Roger Cohen engages in some egregious rhetorical sleight of hand here :
Already, there are shifts in Israeli attitudes as a result of the new American clarity. Last year, Netanyahu described Iran’s leaders as “a messianic apocalyptic cult,” which was silly. Of late we’ve had Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, setting things right: “I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, are going to drop it in the neighborhood. They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not total ‘meshuganas.’ They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process.”
This is persuasive if you ignore a couple stubborn facts. One, Barak's comments predate the recent blowup between the Obama administration and Israel. Two, Barak has long believed that Iran doesn't pose an existential threat to his country. Here's him saying as much back in September, and I'm sure I could find earlier examples. Three, Barak and Netanyahu come from different parts of the Israeli political spectrum; the two men aren't even members of the same political party. They have different points of view. There's precious little evidence Netanyahu himself has shifted his rhetoric.
Lesson: Beware pundits who throw around vague language like "of late." It's a sign they're trying to trick you, or at least being sloppy.
We're happy to feature today an excerpt from Michael Young's new book, The Ghosts of Martyrs Square, that explores the immediate aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri on February 14, 2005. I caught up with Young to hear his thoughts on how this event continues to reverberate, both in Lebanon and in the international arena. Here's what he had to say:
FP: How does Hariri's assassination continue to affect Lebanese politics today?
MY: In the aftermath of Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination on February 14, 2005, the U.N. Security Council established an independent commission to investigate the crime, the first time the organization had ever done such a thing. In 2007, the Security Council went further and created a Special Tribunal for Lebanon to indict the guilty. Indictments may come later this year or early next, and Lebanese political life is bracing for the consequences, given that although Syria likely gave the order and a suicide bomber actually carried out the attack, Lebanese parties -- many people in Beirut believe Hezbollah -- participated in some capacity. There is fear that an accusation against Hezbollah, if the party was indeed involved, or against other Lebanese might destabilize Lebanon. Still, the Lebanese authorities have a responsibility to go through with this, since from the outset those who supported the investigation and tribunal knew where it might lead, and saw these measures as a way of preventing similar killings in the future. On a more personal level, I feel that for the tribunal to truly succeed, it has to identify all the guilty, not merely low-level enablers. However, I'm not at all sure that this will be the outcome.
FP: You discuss how Hariri's murder caused a fundamental split between the Lebanese Sunni community and the Syrian regime. Has this relationship healed with time, or do Lebanese Sunnis still largely hold Syria responsible for the death of Hariri?
MY: The Sunnis know who killed Hariri, but the imperatives of Arab politics have intervened to alter the Sunni-Syrian relationship. Just over a year ago, Saudi Arabia began a reconciliation process with Syria--its intention to draw Damascus away from Iran, whose rise the Arab countries, particularly those in the Gulf, view as a threat to their own regimes. An implicit quid pro quo emerged, whereby the Saudis gave Syria greater latitude in Lebanon, in part to contain the pro-Iranian Hezbollah. The Syrians gladly took that offer in order to reimpose their writ in Beirut, but have offered little in exchange. Syria's regime has maintained its close ties with Tehran and continues to arm and support Hezbollah. A byproduct of that Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was a so-called ‘reconciliation' last December between Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Rafiq's son who is politically beholden to the Saudis, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Sunnis today have less room to condemn Syria, but neither they nor Saad Hariri himself have forgotten what happened to Rafiq al-Hariri.
FP: The Obama administration recently announced the appointment of Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria -- the first ambassador to the country since the United States withdrew its ambassador following Hariri's assassination. What was the U.S. reaction in response to this attack, and is its resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice waning?
MY: I don't see evidence that American interest in bringing the perpetrators to justice is waning, and from what I'm hearing that's not the case. But can we be sure? The Hariri investigation (which was independent, we should remember) was and is a complex case that has suffered from investigative flaws. Those shortcomings have tested the commitment of many countries, amid continued reluctance at U.N. headquarters to deal with the consequences of a potentially destabilizing investigation. I don't necessarily believe that Robert Ford's appointment is a sign that Washington has given up on the Hariri investigation. My problem with the step is that the Obama administration got nothing in exchange for that concession; but paradoxically that may only increase its interest in seeing the Hariri tribunal through, in the hope that the ensuing accusations allow it to squeeze the Syrians. That's not to say the indictments, if or when they come, will serve a specific political agenda, but there is no doubt that they will have political consequences.
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The question on everybody's mind: what's the Arabic translation of Orly Taitz?
Former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi has seemingly won parliamentary elections, but allegations of vote fraud and stark sectarian divisions will hamper his ability to to create a stable, working coalition, and unify the country. Moreover, some argue he shouldn't be allowed to serve as prime minister at all -- because's his mother is Lebanese.
I'm all for a good birther movement -- I've even tried to create one -- but this one is strange even for me. He's already served as prime minister! Newsflash to all aspiring birthers: if you want to have legitimacy, the least you can do is target unknown politicians with unusual names and backgrounds that confuse the thick-headed.
Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty Images
In a sign that the ongoing U.S.-Israel settlement spat has yet to run its course, the Jerusalem Municipal Authority today announced the authorization of twenty new apartments on the site of an East Jerusalem hotel, only hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was slated to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington:
The local planning council initially approved the plan in July, a move which angered Britain and the United States and prompted them to call on Israel to cancel the plans. The council issued its final approval for the project last Thursday, which now enables the settlers to begin their construction at once.
Reports of a thaw seem to have been premature.
I've been trying hard to find smart criticism of the Obama administration's decision to rebuke Israel for embarrassing U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last week by announcing the construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, an area of East Jerusalem that lies outside the Green Line that demarcates Israel's pre-1967 border. The rebuking began with Biden's statement Tuesday, escalated with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's angry 43-minute phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday, and continued with White House advisor David Axelrod today describing the housing announcement as an "affront" and an "insult."
Earlier in the week, Washingotn Post editorial writer Jackson Diehl complained that Biden had fallen into a "Middle East trap" by condemning the housing announcement. Diehl made some good points, but his argument would be more persuasive if it didn't cite Condoleezza Rice as an example of how to better handle this kind of Israeli ambush.
All I could find today was this utterly unpersuasive blog post by Commentary's Jennifer Rubin, who says that Ramat Shlomo carries "strategic importance" and that the notion Israeli settlements undermine U.S. security is "rubbish." It is very difficult to think of anyone who isn't a hardcore partisan of the Israeli right who would agree with these sentiments.
Meanwhile, the harsh U.S. criticism is having its intended effect, at least for now. Israeli newspapers are jumping all over a chastened Netanyahu, opposition leader Tzipi Livni is feeling emboldened, and some in the Labor Party are threatening to pull out of Netanyahu's coalition if he doesn't shape up. The Jerusalem council that approved the construction is planning to lay low next week.
I don't believe for a minute that this fight will make U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell's mission any easier; the conditions for peace simply aren't in place. But this showdown with Israel is important for a larger reason: the Obama administration desperately needs to show that it isn't going to be pushed around by anyone. Now that he has embraced a policy of confrontation, the president needs to follow through -- to back down would only signal to powers like China and Russia that Obama really is the pushover they've always assumed him to be.
UPDATE: AIPAC sides with Netanyahu, calling on the administration to "move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests." This could get ugly for Obama.
Continuing a recent trend of bizarre Israeli commercials, a supermarket chain has cashed in on the January assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Actors in a new television advertisement for Mahsanei Kimat Hinam are shown wearing outfits taken from the infamous CCTV footage of the al-Bustan Rotana hotel, which caught the alleged Mossad assassins on tape.
An actor wearing a tennis outfit, racket over his shoulder, and a woman with a large brimmed-hat are shown sneakily placing items in their shopping cart. The woman, when questioned, says she cannot admit to anything -- a play on Israel's use of non-comment for stories related to Mossad.
In case any did not immediately pick up the reference, part of the commercial is shown through the lens of a CCTV camera. Furthermore, the tagline of the advertisement leaves no doubt: "We offer killer prices."
Advertising executive Sefi Shaked explained the ad:
It's a funny take of this event. We were fascinated by the technique of using surveillance cameras instead of (expensive) high production commercial cameras, and the latest events in Dubai gave us a great opportunity.
Something tells me the European governments angry with Israel over its suspected use of forged E.U. passports during the operation to kill Mabhouh won't be shopping at Mahsanei Kimat Hinam anytime soon.
Iran's drug squad commander pointed out in January, that narcotics forces had seized 340 tons of drugs and arrested 170,000 ‘drug dealers' in the previous nine months -- what amounted to a new record for the Islamic Republic. What Iranian officials are less likely to point out is the other record they've hit in the past few months: Iran now has the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. By the end of February, (a month in which 12 journalists were arrested), the number rested at 52 -- a third of the global tally and more than double China's total of 24.
The information is detailed in a new report compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ adds that its count "does not include more than 50 other journalists in Iran who have been imprisoned and released on bail over the last several months." By arresting any who challenges the regime's authority, it seems as though Iranian officials are working overtime to usurp the 1996 record of 78 jailed journalists set by Turkey.
Although it seems to have fallen out of the news cycle ever since the disappointing Feb. 11 protests, Iran's still-alive opposition movement has yet to leave the attention of the Obama administration; an LA. Times article today reports that the administration is preparing to change the focus of its Iran policy from negotiations to greater support for the opposition as well as enforcing sanctions.
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The status of Middle Eastern women has improved over the last five years, contradicting common perceptions of veiled, powerless individuals, according to Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance, a study released today by Freedom House. Nonetheless, significant resistance to the advancement of women's rights remains across the region, and many roadblocks have yet to be removed.
Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, highlighted the encouraging signs across the 18 countries surveyed:
There are more women entrepreneurs, more women doctors, more women Ph.Ds, and more women in universities, than ever before.
