JFP 2/10: US walks back support of Maldives coup; Greenwald on US fingering Israel/MEK

Just Foreign Policy News, February 10, 2012
US walks back support of Maldives coup; Greenwald on US fingering Israel/MEK


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

J Street Video: "Iran - What the Experts are Saying"
War with Iran would be no walk in the park, say Israeli and American National Security All Stars.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImqC8b05rTk

Can Joe Lieberman Block Diplomacy With Iran That Would Prevent War?
Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham plan to introduce a bill that seeks to push the President to declare that it would be "unacceptable" for Iran to have a "nuclear weapons *capability*"? What's so outrageous about this? According to U.S. and European officials cited in the New York Times, an Iran that has but does not use the capacity to produce nuclear weapons is the best achievable outcome. So what Lieberman and Graham are really trying to do is block any meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran; they are trying to remove from the table anything except war and externally-induced regime change.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/lieberman-graham-iran_b_1266064.html

RT interview: The dirty history of "promoting democracy"
Just Foreign Policy talks to RT. Calling the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute "groups that promotes democracy" covers up a lot of dirty history, like when the IRI backed coups in Haiti and Venezuela, or when IRI and NDI backed a disputed election in Honduras that legitimated the coup. But for the Egyptian military to tar NGOs as foreign-supported when it gets $1.3 billion a year from the U.S. is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=As-VZI09T-Q

The Real News: US Arms Deal with Bahrain as Crackdown Continues
Just Foreign Policy talks to The Real News about Congressional concerns over Obama Administration plans to sell arms to Bahrain ahead of the February 14 anniversary of the uprising.
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=7872

II
) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The US on Friday backtracked from its swift recognition of the new Maldives government, which the nation's former leader claims came to power in a coup, AP reports. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who says he was forced to resign at gunpoint, criticized Washington after the State Department said Thursday it recognized the new government as legitimate.

On Friday in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the circumstances in the Maldives are murky and contested. "I got myself in a place yesterday that was not borne out by the facts," she told a news briefing.

"We will work with the government of the Maldives, but believe that the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power need to be clarified. And we also suggest that all parties agree to an independent mechanism to do that," she said. Asked whether there had been an extraconstitutional change in power, she said the U.S. does not yet have a clear view of the facts, but would expect to have a clearer idea after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake visits Male, arriving Saturday.

Nasheed is now calling for early elections, insisting his party would emerge victorious.

2) An NBC News report citing two anonymous "senior U.S. officials" made two amazing claims: (1) that it was MEK which perpetrated the string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and (2) the Terrorist group "is financed, trained and armed by Israel's secret service," writes Glenn Greenwald in Salon.

If these senior U.S. officials are telling the truth, there are a number of vital questions and conclusions raised by this, Greenwald writes. First, it would mean that the assurances by MEK's paid American shills such as Howard Dean that "they are unarmed" are totally false. Second, this should completely gut the effort to remove MEK from the list of designated Terrorist groups. Third, this should resolve the debate about whether the attack on these Iranian scientists constitutes Terrorism, since it was apparently carried out by a recognized terrorist group. Fourth, and most important: if this report is true, is this not definitive proof that Israel is, by definition, a so-called state sponsor of Terrorism? Leaving everything else aside, if Israel, as NBC reports, has "financed, trained and armed" a group officially designated by the U.S. Government as a Terrorist organization, isn't that the definitive act of how one becomes an official "state sponsor of Terrorism"?

3) Enlisted personnel and civilian military employees overwhelmingly prefer in their donations Ron Paul, who is opposed to using U.S. forces as the "world's police," and President Obama, who's "slashing the Pentagon's budget" [which he isn't -JFP] the Washington Times reports. Paul took in $300,588 to Romney's $30,293. Troops are speaking out in favor a limited role for the armed forces, the paper says.
Some said their views on war evolved after seeing the horrors of battle firsthand, the paper says. "One possibility is that ironically, it's the troops who see better than civilians that Ron Paul's vision of a less-militarized society could be good for America," said Aaron Belkin, author of "Bring Me Men," a study of military life. "A lot of them have done deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq and don't ever want to go back," said J.D. Gordon, a retired Navy commander who founded a national security super PAC that will support the Republican nominee.

Syria
4) There has been a cascade of politicians and analysts jumping on the bandwagon of arming the Free Syrian Army, including John McCain and Elliott Abrams, writes Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy. But people need to think far more carefully about the implications of funneling weapons to the Free Syrian Army before leaping into such a policy. Arming the Syrian opposition is not a cheap and effective substitute for military intervention, and it is not a generally harmless way to "do something." It does not guarantee either the protection of the Syrian people or the end of the Assad regime. It is more likely to produce a protracted stalemate, increased violence, more regional and international meddling, and eventual calls for direct military intervention.

