Commentary

What I Learned in the Airport in Bahrain

Bahrain International Airport - When I came to Bahrain, it certainly wasn't with the intention of spending my whole time in the country in the airport. I wanted to see what was going on in the country, not to see what was going on in the airport.

 

But the Bahrain authorities would not let me enter the country. At this writing, it's 5 PM local time. My flight got in at 2:15 AM. I have been informed that the Director of Immigration has decided that I shall not have a visa to enter Bahrain - although in the past it was the practice of the Bahrain authorities to give visas to Americans in the airport pretty much automatically - so the authorities are saying that the only way I am leaving the airport is on a plane out of the country. At this writing, it looks like I could be in the airport for another 36 hours.

 

Other observers managed to get in, and you can see their reports at Witness Bahrain. [You can't see that website if you live in Bahrain though - it's blocked here by the Bahrain authorities.] But if you're in the U.S., you can read reports on Witness Bahrain on the protests marking the first anniversary of the uprising for democracy, and the Bahrain government's response to those protests. I won't be able to contribute to those reports, since, sitting in the airport, I won't be able to observe the protests and the government response.

 

However, I did learn something useful, sitting in the airport, waiting with a bunch of other foreigners for permission to enter the country.

 

I learned that the government of Bahrain is starting to pay a real price for its efforts to shield its actions towards peaceful protesters from international scrutiny.

 

Can Joe Lieberman Block Diplomacy with Iran that Would Prevent War?

Can Joe Lieberman Block Diplomacy with Iran that Would Prevent War? by Robert Naiman There's no question that some people in Washington would very much like for the U.S. to have a policy towards Iran whose endgame is war or externally-induced regime change. And they have a long-term strategy to bring this about, which is to block efforts at meaningful diplomacy, so that the only thing left on the table is war or externally-induced regime change.

 

Now, according to reports from DC, come Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham with a new bill. What does their bill seek to do? According to reports from people who have seen the draft bill, in its current form it seeks to block the President from having a policy to "contain" Iran if it develops nuclear weapons capability.

 

Jasmin Ramsey wrote Wednesday at LobeLog:

 

 

The key lines in the resolved [clauses] have been highlighted by a Washington policy expert:

 

"(6) Strongly rejects any policy that fails to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and that instead would settle for future efforts to "contain" a nuclear weapons capable Iran;

 

(7) Urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and to oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat." [my emphasis on variations of the word "capable" - RN]

 

Call-In for Wyden-McGovern Letter Opposing New Bahrain Arms Sales--Report Back Here!

Since there is not much time before the letter closes for signatures, calling your representatives would help. Just follow these simple instructions:

  • Call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
  • Ask for your representative's office.
  • When your representative's office picks up, tell them that you urge your representative to sign the Wyden-McGovern letter to oppose any new arms sales to Bahrain. The deadline for signatures is Wednesday close of business.
  • If you are speaking to your Representative in the House, tell them to contact Mike McVicker in Rep. McGovern's office to sign.
  • If you are speaking to one of your Senator's offices, tell them to contact Isaiah Akin in Sen. Wyden's office to sign.
  • When you're done, make sure you report your call below!

WaPo: Still Getting Ahead of the Facts on Iran

It seems that the Washington Post still requires a bit of help sticking to the facts on Iran. An article in yesterday's Post, entitled "Center for American Progress, group tied to Obama, under fire from Israel advocates," featured the following passage (emphasis mine):

At the same time, Israel’s supporters worry that Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon and greater instability in the Middle East pose existential threats to Israel.

Hm. "Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon." Sounds awfully familiar. Where have we heard that before?

Oh, yes. Recall that, way back in December, Just Foreign Policy initiated a campaign to get the Washington Post to correct a photo gallery headline, which originally read, "Iran's quest to possess nuclear weapons." The ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, agreed that the headline was "misleading," and the Post corrected it to read, "Iran's quest to possess nuclear technology." The mishap was blamed on the tricky nature of the headline creating process.

This time, however, the object of Iran's quest wasn't being mulled by an uninformed photo or copy editor--a journalist or editor, who should have known better, was responsible.

To his credit, Mr. Pexton responded to my email in a prompt fashion, and the offending passage was revised shortly thereafter--about six hours after the article was originally published. The passage now reads (emphasis mine):

WaPo: Sneaky Persians Menace Pentagon's Noble Aim to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Forever

In a front page exposé on January 4, the Washington Post revealed that sneaky Persian agitators are conspiring to thwart the Pentagon's noble aim of keeping 10,000-30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan on "non-permanent," "non-U.S." bases after "all foreign troops are supposed to be withdrawn" in 2014, just as these sneaky Persians conspired to thwart the Pentagon's noble aim of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.

The Post story is quite instructive, even if it is not exactly "news" in the common sense of the term. It presents the world from the point of view of diehard Pentagon revanchists who want to keep US troops in Muslim countries forever against the will of the majority of Americans and against the will of the majority of people who live in these countries. It presents this diehard Pentagon revanchist view as if there were no interests in the world besides those of Pentagon revanchists and wily Persian agitators, such as the interests of the majority of people who happen to live in the United States, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Of course, in the world view of the diehard Pentagon revanchist, the concerns of these mere residents are largely irrelevant, if they have no military implications. How many divisions do these mere residents control? These mere residents are just pawns in a game of Pentagon-sneaky Persian chess.

It is a story, moreover, that is spectacularly contradicted by the Post's own previous reporting, as well as that of other major American newspapers.