Progress was made in fifteen countries, with Kuwait, Algeria, and Jordan making the greatest leaps, while only Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories saw reversals in women's rights. Women are increasingly able to vote and run for office (Kuwait, in particular, is a noted example, having elected four women to parliament in 2009 despite only receiving the franchise four years earlier), family laws were modified in several countries to make women more equal partners with their husbands (but some provisions remain unenforced), and the number of women in universities continued its steady climb -- in some countries, significantly more women are enrolled in higher education institutions than men.
The advancements are a marked improvement, yet on the whole women are often deprived of basic human rights and subject to indiscriminate violence. Honor killings, in particular, remain a major problem: Only two countries, Jordan and Tunisia, offer protection under the law against domestic violence. None of the 18 countries surveyed had any legal recourse for women who were victims of spousal rape.
Given the mixed trends, the question of women's rights in the Middle East has become increasingly complex. Windsor sums it up nicely, with a quintessentially uneven example:
Women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to earn law degrees, but not to appear in court on behalf of their clients.
Though Iranian-Italian relations don't often make the headlines, trade between the two countries is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $9 billion. That makes Italy Iran's largest trading partner in the EU.
But perhaps the $9 billion figure should be revised upwards in light of some of the most recent news to come out of Rome: on Tuesday, March 2, Italian police arrested seven people -- five Italians and two Iranians -- on suspicion of engaging in illegal arms trafficking to the Islamic Republic. After making the arrests, police seized a variety of equipment, including rifle scopes, military scuba-diving jackets, flak jackets, mobile phones, and life vests.
While few details have been made publicly available, what has been released makes "Operation Sniper," the code name for the police investigation that ultimately led to the seven arrests, sound like something out of one of the Bourne movies.
According to Italian police, the dealers began their smuggling operation in 2007. After buying arms in Europe, the dealers would then launder the arms by transporting them to the U.K., Romania, and Switzerland before selling them to clients in Iran. Although Italian authorities haven't released any information regarding the identity of these clients, some have speculated that based on the nature of the equipment that was seized, the intended recipients were probably members of the Iranian secret service.
Though the smuggling operation was initially a success, it hit a snag in Romania when a customs official seized 200 gun sights that were illegally headed from Italy to Iran. Details remain sketchy, but this seizure appears to have tipped off police in other countries, as related arrests and seizures were soon made in Switzerland and Brtain. Thanks to the information gathered from these maneuvers, Italian police were able to successfully identify the smugglers in Italy and arrange a sting operation against them.
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On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will debate a resolution to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenian civilians by Turkish troops as a genocide. A similar resolution failed in 2007. The Obama administration has not taken a stand on the resolution, which is largely supported by the Armenian-American community, but it's long been supported by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
A Turkish parliamentary delegation, including members of both the ruling AKP party and opposition CHP party, is currently visiting Washington to lobby against the resolution. At a media briefing at the Turkish embassy this morning, they made very clear that the passage of the resolution would "seriously affect the relationship between the two countries."
Foreign relations committee chairman Murat Mercan discussed some specific U.S. projects that could be affected:
I envision for instance the withdrawal of American troops, which is a huge logistical operation involving thousands of soldiers moving away from Iraq [through Turkey.] Thousands of tons of equipment. This type of thing might require parliamentary approval. It will come to our committee.
The Turkish military precence in Afghanistan is extended in the Turkish parliament. Every year year present of Turkish troops needs to be approved by the parliament This too will come through our committee.
Former U.S. ambassador Sukru Elekdag described Turkey's importance to the United States as a back-channel to Iran, interlocutor with Pakistan, and ally in resolving the frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus.
The new measure comes up at a time when Turkey and Armenia finally seem to be moving toward rapproachment, a process the MPs also said would be jeopardized by the House motion.
It seems a bit contradictory to me that the Turkish government on the one hand says it sees the Armenian rapproachment as vital to its own national interest, but on the other hand says the U.S. resolution will imperil it. I asked Mercan why Turkish-Armenian relations should be affected by what the U.S. congress says:
The rapprocahment has three pillars: one is opening the borders, one is diplomatic relations, one is setting up a historical commission that would explore what happened in the past, in 1915. If other parliaments decide things like this without merit or investigaiton, then how would you convince your Armenian counterpart that this kind of committee is needed?
In realist terms, it's certainly hard to justify jeopardizing U.S.-Turkish cooperation today over something that happened almost a century ago, and it seems unlikely to me that this one will ever reach President Obama's desk. On the other hand, Turkey is not doing a great job making it seem like they care about the rapproachement for its own sake, rather than as a result of U.S. pressure.
In any event, it's very interesting to see how a Turkish government that realizes its crucial role in U.S. policy is learning throw its weight around a bit.
Update: Ben Katcher weighs in with a different take on the same event over at The Washington Note.
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this morning, gave a tour d'horizon of Israel's current strategic position in the Middle East -- and also managed in the process to draw on some of the best traditions of Jewish comedy.