Bahrain
5) Bahrain has turned down several journalists for visas to visit Bahrain on the one-year anniversary of antigovernment protests next Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports. The rejected journalists include New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, along with correspondents for the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and the Christian Science Monitor. "This is the hallmark of a repressive regime -- not allowing journalists into the country," said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. "The government is only fueling suspicions that they don't want the rest of the world to see what's going to happen."

6) The Obama administration's decision to move forward on a $1 million arms sale to Bahrain sends the wrong signal to a country that is engaged in serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said. "Bahrain has made many promises to cease abuses and hold officials accountable, but it hasn't delivered," said Maria McFarland, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. "Protesters remain jailed on criminal charges for peacefully speaking out and there has been little accountability for torture and killings – crimes in which the Bahrain Defense Force is implicated."

Lebanon
7) If Israel attacks Iran, it is likely to consider also conducting simultaneously a pre-emptive war against Hizbullah in Lebanon, writes former CIA Analyst Bruce Riedel in the Daily Beast. The civil war in Syria makes this even more complicated. Assad might be tempted to attack Israel if Israel struck Iran and Lebanon.

Sympathy for Persian Iran may be limited in the Arab world, but sympathy for Arab Lebanon would be higher, especially if Israel were to strike first, Riedel writes. Israel can expect condemnation from many quarters for any attack on Iran; it would get more if it were also at war with Hizbullah, and bombing Beirut.

The bottom line is that Israeli planners have to contemplate a multifront war from the moment of a strike on Iran, Riedel concludes.

Afghanistan
8) President Karzai, accused NATO Thursday of killing eight children in an airstrike in eastern Afghanistan, AP reports.

Israel/Palestine
9) A Palestinian on hunger strike since December 18 appealed his detention without charge on Thursday in a special court session held in an Israeli hospital, AFP reports. Khader Adnan has been on hunger strike for 54 days, longer than any Palestinian prisoner before him according to Palestinian officials, protesting what he calls his unjust detention and mistreatment by Israeli authorities, AFP says.

Egypt
10) The Muslim Brotherhood demanded Thursday that Egypt's military rulers cede control of the government, the New York Times reports. The group is changing its position at a time when the military-controlled government appears overwhelmed by domestic and foreign crises, including a standoff with Washington that has imperiled billions of dollars in US aid and international loans, and an economy teetering on collapse.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) US backtracks on recognition of new Maldives gov't
Krishan Francis, Associated Press, February 10, 2012
http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/us-backtracks-on-recognition-1341659.html

Male, Maldives - The United States on Friday backtracked from its swift recognition of the new Maldives government, which the nation's former leader claims came to power in a coup.

The Maldives has faced one day of rioting and two days more of a political standoff since Mohamed Nasheed announced Tuesday that he was resigning as president, following months of protests against his rule and fading support from the security forces. But the next day Nasheed, who now faces an arrest warrant, announced he had actually been pushed from power at gunpoint. The reality remains unclear.

Nasheed criticized Washington after the State Department said Thursday it recognized the new government as legitimate. "It's unfortunate that the American government has decided to work with the regime," Nasheed told reporters.

On Friday in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the circumstances in the Maldives are murky and contested. "I got myself in a place yesterday that was not borne out by the facts," she told a news briefing.

"We will work with the government of the Maldives, but believe that the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power need to be clarified. And we also suggest that all parties agree to an independent mechanism to do that," she said.

Asked whether there had been an extraconstitutional change in power, she said the U.S. does not yet have a clear view of the facts, but would expect to have a clearer idea after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake visits Male, arriving Saturday.

Blake will meet with new President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Nasheed and representatives of all political parties, Nuland said.

Meanwhile, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco met Friday with Hassan, hoping to ease the political situation, and was expected to meet later with Nasheed. Fernandez-Taranco declined to make any comments after his meeting.

The new government insists Nasheed stepped down voluntarily. It has made no move to arrest Nasheed, who is living openly in his home in Male.

Nasheed is now calling for early elections, insisting his party would emerge victorious.
[...]

2) Israel, MEK and state sponsor of Terror groups
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Friday, Feb 10, 2012 7:59 AM CST
http://politics.salon.com/2012/02/10/israel_mek_and_state_sponsor_of_terror_groups/

One of the most under-reported political stories of the last year is the devoted advocacy of numerous prominent American political figures on behalf of an Iranian group long formally designated as a Terrorist organization under U.S. law. A large bipartisan cast has received substantial fees from that group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), and has then become their passionate defenders. The group of MEK shills includes former top Bush officials and other Republicans (Michael Mukasey, Fran Townsend, Andy Card, Tom Ridge, Rudy Giuliani) as well as prominent Democrats (Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Bill Richardson, Wesley Clark). As The Christian Science Monitor reported last August, those individuals "have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak in support of the MEK." No matter what one thinks of this group – here is a summary of its activities – it is formally designated as a Terrorist group and it is thus a felony under U.S. law to provide it with any "material support."

