particular evening’s shot?Pride should be based on what YOU accomplished, not accident of freakin birth. And even your accomplishments should always be tempered by humility. Hell…even the greatest among us can be quickly brought to their knees by something as simple as a couple 1cm hemmorids.And Alex…the Jews did invent the hemmorid! If you think I am joking…just check the Book of Sammuel. And we gave them to the early Palestinians for stealing our ark!!!Take that!

  18. Howie,I will need to do some research to reply to your latest, probably unfounded, claims.But I’ll forgive you this time, because you are concentrating on the basic issues behind the Middle East’s problems, pride is one of them.If you forget the carefuly worded politically correct statements of politicians, and go to the online comments of regular readers in both Aljazeera, and any Israeli site, you will realize how many lunatics we have in the Middle East … These people are driven by pride, ego, and need for revenge.And I think we discussed this one before: I believe that we have too many racists in the Middle East, on both sides.Frankly, I think that fixing the problems of the Middle East does not start with democracy, but it starts with a complete overhaul of the mentality and education system in ALL countries.The area is too crowded, there are so many different groups living in the same region, yet most grow up learning to favor their own group (religion, sect, tribe, country).. they will surely continue fighting forever unless there is a reversal of the racist, or the excessively religious mentality. Not if they want to live side by side.

  19. Alex-At this point in time…racism seems to be far less the issue than religion…though racists will twist religion to suit their purposes.Education…outside of Israel…who has open access to debates such as ours? I think most ME folks cannot even legally talk to an Israeli. How can y’all find out who we really are? So yes…on that we agree…a fair, open education, both sides being presented..public debate encouraed…but Alex..that sounds a lot like democracy?

  20. Democracy will be great after people are calm and not paranoid that the other side is after them and is trying to annihilate their religion.The other side could be Jews, or Christians, or the west, or America in the case of the Arab and Islamic worlds.In Israel, the other side, is the Muslims, the Arabs, the Syrians, Iran, HamasThat’s why today, opinion polls in Israel are showing strong support for Lieberman, and almost no support for labor.If you hold elections in Syria (the most secular Arabs) today you will still get the Muslim Brotherhood into power (managing about 60% of the vote) … even though the president is more popular today, if an election campaign (free) starts, few weeks later the religious parties will succeed in convincing many people that God will not be happy if they do not vote for tehm because they are theonly ones who can be trusted to protect their religion against all the bad others out there.I think in order to have a positive outcome out of democracy, and in order to have popular suport for peace between the Arabs and Israel ther needs to be cooperation between the leaders from all sides to carefully plan a transition period during which hostilities and negativity are gradually attenuated.As long as Olmert is still saying that “we should not trust the Syrians” and as long as Israel is only seen on Aljazeera as the murderer of children and mothers, there will be nothing to hope for in the near future.Your point about the inability of Arabs to talk to or listen to Israelis is very true. That’s whenever there is a moderate article in Haaretz (like calling for peace with Syria), I always send it to all the Syrians I know. I can tell you that those articles were very appreciated in Syria. For example now it is ok for popular Syrian news sites and e-mail lists to translate and publish Haaretz articles … something that was not possible up to a year ago.

  21. Alex: “Democracy will be great after people are calm and not paranoid that the other side is after them and is trying to annihilate their religion.”Alex, things would have really been great had we, that is, democracy and civil society activists, been given the leeway we needed to prepare the grounds for the emergence of real democracy in our midst through our various projects, including the Tharwa Project, whose main purpose was indeed to create such cross-communal channels and bridges to alleviate the level of paranoia and raise greater awareness of the other side’s legitimate concerns and interests. But dictatorial regimes thrive on the very paranoia you refer to, they needed, it legitimate their hold on power, especially when the regimes are minoritarian in nature as the Assads regime indeed is. As such, the Assads will never allow for such activities to take place, and I am speaking from experience here. For this reason, we find ourselves immersed in oppositional work and tactical alliances that are far from being perfect, and may not necessarily work. But, in reality, these very people who are not that calm and are all too paranoid remain as the only source of hope and legitimacy out there, no matter how problematic their socio-religious mores are for us. For we have to educate and agitate at the same time come what may. The idea of working in a sequential order presupposes the existence of just and enlightened despots, the Assads don’t fit the mold. That’s the reality with which we have to contend, we cannot wish it away, and we cannot keep on waiting. So ready or not, here it comes: change. It will happen and due to mostly internal mechanisms. Making that change democratic, not to mention secular, is the real trick, of course. Be that as it may, the Assads will have no role to play here except that of a major obstacle that will be removed, one way or another. Howie: “Pride should be based on what YOU accomplished, not accident of freakin birth. And even your accomplishments should always be tempered by humility. Hell…even the greatest among us can be quickly brought to their knees by something as simple as a couple 1cm hemmorids.”Oh how true, on all counts.