It all began when Barak took issue with Iranian ambitions in the Middle East, and specifically Iranian President Ahmadinejad's remark in Damascus that Arab nations will transform the region into an area "without Zionists and without colonialists." Barak riffed that Ahmadinejad was "looking for a 'New Middle East' -- it reminds me of [Israeli President] Shimon Peres," playing on the title of his former Labor Party ally's book.
This wasn't the only point where Barak drew a few laughs on issues that are rarely mined for their comedic potential. When tackling the subject of Iranian nuclear ambitions, Barak poured cold water on the idea that Iran would drop a nuke on Israel shortly after constructing its first weapon. "They're radical, but they're not total meshugenahs," he said of the Iranian leadership, proving that the mixture of yiddish and Persian military expansionism, while explosive, is also sort of amusing.
But Barak did not limit his comedic debut to remarks about Iran -- he also took aim at the domestic political opposition in Israel. When asked about the prospects for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority or Syria, he criticized elements on the Israeli left who were attempting to delay talks because they did not have a role in the current Netanyahu government. He recounted the apocryphal story of an Israeli airman who was cut from the air force; after delivering this bad news, his superiors asked him what service he would like to join, and he stated that he wanted to be a member of the anti-aircraft artillery corps. When asked why, he stated, "'If I can't fly, then nobody can fly." The peace process, Barak was saying, needs supporters -- not more people manning the anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot it down.
These remarks, of course, were all in good fun -- but there's more to it than that. Barak's central message was that Israel will only find peace with its neighbors when it is a strong, self-confident state. It should be capable of possessing a clear-eyed view of the threats it faces, and able to take risks for peace, Barak argued. His point was that, though Israel will no doubt confront a number of difficult challenges in the year ahead, the situation was by no means dire -- it was even possible to make a few jokes about it. By taking this approach, Barak was the latest in a long line of public figures who discovered the serious implications of a little comedic timing. Lenny Bruce would be proud.
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As if there weren't enough controversies over Middle Eastern geography, Iran has lashed out recently on the name of the waterway to its south, most commonly called the Persian Gulf.
Tehran's ire first arose when a Greek steward, working for an Iranian domestic airline, scuffled with passengers over the usage of Arabian Gulf on the plane's in-flight monitors. He reportedly threatened to arrest passengers who had protested the alternate name, and the altercation escalated into a heated verbal exchange. The attendant was later fired for his "inappropriate and irresponsible behavior."
(Interestingly, in the Tehran Times write-up of the affair, the Arabian Gulf is four times referred to as the "forged term")
Furthermore, Iran has now warned that if airlines use the alternative term, they will be banned from using Iranian airspace:
The airlines of the southern Persian Gulf countries flying to Iran are warned to use the term Persian Gulf on their electronic display boards.
Otherwise they will be banned from Iranian airspace for a month the first time and upon repetition their aircraft will be grounded in Iran and flight permits to Iran will be revoked.
Let's just be thankful there isn't an Iran-Arab dispute over the in-flight meal.
The latest Twitter fail comes courtesy of the Israeli Mission to Britain. The Thursday tweet included a link to a story about Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer's advancement to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championship, but also seemed to jokingly reference last month's killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, which Mossad is suspected to have committed.
It seems the message was particularly poorly-timed, as London asked the Embassy about the use of faked British passports during the Dubai operation on the very same day. The Guardian first reported the posting, but Ynet News grabbed a screenshot of the Tweet itself. It reads:
You heard it here first: Israeli tennis player carries out hit on #Dubai target http://ow.ly/18A79
The message was removed within minutes of its posting. A response was put out by the Israeli Mission today:
Naturally, messages on the Twitter network are characterized with a great deal of creativity. In this case the creativity was undoubtedly inappropriate. The ambassador told off the employee who wrote the message and it was removed.
One would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that telling off. ("WHO'S THE GUILTY TWEETER?")
A "prophet row" has emerged in Turkey after Emine Erdogan, wife of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was denied access to a military hospital because of her headscarf. Heated exchanges in the Grand National Assembly followed, as opposition politician Osman Durmu of the Nationalist Movement Party sarcastically called Prime Minister Erdogan a prophet:
How dare you not allow the wife of a prime minister, who is accepted as a prophet, to [the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine]? Who do you think you are?
Erdogan was not amused:
My wife was not allowed to visit a patient only because of her headscarf. Rather than criticizing this prohibition, they are joking about the incident... It is unbearable to hear such a definition about me. They claim ‘Erdogan would like to be the prophet’… What a silly argument. It is obvious they are sinking to new lows.
The hijab has long been a divisive symbol in Turkey. Erdogan's Justice and Development party (AKP) passed legislation to ease the Turkish ban on headscarves in universities in 2008, but the statute was overruled by the Constitutional Court later that year.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
Update: Akbar Zeb has denied this story and the original article appears to be false.
Despite having served for years as a distinguished Pakistani diplomat, Akbar Zeb reportedly cannot receive accreditation as Pakistan's ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The reason, apparently, has nothing to do with his credentials, and everything to do with his name -- which, in Arabic, translates to "biggest dick":
In Saudi Arabia, size does count.