There are several remarkable aspects to this story. The first is that there are numerous Muslims inside the U.S. who have been prosecuted for providing "material support for Terrorism" for doing far less than these American politicians are publicly doing on behalf of a designated Terrorist group. A Staten Island satellite TV salesman in 2009 was sentenced to five years in federal prison merely for including a Hezbollah TV channel as part of the satellite package he sold to customers; a Massachusetts resident, Tarek Mehanna, is being prosecuted now "for posting pro-jihadist material on the internet"; a 24-year-old Pakistani legal resident living in Virginia, Jubair Ahmad, was indicted last September for uploading a 5-minute video to YouTube that was highly critical of U.S. actions in the Muslim world, an allegedly criminal act simply because prosecutors claim he discussed the video in advance with the son of a leader of a designated Terrorist organization (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba); a Saudi Arabian graduate student, Sami Omar al-Hussayen, was prosecuted simply for maintaining a website with links "to groups that praised suicide bombings in Chechnya and in Israel" and "jihadist" sites that solicited donations for extremist groups (he was ultimately acquitted); and last July, a 22-year-old former Penn State student and son of an instructor at the school, Emerson Winfield Begolly, was indicted for - in the FBI's words - "repeatedly using the Internet to promote violent jihad against Americans" by posting comments on a "jihadist" Internet forum including "a comment online that praised the shootings" at a Marine Corps base, action which former Obama lawyer Marty Lederman said "does not at first glance appear to be different from the sort of advocacy of unlawful conduct that is entitled to substantial First Amendment protection."

Yet here we have numerous American political figures receiving substantial fees from a group which is legally designated under American law as a Terrorist organization. Beyond that, they are meeting with the Terrorist leaders of that group repeatedly (Howard Dean told NPR last year about the group's leader, Maryam Rajavi: "I have actually had dinner with Mrs. Rajavi on numerous occasions. I do not find her very terrorist-like" and has even insisted that she should be recognized as Iran's President, while Rudy Giuliani publicly told her at a Paris conference in December: "These are the most important yearnings of the human soul that you support, and for your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just simply a disgrace"). And, after receiving fees from the Terrorist group and meeting with its Terror leaders, these American political figures are going forth and disseminating pro-MEK messages on its behalf and working to have it removed from the Terrorist list.

Given all the prosecutions of politically powerless Muslims for far fewer connections to Terrorist groups than the actions of these powerful (paid) political figures, what conceivable argument is there for not prosecuting Dean, Giuliani, and the rest of them for providing "material support for Terrorism"? What they are providing to MEK is the definitive "material support." Although these activities (along with those of the above-listed prosecuted Muslims) should be protected free speech, the U.S. Government has repeatedly imprisoned people for it. Indeed, as Georgetown Law Professor David Cole noted, these activities on behalf of MEK are clearly prosecutable as "material support for Terrorism" under the standard advocated by the Bush and Obama DOJs and accepted by the Supreme Court in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law case of 2009, which held that even peaceful advocacy on behalf of a Terrorist group can be prosecuted if done in coordination with the group (ironically, many of these paid MEK supporters have long been advocates of broad application of "material support" statutes (when applied to Muslims, that is) and have even praised the Humanitarian Law case). If we had anything even remotely approaching equal application of the law, Dean, Giuliani, Townsend and the others would be facing prosecution as Terrorist-helpers.

Then there's long been the baffling question of where MEK was getting all of this money to pay these American officials. Indeed, the pro-MEK campaign has been lavishly funded. As the CSM noted: "Besides the string of well-attended events at prestigious American hotels and locations, and in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin, the campaign has included full-page advertisements in The New York Times and Washington Post - which can cost $175,000 apiece." MEK is basically little more than a nomadic cult: after they sided with Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, they were widely loathed in Iran and their 3,400 members long lived in camps in Iraq, but the Malaki government no longer wants them there. How has this rag-tag Terrorist cult of Iranian dissidents, who are largely despised in Iran, able to fund such expensive campaigns and to keep U.S. officials on its dole?

All of these mysteries received substantial clarity from an NBC News report by Richard Engel and Robert Windrem yesterday. Citing two anonymous "senior U.S. officials," that report makes two amazing claims: (1) that it was MEK which perpetrated the string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and (2) the Terrorist group "is financed, trained and armed by Israel's secret service." These senior officials also admitted that "the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign" but claims it "has no direct involvement." Iran has long insisted the Israel and the U.S. are using MEK to carry out Terrorist attacks on its soil, including the murder of its scientists, and NBC notes that these acknowledgments "confirm charges leveled by Iran's leaders" (MEK issued a statement denying the report).