  22. Ammar, as usual I do not disagree with you on the basics (values, goals, facts). I disagree with you on1) Estimates of Probabilities:You have always been basing your options on either a window of opportunity to get rid of “the Assads” which is more tied to external help (military, or Hariri investigation legal pressure) or on your expectation that the Syrian people are sick of the regime and they want to risk their life and the stability of their country to be free of the Assads.It has not happened in the past 25 years .. why now? why after Iraq and Lebanon will the Syrian people suddenly get desperate? 2) Perceptions:You consider “The Assads” to be hopeless. The Assad himself is “a Moron”I preferred to say that he makes mistakes just like they all do. Can you name another famous democratic leader who makes lots of mistakes? why don’t you generalize to saying “the Bushes are Morons and they are hopeless”And as you probably noticed, the world is changing this perception about Bashar’s “mistakes”… now the conclusion is “he was right on Iraq after all”.3) Preferred Tactics:You believe that it is better to tolerate probable bloodshed in the short term in order to get rid of the Assads and to start moving along the path for democracy.Ironically, I will hopefully start agreeing with you more in the future ONLY if the US really changes its policy towards the area and towards Syria to a policy that achieves some real, positive results for the people of the region. Enough to make the US message appealing.If James Baker and Bob Gates mean that scowcroft (and indirectly Zbigniew Brzezinski, who co-authored a paper with Gates advocating talking to Iran) are in, then I would be very optimistic that the new constructive US policy will have a considerable chance to eventually (within 2 years I estimate) appeal to the Syrian people and to attract them to the values of Democracy.If this does not take place, if the administration gets stuck fighting with the democratic led house and senate, if the defense minister is busy arguing with the vice president and his men, and if the US continues to be the cause of more Chaos in the Middle East, then nothing will happen, and the Syrian regime will still win the acceptance of the Syrian people… To conclude, and as I always wrote the past two years, I still think that ONLY by moving away from the men and failed policies of the 80’s (President Reagan’s) to the policies and leaders of the 90’s (Bush Sr.’s team), will the United States have a real chance to help both democracy and peace in the Middle East.Here is Maureen Dowd in the New York time today.

  23. And the Guardian today,Guardian International PagesWhite House: Vice-president faces isolation over Iran and Syria after key ally leaves PentagonJulian Borger770 words10 November 2006The Guardian19English© Copyright 2006. The Guardian. All rights reserved.Donald Rumsfeld’s replacement by Robert Gates at the Pentagon could mark the most significant shift in the balance of power inside the Bush administration since it took office nearly six years ago, with consequences for both Iraq and Iran.Political observers in Washington predicted that the appointment could pave the way for talks with Iran and Syria in a bid to contain the violence in Iraq, and could also put off a military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme.Donald Rumsfeld’s departure and the Democratic takeover of Congress leaves Dick Cheney isolated in Washington, and almost alone in his backing for a military solution to the Iranian challenge. The Cheney-Rumsfeld axis acted as a stone wall around the White House, keeping out criticisms and doubts. Now, those doubts are beginning to seep in, opening the way for a fundamental rethink of policy.However, that does not mean that Mr Cheney’s influence is at an end. He has a formidable staff within the White House and remains an important influence on the president. “He’s isolated but you know when you corner a dangerous animal, it doesn’t make him any less dangerous,” said a senior Democratic foreign policy official. “He’s going to continue to push for what he believes in. It doesn’t mean he’s going to put his toys away and go home.”Melvin Goodman, a former CIA official who worked under Mr Gates, expressed doubts that Mr Gates has the strength of conviction to stand up to Mr Cheney. “He never has, so it would be the first time,” said Mr Goodman, now a senior fellow at the Centre for International Policy.Nevertheless, the choice of Mr Gates strengthens the hand of Condoleezza Rice, who has clashed repeatedly with the Pentagon. The two know each other from their days as Soviet experts in the first Bush White House. Both feel more at home with the foreign policy pragmatists around the elder George Bush than among the neo-conservatives who rallied to the current president.In terms of the family conflict that has provided a Shakespearean backdrop to the administration, it represents near total victory for the father over the son. The elder Bush distrusted Mr Rumsfeld and warned against his appointment. Mr Gates, by contrast, is very much his man.When Mr Gates, as deputy-director of the CIA, was tainted by the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan era, Mr Bush stood by him and gave him the top job in the agency in 1991. Mr Gates demonstrated his loyalty by becoming the curator of the Bush presidential library in Texas.As the Iraq war grinds on, and the broader neoconservative project in the Middle East is sliding towards disaster, former aides to the elder Bush – once spurned by his son – are reappearing one by one at the policy-making helm.“In the past, when Bush got enmeshed in a big mistake . . . daddy came to the rescue – that’s what’s happening here,” said Vincent Cannistraro, a former counter-terrorist chief of operations at the CIA. “Daddy was insistent on getting Gates in.”James Baker, the secretary of state in the first Bush administration, has already saved the younger Bush from disaster, taking charge of the legal effort in Florida that clinched victory in the 2000 election. He now plays a pivotal role as the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group.Mr Gates is a member of the commission and his appointment guarantees that its recommendations will be given a favourable hearing. “At least he’ll read the thing,” Mr Goodman said. “Rumsfeld would have thrown it out of the window.”Both Mr Baker and Mr Gates have advocated the multilateralism that was typical of Bush senior but not Bush junior. In particular they believe the US should talk to Iraq’s neighbours, Iran and Syria.Mr Gates co-authored a study on Iran policy two years ago which concluded that Washington should hold comprehensive talks with Tehran before it achieved nuclear capability. His fellow author was President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who yesterday declared Mr Gates’s selection as “the best appointment President Bush has made in the course of his six years in office.”However, resistance to opening a dialogue with Iran will be fierce, particularly from Mr Cheney, and Mr Baker has made clear his commission will have no easy solutions to the mess in Iraq.Dick Cheney: running out of friends