A high level Pakistani diplomat has been rejected as Ambassador of Saudi Arabia because his name, Akbar Zib, equates to "Biggest Dick" in Arabic. Saudi officials, apparently overwhelmed by the idea of the name, put their foot down and gave the idea of his being posted there, the kibosh.
According to this Arabic-language article in the Arab Times, Pakistan had previously floated Zeb's name as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, only to have him rejected for the same reason. One can only assume that submitting Zeb's name to a number of Arabic-speaking countries is some unique form of punishment designed by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry -- or the result of a particularly egregious cockup.
The territorial issues surrounding the village of Ghajar are probably understood well by only a few hundred Americans -- and, truth be told, the village's history is not known all that much better in Lebanon. Nevertheless, there have been three stories on Ghajar in major U.S. publications in the past week: The Wall Street Journal released their article last Friday, the New York Times published their piece today -- and, of course, Foreign Policy produced the best article on Ghajar, which we put out last night.
This is curious because Israel administers the village as a military zone -- foreign correspondents need the IDF's permission to enter the village, and are escorted by the Israelis as they do their reporting. It is one of those issues where Israel is able to shape pretty easily what media accounts, if any, come out of the area.
So, why would the Israelis open the floodgates to Ghajar reporting at this time? As you'd know by reading our article, Israel is currently in negotiations with the United Nations and Lebanon over returning the northern part of the village to Lebanese sovereignty, while the area would be administered by soldiers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Those talks have currently hit a few snags: Israel is leery of the precedent set by a deal which would place Israeli citizens under international control. By letting reporters interview the village residents, who oppose the deal because they want to be reintegrated with Syria, not Lebanon, the Israelis could be attempting to gin up public pressure which will give them a reason to drag their feet further on negotiations.
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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed his views in Tel Aviv today on Israeli security, and he certainly made them interesting:
It must be understood that if between the Jordan [River] and the [Mediterranean Sea] there is only one political entity called 'Israel,' it will by necessity either be not Jewish or not democratic, and we will turn into an apartheid state.
The use of apartheid is a rarity among Israeli officials, but Barak was underscoring what he believes to be Israel's most serious threat:
The lack of defined boundaries within Israel, and not an Iranian bomb, is the greatest threat to our future.
JIM HOLLANDER/AFP/Getty Images
Until recently counter-terrorism officials weren't worried about jihadi pundits having much of an influence in the United States itself, where they believed that a higher degree of Muslim-American assimiliation, social mobility and economic well-being would act against such influences. It turns out however, that this isn't always the case.
In an article in New York Times Magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Andrea Eliot profiles the captivating transformation of an all-American boy from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who is now fighting with Al Shabaab in Somalia.
Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like "sugar" and "darlin'." Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang "Away in a Manger" on Christmas Eve. As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo. In the thick of his adolescence, he was fearless, raucously funny, rebellious, contrarian. "It felt cool just to be with him," his best friend at the time, Trey Gunter, said recently. "You knew he was going to be a leader."
A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way. Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world's most ruthless Islamist insurgencies. That guerrilla army, known as the Shabab, is fighting to overthrow the fragile American-backed Somali government. The rebels are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. With help from Al Qaeda, they have managed to turn Somalia into an ever more popular destination for jihadis from around the world.
And there are some downright chilling portions of the article:
In a recent propaganda video viewed by thousands on YouTube, he is shown leading a platoon of gun-toting rebels as a soundtrack of jihadi rap plays in the background.
He is identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, "the American," and speaks to the camera with a cool, almost eerie confidence. "We're waiting for the enemy to come," Hammami whispers, a smile crossing his face. Later he vows, "We're going to kill all of them."
Getting native-born Americans to join the jihadist cause is a coup for groups like al Qaeda or al Shabaab. An American jihadi can increase a group's legitimacy, add appeal to radicalizing youth in Western countries and can teach foreign jihadis about American culture. Having an American passport also allows for freer travel.
Although Omar Hammami isn't the first American to reach the higher echelons of a radical Islamic organization (California native Adam Gadahn is a top spokesman for al Qaeda), Eliot's article is a uniquely in-depth look into the details of such a metamorphosis. It's definitely worth a full read.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
It's hard to know what to make of an audiotape released today by Al Jazeera, purportedly recorded by Osama bin Laden. Rather than slamming the West for all the usual reasons, the al Qaeda leader branches into new territory: critiquing the global financial system and its reliance on the U.S. dollar, and blaming western industrialized nations for acting too slowly to curb climate change:
"Talk about climate change is not an ideological luxury but a reality ... All of the industrialized countries, especially the big ones, bear responsibility for the global warming crisis."
If authentic, the tape was likely recorded from a hideaway in Pakistan near the Afghan border. In FP's July/August issue, Stephan Faris argued that the melting of Himalayan glaciers and the resulting water-use disputes in Kashmir are a major source of Pakistan's instability. So one could actually argue that bin Laden has been a rare beneficiary of climate change.