If these senior U.S. officials are telling the truth, there are a number of vital questions and conclusions raised by this. First, it would mean that the assurances by MEK's paid American shills such as Howard Dean that "they are unarmed" are totally false: whoever murdered these scientists is obviously well-armed. Second, this should completely gut the effort to remove MEK from the list of designated Terrorist groups; after all, murdering Iran's scientists through the use of bombs and guns is a defining act of a Terror group, at least as U.S. law attempts to define the term. Third, this should forever resolve the debate in which I was involved last month about whether the attack on these Iranian scientists constitutes Terrorism; as Daniel Larson put it yesterday: "If true, the murders of Iranian nuclear scientists with bombs have been committed by a recognized terrorist group. Can everyone acknowledge at this point that these attacks were acts of terrorism?"

Fourth, and most important: if this report is true, is this not definitive proof that Israel is, by definition, a so-called state sponsor of Terrorism? Leaving everything else aside, if Israel, as NBC reports, has "financed, trained and armed" a group officially designated by the U.S. Government as a Terrorist organization, isn't that the definitive act of how one becomes an official "state sponsor of Terrorism"?
[...]

3) Paul, Obama Collect Most Military Donations To Run
Luke Rosiak, The Washington Times, Thursday, February 9, 2012
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/9/paul-obama-collect-most-military-donations-to-run/

Enlisted personnel and civilian military employees are donating more to presidential campaigns than in previous elections, and they overwhelmingly prefer two candidates: Ron Paul, the long-shot Republican presidential contender opposed to using U.S. forces as the "world's police," and President Obama.

Mr. Paul and Mr. Obama, who's slashing the Pentagon's budget, have received nearly the same number of donations of at least $200 from military voters, but the GOP candidate's haul adds up to $100,000 more than the president's, a Washington Times analysis of publicly available Federal Election Commission records showed.

Each has lapped the rest of the GOP field several times, taking in 20 times as many military donations as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and more money than all their rivals combined. Mr. Paul took in $300,588 to Mr. Romney's $30,293.

"If we're going to go to war, and there's a good reason, then we shouldn't be fighting with two hands behind our back because we're doing peacekeeping," said Jordan Whitson, a soldier in the Army National Guard in Alabama who has written three checks to the Paul campaign. "Germany, South Korea and Japan - there's a lot of money wasted over there."

It makes for a curious juxtaposition: As candidates appear with veterans groups to seek one of the most coveted informal endorsements in politics - pledging support for the military with veterans' benefits but also budgets that would increase the size of the active forces - troops are speaking out in favor a limited role for the armed forces.

Some said their views on war evolved after seeing the horrors of battle firsthand. "One possibility is that ironically, it's the troops who see better than civilians that Ron Paul's vision of a less-militarized society could be good for America," said Aaron Belkin, author of "Bring Me Men," a study of military life.
[...]
Mr. Paul, who served as a flight surgeon in the Air Force from 1963 until 1965, is the only veteran in the field. But his views on foreign policy are notable among candidates from both parties for the speed and scale of his proposed downsizing of the military, including withdrawal from Afghanistan and an end to peace-keeping missions.

Mr. Obama has pledged to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, and across-the-board cuts on his watch are forcing the Defense Department to make significant trims.

Smaller donations, where Mr. Paul and Mr. Obama excel, are not made public, so the donations of more than $200 serve as a barometer of broader sentiment.

The nearly 4,000 contributions to presidential candidates far exceed the total much later in the 2008 election cycle. The split between the parties also tops a mounting pile of evidence that the politics of the military are more diverse - and complex - than the conventional wisdom that troops were overwhelmingly conservative, experts said.
[...]
But by just before the nominating conventions of 2008, with the war in Iraq a significant issue and onetime prisoner of war Arizona Sen. John McCain promising a sustained commitment and Mr. Obama favoring withdrawal, troops favored Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain with their contributions. His advantage jumped from modest among all troops to a ratio of 6 to 1 among those deployed abroad.

For some who have seen combat, choices motivated by the realities of war may actually run counter to their broader political beliefs.

"It's more practical and individual rather than ideological," said J.D. Gordon, a retired Navy commander who this week founded Protect America, a national-security-themed super PAC that will run ads for the Republican presidential nominee and in congressional races. "I don't agree with it, but I understand it," he said of the desire for an end to foreign entanglements among some war-weary soldiers.

"A lot of them have done deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq and don't ever want to go back."

Syria
4) The 'Arm the FSA' Bandwagon
Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy, Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 3:04 PM
http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/02/09/the_arm_the_fsa_bandwagon

Over the last few days there has been a cascade of politicians and analysts jumping on the bandwagon of arming the Free Syrian Army, from John McCain and Elliott Abrams to FP's Daniel Drezner. It's easy to understand why. The failure of the U.N. Security Council has blocked diplomatic efforts to achieve a political transition and has triggered a clear escalation in violence by Bashar al-Assad's regime. With the horrifying images of the dead and wounded in Homs and elsewhere, many people want to do something to stop the atrocities. But almost everyone who looks carefully at options for military intervention, however, quickly realizes how daunting such an operation would actually be with neither airstrikes nor safe areas likely to succeed and nobody (thankfully) willing to admit to contemplating boots on the ground.