The story informs us:

 

Judy Miller Alert! The New York Times is Lying About Iran's Nuclear Program

It's deja vu all over again. AIPAC is trying to trick America into another catastrophic war with a Middle Eastern country on behalf of the Likud Party's colonial ambitions, and the New York Times is lying about allegations that said country is developing "weapons of mass destruction."

In an article attributed to Steven Erlanger on January 4 ("Europe Takes Bold Step Toward a Ban on Iranian Oil "), this paragraph appeared:

 

The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign. [my emphasis]

The claim that there is "a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective" is a lie.

As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,

 

But the IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.

Indeed, if you try now to find the offending paragraph on the New York Times website, you can't. They took it down. But there is no note, like there is supposed to be, acknowledging that they changed the article, and that there was something wrong with it before. Sneaky, huh?

But you can still find the original here.

David Gregory Should Tell Rick Santorum There Are UN Inspectors in Iran

Rick Santorum is running as the "more AIPAC than thou" candidate. But David Gregory wants people to think of him as a "journalist." We can hold David Gregory to a higher standard.

On Sunday, Republican Presidential Rick Santorum told David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press" that, unlike President Obama, he would "be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those [nuclear] facilities, you begin to dismantle them and, and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we are doing that."

David Gregory did not challenge Santorum's statement. But Gregory knows - or should know - that Iran's nuclear facilities are already under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Politicians will say whatever they can get away with, but journalists have an obligation to correct serious misstatements of fact.

Of course, one can try to come up with excuses for why David Gregory didn't correct the record. Let's consider some potential excuses, and why they are no good.

"Journalists can't correct everything candidates say." This was a one-on-one interview, and the topic of discussion was Iran's nuclear program, and Rick Santorum's claims that he would be tougher than President Obama in confronting Iran about its nuclear program. Is there another context where it would be more appropriate for David Gregory to correct the record about what is known about Iran's nuclear program?

Stop the War on Christmas: Cease Fire in Afghanistan

Shouldn't Americans of every faith tradition band together to stop the war on Christmas? Let us call on President Obama to announce that on December 24th and 25th, the United States will observe an offensive cease-fire in Afghanistan, and urge others to join the cease-fire, as a goodwill gesture to promote peace talks.


Far from being utopian, I claim that this is a pragmatic political proposal, with little cost and significant potential benefits; indeed, according to recent press reports, a US-initiated Christmas truce would complement peace efforts that the Obama Administration is already pursuing.

The political cost would be negligible. Would Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain denounce President Obama for announcing that US forces in Afghanistan will stand down to mark the birth of the Prince of Peace? If they did, would anyone take them seriously?

This is a decision that President Obama can make unilaterally as Commander-in-Chief. He does not need the permission of Lindsay Graham, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, or the Washington Post editorial board. If President Obama decides that US forces in Afghanistan will not take offensive military actions on Christmas, so shall it be.

Already, Reuters reports, the Obama Administration is contemplating confidence-building measures to promote peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including transferring Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo to Afghan government custody and supporting the establishment by the Afghan Taliban of a political office in Qatar for the purpose of participating in peace talks.

Will the Media Let Ron Paul Question U.S. Foreign Policy?

Will the news media let Ron Paul raise serious questions about U.S. foreign policy? It's a crucial test case not only of the prospects that the media will serve the interests of the 99% rather than the 1%, but of the prospects for a foreign military and economic policy that reflects the values and interests of the 99%, rather than those of the 1%.

Economist and media critic Dean Baker recently posed this question in a forum at Politico. Politico's David Mark convened the forum under the headline, "Can Ron Paul Take a Punch?"

 

Now that Rep. Ron Paul is a top-tier candidate in Iowa rivals are likely to gang up. They may target the Texan's associations with unsavory characters, or a sometimes less-than-pure libertarian stance on congressional earmarks. Middle East politics could also complicate Paul's presidential bid - he once likened Israel's defensive blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza to "a concentration camp."

Can Ron Paul take a punch?

Dean Baker responded:

 

The better question is whether the media will allow Paul to raise serious questions about the nature of this country's foreign policy. I recall watching one of the Republican presidential debates in 2008 where the moderator asked whether the president could unilaterally take military action against Iran.

 

Mayor Giuliani answered first and gave a characteristic Giuliani answer to the effect of the president can do whatever he wants. Gov. Romney then gave a conditional this and that answer, and then said that if the question was one of constitutional authority, you would have to call in the lawyers.

House Vote Today to Approve Iran Sanctions Bill Would Restore Bush "Cooties Doctrine"

Today the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote -under "suspension," requiring a supermajority to pass - on a provision which would restore as policy the Cooties Doctrine of the early Bush Administration - U.S. officials can't meet with officials of the adversary du jour, because our officials might get contaminated.

What's remarkable isn't that some people in Washington would want to prohibit U.S. officials from having contact with Iranian officials. After all, some people in Washington want to have a war with Iran as soon as it can be arranged. What's remarkable is the possibility that the majority of Congressional Democrats might vote to approve the "Iran Cooties Provision." Aren't Democrats supposed to be the diplomacy party, not the war party?

The Cooties Provision is Section 601c of H.R. 1905, the so-called "Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011." Here's what the Cooties Provision says:

 

(c) RESTRICTION ON CONTACT.--No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that-- (1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran; and (2) presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations. (d) WAIVER.--The President may waive the requirements of subsection (c) if the President determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.

Would it not be totally preposterous to add this provision to the United States Code?