There's an easy punchline here about climate change having become the ultimate political football -- with everyone from David Cameron to Evo Moralas to now Osama pointing fingers to serve varied ends -- but I'll refrain. It's too true to be funny.
DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
No, U.S. President Barack Obama has informed People. The United States has no interest in or plans to invade Yemen or Somalia -- and nor should it.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at the experience of the last western power to occupy part of Yemen: Britain. The history's complicated. But, very briefly: last century, Britain controlled Yemeni territory at the strategic port of Aden; the western portion of the country was a kingdom. In the early 1960s, Egypt attempted to overthrow the kingdom by funding anti-royalists. Britain attempted to insulate itself by creating buffer protectorates. Still, the Aden local insurgency simmered, and boiled over when Egypt started funding it as well. In 1963, Britain declared a state of emergency and started fighting a full-on counterinsurgency.
Contemporary accounts of the conflict -- known as the Aden Emergency in Britain -- from Time paint an interesting picture. For one, they clearly demonstrate how racist the rhetoric was just 50 years ago. (Some of the descriptions below are, well, uncomfortable to read.) The clips also show how, despite inferior weaponry, domestic insurgencies so successfully chip away at the will and resources of occupying forces.
First, some insulting if evocative description of the Yemeni Imam from 1957:
The Imam of Yemen, who acts like a Borgia Pope, is known to have a minimum of five diseases in various stages of arrested development (rheumatism, heart trouble, bilharziasis, gastritis, syphilis), but this does not prevent him from greedily devouring huge meals consisting of nothing but Russian salad heavily splashed with mayonnaise. The Imam's greatest trouble is psychological: he is under the impression that the British are depriving him of huge oil royalties....
A very colorful 1962 story, "Arabia Felix," describes him thus:
Ahmad governed by means of spies, subsidies and the executioner's ax, decapitating more than a thousand enemies. He was a man of enormous appetite: he would do away with an entire roast lamb at a single sitting and then gulp down a pound of honey as a between-meals snack. He had three wives and 40 concubines, but in the last years of his life his potency declined, and he had unsuccessful recourse to rejuvenation treatments by a Swiss doctor. His luckless harem consoled itself with sorties into lesbianism and erotic gadgets sent from Japan. Like many Yemenites, Ahmad chewed qat, a narcotic shrub similar to marijuana, and switched to morphine in 1953 -- heroically breaking the habit six years later.
A year later, with fighting escalating in Aden, Time overviews the conflict:
Though some scholars maintain that the Garden of Eden was in Aden, the country today seems more like purgatory than paradise. A British protectorate since 1839, Aden is a sun-scorched moonscape of thrusting volcanic mountains and rock-strewn wadies. Temperatures commonly rise to 110, and survival rations for British combat troops there include at least two gallons of water daily -- for drinking, not washing. Aden is a tempting prize nonetheless.
The British primarily fought from the air, dropping leaflets and bombing villages from the sky (a strange echoing of today's drone fights):
In the days when might was still right in the Middle East the British invented a technique for dealing with recalcitrant Arab tribesmen. The R.A.F. would drop leaflets on Arab villages demanding that they give up fugitive criminals or be bombed. Usually the trick worked, and the wanted man would be expelled from the threatened village, pursued through the desert, shot down or captured. On other occasions the population would flee the village, which the R.A.F. would then destroy.
While the guerrilla war waged on:
Sir Arthur Charles, the British Speaker of the Aden Legislative Council, was shot and killed as he was leaving his tennis club at sundown. As the incidents increased, British security forces arrested 29 suspected terrorists and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Last week schools were shut down when students tried to demonstrate, and newspapers were forbidden to "carry news that might incite people." British troops patrolled the streets, exchanging occasional fire with snipers on the rooftops.
Until the British finally recognized the fight as futile, and wanted to get out:
In its rush to rid itself of the weight of empire, Britain has often bestowed independence on lands that had no business accepting it...Few lands, however, have been so ill-prepared to rule themselves as [South Yemen], which Britain announced last week will become independent by the end of November. [It] consists of the port of Aden and 17 feudal satraps whose Bedouin tribesmen eat goat meat and carry everywhere their curved djambias (daggers). Its life has been disrupted and its British-sponsored federal government destroyed by four years of terrorism and civil war.
And finally, they left:
"Farewell, Far East," headlined the London Evening Standard. In the Daily Express, Labor M.P. Desmond Donnelly called the government's plan "the most stark military withdrawal since the Roman legions were recalled from Britain." With a mingled sense of nostalgia and relief, Britain announced that it will gradually rid itself of the most burdensome vestige of its venerable but faded oriental empire.
Flickr user pizzodisevo
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle paid a surprise visit to Yemen today to meet with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and ask for his help in locating German hostages who have been held in the country since June. Do you think the Yemenis might have been trying to send a message by having Westerwelle give his press conference in front of this mural? Could they not fit in a picture of Saleh slaying a dragon or playing lead guitar for Kiss?