As I expected a few weeks ago, arming the Free Syrian Army has therefore emerged as an attractive option to many. Advocates of arming the FSA argue that providing the internal Syrian opposition forces with advanced weapons, communications, and other support would even the military balance and give them a fighting chance against the Assad regime. It would give them the means to defend their cities and protect the population from security forces. It might allow them to take the fight to Assad and hasten the fall of his regime. Many Syrians on the ground are asking for such assistance. And it would do all this without the risks and costs of Western military intervention.

I have said many times that this is where I think Syria is going, whether or not the United States makes a decision to join the game (thus far, reportedly, it has not, but presumably the option is being debated). I want to find ways to help the Syrian people too, badly. And I can fully understand why this looks like an attractive option. But people need to think far more carefully about the implications of funneling weapons to the Free Syrian Army before leaping into such a policy. Here are some of the questions that need to be asked.

First, who exactly would be armed? The perennial, deep problem of the Syrian opposition is that it remains fragmented, disorganized, and highly localized. This has not changed. The "Free Syrian Army" remains something of a fiction, a convenient mailbox for a diverse, unorganized collection of local fighting groups. Those groups have been trying to coordinate more effectively, no doubt, but they remain deeply divided. For all their protestations of solidarity, the Syrian National Council and the FSA show few signs of working well together, while repeated splits and conflicts have emerged in the media within the FSA. So to whom would these weapons be provided, exactly? I expect that what will happen is that foreign powers will rush to arm their own allies and proxies (or are already doing so); which ones are the United States meant to choose? While claims about the role of Salafi jihadists in the armed opposition are likely exaggerated, the reality is that we know very little about the identities, aspirations, or networks of the people who would be armed.

Second, how would the provision of weapons affect the Syrian opposition? Access to Western guns and equipment will be a valuable resource that will strengthen the political position of those who gain control of the distribution networks. Competition for those assets does not seem likely to encourage the unification of the fragmented opposition, and it could easily exacerbate their divisions. What's more, fighting groups will rise in political power, while those who have advocated nonviolence or who advance political strategies will be marginalized. Fighting groups' political aspirations will likely increase along with their military power. The combination of militarization and more ambitious goals will make any political solution that much less likely. And it could increase the fears of Syrian fence-sitters who have stayed with Assad out of fear for their future.

Third, what will the weapons be intended to achieve? I can see at least three answers. Perhaps they'll be meant to be purely defensive, to stop the regime's onslaught and protect civilians. But this relatively passive goal does not seem a likely stable endpoint once the weapons start flooding in. A second possibility is that they'll be meant to give the rebels the power to defeat the regime on the battlefield and overthrow it. But that does not seem realistic, since it would require far more fire power than would likely be on offer to reverse the immense imbalance in favor of regime forces. A third possibility is that they'll be meant to even the balance of power sufficiently to force Assad to the bargaining table once he realizes that he can't win. But the violence of the escalating civil war will make such talks very difficult politically. The provision of arms probably won't be intended to create a protracted, militarized stalemate -- but that does seem the most likely outcome. Is that the goal we hope to achieve?

Fourth, how will Assad and his allies respond to the arming of the opposition? Perhaps they will immediately realize their imminent defeat and rush to make amends. But more likely, they will take this as license to escalate their attacks, to deploy an ever greater arsenal, and to discard whatever restraint they have thus far shown in order to stay below the threshold of international action. It would also be very difficult to stop Russia, Iran, or anyone else from supplying fresh arms and aid to Assad once the opposition's backers are openly doing so. Providing arms to a relatively weak opposition will not necessarily close the military gap, then -- it might simply push the same gap up to a higher level of militarized conflict.

Fifth, what will we do when the provision of weapons fails to solve the conflict? Arming the opposition is held out as an alternative to direct military intervention. When it fails to solve the crisis relatively quickly -- and it most likely will fail -- there will inevitably then be new calls to escalate Western military support to airstrikes in the Libya-style. In other words, what is presented as an alternative to military intervention is more likely to pave the way to such intervention once it fails.

Sixth, what if Assad does fall? The armed opposition groups would then be in the dominant position to shape Syria's future, and they would not likely quickly demobilize or disarm. Should the Syrian state collapse suddenly, these armed groups would be operating in a security vacuum amid accumulated fears and rage. This is not a pretty picture.

There are other questions that should be asked before leaping into the "least bad" option of arming the Syrian opposition, including its legality and its implications for broader regional security. But the six I've outlined above should be enough to at least focus the debate. Arming the Syrian opposition is not a cheap and effective substitute for military intervention, and it is not a generally harmless way to "do something." It does not guarantee either the protection of the Syrian people or the end of the Assad regime. It is more likely to produce a protracted stalemate, increased violence, more regional and international meddling, and eventual calls for direct military intervention. It's probably going to happen whether or not the United States plays a role, though -- but at least we should know what we're getting into.