  24. Dear Alex-I put this in, just to show how much I love you:Rattling the Cage: Why Israel must talk to SyriaBy LARRY DERFNER [Recent columns][Print this Article] [EMail this Article] [Subscribe] [SMS Alerts] [JPost Toolbar] [JPost ePaper] Talkbacks for this article: 18If for no other reason than the Israeli people’s psychological well-being, the Olmert government has to accept Syria’s offer to begin peace negotiations.Since the summer war in Lebanon, Israelis have gone into a serious, dangerous depression, and it’s only getting deeper. This week it came out that the army is gearing up for a war it believes Syria and Hizbullah will launch against us next summer, and the news didn’t cause even a ripple. Israelis are on war overload. Tell them there’s going to be a war with Syria next summer, and they think: “Hmm. I wonder if it’ll start before the war in Gaza turns into a new intifada, or maybe the war with Iran will start first, then the new intifada, then the war with Syria. Interesting. What’s for lunch?”Israelis have resigned themselves to a life of war and a future of war. It’s no mystery why – the Katyushas from Lebanon and the Kassams from Gaza killed their belief in unilateral withdrawal, which was supposed to be Israel’s lifeline to peace after the last intifada killed most people’s belief in negotiations. The only options left, most Israelis are now convinced, is fight or flight, and since very few of us are about to flee the country, that leaves only fight – here, there, wherever. When will it end? Who knows, that’s the way it is.We’re becoming like primitive, Third World peasants who kill and die in feuds with the same enemies for century after century until they don’t even question it anymore. It’s God’s will, they say, it’s in the Bible. My sons will be killed, my daughters will be killed? That’s what happened to my parents and my grandparents, and it’ll happen to my sons and grandsons, the ones who survive, God willing. No use worrying about it. Just keep digging.That may be normal life for Third World peasants, but Israelis are a forward-looking, ambitious people – they cannot live without hope for peace. Yet that’s what they’ve arrived at. They’ve accepted war as their fate. Which has put them in a serious, dangerous depression.NOW HERE comes Syrian President Bashar Assad and, only a few days ago, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem to urge Israel to talk peace – and Ehud Olmert says no. He’s got preconditions. The Syrians first have to cut off Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Iran. For good measure, he says, “As long as I serve as prime minister, the Golan Heights will remain in our hands because it is an integral part of the State of Israel.”Does anybody believe him? If he was convinced Assad was sincere about peace, or if the Americans twisted his arm, does anybody believe Olmert would make his stand on the Golan, when not only Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak but even Binyamin Netanyahu were prepared to give it up?And what is this nonsense about preconditions? For so many years it was Israel that was insisting on “direct negotiations without preconditions” while the Arabs were demanding that Israel first get out of the occupied territories, and only then would they talk. Now an Arab leader wants to talk to Israel, and Israel is saying no, we’ve got preconditions.What hypocrisy. Syria doesn’t have any political alliances that it didn’t have before, when three Israeli prime ministers were conducting peace negotiations through the US with Hafez Assad. Does anybody believe that these alliances are Olmert’s real reason for refusing to talk to Bashar Assad?The real reason Olmert won’t talk is because the Bush administration won’t let him, something the administration hasn’t even tried to hide. As far as Bush is concerned, Syria is an auxiliary member of the axis of evil, and you don’t talk to them, you freeze them out, keep them guessing whether you’re going to regime-change their asses, and wait for them to come begging.Con

  25. Maureen Dowd is hilarious. but this last piece is pretty ha-ha , as well…..big things are about to happen – i think…

  26. Alex-That was funny!!!!Great job…But why did you leave the article out about the Jews inventing the computer and the Internet?

  27. Howie, the day you post here a link to prime minister Olmert saying “we will start peace negotiations with Syria” I promise to get all my friends to search any search engine out there until we find the solid proof that Jews Invented the Internet, even if it upsets this other inventor.Ammar, do you know if he reads your blog?

  28. HowieIts Ishtar , you only missed the dots:)I cant agree more about pride thats why i called it “false”

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