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
I can't really condone SNL's policy of having every sleazy "ethnic" character be played by Fred Armisen in what seems like the same accent, but last Saturday's cold open did a pretty good job of summing up what happens when a country -- in this case Yemen, becomes a "New Front in the War on Terror:"
Robert Haddick also takes up this question in a slightly more sober way in his most recent This Week At War column:
Yemen and its problems are suddenly on everyone's agenda. On Jan. 1, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus announced a doubling in annual U.S. assistance to the country. On Jan. 28, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will host an international conference on Yemen, where he will no doubt call for increased international donations. It seems that whenever the international community discovers another al Qaeda franchise, a financial reward to the host seems to follow. Pakistan has perfected how to profit from this perverse incentive. Yemen is now showing itself to be an able student of the same technique.[...]
From Saleh's perspective, he has likely learned from Pakistan how rewarding al Qaeda's presence -- largely benign to him -- can be. The impending deluge of U.S. aid, with Brown's conference to add to the bounty, illustrates the perverse incentives offered to leaders like Saleh.
Many thanks to Gregory Johnsen for weighing in on the article that I wrote about Yemen's "most wanted" terrorists. Without the research that he has done on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) over the years, it would have been literally impossible for me to write the piece.
Johnsen takes issue with two of the names on my list: Anwar al-Awlaki and Hizam Mujali. I'm willing to concede to his superior expertise with Mujali, but I'd like to defend the inclusion of al-Awlaki on the list. He's certainly in a different category than the other candidates on the list, who are all tacticians of armed jihad. But his propaganda for the organization makes him as valuable to al Qaeda as any trigger-puller. From the U.S. perspective, the prospect that al-Awlaki could continue to publicly rail against the United States after maintaining contacts with three of the 9/11 hijackers and Major Nidal Malik Hasan is especially abhorrent. It amounts to another piece of evidence that praising the murder of U.S. citizens, even from within the United States, carries no consequences.
From the Yemeni perspective, however, I understand why al-Awlaki wouldn't be at the top of anyone's hit list: He's just another anti-West cleric preaching to a nation that takes many of his beliefs as conventional wisdom. The "danger" posed by al-Awlaki is really a microcosm for the larger cognitive dissonance between the United States and the Yemeni government over al Qaeda: The United States sees the organization as the primary threat to stability because it is the primary danger to them in the country, while the Yemeni government had to have its arm twisted to admit that al Qaeda is a priority among all the other pitfalls currently facing the country.
In the days leading up to an interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, aides were worried with Ms. Palin’s grasp of facts. She couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations and she did not know what the Federal Reserve did. She also said she believed Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Yemen -- it's the new black, or, the new country that as of Dec. 25 the United States realized it should be paying attention to. But if we've learned anything about Yemen in the two weeks since the Pants Bomber so thankfully failed, it's that virtually nobody in the media or government, at least on the Hill, knows much about it. So, a blog post to help fix that. Here are some basic, good sources of information on the country and the debate about it.
The Voice of America recently unveiled a new iPhone application that allows Iranian "citizen journalists" to send video and images directly to VOA's Persian News Network. The app, designed by the Washington D.C.-based company Intridea, is being advertised as a cutting-edge method for Iranian reformers to spread their message across the country. The application "empowers Iranians at a time when the government is staging a crackdown against opposition protesters," announced the head of the Persian News Network.
I'm sure that this initiative was begun with the best of intentions. However, there's only one problem -- oh, who am I kidding, there are a whole slew of problems. To begin with, a normal iPhone won't work in Iran: AT&T, the only carrier for the iPhone, doesn't provide service in the country. The very wealthy have been able to get their hands on "unlocked" iPhones, which can be used with any carrier in Iran. However, the number of these phones in Iran are few and far between. But even for those with unlocked iPhones, there is no data network in Iran that would allow them to connect to the Internet.
Our intrepid Iranian friend, therefore, would also have to be in an area where he could pick up a wireless connection with his iPhone. At that point, of course, he could also send his video and pictures using more old-fashioned technology -- for example, a laptop.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
The Times reports that the recently released Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi seems to have vanished, despite the fact that the terms of his release require him to stay in Tripoli and keep in contact with authorities in East Renfrewshire, Scotland:
On Sunday evening The Times called at the bomber’s home in suburban Tripoli. A policeman sitting on a plastic chair outside was asked to deliver a message to al-Megrahi. He spoke no English, but indicated that al-Megrahi was not there.
The next day The Times visited the Tripoli Medical Centre where alMegrahi was treated soon after his return to Libya. The receptionists said he had left the hospital some time ago.
Back at al-Megrahi’s home, there was no sign of activity. One of three security officers sitting in a grey Mercedes car outside said: “They’ve all gone.” He refused to elaborate.
Alerted by The Times, Jonathan Hinds, of East Renfrewshire Council, tried to telephone al-Megrahi at his home yesterday. He spoke to a Libyan man who said al-Megrahi was too ill to speak to him.