Bahrain
5) Bahrain refuses journalists seeking to cover protest anniversary
Emily Alpert, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2012 | 4:40 pm
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/02/bahrain-turns-down-journalists-cover-anniversary-protests.html

Los Angeles - Bahrain has turned down several journalists for visas to visit the Persian Gulf nation on the one-year anniversary of sweeping antigovernment protests next Tuesday, telling them it has gotten too many requests.

The rejected journalists include New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who was detained in Bahrain while watching protests in December, along with correspondents for the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and other outlets. Several took to Twitter, saying they received letters citing the "high volume of requests" as the reason for being turned down.

"This is the hallmark of a repressive regime -- not allowing journalists into the country," said Brian Dooley of the nonprofit Human Rights First. He was turned down for a visa in January. "The government is only fueling suspicions that they don't want the rest of the world to see what's going to happen."

Bahrain, an island state near Saudi Arabia run by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, has been roiled by violent protests during the last year. Protesters have agitated for greater democracy, saying that Shiite Muslims are systematically discriminated against. The demonstrations kicked off Feb. 14, 2011.

Bahrain cracked down on the protests last year with help from Saudi forces. Human rights groups say dissenters were met with arrest and torture. Bahrain's monarch created new military courts that sentenced more than 250 people to heavy punishments, including death, Human Rights Watch said.

Journalists were targeted too: Bahraini reporters have been arrested, and foreign journalists have been granted visas so limited -- some as short as 48 hours -- that their work is hampered, according to Reporters Without Borders. The group recently ranked Bahrain 173rd out of 179 countries in press freedom.
[...]
The violence has put the United States in an awkward position. Bahrain has long been a U.S. ally, seen alongside Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Iran. But if the U.S. tolerates the violence in Bahrain, it weakens its case against Syria, which has been embroiled in a bloody uprising for nearly a year.

"The international paralysis over Bahrain has, if anything, become more pronounced with the rising tensions over Iran's nuclear program," Toby Jones, an expert on Bahraini affairs at Rutgers University, told the Associated Press. "It's every tough problem in the region funneled into one small place."

The Iranian foreign minister, for instance, condemned Western powers for a "double standard." In a recent editorial, the Washington Post wrote that although repression in Bahrain wasn't comparable to the chaos in Syria, Washington's denunciations of Syrian bloodshed would be more credible if it halted aid to Bahrain.

6) US: Wrong Time for Bahrain Arms Deal
Its Government Has Yet to Deliver on Accountability, Reforms
Human Rights Watch, February 8, 2012
http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/08/us-wrong-time-bahrain-arms-deal

Washington, DC - The Obama administration's decision to move forward on a $1 million arms sale to Bahrain sends the wrong signal to a country that is engaged in serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.

"Bahrain has made many promises to cease abuses and hold officials accountable, but it hasn't delivered," said Maria McFarland, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. "Protesters remain jailed on criminal charges for peacefully speaking out and there has been little accountability for torture and killings – crimes in which the Bahrain Defense Force is implicated."

In a January 27, 2012 statement, the State Department announced that it intended to go forward with the sale of approximately $1 million of equipment to Bahrain while maintaining "a pause on most security assistance for Bahrain pending further progress on reform." The State Department asserted that the equipment included spare parts and maintenance of equipment needed for Bahrain's external defense and support of US Navy Fifth Fleet operations and that it did not include items that could be used against protesters. But the State Department has not made public a full list of the equipment to be sold.

In September 2011, the United States delayed a US$53 million arms sale to Bahrain after human rights groups and members of Congress sharply criticized the sale because of the ongoing abuses against protesters and others perceived as government opponents in Bahrain. The Bahrain Defense Force – the intended recipient of the arms sale – was in charge of the comprehensive crackdown on largely peaceful protests during 2011.

In December, Mark Toner, a State Department representative, stated that the United States would weigh human rights concerns as it made decisions on arms sales. He said the US would, in particular, monitor Bahrain's response to a November 23 report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which found systematic abuses in Bahrain's crackdown on protesters, including torture and widespread detention of activists and peaceful protesters.

More than two months since the BICI released its report, however, Bahrain has done little to seriously address accountability for the documented abuses. Low-level Pakistani prison guards are on trial for beating prisoners to death, and several policemen are facing trial in the shooting deaths of three protesters. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, though, only one Bahraini security official faces prosecution – for a horrific killing that Human Rights Watch documented at the time.

There have been no known investigations into the roles of officials in the Interior Ministry, the National Security Agency, or the Bahrain Defense Force for policies that led to the deaths of scores of people, widespread torture, and arbitrary detention of hundreds.

The human rights situation in Bahrain remains serious. At least a half dozen people have died since the BICI report was released in protest-related confrontations with authorities, in most cases apparently from excessive use of teargas. Protesters allege that the number of fatalities is 16. The government claims these deaths have been from natural causes.

Bahrain continues to hold hundreds of people convicted after unfair trials, most of them in connection with alleged "illegal gatherings" and "inciting hatred against the regime." Bahraini authorities are refusing to allow international human rights organizations to visit the country.

The government says it has established a domestic committee to look into implementation of the recommendations of the BICI report that will complete its work by the end of February.

"Bahrain's failure to take immediate steps to reform – for example, by releasing political prisoners and investigating ranking security officials – raises real doubts about its commitment to addressing the serious abuses documented in the BICI report," McFarland said. "Washington should hold off on arms sales until Bahrain shows it is serious about addressing the country's human rights crisis."

Lebanon
7) Israel's Dilemma: If It Attacks Iran, Will It Also Have To Hit Hizbullah?
Bruce Riedel, Daily Beast, Feb 9, 2012 1:00 AM EST
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/09/israel-s-dilemma-if-it-attacks-iran-will-it-also-have-to-hit-hizbullah.html

As Israel ratchets up talk of attacking Iran to thwart its nuclear program, the country also must weigh whether it would have to open a second front against Tehran's client, the terrorist group Hizbullah.

Behind the daily barrage of heated rhetoric about Iran from many quarters, Israeli planners are quietly wrestling with some very hard decisions on how a future war would start.

Israeli leaders considering the pros and cons of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities also must consider the pros and cons of a simultaneous strike on the missile arsenal in Lebanon of Iran's client, the radical Shia Lebanese terrorist group, Hizbullah. The Israel Defense Forces have to calculate whether they would want to open two fronts at the same time, or let Hizbullah and Iran decide if and when to start a massive attack on Israel's cities from the north.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have been increasingly clear in suggesting Israel is now seriously contemplating the use of force to halt, at least temporarily, the Iranian nuclear program. But they have said little in public about what Israel would do about Hizbullah, which is today the de facto ruler of Lebanon.

In the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, Hizbullah fired almost 4,000 rockets and missiles into northern Israel, killing four dozen Israeli civilians. At the time, Hizbullah said it had more than 30,000 rockets in its inventory. Air power was not enough to stop the rain of missiles; Israeli ground forces belatedly entered the country to stop the attacks, which continued right up to a ceasefire.

Now, Hizbullah says it has many more rockets and missiles, including some with longer ranges and bigger payloads than six years ago. Israeli and American sources have even claimed that Hizbullah now has Scud missiles capable of hitting deep into Israel from deep inside Lebanon. It also has more surface-to-sea missiles, such as the one it used in 2006 to strike an Israeli Navy ship. In 2006, Hizbullah rained fire on Israel's northern cities, including Haifa; today it can do that and more, including targeting Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem, and Israel's only international airport. For IDF planners it is a formidable arsenal.

Given Hizbullah's close ties with Iran, which created the group with Syrian help in the early 1980s, it is a safe assumption that an Israeli military strike on Iran could spark Hizbullah to open fire. But no one knows for sure. The odds are very strong that Hizbullah would retaliate, but if it does so it would face a massive Israeli response that could shake the group's grip on Lebanon. At a minimum, the group would face widespread destruction-not only of its arsenal, but of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure as well.

Israeli military planners probably calculate that Hizbullah would attack. They would prefer to preempt such an attack, and at least take out the most dangerous and long-range missiles before they could be launched. That calculation argues for striking Iran and Lebanon simultaneously, in the hope that the first blows would weaken both adversaries and compel an early ceasefire. That means Israeli resources would be stretched from the start with two wars.

The ongoing civil war in Syria makes all of this even more complicated. The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is more pro-Iranian and pro-Hizbullah than Bashar's father's ever was. Hafez al-Assad would have fought to the last Iranian or Lebanese; his son may be more adventurous. Bashar also is in a life-and-death struggle to survive today. Would Bashar be tempted-in a desperate effort to try to rally nationalist sentiment behind him at home-to lash out at Israel if Israel struck Iran and Lebanon? Since Syria has several hundred Scud missiles, and toxic-chemical warheads for them, the country is a serious military problem for any planner contemplating action.

The political implications of hitting Iran and Lebanon simultaneously are significant. Sympathy for Persian Iran may be limited in the Arab world, but sympathy for Arab Lebanon would be higher, especially if Israel were to strike first. Israel can expect condemnation from many quarters for any attack on Iran; it would get more if it were also at war with Hizbullah, and bombing Beirut.

The bottom line is that Israeli planners have to contemplate a multifront war from the moment of a strike on Iran. The more variables in any planning process, the more likely you will face unanticipated consequences and unpleasant surprises once the action begins. The devil is always in the details.