Mr Hinds has called al-Megrahi every other Tuesday since August, and has always been able to speak to him. Yesterday was not one of the regular Tuesdays, so al-Megrahi would not have been expecting a call.
Megrahi was originally released in August because of the prostate cancer that was likely to take his life last fall. It's possible that he is too sick to call -- he's gone through four rounds of chemotherapy -- but the fact that he's disappeared from home is certainly suspicious and it's hard to imagine what action Britain could take if he really has gone on the run. More bad news for Gordon Brown.
No, he doesn't speak Arabic. But take a look at this quote from Gen. David Petraeus at the Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain, where he is trying to cajole America's Arab allies to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.
I would remind my Arab brothers if there is a concern about certain influences in Iraq then it would be wise to increase the Arab influence.
This is an anodyne statement wrapped up in interesting rhetorical packaging. Petraeus seems to be mimicking, unconsciously or otherwise, the way many Arab leaders deliver their views in public. The most obvious example is the reference to his "Arab brothers." However, there are two other stylistic points worth mentioning: Petraeus mentions "certain influences in Iraq" rather than accusing Iran directly, and he calls on his allies "to increase the Arab influence." This is not the way that New York-born CENTCOM commanders generally speak English -- it is, however, reminiscent of the linguistic habits of many English-speaking Arabs.
This should only reinforce Gen. Petraeus's reputation as a talented general, diplomat, and COIN-student extraordinaire. It is also a good time to note that the United States has come a long way from Norman Schwarzkopf's Hail Mary metaphors and George H.W. Bush's references to "Saadum" Hussein.
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Businesses just can't win this holiday season. In the US, if part of your sales pitch doesn't include mention of the birth of Jesus, onto Bill O'Reilly's blacklist you will go. This never made a lot of sense to me, as I struggle to see the logical link between a purported virgin birth and throwing down 35 big ones for a Screature. However with or without logic, the "War on Christmas" is going international.
One group in Israel is getting in on the action, where simply making mention of the Christian holiday could get you boycotted. The group behind the Israeli movement "Lobby for Jewish Values" sent out several fliers that say:
The people of Israel have given their soul over the years in order to maintain the values of the Torah of Israel and the Jewish identity.
You should also continue to follow this path of the Jewish people's tradition and not give in to the clownish atmosphere of the end of the civil year. And certainly not help those businesses that sell or put up the foolish symbols of Christianity.
Looks like someone's getting coal, or worse a visit from Krampus.
Either way, this could potentially be confusing to multinational corporations trying to rake in whatever money is still left in the global economy, so for those retailers taking notes: when in the country of Jesus' birth, make no mention of said birth. When on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, gush about frankincense and myrrh.
(Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias)
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While most of the media coverage regarding Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's trip to the United States has looked east, to Turkey's burgeoning relationship with Syria and Iran, the real breaking news may concern Turkey's faltering relationship with the European Union.
In a speech at SAIS on Monday, Erdogan argued that Turkey's accession is being followed closely by the Islamic world, as a sign of hope that old cultural divisions can finally be bridged. However, he attacked proposals to offer Turkey a "privileged position" with the EU instead of outright membership, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel had previously supported. Instead of making up new classifications of countries midway through the process, he said that those who did not support Turkey's accession to "just come out and say it."
In a meeting with Erdogan's senior foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin and Suat Kiniklioglu, the spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish Parliament, it was clear that Turkish frustrations run even deeper than Erdogan had let on. Kiniklioglu let it be known that his patience with the Europeans had run out, and that he was "tired of being lectured by French senators." According to him, European foot-dragging on Turkey's accession had little to do with the lack of progress on the reforms called for in the accession process, but rather "the identity issue" - Europe is simply leery to let an overwhelmingly Muslim nation into its club.
While Erdogan and his advisors all maintained that Turkey's decision to push for EU accession is still a "major strategic choice" of the country, frustration is building - and Turkey is not keen to remain in limbo on this issue forever. The Turks are trying to sell their admission into the EU by emphasizing how their large population and steady economic growth, not to mention their strategic location, could revitalize Europe's role in international affairs. They are discouraged that this pitch seems to be greeted in Europe with a shrug. Kiniklioglu specifically pointed to the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council. "What does this tell you about the EU?" he asked rhetorically, that Europe would select a politician not well-known throughout Europe - "or even, from what I've heard, among Belgians?"
Woven into all of this Europe-bashing was praise for the Obama administration's ability to adapt quickly to the changing dynamics of Turkish politics. This could be explained as a simple courtesy visiting diplomats bestow on the host country, but there is good reason to believe it is sincere: Obama gave a gracious speech in the Turkish Parliament soon after his inauguration, which unambiguously declared Turkey a part of Europe, and his openness to negotiating with dirty regimes is in line with the Turkish outlook. The trip was certainly not all happy talks and hugs (to wit: the startling resignation of Turkey's ambassador), but Obama should look closely at leveraging his good reputation with the Turks, and with the Europeans, into patching up this failing relationship.
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