Afghanistan
8) Airstrike Killed Children, Karzai Says
Associated Press, February 9, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/world/asia/children-killed-in-nato-airstrike-afghan-leader-says.html

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) - The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, accused NATO on Thursday of killing eight children in a coalition airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai said in a statement that the strike took place Wednesday in the Najrab district of Kapisa Province, and that he had assigned a delegation of high-ranking officials and lawmakers to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the strike.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
9) 'Record' Palestinian hunger striker appeals detention
Majeda al-Batsh, AFP, Thu, Feb 9, 2012
http://news.yahoo.com/record-palestinian-hunger-striker-appeals-detention-182756387.html

A Palestinian on hunger strike since December 18 appealed his detention without charge on Thursday in a special court session held in an Israeli hospital, his lawyer told AFP.

Khader Adnan has been on hunger strike for 54 days, longer than any Palestinian prisoner before him according to Palestinian officials, protesting what he calls his unjust detention and mistreatment by Israeli authorities.

A military court early this month ordered he be held in administrative detention for four months, though with his condition frail and worsening, he has been held mostly in a string of Israeli hospitals since early January. "We asked during the hearing for the cancellation of the administrative detention order and the immediate release of Khader Adnan," lawyer Jawad Bulus told AFP. "They investigated him and they haven't proved anything against him."
[...]
The court sought to postpone the hearing, but Adnan insisted it go ahead, instead appearing before the military judge in a room at the Ziv hospital in the northern Israeli city of Safed. "Khader's voice was frail and weak. He testified about the harsh conditions of his detention and the restrictions that have been placed on him on hospital now," Bulus said. He said the court issued no decision and was not expected to rule before Sunday on Adnan's appeal.
[...]
Adnan is being held shackled to a hospital bed under guard, and doctors from Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel told AFP they have been refused permission to meet with him privately.

Adnan, who was arrested near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, had served as a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad, but Israel has not charged him formally or revealed any evidence against him.

Under Israeli military law, a court can order an individual be held for up to six months at a time without charge, though the order can be appealed. Each renewal must be approved in a new court session, but the renewals theoretically continue indefinitely.

Bulus said neither he nor Adnan will be given access to the documents submitted by the prosecution because they are deemed to contain sensitive security information.

Adnan, who was arrested on December 17, says Israel has no evidence against him, and accuses his interrogators of mistreating him, saying they made crude, sexual comments about his wife and pulled his beard until his hair came out.

He began refusing food the day after arrest and started refusing water on January 31, though doctors from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said he was consuming some water, without nutrients or salt.

The Palestinian Prisoners' Club, which monitors the wellbeing of thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, says Adnan has now been on hunger strike longer than any Palestinian prisoner before him.
[...]

Egypt
10) Muslim Brotherhood Demands Military Cede Power In Egypt
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, February 9, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/world/middleeast/muslim-brotherhood-demands-military-cede-power.html

Cairo - The Muslim Brotherhood demanded Thursday that Egypt's military rulers cede control of the government, stepping closer to a long-anticipated confrontation between the ruling generals and the Islamist-dominated Parliament.

In a statement on its Web site and a television interview with one of its senior leaders, the Brotherhood called for the military to allow the replacement of the current prime minister and cabinet with a new coalition government formed by Parliament, which would amount to an immediate handover of power.

The Brotherhood, the formerly outlawed Islamist group, now dominates Parliament. It had previously said it was content to wait until June, when the generals had said they would hand over the power they seized at the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year. And signs were accumulating of a general accord between the military and the Brotherhood over the terms of a new constitution expected to be ratified before the handover. The Brotherhood's shift comes on the eve of the Feb. 11 anniversary of Mr. Mubarak's downfall, when other activists around the country have called for a general strike to demand the end of military rule - a call the Brotherhood has previously resisted.

But the group is also changing its position at a time when the military-controlled government appears overwhelmed by domestic and foreign crises, including a deadly soccer riot last week followed by five days of violent protests, a standoff with Washington that has imperiled billions of dollars in United States aid and international loans, and an economy teetering on collapse.

"We must start the formation of a coalition government immediately, to deal in particular with the economic situation and the state of lawlessness in this homeland," Khairat el Shater, deputy to the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide and one of its most influential figures, said in the online statement, which quoted an interview he gave to Al Jazeera.

Mr. Shater pointed in particular to the government's repeated use of deadly force against civilian protesters. "Dealing with the demonstrators violently is a mistake, a sign of weakness and mismanagement by the Ministry of Interior," he said.
[...]
Now, though, the military-led government appears paralyzed by crises. The generals have seemed unwilling or unable to resolve a dispute with Washington over criminal charges filed against 16 Americans, including the son of a cabinet official, in a politically charged case over foreign financing of nonprofit groups.
[...]
The dispute prompted President Obama and Congressional leaders to threaten to cancel Egypt's $1.5 billion in annual American aid. Diplomats say American opposition could also make it harder for Egypt to obtain billions of dollars in badly needed foreign currency from the International Monetary Fund, as well as other international lenders and donors.
[...]

-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews


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